How to ask God for Help! on this Journey

Reflections from Dr. Howell

The Help! in Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow seems obvious – but is it? Lots of people aren’t regular prayers until they or someone they love has fallen into a deep hole. Do we merely ask God to help us with our health? Or if we’re in a panicked crisis? I resonate with Isaac Bashevis Singer’s clever thought: “I only pray when I am in trouble. But I am in trouble all the time.” And then we have the troubles of the world…

So to keep me from being the center of the universe, we discipline ourselves to take the time to pray for the world out there and its messes. “Let your heart be broken by the things that break God’s heart” (Bob Pierce). Instead of grumbling about or averting your gaze from the news, you look it straight in the eye, and pray for Ukraine, Haiti, hunger, storm-ravaged places, whatever it is that makes immigrants flee. And it’s not that you expect such prayers to “work.” You are sympathizing with the ache in God’s own heart, and expressing solidarity with your fellow human beings.

Help! continues with people closer to us. The sick, of course – but reflect on people who are lonely, stuck in lousy jobs, anxious, in rough marriages, eaten up with anger, or those who don’t care about or love God, and have no sense of a calling. Linger on these prayers.

When you come finally to you – the me – we begin not with Here’s what I need or want. We begin with Confession. Not groveling, or taking a guilt trip. Whatever has distanced me from God or hurt others or failed to assist others, my negativity or my cocky attempts to go it on my own. God, I’ve not just messed up here or there. I am a mess.

Once you’ve confessed, then welcome the mercy. Believe it is even in that moment healing your heart. You’re forgiven – and if so, how could you possible not forgive others, or even forgive God or life itself?

We might back up a little and acknowledge our baffling confusion about what’s sin, and what isn’t. Some thoughts, words and deeds grieve God’s heart, but seem innocent or even good to us. And then we harbor guilt over what is just no big deal to God. The whole idea of “sin” gets weaponized too: instead of humbly asking what’s awry in me, I look down my spiritual nose at somebody else and think he’s the sinner.

And there’s the confusion in American life. How hilarious – and scary – is it that what the Church has named as the 7 deadly sins (for two millennia!), greed, sloth, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, and pride, and glorified now as the good life in our culture! Society’s chipper goals, the rich life as portrayed in the media, is out of sync with God’s desires for us to be humble, holy, generous, and compassionate.

In our Confessing, we might also be cognizant of what Gandhi enumerated as the “7 social sins”: pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, politics without principle, religion without sacrifice, science without humanity, and wealth without work. There is some element of confessing not merely my personal, private sin, but also the sin of the society in which I am enmeshed.

No praying is complete with asking God, What are you asking of me? Often, when we pray for others, we might add And God, show me some way I might be part of the answer to my own prayer for them. It’s not What do I want to do? or What do I want to do for God? but What does God want me to do? Here’s where prayer is especially quiet. You wait. You listen. For minutes, for days, maybe weeks. God’s call will come.

Try this – the whole email you just read! And try this daily.