Perhaps you have wondered how to pray. You probably learned the Lord's Prayer as Jesus taught. You may sing hymns in Church knowing that one can pray in song as well as in the spoken word. But your problem may be that you are looking for a formula for prayer that will say what you mean and motivate an answer from God. Perhaps your prayers for a sick loved one seem to go unanswered. The thought arises that if you could just find the right words to pray your prayer would be heard and answered. What is the right formula for prayer? What must I say to heal my loved one?

Sometimes we think that the purpose of our prayers to motivate God to do something good. We think God needs to be persuaded to heal. But God already wants the best for us whether we pray or don't pray. God doesn't manipulate life's activities as if we were puppets, however, and we have no satisfactory answer for the problem of pain. But prayer helps us to participate in the healing process and to move forward regardless of the outcome. Sometimes the answer to prayer for a person who is ill is not a cure but healing is found in passing to the larger life. It is a matter of finding peace in either case.

Rather than looking for a perfect formula for our prayers we can listen to the secrets of our hearts. The best prayer can be one without words, found in silence as we listen to the resonance of our own loving hearts. As Psalm 44 says, God "knows the secrets of the heart." (Verse 21) God knows our prayers before we say a word. There is no protocol for a valid prayer. Our hearts simply need to resonate with the heart beat of God. Being honest with ourselves is important too as we trust that God hears the prayer of our heart. In that prayer we participate in the healing power given in creation that awakens healing in others and the blessing of healing for ourselves in our anxiety for those we love. Our prayers may be felt by our loved ones and draw us closer to them by our caring concern and spiritual presence. The secrets of our hearts are known by God and can be part of the healing process as our hearts turn to one another.

Here is a prayer that has been helpful to many as they seek to pray for those they love.

"Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that you are doing better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord." Amen.

Listen to the secrets of your heart

Editor's Note: This column was originally published on Jan. 5, 2018.