“Help!” Prayer

Jan 7, 2013

I’ve been reading Anne Lamott‘s slender but buff new book called Help,Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. As usual, she is funny, articulate, irreverent, holy, honest, crass, devout, perceptive…all at the same time. Except for a few direct quotes, I won’t try to summarize what she says–too much humor and good writing would be lost in the translation. Just borrow the book from the library or fork out the $17.95 and share it with a friend when you’re finished.

I decided to intentionally incorporate “Help, Thanks, and Wow” into my praying in color prayers. In some ways I already do this but without overt use of the three words. For “Help” prayers, I write the names of people and doodle around them. Anne uses a “God box.” She writes a name or an issue on a piece of paper, folds it up, and offers it to God by putting it in a box saying some pious words like: “Here. You think you’re so big? Fine. You deal with it. Although I have a few more excellent ideas on how best to proceed.”

“Help” is often the final-straw prayer for me when all other words–to others, myself and God– fail. Anne says: “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in reaching the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged:” She starts the list of “everything bad” with: mind-chatter, physical tension, garbage from the past…. I can add my own bad things: arrogance, superiority, advice-giving, panic, despair, obsession….

Writing a person’s name on the page, drawing around it and saying “Help” is often my most articulate and righteous prayer. Those actions remind me that I have no idea what the people I’m praying for need; but God does. Sometimes in my verbal prayers I pray to shape people up in the way I want them to be. I want God to fix them so I don’t have to worry about them, so I will feel comfortable. This is more like manipulation than prayer. So, for me, when it comes to praying for other people, less words are more.

In the Help prayer below, I started in black and white. It was an honest, simple and finished prayer. But even when it felt done, I started to mess with it. I decided I could fix it, make it look just a bit better. “A little red would emphasize my need for help.” I added red and it looked like I had bled on the paper. “Maybe the chartreuse will help distinguish the red from the word Help.” It didn’t work. Help! Now it looks like the messy desperation I feel when I try too hard to make things work my way or to give someone just one more piece of advice or to pray too specifically or specially. Keep it simple, Sybil, just like the one-word plea “Help.” I hope I remember next time. Thanks, Anne.