Updated: Dec 23, 2021
“Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.” — Rabia
The great challenge of prayer is that it only works when you're naked.
You have to come to God willingly stripped bare, as it were, of all artifice and pretense, with everything you typically hide, suppress, or deny laid out before you on courageous display—not so that God can see it, but so that you can. Anything less than this isn't a prayer at all. It's just another dress or jacket you put on to make yourself feel better about all the secrets you're hiding.
One of the most honest prayers a person can pray is simply this:
“God, tell me the truth about me.”
Any man or woman who prays this with genuine courageous sincerity will get an answer from God, because God is truth, and so whenever God reveals the truth about anything, he's revealing something essential and life-giving about himself.
This is in part why Jesus said so definitively, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We love to deflect this and say Jesus is talking about theology and doctrine here. That's a very convenient interpretation for someone who loves hiding inside their pretty clothes, because then all they have to do is memorize enough Scripture and they can claim to “be free.” But how can anyone hope to see the truth of Scripture clearly when their vision is blurry and their eyes are crossed?
The first truth you need to know is the truth about yourself. Only when you have seen yourself clearly as you really are, reflected in the eyes of Christ in all your nakedness, can you have any hope of seeing anything else as it truly is. You can't see the truth about anything when your eyes are broken, least of all what's true about God, or what's true about other people. This is why Jesus said to take care of the plank in your own eye before worrying about the speck in your neighbor’s. None of us sees anything as we ought to, and there's no remedy for this except getting truly naked before God and asking him to tell you the truth about yourself. It's the truth about you that sets you on the path to freedom, because, as Carl Rogers has said,
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
God's intention in requiring such humble nakedness in us isn't just for us to be exposed to ourselves, and to see clearly what we are—both the glory and the shadow—but to come to the place where we can do this with no shame. For to be “naked and unashamed” is in a sense the restoration of Eden in our hearts—not going back to a place of innocence and naïveté before we sinned, but rather going forward to a place of compassionate acceptance of all the darkness within us, and the conscious reintegration of all that has been lost or broken in us into a whole, new creation.
This is deep, subtle work, and moves well beyond any of the shallow interpretations of holiness that are so common in religious practice today. God means for us to be whole, and that wholeness can only be accomplished, not by hating the darkness within us, but rather by loving it. The intent of God's work in us is redemption and restoration, not judgment and separation. When a doctor encounters and man with a mangled leg because of some foolish thing the man did, the intent of the doctor is to save the leg—to heal and restore it—not to cut it off. If such love is true for a human doctor, how much more true would it be for God, who created the doctor and placed in her the desire to love?
So nakedness in prayer is the path to compassionate self-acceptance without shame, and compassionate self-acceptance, surrendered to God, is the path to healing, redemption, restoration, and freedom. And freedom is the beginning of the real apprenticeship of becoming who we are meant to be.