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How to Pray for Help (When You Don’t Know What You Need)

One evening after a particularly vicious rain storm, I walked out on my porch to see the HUGEST full-sky rainbow I’ve ever seen! It was so big I couldn’t even get it all into this picture. But I felt sure, watching that rainbow, that any prayer I prayed in that moment would be received by a deity who was in a good mood.

Lately as I’ve been blogging here, I’ve noticed myself mentioning prayer. Specifically, I’ve found myself mentioning me, praying.

Prayer, praying, pray – this is another one of those weird “religion words” for me….the kind that automatically evokes visions of hours on (aching) bended knees, which never get any carpeting or a nice padded mat to relieve their distress.

It brings up memories of prayer instruction, the kind that begins with phrases like “our father in heaven” and goes on to share all about all the things we promise to do, and not to do, and rarely ever gets to the actual issue in need of praying for.

I don’t do well with this kind of formal, structured prayer. For starters, its not like a conversation at all, but rather a monologue in hopes of saying the right things to get the desired results. But also this kind of prayer seems (to me at least) to often skirt the issue of what the actual problem is, and to also not spell out precisely what is being asked for or prayed for.

The type of formal religious prayer structure I learned as a youngster in Methodist sunday school classes also scares me. Honestly, it does! All the thous and thees and “almighty gods” …. it feels like a particularly death-defying round of “He loves me….He loves me not….” where both participants are in a bad mood.

Here, good things cometh to those who wait is rapidly replaced with “best not to ask and just live with it.” After all, at least this way I avoid the thunderbolt or pillar of salt or whatever the grumpy almighty-in-question might feel moved to toss in my direction.

The best praying I’ve ever heard about comes from an Anne Lamott book I’ve long since forgotten the name of. 

But I do remember she was pretty new in her faith (Christianity being her preferred method, at least last time I checked) and she was just learning how to pray. And her church sounded quite a bit more relaxed than the many I’ve since left behind, and somehow she landed on this really great, simple, sincere method that takes no time at all and really hits home.

In the essay, she describes how, when she needs help of the higher-up kind, she prays, “HELP!”

So that’s what I do too.

At 47 years and escalating, I’ve long since realized that often what I pray for – specifically – isn’t nearly so great once I get it as it sounded in my prayers. Sometimes by the time it comes (if ever) I don’t even want it anymore. And sometimes, I find out later on I’ve prayed for exactly the wrong thing.

With a simple prayer like “HELP!” I don’t have those worries anymore. I am trusting, or hoping anyway, that whatever cosmic presence has been assigned to check on me every so often is wiser than I am and has a bigger picture of life in general, and my life in particular, than I do. And so this being will likely pick out a better kind of help for me than I could possibly pick out for myself.

In this way, I suppose my method of prayer is not unlike bringing an honest friend along when you go shopping for bathing suits. When you’re wearing that little clothing, you really want what you do wear to do the job.

This method of prayer also applies when others ask me to pray for them, by the way. Sometimes I am asked to pray for very specific things, and usually I try to comply. But even there, sometimes I struggle with wondering or worrying that what the person has asked me to pray for is not as beneficial or ideal or wonderful as what they really need, which I can’t possibly know, but which their cosmic presence surely does know and is eager to send along to them.

So sometimes I just pray for that person, “HELP!” And then I think of them and imagine the “HELP!” message going to their deity of choice and getting catalogued and queued up for delivery.

There is one more way that I sometimes pray that is slightly more specific than just “HELP!” This usually occurs during meditations, and sometimes when I’m looking for something I lost, or something someone else lost, or a parking space in a really full lot.

For the latter, I will pray, “Show me a parking spot.” Or “show me Mom’s keys.” Most of the time I then “find” the lost or wished-for item. After this happens, I ALWAYS say “thank you!”

During meditation, my prayer often looks more like an actual conversation, where the being on the other side of the conversation is way more approachable and interested and isn’t holding a hammer or a thunderbolt just in case.

During these prayers, I will share what I am struggling with and ask for help. Like, “well I have all this chronic pain and I’m trying every which way to find something that works – please help me.”

So here, the request is specific but the result is open-ended. I guess. I just feel like open-ended is the best type of request when you’re making the request in a prayer format. After all, if you could figure it out on your own, why ask for help?

Often after these prayers I will then suddenly and spontaneously “figure it out,” after which I ALWAYS say “thank you!” A delayed “thank you!” is fine here, too – what matters is that I remember eventually, even if I’m too excited or occupied in that moment to remember to say “thank you!”

So that’s how I pray. I just thought I would share it here in case anyone else struggles like I do to figure out a method of prayer that works well and doesn’t bring up childhood Old Testament God nightmares or feel like a long apology followed by a quick thanks and talk to you soon.

Today’s Takeaway: Do you ever struggle with mixed messages about prayer – what it is for, how to do it, who hears it, what mood they may be in, whether you ask in the right way or using the right words? Have you found a way to pray that feels good to you, natural and real and authentically you? I’d love to hear about it!




How to Pray for Help (When You Don’t Know What You Need)

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2018). How to Pray for Help (When You Don’t Know What You Need). Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Mar 2018
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