While walking through loss, it’s common to feel at a loss in our prayer life.
If praying in grief is hard for you, perhaps you’re asking questions similar to those I asked after my daughter’s death 12 years ago. I had so many questions related to prayer:
- Do my prayers matter?
- Does God even care?
- Can I actually say this to God?
- What do I even pray for?
Maybe in your grief, you feel let down by God or disconnected from Him. Maybe your grief has caused you to feel angry and tempted to shut down in your faith. Maybe you’re experiencing a soul-level exhaustion and you have nothing left to offer God in prayer. Or maybe you feel like your prayers should look or sound a certain way—but right now that doesn’t fit the way your heart longs to cry out.
Still, as in all things, we long for God in our grief, and we know we need Him. Prayer will ultimately help us navigate our grief and grieve with hope, even if it feels difficult (or impossible).
If prayer is difficult for you right now and if you’re asking any of the questions listed above, I wish I could gently cup my hands around your face and lovingly look into your eyes. From one griever to another, I long to speak assurances over you about God’s love for you and encourage you to keep seeking Him in prayer. Since I can’t do that, consider these words and this offering of alternate ways to pray as my heart for you.
When praying is difficult in your grief, these 4 ways can help you pray.
4 Kinds of Prayer When Praying in Grief is Hard
1. Wordless Prayers in Grief
When you feel weak in your grief and can’t muster the energy to form words and pray, take heart and find comfort in what the apostle Paul reveals about prayer in Romans 8:26-27 (NIV):
“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.”
I once heard someone suggest that words are not the essence of prayer but the garment of it. You do not need to form perfect words or even use any words to pray. Instead, you can:
- Rest in the knowledge that God knows your thoughts (Psalm 139:2) and your heart (Romans 8:27),
- Trust that the Holy Spirit intercedes on your behalf through wordless groans (Romans 8:26),
- Practice a moment of quiet, sitting in these truths, with your own wordless groans, resting in the nearness of God’s presence (Psalm 34:18).
Wordless prayers are still prayers as your spirit connects with the Holy Spirit.
2. Borrowed Prayers in Grief
When we can’t find words to pray, but we want words to pray, borrowing someone else’s prayer is a wonderful option. Borrowing prayer might look like praying scripture or reading prayers from a prayer book.
Prayer doesn’t have to be unique in order to be effective or meaningful; you can rest in words that have been already formed and pray them yourself. Some recommendations on where to turn are provided for you below:
Suggested scriptures to pray in grief:
- Psalms 6, 10, 38, 43, 130
- Habakkuk’s prayer in Habakkuk 3
- The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6: 9-13
Suggested books of prayers for the grieving:
- 365 Days of Prayer for Grief & Loss
- Every Moment Holy, Volume II: Death, Grief, and Hope by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
- Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren
3. Lament in Grief
Lament is the prayer language that God offers grieving hearts in order to connect with Him, and we see prayers of lament throughout the Psalms. In fact, on the cross, Jesus spoke the words from Psalm 22, a psalm of lament (see Matthew 27:46).
A prayer of lament follows a certain structure. It begins with an honest expression of pain and crying out to God–a complaint and a request for help or intercession. It then pivots to a declaration of confidence and trust in God, according to His character and promises. Ultimately, a lament ends with praise and worship.
The model of the prayers of lament in scripture gives us permission to share our heart’s cries honestly and openly with God. He does not ask us to fake joy or dismiss our pain—He actually invites us to express it and bring it to Him. God really does care about your pain and heartache, and lament can help lead your heart to rest and rejoice in him even when you’re overwhelmed with sorrow.
Examples of psalms of lament include Psalm 6, 9,13, 22, and 130. You can pray these as borrowed prayers or use them as a model for your own lament.
4. Breath Prayer in Grief
For some of us, prayer once felt as natural as breathing. However, in our grief, both prayer and breathing may become difficult. Maybe you catch yourself holding your breath at various points throughout your day. It is into this reality that breath prayer invites us to return to two life-giving practices: as we return to our breath, we also turn to God.
With breath prayer, you don’t need to find the right words or even a lot of words to pray. You simply select short phrases that you can pray to match your rhythm of inhalation and exhalation. On an inhale, you pray one set of words, and on your exhale, you pray another.
Here’s an example of a breath prayer inspired by Psalm 121:2:
Inhale: My help comes
Exhale: from the Lord.
Focused breathing and prayer can help center us on what is true and bring calm into our anxious moments. Use breath prayer in your car while sitting in traffic, as you wash dishes or fold laundry, or while waiting in the line at the grocery store—you can turn to it easily anytime, anywhere.
Praying in the middle of your grief may feel difficult, but it is still important—and so very needed. Indeed, when tears form faster than words and when doubt slips in on the coattail of grief’s darkness, our soul needs to commune with God more than ever. Lean on these four types of prayers as you mourn, and trust that the Lord will meet with you in these tender places. He longs to comfort your heart.
Kristin Vanderlip is a contemplative soul, military spouse and mom to two boys and her little girl in heaven. She writes to help women draw near to God and persevere in hope especially when life is difficult. Kristin encourages women to journal as a tool for spiritual formation. Get your free Life Worth Living Journal here. KristinVanderlip.com | IG @kristinvanderlip.