I have a bit of a confession to make: whenever I pray out loud in front of other people, I always try to prepare ahead of time. I used to write out whole paragraphs and sentences. These days, I still jot a few notes to myself if I can. I don’t do this when I pray privately, but in public, especially when I’m praying for other people or their loved ones, I always want to present my perfect prayer both to them and to God.
Writing prayers ahead of time isn’t an offense by itself. It’s my need to speak perfectly that reveals my pride (and insecurity). We don’t need to be perfect in order for God to hear us in our suffering. What’s important is that we turn to prayer instead of giving up and that we are honest with ourselves and with God. Because God is there waiting for us, asking us to open the door to this relationship even when times are hard. In fact, when we are suffering the most and feel the most alone and are at our most incoherent, God reaches out to comfort us and listens to our prayers however they are and offers us provision and offers us faith.
In 1 Kings there is a story of a widow who lives alone with her son in a land completely destroyed from drought. Elijah, who prophesied this drought, comes to her and asks for some bread to eat. She says, basically, I have nothing to give you and I am about to go home to die.
This woman is at her end. She has lost her husband. She is about to die of starvation and she can’t provide for her son. But Elijah tells her to make him some bread and tells her that if she does this, God will provide for her. Can you imagine giving your last morsel of food to a stranger asking you to have faith in God? After almost every conceivable suffering has already befallen you?
She does so, welcoming Elijah into her home. And then her jar of flour and jug of oil become bottomless and she is able to feed her family and this stranger from then on. But one day her son gets incredibly sick and she yells out in her anger, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”