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.

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