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How to Pray (When You Feel Like You Don’t Know How)

How to Pray When You Feel Like You Don't Know How
Dr. Zoe Shaw, A Year of Self-Care

Growing up, my family believed in God but didn’t attend church. I thought that when you prayed you had to address God formally and the only “prayer” I knew was:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray dear Lord my soul you’ll keep
And if I die before I wake
I pray dear Lord my soul you’ll take

I prayed that a lot lying in bed at night as a child, but honestly, I didn’t even know what it meant. It just sounded like something one should say before going to bed. Especially since I grew up with anxiety, abuse, and a lot of uncertainty.

Have You Ever Felt Like You Don’t Know How to Pray?

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Being the oldest of four kids, I felt responsible for my siblings and we moved a lot. When we started a new school, my sister, Barbara, didn’t always pay attention to the bus we were supposed to get on to go home. OK, so a couple of times Barbara may have gotten on the wrong bus and we may have been separated from her for a little while. You know, back in the day when cell phones didn’t exist and our family didn’t even have a land line. Whenever we were separated, I thought we had lost her for good and I was in full panic mode. This is where I thought that if you prayed on your knees, God would for sure listen (I saw it on TV a time or two). So, I prayed my sing-song “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer for both Barbara and me.

Around the age of 16, I was sitting at the dining room table at a friend’s house. I knew they were a very strong Christian family and that they randomly picked someone to pray before dinner; I found myself saying under my breath, “Please don’t let them pick me. I don’t know how to pray.” Again, envisioning a lot of formal words spoken in a secret language I didn’t know. I didn’t realize that the mutterings under my breath were actually prayers, and that God was listening. In case you are wondering, they didn’t pick me to pray for dinner that night.

Until I reached adulthood, that was my knowledge, experience, and expertise on the subject of prayer. As I began attending church, I was intrigued by the idea of prayer. So I began to look at what the Bible had to say. I flipped to the very back where I found an index, by topic, in alphabetical order. I read all the verses about prayer. I also began paying close attention to the words people at church would use while praying. Sometimes there were formal words, but often times it just sounded like people talking to their parent or friend.

This Is What It Means to Pray Continually

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray continually.” What it means is that God is always with you, always eagerly listening to what you have to say. He patiently waits to engage in conversation with you. Because, simply put, praying is just another way to say that we are talking to God. I know, it’s mind-blowing how easy it is.

The book of Psalms is filled with outcries from David to God. The words that David often cried out did not flow eloquently from his lips. They were cries and often times when we are crying the words that come out are spewed as if spitting out sour milk. We feel bewildered by what we feel, and on its exit from our lips it makes no sense. Yet we know that if we keep it in it will makes us sick.

There will also be times in our lives when our hearts are so heavy, so anguished, that we don’t even have words. So, what are we to do then? The Holy Spirit will step in here, that’s his job. Romans 8:26 tells us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” That is what God wants to hear, the cries of our hearts, the guttural emotions spit from the depths of our beings for which we have no words.

We Can Pray About Anything and Everything

God doesn’t want us to only pray when we have requests, needs, or are in anguish. He wants us to pray when we are happy, filled with joy and thanksgiving. Another name for this kind of prayer is praise. The Psalms also contain the words of David giving praise to the Lord. Psalm 18:49 says, “Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O Lord; I will sing praises to your name.” James 5:13 says, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.”

Do you have children? Are you an auntie, godmother, or mentor to a child? You know those times when you see something going on in their life or see their wheels spinning with thought and you tell them in every way you know how that you are a safe space to share their thoughts, worries, dreams, and everything in between. This is what God wants from you.

Simply put, God wants to talk to you and he wants you to talk to him. He is with you at all times, day and night; you just have to speak. It’s like having a friend to talk to 24/7. Sitting at your desk with a concern? Tell Him. Excited that your husband got the raise he worked so hard for? Tell Him. Your heart is full of happiness as you watch your kids run through the sprinkler playing and laughing? Tell Him. Is your heart heavy with grief from the sickness or loss of a loved one? Tell Him. He wants to hear it all, spoken and unspoken. Talk to Him as you drive down the road or sit in silence in the dark. The location isn’t important. Your eyes don’t have to be closed and you don’t have to be seated—there are no rules. You just have to open your heart and pour it out to him.

I’m so glad to know that prayer doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. So don’t overthink it, dear friend!


For more encouragement in your faith, check out:

What Does It Mean to Be a Virtuous Woman?
A Breath Prayer to Put Your Mind and Body at Ease
Beginning Faith: Walking This Life With Grit, Grace and God
How to Read Your Bible: For Beginners

How a Woman of Grit and Grace Wears Her Faith

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Jennifer and her husband are a couple of empty nesters living in the upper left corner of the lower 48 with their dogs, cats, an occasional cow, and a stray horse named Amber.

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