I have thrown many spiritual temper tantrums over the years. When life is rough or God doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want, I give Him a piece of my mind.
These rants usually go something like this: “God, I’m mad at you! Why are you making me suffer? You could take this all away so easily. You obviously don’t love me if you don’t do what I want… No answer? Fine! Leave me alone. I don’t want to talk to you until you fix this!”
These spiritual temper tantrums always come from the same place: the thought that I know better than God, which is the very definition of pride.
Like any relationship, pride and stubbornness get in the way of communication and growth. If I only see things my way, I am not going to listen to my husband’s or friend’s thoughts, feelings, or points of view. Pride shouts that I am right and they are wrong. The same is true in my relationship with God — when I say that I know better than Him, I cut off the line of communication and stubbornly do things my way.
God loves us enough that He won’t force His love or friendship upon us. By letting pride do its work, He invites us back into communion with Him because pride and rejecting God ultimately hurt us. God is all-loving, all good, and all powerful. He made us for joy, not misery — but suffering is an unavoidable part of this broken world, and pride can bring more of it upon us.
In my own life, my own pride and rejection of God’s plan have caused plenty of unnecessary suffering. I have always had anxiety, which worsened throughout my teen years. I prayed that God would take away my suffering, but His answer was always a whisper that I should go to counseling to learn how to cope.
That was not the response my pride wanted. I wanted instant relief, and I was too embarrassed to admit I had a mental health issue. I reacted with spiritual temper tantrums, and the more I told God He had to do things my way, the more stubborn I got.
God didn’t change His mind, though, and He didn’t force His plan on me. Instead, He let me continue on my headstrong way of avoiding Him and His plan, which ultimately led to a rock-bottom experience. On the verge of a nervous breakdown and ready to drop out of college, I had no choice but to go to counseling. It was one of the best things to ever happen to me.
Months and years later, I realize that God was answering my prayers for mental health. His way would have saved me years of suffering. It was my own pride that kept me from following him.
Choosing humility over pride has been the major stumbling block in my spiritual life. I wish I could say that I learned my lesson once and for all in college, but letting go of pride is a regular — sometimes daily — challenge if we are to grow into the people we are created to be.
Humility, rightly understood, is the antidote to the poison of pride. I used to associate humility with self-deprecation, or putting everyone before myself, or thinking of myself as sinful and worthless. Counseling and a very formative discussion with a priest friend have set me straight: True humility is correctly understanding ourselves in relationship to God. It is not exalting ourselves, but neither is it demeaning ourselves — it is seeing ourselves as God sees us.
God does know better than we do, but He also created us purely out of love and wants us to love ourself and others. Humility acknowledges that I am not incontrol of everything and I can’t do everything myself — and that’s okay! Humility is acknowledging that I am not God, I am not perfect, I don’t know everything — but I am still infinitely loved.
When pride and humility are wrestling within me, I try to ground myself in God’s perspective by remembering times when I’ve felt close to God. A spiritual mentor encouraged me to write down where I have seen God working in my life, and to come back to that list when I feel like God is not answering prayers. This kind of reflective remembering shows me that God is faithful and provides for me. Sometimes I can look back and see God answering prayers with a “no” or “not yet” for my own good.
Hearing other people’s stories of how God has worked in their lives has also inspired me. I have to remind myself that if God has guided so many people through challenging trials, surely he can handle my current predicament.
It’s okay to have spiritual temper tantrums. God is big enough to handle them, and honest communication is better than avoidance or silence. Then, after blowing off steam, take a small step away from pride by acknowledging the potential that maybe — just maybe — there’s more to the picture than what you want.
If you’re looking for inspiration and confidence to say, “Okay, I’ll try it your way, God” bring some of these sources of wisdom to prayer and reflection:
- Read the last 5 chapters of the Book of Job.
- “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” —Jeremiah 29:11
- “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” —Isaiah 55:9
- “Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens.” —Thomas Merton