I have unanswered prayers
I have trouble I wish wasn’t there
And I have asked a thousand ways
That you would take my pain away
You would take my pain away
“Your Hands” by JJ Heller
Step 11 of the 12 Steps says that, we “sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Maybe you pray. Maybe you pray a lot. Maybe you don’t.
Some of us take the call of scripture seriously and make a concerted effort to pray without ceasing. Morning meditations are an integral and necessary part of the day. If we have to miss them or shorten them, the rest of the day feels empty or void or off somehow. We pray before every meal. We take an inventory whenever something comes up during the day. We close our day with prayer and a tenth step inventory.
Others of us are not so diligent in our prayer life. Some of us have never prayed before. Some of us have only prayed when desperate times have called for desperate measures. That my be something as simple as bargaining with God to pass a test we didn’t adequately prepare for or as serious as begging God to keep a loved one in this life just a little while longer.
I’m gonna hedge my bets and say that all of us have prayed for something at some point in time, whether we believed in God at the time or not. If, however, that is not the case, there’s no better time to start than now. But that leaves us with a few questions. When do I pray? How do I pray? What do I pray for? What should I do when God doesn’t answer my prayers?
There’s not enough time in the world to completely answer all of those questions nor are there sufficient explanations, but I’m gonna hit you with my best shot.
When do I pray?
As I mentioned a moment ago, the Bible says that we should always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Please don’t be overwhelmed by the idea that you are supposed to pray all the time, and don’t feel burdened with that responsibility. You have to start somewhere. Start small.
Choose a time to pray every day that works for you. Pray in the morning when you first wake up or when you’re getting ready for bed. Pray at mealtime. Pray when something stirs you up or things go sideways. Just don’t beat yourself up about prayer. God isn’t going to chastise you for not praying. Prayer simply allows us to build a relationship with God. It’s hard (impossible) to grow in a relationship without some form of communication. And God wants to be in relationship with you.
How do I pray?
Prayer is a conversation. There are no special words. It doesn’t have to be flowery or perfect. There’s nothing you can’t say to God. Just talk, and realize that you may not hear someone speaking back. It can be out loud or in your head. Doesn’t matter. Figure out what works for you. If you haven’t been someone who regularly prays, remember that yelling at God now is still more of a relationship than you had with God when you weren’t talking to God at all.
What do I pray for?
For those of us in recovery, the eleventh step is fairly explicit that we should be praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
The Twelve and Twelve recommends that those of us who have never meditated before begin with a prayer by St. Francis.
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace – that where there is hatred, I may bring love – that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness – that where there is discord, I may bring harmony – that where there is error, I may bring truth – that where there is doubt, I may bring faith – that where there is despair, I may bring hope – that where there are shadows, I may bring light – that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted – to understand, than to be understood, to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen
This may seem like a lot. It might seem overwhelming. Meditation just means sitting with the words and letting them sit with you. If it helps, maybe just find a short passage of scripture or a few words and repeat them over and over again out loud or in your head. Rest with them.
Praying, on the other hand, can be boiled down to a simple phrase. Prayer should not be a laundry list of things that you want. God is neither Santa Clause nor a short order cook at Waffle House slinging hash browns scattered smothered, covered, and chunked. If you need some direction regarding anything in life, you can’t go wrong praying these simple words: “Thy will, not mine, be done.”
And one of my favorite prayers is a breathe prayer that I was taught in the early days of recovery. (A breathe prayer is just a prayer that can be said in the span of one breathe.) “God, help me to find in you what I’m looking for in (blank).”
What if God doesn’t answer my prayer?
Now we get to that pesky question. But first, let me ask you a question. Are you praying for the right things, or are you praying for God to bless what you’ve already decided in your heart or your head that you’re going to do anyway? That’s a big one. It’s easy to ask God to come alongside us in our endeavors. What’s difficult is asking God to show us how to join the endeavors and plans God has for our lives.
That being said, God isn’t going to answer all of our prayers. God can’t answer all of our prayers. There are things God will never do. One of the most difficult things to comprehend about prayer is that even when God does answer our prayers, they are never answered on our timetable. God does things in God’s time. When and if it makes sense to God for something to happen, it will.
God hears you. I promise.
All we can do is work to improve our conscious contact with God. The more time we spend entering into relationship with God, the better that relationship will be.
Our own best thinking got us here in the first place. It’s time for us to trust our Higher Power, Jesus Christ, to take the reigns in all aspects of our lives. I for one, am truly grateful to God for the prayers that have been answered in my life.
The rest of that JJ Heller song goes like this:
When my world is shaking, heaven stands
When my heart is breaking
I never leave your hands
Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me
They hold me still
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Isaiah 49:16a
– Alex Walker