How can I pray when I can’t even think straight?

woman-praying-profile-featured-w740x493Dear Dan,

How do I pray when I am sick and can’t think? I feel as though my words are just going out into thin air and no one in heaven hears me. What words do I use and Who will listen?

Dear Friend,

This is a difficult question both to experience and to answer. I have suffered significant ongoing pain and discomfort, constant medication, multiple surgeries and related complications…

When I became a Christian more than fifteen years ago I did so in part because I recognized that apart from Christ, there is no good reason to continue to endure the suffering of this life. The idea that there was an ultimate reason for suffering brought me some comfort. This simple understanding was that my suffering was not in vain and that I would someday, have relief – permanent relief in the arms of Jesus. I didn’t have a specific answer to why I suffered as I did, but I understood from meditation on the scriptures that God was in control and that nothing comes to us that is not for our ultimate good (whether allowed by or caused by God). This meant that God was refining me, preparing me for the day when I would meet him face to face. This was enough for me then, and still brings me great comfort now. This scriptural promise from the book of Revelation in chapter twenty-one was particularly moving to me and is worthy of repeated reading and meditation by those who suffer:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.

I find great comfort in the knowledge that even if my suffering doesn’t subside in this life that it will be obliterated in the next. Not only that, but God himself will reach into my soul, cleanse me of the suffering that came through my own decisions, the suffering that came through circumstance and providence, and will himself comfort me in a way that will be absolutely loving, absolutely perfect and absolutely complete. This encouragement was compounded when I discovered another important promise from St. Paul in I Corinthians chapter 10:

No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

And another in Philippians chapter four:

I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

As I am writing this it strikes me that a few verses and commiseration may not be all that helpful. Still, if you meditate on them and participate in the life of grace, I have no doubt you will also find sufficient comfort to make it through just one day – or at least one day at a time. One more verse is in order regarding your specific question from Romans chapter eight:

Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

When we cannot pray, we simply just say, “God I am here, and I need you.” We may not even use words. Our tears may be the only way to communicate with him. We rest in him knowing that he does hear us even when we don’t feel it and that he not only hears us, but that the Holy Spirit offers our deepest needs to our heavenly Father and that these are answered because they are His will.

Beyond meditation on these great truths, what can you specifically do? That all depends on how incapacitated you are. The key is to pray, participate in the sacraments, and seek help. It is important for you to talk to your parish priest or to search out a spiritual director or someone who is in an intimate relationship with Christ. They can help you come to better know the great God of comfort and maybe even gain an understanding of practical things you can do to fight your way through. To gain a better understanding on your own, Father Benedict Groeschel has written several good books on suffering that may also be of help. This one, Arise from Darkness: What to do when life doesn’t make sense might be particularly helpful to you.Aquinas and More bookstore also has a number of books on suffering. Just type the word “suffering” in the search line and you will likely find something that will help.

Never stop praying. Even if you just sit in silence and can say nothing, cry out to him in the simplest way and he will hear you. I know this is true, because he heard me, and rescued me from my distress… over and over again.

I suspect our readers who understand suffering might have a few ideas for you as well – at the very least I know that they will be praying for you. Be assured of my prayers.


If this post has prompted you to want to dig deeper in your faith, don’t fail to explore the life-changing offerings of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation.

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8 Comments

  1. Thank you. God bless you. We each have times when all we can do is rest in God’s arms.
    He is always with us. Just lying down and thinking of Him with love is enough. Have a crucifix in your view and just ponder His love. This too shall pass!

  2. Thank You! Great Article! We all come to this point and Prayers give us the strength and courage to go on. The ROSARY PRAYED NOT SAID IS MY COMFORT. MEDITATION ON THE LIFE OF CHRIST. GOD BLESS!

    1. So true, Linda. If one is having difficulty, just think about the life of Christ and his Holy Family and be at peace with longing for God. Praise Him!

  3. I would love to share my prayer that I use when I suffer hoping this might help someone else during their sufferings: This prayer really helps me during hard trials….

    ~ Prayer For Salvation of Hardened Sinners ~

    Praise Your Most Holy Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: You are Our God, You are our Strength, You are our Way…

    Come to my spirit oh Lord, My heart is heavy, my sadness is within me.
    My spirit longs for You my God… In my hand I hold my cross..
    My cross of discouragement, my cross of heartfelt sadness, my cross that is much to heavy to bear:

    I offer you, my most precious Christ, all my burdens which I feel within me: Take this cross Oh Lord while I offer you my immediate sufferings
    (for the reparation of many souls that are destitute, for those that see no light..)
    For those that are:
    At this very moment, committing suicide and trying to end their lives…
    For those that are at this moment, prostituting their bodies
    For those that are at this moment, killing and murdering.
    For those that are at this moment, committing horrific acts of violence,
    For those that are at this moment, killing life within their bodies…
    For those that are at this moment in deep pain from these acts they are committing…
    For those that are at this moment hurting their children…
    For those that are at this moment violating women…
    For those that are at this moment making war with other countries..
    For those that are at this moment committing adultery…
    For those that are at this moment tearing others apart
    with their thoughts, words, and deeds…

    Oh my most beautiful Savior of Our World, YOUR world…
    Come to all those souls that need your rescue: save the most hardened criminals and sinners… I beg you to take my suffering to yourself using it for the salvation of the souls that are in the most need at this very moment….

    I give you this cross, take it, I have placed it in my left hand, and in my right I give you all those souls that are hardened with a heart of sin, with a heart of despair, with a heart of hate towards others….With a heart of hate towards themselves…

    Please hear my prayer and give me the courage to accept my suffering, to feel my suffering, and to Will only what you give me or permit me to have, and nothing more…
    To always use my suffering in order to pray for all people…
    To pray for the conversion of their own souls (along with the conversion of my soul), so that we may follow You Oh Jesus Christ most precious Lord…

    Glory to Your Most Holy Trinity Oh Father Almighty God, Oh Jesus Our Savior, Oh Holy Spirit, light within our lives… Amen!

  4. I have found great comfort in merely holding a rosary or St. Benedict’s crucifix in my hand during many nights of fitful sleep when I want to pray, but can’t get through even the Our Father, much less articulate my desires to God in a coherent way because of pain or medication. As a convert, I found great comfort in the understanding that we can offer all that up as a sacrifice to God, even the sufferings of the past. And the simplest words, half finished sentences, and fleeting thoughts are cherished by our loving Father.

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