Spontaneous prayers are short, effective, “easy to remember” vehicles for grace in daily life. As immediate conduits of grace, they help us manage fear and anxiety more quickly and successfully by inviting the lord into our suffering.
Prayer for Suffering #1: Help
The first and most important prayer in times of suffering is “Help.” We oftentimes forget it because we think it is too easy or that God would not respond to something that simple. However, if God really is Unconditional Love—and wants to help us in our time of need—then the prayer “Help” is more than sufficient to engender the heart of God toward a myriad of unexpected graces.
Prayer for Suffering #2: The Hail Mary
This prayer is not only a foundational contemplative prayer but also one of galvanizing grace in times of trouble. Our Blessed Mother’s consoling presence should be evoked (along with her help) during the most desperate times.
This prayer, when repeated, opens upon a consolation filled at once with familial strength, a mother’s understanding, and assistance for a “child not fully in control.” It seems to activate a providence (a conspiracy of grace) that betokens a mother’s request of her son—much like the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2:1).
Countless have been times when it has come naturally to my mind, inviting me to repeat it. Countless, too, have been times when that repetition has led to increasing peace of mind and clarity of thought. I do not know why, but it always seems to give me courage—the courage to do what is right, to face adversaries, to move ahead with unpopular plans, and to bear the possibility of defeat bravely.
"Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home." —John 19:27
Jesus intended that His family be our family and that His Mother be our Mother (John 19: 27). So we can believe that she would do for us everything she would do for Her Son—particularly comforting us, interceding for us, and being protectively present to us. Speaking from experience, in my times of need, I have never been disappointed by her.
Prayer for Suffering #3: Lord, Make Good Come Out of This Suffering
Sometimes, trials turn into times of suffering, and sometimes, suffering has neither speedy relief nor obvious meaning. At these times, it is essential to ask for the Lord’s help to optimize the good in suffering (good for oneself, good for others, good for the community, and even good for the mystical body of Christ).
Suffering can be debilitating and depressing if we do not see any good coming from it. However, if we recognize good in suffering for ourselves, others, the culture, the community, and even the mystical body of Christ, suffering can become not only meaningful but an invaluable companion in the life of grace, virtue, and salvation.
The above prayer has helped me to invoke the Lord’s blessings upon my suffering (and to recognize that blessing) in the deepest ways.
When I first became aware of the onset of a serious eye problem six months before my ordination to the priesthood, I was completely baffled. Fortunately, I knew that God’s providential love would be operative through this challenge throughout the rest of my life. In that faith, I began to pray,
“Lord, do not waste one scintilla of this suffering. Make some good come out of it for me (a change in life direction, a deepening of faith and love, a protection from other adversity), for others (a zeal for Your kingdom, a desire to help others, an empathy with those in need, and an eagerness to serve the kingdom), for the culture, and for the community. Lord, please optimize the good that can come from this suffering.”
The Lord has certainly answered this prayer, for He has deepened my sense of gratitude for what I do have. He has helped me to see that every day and every moment counts in manifesting His love and presence. He has made me far more circumspect about what matters and doesn’t matter; He has deepened my appreciation for the Beatitudes and the love intrinsic to them. I frankly cannot imagine what my priesthood or apostolic zeal would be like without my challenge. But I do know this: it would be less, much less.
Prayer for Suffering #4: Offer It Up
One of the great mysteries of Christian life is that our suffering can, with Christ’s, help in the redemption of others. This is best explained in Jesus’ final words on the cross, reciting Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Jesus, here, was not referring only to the first line of that Psalm but rather to the Psalm in its entirety. When one reads the Psalm, one notices a man going through a set of trials uncannily similar to Jesus’ own sufferings on the cross. More importantly, one notices that the psalmist is not discouraged by the trials being suffered.
He has a deep trust and confidence that God will use his sufferings not only for the good of the community around him but also to bring all the nations to himself in the future. Thus, when Jesus recited the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” he moved beyond the note of lamentation (in the first line) to a sublime confidence that the Father would effect universal salvation through his suffering.
Jesus’ passion is His free gift of self, that is, His unconditional love. When Jesus was dying on the cross, He created a “gift of self,” that is, an unconditional love (as the scapegoat, as the paschal lamb, and as the blood of the covenant), which He intended to give to the Father to shower down upon humanity so that all the nations might come into His kingdom of unconditional love.
We can imitate Christ in our own limited ways by presenting our sufferings to the Father as a “gift of self” (love) for the Father to shower down upon humanity as a grace to strengthen and unify the mystical body of Christ. Every moment of suffering is a potential for a gift of love (grace) to be showered upon humanity in its need. All we need to do to convert suffering into grace for the world is to offer it up to the Father as our gift of self.
When I was a child, I would complain to my mother about various things that had gone wrong at school, and she would say, very matter-of-factly, “Offer it up.” My general reaction was, “I’m always offering it up, and no good seems to come from it.” It only occurred to me years later that the offering was not intended to be a direct benefit to me but rather a benefit for the world and the kingdom—which would eventually become my life’s purpose and passion.
By offering up my sufferings to God, I turn it into self-sacrifice—into a gift of self—which Jesus taught is “love for the life of the world.” When I offer my suffering as a self-offering (act of love) to the Father and ask Him to make it a source of grace for those who need it, I know that He will do this—just as He did it for His Son.
In this way, the negativity of suffering turns into the positivity of self-offering, love, and grace. My mother used to say, “Mothers know everything.” In this particular case, that would be true.
Prayer for Suffering #5: I Give Up, Lord. You Take Care of It.
Sometimes life gets out of control. No matter how hard we try to obviate free fall or to figure ourselves out, life’s circumstances seem to get the better of us. It is at these moments that I recommend the above prayer, which I have put to great use throughout my life.
I recall my discovery of this prayer in Rome back in 1980.
I had been sent to the Gregorian University to take all of my theology classes in Italian. I went to Italy two months early without any background in Italian to attain “fluency.” I was reasonably confident after studying the language in Perugia for two months that I would be able to understand my classes.
My first class on the first day was an exegesis class on the Gospel of Matthew taught by a Spanish professor who spoke Italian faster than the Italians (with a Spanish accent). I was not able to understand twenty-five percent of what he was saying, and I began to panic. I kept thinking to myself (in my unqualified ignorance) that I was going to “go down.” What would I say to my Provincial? To my classmates? “Here I am, back in the United States. I couldn’t understand anything, and I flunked out.”
Needless to say, I began to feel considerable discomfort. Realizing that circumstances were quite out of my control, I muttered, “I give up, Lord. You take care of it!” When I said this, it seemed like steam came out of my ears. The pressure was relieved by simply giving it over to the Lord, who could providentially bring some good out of my predicament. As a matter of fact, He did. The moment this prayer enabled me to calm down, I became content with understanding partial sentences and concepts. I could then begin to make sense of the general line of thought, which, in turn, built my confidence and, in turn, enabled me to understand more.
As the semester progressed, I began to understand far more of what the professor was saying. I eventually made it to the final exam, where the professor gave two or three choices of questions for various passages of Scripture. I was able to choose questions that pertained to the last parts of the course, thereby hiding my inadequate understanding of the first part. In the end, I did quite well. (Thank You, Lord!)
Evidently, much of that success is attributable to my natural gradual appropriation of the Italian language and exegetical method. But much of it, in my opinion, was due to the composure and openness to the content induced by my trust in the Lord of love. That trust was galvanized through the above simple prayer, “I give up, Lord. You take care of it.”
Prayer for Suffering #6: Lord, Push Back the Foreboding and Darkness
Foreboding is a complex phenomenon.
Some of it can come from feelings of anxiety and depression, which our conscious or unconscious psyche projects into the future—so it is internally, psychologically induced. To those who, like myself, are not materialists, there is another side to foreboding—a genuine premonition about darkness or evil in the future. I am uncertain about the cause of such premonitions—whether they are a warning from God, harassment from an evil spirit, or a kind of psychic protection—intrusion—into an impending future.
They could be the result of two or three of these causes. Whatever the cause, I believe that foreboding is not completely psychological—and that it does portend some kind of future darkness. I believe this for the simple reason that most of the time I experience it, something dark does, in fact, happen a few days later. It contains not only a sense of darkness but powerlessness toward the darkness and resembles the descriptions of it by prophets (like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah)—mythologists (like Thomas Malory and J.R.R. Tolkien), and litterateurs (like Sophocles and Shakespeare).
When feelings of powerlessness and anxiety accompany these premonitions—I refuse to entertain them. I give them over to the Lord immediately by saying the simple prayer, “Lord, push back this darkness and foreboding.” I even use my hands to gesture, pushing back against something tangible and palpable—while I repeat the prayer, “Lord, push it back.”
I frequently repeat that prayer until the foreboding begins to subside. Most of the time, the foreboding does subside. It does so in stages—first, it loses its bite and intensity, then it gradually weakens, and finally, after some time, a sense of normalcy or even consolation occurs.
Inviting the Lord into Your Suffering
I recommend that readers use these short and incisive prayers to get started or continue on the life and adventure of transcendent grace, purpose, and happiness. If we are to avail ourselves of the grace God wants to give us, we should have a variety of these for use in times of trial, suffering, and anxiety.
As a reference, download the free PDF with spontaneous prayers from this article and some new ones. This sheet will be helpful for inviting the Lord into your suffering when you really need Him.