4 Ways to Pray When You’re Confused

When you don’t know where you’re going or what road to take, that’s the time to pray like Thomas Merton.

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Confused

What do you pray when you’re confused? When you’re not sure you are thinking straight? When you don’t even know what to pray, how to begin, where you’re going?

Those are good times to learn to pray like Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk, priest, poet, social activist and author (his memoir, The Seven Storey Mountain, is considered one of the finest of its genre). He wrote more than 70 books, including Thoughts in Solitude, which includes this prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone (© Abbey of Gethsemane, used with permission).

His journals include many prayers, but this one has garnered more interest than any, perhaps because it is so humble and helpful. It can guide our own praying in many ways, four of which are:

1)  Confess your uncertainty

What an amazing way Merton started his prayer: “I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” Have you ever felt that way? Are you feeling something like that now? You’re not alone. Merton’s words resonate with many of us, who may put up a good front but much of the time don’t really know what we’re doing. It is refreshing to confess our uncertainty and confusion in prayer, and it’s powerful because it puts us right where God wants us, where He can speak to us and work in us.

2)  Confront your limitations

Merton also says, “Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.” The irony is that it takes someone who knows himself pretty well to confront the fact that he may not know himself. And a humble awareness of our limitations is the best posture from which to pray.

3)  Express your beliefs and hopes

The prayer continues, “I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.” Have you ever stopped to express your beliefs to God in prayer? Those beliefs will shape your praying, so it’s good to be able to identify and express them. Similarly, Merton expresses his hopes, while still humbly allowing that his understanding could be faulty.

4)  Affirm your trust

Like many psalmists, Merton concludes his prayer with affirmations of his trust in God: “I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” The very act of praying often leads us from confusion and doubt to faith, even confidence.

So try it. Pray like Thomas Merton: Confess your uncertainty, confront your limitations, express your beliefs and hopes, and affirm your trust in God.

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