I pray because I'm helpless.
I pray because the need flows out of me all the time,
waking and sleeping.
It doesn't change God. It changes me."
― C.S. Lewis
I've been reading Anne Lamott's words for many years - and even occasionally writing about them (such as here and here). They touch me and inspire me and comfort me.
Anne Lamott's three prayers, she writes, are "variations on Help, Thanks, Wow. That's all I ever need, besides the silence, the pain, and the pause sufficient for me to stop, close my eyes, and turn inward."
Two of my favorite passages in the Thanks section are these:
- Grace can be the experience of a second wind, when even though what you want is clarity and resolution, what you get is stamina and poignancy and the strength to hang on.
- My pastor Veronica says that God always makes a way out of no way. This means that at some point, often against all odds, we will say "Thanks." Now, Veronica is paid to have faith, but even I - who am not paid to have faith - know that this is true. I don't always believe it, but I know it is true.
I loved so much of the Wow section! Lamott introduces it this way:
When we are stunned to the place beyond words, we're finally starting to get somewhere. It is so much more comfortable to think that we know what it all means, what to expect and how it all hangs together. When we are stunned to the place beyond words, when an aspect of life takes us away from being able to chip away at something until it's down to a manageable size and then to file it nicely away, when all we can say in response is "Wow," that's a prayer.
Here are some other great Wow prayer thoughts:
- Wonder takes our breath away, and makes room for new breath. That's why they call it breathtaking.
- Even though I often remember my pastor saying that God always makes a way out of no way, periodically something awful happens, and I think that this time God has met Her match - a child dies, or a young father is paralyzed. Nothing can possibly make things okay again. ... But people don't bolt, and at some point the first shoot of grass breaks through the sidewalk.
- Gorgeous, amazing things come into our lives when we are paying attention: mangoes, grandnieces, Bach, ponds. This happens more often when we have as little expectation as possible. If you say, "Well, that's pretty much what I thought I'd see," you are in trouble.
- Astonishing material and revelation appear in our lives all the time. Let it be. Unto us, so much is given. We just have to be open for business.
- Sometimes - oh, just once in a blue moon - I resist being receptive to God's generosity, because I'm busy with a project and trying to manipulate Him or Her into helping me with it, or with getting my toys fixed or any major discomfort to pass. But God is not a banker or a bean counter. God gives us even more, which is so subversive. God just gives, to us, to you and me. I mean, look at us! Yikes.
- God keeps giving, forgiving, and inviting us back. My friend Tom says this is a scandal, and that God has no common sense. God doesn't say, "I have had it this time. You have taken this course four times and you flunked again. What a joke." We get to keep starting over.
- If we stay where we are, where we're stuck, where we're comfortable and safe, we die there. We become like mushrooms, living in the dark, with poop up to our chins. If you want to know only what you already know, you're dying. You're saying: Leave me alone; I don't mind this little rathole. It's warm and dry. Really, it's fine.
Lamott ends the book with a few thoughts about Amen. "The Amen," she says, "is only as good as the attitude. If you are trying to finish up quickly so you can check your cell phone messages, you are missing the chance to spend quiet moments with the giver of life and the eternal, which means you may reap continued feelings of life racing along without you."
I love this counsel from Alma to his son Helaman regarding prayer:
Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day (Alma 37:37).
It's all in that one verse: Learning to trust God. Honoring Him. Loving Him. Help. Thanks. Wow.
Note of Explanation: Part of my 10-week plan for summer this year is to read one short, inspirational book each Sunday afternoon and ponder on what I can learn from it. This blog post represents part of my efforts to do that.