Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Grrr-men: praying through clenched teeth

I HAVE NEVER actively wished ill upon someone who has wronged or hurt me, but there have been occasions when, had it occurred, I wouldn’t have been too sorry about it. To be completely honest, I might even have quietly celebrated for a moment.

Sad to admit, I’m simply not always as nice as I try to look. There are some people who, when they come to mind, still spark a flash of anger and resentment many years after the offense. And it’s at these times I practice the spiritual discipline of praying through clenched teeth.

It’s my meager attempt to follow Jesus’s instructions from the Sermon on the Mount: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

I take some comfort from the fact that He doesn’t say feel loving toward them, but act loving toward them. So I pray for their health, their provision, and that they may come to know more of God’s love. (which, of course, I would like to think might lead them to realizing how unkind they were to me and becoming all remorseful and repenty about it.)

On my darker days, I have taken some satisfaction from Paul’s observation that, by treating your enemy kindly, “you will heap burning coals on his head” (Rom. 12:20). Needless to say, this is not the best motivation. But I believe that God is good at working with whatever little we give Him—sometimes not the desire to do what’s right, but the desire for the desire to do so.

Some people say they have come to truly love those they have prayed for in this clenched teeth manner. That’s not been my experience, to date, but I do believe that I have at least come from negative to neutral. Over time, my grimace in these prayers has softened to a straight line.

On a practical note, I have found that praying for these folks out loud, rather than just in my mind, can help. Admittedly, speaking through clenched teeth makes you sound a bit like an amateur ventriloquist, but God can understand even our groans (Rom. 8:26).

It’s not the comprehensibility that matters as much as the audibility. There is something profound about giving literal voice to what’s going on inside. Somehow, it makes you really acknowledge things more than just entertaining a fleeting thought. It becomes, if not concrete, then at least a matter of record.

Perhaps that mysterious process shouldn’t be so surprising; after all, God spoke creation into being, though presumably He could have just thought it into existence.

Someone once said that sin leaves the body in only one way; through the mouth. I suspect that, if they are right, the same holds true in reverse for forgiveness: as we speak it out, we also breathe it in. So, God, please bless X, Y, and Z. Grrrr-men.

Art: VectorStock

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