Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
My father-in-law, who as a Christian identified primarily with the Catholic Church, loved gathering with the church no matter its branch of the family tree. One Sunday following worship he made a beeline for me: “There’s a lot I really like about you Presbyterians but why don’t you ever kneel? Today, you sang a hymn all about kneeling and I’ve never once seen anyone kneel in this place! How do you pray if not on your knees?” It’s true, we don’t kneel in worship the way other branches of the family tree do. It’s also true we had sung “Let Us Break Bread Together” which has us singing about breaking bread, drinking wine, and praising God, all “on our knees”. This memory comes to mind for me as I hear Paul exhort, “we do not know how to pray as we ought.”
I used to be arrogant enough to think my prayer life was relatively strong and that I “knew how to pray.” After all, I’m extended invitations to pray at all types of events: wedding receptions, county commission meetings, house blessings, bar association meetings, and fundraising events for a variety of non-profits. As a pastor I’m seen as a “professional prayer.” Then my husband and I adopted three children, at the same time, each of which could walk and talk. They brought with them life experiences some of which I will never fully know.
So it was late at night, on my knees on the cold tile floor in the hallway outside of my child’s bedroom door, my body exhausted from the hour and the tears I could not control, that I learned how to pray. Really pray. Pray not with words but with complete surrender. My own weakness brought me to my knees, not any sense of piety. When I rose, all was not right, nothing was fixed but I was strengthened. The Spirit helped me in my weakness and spoke to me with sighs too deep for words. When I rose I also heard a voice that sounded remarkably like my father-in-law say, “I told you you’re supposed to pray on your knees.”
Faithful God, thank you for loving us in our certainty and in our doubt. May we find strength through your Spirit who intercedes for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
-Rev. Nicole Abdnour