Simple Prayers

man with arms raised in praise

Sometimes we try too hard at prayer. We make it complicated. We load it down with expectations. If I pray really well, then I will come away inspired, or I’ll have a question answered, or I’ll feel happy, or I’ll have learned something.

Let’s use the not-quite-so-intense season of summer to lighten up a bit on prayer.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

—Meister Eckhart

One of the features of Ignatian spirituality is an emphasis on gratitude. So, for your prayer today, just say “thank you.” If you want, be more specific. But “thank you” is a real prayer, and not only does it communicate gratitude to the One from whom all blessings flow, but it also adjusts our attitude as we express it.

“Help me, oh help me, God my God,
save me through your wonderful love.”

—Psalm 109:26, The Message, Catholic/Ecumenical Edition

It seems that I am least likely to pray when the day is going wrong. Usually when that happens, I’m in a bad mood and not at my best, and I’m not eager to bring this angry, grumpy self to God. But that’s probably when I most need to pray. When we need help, we should simply ask for it. Sometimes when I ask for God’s help, it’s with my arms flung out in frustration as I say something like, “Lord, could you help me with this mess?” Quite a good prayer, actually.

Wow is the praise prayer. The prayer where we’re finally speechless—which in my case is saying something.”

—Anne Lamott, author of Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Survival Prayers

(You might notice that Lamott’s title inspired today’s post.)

When we stand in awe—of the ocean, of a baby’s first steps, of a work of art that transforms us—we are “doing praise.” Praise does not always involve language, but it does require alertness to the good. On any given day or hour, we can choose to pay attention to the good and acknowledge it, and that’s a good prayer.

This week, try your own experiments with “Thank you,” “Help!” and “Wow.”

This post is part of a series: Praying Through the Summer.

About Vinita Hampton Wright 110 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

16 Comments on Simple Prayers

  1. I was asking God to help me sleep at 5am this morning. I probably had an hour max, before the alarm went off. I,m always grateful for sleep and truly thank GOD for it, as generally sleep well. But the start of a new job and not being able to switch off makes me want to cry with frustration. Any tips gratefully received?

    • Your frustration IS the prayer. Turn it Godward. All gifts and graces come from God, including new jobs with their stresses (including sleeplessness). So, really any mess is God’s mess. If you feel that you’re a mess of frustration today, then your prayer can be, “Lord, here’s the mess. What will we do with it? Need your help!”

  2. Hi Katy, like you I am grateful for sleep..
    As I climb into bed I thank God for my comfy bed, the gift of night and the gift of sleep. And I ask God to be with me as I sleep and help me in the morning (I really struggle with mornings) Then I have a very simple prayer mantra of two words which I say quietly 3 times and then silently as I breathe gently in and out. This really helps me to fall asleep peacefully. I hope it might help you. God bless

  3. Oh thank you so much for this article. Just this morning I was thinking at mass how ordinary my prayers were and turned to “Hearts On Fire” for some inspiration. It’s good to know my simple Thank You God and Help me God are good enough. I try to see God in all things and do my best to be grateful!

  4. Vinita,
    Your articles are always so inspirational and helpful to SO many people. Today’s has helped me tremendously as I always feel my poor prayers are never enough and too simple. It was so helpful to read your article and feel so encouraged by it and by the people who replied too. God guide and bless you and your ministry.

    • Marlene, I’m so glad this was helpful to you! I always write these awhile before they are posted, and I usually discover that, when they are published, I need to read them myself. This principle of simple prayer is so easy to forget. Blessings!

    • Thank you thank you thank you Vinita for this article and many of others.I so enjoy reading them AND the comments of others.God bless you ALL????

  5. For me, outside of daily mass and nightly prayer reflection, my go to words for God during the day are: honor, praise and glory be to you dear Lord. I love you and I thank you. Amen.

  6. Thank you for this terrific reminder. I can certainly bring a lot of expectations to my prayer time. Simplicity can speak volumes.

  7. Thank you, very much to those who replied to my post. Thank you, VInita, I would never have thought of my frustration as prayer. You have been blessed with such a gift and thank you for sharing it.

  8. Vinita, Thank you very much for your post on prayer. It’s nice to know that praying when I’m frustrated and scared is okay. Right now I am anxious about work and unsure as to what I should do after losing my job last August. Please pray for me to discern correctly. Rosemarie

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