by Kayla Craig
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
My definition of prayer transformed under the fluorescent lights of the pediatric intensive care unit.
As my three-year-old daughter slept in the thin space between life and death, relying on countless machines and medicines to keep her alive, I held her tiny hand in mine. I ached to cry out to God. I sat in silence amongst the hospital beeps and buzzes, waiting for those words to come. No matter how robust my prayer life had been, in that moment of grief and unknowing, I had nothing left in the tank.
Teetering between exhaustion and despair, I wondered: Did God hear the prayers I couldn’t form?
I wanted to pray, but I simply didn’t have the words.
What a comfort to have the Spirit who intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26). And what a relief to know that we have a Creator who is so empathetic that we don’t have to have the perfect string of words -- or any words at all -- to be heard by the One who knit us together.
And while the truth that the Spirit helps us in our weakness does provide comfort, in the halls of that children’s hospital with my daughter, I ached to enter into a Divine dialogue, too.
While my daughter was fighting for her life, our community rallied around us with tangible reminders of care (and answers to unspoken prayers) with gifts of presence -- and practical gifts too, like meals, childcare, and hot coffee. Even when I didn’t have the words, I was reminded that I was held and cared for by the body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and the love of God.
But one of the gifts that shifted my perspective most was a simple book of prayers.
At last, I had something tangible to hold on to -- shared language to put to my heartbeats. The prayers on the page were an invitation to a conversation with the Divine.
The body of Christ said: Don’t have the words to pray? Here, take mine.
Since that time, I’ve continued to find deep comfort in the anchoring prayers of another. Some traditions and backgrounds call these written pleas and petitions liturgy -- or simply put, the prayers of the people.
Depending on your faith background, the word liturgy may conjure up dusty church pews or old recited phrases lacking heart or honesty. But I have found the written prayers of another -- whether penned last week or centuries ago -- have been anchor points in chaotic times, rooting me in Christ and giving me the language to put to experiences when I’ve struggled to find words of my own.
Borrowing the prayers of another is nothing new. In fact, we see this in Luke 1:46-55 when Mary echoes the prayers of praise that Hannah prayed centuries before her. From generation to generation, we can borrow and build from the prayers of other believers.
Entering into prayers that others have prayed, are praying, and will pray is another way to enter into the ongoing conversation God is having with me. What a gift it is to know I am not alone -- not only in times of suffering but in moments of celebration and worship, too.
I will never forget the mystery and the miracle I witnessed when my daughter was taken off of life support and we came home from the hospital together. In many ways, prayer is still a profound mystery to me.
But I do know that my understanding of prayer has been transformed; cracked wide open and expanded. Written prayer has become so anchoring in my own life that I recently wrote To Light Their Way, a collection of prayers and liturgies that I hope brings words for others to borrow for the ordinary and extraordinary moments of life.
As I write in To Light Their Way,
Liturgies are ecumenical—they go beyond denomination—and they don’t require a spiritual résumé. Liturgies are a rhythm, a worship, rooted in God’s Word. Liturgies are written prayers that act as a sacred invitation into divine conversation with God. Jesus said that He left us the very Spirit of God, dwelling inside us. Through the Spirit, we can use liturgies as an on-ramp into an ongoing conversation with the Divine as we go about our days, rising in the morning, kissing skinned knees and helping with schoolwork, interacting with our neighbors, and finally resting our heads at night.
Liturgy roots us in the ancient truth that God dwells in us and beside us. Liturgy anchors us as the waves of real life wash over us. We pray in the mundane; we pray in the unknown; we pray when we have nothing left to give. Liturgies are threads that bind us together, weaving our tears and our laughter together. In liturgy, we’re tied to our common humanity.
In that hospital, as my daughter fought for life, I found my way to God in the borrowed words of another. If you feel alone and find yourself gasping for words, try turning to the Psalms. Let the words on the page reflect the cries of your heart. As Psalm 138:3 reminds us, when we pray, God answers, encouraging us and strengthening us.
May it be so.
Kayla Craig is the author of To Light Their Way: A Collection of Prayers & Liturgies for Parents. A former journalist, she is adamant about paying attention and embracing curiosity. She writes nuanced, nurturing prayers at Liturgies for Parents on Instagram or find her at @kayla_craig.