When Praying Is Hard

I’ll be honest, most of the time I don’t understand prayer.

I’ve asked God for things and watched as He provided in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve bowed over meals, walked and prayed with eyes and heart open. I have filled journal pages with written prayers and requests; dreams expressed to the Lord and praises recorded.

Then there are the seasons where it feels like I’m speaking to the empty sky. “Where are you, Lord?” The words feel useless as situations unfold around me that are out of my control. “Couldn’t you show up, now, in the way I desire? Couldn’t you change this, remove this, help me?”

While we were living in a village for a year, my teammate and I would brew coffee as soon as we returned from our morning market run. Steaming mugs in hand, we sat on the hard, concrete floor of our bedroom to pray. We asked for wisdom for the day’s tasks- where to go, who to see, what to say to those we met. There were many days when we didn’t want to do this. It rarely felt like we received an answer. As things got harder, my heart felt dry and cracked, and my motivation faded more and more. We kept a Kleenex box close at hand because often the tears would flow. But we kept praying.

If I have learned one lesson about prayer over the last few years, it is perseverance. So many times I’ve wanted to call it quits when it comes to praying (and in so many other areas too!). I often feel like Peter when he told Jesus honestly, “Where else would we go?” (John 6:68)

Where else can I run but to my Father?

I find great comfort in the Psalms as I walk through seasons when praying is hard. When I lack my own words, I pray the ones I’m reading. I’ve got 3 x 5 cards with verses written on them to keep in front of me as I go through the day- stuck to the bathroom mirror, tucked in my purse, on my desk, next to the kitchen sink. In the Psalms, I find questions that resonate with the deepest parts of my heart. All the emotions flow through these passages- elation over victory, absolute desolation, loneliness, guilt, fear, joy. I feel permission to feel these emotions too, allowing myself to pay attention to them and dig deeper.

My conversations with the Lord flow throughout my day as I ask for wisdom, express out-loud (or in my heart if there are people around!) my frustrations, my thanks for His little gifts, my concerns over what might happen or a friend in need. My prayers are not eloquent or long, sometimes just a one sentence whisper of what’s in my heart. These little moments of asking and listening keep me going when praying is hard.

In this season of re-entry as I adjust back to my passport country, I’ve struggled to figure out what my prayer life should look like. I don’t have the routines I used to while I lived in Cambodia, and my days are much busier. So I pray in the car, out-loud, as I drive to work or run errands. When journaling my prayers feels like an old song on repeat, I flip through a magazine with my heart open. When a phrase or a picture stirs something in my soul, I cut it out and tape it in my journal as a representation of what I’m bringing before the Lord. It is completely different from anything I’ve done before, but the Lord is using these new routines and experiences to help me keep persevering in prayer.

What do you do when praying is hard? Are there new routines or experiences you’ve added lately? How has the Father ministered to your heart in a dry season?

Photo by Annie Theby on Unsplash


  1. Joan March 25, 2019

    Yes, perseverance is key–knock and keep on knocking, “pray and not give up.” I’ve found that it’s a matter of “yet.” When answers don’t come, I tend to say, “Alright Lord, this is your thing, if you want it to happen; you’re going to have to do something.” Though some think it’s wrong, I remind God of his promises, which is Biblical. I journal my prayers a lot,
    and pray in the Spirit when words won’t come.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann March 27, 2019

      Joan, thank you so much for sharing this! I go back to God’s promises in His Word too- often to remind myself not to give up hope. It really becomes a conversation with the Lord that way.

  2. Janis McArthur March 26, 2019

    Thank you for sharing. When I served in China, our team would get together quite often and pray over our students and our community. It was a wonderful routine and community as we shared and often heard God answer our prayers. But things were different when I served in Laos as my team was much more diverse and getting together was a challenge as we lived much farther apart. Even praying by myself was also a challenge and wondered many times was God really answering my prayers. Looking back I also saw how selfish my prayers were at times. I often would complain to God about my circumstances instead of praising him for who he is and what he has done in my life. Since my time back in my passport country, I have learned so much more about prayer. I have found that praying in community is so important because praying by myself can be self centered instead of God focused. You also mentioned that praying through the Psalms and other parts of Scripture can be very helpful because we are praying back to God what is on his heart and focuses our minds back on him. I have also learned to ask the Holy Spirit to teach us how to pray especially when we are praying for others. Allowing him to come in is very powerful because then my focus really shifts to him and it so remarkable how he shows up. I have seen people’s hearts open up and seen physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. It truly is amazing when we shift our eyes off of what we want and to what God wants. Then we are not disappointed when He doesn’t answer the way we want because it is his will and not ours.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann March 27, 2019

      Janis, thank you for sharing these thoughts! I’ve been really pondering your comment about selfish prayers and I think the Lord is convicting me about that. I’ve struggled to be grateful in this season and my prayers are often full of complaints! I know the Lord can handle all my emotions but I want to focus more on His goodness and praising Him rather than complaining.

  3. Emily Raan March 30, 2019

    Beautiful, Sarah! Thank you so much for your honesty and rawness in this post. In my experience, it is after the fact, when I look back, that I see God’s continued faithfulness through the storms and dry seasons. It is so often hard to see Him in the midst of it, but I just rejoice over His persistence for my heart, His steadfast faithfulness, and the gifts peace and wisdom in the midst of it all.

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