I hate you.
I have been contemplating this brief prayer for several days after I read it in Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage (p. 157; an excellent read, btw!). Initially, I was horrified by how much I identified with the prayer and I was quite troubled by the prayer’s resonance in my soul. My first reaction was “I get the point.”
Them’s fighting words, it seems to me. It expresses our fight (or, as in the case of Jacob, wrestling) with God. The word “hate” stands for all the frustration, agitation, disgust, exasperation, and bewilderment we experience in the presence of God as we live in a suffering, painful and hurting world. “Hate” is a fightin’ word–a representation of the inexplicable pain in our lives. Sometimes, perhaps, we are too polite with God.
I hear Job in this word. God has denied Job fairness and justice, and Job is bitter (Job 23:1; 27:2). God is silent. God “throws” Job “into the mud” and treates him as an enemy (Job 30:19-20). God has attacked him and death is his only prospect (Job 30:21, 23). Job is thoroughly frustrated, bitter in his soul, and hopeless about his future. God was a friend who turned on him–“hate” might be an accurate description of Job’s feelings as he sits on the dung heap.
And yet, just as Madeleine’s brief prayer, Job ends with “Love, Job.” He speaks to God; Job is not silent. He does not turn from his commitment to God; he does not curse God or deny him. He seeks God even if only to speak to him and wait for an answer. He laments, complains, wails and angrily (even sarcastically) addresses his creator.
The contrast between “I hate you” and “Love, Madeleine” is powerful. It bears witness to the tension within lament and our experience of the brokeness of the world. Though deeply frustrated with the reality that surrounds us (whether it is divorce, the death of a son, the death of a wife, the plight of the poor, AIDS in Africa, etc.) and with the God who does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3; 135:6), we continue to sign our prayers (laments) with love. We have no one else to whom we can turn and there is no else worthy of our love, or even laments.
The signature–“Love, Madeleine” or “Love, John Mark”–evidences a relationship which is the foundation of the prayer itself. It is out of this love we pray; it is out of this love we lament. It is with love we say “I hate you.”
The poignant irony of that last sentence is, it seems to me, the essence of honest lament.
P.S. L’Engle’s A Stone for a Pillow is a wonderful exploration of fairness, suffering and our journey through the world with God though often in tension with God.