When You Can’t Pray

November calendar

I stood beside her bed, watching her slip away. Cancer stole her hair, her health, her energy, but it couldn’t steal her stubborn spirit. My mother died like the beautiful gritty, graceful lady she was in life. But, the suffering she endured pummeled my faith, stole my breath, and quite literally brought me to my knees.

There are stories about that month she spent in hospice that I carry tucked away. One of them marks the lowest I have been during my life on planet earth. About once a year my youngest brother and I revisit the day, about a week after she was admitted, when he carried me out of the hospice center, exhausted, beside myself, not forming coherent words, crying, vomiting, collapsing. It was the closest I’ve ever been to losing my mind. Literally, over the edge, complete lack of control, loss of senses. It turns out, when you are deprived of sleep for so many days, your body reacts as if intoxicated. I felt it coming. I tried to prevent it. Desperate not to lose control, I felt sanity slipping from my grasp. I didn’t want my baby brother to see it. I have to protect him. I am strong. I have to be strong. Women of faith don’t fall apart. Because God is big. And, we must not have much faith, if we fall apart.

I remembered that lie, from years before, whispered by the slithering one as I ran to the church restroom to hide the tears just weeks after I stood beside the tiny grave with the pink lined casket, the one holding my only daughters. Christians don’t grieve without hope. My babies were in heaven. Didn’t I believe enough? Why was this smothering grief knocking me over? I am strong. I have to be strong. Women of faith don’t fall apart.

The same lie that accused when we heard the words incompatible with life in reference to our son, Thomas. Where is your God now? The voice questions, snarling. Stealing. Diminishing. Breaking. Twisting every truth I clung to desperately.

Don’t you have enough faith? What lesson didn’t you learn the first time that another child has to die? Why are you wrestling to find the answers…don’t good Christians blindly trust and accept…don’t those who are truly faithful never wrestle with doubt or fear? Don’t they know the answers?

I didn’t even try to answer that time. I just wept over my bible.

The months I carried Thomas sucker punched my faith more, blow after blow. I just kept reading. And, I learned that being faithful doesn’t mean not feeling doubt or fear. Faith is trusting God anyway…when you’re most afraid and filled with doubt and questions. Believing when you don’t see.

Those weeks in the hospice center, I sang to her. I read the Word to her. I prayed over her. I answered the questions of those around me. I was strong. Except for the day my baby brother had to carry me out. Otherwise, I was strong. I had to be strong. That’s what women of faith do, right?

I was a woman of faith. My God is big. Only, underneath, I was really more like the girl who had to be carried out by her baby brother as she fell to pieces in front of his eyes. After my mother died, when He finally took her home, I couldn’t pray. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t talk to the God who carried me.

I told my pastor, “I can’t pray right now. It’s really bothering me. Every time I try to pray, I can’t…all I can say is: ‘I’m sorry God, I can’t talk to you right now. It just hurts too much.’”

My pastor said, “That’s still prayer.”

I have thought of that truth often. And, many times, when grief is raw and you feel stripped naked, beaten to the core with the pain and disappointment of it all….how. How could our God, our big loving Father God…let this happen? Why didn’t He listen to our prayer? Was it because we aren’t worthy…aren’t enough…didn’t pray right…didn’t have enough faith? Why?

Grieving mothers ask those hard questions. I don’t have all the answers, although, God has been patient to teach me many things in the surrendering and trusting, over the years. But, the longer I walk this journey, and the more brokenness I see along the way, I’m convinced that for some things, there are no answers this side of heaven. I can say all the words…and they’re even true…those words…that God is good, that nothing separates us from His love, that He will never leave us nor forsake us…even in the darkest pits of despair. I can say them and I can promise that I’ve seen Him keep those promises in my own life. But, it won’t take away the pain a heart feels when that which is most sacred has been ripped from her, and her heart lays in pieces at her feet.

In this time of thanksgiving, yes…it is a freeing, healing, soul-balming surrender to offer broken praise to heaven…and the sound is sweet to God’s ears. He loves the broken praise. And, somehow showers healing back to us in the midst of the offering. But, if you can’t muster it through the pain just yet….if it hurts beyond words forming on lips. If you are just too hurt to talk to him right now, tell Him that much. Yell, scream, cry, sit there in silence.

That’s still prayer.

He hears you, even when you can’t utter the words. He hears the words of your broken heart, catches the falling tears in a bottle, and thinks of you more than the grains of sand on the longest beach. Even if you can’t bear to talk to Him right now. Even if nothing He has allowed makes one ounce of human sense to your betrayed, broken heart. Even then, He holds you. He loves you. And, He fights for you.

And, that’s still prayer.

The truth is, I am weak. My faith is small. But, my God, He is strong. And, my God is big. Big enough for my broken. And, big enough for your broken, too.


  1. perfect

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