Prayer, Plain and Simple

Sometimes I “try” to pray, with a deliberate discipline and effort. Well and good. But other times I find that prayers come bursting out of me accidently. I wonder, is reaching out to God when I’m at the raw edges of my life really the most natural way to live and the most natural way to pray? Do I pray best when I’m praying most naturally?  Here’s another piece from my book, Six Prayers God Always Answers.

Prayer can and does flow deliberately from discipline or habit, but it can also burst through instinctively. Real prayer hides.


Often the most precious prayers don’t look like prayers at all. They come out unbidden. They accidentally rupture, impulsively burst forth, or covertly distance themselves. They are buried in our unfiltered reactions to the joys and pains and fears of typical days in typical lives. If such prayers could find a voice of their own they may not even realize they were prayers at all. They sound unassuming, unpretentious, brash, down-to-earth and often shockingly irreverent.


A near miss at a busy intersection and someone screams.  

An employer breaks a promise and the victim mumbles.

A patient hears a medical report, covers her mouth, and weeps.

A soldier deployed in the desert holds a perfumed letter and pounds his helmet against a cement wall.


“Oh, my god.”


It is hardly an exaggeration to call prayer an instinct. Before we think, consider the implications, weigh the probabilities, or balance our philosophic algebra, we pray.


It seems our prayers well up around the things we love: love of a child, love of a spouse, love of beauty, love of our own lives. And conversely, around those things we fear–the fear of losing what we love.


Consider these expressions:

God, help me, I’ll never do it again.

God, are you there?

Goddamn it!

Save me, God!

Please, God!

Oh, god, you’re beautiful.


Whether on TV, in the movies, or in conversation, people thoughtlessly invoke the name of God into the mundane (“Oh, my God!”) and the profane (“Jesus Christ!”). Believers are offended–convinced it is disrespectful, even blasphemous. Nonbelievers toss it up to a slip of the tongue or simply “cultural expression.”


But what if these were really prayers?

Have you ever prayed without knowing it was prayer? Have you ever intended to pray and failed? What if the best way to communicate with God is to do it most instinctively, to stop intending and trying and to simply speak honestly to God out of the raw moments? What do you say?

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