Praying When It’s Hard: Praying Through the Unexpected

March 30, 2021

It’s so true what they say: Life Happens.  Just when I think I’ve settled into a prayer routine, yikes, life turns me and my prayer life, upside down.  Unexpected things happen, surprises disrupt my schedule, worries and anxiety take over, and my time with God flies out the window.  I’m sure you can relate.  But our time with God doesn’t have to take a back seat to life’s surprises.  God is quite the adapter, it’s usually us who lose our focus.  

There have been times when life has thrown me a real curve.  Like when I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a progressive condition that affects the heart and lungs.  The diagnosis hit me like a brick.  Suddenly I had multiple doctors, countless medical tests, changes to diet, and numerous pills to take.  My life as I knew it had changed drastically, and so had my prayer.  I was used to spending time with God in a quiet prayer space, reading scripture or articles, and journaling.  Now my prayer was one big jumble of emotions: confusion, fear, self-pity, anger.  I was certainly unfocused, and any focus I did have was not on God, but on me.  If you have received any troubling diagnosis or disturbing news, you know the feeling.  

The one thing I did know was that in spite of my dis-interest in prayer, prayer was absolutely the one thing that I needed.  Here are some things I learned about praying during an unexpected crisis:

  • Don’t judge your prayer – I wanted to pray for the “right” thing, but I didn’t know what that right thing was.  Should I ask for a miracle cure?  Should I ask for Ignatian indifference, surrender to God’s will in this?  Should I cry, scream, or pray for hope?  I learned I should do all of the above.  Consider that there is really no “wrong” way to pray.  Author Ruth Burrows writes that prayer is making yourself available to God.  When I stopped judging whether my prayer was correct, I was able to just be with God and share where I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It took the pressure off of me and allowed me to focus on God.  
  • Sometimes we have to pray for the desire for something – I wanted to surrender my situation to God, but I kept struggling to do that.  It was only when I realized that I needed to ask God for the desire to surrender it all to God that I was brought to an acceptance and peace about my condition.  

Sometimes life throws me “one of those days”.   It’s a day when nothing seems to go right.  I spill my coffee on papers I’m working on, the cat spits up a hairball on the rug, I fall behind schedule, I burn dinner.  All little nothing occurrences, but taken all together can make for a challenging day.  I’ve learned to pray around these types of days in the following ways:

  • Take a deep breath and know that God is with you.  
  • Step back from the calamities and ask God to help you see where God is in all the commotion.
  • Get away from the situation for a minute, walk around, stomp your feet, pull up weeds, listen to the birds outside, eat chocolate (chocolate fixes lots of things).  
  • Ask God for patience and a sense of humor.   

Sometimes life surprises me when an amazing gift is sent my way.  Recently, a friend I lost touch with saw an article I had written online  and, after a bit of searching the web, was able to contact me.  It was such a blessing to reconnect after almost 20 years.  This unexpected situation brought me an invigorating happiness that was hard to contain.  Here’s how I prayed through it:

  • I invited God into my happy dance.  I imagined God’s joy at seeing my joy.  It felt great to share the happiness with God.
  • I allowed myself to humbly relish the moment.  I recalled that this was a gift of God to me.  It was a moment I could savor and remember to remind me of God’s goodness to me the next time I would fall into desolation.
  • I asked God for the gift of humility to remind me that I didn’t cause this to happen, it was pure gift.  

These are a few suggestions for praying when life throws you a curve.  It doesn’t matter what the unexpected event is, what matters is recognizing God in it and letting God, who is Love itself, be a part of it with you.  Persevere, don’t give up on prayer, and trust that God will see you through all situations.  


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Melinda is an Ignatian-trained Spiritual Director who is passionate about helping others deepen their relationship with God through individual direction, group faith sharing, and retreats. She received her certification in Spiritual Direction from the Archdiocesan Spirituality Center in New Orleans in 2012. She also holds a Master's of Pastoral Studies degree from Loyola University. Most recently, she served as spiritual director and campus minister at Christ the King parish at LSU and was on staff at the St. Joseph Spirituality Center. She also serves in the Women of the Well ministry and is currently on the board of the Louisiana Association of Spiritual Directors. She and her husband Darrel live in Baton Rouge and enjoy birdwatching and fishing.

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