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How to Pray When Life is Messy

  • Kelly O'Dell Stanley Contributing Writer
  • 2016 21 Sep
How to Pray When Life is Messy

"He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love." (Zephaniah 3:17)

"One must learn an inner solitude, wherever one may be." -Meister Eckhart

Today I am not the most shining example of motherhood. The sun is shining but I am certainly not. I yelled at my 14-year-old son at 5:45 a.m. when he didn’t want to wake up for morning soccer practice and then cried myself back to sleep. I tried to have a discussion with my 21-year-old about a simple chore I’ve asked her to do for weeks, with no success, and it ended with both of us shouting and me screaming at her, grabbing my bag, and leaving the house in tears. It sounds stupid. And it is. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m fuming mad and not feeling all that loving or prayerful right now.

This comes amid two months of summer scheduling chaos, a rapidly approaching book deadline, and the highest number of hours I’ve billed for work in months. My husband is also working really long hours, and I feel like I’m holding down the fort all by myself. It comes in a time of late-paying clients and a stack of unpaid bills on my desk. Of transitioning from having just one child at home to a summer break—meaning my two college-aged girls are back with all their independence and piles of stuff in every corner.

My friend Peggy had the misfortune of calling with some good news, and I pulled myself together long enough to rejoice with her before spilling all of today’s drama and emotion on her. I said, “I was planning to leave the house to write this afternoon, and now I’m gone, but I’m not in any frame of mind to go pray now.”

SEE ALSO: 20 Prayers to Pray throughout a Busy Day

As always, she spoke wisdom and truth to me. “Honey, you’re in exactly the frame of mind. Write about prayer right now, and then pray. People don’t want to know about prayer when everything is good. They want to know how to deal with it when life is in the toilet.”

So here I am.

Let me assure you, I know these are not life-and-death situations. So many of the things we face daily are huge. True loss, severe and unavoidable consequences, serious and real stuff that far surpasses stress-and hormone-induced rage. It’s never just one situation that makes it hard to pray, but an accumulation. Emotions and losses. Disappointments and mistakes. 

Look at any given day, and you’ll see this one thing that got on your nerves. Another that distracted you. One that waylaid you. And each of those connects to the thing that happened last time, and the time before that. There will be lots of next ones too.

SEE ALSO: 10 Scriptures to Pray When You are Frustrated

It’s not realistic to think that we’ll ever be without pain or fear or grief or doubt or chaos.

We need God now, every single day, each and every moment, not at some unforeseeable point in the future. Not only in the moments of crisis, but in the days in between.

The only way to get through anything—to get through everything—is to pray.

Fine, but how? What practical steps can I take to pray when I’m... ? (In pain. Sad. Depressed. When God isn’t answering or I’m not inspired. When I’m out of words. When life is hard. You fill in the blank.)

SEE ALSO: How to Pray when You Can't Find the Words

In an ideal world, I would turn to God first. Always.

But I’m more likely to text a friend or buy a new pair of shoes to distract myself. Or run out of the house sobbing after yelling at my kids. I tend to cry first, vent second, and then realize I’ve done it all backwards and turn to Him feeling ashamed at how messed up I am.

And when I do turn to Him, I can’t make my mind stop whirring. I can’t stop hearing the chaos and noise of life. I need silence to drown out the noise.

So I sit. I imagine the whirring gears in my mind slowing, then stopping. I focus on stilling my entire body. I close my eyes and begin. “Lord...” I take a deep breath, and I feel anxiety fluttering again, so I take another. I don’t even try to find words. I soak in the presence of God. Knowing that whatever is ailing me, He can fix. Whatever is lost can be restored. Whatever troubles me can be managed.

I wait for calm to flood my soul. Wait for my sense of equilibrium to be restored.

And it will happen, if I wait. If I still my mind and heart and body and reach out toward God.

I realize that I don’t have control—boy, do I not have control—over so many situations in my life. But I also remember that I’m not alone. I’ve fought through some major trials in my faith. I’ve experienced serious financial hardships, relationship issues, parenting problems, and faced my most hated of earthly diseases, cancer. My dad is in remission, and my mother-in-law is cured—but I lost my father-in-law less than a week ago and lost my mom four years ago. My faith in a good God was buried with her. It took years of baby steps to find my way back—but I did.

One step, one deep breath, one quiet moment at a time.

But with each new loss, I fall backwards a bit. I think we all do.

There’s some good news, though, for all of us.

Even when we are not faithful, God remains faithful.

As long as I turn back, He’ll offer me more. He is there when I seek Him again. I have to make that first step—but He never withholds Himself or holds grudges.

I certainly don’t mean to oversimplify the process, but the truth is that something supernatural happens when we long for Him. When we pray. When we recognize our own limitations, when we acknowledge the barriers before us. When we ask God to quiet our souls and renew our strength.

Pray with me? Prince of Peace, I find myself unable to cope with life sometimes.

Instead of feeling grateful, I feel bogged down by the responsibilities of all that You’ve given me. I want to live out Your love, but I find myself consumed with frustration, jealousy, or worry. I want to grow closer to You, but in practice, I’m too tired or bored or busy. Circumstances will rarely be ideal; I know that. But I also know that the only thing that makes life worthwhile is living it with You. Show me how to pray when things aren’t perfect. Show me how to put aside all of the weights and sins and emotions that tangle me up. And demonstrate to me, daily, the reality that if I spend time with You, things will be better. I will be better. Amen.


Content taken from Designed to Pray, by Kelly O’Dell Stanley. Copyright © 2016. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she's also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at and calls small-town Indiana her home.

Publication date: September 21, 2016