Spiritual Practice


Andrew Garland Breeden

Three years ago, my grandfather was taken to the hospital after suffering a heart attack. My mother, sister, grandmother, and I were with him as the nurses and doctors prepared him for surgery. Standing at his bedside, my mother asked me to pray. I looked at her, shook my head, and told her I could not do it. A thousand tiny doubts and suspicions had been leading up to that moment. My doubt in the power of prayer was made public.

devozine Reflective Guy FTR TS 80467216I had spent a good deal of time in seminary, collecting words and phrases to use on occasions such as this. But I had nothing to say. I had made up my mind that we would get what we would get. What was the point in praying? I was ashamed, standing there with four people who believed that prayer could heal the sick and raise the dead. In a moment of trouble, they turned to me and I had nothing to give them.

Why could I not find anything to pray, even if what I prayed I did not mean? Sometimes our painful self-revelations do us good, even if their arrival is inopportune. Sometimes our worst moments are filled with grace.

Before he died, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NRSV). How could he pray those words, knowing what he would face on the other side of that prayer? Maybe he knew that he wasn’t going to get out of it, but that the angel was with him (Luke 22:39–44). Perhaps, all we can hope is that the angel will give us strength and see us through.

Maybe your prayers are eloquent, you pray without ceasing, and you have no doubts. Maybe you fall asleep at night talking in your head as I do. Maybe you have not prayed for some time now. Maybe you pray “Your will be done” at the beginning and close of every day, and you are OK when God’s will and yours are not the same. But if you struggle with prayer, it’s OK. Silence can be a prayer too. So can doubt and confusion. I think God listens to the prayers of the weak and baffled as attentively as God listens to prayers spoken in fine language by the pious and self-assured. Though I cannot say for sure, I believe God hears the sighs of our hearts, even the inaudible ones.

For those of you who can’t pray “Your will be done” and mean it, who can’t pray anything at all, or who wonder what difference it makes, do not let anyone tell you that wondering is unholy. There is no shame in prayers of silence, no guilt in praying your doubt, and no reproach in praying your confusion. Pray these prayers for a while. Pray them for as long as it takes. I reckon for some of us, myself included, it may take a long time.



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Think of a time when you tried to pray but could not find the right words or could find no words at all. Try writing or saying a prayer that expresses how you felt at that time.

Maybe this is the day you are having trouble finding words to express your prayer. If so, spend some time in silence, trusting that God knows and understands all that is going on in your life. Place into God’s hands your doubts, confusion, and questions; and know that God hears your prayer.

Andrew Garland Breeden is a reader, writer, and editor from Charlotte, Tennessee.

—from devozine (May/June 2014). Copyright © 2014 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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