What does the homeless woman pray as she huddles under a cardboard shelter? What did the religious among the schoolchildren who drowned in South Korea pray as they sank beneath the surface? What does the unemployed veteran cry out to God as he relives painful memories each night, only to awaken to an equally frightening present? What does the lawyer pray, after winning her case, when she drives home to a marriage in disarray? What does the angry voter pray, as he enters worship enraged at national leaders, and yearning for restoration in his homeland, but also wanting peace in his soul?
Sometimes, we do not know what to pray. We’re afraid to unleash pent-up rage in a petition to our Creator. Repeated failures have numbed our hope for anyone, even God, caring. We may, in those moments, open our Bibles and discover cries of lamentation by psalmists, Job, and Jeremiah. Their protesting prayers provoke recognition of familiar emotions. We hear their pain, and acknowledge our own.
We may stumble into worship wondering why we bothered when all seems lost. Our thoughts distract us during the prayers; we find it difficult to concentrate during the reading of scripture and the sermon. But the words of a song capture our attention. Even we think we cannot sing because the pain is too great, we hear those around us singing,
“Father, hear the prayer we offer; Nor for ease that prayer shall be, but for strength that we may ever live our lives courageously. Not forever by still waters would we idly, quiet stay, but would smite the living fountain from the rocks along our way. Be our strength in hours of weakness, in our wand’rings be our guide. Thru endeavor, failure, danger, Father, be thou at our side. Let our path be bright or dreary. Storm or sunshine be our share. May our souls in hope un-weary make thy work our ceaseless prayer. Amen.”
That song of prayer by Love M. Willis, written in 1856, reminds us that our yearning is neither new nor unique. We learn from prayers and poems written by fellow travelers how we can express our dreams, our fears, and our hopes in our darkest hours. What have you prayed in your hours of deepest need?