The Best Prayer is “Thank You”

Anne Lamott writes in her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith that the best prayers she knows are, “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I don’t argue too much with Lamott. About anything.

It took a little child to show me, however, just how true the concept of simplicity in prayer can be. I was raised in the Presbyterian Church and had my child baptized there. While I grew up with many beautiful and meaningful family traditions around spiritual observance, I admit I have been less than focused on how I want those traditions to be passed on to my child. I knew I wanted to begin introducing her to the idea that she can talk with God, that building that relationship between her soul and something bigger than the meanness of this world is very important.

But like many in my generation, I can be a tad jaded. We’ve lived and worked in more than one community. We’ve seen in living color the downfalls and moral failings of “holy” institutions and church leaders. We’ve pondered the dark side of many things once taken for granted as the good. Simply put, we struggle with how to help our children embrace faith without blindly following the absolutely certain failures of humanity.

Can you see how hard I like to make things?

They really aren’t that hard. We need to do more to let our children lead us sometimes.

My child recently announced we would be praying together before each meal. “Hands in your lap,” she says. We dutifully put our hands in our laps. “Now raise them up, slowly, like this,” she says as she directs us in assuming the traditional prayer hand press. “Now say this with me: God made the sun. God made the sea. God made the fishes, and God made me. Thank you for the sun, thank you for the sea, thank you for the fishes, and thank you for me. Amen.” There are little hand motions that go with each image of sun, fish, sea, and self.

Sun, fish, sea, and self. The hands of God nurturing you through the basic elements of the world, if you will only let it happen.

You know, I should have probably said, “Help me” a little sooner. Today, I say, “Thank you.”

(This piece first appeared on January 16, 2013, on The Mommyhood, a blog of The Charleston Daily Mail.)



Anne Lamott is an idol of mine.  This from her book on writing, Bird by Bird, says it all:

Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up.   Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking is a mouse.  Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar.  Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar.  And so on……..Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass……Then imagine there is a volume-control button on the bottle.  Turn it all the way up for a minute, listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices.  Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you.

There are a lot of reasons not to write.  There is really only one good reason to write, and that is because for some of us it is life.  It is voice.  It’s a long road, finding and honoring that voice.  Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but you have a mode of expression that is vital to who you are.  Just remember, they’re just mice. 

Tighten that jar.