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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. 

2 thoughts on “How to Pray for Help (When You Don’t Know What You Need)

  • April 11, 2018 at 2:15 am

    Hi Shannon,
    For what it’s worth, I think many (if not most?) of us who are inclined to pray struggle with it. For those of us who believe in God, who have gone to church or undergone any sort of religious education or training, I think it can be intimidating–especially in the beginning!
    I mean, how do I, a mere mortal, a speck of humanity on this giant revolving orb called earth, approach and talk to an omnipotent God? What if I say too much, too little, fall asleep during my prayer (guilty!), don’t kneel (and guilty again–Lord, forgive me for a bad knee..) or don’t use appropriate wording?
    Personally, I believe in a merciful God who hears the cries of our hearts! I LOVE your prayer of “Help!” because it IS sincere and it acknowledges need. I also like your prayer (because I was taught to pray ending my requests, praise, etc “in Jesus name, Amen”)because leaving the prayer somewhat non-specific doesn’t LIMIT God. I feel that if we want His will to be done, then leaving options open is a sensible and respectful approach lol!

    • April 11, 2018 at 8:53 am

      Lovely wisdom – and so well said! “Sensible and respectful” really hits home for me!


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