US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Read: Help, Thanks, Wow

By Maureen Abood | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

By Anne Lamott (Riverhead Books, 2012)

Leave it to Anne Lamott to take something that feels overwhelming, then put it on our plates and cut it up for us into pieces that we can easily manage. So it is with prayer, says Lamott in Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.

The assumption of the book is that our prayer lives tend to get distanced from us and from their essence. How to get back to the pith of prayer, and why we should, are the guiding lights of the book. Lamott’s way is very well lit, in the down-to-earth style that has endeared so many readers to her. There are moments in this book where one wonders if her style couldn’t have used a bit more refinement, but it’s nothing that will keep us from eating every bite of what she serves up.

Because Lamott is able to admit the sources of pain in her own life (she’s a recovering alcoholic and addict, and a Christian convert), we start thinking it might be just fine if we show up with ours, too. In her words, “We are so ruined, so loved, and in charge of so little . . .  and most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge . . . .”

 “Help” is perhaps the most compelling of our prayers, the great prayer that requires surrender. What we don’t know, Lamott says, is that when we are surrendering ourselves and simply asking in prayer for help, we are in fact establishing a critical connection with God.

“Thanks,” the prayer of acknowledging that help was on the way and in fact came, is our expression of the astonishment that things turned out OK. We’re often surprised, and our initial feeling is one of visceral relief and, in turn, simple but profound thanksgiving.

“Wow” is the praise prayer, when we are finally speechless, when we exclaim with wonder or dismay. Help, thanks, wow: The only other word we need at the end of the day is our humble Amen.

This article appeared in the June 2013 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 78, No. 6, page 43).