When It’s Too Painful To Pray

There are moments of pain that make praying difficult. The difficulty is not from a lack of faith, but from an abundance of sorrow. Crying out to God in the midst of pain often lacks cogency and clarity. It is hard to keep a train of thought when your thoughts are scattered in so many directions.

I have been in that season for the last two weeks. My son, Kaleb, came into the hospital for headaches and blurred vision. We were here several days, treating what appeared to be a severe sinus infection. However, in the blink of an eye, our son who was playing Uno one second, was unconscious the next. He went from watching a movie with me on Friday, to unresponsive most of the day Saturday, and out completely on Sunday. It took five long days before we saw any evidence of our son being able to hear us or comprehend our words. We soon learned that Kaleb has fungal meningitis, which has caused tremors, seizures, and even a stroke in his little body. This is so hard to watch and endure as parents.

Groanings Too Deep for Words

Praying has been hard the last two weeks. My faith has not wavered. My trust in God has not given way. This encourages me, because as John Newton said, “When faith endures the fire, we know it to be of the right kind.” I know my faith is a tested and tried one, and it is still standing. Praying has been hard, not because of my questioning of its importance and effectiveness, but because collecting my thoughts into coherent petitions has felt like trying to make snowballs out of dry sand.

I believe this is exactly what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:26. In this passage, Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Have you experienced a weakness of the flesh or spirit that made you unable to pray as you ought? This is what I have experienced in recent weeks. The good news for me, and for all who have familiarity with this phenomenon, is that while we struggle to pray, the Spirit himself is interceding for us. With groanings too deep for words, we offer our feeble, disjointed prayers before the Lord.

The Prayers of the Saints

While my prayers during this time would likely not be added to the Valley of Vision collection, the prayers of other Christians over us and our son have been sources of encouragement. My prayers have felt incoherent, but the prayers of Scott Marlow, Beth Bowman, Tim and Amber Davis, Mike Sherwood, James Ulmer, Tim Lance, Kathy Gallagher, Koy Lafferty, Daryl Vandergriff, Alex Perry, Brett Perkins, and others have caused my heart to leap within, crying out, “Yes and Amen!” These are just the prayers that I have heard, which put to words things I have struggled to articulate. They strung together petitions that my heart resonated with, but my head could not collect words for.

These brothers and sisters in the Lord have ministered to us, especially to me, through their prayers. The prayers of His people, over His people, are a sweet fragrance to the weak.

Jesus, Our Intercessor

As a pastor, I have struggled with my struggle to pray. I should be better than that. For several days I wondered why I did not have the energy or words. Finally, I realized, this is what Romans 8:26 is talking about. This is the weakness described in the well-known, often quoted verse. I am experiencing in reality what had always been merely a theological belief.

I have also pondered the sweetness of other Christian’s prayers. These believers have helped me to pray by letting me simply agree with their prayers. I’ve had the opportunity to say things I’ve had difficulty saying, by simply letting someone else say it.

Lastly, I’m reflecting on the fact that my hope, peace, and righteousness are not a result of how prayerful I am during trials. It actually has everything to do with the finished work of Jesus for me. Jesus purchased the strength I need in my weakness. Jesus ransomed my life back into a communion with himself. In Christ, I have a constant intercessor who always pleads for me. He is with me always (Matthew 28:20). Where can I go for help when it’s too painful to pray? I will let the Hebrew writer answer that question:

“14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:14-16

He knows our weakness. He intercedes for us. We can draw near to the throne of grace, with confidence, because it is Jesus who mercifully and graciously meets us there. He doesn’t wag his finger shamefully at the weak and weary, instead he invites us to come to him, and he’ll give us rest (Matthew 11:28). Rest purchased by the blood of the Lamb.

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13 thoughts on “When It’s Too Painful To Pray

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  1. My 3 year old son was diagnosed with cancer in May. I have loved Jesus for 30 years, but the snowballs/dry sand analogy is my prayer life exactly right now. Thankfully our army of prayer warriors is taking it up for us while we utter whatever we can before the Lord.

    Hebrews 4:15-16 is my life verse. It brings me so much comfort.

    I am sorry for what your son is going through. Thank you for putting this struggle with prayer into words. I keep thinking, the Lord doesn’t need any sort of performance from me. He knows my heart, he knows our struggle. For this season, I am leaning hard on him while actually doing very little. And it’s okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s right! We just lean into the Everlasting Arms and trust our Great High Priest is interceding for us, even when we feel so doggone worn out and scatter-brained to do it. I pray for your boy. It is so hard as parents to watch your children go through sickness and pain and not have any ability to do anything to fix it. But we trust in the Sovereign Hand of God. He loves them even more than we do. And that is a lot. 🙂

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  2. As a mother who has raised five children with addictions, I am all too familiar with parental pain. My daily commitment to “The Morning Watch” was born out of desperation. I remember putting my face in my hands and crying, “Oh God, I can’t do this!” And He said, “I know. But I can.”
    Over and over He has given me that “help in time of need”. It’s been 32 years since I cried out to God for that first child “in pain”. The journey is not over, but I’m now passionate about the One who meets me daily in the window. Those “scars from pain” are now “trophies of His Grace”!
    My prayer for you (whoever needs it)….
    “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him, as you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
    Romans 15:13
    <
    Praying for your children.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kaleb is on my mind and in my heart 24 7. I’m on fb looking for updates, my heart breaks for him, I know that God has this. I pray for u and all your family. I know how hard it is.Sickness not only wear on our bodies, it wears on our minds. Thank God we have our great high priest to carry us during these times. I love u and your family, if I can do anything please let me know. I know one thing I can do is pray for healing. Love you, Barbara Sanders

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  4. The Lord knows all about the pain & struggles you & Katrina are feeling right now and His hand is on Kaleb. He knows the plan for Kaleb & we have to trust Him always. I’ve had times of unable to pray & I would cry constantly but God pulled me out of it as He will you in time. Our children are the most important people in our lives. Love you and your family and keep looking up!!

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  5. So touching and we pray for your son and family..You are all in our thoughts and prayers daily. God is good and he knows just what we need and provides it at that time. He never leaves us and when we aren’t coherent in our thoughts he provides us with love and clarity. Love and Prayers to all of you who are struggling because God has you..

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  6. May the comforting, peaceful, and loving presence of the Spirit be felt by you and yours during this time of hardship. Lots of love from Southwestern Ohio.

    Love “Spanky”

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  7. Erik, your post rings true for many things I have ‘seen’ over the last few years. I even have the same problem you write about with my friends who have experienced such intense pain. Please know I love you guys and am constantly thinking of Kaleb, you, Katrina, the girls and your whole family! I understand there are many more than you & Katrina who are in involved. Love all you guys and praying hard for your sweet boy!! ❤ Erica

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  8. My wife and I just lost our son of 34 years to a drug addiction and I am have a extra hard time dealing with would I may could of done. I tried many things that I thought were right. Obviously it failed. I feel as maybe my fault in some way. I feel for all of you dealing with these types of grief. But not sure how I can get through this. Pray for us as well.

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