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Help Thanks book

Asking for Help: Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow

This is the first installment of our February book club discussion of Anne Lamott’s, Help, Thanks, Wow. Even if you haven’t read the book, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the meaning of prayer.

Help Thanks book

Chapter One: Help

Prayer, for me, has always been very private. Ask me what I pray about, and you’re asking for me to reveal my biggest hopes and fears, the parts of myself I struggle with most.

I’m not really comfortable handing out that kind of information.

Perhaps that’s why I felt so eager to read Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow. Lamott does spiritual writing better than most gurus on the subject, and the reason is that she lets her guard down. She admits to her flaws and owns up to her struggles, trusting her reader to side with her rather than against her. Not only that, she adds humor to her insights about life, love, and most recently, grandmotherhood.

So much prayer (or perhaps, my prayer) stems from a deep well of fear, imagining all the things that could go wrong. Choosing to pray, on the other hand, is a conscious act of faith, of trust. It is a decision, often instinctive, to move over that fear.

In the first chapter of Help, Thanks, Wow, Lamott says, “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever considered myself ruined, but I know for sure that being “in charge of so little” is something many of us struggle with.

If you’re like me, you like to be in control. Maybe you plan ahead, try to anticipate problems, remain detail‐oriented in the face of challenges. Maybe you assume that because you’ve worried and fretted and thought of everything, nothing can go wrong.

Deep down, I know this isn’t true, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. Then I remember that there will be problems I can’t anticipate, people who will surprise me—in positive or negative ways—and that at the root of it all, I’m only human. Despite the most advanced medical technology and a surplus of information available on the web, there is no way we can get around this most basic fact. As humans, we make mistakes and are capable of terrible things. As humans, we have to accept our mortality and the fact that at any time, on any day, we may die.

No wonder we need to ask for help.

Anne Lamott, photo courtesy of the author

Anne Lamott, ©Sam Lamott

In Anne Lamott’s “Help” chapter, she explains how hard this was for her to handle growing up in a house where her parents thought “people who prayed were ignorant.”

I was so sensitive about myself and the world that I cried or shriveled up at the slightest hurt. People always told me, ‘You’ve got to get a thicker skin,’ like now they might say, jovially, ‘Let go and let God.’ Believe me, if I could, I would, and in the meantime I feel like stabbing you in the forehead.

Now as an adult, she embraces prayer as a way to help come to terms with some of the heartbreaking things she has witnessed or experienced. She writes, “In prayer, I see the suffering bathed in light. In God, there is no darkness. I see God’s light permeate them, soak into them, guide their feet.”

Where are you on your journey through prayer? Have you been able to free yourself from the illusion of control and ask for help? Is there a certain prayer that helps you in your weakest moments?

Lamott writes that imagination plays an important role in prayer: “Imagination is from God. It is part of the way we understand the world.” How much of a role does imagination play in your faith and prayers?

Do you pray out of guilt sometimes? Do you ever feel selfish praying for yourself?

Join us in our discussion whether you’ve read the book or not! And stay tuned for our next post, (Monday, February 18) where we’ll focus on Lamott’s second and third chapters, “Thanks” and “Wow.” 

Read our interview with Anne Lamott from the February issue.


Jana Llewellyn is associate editor of Friends Journal.

Anne Lamott is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Grace (Eventually)Plan B, Traveling Mercies, and Operating Instructions, as well as several novels, including Rosie and Crooked Little Heart. Her most recent books are Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Son and Help, Thanks, Wow. A past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, she lives in Northern California.

Posted in: Book Club, Quaker Book Reviews

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11 thoughts on “Asking for Help: Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow

  1. Lawrence Jones says:

    Sometimes it is in simplicity that Light shines the brightest. That is part of Annie Lamott’s gift–keeping things simple. My “help” prayer of the moment is to let my arthritic hands be able to write this comment without pain 🙂 I think that sometimes when we try to pray for the big things, we ignore the little things that get in our way. Part of a life of integrity is to be connected to God at all times. We need to be aware of the little things. We need to present in our own lives and that of others. We need to decrease the distractions that obscure our awareness. Why am I sad? Wasn’t the person’s smile beautiful when we said thanks? It is by saying “help”, “thanks”, and “wow” for the little things that we find a base from which to approach the big issues in our life and the world.

    1. So beautiful, Lawrence! I wish we had a “like” button for this comment!

      1. VA says:

        Lawrence, down to earth, real deal insight into holiness. Thanks

        1. Lary Jones says:

          Thank you. I blush.

  2. Martie Skinner says:

    I had never heard of Anne Lamott. An aquantance from work asked if I had, and when I said no, she said, “Oh she’s in town and you should definitley go hear her speak. She’s great!” I hardly ever do what people suggest, but I did that. She was great. And someone asked her that night how she handled fear. She said, “I pray all the time. I pray three things. HELP, THANKS, and WOW!” She went on to explain what those things meant to her. I’ve been saying those three prayers ever since, and I don’t believe in god. I do believe in prayer though.

    For me part of prayer is a cultural practice, something I was taught to do as a child. And although I don’t believe in the god I was told about then, something about the act of talking to ‘someone’ who already knows everything sticks with me. When I pray there is just no point in pretending I’m not exactly who I am, exactly as selfish and frustrated and tired and irritable and SELFISH. Did I mention selfish? When I hear myself in my head say, “God, I want you to fix THIS, or do THAT, or help me with THIS”, that’s when I know what it is I really want. Sometimes I don’t know what I want until then. Ahhhh, so THAT’S what I want. That’s good to know. Maybe I can do something about that. Or, maybe I can see how pointless it is to want that. Or, maybe I can just ask myself why I want that. Prayer is an opening door for me. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know who I’m praying to, or that I’m not convinced I’m praying to any god at all. It’s still a very powerful way to get that sticky door in my brain to open.

    1. Great thoughts, Martie. Your last sentence reminds me of a part in this book where Lamott says she tells a terminally ill friend who doesn’t believe in God to “act” as though there’s a God and see how he feels. Not surprisingly, he feels better in the last days of his life. Maybe the more you pray, the more you’ll feel like you’re able to figure yourself and the world out. Or if you can’t, you’ll be at peace with that! (We should all be so lucky.)

    2. VA says:

      Lawrence, down to earth, real deal insight into holiness. Thanks

  3. No,I dont hide my prayers,I thank God before my feet hits the floor.I dont feel right if Im late saying my Morning prayer.I thank God all day every day.I had an addication,and it was drugs​.Now Im 8 years clean.I dont forget where I come from.I will allways be a addict.I was homeless,living in the streets,living in empty houses,smoking,doing it all,but the needless.Thank God for that.I just had something on my mind.Theres not a day goes by,I dont think about that life.I have a new car,married,two lovely childrens(cats).Im greatful for what I have and what I dont have.Have a blessed Day,Everyone.

    1. No,that was me.That was my life.I pray every day,thanking God.

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