When I was a kid, I used to get rosary anxiety.
Picture 10-year-old me in a 15-passenger homeschooler van with all my friends when a parent would announce, “We’re praying the rosary!” My little heart would race as I desperately tried to recall all the mysteries of the rosary, horrified they would make each child lead a decade. When they’d inevitably call on me, I’d sputter, “Uhhh, the Assumption?” and just hope I was in the right mystery. Sometimes I’d get so nervous about praying out loud that even the Our Father came out in a jumbled mess. I eventually made sure to sit in the back of the van, so at least five kids would be in front of me.
The fear of looking like a bad Catholic in front of my friends and their parents carried on into my teen years, causing me to develop a complex about formal prayer in general. The rosary and all the other prayers that took memorization became associated with feeling like I wasn’t good enough, so when I said them it was merely recitation — simply words I said to get the job done, to be perfect on the exterior for appearances.
As you can imagine, my prayer life was more about following a formula than developing a relationship with Christ. All of that changed during my freshman year of college, when I experienced my first heartbreak and decided to start talking to God — out loud.
It was weird at first, talking to God like I was on a long distance phone call with an old friend, but I immediately received consolation like I never had before. The more I spoke to Him as I would a close friend, the more I began to know Him as a friend who never left my side. After I said all the words that expressed my pain, I felt I could cry before Him and simply just be there with Him, without having to say anything. The emotional vulnerability of praying in my own words made me feel like I finally had permission to just be broken before God. To just sit in the presence.
Like most of us who struggle with imperfection, though, once I started feeling better about my whole broken heart situation, I went back to my old ways of forgetting to talk to God and spent a lot less time in prayer.
Truthfully, I spent the next six years not investing much in my relationship with Christ. I went through the motions of practicing the faith in the way I’d grown up, but overall, my prayer life was at a standstill. I was merely following a formula. I remember wondering if I’d ever feel as close to God as I felt during that time of brokenness in my freshman year of college. I was so tired of feeling stagnant that I prayed, “God, I want to grow this year spiritually, and I don’t care what it takes.”
Famous last words.
The next 12 months ended up pushing me in all the ways I had been refusing to grow in the last six years. I lost my job, my self-esteem, relationships, my identity, and pretty much anything I held pride in or made me superficially happy. Being someone who wasn’t in any way careful for what she wished for, experiencing all of these crosses was quite the shock and definitely hard to accept.
On one particularly rough day after not getting a job I wanted and generally being fed up with the direction of my life, I completely lost it in prayer and showed the ugliest parts of my desperation to God. All pretenses of being fine were flung out the window and I simply allowed myself to be a complete and utter disaster with Him.
Aside from feeling a tad embarrassed about my complete emotional breakdown before God, I felt a sort of breakthrough in my relationship with Him. I hadn’t been that emotionally raw with God since freshman year of college. After being so open, even to the point of candidly expressing my anger for not understanding His will, I surprisingly felt closer to Him. Even in the settling dust of my meltdown, His presence appeared like silent visitor within my mind and heart with His gaze fixed upon me even in the midst of my wreckage.
In the past, I may have felt like it was improper or inappropriate to express such feelings to God. I believed my prayers should be calm and composed, not entirely exposing of the chaos happening within me. But I think it all goes back to my first misconception about prayer — which is that we should present ourselves as perfect to God. For some reason, I believed that I shouldn’t show my ugly side to God, that He didn’t want to see it.
But Jesus didn’t come for the perfect, He came for the broken. His empathy and understanding for us are endless — just think about His compassion for the imperfect people who followed him. It took me 27 years to learn that God really wants to be there for us, no matter what emotional state we are in. When we are happy, sad, mad, disappointed, thrilled, depressed, afraid, confused, numb, bored — He wants to know about it, He wants to be there.
Once we bring our emotional turmoil before God, we can then relinquish the control we’ve been clinging to, which has been getting in the way of our own healing. In a sense, when we show God how hurt we are, we are saying, “I can’t do this anymore without help.” It’s when we surrender that He can work within us — because we’re finally letting Him.
Now, I’m not saying I’m throwing out the rosary or other forms of memorized prayer. But learning to be emotionally open with God through my own words allowed me to bring the same passion to more formal prayer. Instead of rushing through Hail Marys or simply following the formula of the rosary, the words truly mean something, and I’m recognizing the immense power behind each prayer that’s been spoken for thousands of years.
God is constantly gazing upon us, night and day, in our worst and best moments, waiting for us to gaze back and encounter His love. The moment we are truly vulnerable in our prayer is the moment we finally allow ourselves to be loved.