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PrayerStarters in Times of Pain or Illness

PrayerStarters in Times of Pain or Illness

by Alaric Lewis

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Book offers inspirational and practical advice for daily situations.


Book offers inspirational and practical advice for daily situations.

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PrayerStarters In Times of Pain or Illness

By Alaric Lewis

Abbey Press

Copyright © 1999 Alaric Lewis, O.S.B.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-9962-5


It's Not Always Easy

"In the difficult are the friendly forces, the hands that work on us."

—Rainer Maria Rilke

Prayer is not always easy. If our prayer consists of words, sometimes it is difficult to say anything. If our prayer consists of listening, sometimes it is difficult to hear anything. If our prayer consists of activities, sometimes it is difficult to find the energy and the focus to do anything.

In the difficulties of life, however, there also can we find strength. If words and insights and actions seem just beyond our reach at times, that's fine. We can rest assured that God's hand is at work even in our difficulties, and recognition of this fact is a prayer in itself.


Take a moment to reflect on what may be causing difficulty in your prayer life. In a quiet, safe place, say these things out loud. Saying them won't make the difficulties go away, but when these things are outside of us, they hold us less in their power.

Dear God,

Because of these obstacles, I am finding it difficult to pray. I understand that these difficulties may not end, but help me to know that you are near me, even when my words and actions can't seem to communicate that.

Giving Pain Its Due

"An hour of pain is as long as a day of pleasure."

—English proverb

People deal with physical pain in a variety of ways: ignoring it, lamenting it, cursing it, sedating it. Whatever our method, the fact remains that physical pain takes a great deal of our energy. When we are hurting, we simply cannot do some of the things that we once did.

Pain, however, is also our body's way of telling us that something is wrong; it is a mode of communication to us, and to God. So we must not ignore it completely, as even the harshest of communications can still have meaning for us if we strive to have open minds and hearts.


Sit in a comfortable position and breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating on the physical sensations that are present in your body.

Imagine that these sensations are voices, expressing what needs God's touch within you.

Dear God,

My body is telling me ________________________. With each breath, help me to feel your soothing presence. Give me the strength to bear my pain, and don't let it cause me to close my mind or heart to what you may be telling me.

Getting Real

"Listen to me, O God, as I complain."

—Psalm 63

Sometimes we have a tendency to "sanitize" our prayer, limiting it to respectful petitions or pious platitudes. The People of Israel knew that virtually any emotion was a springboard for prayer, as evidenced by the passionate prayers in the Book of Psalms.

Anger—even anger directed at God—is a natural by-product of being sick. Questions sometimes asked in anger—"Why is this happening to me?" "What did I ever do to deserve this?" "Why does my poor family have to go through all this too?"—are questions that we should not be afraid to ask. God understands our anger, and can take it. Indeed God can allow our anger to become prayer.


Make an anger list. What situations or people make you angry? ________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

Dear God,

There are times when I am angry, even angry at you. Help me to know that my anger is natural, and in acknowledging and voicing it, help me to begin to let go of it.

Pain—and Hope—in Common

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it."

—Helen Keller

All we need to do to be aware of the universality of suffering is to watch the evening news. There are always reports of ordinary people all over the world struggling through suffering, due to natural disasters, war, famine, injustice. Suffering is a part of the human condition, and will always be among us.

Although God allows suffering to happen, and can even teach important lessons from it, God does not impose suffering on people to "pay them back" for anything they might have done in their life. If we are sick, it is because we are a part of the human race, and sickness and suffering are part of being human.


Pick up a newspaper or watch a news broadcast. Pay close attention to the reports of suffering that you hear. See in these stories not faceless individuals, but brothers and sisters who share the commonality of suffering with you. Know that as you struggle, so they struggle.

Dear God,

Please hear my prayers on behalf of ______________, and all people who suffer this day. As their lives have been filled with the reality of that part of the human condition, so too may they be filled with other realities of that same condition—the wonder of life, the beauty of nature, the kindness of people.

Light in the Darkness

"Hearts live by being wounded."

—Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

One of the most perplexing mysteries of Christianity is that of the redemptive value of suffering. How can it be that suffering can bring about growth? How can it be that being wounded can somehow bring about healing? How can it be that dying can somehow bring about new life?

Even though a realization of some value in suffering doesn't ease the burden of the suffering itself, it can be the only beacon of light in the dark confusion that can accompany sickness and suffering. We can trust in God's confusing, mysterious providence and know that somehow the very depths of our distress can bring us insight and grace.


Reflect on the image of a seed buried in the ground. Surrounded by the seeming cold indifference of the earth, the seed begins to change, its shell traumatically cracked open. But from this distress comes the first inklings of new life. And eventually a plant, filled with beauty and promise, emerges, triumphant over the darkness, triumphant over the pain.

Dear God,

Help me to bear the situations in my life that cause me to suffer, and may they somehow strengthen me with wisdom and insight into the mystery of your love. Help me to see your hand at work, even in suffering.

Deo Gratias

"Bees sip honey from flowers and hum their thanks when they leave."

—Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

Gracias ... Merci ... Danke ... Tak ... In any language, some of the most beautiful words are those words which express gratitude. The human spirit is at its best when recognizing the blessings that are all around.

When our minds and hearts are influenced by sickness, it is all too easy to forget the good things that continue to surround us. Recognizing all the things for which we can be grateful is a vital tool in keeping our lives balanced, in not letting the sickness take too large a possession of our very souls.


Make a gratitude list. For what situations or people are you most thankful? ________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

Dear God,

Help me to be ever mindful of the blessings with which you have surrounded me in this world. Never let the darkness of sickness obscure the light of gracious gifts I have been given. Help me to be a grateful person.

Inching Closer to God

"Many strokes overthrow the tallest oaks."

—John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit

Perseverance is a testimony to the strength of the human spirit; it is that strength which is present whenever any person, keeping at something, is able to scale "insurmountable" heights.

Prayer requires just such a spirit of perseverance, most especially when we also face the challenges of sickness. When it seems that our plate is full, that we couldn't possibly sit down and pray, we need to recognize that if we move forward in prayer—bit by bit, taking small steps—we can inch closer to the God who waits for us.


Make a list of prayerful words/actions/gestures/ideas that were expressed today, even if it is only one thought or a simple action that could be described as "prayerful." Make a resolution to match that list tomorrow and, if possible, add to it by one. Keep the list expanding bit by bit.

Dear God,

Sometimes I want to give up—on people, on you, on situations. Help me to stick with it, to tap into that within me which allows me to keep going, even when I feel like quitting. Help me to know that you are with me with each small step I take.

What Will Happen?

"Grief has limits, whereas apprehension has none. For we grieve only what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen."

—Pliny the Younger

"Don't worry; everything will be fine," words that are often spoken in an effort to temper anxiety, all too often may fall on deaf ears. Anxiety about what may happen to us can so grip us that this worry begins to affect us in ways that it shouldn't, obscuring our vision of life.

Although anxiety is a reality of the human condition, peace is a reality of the divine condition. In the midst of unknowns, God offers us an image of one so in love with creation that even the needs of the sparrows themselves are tended to.


Make a list of the "unknowns" in your life, things that cause you concern and worry. ________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

Go through the list slowly, and ask God to relieve each worry. Imagine as you speak each worry aloud that God is taking on this worry, and replacing it with peace and love.

God Alongside

"Turn my mind to you when I am lonely."

—Psalm 24

People often equate loneliness with being alone, but people can feel lonely even in the largest of crowds. A perfect example of this is when we are patients in the hospital: being surrounded by doctors, nurses, and visitors cannot always take away the feeling that we're alone, that no one quite understands what it is we're feeling.

No one but God, of course. Like a mother gently wiping the fevered brow of her child, God is constantly present to us, eternally "checking in on us" so that we need not feel alone. Trust that presence, and allow it to strengthen your weakness.


Reflect on a time in your life when you felt surrounded by love. Imagine the feelings associated with that time, and recognize that God was present. Realize that God is just as present right now, at this moment.

Dear God,

Even when I feel all alone, help me to realize that you are with me. When I am uncertain, be my surety; when I am weary, be my strength; when I am filled with sorrow, be my joy; when I am confused, be my clarity; and when I am lonely, be my companion.

The Healing Power of Laughter

"The most wasted day is that in which we have not laughed."

—Chamfort, Maximes et pensées

Laughter is a most precious gift. Life can offer all kinds of struggles that, if allowed to accumulate, can make things quite bleak indeed. But one hearty laugh (or even a good smile) can scatter this accumulation, allowing—if even for a moment—a light to shine through that illuminates the struggles, and makes them less burdensome.

Some would say that in the face of sickness laughter might be inappropriate. Nonsense! In the face of sickness, laughter can be just the medicine needed.


Reflect on a joke, story, or incident that made you laugh at the time; call your funniest friend; watch a funny movie. Allow the refreshment of humor to invigorate your soul once again. Laugh again, if you can; and if you can't, smile.

Dear God,

Thank you for all those times in my life when humor has lifted my spirits. Especially in my times of need, help me to continue to experience the rich gift of laughter that is your most precious gift.

The Gift of Tears

"To weep is to make less the depth of grief."

—William Shakespeare, Henry VI

The Desert Fathers and Mothers, those early Christian men and women who went out to the desert to immerse themselves in prayer, often used to pray for the gift of tears. Tears can be beautiful punctuation marks in the wondrous poetry that is life; they help give meaning and inflection to a variety of emotions.

We should not be afraid to cry, afraid to receive such a gift. Keeping a stiff upper lip will ultimately do little more than make our lips tired, whereas a good cry can cleanse and refresh us.


Reflect on the last time you wept. After the tears had stopped, what were your feelings? Is there anything in your life now that could benefit from that same feeling, from those same tears?

Dear God,

As Jesus wept, so too may I know the power of tears. Please send me the gift of tears, that I may be refreshed by their presence. If they are of sadness, may the tears fill up the well of grief; if they are of joy, may the tears be as drops in a sea of happiness.

Helping Hands

"Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up."

—John 5: 7

Many of us are fiercely independent people. We don't like to have to ask for anyone's help; we prefer to do things for ourselves. Having to ask someone for help is an act of vulnerability, and no one likes feeling vulnerable.

The fact of the matter is, however, that we do need the help of others at various times in our lives. And if we don't allow others to help us, it can be as if we are like the man in John's gospel, unable to reach the refreshing waters of the pool. Let us not block ourselves from the compassion-drenched refreshment of the help of others.


Make a list of things that you really need right now in your life. ________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

Now make a list of people who could help you in fulfilling these needs.

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

________________________ ________________________ ________________________

Dear God,

Help me to accept the help of others.

Doctoring Your Spirit

"Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord."

—The Letter of James 5:14

Throughout the ages people have been called forth to tend to the spiritual needs of their communities, to help others open their eyes, ears, and hearts to the wonder of divinity that swirls around and throughout the earth.

Finding a "doctor of souls" during a time of illness is equally as important as finding a doctor of medicine. Those involved in spiritual care are not necessarily holier or closer to God than anyone else, but they do have training and experience to help others realize the particular closeness to God.


Consider making an appointment with a priest, rabbi, minister, or any spiritual guide.

Are there areas you could discuss with him or her in which you want to feel closer to God?

Can you ask him or her to help you in these areas?

Dear God,

I know that your loving kindness surrounds me, even if I sometimes find it difficult to see, to feel. Please send people into my life who will help turn my spirit closer to you, and so bring me to wholeness, to love.

The Nearness Is All

"Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil. 'Tis the sole remedy against misfortune, the very ventilation of the soul."

—Baltasar Gracián, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

There is great comfort in a good friend. Friends can help cheer us in our sorrows, strengthen us in our weakness, give clarity to our confusion, and offer love when we feel alone. While the world can offer us the transitory, a true friend can offer us permanence.

Just as we know that our friends can count on us when they need us, we also need to know that we can count on them when we need them. Asking for help, finding a shoulder to cry on, sharing a laugh—what friend would not want to offer such expressions? What friend would not want to help us multiply the good of life?


Write a letter to a friend.

Dear __________________,

Thank you for your presence in my life. I count your friendship among my greatest treasures.

Knowing that you will help with whatever I need, I would like __________________________. It would be my joy to some day help you out as well.

Dear God,

Thank you so much for my friends; they help me know that you are near.


Excerpted from PrayerStarters In Times of Pain or Illness by Alaric Lewis. Copyright © 1999 Alaric Lewis, O.S.B.. Excerpted by permission of Abbey Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alaric Lewis is the author of A Healing Year: Daily Meditations for Living with Loss (ACTA Publications), as well as these CareNotes for Abbey Press: Prayers for Coping With CancerChildhood Cancer: Help for Families. He is also a popular speaker and retreat master and currently lives in Rome.


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