To stand naked before God is to stand before God as Adam and Eve stood before the Fall; before they realized they were naked and hid themselves from Him out of shame. The Church teaches, and many believe, that God is all-knowing. He knows the inner depths of our hearts, a sacred realm hardly known to us, despite our best efforts at self-awareness. It is from the heart that comes “evil thoughts, murders, adultery, [and] fornication” as well as “the springs of life” (Matthew 15:19, Proverbs 4:23). We can learn through the Psalms to pray from the depths of our heart, “Out of the depths, I cry out to you, O Lord;” the heart is an infinite depth as St. Macarios, the 4th century Syrian monk, teaches (Psalm 130:1).
I’d like to reflect on the need for our prayer to be deep, authentic, and open before a God who knows all and loves us in our brokenness.
The Purpose of Prayer
What is the purpose of prayer? The future is fully known to God, and His will is perfect; in some sense, we cannot change the mind of God. When we pray, we make known to ourselves, before God, our pain and suffering, as well as our hope and desire. In prayer, we can learn to make God’s will for us our own will. Prior to Jesus healing the blind man in the Gospel of Luke, He asks him “What do you want me to do for you?” and the blind man answers, “Lord let me receive my sight” (Luke 18:41). Jesus knew what the blind man wanted, and He knew that He would heal him, but Jesus asked what the blind man wanted from Him, in order for the gift of healing to be desired by the blind man openly; and that the will of this man may be united to the will of God. It is not so much that we make known to God what He already knows, or that we seek to bend His will in a way that He does not already will. Rather, we seek to know what we need, and where our needs align with His will. Of course, this is only one facet of prayer. Jesus tells us that He knows how to give us good gifts and He will give us those good gifts (Matthew 7:11). We must remember that God knows what is truly Good, He sees our lives in the context of eternal life and eternal well-being. My desire for a life of comfort and ease pales in comparison to God’s desire to heal me, toward an eternal communion of righteousness with Him and the saints. In a sense, it would be an affront to God to ask for an earthly good while refusing to accept His freedom to withhold it.
God Sees our Unseen Suffering
At the same time, God knows the pain and suffering that we inevitably meet in our broken world. With the Psalmist we can pour out our supplications to God and lay on Him our complaints (Psalm 102:17,142:2). We will not hurt God by making known to Him our frustrations, our fears, and our anxieties. As the Church teaches that God is all-knowing, the Church also teaches that God is all-powerful; dare I say, He remains unharmed by our faithlessness and our anger. I have noticed that some people in intense suffering and pain seem to be afraid to show their weakness before others, even before God.
The world is always changing, and part of this fallen world is sin, illness, and death. God, in His infinite wisdom, has chosen to allow these afflictions; He has created a world that He permitted to fall. Why, I do not know, but I do know that He knows the pain of this world through the flesh of His Son. Jesus bore insults, mockery, pain and death on the Cross in His flesh: He sweat drops of blood before His betrayal by one from His inner circle, He wept for Lazarus and the mourning crowd around Him, He cried out Psalm 22 (23) when His own rejected Him and put Him to death on the Cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” In His compassion, He has suffered with His creation in His flesh. We too suffer at the hands of the sins of others and the sins of ourselves, we suffer illness and death at the hands time. This suffering is most painful and unbearable when it is internal, within the vast expanse of the human heart. But here, in the heart, is where the battle lies.
Positive thinking is a modern mantra, but it has some truth in it. We can feed within ourselves thoughts that lead our hearts to be entangled by lust, pride, violence and the like. But we can also feed the thoughts that lead to love, joy, peace, gentleness, and the thoughts that the Holy Spirit provokes within us. We can find ourselves broken by our trials, because while we suffer we only see the present suffering; it is right in front of us, mocking us, and our Advocate, causing us to forget the love that God showed us in the past and the eternal love God will show us at the end of the ages. God loves us now as we are, in our brokenness, within a broken world. God is present to us, He has dwelt among us, He is present in the Eucharist, He is everywhere present and filling all things. In the loneliness of our suffering, Christ is beside us, nay, within us, waiting for us to pour out our hearts before Him, that we may turn to Him and be healed of our spiritual, mental, social, and maybe even our physical sufferings. With the Church, the deposit of faith, and the medicine of the Body and Blood of our Lord, God has also provided medical treatments and procedures, counselors, pastors, friends and family to help us along the way.
Oftentimes our suffering causes us to withdraw from the very medicines that bring comfort in times of crisis and in the fatigue of relentless tribulation. On the periphery, there may be friends and family, fellow Christians, and health workers that are willing to bear our suffering with us, but ultimately, at the center of our heart, is the all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful God. It may be socially acceptable to appear strong before others in times of crisis, but why should we feel the same need to hide our suffering from God, when He knows how we truly feel within our hearts? God loves us, as we truly are, regardless of how we appear to others, or how we present ourselves to Him for the sake of piety. Standing naked before God makes for authentic prayer and can allow us to gain insight into the reality of our suffering, and its cure. To put on a face before our friends and family is one thing, for better or worse, but to try to hide from God out of shame is another.
Free Exchange with God
When we share freely the complaints and thanksgiving of our hearts to God, we cultivate a sort of nakedness before God. We can make a habit of free exchange with God, and develop a relationship with Him that is more free and open than the other relationships we have, even those we have with our closest family, friends, confessors, and confidants. It is here that we bring before God our true self, to the best of our ability. If there is self-knowledge that needs to be discovered, it comes to the front of our consciousness. Here, true healing and authentic humility (think humiliation) can come about from within, through the loving embrace of Our Father. If we flee from facing the reality of the state of our heart, and hide our true self from God, sores and all, we can hardly know ourselves as we are, let alone share ourselves authentically with our neighbor. And if we hide our spiritual illnesses from God, as we hide them from our neighbor, then how can we grow in the spiritual life?