Praying When Words Aren’t Enough

Parenting has not been an easy journey for me. Adopting our first child from a background of early trauma at one-year-old meant that my husband and I plunged headfirst into nontraditional parenthood right out of the gate; and if I’m honest, we weren’t really prepared to do so. By the grace of God we have learned and grown over the years and, for the most part, somehow manage to not totally bomb this therapeutic parenting gig. But it has been a long road to get here.

There were seasons during these past six years, sisters, when I have known what it was to pray with groans instead of words. There have been days when I’ve locked myself in my closet, shoulders shaking, and failed to form a single coherent word of prayer. There are simply times in life when language fails us, and all we have are what Saint Paul calls our “groans.”

Today’s Scripture from Romans has brought me much consolation through the years. The Holy Spirit Himself, who lives in us, intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings when we don’t know what to pray. Those cries that wrench out of you, the sobs you offer God when no words are enough, those voiceless prayers that come from the depths of your soul—those are the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work. You are not alone. He is there.

We can be so self-critical when we pray, can we not? We don’t want to say the wrong thing, even if there’s no one else around. We don’t want to bare our deepest fears or most vulnerable places, lest we feel foolish before God. Sometimes it just feels safer to stick to a script and keep God an arm’s length away, never really letting Him into our tender and wounded places.

But this passage in Romans assures us that our Lord is not averse to incoherent prayers; on the contrary, the raw honesty it takes to come before Him admitting our insufficiency is the very kind of weakness that makes more room for His Spirit in our lives.

We needn’t be afraid of losing our composure before God. In my experience, that has actually been the portal for the deepest intimacy with Him that I’ve known.

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If you’re praying without words these days, be assured of my prayers, sister. Reach out to a friend or priest in your life. Ask for their prayers, too.

Shannon Evans is a Protestant missionary turned Catholic convert who lived to tell the tale. A wife and mom of three boys through adoption and her birth canal, Shannon and her family live in intentional community with the Catholic Worker in Denton, Texas. She is passionate about seeing the Gospel reach the margins of society and writes to that end at her blog. You can find out more about her here.


  • Reply
    Pamela Cabello
    July 24, 2017 at 11:17 pm

    When I click on the link where scriptures are held, nothing changes ones up for me, please advise.

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