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Prayers: Asked and Answered


A few months ago, I read a book called Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott. She wrote that prayers can be simplified into three basic categories. The title is evident of these categories: Help, Thanks, Wow.


As a person who wasn’t raised in faith, I struggled with the act of prayer when I first came to believe as an adult. I would wonder, do I talk aloud? Am I talking to myself? I knew what I wanted, what I needed, what I thought I needed, but I didn’t know how to convey this and I definitely didn’t know whether God was listening. My early prayers were clumsy, some reciting the written prayers of others because with God as my audience, I would get tongue-tied. More often than not, I’d use David’s words from Psalms when I couldn’t find my own. Anne Lamott wrote, “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” I think coming from a place of humility before praying makes us more receptive to God’s answers. In retrospect, I wish I had known this during those early faith years.


Help prayers are petition prayers. There is something you’re struggling with, it could be big or it could be small. It could be personal or could be on behalf of someone else. It could be anything. I would also include confessional prayers in the Help category. In these prayers, share with God the problem, and ask for help. Although there are many things I will pray for help, I pray this one everyday: God, please help heal my daughter from her seizures. Please help her learn. Please help her find her voice.


Thanks prayers are gratitude prayers. They are a recognition that God intervened in your life. They can be thanks for the minuscule or the grandiose. Lamott wrote, “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.” It is so easy to fixate on all that is wrong in the world, especially these days. An attitude of gratitude is a saving grace, what helps you steer pass the negativity and makes your heart receptive to God’s love. Gratitude prayers can be as simple as God, thank you for my lungs to breathe, for my ears to hear, for my eyes to see, for my hands to hold, for my feet to walk, for my body and its strength, and for my heart that beats inside my chest.


Wow prayers are those inspired by the awesome powers of God in our lives. They can manifest in a number of ways. If your eyes are open, if you merely look around, it’s all right there. “What can we say beyond Wow, in the presence of glorious art, in music so magnificent that it can’t have originated solely on this side of things? Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath,” Lamott wrote. My favorite Wow prayers are at dawn, sipping coffee in my Wonder Woman mug next to the window. I can see the sky waking up, brushing off the night. I can see a kaleidoscope of colors painted in the sky. God changes his palette by the day, but I see hints of pink, orange, blue, purple, and white on His canvas. If I want to feel awed by God, I look at the sky, I look at nature, and I think Wow. Only such beauty can be created by God Himself.


Like anything else, prayer is a habit and I would argue that prayer should not be reserved as a weekly check in with God. Prayer isn’t a time-consuming commitment. It can be words of thanks before a meal, a recognition of a problem and asking for help. It can be a quick Wow, this beautiful. Prayer is a habit. My favorite times to pray are early morning or in the evening, when my girls are both asleep, and I have the quiet to sit. I can pray. I can breathe. I can listen. It’s the act of listening where I find clarity.


God answers prayers with one of three answers: Yes, No, and Not Yet. I don’t think Maybe is an answer choice because I think God knows whether or not He will ultimately intervene, He just may not do it at that time. I struggle with Not Yet answers because I’m an impatient person, especially when I was younger. I don’t believe God is concerned with what we believe should our timeline. God has His own timeline for us, and He will answer when He sees fit. This makes more sense to me now that I’m a parent. I do the same thing with my kids. If they want something but I don’t think they’re ready, I’ll withhold it. I won’t give them what they want if I don’t believe they’re ready, for their own good. God works this way with us. He’s waiting for the right time to answer with a resounding yes (or no), when we’re ready.

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