According to author Anne Lamott, there are three essential prayers: Help, Thanks, and Wow.
I am embarrassed to admit that my prayer life has not always been what anyone would call robust. I was raised to say my prayers at bedtime and we always said the blessing over meals, my brother and I each reciting in turn our rhyming parts of “God is Great, God is Good . . ..” I was uncomfortable in any situation where I might be called on to lead the prayer, worried that I would stumble over my words and sound foolish or, well, unpracticed. Which I was.
As an adult, I prayed in church and in Bible study class, and in gatherings where it was appropriate. When I prayed alone, it was usually when something big was happening in my life and I was thankful, worried, afraid, or hurt. I prayed about the big things that I felt I couldn’t handle on my own.
Losing my daughter knocked me to my knees figuratively and literally. That first day after getting the news, after making all the necessary calls, I found myself on my hands and knees on my bed wailing wordlessly. When I became aware that the sounds I heard were coming from me, I realized I was praying. The sounds weren’t words. I didn’t even know what to say to God at that point. The thing I wanted most was not going to happen. The Holy Spirit knew what I needed. My wordless groans were delivered to God as cries for help.
I gradually started to put more words to my prayers. Sometimes they were angry words, questioning words, exhausted words. But, they all meant “help.” When I realized that God was listening and that He was helping me, though not always in the exact way I asked for it, I started to be more intentional in my prayers. I got in the habit of reading a devotional every morning and passages from the Bible. Then I would pray the Lord’s Prayer followed by requesting help with the big issues I was still struggling with (nightmares, anger, depression). And, I would usually remember to say thank you for the big blessings I knew I still had in my life.
There were lots of little things that worried me: my hair getting thinner, my waist getting thicker, my irritation with my husband at the way he makes the bed every day. (I know, I know!) But, it didn’t even dawn on me to pray about these things. I was already dumping some pretty big stuff in God’s lap. It felt petty to bother Him with all these little things that I could fix on my own if I really tried hard enough. I’m a grown woman; I should be in control of my own life, right?
I was reading my Bible, but I was apparently skimming right over the parts that told me how I should be praying. “Pray without ceasing.”1 “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”2 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”3
Seriously? Everything? All the time? Yes.
So, I started doing that. I ask God for patience and gratefulness when I see the sheet hanging out under the side of the comforter on the bed. I ask Him to help me put the ice cream back in the freezer before I eat the whole pint. And, when I take a walk I find myself talking to Him about how much I love where we live and the people we have met here and it would be nice if the county would trim the grass along the road and Oh My Goodness tiny twin fawns with their mama!
Help. Thanks. Wow.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17-19
- Ephesians 6:18
- Philippians 4:6-7