"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God." (Romans 8:26-27, NIV)
One Sunday morning, a man visiting my church stood to give his testimony. In broken English, he described the scene in which he first saw the woman who would become his wife, the moment when he first felt God calling to him.
“These people were singing, but not with their mouths,” he said. “It was a deeper song.”
That’s when my tears started. Because isn’t that what most of us want? To reach God, to commune with Him? With or without words.
Let’s face it. I am a writer, and even I have those times when the words won’t come.
Usually when we’re without words, it’s because we’re hurt. Cynical. Disillusioned. Heartbroken. Weary. We may have lost a parent or sibling or child or friend. We may be facing a broken marriage, a suicidal teen, an addiction, financial devastation, or abuse.
Or maybe we’re just uninspired. Tired. Worn out from carrying our fears around. Exhausted from overscheduling and under-resting. Dealing with depression or illness or a million tiny little worries.
I’ve been there, desperate for God but unable to draw my mind in, unable to reach out to Him, either verbally or in writing. And even in those moments, I’ve felt the irony. The only One who can truly make a difference in the situation is the One I can’t seem to talk to.
But the truth is that words are not required. Prayer, in its most simple definition, is communion with God. I often think of it as a conversation, but it doesn’t have to be.
Have you ever sat in companionable silence with a spouse, parent or friend? Enjoyed a peaceful afternoon on the porch with a grandparent, no words needed?
When I gave birth to my children, I had no words to describe what I felt, so I just sat there, looking at that beautiful new creation, soaking in gratitude.
When my mom died, as I stood in the receiving line, some of my favorite people walked up, looked into my eyes, hugged me, and moved on. Without saying a single word, they communicated everything I needed to hear. Everything they wanted to say.
Next time you feel stuck, when you stumble over words or are wrestling with emotions you can’t seem to wrangle, why don’t you try something new? Sit in silence, your mind focused on God. Look around and find the beauty in your environment. Draw a picture, doodling names and images and offer it as prayer. Work your way through your daily tasks, and keep the mindset of dedicating your work—laundry, cleaning, dishes, gardening—to God as an act of worship. Listen to a piece of worship music and let yourself get lost in the sound.
Or sing a new song, from a deeper place.
It just might help you get past whatever it is that is blocking your path. I promise you, God will receive it. He will understand that it is prayer. He will know what your heart feels and what your soul needs.
And before long, the words will come. But even if they don’t, you’ve still prayed, and in the process, you’ve drawn closer to God. Because wherever God is, lives are changed.
With or without words.
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 kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
Publication date: May 25, 2016