Prayer is taking the chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.
That’s all anyone really needs to know about Anne Lamott and her latest book on prayer Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. But I just can’t resist going on about my love for her.
How do I love thee, Anne Lamott? Let me count the ways.
I love my dear Anne because she is an amazing storyteller who is vulnerably honest about herself and our world. She writes about the many ways that she isn’t able to get it together, how she shows up in such miserable shape, and how she finds herself loved by God. To many, that might sound self-serving. You know, like, “God loves ME!!!”
But what’s so beautiful about Anne’s writing style is that she invites her readers to discover God’s love for them – a love that is most easily received if we are honest about our faults. Anne is one of our best models when it comes to being vulnerably honest and receiving God’s love.
Anne claims that the three essential prayers begin with either “Help,” “Thanks,” or “Wow.” Anne’s radical vulnerability might offend some. There are those of us who believe in our own goodness, but Anne will have none of that. In her chapter called “Help,” she 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 ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.
Help! Because I’m caught up in the rat race. I spend so much time pretending that I’m not ruined, that I’m so much more successful than I actually am. I’m definitely more successful than the other guy! And this rat race, where we pretend that we aren’t ruined and that we are invulnerable, hardens our heart to loving our neighbors and to receiving God’s love. Because in the rat race, we try to grasp onto love by achieving more than others. But God’s love cannot be grasped and manipulated. It’s grace. God’s love is freely given to us, just as we are.
Thanks! Because gratitude is a transformative way of life that leads to freedom from hate and freedom to live into the mystery of God’s gracious love. Anne writes:
When we go from rashy and clenched to grateful, we sometimes get to note the experience of grace, in knowing that we could not have gotten ourselves from where we were stuck, in hate or self-loathing…to freedom. The movement of grace in our lives toward freedom is the mystery. So we simply say ‘Thanks.’ Something had to open, something had to give, and I didn’t have a clue how to get things to do that. But they did, or grace did. Thank you.
Wow! because after praying Help! and Thanks! comes the awe of receiving God’s love. According to Anne, it doesn’t matter if we have it all together because:
God keeps giving, forgiving, and inviting us back. My friend Tom says this is a scandal, and that God has no common sense. God doesn’t say: ‘I have had it this time. You have taken this course four times and you flunked again. What a joke.’ We get to keep starting over. Lives change, sometimes quickly, but usually slowly.
These are all the ways that I love Anne Lamott. She opens the door to honesty and vulnerability, and in doing so she opens the door to receiving God’s love. Anne invites us to come inside; to pray along with her the words Help, Thanks, and Wow; and receive the all-embracing love of God. Are you ruined enough to receive that love?