My Perfectly Imperfect Prayer from the Heart


My imperfect, even at times bumbling prayer just might be preferable to a curated selection of memorized classic prayers. Even if I meander or hesitate, stumble or stutter, my words from the heart are more valuable than meticulously planned, rehearsed, or recited prayer, because the words are my own.

My best prayer has been in times of distress or discouragement, and at the time, I wasn’t thinking about how eloquent or articulate I was, how poetic my praise was or how theologically worked out my words were. It was rather, a desperate cry, a heartfelt expression of my bundle of thoughts and feelings, my anguished frustration, and my very real, stretch to find the right words. The value of my prayer didn’t rely on my ability to express, but I recognized its efficacy in my experience of feeling closer to Him, even held by Him, upon reflection much later, after the events all unfolded.

There was a time I dared to be angry at God for a family-wide, sick-marathon stretching the whole month of February, with chickenpox, Norwalk virus, and my first miscarriage.

There have been times I have furiously written in my prayer journal, uncertain what I’m asking or what I hope to hear, only that I want a real connection; I long for my Lord to send me a tiny sign that He hears me, He loves me, He’s listening and He’s answering my prayer.

There was a time I stared out an undraped window at streaks of lightning in the sky, reflected on the glass of another wing of the hospital, realizing that all the familiar pains of childbirth would push out a baby who had already lost his heartbeat.

It’s trying to remind a loved one to pray and struggling to pray with them out loud, without consolation or understanding. It’s re-learning how to baby-step through trusting in Him.

It’s bumbling through prayer, trying to express a string of incoherent thoughts. It’s telling Him how I feel, even if I don’t want to feel that. It’s asking Him where to go next and listening for His Answer in my heart.

It’s feeling abandoned and alone only to realize that that was the closest He’s ever been, carrying me after all.

Suddenly, a perfect little phrase is placed gently on my heart; an answer to a question I didn’t even know I was asking, but one I will carry with me as an answer, the answer to many questions ahead.

Imperfect prayer isn’t just our prayer out loud or in our hearts, but being still, fighting distraction to refocus again and again, and trying (and sometimes failing) to listen to the message being placed on our hearts. It’s the act of the will to persevere in prayer, even when we’re discouraged, even when we’re not convinced that we can receive the message correctly. It’s continuing to reach out in prayer, in the absence of warm fuzzies,  consolations, or even understanding. It’s abandoning the quest for the perfect words, the poetic expression in favor of the messy and the real. It’s daring to be vulnerable and trusting that He can work with my bumbling prayer, and really He prefers it, as long as it’s honest and comes from my heart.

He already knows my heart, but He prefers when I open it up to Him. He doesn’t require my curated or edited thoughts and feelings, He wants my heart, in my own words. They are perfectly imperfect, to Him.

This post was inspired by Doug Tooke’s “The Perfection of Imperfection” Talk in the OSV Talks series, a series of topics from prominent Catholic leaders to spark discussion, explore new or re-explore old approaches, and inspire creative thinking, all from the heart of the Church.

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