Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
When we are faced with difficulties in life, we need support from friends and family. We also need God’s help. Perhaps the most direct way to open ourselves to God is through prayer.
Prayer can be many things.
Prayer does not need to be long or complicated. When we are afraid or distressed we need to be able to talk to God directly and honestly. When we are experiencing difficulties, we need the freedom to pray in ways that are urgent and to the point. During difficult times our prayers may come in short gasps: “Help!” or “Show me what to do!”
Sometimes even praying short, urgent prayers can be more than we can do. Sometimes we have to rely on others who are praying on our behalf. And sometimes we have no words and have to let our prayer be the prayer of resting silently in God’s loving arms.
Many years ago, our oldest son dropped out of high school and started using drugs. I was in a state of codependent panic much of the time. A good friend prayed for me and asked God if there might be some message she could pass on to me. My friend had a strong sense of hearing God say one word. “Rest.”
When my friend relayed this word to me I was startled. Our son was not doing well. I was distraught and afraid. I was in full-alert mode, ready 24/7 to do whatever needed to be done. But the invitation was to rest.
Over time I have come to see the invitation to rest as an invitation to a very deep kind of prayer. It is the prayer of trust. It is the prayer of a young child who is afraid or overwhelmed and finds comfort and strength by curling up in their parent’s loving, protective arms.
The way this kind of prayer has worked for me has been very visual. I see and feel myself as a small child, held in Jesus’ arms. Sometimes I sit quietly with this image, allowing my body, my heart, my mind and my soul to be at rest. And sometimes I carry this image with me as I work or drive, allowing this silent prayer to soothe and sustain me.
Long before I was diagnosed with cancer, I helped lead a cancer support group. There were times when a group member would comment that they just could not pray. They felt too sick, or too exhausted to pray. Often they would report that their experience during these times was of being held by grace. All their lives they had been striving hard to pray “right” and believe “just right” in order to please God. Now all they could do was be. All they could do was rest in the reality that God was with them, that God was caring for them. And in this way they came to experience God’s love and grace in ways they had never been open to experiencing before.
It is my practice to write in a prayer journal almost every day. This writing is personal, private and honest. I tell God what I am feeling, what I am needing, where I see myself failing, what I am grateful for. I invite God to show me more about ways in which I need to be corrected or healed. I ask for wisdom and guidance for my day. I give myself, my day, my worries to God. I share my gratitude for all the gifts I have received. And I express my love and affection for God.
Pouring out my heart to God in this way helps to keep me more honest and more grounded. And it helps me stay in a place of humility. Prayer is an act of humility. It is an acknowledgment that we are creatures—that we are dependent on our Creator. It reminds us that we are not God. It reminds us that we are not in charge.
This kind of dependency is not easy for most of us. We live in a culture that values independence, self-sufficiency, doing for oneself. We minimize the reality of our deep interdependence, as neighborhood communities, as national communities and as a global community. And we minimize our dependence on God—for life, for breath, for help and care of every kind.
Many of us struggle with deep shame for having a need we cannot meet by ourselves. Being dependent and in need of help or support feels shameful. This kind of shame often has its roots in childhood experiences of neglect or abuse. If our needs and natural dependency were not responded to with support and respect, we may have come to the conclusion that it is a bad and shameful thing to need others or to need God.
The truth is that we need each other and we need God. God does not shame us for our needs, instead God welcomes us and all of our needs.
An exercise that has been very helpful to me when I have gone through difficult times has been to read through the Psalms. This was especially powerful for me during the years when I was processing the raw pain that I carried as a result of childhood trauma. The Psalms helped me find the words of need and longing that my shame wanted to hold back. The psalmists do not hold back anything out of shame. They pour out their hearts and souls to God. The fear, the anger, the need for help of every kind, the longing for relationship with God, the gratitude for God’s love and care, the joy. It is all there.
The psalmists teach us that we can “call on God in the day of trouble” and that God will respond with the love, the strength, the compassion and the help we need.
Whether our prayer is a gasp, an outpouring of our hearts, a quiet resting in God, or a simple trust that others are praying for us, it is a blessed thing to pray.
When you don’t know what to do…pray.
Questions for reflection and discussion
1. What is it like for you to pray when things are going smoothly?
2. What has it been like for you to pray during a time of difficulty?
3. What are you most needing from God today?