You may not be a person who prays. And if you do, you may not be someone who prays very often. That is not unusual. Perhaps you dust off a memorized childhood prayer when you draw the short straw at a holiday meal. You pray then because it’s an occasion and there is an expectation that somebody will – please – say something.
But what do you say? If it’s a meal you generally aim the prayer at the food, the folks who prepared it, and those who are gathered to eat it. Simple enough.
What do you pray when the situation is more difficult and the words don’t come? What, for example, do you say to God in a hospital room when a family member is drawing her last breaths? No memorized prayer from your childhood probably fits that moment. And who has prayerful words for the parent who anxiously checks their cell phone when a teenager is really, alarmingly late getting home on a Saturday night?
There is a phrase the apostle Paul uses in his letter to the Romans that speaks to the heart of the matter. He writes, “For we do not know how we ought to pray; the Spirit intercedes with God for us with sighs too deep for words.”
How much more often might we have a conversation with God if we were relieved of the burden of knowing what to say? The good news is we can be silent and listen for what God would say to us. Our prayers can be a holy silence because the Spirit already makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.
Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation