Pray Help
October 2, 2022 7:29 AM   Subscribe

A question for MeFites of faith. How does one pray without feeling sad and anxious?

I am a person of faith and I always say a prayer in bed before going to sleep. But ever since I was a kid prayer has made me feel very anxious. Prayer to me is almost a litany of worries: God, please make our health problems go away; God, please solve our money worries; God, please don't let anything bad happen to me or my family. (My family has been pretty unlucky wrt health and other issues over the years, but especially recently.) I hold my anxiety together fairly well during the day but at night especially when I am praying I feel all the accumulated worries of my life descending on me. And there are a lot. There are always a lot, but especially right now as I am dealing with family illnesses etc.

I know there is an easy answer: stop praying if it makes you feel anxious - but I feel even more anxious if I don't pray - as though that is going to make the bad things happen. I know it's irrational but I feel genuinely guilty if I don't pray and then something bad happens, like, oh yeah, this is my fault because I did not pray for this not to happen. Every so often I feel a connection to my higher power while praying which makes me feel much better, held and safe, and every night when I pray, it is in the hope that I will have that feeling again.

So I want to know how to fix my relationship with the concept of prayer. And I want to know how you pray, if praying is something that helps you feel safe and warm and calm.

Although I do not practise in the strict sense of the word, I come from a Muslim background but am open to tips from any faith.
posted by unicorn chaser to Religion & Philosophy (32 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
At least in the Christian tradition, prayers of praise and thanksgiving are just as important as petitionary prayers. The Our Father specifically begins with praise and recognition of the divine plan (hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done), and only then moves on to specific petitions (give us this day our daily bread).

It seems to me that a structured practice of meditation on the order and beauty in the universe, moving on to gratitude for gifts given one, would be an anti-anxiety experience. (I believe I've read research confirming this, as well, at least in the case of gratitude). I'm not as familiar with the Muslim tradition, but it's likely similar frameworks exist in Islam, if you looked into it a little.
posted by Bardolph at 7:43 AM on October 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

Hmmm. I converted to Islam recently and my experience is quite different... But I came to it from years of wishy washy secular Budd-hish thinking, and it's nice to have solid spiritual ground for the first time ever (I'm 57 btw).

I'm wondering how much you subscribe to the tenet that there's nothing that happens, good or bad to our eyes, that is not willed by Allah. I had something pretty bad happen recently, and I could have blamed myself for it to the grave and beyond. Instead, I do in fact rely on the belief that Allah willed it, and the odds of this particular thing happening in the way it did were pretty slim. So that belief supports a lot of the du'a that I make.

I'm not criticizing you or finger wagging, and I hope it doesn't come across that way. I'm still very much in recovery from Western rationalist individualism.

Maybe... A course in Muslim fundamentals as a refresher (in every sense) for you? I'm enrolled in an online intensive course right now through al-Maqasid in Macungie, PA, and the voluntary donation they ask for is laughably small considering the quality of the teaching.

Making du'a over here for you, and feel free to PM me if you like.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2022

Best answer: To directly answer the question: Specifically pray about gratitude? Prayer is more than requests. And some people pray about their concerns not to ask for an action to be taken, but to help them deal with the situation - that could include anything from taking a step back to focusing on a clear action.

Taking a step back: It sounds like you feel that you are personally responsible for what god does or doesn’t do and that’s creating a lot of anxiety and pressure. Do you have a trusted person you can talk to about this? I believe most spiritual leaders I have known would tell you that this is not the purpose of prayer, and would try to ease your mind on the issue (if they don’t, that is a HUGE red flag).

If you are open to it, talking to a therapist might be helpful.
posted by bunderful at 8:00 AM on October 2, 2022 [4 favorites]

I’m an atheist but me and my kids share a nightly list of things we’re grateful for. Part of it is memorized and recited, part of it is improvised.

“We’re grateful to have healthy bodies.
We’re grateful to have a warm safe happy home.
We’re grateful to have enough money for the things we need.
We’re grateful to have great problem-solving skills so we can always find a way to solve our problems.
We’re grateful that our family loves each other and we’ll always be there for each other.
We’re grateful for our trucks and all the toys and books we get to enjoy.
We’re grateful that mommy and daddy have jobs we like that let us help other people.
We’re grateful that the Doctor knew how to help you when you were sick and gave us medicine to help your body.
We’re grateful that our fridge is full of healthy food we can eat, and you have a soft comfy bed to rest, while you get better.
We’re grateful that we know how to try and stay calm and patient and just try to relax for a few days while you’re getting better.
Etc etc.

Maybe reframing the objective would help you- rather than asking for help protect or fix things (which means naming what’s wrong),

instead try being thankful for what’s going well already, and grateful for the resources and skills you will use to address what needs to be fixed (which means listing what’s right and also reminding yourself of all the tools and personality traits you will use to address any issues).

It makes me feel so grateful, cozy, lucky and safe to think of all the resources I already have (including skills, mindsets, people, and items).
Good luck!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:07 AM on October 2, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Back when I was more of a praying person, I tried different formats/methods to see what resonated with me. One that worked best was for me to treat prayer as an ongoing, casual conversation with a friend/relative, rather than a formal litany of requests/begging to a non-responsive distant being.

Based on the examples you gave, my prayer would probably run along these lines:
I'm feeling really worried about X's health today. Please keep them safe & help their body to heal. Guide the doctors and nurses & give them wisdom as they care for X. Help me to trust that you are watching out for us. I'm feeling so anxious right now. How can I better learn to deal with these feelings & emotions? Is there something I should do differently or learn right now? Let me relax a bit & remember that you are with us at all times.

Thank you for the ways I saw you caring for us/the world today. That sunrise was really beautiful and I felt so peaceful watching that flock of birds swoop around the yard. I know you are caring for them; help me to accept you are caring for me, too. I am so grateful for ___.
posted by belladonna at 8:33 AM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m not really a person of faith and certainly the idea of an interventionist god that will change the outcome of the things that bother me strikes me as odd. What I can find myself asking for (not sure who I’m asking) is the strength to cope with my troubles with grace and love. Perhaps reframing it like that would give you reassurance that you, together with your god’s help, will be able to cope whatever happens.
posted by sianifach at 8:34 AM on October 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

I am not familiar with the Muslim tradition, so disregard anything that cannot be applied. The more I pray, the more I move away from petitionary prayer (asking God for things). In the Our Father, which is the prayer that Jesus taught, there are only two lines that ask God for something - "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done" and "give us this day our daily bread." So I try to focus on God's will and on my needs on a day to day basis. Praying for daily bread is pretty much as basic as you can get - and it's good for focusing on just the day and not the future. The other thing I like about the Our Father is that it has a line asking God to forgive us as we forgive others - so it serves as a reminder of how to live. Can these concepts be applied to your faith?

Are there written prayers in your tradition? If so, consider learning and reciting those and digging deeply into the meaning and what you can learn from them. I have also subscribed to a monthly book that provides daily spiritual readings and prayers - is there anything like that you can look into?

For my religion, some people train as "spiritual directors," and I am in the process of seeking one out. These are lay people who help with growing closer to God. Is there anything like that in your tradition? You say you don't practice in the strict sense of the word. Would you like to? Would you feel more connected if you were able to get more involved with a mosque?
posted by FencingGal at 8:46 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe one thing to remind you is that it's okay to feel anxious and scared and sad when bad things are happening. One thing prayer is, for me, is a place where it's safe to feel all my feelings, good and bad, without the pressure of holding it together. Your prayer might be helping you already, just as it is, because when you don't stop and let those feelings come, they build up and explode in really messy ways. So just by taking a few minutes a night to say, genuinely, oh my God this feels so bad, I'm scared and helpless and I don't know what to do, your habit of prayer may be helping you more than you realize.

I feel even more anxious if I don't pray - as though that is going to make the bad things happen. I know it's irrational but I feel genuinely guilty if I don't pray and then something bad happens, like, oh yeah, this is my fault because I did not pray for this not to happen.

This sounds like a very young part of you, like it's an idea that developed about God before you fully had the power to understand it. But now you're older, and you have the ability to go back and gently correct that misconception; to come up with a more sophisticated conception of a Higher Power. Maybe taking some time to write down what you actually think God is and is not would be a worthwhile exercise. Do you actually believe in a punitive God who punishes your family members with sickness if you forget to pray? Or is there another concept available to you?

Once you have a better understanding of who or what you're praying to, you might try shifting away from petitionary "please make this happen" prayer. Some people have suggested gratitude and thanksgiving, which can be incredibly helpful, but also sometimes can be hard when you're in the middle of the whirlwind!

In recovery, we say: we pray only for knowledge of God's will for us, and the courage to carry that out. It's right and good to not want to suffer, it's right and good to want your family members not to get sick, and it's right and good to bring all of that pain to God in prayer...but at the end, instead of describing how you want to the world to be, and asking God to make it that way, you might shift a little, and simply ask for help navigating the world as it is.

So instead of "God, please please please make Mom's cancer go away," it might be something like, "God, Mom is sick again and I am just so scared and sad and overwhelmed, I don't know what to do, but please guide me and give me the strength I need to get through this, show me how to be there for her and the rest of my family, whatever happens, please be with us and help us, amen."

In essence, instead of asking God to change the world, we're allowing the world to be as it is, and asking for God to change us.

I hope that helped a little. Thank you for asking this question! It helped me a lot to write this out.
posted by Merricat Blackwood at 8:47 AM on October 2, 2022 [21 favorites]

Best answer: Merricat Blackwood said "So instead of "God, please please please make Mom's cancer go away," it might be something like, "God, Mom is sick again and I am just so scared and sad and overwhelmed, I don't know what to do, but please guide me and give me the strength I need to get through this, show me how to be there for her and the rest of my family, whatever happens, please be with us and help us, amen."
Yes, yes, yes.

I try to just pray honestly to God, sharing what I am feeling and asking for God's comfort, care and presence through it all. And as others have mentioned, I always try to start prayer by speaking gratitude for God's blessings. For example, as my family has gone through serious health challenges and loss in recent years, I lift up gratitude for health insurance, treatments, medicine, and basic needs. I try to also lift up the smaller day to day blessings, like a particularly kind nurse, or a program we were able to enjoy on tv. A call from a friend. I think trying to balance the concerns with gratitude for blessings can help one feel less sad and anxious when life is especially tough. Finally, I always pray for others, those who I know and don't know.
So, I guess the three pillars for my prayers are: giving thanks, praying for my personal concerns, praying for others.
I hope this is helpful and thank you for the question.
posted by fies at 9:16 AM on October 2, 2022

I understand you don't practice, but do you have any connections to a more (for lack of a better word) liberal mosque or imams? This is the kind of concern I would expect to take to a faith leader, and a kindly faith leader would regard giving advice on such a matter even to a "lapsed" member of the faith as their pastoral responsibility. There's always the risk of running into someone who is fundamentalist or proselytizing or judgmental, but these folks are the specialists and when their advice is good, it is good.
posted by praemunire at 9:31 AM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

I was like this. Something that's really helped me is throwing out the "rules" of how to talk with God. I grew up with certain phrases that HAD to be said or else the magic of God wouldn't work. I now talk to God the way I would a trusted friend/confidant/therapist/someone I love. I vent. I say the things I'm grateful for. I ask for strength and grace.

The TLDR is I decided God was more powerful than me and didn't need me to say a magic combo of words to work.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 9:32 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Some ideas come to mind:

Do you have a faith leader you could discuss this with? An open-minded faith leader will walk with you on your journey and might be willing to make some suggestions. My relationship with prayer was transformed when a friend who is also a faith leader made the off-handed comment "oh, I pray all the time". I came to see prayer as an ongoing relationship with God rather than a kneel-down-eyes-closed-and-repent set up.

Such that prayer is supposed to be anything, I always thought of it as quite a joyful thing, which shows how differently it can be framed. Like, appreciation of natural beauty is a form of prayer, that sort of thing.

Christianity makes a lot of use of music (and art, and dance) as forms of prayer. I know Islam is different in this regard but are there other routes to prayer that you could explore, such as pre-written texts or verses which capture your sentiments, which your heart could borrow?
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 9:38 AM on October 2, 2022

Best answer: If you're going to pray, it seems perfectly sensible to pray: 'God, please make our health problems go away; God, please solve our money worries; God, please don't let anything bad happen to me or my family'. If that's what you want, that's what you should be praying for.

There's a lovely essay by Herbert McCabe where he says that the biggest hindrance to prayer is that we pray for what we think we ought to want, rather than what we actually do want:
People quite often say they are distracted during prayer. And they try to suppress these distractions. But this may well be a mistake. For distractions almost always come because we are praying for the wrong thing, because we are praying not for what we really want but for what we think we ought to want. The distractions are simply our real wants and desires intruding on the noble but bogus wants we are praying about. When you are visited by distractions, do not turn them away; turn yourself round and look at them; ask yourself what desires and worries and affections they come from. Then start praying about that. Once you are praying for what really concerns you, you will not be distracted.
Perhaps your problem is not that you're praying about these things, but that you think you shouldn't be praying about them. At some level of your mind you think they are distractions and you need to get rid of them in order to pray in the 'right' way.

My advice to you would simply be to start from where you are. If you're worried about health and money and family, don't think you have to banish those worries in order to pray. Make them the focus of your prayer, and pray about them as honestly as you can.

McCabe would also say: what you think of as praying to God is also God praying in you. 'You do it from the depth within you that is yourself. But you also do it from the even greater depth within you that is God making you to be yourself.'
posted by verstegan at 9:56 AM on October 2, 2022

My relationship with god/higher power has changed throughout my life. I like having faith in my life, but I don’t like the transactional part of prayer/religion that sometimes gets thrown around. It raised too many questions - like why do bad things happen even if you pray for them not to, etc.

So I use prayer for a few things, usually all in one prayer:
- sending love to loved ones
- giving thanks for my life and the world
- asking for strength to get through trials
- and then if something went badly during the day, it’s sort of a conversation in my head, like, “yeah I really messed up today didn’t I? I’m uncomfortable thinking about it. But I’ll work on doing better next time.”

This is all sort of reflection of how I see life in general, and myself. It’s helped me become more accepting of myself and of others, and taken away a lot of guilt that’s often associated with religion for me.
posted by umwhat at 10:04 AM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I really like the Crappy Childhood Fairy's of writing down fears and resentments twice a day, then meditating. She is religious herself but uses the neutral term of meditation to be more inclusive. While her focus is on healing complex PTSD by learning emotional regulation, her techniques work well for anyone experiencing anxiety that makes it hard to focus. It might not be what you're looking for but it's definitely something to try if you're interested. There are so many great suggestions here and I hope you find something that works for you because you deserve to feel calm and joy when praying!!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:04 AM on October 2, 2022

- Not doing this myself, but:

- It's my understanding that gratitude (and praise) is an incredibly important part of this practice, maybe the most important part.
posted by amtho at 10:29 AM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Basically the praying you have been doing is to think of all the bad things that are happening in your life and ask for magical solutions. "Please solve our money worries," is a prayer asking for an actively interceding deity to retroactively create a wealthy great aunt you never heard of, get her to write a will in your favour, and then kill her off. Your prayers only focus on your fears and your pain and require Deus ex Machina solutions. Even if you are a devout believer you are going to have some doubts that it will work like that, given that your life has so far not being a succession of staggering coincidences that pluck you and your family members effortlessly out of any difficulty.

Maybe be more specific in your petitions: "Please give me a new income stream," and "Please get the government to throw money at us in hopes we vote for them at the next election - maybe a homeowner tax rebate?" is a lot less likely to leave you unhappy because you are imagining potential ways your problem could be mitigated without waiting for magic.

Even better are petitions asking for the specific morale support you need, "Please help me think of a new income stream," or "Please let me find some grants or rebates we could get," shifts some of the burden on you, but at the same time will make you feel less helpless. You know that tomorrow you can start checking for loan forgiveness, or consolidation, or bankruptcy, or student grants, or homeowner upgrade grants so you go to sleep hopefully instead of clinging to your belief in a magic deity who will bend the inexorable laws of physics for you.

Of course if it were as easy as thinking of a new income stream, or typing "easy to get grants" and your zip code into a search engine you would have already solved your very real and pressing problems. But you can still build on that method as you observe your efforts foundering. "Please give me enough energy to spend another half hour searching on line for grants tomorrow, and help me not be too depressed and anxious to even try" is another prayer that might just turn out to be effective. Cancer suddenly going into remission without treatment is not too plausible, but half an hour of focus to work on the problems you face isn't an impossibility.

Often the things we want are impossible. "Please don't let my mother die," when she is ninety and suffering catastrophic mini-strokes cuts to the very heart of the matter. You just want your mother to be alive, healthy, happy and functional. In cases like these petitionary prayers tend to be most helpful if they are focused on requesting strength instead of magic. "Whatever else you do, please let my mother be comfortable," and "Please, make me strong enough to get through this," and "Please don't let me end up traumatized by these hospital visits," doesn't preclude a miracle - just maybe, perhaps some blood clot dissolving drug can intervene to give you some more good time with your mother - but they will still support you through the ghastly journey.

The other thing about prayer is that it works for non-believers too, in that you use it to prime your unconscious brain to work with you in finding solutions or mitigation. Praying to get help thinking of an income stream means that you are much more likely to remember that girl friend of yours who would like to find help with something and has money to throw at the problem. Praying not to be traumatized by your mother's ordeal helps you to remember that you need to protect yourself and may stop you from going into the room when anxiety makes you want to run in beside her, and gives you the calmness to stay in the corridor until the suctioning is done.

Petitioning for intercession is probably one of the least effective ways to approach God, and the one most likely to do you harm. There is one line in the Bible Matthew 4:9 "Worship me and I will give you everything." Only thing is, the line is spoken by the Devil trying to tempt Jesus. Asking for everything, or hoping for everything, or expecting God to give you everything is not a path to happiness or salvation. At its worst the Prosperity Gospel leads to worshiping Mammon, or to the kind of delusion that causes someone to hold up a Bible and step in front of a speeding tandem tractor-trailer because they think they will be damned for unbelief if they don't.

But you're not asking for everything. You just want to stop suffering from the fear and pain and disability over the health problems and for your money worries to stop and to stop dreading bad things happening to your family. Then ask for that: "Please God, help me to enjoy my life even when we are sick and pain, let there still be the good times and the good feelings, help me to stop worrying about money, help me with my anxiety. Let me not be so afraid and so sad." Ask for help handling your problems, for help not ruminating, for help finding things to hope for.

A miracle with a long lost great aunt and a five million dollar legacy would be a lot more satisfying, but learning to handle your anxiety and fear with God's help is a lot more plausible and in the long run works better too. Prayer can teach you coping skills that last after the problems have changed or been resolved. Five million dollars can be quickly spent and fail entirely to solve health problems anyway.

A final note - a lot of people feel miserable and anxious as they transition into sleep. Bedtime might be the wrong time for prayer for you, if your physiology tends that way. Consider praying first thing in the morning, praying to get help through this one day, praying for you to find strategies to handle what the day throws at you. God doesn't just listen at bedtime. He listens all the time. And you might be able to hear Him better in the morning than you do when the lights are off and the shadows are looming.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:30 AM on October 2, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: So, I'm going to try to relate as someone who is also Muslim and also is raised Muslim, with similar cultural habitude. (Note: i don't make a habit of saying doa/du'a in English as opposed to 'prayers' to differentiate it from solat/salah because my English wasn't done that way and i find the distinction to be a new western Muslim thing that then bumps against which culture's anglicisation is being made supreme? Anyway.) I'm going to take a guess that if we share similar upbringings all the gratitude-centric prayers are the formula ones in Arabic while the unique/tailored prayers to our circumstances are done in your actual fluent tongue. So there's always a sense that those prayers seeking intercession feels more immediate, no? Not to mention so much of our stories of prophets always have those pivotal moments when they pray and it's immediately answered.

Why not try this as a script-flipping - practice the usual formulaic ones to be in your actual language as well? You know, the ones before a meal, as you start any activity, when you finish your meal, when something goes well etc etc. It's one thing to say "Alhamdulillah" on reflex but it might help your brain to remember that god is also there for blessings when you're actually saying, "thank you god". If you actually do speak Arabic well, then try making it more current and immediate (than the high classical Arabic). And certainly in my case, I actually made a point to stop asking for help for specific problems -- something i picked up about insincerity but also there's danger in despair if it's not resolved leading to a loss of faith. I've definitely reoriented my prayers' purpose. I use those moment to give thanks but also thanks that I can still bear my challenges, and my requests are general ones of along the lines, let me and my family have the wherewithal to find good fortune and overcome bad fortune, and the wisdom to navigate both.

And, if you want to do something a bit more unusual, there's fuqaha opinion that formal prayers don't need to be done in Arabic - and while I still do them in the traditional way, i know there're more gratitude-centric invocations throughout the prayer. That might help you a lot to do one in your own language every so often.

Part of this is based on a couple of things. 1) Don't forget in surah Yasin there's another line that's now become a formula as well: "kun fayakun". What will be, will be. All blessings and tribulations are in God's design and prayers are good as a practice to maintain humility but guard against despair especially when the requests are so specific. 2) supposedly there was an anecdote from Ali where he said, he feels concerned if a day goes by without some trial no matter how small because it means God is close by in wanting to see how he responds to it. That second one is a bit challenging in not falling into the trap of arrogance imo but the first is absolutely something I keep close to my heart. Your problems and your privileges are in God's plans. Prayers are part of worship not just as a way to appeal for help.
posted by cendawanita at 11:02 AM on October 2, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: First tip: if praying at night when the weight of the day is heavy on you brings anxiety, try praying in your morning shower or at lunch. I believe God wants relationship with us and God doesn’t want that relationship to cause anxiety every day!

Second: if you want that sense of connection to your higher power from prayer, have you prayed for that?

Last, in my Quaker tradition, prayer is about listening for God’s voice as much as it’s about speaking to God. Try making small spaces in your day for this type of prayer (if it seems useful/meaningful). Listen for God when things are easy and hard, when you need to find a way, when someone is in pain. God is with us all and God is speaking.
posted by epj at 11:31 AM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: God knows your heart and mind and life better than you do. He is in control, not you. Spend your time in prayer in gratitude and communion with holiness and trust God to take care of the rest.
posted by ananci at 12:03 PM on October 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am ostensibly Christian and by that I mean I grew up in a certain place and certain period and that is all. I try to keep my faith focused on people, I try to keep my prayers focused on people. You have reached out to MeFites of faith and it's good to see self-professed atheists here, I don't know if it is possible to be a living person and not have faith enter your chemistry. We do what we can with the words we have, and every year I get closer to feeling like the Higher Power is just everything, all that ever was and will be, and my finite consciousness will make of that what it can.

Today my prayers turned to my mother, deceased since 2018, and to a friend who lost a child to suicide a year ago. Also, a kid that happened to be running around during the service. These people anchor my thoughts, and I think of prayer as focused thought, thought with intention. I'd say that is more than 70% of the reason I still attend church, it is really one of the only opportunities I take to focus my thoughts.. I don't do enough distance driving, but that's the other way. Substances can do the trick but as I get older I resort to that less.

There is so much good information shared in the question and responses, you have given us a gift and hopefully the gift will be returned to you many times. Anxiety eats me too, and as others have pointed out it often comes at night. Perhaps timing is something to play with, as others suggest? William Blake wrote of "that blessed hour" where we are at our best, our most productive, and "Satan and all his watch fiends" cannot find us. Prayer can be so creative and energizing, and making time and space to be creative is a practice in itself.

Words have power, we forget this. Prayers matter. You matter. Good luck. I was a kid at uni when I read a Margaret Laurence novel and she features a translated Akan proverb, something like: "Lord there is something up above, please let it find me." I think prayer is a reaching out, a way to help this connection.
posted by elkevelvet at 12:13 PM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In Judaism there is a form of musical, wordless prayer called niggun. "Often described as a mystical musical prayer or a spiritual language beyond words, the Hasidic nigun is a fundamental part of all Ashkenazi culture and is, in the words of one Hasidic master, 'the pen of the soul.'"

There are many hasidic stories about people who struggle with traditional prayer or learning, but find themselves spiritually through the singing of a niggun.

There's a rich musical tradition of singing niggun as part of service and contemporary artists who interpret classic niggun.

This is all to say that you might look to your traditions for scraps of liturgy and/or song that you can sing, hum, chant, with or without words that can help you reconnect to the feeling you wish to get from prayer.
posted by brookeb at 12:16 PM on October 2, 2022

Best answer: In Catholic and some Episcopal traditions, one can light a candle at church as a means of praying for some situation or outcome. You say your prayer, light your candle and then leave it in the church to burn. To me this really feels like "giving it to God" and I don't feel the need to ruminate about it so much.

Bedtime is kind of a bad time to pray for all your problems, situations and worries, if offering them up in prayer exacerbates your anxiety about them rather than calming you. Maybe choose a traditional prayer to pray at bedtime, something where you can just recite the words. I like to do the "hail Mary" prayer from the Rosary as it is short enough to repeat over and over until I fall asleep. Maybe the Muslim religion has a book of prayers you can memorize something from? Or if you are open to prayers from other faiths, the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer has many lovely prayers.

Here is a nighttime prayer I especially like:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

But since you also say you want to pray about specific problems, concerns and worries, you could set aside some time during the day to pray for those. You could utilize a prayer jar or prayer box, where you write down your request or concern on a piece of paper, pray over it and then stick it in the jar or box as a means of giving it to God to handle. I heard this described as a "mailbox to God".
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

I know it's irrational but I feel genuinely guilty if I don't pray and then something bad happens, like, oh yeah, this is my fault because I did not pray for this not to happen.

You might find relief if you try techniques for lessening compulsive thoughts. This reads like OCD.
posted by tiny frying pan at 2:51 PM on October 2, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For what it's worth and only with regard to prayer, I think "Ebb And Flow" by Henri Nouwen might resonate with you (?).
posted by forthright at 3:48 PM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a witch, so I'm praying to The Big Shrug basically, but under the assumption that there's someone or something that can respond on the other end of my communication, my process with regards to the hard scary things in the world is to name the tools I need: may I get all the information I need to make good decisions, may I give and receive clear communication, may we receive good opportunities (and the wisdom to recognize them) to improve our financial (and the things money can buy: emotional, physical, creative etc) resources. If someone is sick (or I'm just particularly wanting them to NOT get sick), I visualize them wrapped in healing protective light, and again I call on that clarity and completeness of communication for them and their carers and medical team as well as with insurance and all that shit (may healthcare be free for all instead soon).

I do this wrapped in my own blanket of healing protective energy, inside a big bubble of same around my current residence and the people in it.

If my anxiety is really pounding on the door through this, I have a whole meditation estate in my head and there is a kitchen in there and in the kitchen there is one of those 1980's style trash compactors, the ones the size of a dishwasher that...squished your trash? When I was a kid, I thought it squished the trash up and took it away somewhere, I guess through some kind of conduit system? I thought you just didn't need an outside trash can, like it was a Dispos-All. I don't know, it was very trendy in new construction in the 80s and my brain installed one and when I cannot shake an anxiety in prayer/meditation I go shove that shit in the trash compactor and turn it on and it crushes it up and takes it away. (Do I find more later? Of course. But it buys me a little time usually.)

I think the litany of worries is better served in a journal than a prayer. I know it's easy to end up in a superstitious place where everything will go horribly wrong if you don't pray exactly right, but I personally don't believe the Universe is playing a big ol' game of Gotcha!! I hope that you have a deity that knows what's in your heart even if your words are awkward, and I hope they love you so much (or at least are unvindictive enough) they want good things for you and they want YOU to want good things for you and to not be afraid to ask for them and pursue them. Hard times are inevitable but I hope that your Source at the very least has lots of tools they're happy for you to use to get through them.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:48 PM on October 2, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I find it matters what space I'm in emotionally when I'm choosing to pray, because the act of repetition is going to engrave it more deeply. The desperate, heart-rending prayer - "G-d, heal her!" is coming from a place of deep feeling and has deep meaning, but there are also prayers that can say "restore my trust in you, open my heart and I will have faith".

More generally, if you're worried about forgetting a name in the healing prayer, forgetting a problem in your prayers for intercession, you are not the first person to worry about this! In Jewish tradition, dear to my heart in having been visibly authored by a mix of poets and lawyers, there is often a little line "bless those we have named today and those we name in our hearts..." and often also an "along with all those who are in need of healing" (or all the world, or all the community, etc). You can try adding in something like that, especially something vague that acknowledges you don't know what's best and you are at God's mercy. "Things are overwhelming right now, and troubles beyond naming. I put my faith in you to get us through. Bring us peace, strength and courage, and may we always trust in you." - something that focuses in on trust and strength and not on the list of troubles.
posted by Lady Li at 12:16 AM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a pagan, so please disregard if this doesn't apply to your practice.

I agree with epj above that the best thing might just be changing up what times you focus on different things in prayer. I find that if I pray about things I'm worried about at night, I also feel increasingly anxious because my worries are left in stasis - I obviously can't know what the gods are going to do, and I can't act on anything myself at that moment, because I'm going to bed. So I try to save petitionary prayer for the morning, so that it can be phrased as something I'm working on along with the gods' help: "please give me strength, wisdom, and luck to deal with the trials I'm facing; please help me to know how best to help my friend who is ill," etc. At night, I try to concentrate on contemplative prayer - quietly listening to the gods and resting in their presence.
posted by darchildre at 10:16 AM on October 3, 2022

Best answer: I was taught to metaphorically lay my head in the laps of Christ, different saints, and beloved gurus during prayer, like a child would with a loving family member. There is no judgment, no punishment, no negativity waiting for me, just love and patience. My prayers therefore start with gratitude, and then requests for guidance and strength for dealing with the hard stuff. When my prayers take the form of tears, I let them flow, and trust that my grief does not need to be articulated to be heard. And if I forget someone's name, I just trust that everyone knows me well enough already to know who I mean!

You alone are not responsible for the well-being of everyone and everything on Earth. I have also fallen in to the thinking trap of, oh, if I miss even one day of prayer, I will have nullified all previous days! But it is a collective effort. That is what makes prayer so beautiful, I think, that we are adding our voices to a choir singing to the universe about our joys and our struggles so that the universe can sing back to us in return. So sing out! Sing out, and rejoice in the fact that you are joining a magnificent chorus seeking the same things that you are: peace, good health for all, safety for your family, etc.

Be well, friend.
posted by The Adventure Begins at 12:47 PM on October 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am a person of faith and I follow Hinduism.When I go through tough times in life, I’m always anxious .Like others mentioned above, there are some written prayers which I recite multiple times.
Once we were driving from Pittsburgh and we were stuck in a heavy rain storm between two mountains where exits were far away from each other ,there were no shoulders to stop, no way out and the traffic was crawling with zero visibility.
My partner played the CD and we were reciting the prayers.It must have been 45 minutes or so, the CD stopped and we could see the signs for the next exit.This happened 27 years ago and I still remember that when I go thro’ some tough times.
There are days when I am overwhelmed and can’t say any words , I light the candle/incense sticks ,sit near the altar and cry my heart out to feel the spiritual energy…

Long time back, someone told me
“Don’t pray to God for the rain to stop! Pray for a better umbrella!!”. Those words have stuck with me.So, instead of asking for a particular problem to be solved, I ask for the strength,wisdom ,guidance and the energy to deal with the situation.

I’m sure there must be some written prayers in your religion too.I hope you will find something that can help you to deal with your anxiety and find peace.
posted by SunPower at 12:51 PM on October 3, 2022

Response by poster: I marked a few best answers that especially spoke to me but I wanted to thank everyone who answered this question. You are all amazing and i have felt so moved by how many of you took time out of your day to talk with me about this. Thank you all so much. Reading this thread really feels like quite a spiritual experience to me. I wasn't sure what sort of reception the question would get, I'm really glad I posted it.
posted by unicorn chaser at 8:53 AM on October 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

I believe the purpose of prayer is to get us through circumstances rather than asking to prevent circumstances. I believe the purpose of prayer is to ask God to give us the grace to sustain, the strength to stand firm, and the willpower to keep going.
posted by SageTrail at 6:40 AM on December 31, 2022 [1 favorite]

« Older What tactics does Julia Child use on Paul in HBO's...   |   Favorite Oracle/Journal Prompting/Meditation Card... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.