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
with groans that words cannot express.
Sometimes prayer is God expressing for us what we cannot express. It is not uncommon for us to think of prayer as something we have to do on our own power. This way of thinking of prayer often includes the mistaken belief that we have to know what to ask for or what to say before we talk with God.
But there are many times in life when situations are overwhelming or distressing, or we are lost and confused. In those times we don’t have any idea what it would mean to pray. No words come. As a result, we may inadvertently shut our hearts and minds and turn our backs to any possibility of prayer. We may deny, or minimize, or intellectualize about the situation and not even think of praying.
The amazing truth is that God invites us to stay prayerful even when we don’t know how to pray. Even when we are overwhelmed or lost or confused. Even when we have been rendered speechless. Even when we don’t have any sense at all about “what we ought to pray for,” God invites us to stay present to the reality of the situation and to God. God invites us to keep our hearts and minds open. God tells us that we can allow the Spirit to pray for us and for the situation, and that the Spirit’s prayer becomes our own.
Our tendency as humans is to rely on ourselves. We think we have to figure things out and make things happen. Even prayer is something we rely on ourselves to do.
But God is always calling us to give up our self-reliance and to actively seek counsel, wisdom and guidance from God. This means that even our praying is not all on our shoulders. Even praying is something that God wants to teach us and guide us to do. But more than that, praying is something that God wants to do in us and through us.
In this prayer of not knowing how to pray we are reminded that all of life is meant to be lived in reliance on God. We are also reminded that God’s wisdom and knowledge are far beyond our own. And we are reminded that God knows us intimately and personally. We are not alone. God is with us and actively for us, praying for us and through us even when we don’t know how to pray.
The prayer of God expressing for us what we don’t know how to express is a prayer of trust, of surrender, of humility. It is the prayer of staying open in our weakness to the power and the love of God working and praying through us and for us.
Sometimes I don’t know how to pray.
Sometimes I think I know
when really I don’t.
Thank you that it is okay to be at a loss.
Thank you that when I am speechless,
when I am uncertain or overwhelmed,
and do not know how to pray or what to pray
that your Spirit prays for me
with great wisdom and knowledge,
with deep understanding and love.
Help me to keep my heart and mind open to you
in prayerful awareness
even when I don’t know how to pray.
Thank you that you, Spirit,
pray for me and through me.
In a time of quiet ask God to show you where you have closed your heart and mind to the possibility of prayer because you did not know what to pray. Ask for the grace to be open in your weakness to allowing the Spirit to pray for you.
from An Enduring Embrace: Experiencing the Love at the Heart of Prayer,
by Juanita Ryan, 2012