You know how life will be going along beautifully, wonderfully boringly, and then that thing comes out of nowhere and wrecks your life or breaks your heart? Or maybe it's that thing that you've known is there, and although you keep thinking, hoping, wishing, and praying that it will miraculously get better, it only gets worse? Yeah, I hate those things. I hate them for myself when I go through them. I hate them for my friends when they go through them. I hate it for all the pain it brings to so many more people than we imagine. It's not like we live in isolated bubbles after all. When hard things happen to one person, the pain and hurt ripple out to so many others.
I know that God is not surprised by these things. I know that He sees the end game while at the moment I only see the field smashed up against my face because I'm at the bottom of a pile of metaphorical football players that tackled me to the ground. I know that Jesus won this game already. It doesn't make the tackle hurt less. (On a side note, I can use more than food related figurative language!)
When these things happen, I often find myself in one of two places when trying to pray. I either can't find the words I want to say, or I have entirely too many words. Either one of them makes me frustrated and going in circles. I've found something that really helps focus my thoughts and prayers in these times. It's so simple, foundational, and liturgical that I skipped over it for the longest time. In my little book of Common Prayer, it's called "The Jesus Prayer" and it goes like this:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
It's concise. Simple. Plain. OLD. And yet it is beautiful. It brings me back to where I need to be. Lord Jesus Christ. Son of God. Have mercy on me, a sinner. When I realize I'm talking at Jesus instead of to Jesus, this ancient prayer snaps my attention back to where I need to be. When I don't have the words to pray for a child that is in pain and breaking the heart of every person that loves her, I pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on _____, a sinner." When I pray for the parents that have to watch their child walk a difficult path, I pray "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God..."
Sometimes we use long, beautiful, abundant words to shield ourselves from the reality and the feelings that we need to give to God. At least I do. This prayer helps me strip all of that away until I'm coming to God with the pain, the longing, the hope, the anger, and the joy that's tied together into one giant ache in my heart.
If you find yourself in a place where you don't know what to pray or you can't slow your thoughts enough to get a single sentence out, take a breath. Try praying through this prayer a few times. I hope it helps you as much as it helps me in these moments.