Praying the Psalms When You’re Angry
Anger is a heavy emotion. Perhaps, like me, you’ve experienced anger this year. Anger directed at a virus that took so much from us. Anger at injustice in the world. Anger over unfair and sudden loss. In the midst of grief, I found myself stuck in anger. In sessions with my therapist, we discussed how anger felt different from other emotions—it felt heavier, a more difficult burden to bear. Anger is considered a secondary emotion, fueled by other feelings—hurt, fear, sadness, and grief, just to name a few. Anger feeds off of our lowest points, our deepest depression, and keeps us in a place of frustration. Anger is hard to shake and nearly impossible to suppress or ignore. So what does this mean for our prayer life?
In her book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again, Rachel Held Evans wrote: “Brené Brown warned us we can’t selectively numb our emotions, and no doubt this applies to the emotions we have about our faith.” Recognizing and using our emotions to fuel prayer is important. For me, trying to pray without anger, in my season of grief, felt inauthentic. That feeling is echoed in scripture, too. We see a variety of human emotions across the Bible—it’s not all praise, joy, and thanksgiving. We also witness anger, grief, hurt, sadness. All of these emotional experiences can be found in one place, the place I turn in my darkest moments: the book of Psalms. N.T. Wright, in his book, The Case for the Psalms: Why They Are Essential, wrote: “[The Psalms] are full of power and passion, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope.” Psalms provide a place for us to pour out our feelings, whatever they may be, in prayer to God.
One reason why I love to pray the psalms, especially when I am feeling angry, is because of their poetic nature. Wright wrote: “A poem...uses its poetic form to probe deeper into human experience than ordinary speech or writing is usually able to do, to pull back a veil and allow the hearer or reader to sense other dimensions.” Psalms give us the gift of expressive language, the use of similes, metaphors, and adjectives to describe our emotions. I feel the deep yearning of the psalmist in Psalm 61: “From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” The imagery captures how I imagine the psalmist felt on the inside: lost, unseen, crying out from a tumultuous place. I’ve found the poetry found in the book of Psalms can give words to my deepest emotions, when it’s often difficult for me to do that myself.
The Psalms also connect us. Wright wrote: “The Psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures.” Though there are many psalms of praise, we also know there are psalms of anger and grief, loneliness and pain. It is comforting to know that we are not alone in these feelings; God’s people, from the very beginning, have felt this way. Believers have placed into words their frustration over loss, brokenness, and even directed their anger at God. The Psalms unite us as a people of emotional depth, and remind us that our God is big enough to handle it. God wants us to wrestle with questions and emotions. God wants to walk with us through the valley of anger, and help us emerge on the other side. God wants us to be honest with him, and with ourselves. God is here for us, through each and every emotion. When I am angry and hurt, these are the psalms that I pray most often. Sometimes I read them silently, sometimes I shout them, sometimes I cry. I always read the entire psalm, reminding myself that in the darkest places, I can find comfort in God’s redemptive love. However you pray, I hope these may be a blessing to you.
Excerpt: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?...I am worn out from my groaning” (vv. 3,6).
Excerpt: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” (v. 2).
Excerpt: “My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest” (v. 2).
Excerpt: “‘Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.’ You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (vv. 11-12).
Excerpt: “I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched” (v. 2-3).
Looking for more resources on this topic? You can read our devotional series titled “Jesus in the Psalms.” Start with day one here.