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How to Pray When You Don't Know How You Feel

“How are you feeling?”

If you’re like me, you might be tempted to give a short, one-word answer to that question. When I get home from work, my wife will often ask me how I’m doing.

If the day went well, I’d say things like, “good, great, or fine.”

If the day didn’t go well, I would use words like “bad, hard, or tired.”

The problem with this response is that it is difficult to summarize how we feel with a single word. Our emotions are complex. Rarely do we feel only one way about a situation.

One day I sat with my counselor and gave simple responses to the questions he asked me. He didn’t let me get away with it. Instead, he handed me a “Feeling Wheel” and told me to pick five words that describe how I was doing. Some psychologists claim that humans can feel over 34,000 emotions!

Not only are humans complex individuals, but we live in complex times. The is so much turmoil going on in the world around us. We interact with more information in the digital age than we know what to do with. Yet, the crisis and disasters don’t eliminate God’s blessings. In a single month, I conducted a funeral and a wedding for the same family. Life is often a mixed bag of emotions.

How should we process all these emotions? Some try to shut them off. They shove their feelings way down deep inside until they come pouring out all at once. Others wear their hearts on their sleeves. Depending on how they feel, they act like a completely different person from one moment to the next. Neither one of these methods provide a satisfactory solution.

We must be willing to process what we are feeling. Talk it out. See a counselor if needed. The most reliable person to process our emotions with is God. If you read through the Psalms, you will find some of the most emotive language ever written. Prayer is a place to talk to God about how you really feel.

Here is a prayer exercise I do regularly. You can pray it out loud or journal through it quietly. I even recorded an IGTV video for our church demonstrating this exercise. It’s easy to remember because it rhymes. Take time to talk to God about what makes you sad, mad, worried, and glad.

😭 Sad.

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” - Psalm 30:5


Grieving is a time to let God in, not shut Him out. Remember that Jesus wept. To mourn is to be like Christ. We live in a broken world, and it hurts when we experience that brokenness. Grieving with God is the gateway to the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

😤 Mad.

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” - Ephesians 4:26-27

Some anger is righteous, but most anger is not. We have trouble telling the difference if we never bring our anger to God. Whether it is a minor frustration or full-blown wrath, God wants to hear your anger. Voicing your anger to God will allow you to let go of bitterness. When we pray, we remember that God is the ultimate judge. By the power of the gospel, we can forgive as we have been forgiven.

😬 Worried.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” - Philippians 4:6


How many of our worries never manifest in reality? Instead of sitting with your hypothetical situations alone, let your concerns be known to God. Of course, God already knows your situation perfectly. But there is something that happens inside of you when you tell God what you are nervous about. He will give you the peace that surpasses understanding.

😀 Glad.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” - Philippians 4:4


You don’t always have to be happy, but there is always something to rejoice in the Lord about. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, God is with us. It is essential to feel the difficult emotions deeply. It is equally important to know that God is good all the time. Count your blessings. Praise God and say thank you. Ending a prayer time with gladness will allow you to see God through your situation.

 

What helps you process complex emotions? Let me know in the comments below!


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