What to Say When We Don't Know What to Pray

Today’s post is for my friends—who just lost their only child this week. I cannot imagine enduring such pain!


This tragedy reminded me of the day my sister, Leslea, lost her youngest son, Colter, to a tragic accident. Heartbreaking!

Lord, what will they do? How can they survive such a loss?

What can we do when life places us in unbearable circumstances? I can’t even imagine the pain—I refuse to even let my thoughts go there.

Where can we go? Who do we run to? What should we cling to when we’re drowning in a sea of our sorrows? When will someone throw us a lifeline? How will we we survive?

When friends and family walk through horrible events like this, my words fail me. Mere words seem inadequate to express my emotions.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been at a loss for words. And I don’t think any human words could ever bring peace and comfort to a parent in the death a child.

Now, after facing many trials and crises in my own life, I do know where to go. And I do know Who to run to. I know Who we can cling to when we’re drowning, and Who will throw us a lifeline. And I know how we will survive.

Help. The Lord promises to help us when we don’t know what to say or pray.

… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Rom. 8:26 NIV)

Hope. The Holy Spirit offers promises of hope, even if we never understand “why?” these things happen.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13 NLT)

Assurance. God’s Word provides the assurance that Jesus will bear our grief and carry our sorrows.

 He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours. (Is. 53:4 NIRV)

Peace. God’s Word can speak peace to the storm ravaging our dreams. And He promises to throw us the lifeline of His Word.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7 NIV).

Confidence. We can have the confidence to know that in Christ, we will survive. And we can expect Him to provide the power we need to overcome any circumstance in our life if we trust Him with the situation. Healing and hope for the future can be found in Him.

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14)

As I pray from my friends. God continues to guide my prayers with His Word. So, today I pray these promises from God’s Word will give hope to my friends and to others who may be suffering under the heavy burden of loss and grief.

Blessings to you, my friends! You know who you are. And God knows your needs—even better than you do. He understands. And He wants to assure you of His presence right now and in all the days of your life.

I lift my friends up to You, Heavenly Father. You knows their pain because You lost Your only Son long ago in a tragic death—so we could all experience Your promised land of rest and peace in this life and in the life to come.

YouTube/Attitude of Gratitude (“Wayfaring Stranger” Selah)


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  1. Thank you for the beautiful post, Karen!

    I thought I would share with you how God’s presence and the promises in His Word have been evident in my life over the last few weeks as I continue to grieve the loss of our son, Michael.

    “Help. The Lord promises to help us when we don’t know what to say or pray.” I can tell you this works both ways. When others don’t have the words to speak to our loss, the Lord does it for them in word and prayer. When I don’t have the words to “tell the story” of our son’s death one more time, somehow, the Lord does it for me. When I cry and call out to him and the words I scream are unintelligible — even to my own ears — the Spirit interprets for me and I KNOW that God hears exactly what I wish I could say, but cannot.

    “Hope. The Holy Spirit offers promises of hope, even if we never understand “why?” these things happen.” I do have hope of many kinds in the midst of the sadness. Because my faith and hope in Jesus have multiplied a thousand fold since my son’s death, I know that I will see Michael again; I know that Jesus will be with me as I navigate this journey called grief; I know that somehow there is good that will come out of this tragic loss. I will never know the reason for Michael’s death — my “why?” will not be answered. Yet I repeat this sentence in my mind over and over again: “I trust you, Jesus.” And I mean it.

    “Assurance. God’s Word provides the assurance that Jesus will bear our grief and carry our sorrows.” This one hits home for me more than all the others. Most of the time, I am remarkably calm. I have a sense of peace that I can’t explain. Some days I feel almost physically supported and lifted up. I’ve noticed it and thought it was strange. Other people have commented on it as well. Yet why am I so surprised that God’s Word is true and that He is doing exactly what He says He will do? When I think of Michael’s death, I see a huge boulder crashing into a still pond. The ripples caused by the boulder are the hundreds and hundreds of people who are praying for us. People I know. People who know people that I know. And people that I will never know who heard the story of Michael’s death and prayed for us — two strangers. Jesus hears the prayers of His people and heaps grief and sorrow on His shoulders to lighten our load.

    “Peace. God’s Word can speak peace to the storm ravaging our dreams. And he promises to throw us the lifeline of His Word.” Right now, God is doing one better than that — there are no “ravaging dreams” for the moment. But when they come, I trust Him when He says he will be there to calm the storm. I know that He will continue to bring His Word to mind just when I need it most.

    “Confidence. We can have the confidence to know that in Christ we will survive . . .” There it is! Because I can say with conviction, “I trust you, Jesus,” I also know that I will survive. But not merely survive. I refuse to just exist. Instead I will live — and live boldly — because it honors my Lord and it honors my son. I will allow God to take this tragic experience and transform it into something that glorifies Him. For the God I love is a God who is in the business of transformation. I will not be on the outside looking in. I want to be in the thick of whatever He has planned.

    Do I sound too happy? A little too chipper? Are you thinking, “she’s still numb – the pain will come.” Maybe you’re right. Then again, instead of running from God, cursing Him, screaming, “How could you?” I have chosen to accept what I cannot change. I have chosen to run into His arms, curl up in His lap and lay my head on his shoulder. There will be more intense grief – I can feel it coming, like a storm you can see from far away across a flat plain. There will be buckets of tears. There will be anguish for all the hopes and dreams of a future that will never be. After all he was our only child. Suddenly, there will be no grandchildren in my future. There will be no one to “come see about me” when I’m old. But there is Jesus. Always, there is Jesus. Each day I realize more and more that He is more than enough.

    • I’m SO grateful to the Lord and to you for your response today. I trust that He will continue to provide all you need in the days ahead. I’m always amazed to see how He uses broken vessels to minister to others. Your words have blessed me and many others today, friend. And I look forward to hearing more of your faith stories and answers to prayers. Blessing to you and you whole family as you get through this heartbreaking season of your life.

      • Thanks Karen! Your support has been such a blessing to us. And your words really hit the mark. Telling the stories that matter. Journaling is healing for me.