When tragedy strikes, we often turn to thoughts and prayers. And yet so often in grief and loss, and in light of the unthinkable terrible that tramps across our world, we don’t even know what to think or what to pray. Prayer in grief can be difficult.
Words can feel like they fail us – and so we’re tempted to fall silent, with one another and in prayer. First, I just want to normalize this experience. In grief, it is common not to know what to say or what to pray. I know. I’ve been there.
The Difficulty of Prayer in Grief + Suffering
I know that it can be hard to put a shape to our pain through prayers because the pain can feel so shapeless and abstract. Prayer in grief can also be difficult because maybe we believe our prayers should look or sound a certain way and that would cause us to filter the honest gut-wrenching grief moving through us. Or maybe we wonder if there is even any point in prayer as we weep and wrestle with God.
When my daughter and dad died 12 years ago, I had so many questions related to prayer. Maybe you’re asking some of these same questions in your grief when it comes to praying:
- Do my prayers even matter?
- Does God really care?
- Can I actually say *this* to God?
- What do I even pray for?
The truth is, even for those of us who have anger and doubts to process in our grief, we have a deep longing for God. We know we need Him. Prayer matters. Prayer can help us navigate our grief and grieve with hope, even when it feels hard or near impossible.
If you can relate and prayer is difficult for you right now, imagine me gently cupping my hands around your face and lovingly looking into your eyes. From one griever to another, I want to tell you, I get it. And I want to encourage you to keep turning to God in prayer.
Keep seeking Him where you doubt He is. Discover assurance of His goodness and love in your grief. Find rest in knowing He hears and cares. Find freedom from releasing yourself of expectations of perfect prayers (there is no such thing).
Please consider these words to be an offering as I share different ways you can pray in grief that just might be the type of prayer you need right now.
When prayer is difficult in grief, try one of these 4 ways to pray.
4 Ways to Pray When Prayer is Difficult in Grief
1. Pray Honest Prayers of Lament
“Lament minds the gap between current hopelessness and coming hope.”Aubrey Sampson, The Louder Song
Lament is the language God offers grieving hearts. Lament crosses the cavernous void created by pain that attempts to separate us from God’s love. Lament is the bridge keeping us connected to God in our grief. It does this by inviting us to be honest.
God does not ask us to fake joy nor does He expect us to dismiss our pain. Lament reveals to us that God actually invites us to express our grief and our hearts as we are. God really does care about our pain and heartache, and lament can help lead our hearts to rest and rejoice in Him even when sorrows flood us.
Scripture is full of examples of lament. The book of Psalms is painted in prayers of lament. On the cross, Jesus Himself cried out Psalm 22, a psalm of lament (see Matthew 27:46).
It’s important to note that a biblical lament follows a certain structure.
- It begins with an honest expression of pain and crying out to God. It gives us permission to offer our complaints about suffering and pain.
- And then it teaches us to turn toward God to request help and intercession.
- Next lament pivots toward declarations of assurance and of our choice to trust in God, according to His character and promises.
- Ultimately, lament leads us to focus our hearts on praise and worship right in our weeping.
Coming at the end of 2022: I’m releasing a journal to help grieving hearts discover the healing power of writing their laments. Join my email list and be the first to know when it releases.
2. Pray Wordless Prayers
Remember how I mentioned that prayer can be hard because we don’t have the words? It can also be hard because we might just not even have the strength or energy to form the words. Well, take heart in knowing your wordless prayers are prayers.
Read and take comfort in what we can learn from the apostle Paul about prayer:
“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 through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
I once read that words are not the essence of prayer but the garment of it. The freeing, good news is that we don’t need to find the perfect words or even use any words at all for our prayers to be effective. Instead, we can:
- Rest in the knowledge that God knows our thoughts (Psalm 139:2) and our hearts (Romans 8:27),
- Trust that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalves through wordless groans (Romans 8:26),
- Draw our attention to the Lord as our hearts groan and trust in the nearness of God’s presence (Psalm 34:18).
Wordless prayers are still prayers that connect our spirits with the Holy Spirit.
3. Pray Borrowed Prayers
When we don’t know what to pray or can’t find words to pray, but we want words to pray, we can pray borrowed prayers. A borrowed prayer is using someone else’s written prayer and making it our own. You can use Scripture or prayer books to help you find prayers to pray and borrow.
Prayer doesn’t have to be unique or one-of-a-kind in order to be meaningful. I’m including some of my personal favorite places to turn to find borrow prayers (especially in grief):
Borrow these scriptures to pray in grief:
- Psalms 6, 10, 38, 43, 130
- Habakkuk 3
- Matthew 6: 9-13
Borrow prayers from these books for the grieving:
- Every Moment Holy, Volume II: Death, Grief, and Hope by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
- Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren
Please note: These are affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Affiliate links help support this website and help me offer resources that serve you. Thank you for your support.
4. Try Breath Prayer
Maybe for you, prayer once felt as easy and as natural as breathing. But maybe you’ve noticed that in your grief both your prayer and your breath have become strained.
It’s a common physical response for our muscles to tighten and for us to hold our breath (without even realizing we’re doing it). I know that whenever I’m feeling a lot of sorrow or anxiety, I can catch myself holding my breath at any given time in the day. Sometimes in grief, we have to be intentional with our breath–and the same is true with prayer.
Breath prayer is a beautiful way for us to return to two life-giving practices in our grief – in a way that can actually feel quite effortless.
As we return to our breath, we also turn toward God. As we focus on our breath and prayer, we are reminded that He is the very breath we breathe. He is the giver and sustainer of our breath and through our breathing, we can focus our weary spirits on Him.
To practice breath prayer, select simple, short phrases that can match your inhale and exhale. On an inhalation, meditate on one set of words, and on an exhalation, meditate on another set of words. It is helpful to use Scripture to inform your breath prayer.
An example of a breath prayer using Psalm 121:2 looks like this:
Inhale: My help comes,
Exhale: from the Lord.
Focused breathing and prayer enable us to center ourselves in the sometimes chaotic feelings in grief. We can focus on what is true and calm for anxious hearts, literally slowing our heart rates.
Breath prayer doesn’t need to be spoken out loud and it can be quick, which means we can do it parked in traffic, while washing dishes, waiting in line at the grocery store, really anytime anywhere; breath prayer makes prayer possible.
Praying in the middle of your grief may feel difficult, but your grief does not need to be a barrier to prayer.
When tears form faster than words and when doubt slips in on the coattail of grief’s darkness, our spirits need to commune with the Lord. Lean on any of these ways to pray as you grieve, and trust that the Lord will meet your heart with His comfort, love, and peace in your tender places.
He hears you. He cares for you. He longs to comfort your heart.
Keep praying, even when, especially when, prayer is difficult in grief.
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