Praying When You Cannot Find the Words


“Prayer is a conversation, a ‘little talk with Jesus.’ Anyone can pray and everyone should pray.” While no relationship can survive without communication, we talk about prayer as if it is always simple and easy. We suggest that anyone can do it and at any time.

However, while we may have a strong working vocabulary and know what we want to talk about, finding the words can seem impossible. We are sure of what we need to say but forming the sentences can prove difficult. Prayer requires more than opening our mouths; it will take more for the words to come out.

If the event is traumatic or involves suffering, then we may wrestle with questions like, “Why me? Why did God let this happen to me? Did I deserve it?” If we are uncertain of the answers or convinced that we won’t like them, we may delay the conversation for fear that God may say something that we do not want to hear. And if so, then it might be the end of our relationship, so we keep a tight lip.

We keep it to ourselves for fear that we may lose God as a friend.

Pain is difficult to express. When other people hurt us, especially those closest to us, this can cause us to close ourselves off to others. Because if we cannot trust our family or friends, then who can we trust? No one is safe.

We don’t want to talk about it—not even with God. In fact, God might be the last Person that we go to. Still, we should take heart as this is not a new experience, though it may be for us. And suffering in silence is a common choice. Believers and nonbelievers alike choose to keep a lid on it.

But, when we are ready, God is all ears and if we cannot find the words, then, God will do the talking. That’s what the Apostle Paul tells the believers in Rome when writing about suffering, “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (8.26). Consequently, God knows that there are times for which words don’t mean much.

The Spirit of God talks in sighs and speaks to the depth of our feelings. It is encouraging to know that speech is not required in prayer. Silence, sighs, moans, and tears are accepted because there are experiences for which we cannot find the words, and we don’t need to.

smcneillReverend Starlette Thomas* is an associate pastor at Village Baptist Church in Bowie, Maryland and the Minister to Empower Congregations at the D.C. Baptist Convention. She writes on the social construct of race and the practice of faith at Her hobbies include reading, writing, and Starbucks.

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