By Meredith Dodd 

I have no idea how to pray.

I’m not alone. Scripture reminds us that when it comes to prayer, none of us really knows what we’re doing. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness,” Paul consoles us, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

The Spirit might be sighing. However, most of the time, I am too distracted to even hear those sighs. During centering prayer, my mind starts writing my grocery list, worrying about my kid’s math homework, remembering lyrics from the musical Hamilton.

I have no idea how to pray.

But I do know how to write.

So last year, I decided that I would quit wishing to be someone else and simply offer God who I already was. For forty-something days, as a form of Lenten discipline, I wrote every day. Some days, I just wrote in my journal about my busy schedule. Some days, I wrote poetry, fiction, reflections on Scripture. It didn’t matter. The point was simply to write. So every night, after dinner, committee meetings and my children’s endless bedtime routine, I wrote.

I still don’t know how to pray. But I do know that my writing practice has taught me a lot about myself, about ministry and about God. For example:

— I am beloved of God.  You would think I’d know this by now. Too often, especially after yet another day of missing the mark as a pastor, I whisper to God, “I know that you love me now. But it has been a bad day. Will you still love me tomorrow?” Writing for its own sake, without regard to the end product, reminded me that God loves me not for what I do, but for who I am. No matter what.

— Even a minute counts. At Annual Conference this year, we learned that even sixty seconds of Sabbath could change how we approach our work. Some nights, I was too exhausted to write for more than a single minute. But being grateful for what I could do, rather than loathing myself for what I could not, helped clear away resentment so I could listen more deeply for God.

— Accountability matters. I practiced my Lenten discipline alongside a trusted friend and colleague. Knowing that somebody else cared about what I was doing (and was doing the same thing) made me more likely to do it, even when I felt busy or scared or inadequate.

 It’s not selfish.  Jesus spends lots of time on the mountaintop. He eats and drinks with friends. He prays, rests, laughs, and does many other things besides preaching, teaching and healing. But I cannot think of a single Christian who calls Jesus selfish for doing these things. My writing practice is not selfish. It’s how I draw closer to God.

— The Spirit takes me to uncomfortable places.  When I sat down to write, I had no idea what words would appear on the page ten minutes later. I listened to the Spirit, I wrote down what I heard, and I let go of the outcome. Some nights, nothing changed. Some nights, I found myself surprised by my own tears. Some nights, I untangled a conundrum in my personal life or my ministry, even though I was writing about something else entirely.  None of this felt comfortable. It did however feel sacred. 

— People can tell. A famous musician once said, “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.” As he trudged up the stairs in his bathrobe one night, my husband surprised me by saying, “Make sure you write before bed – because you’ll be impossibly grumpy in the morning if you don’t.” I was even more surprised when members of my staff-parish relations committee said the same thing. “We can tell you’ve been writing,” they told me, “because your preaching is better. Your ministry is better. When you walk in here healthy and happy, church goes better for us, too.”

Because I write, I am healthier as a human being. I am healthier as a minister. The people I lead are healthier too. This health can feel like an accomplishment, and I consider that a pure gift.

As a beloved child of God, my job is not to manipulate outcomes. My job is not to do and say all the right things to produce positive metrics for the denomination. My job is to pray, to offer God who I am, and listen for the Spirit. Moreover, my job is to trust that when I get to the point where I say, “I do not know how to pray as I ought,” that the Spirit can take it from here.

I don’t know what prayer looks like for you. Maybe it’s three deep breaths on your way to work. Maybe it’s photography or gardening or running or meditating on Scripture or (God bless you) centering prayer.

For me, writing is prayer. In this form of prayer, I hear the sighs of the Spirit, and my own. And THAT has made all the difference,


  1. Thank you for sharing Meredith – prayer is many things – something different to each of us. I am glad that you have found that writing or journalling is prayer for you!

  2. I understand. When she writes, she is actually listening to her “inner voice”–and in that place is where God meets us, communicates, and inspires. Meridith chooses evening for her “Quiet Time” which works for her. Others choose morning for inspiration. No matter when, prayer is more “listening and discerning” than “talking.”

  3. Wonderful post! I have been writing my prayers for several years. It’s the only way I know how to pray and I too will find myself writing things I never intended as I draw near to God and allow the Spirit to guide. This was encouraging!

    • I also write in a daily journal and gratitude journal nightly. Both of these efforts weather long or short help me with my connection to my spiritual life and to praying.

  4. Thank you, dear Meredith, for sharing this. I think a lot of us can relate. I love the passage where we are reminded that the Holy Spirit expresses prayers for us in sighs what we cannot hope to express with our puny understanding of our real needs or our inadequate expressions of praise or thanksgiving. Along that same line of belief, my mother used to say that if we started to say the rosary and fell asleep, the Angels finished the prayers for us.

    One gift I think St. Benedict offered us was the Divine Office. It’s as if he said “none of us have the first idea about how to pray so here are 150 varied ways to speak to God. And don’t worry the Spirit is standing by. ” As a novice I recall going through the psalms in a routine sort of way. I understood but not with the wisdom of experience. Over the years various psalms have opened up for me. So the Spirit’s intercession took hold but it’s not on any timetable I could have predicted. As the saying goes “when you are ready, the teacher will appear. ” some of us who have Irish heritage talk to God all the time but might not recognize our monologe as prayer. All cultures sing, some shout, some speak in silence. it’s all a reaching out. I just recalled a saying on a holy card I once received. It said: Prayer is spending our life passing into God’s. I don’t know who said it but I’ve always loved it.

  5. Dear Meredith, thank you for connecting our 60 Second Sabbaths @ conference with writing. God has been nudging me to write and I was searching for a way to discipline myself and your article provided it. When I wrote the Opening Worship 60 Second Sabbath it was the first time my writing was before such a large audience. The idea was adapted from a children’s worship from the Gift of the Dark Wood Worship series by Marcia McFee. Your article encourages me further. Blessings.

  6. The discipline of writing is akin to the discipline of the Rosary. There is a special blessing I see in certain obedience and discipline.

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