When We Can’t

I often talk with people who, after years of prayer and Bible study groups, no longer feel comfortable in those groups and do not pray or read the Bible on their own. They want to pray. They want to read the Bible. Some admit they don’t want to, but they want to want to pray and read their Bibles.

For reasons they can’t always explain, they struggle to pray and they cannot read the Bible.

Frederick Buechner wrote this about prayer:

Everybody prays whether he thinks of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket bursts over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else’s pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else’s joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way.

Listening to Your Life – Daily Meditation with Frederick Buechner, August 13th

Wordless Groans

What if we think about prayer in a different way? What if prayer isn’t limited to what we’ve learned about it so far? It seems Paul struggled with praying at different times and wrote the church at Rome to encourage them when they struggled.

Romans 8:26-27 says, “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.”

I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of these verses in The Message: “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves…”

I believe some of the most transformative prayers we pray are when we marvel at the beauty around us, we sit with someone grieving or laugh with someone celebrating, and we live a life of gratitude. For the life we have and the ones we have in it. Whether we use words or not, call it prayer or not; God is delighted.

We can always borrow prayers from others, too. The Book of Common Prayer not only includes the Psalms, but prayers from the saints before us. I wrote about borrowed prayers and some of my offerings below in an earlier post called Go Do Your Thing, Child of God.

He’s In These, Too

I went through a season of reading different devotionals, non-fiction, classic novels, and biographies instead of the Bible. One of my favorites is Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner. I quoted from it above. It’s a variety of daily meditations. Some are funny and others are serious. Some are observations about life, stories from the Bible, or readings from his books or sermons.

Other reading suggestions are below:

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott – this is the gritty story of how she came to faith.

Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren – the author is an Anglican priest and writes about how the night time prayer of Compline helped her through a season of what felt like prayerlessness.

Jayber Crow or Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry – these are two in a series of fictitious novels written about the people and town of Port William, Kentucky. The themes of grace, forgiveness, faith, and love are woven through the stories in a beautiful way. The author doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff of life, like loss and suffering.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books by Karen Swallow Prior – the author, a former college English professor, takes the reader on a tour through great works of literature to show us how virtue is cultivated not only by what we read, but how we read it. I read the books she connected with each virtue and it was a grand tour indeed.

The Great Dance: The Christian Vision Revisited by Baxter Kruger – Kruger makes the mysterious concept of the Trinity easier to embrace with Bible stories and personal ones. He brings the Christian vision to our ordinary daily lives.

When we can’t pray and when we struggle to read the Bible, He is with us. When we can’t, He does.


  1. Correna Locke on August 17, 2023 at 9:31 am

    Thank you 😊 💓

    • marieg on August 17, 2023 at 9:40 am

      Thank you for reading, Correna.

  2. Debbi Sexton on August 20, 2023 at 6:45 am

    One of the best posts I’ve ever read about this particular struggle in the life of a believer. It is a relief to know I’m not the only one!!!

    • marieg on August 20, 2023 at 8:13 am

      You are definitely not the only one. I believe the difficult seasons of our journeys are necessary. When we read about those we consider the great heroes of the faith, we read about their doubts, weaknesses, failures, and other struggles.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Debbi.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.