Loneliness can hit us wherever we are — at school, in a new city, even when we’re surrounded by family and friends. It fills in gaps in our day, and we feel an overwhelming, aching absence. It feels like we are lacking an essential ingredient to who we are supposed to be, but don’t know where to look to find what we’re missing.
If you’re like me, sometimes you can’t find the words to speak to God in this loneliness. We desire, we long, we yearn for connections to the people and the life we had before. If you find yourself struggling to pray, you are not alone — don’t be discouraged.
St. Paul tells us that when we don’t know how to pray, “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” Here are five strategies for when you want to turn to God in your loneliness, but can’t find the words.
1. If your heart is broken, pray with the Book of Lamentations.
You don’t want the platitudes. You don’t want the advice. You just want to say, “This is the pits.” Your life might sound like this:
“She weeps bitterly in the night, tears on her cheeks.” —Lamentations 1:2
“Is any suffering like my suffering?” —Lamentations 1:12
“He has made me dwell in darkness, like those long dead.” —Lamentations 3:6
In the depths of grief, let the Book of Lamentations carry the cry of your heart to God.
2. If your heart wants to be held and lifted, pray with the Psalms.
The Psalms articulate beauty, suffering, hope, and praise. When we’re feeling lost, we can lean on these words and identify with them. They give us a way to take our feelings and experiences to God. Maybe read one a night, or choose a favorite like:
Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.”
Psalm 91: “He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge.”
Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
3. If you can’t formulate a sentence, pray the name of Jesus.
The name of Jesus can be a prayer in itself. Praying the name of Jesus unites you to the person God sent to be with us, especially when we are suffering. He walks with us and wants to share in our lives. Calling on him opens our hearts to his presence and welcomes him in.
4. Call upon your guardian angel.
The Bible tells us that each of us is protected by angels — they guide us on our earthly journey. We can call on them when we are feeling lonely or lost and they will help — that’s their job. Asking them to help us pray is a way to pray, too.
5. If your heart has no words, pray with silence.
At one point in my life, I struggled mightily with anxiety. For reasons outside of my control, my mind and spirit were not quiet and could not settle. I once heard a Carmelite nun talk about cultivating three kinds of silence in prayer that showed me a way forward. She described physical silence in our environment, mental silence in our thoughts, and spiritual silence that reflects inner peace. Even when these three kinds of silences seemed beyond me, I could intend silence and offer that intention to God with hope that I’d find the other kinds.