After my wife and I dated for about a year, I was convinced she was the one.
My parents, however, believed my priority should be pursuing a post-baccalaureate program instead of marriage at that stage of my life. I remember visiting them and declaring with utter confidence, “Thanks for your thoughts, but my mind is made up!”
But soon after this bold declaration, my girlfriend and I broke up. I felt embarrassed, confused, and extremely insecure.
Though this was a very difficult time, it was also a time of significant growth and transformation in my relationship with God because I learned a valuable lesson: how to stop running from the truth.
LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?  The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart;  whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others;  who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;  who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.Psalm 15:1-5 NIV
This passage in Psalm 15 helped me have a breakthrough. I had spent a lot of my life relying on denial to handle painful emotions. I ran from anything that made me feel helpless or out of control. I hated feeling vulnerable or sad, so I stuffed and hid these feelings whenever I felt them and ran instead to anything that promised temporary pleasure.
Unfortunately, this dysfunctional way of handling emotion began to affect my relationship with God and the people around me. I stayed superficial, acting tough on the outside but feeling alone and insecure on the inside because no one knew what I was really feeling.
When I read these verses from Psalm 15, I realized that I had to speak the truth from my heart in order to be close to God and unshaken by the circumstances of life.
With the help of friends that God put in my life, I began tackling some of these dysfunctions. I learned how to be honest about what I really felt and thought, instead of just trying to behave right or running to something to make me feel good.
I learned the important lesson that truth is my friend and not my enemy. I began to understand that speaking the truth from my heart would actually make me feel secure with God and other people. I didn’t have to run away from difficult feelings anymore, because being honest with God would actually help me find healing, resolution, and faith.
We can learn a lot from Jesus about how to tell God the truth of what we feel and think. In this study, we will read Jesus’ prayer from the night before he went to the cross. He told God the truth during this incredibly overwhelming time in his life, and that helped him find the strength to embrace God’s destiny for him.
Truth and vulnerability bring closeness
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”Matthew 26:36-38 NIV
Jesus gives us an incredible example of vulnerability. Many people fail to consider—or in some cases, simply don’t know—that Jesus did not want to die on the cross because he was human (Philippians 2:7). This passage shows us that he was vulnerable with his friends about how overwhelmed he felt.
My feelings during my breakup with my girlfriend are not even worthy of being mentioned compared to what Jesus felt, considering he was about to take on the sins of the entire world.
Nonetheless, I did learn from how he handled his pain—he did not go at it alone. He told his friends the truth of how he felt.
I started being real and vulnerable with my friends and my relationships got deeper. I began to ask my friends to pray with me when I was feeling a lot. As we prayed together and I heard what they were going through, I realized I wasn’t alone. Everyone had things they were working through. I didn’t have to put up a front and try to be tough, and I was so relieved.
Some of those guys I prayed with in this time of my life became my best friends, and we are still close to this day. Deciding to be vulnerable instead of trying to handle life alone was the best decision I could have made. God’s way of handling difficult emotions was so much better than my way, and I started to change my attitude toward the truth.
Pause and reflect
- What do you typically do when you feel overwhelmed?
- Do you run from those emotions or do you open up to God and friends?
- How would your relationships change if you chose to be vulnerable with them?
- Write out a few of the things you feel overwhelmed by.
- Decide to share those things with God and a few friends.
God can handle the truth
Then he walked a short distance away, and overcome with grief, he threw himself facedown on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if there is any way you can deliver me from this suffering, please take it from me. Yet what I want is not important, for I only desire to fulfill your plan for me.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to strengthen him.Matthew 26:39 TPT
Jesus was honest with God about the fact that he did not want to die on the cross. He did not want to suffer, and he wondered if there was another way. You could make a case that he was in some ways questioning God’s plan—something we can probably all relate to.
We also learn that God can handle the truth. Jesus didn’t have to fake it or pretend. He could be honest with God that he was looking for another way.
In moments of great distress or uncertainty, do you tell God the truth about what you are really thinking? Sometimes, we can fall into the trap of behaving right or saying the right thing, instead of simply telling God the truth.
When we don’t say what we’re really thinking in prayer, we become like the guys in this funny video who cover the truth with religious-sounding words:
I have avoided telling God the truth more times than I would like to admit. As someone who has been a Christian for over 20 years, it’s very easy for me to go through the motions of praying because I know it’s the right thing to do without really sharing my heart.
I found myself in this spot recently when my daughter came home with a cold. I had a full day planned and I was already stressed about everything I had to do. I knew this was a relatively small problem to have, and that I should be grateful that her sickness was only mild.
But honestly, I was mad.
I went out for a walk to pray, but as I tried to talk to God I felt stuck. Then I noticed that I was repeating over and over again, “Thanks, God, that she hasn’t been sick very many times this year and we haven’t had to deal with this very much.” Maybe I should have been grateful, but I wasn’t. What I really felt was, “What the heck?? I’m so stressed—Can’t I catch a break?”
Luckily, over the years I’ve learned to recognize what I call “filler” words and phrases in my conversations with God. These are things I say when I am avoiding telling God the truth about my heart.
Some of my filler words/phrases are:
- I am grateful… (when I’m not really grateful, but I just think this is something you’re supposed to say when you pray).
- Be with _____ (insert thing I know I should pray about here).
Sometimes, this is what I am really thinking or feeling:
- I am fried and I don’t want to talk to God or anyone…
- I am ticked off right now…
- I am feeling guilty about ________
- I am really scared and overwhelmed…
- I hate _______
Recognizing my filler words and phrases helps me become aware that I’m not being honest so that I can start sharing my real thoughts and feelings with God. As I started praying more honestly about my feelings about my daughter, I started to feel calmer because I knew I could give God all my anxiety and trust him to take care of me.
It really helps me to know God can handle the truth. I can tell him the truth and he wants to hear the truth and help me. When I tell God the truth, I feel way more connected and at peace afterwards, even when the situation or circumstance does not immediately change. But when I fake it, I end up feeling frustrated and stuck.
Pause and reflect
- Do you believe God wants to hear the truth?
- How easy or hard is it for you to tell God the truth? Why?
- Do you have “filler” words you say when you pray? What are they?
- Practice telling God the truth about something today that you might feel tempted not to talk about.
Truth requires spiritual strength
Later, he came back to his three disciples and found them all sound asleep. He awakened Peter and said to him, “Do you lack the strength to stay awake with me for even just an hour?  Keep alert and pray that you’ll be spared from this time of testing. You should have learned by now that your spirit is eager enough, but your humanity is weak.”  Then he left them for a second time to pray in solitude. He said to God, “My Father, if there is not a way that you can deliver me from this suffering, then your will must be done.”Matthew 26:40-42 TPT
When we face truth that challenges us, we need something greater than our own physical strength. Peter and the other disciples had probably never seen Jesus so vulnerable and desperate. Jesus was their leader, their best friend, and their greatest hope, and yet, he was completely overwhelmed. To make it all worse, he was telling them he would be betrayed and killed.
If you have ever lost someone, or are in the process of losing someone, you understand the depth of hopelessness the disciples must have felt. Instead of praying, they fell asleep. Sometimes, when I am emotionally overwhelmed, I get really tired. What I constantly have to fight to do in these moments is pray. It is prayer that provides the emotional and spiritual strength I need to not only face difficult truth but find faith in the midst of it as well.
Jesus had incredible emotional strength and stamina. He prayed three different times and did not quit even when everyone around him kept falling asleep.
Several years ago, I ran a half marathon in San Francisco. The hills were brutal. Right around the ninth mile, everything in me wanted to quit and give up, especially when I looked at the steep hills looming above me. What helped me was all the training I did prior to the run.
Jesus had trained his entire life for this moment, so even though it was completely overwhelming, he had been working on developing spiritual and emotional strength all along (see Hebrews 5:7-9). He understood his purpose and why he was on earth, so quitting wasn’t a choice he was willing to make. He really wanted to fulfill his mission to give his life for our sins so that we could have the chance to be close to God.
Pause and reflect
- What do you do when you get emotionally exhausted? Do you sleep or do you fight in prayer?
- How can you imitate Jesus’ prayer life?
- How will knowing your “why” (your God-given purpose) help you not give up when times get tough?
- Study out Hebrews 5:7-9 and imitate Jesus’ prayer life.
Truth is transformative
He came back to the disciples and found them sound asleep, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.  So he left them and went away to pray the same prayer for the third time.  When he returned again to his disciples, he awoke them, saying, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Don’t you know the hour has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the authority of sinful men?  Get up and let’s go, for the betrayer has arrived.”Matthew 26:43-46 TPT
Jesus kept praying until he changed. He prayed until his mind changed, his heart changed, and he was ready to fulfill his purpose. He went from asking for a way out to readily embracing God’s plan because he was honest.
When we embrace truth in our prayers like Jesus did, we will be ready to face whatever comes next with purpose and courage. Learning to tell God the truth has been an essential part of my journey to finding and living out God’s purpose for my life. When I am willing to be vulnerable and tell God the truth about my heart, I find that I have the strength to help other people do the same.
Truth is freeing. It helps us be close to God and other people. When we adopt Jesus’ attitude toward truth, we’ll realize that truth is not our enemy. Truth is our friend.
Pause and reflect
- What is an area of your life in which you need to keep honestly praying until your heart changes?
- Set a time and place where you can have uninterrupted time to tell God the truth.
Choose a friend today to talk to about what you are learning. Ask them to pray with you so that they can support you as you work on telling God the truth about your heart.
Read this devotional for some helpful questions you can use to become aware of things you need to talk to God about.