By Peggy Ekerdt
A few weeks after the sudden death of my brother-in-law, I spent the day with his 6-year-old son. As I tucked Carl into bed that evening, it was all I could do to pull up the covers and kiss him good night. Not able to trust myself to speak, let alone pray, I fled the room before he could see my tears. I felt as if my heart were about to break. Life for Carl and for all of us who loved his dad seemed so very hopeless. The years since then have brought their own kind of grace, and Carl and his brother, Joe, have become wonderful young men. But the heartache of that evening is etched in my memory.
In this moment of your own searing grief, prayer may seem impossible for you, too. You may also doubt that anything can really help. Perhaps the following prayers can help you begin to speak to God. Once begun, trust that you will find your way to share with God whatever is in your heart. Be assured that God who created you and shares your grief also longs to hear from you.
In a time of grief, it can be hard to believe that God is near, and even more frightening to admit that you don’t feel God’s presence anywhere. You may want to believe, with every fiber of your being, but the silence of God seems deafening.
At a time of silence in his own life, Henri Nouwen, the 20th-century spiritual writer, composed this prayer:
“I call to you, Lord, from my quiet darkness. Show me your mercy and love. Let me see your face, hear your voice, touch the hem of your cloak. I want to love you, be with you, speak to you, and simply stand in your presence. But I cannot make it happen…. But there is that moment in which you will come to me, as you did to your fearful disciples, and say, ‘Do not be afraid, it is I.’ Let that moment come soon, O Lord…. Amen.”
Counting the tears.
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle…. In God I trust, I am not afraid” (Psalm 56:8, 11).
Merciful God, in the midst of this heartache, I tell myself that you are with me. The words do not seem real, but nothing seems real right now. I expect life to get back to normal—but this is what normal now is. The tears come in waves and my heart aches with grief. I feel as if I have things to do, but I am restless within and cannot focus on anything. Help me believe you are here in this darkness, holding me close, counting my tears. Let your gentle touch ease my pain. Let your strength be mine. Amen.
Let prayer heal you.
You may have feelings of anger or resentment for becoming ill. Taking those feelings to God in prayer can help you release negative feelings and heal emotionally and spiritually, giving you strength to move forward. Do not be afraid to express anger, fear, resentment, disappointment, anxiety—or any emotion—in the presence of God; instead, see this expression as a very personal and intimate expression of prayer.
Prayer can also help you discern a specific direction to take that leads to healing. That is, taking your concerns to God in prayer can be helpful when trying to decide among various medical treatments. On the other hand, prayer is not a substitute for professional medical care; rather, the two can be seen as complementary responses to illness.
I will not fear.
Some days seem so pointless. Days tumble one into another, and it is hard to decide what to eat or what to do each day, much less understand what God is asking. This prayer of Thomas Merton reminds us that God watches over us and guides us.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me…but I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you…. And I know that…you will lead me by the right road…. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
I want to believe.
“We declare to you what…we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have…touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life…so that you also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1-3).
Oh dear God, it is so hard for me to imagine eternal life. I liked the life we had—and I long for just one more conversation, one more walk together. I read a card that said life is changed, not taken away. Right now, it just feels taken away. I know it is my limited sight, my own broken heart, speaking in this moment. I read this account of the first Christian disciples, and I cling to their words: “We have seen with our eyes….” Help me believe; help me trust in the unseen gift of eternal life. Amen.
“If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness…. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places….” (Isaiah 58:10-11).
God, my Creator, I am so tired of thinking about myself. My pain, my loss consumes my days and, more, my nights. I feel so stuck. I feel so sad. A long time ago, when life was far less complicated than it is today, I remember thinking that problems can diminish if I think about somebody besides myself. Is that still true even when I feel so terribly sad? Help me through this time. Turn me out to the world and not in on my own need. Be my patient, gentle Guide. Amen.
Rituals can help.
Prayers do not consist of words alone. Intentional silence or attentiveness to ideas and insights often provide ways to be centered in the presence of God. Just so, planning a ritual of one’s own can be a source of healing. It need not be an organized event at all, but just time set aside to continue the process of letting go and healing. You might know instinctively what would feel right to you, or the following suggestions might help you create a ritual.
Choose to love.
“God whom neither humans nor angels can grasp by knowledge can be embraced by love” (Cloud of Unknowing).
As much as I try to wrap my mind around this death and loss, I cannot grasp it. As much as I want to believe in heaven, and the promise of eternal life, I don’t know where heaven is. But love I have known and still today can claim. Let me love those who come to me this day, whether in the supermarket or at my door. Let love fill me and spill out in all I do. May I choose over and over again today to do the loving thing, not just for myself, but as testament to the love I have known. With gratitude, with hope, I pray. Amen.
Lifting Your Heart to God.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds….” (Philippians 4:6-7).
The movie Field of Dreams made famous these words: “If you build it, they will come.” Somehow I am reminded of that comment when I read the above passage from Philippians. Say the words aloud, repeat them over and over to yourself like a mantra; carve these words of faith into your memory. If you say them, eventually pray them, God’s peace, indeed, will one day guard your heart and mind.
A Time of Grief—Short Prayers for Your Healing is one of many CareNotes that addresses the topic of grief. Visit www.carenotes.com to see the entire collection.