What if you had only a minute to give to God? Suppose you had just sixty seconds to tell him what was on your mind.
What would you say? What would you want him to know? You don’t have time to be flowery. No time to elaborate or explain. Just spit it out. How would you cut to the chase? Well, here’s an idea. Start by taking a page from the Gospel according to Luke. Luke tells of a blind man who was able to get the attention of Jesus one day. Jesus, ever the pragmatist, is disarmingly blunt: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41). The man replies in the simplest, most direct way imaginable:
“Lord, please let me see” (Luke 18:41). There you have it. If you are wondering how to begin to pray, how to express what is in your heart, how to express what seems inexpressible, look no further. This is how it is done. The blind man expressing his deepest desire—“Lord, please let me see”— is each of us expressing our own pleadings.
Lord, help me understand.
Lord, please calm my anxiety.
Lord, please make what is wrong, right.
“Please let me see” is a fervent prayer of petition, and it is strikingly, even stunningly, down-to-earth. It also gets results. Jesus acknowledges the blind man’s faith and heals him.
So, my first advice to any busy person seeking to find time to pray is just this basic: keep it simple. We sometimes think we need to offer lengthy prayers from leather-bound books (maybe even in Latin) in order for God to really hear us. We need smoke and beads, chants and responses. Well, no. Not necessarily. Whether you realize it or not, you already know how to pray. Really. Don’t make it more complicated. It is in your bones.
St. Teresa of Avila said that prayer should be like a conversation with a friend who knows you even better than you know yourself. How many of us think of prayer that way? How many of us see God as good company on the journey through life?
We don’t go to a friend only when we want something— to get a lift across town when the car is being fixed, to ask a favor, or maybe to borrow the weed whacker. We go to a friend for companionship, for joy, for comfort, for affirmation, and for love. We go to our friends because they enrich us and challenge us. And we want to give to them some of what they give to us. They share our hardships with us, and our joys, and they make us laugh. They enable us to be our best selves—and they are often people who are the most like us. We feel a connection, like they are kindred spirits. We like the same food, cheer the same teams, and have the same anxieties and hopes. And when we communicate with a friend, it is unvarnished, and honest, and heartfelt, and true. It is fundamentally simple.
That is just as it should be with God. Our relationship with God, after all, is the ultimate friendship.
Got a Minute?
But how to begin? As I said at the start: keep it simple. Start with a prayer that is short, familiar, direct. The Lord’s Prayer is a good beginning—after all, it’s what Jesus taught his disciples when they wanted to learn how to pray. For many of us, it’s one of the first prayers we learn. Or, if you need reassurance, consider these words from Psalm 138: “The Lord is with me to the end. . . . Never forsake the work of your hands” (verse 8).
I think that may be as profound a prayer as you can find: “Never forsake the work of your hands.” It says, “God you have created me. You formed me with your hands. Do not forget me.” Remember me. Stay with me. Please! Give me what you know I need! It doesn’t get any simpler than that. God doesn’t ask of us what we cannot give. If you don’t have sixty minutes to offer a litany of prayers, take sixty seconds to pray what is in your heart.
Keep it simple. And don’t be afraid that it isn’t enough. Whether or not we feel like we “get” God or “get” prayer, know this: God “gets” us. Not only does he get us because he made us; he gets us because he became us. When he took on human flesh in the form of Jesus, he took on thirty-three years of struggles, stumbles, hunger, and hurts.
God walked the streets of Nazareth, hiked the hillside of Galilee, felt the splash of water from the sea, knew the cold of winter, and the heat of summer, and the crush of the crowds in Jerusalem. He knows what it means to be a busy person with dirt under his nails and sweat on his brow, and too little time to do anything but work, eat, and sleep.
But he sought out opportunities to pray. He made prayer a priority, and he carved out time by himself—time to go away to “a place apart” and collect his thoughts and pray. It wasn’t easy for Jesus. It isn’t easy for us, either. And believe it or not, God gets that. So ask him, “Got a minute?” Give him that much to begin with. Take that little moment of time and tell God what is on your mind. Make it direct. Make it clear. Make it plain. It’s that simple.
Leonard Bernstein’s beautiful oratorio Mass starts with a wonderful musical meditation about the nature of God—and it offers some bold and surprising advice that all of us should take to heart. The oratorio begins with a tenor reminding himself—and the audience—that what he is undertaking (praying to God through the Mass) is less complicated than any of us may think. “Sing God a simple song,” he chants, “for God is the simplest of all.”
Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends. It means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. In order that love be true and the friendship endure, the wills of the friends must be in accord. —St. Teresa of Ávila
Sometimes I forget that God is present in the most mundane—even ‘secular’—circumstances. I try to make that part of my daily prayer: seeking him in the ordinary moments of my day and raising the moment to God, even if just for an instant. It keeps me off balance, which is exactly where I need to be most of the time. —Dr. Barbara Golder, lawyer and editor, Chattanooga, Tennessee
We sometimes get frustrated when trying to pray because we think it has to be formal—following a particular template, or ritual, or formula. It doesn’t. Remember the wisdom of St. Teresa: Prayer should be like a conversation with a friend. Talk to the Lord plainly, openly, honestly. He understands us better than we may think.
Be patient with yourself—because God most certainly is. What is on your mind? What is in your heart? If you had to sum up your prayer to God in a sentence, what would it be?
I stand before you with a million words to say,
a thousand thoughts to express,
but barely enough time, or energy, or skill to weave them together.
You know that already.
You know me already.
Help me make sense of it all.
Help me find the words to express the inexpressible.
Help me to find peace in the midst of turmoil.
Help me to find calm in the midst of confusion.
Even if I can’t say what is in my heart, I know you will hear everything.
In you I place all my trust, all my confidence, all my hope. You know my thoughts before I can speak them.
Take them for all they are; accept them for all they may be, in all their imperfection and awkwardness. Accept everything, as I know you accept me, and love me, and want me to draw closer to you.
Thank you for making all things possible, even this simple prayer.
Selection from The Busy Person’s Guide to Prayer by Deacon Greg Kandra. Published by The Word Among Us Press, 2019, and available from wau.org/books