Anne Lamott’s new book, Help Thanks Wow, The Three Essential Prayers, is a sweet, moving guidebook to what Lamott considers the three most important prayers one can utter. I love Anne’s books. Her Bird by Bird has been on my bookshelves for many years, and I especially enjoyed Traveling Mercies. One doesn’t have to be religious, or even particularly spiritual, to appreciate Help Thanks Wow, as Anne mentions in the introduction. You only have to believe that something is bigger than you, and that if you ask for help and express gratitude, things will happen in your life that will make you say “wow.”
What I love about Lamott is even though she is a firm believer in Jesus, she also knows that neither she nor Christianity (or any other organized religion) has the answers. In fact, she says, no one does, and if they try to tell you they do, they’re delusional.
She had me close to tears with the first section on “Help,” because what she describes is so perfectly the human condition. We all go through difficulties, and most of us will not be spared life’s harshest experiences. But, she says, just uttering the simple entreaty, “help,” can shift things within us, can allow us to give over the suffering to something bigger than we are, and that can make all the difference in our ability to handle whatever we face.
“Most good, honest prayers remind me that I am not in charge,” she writes, “that I cannot fix anything, and that I open myself to being helped by something, some force, some friends, some something. These prayers say, ‘Dear Some Something, I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t see where I’m going, I’m getting more lost, more afraid, more clenched. Help.’”
And then, she says, let it go.
Lamott says she has a “God box” that she puts her prayers into, then closes the lid and lets whatever universal power is out there take care of it. It could be anything, a glove box, a crayon box. I like this idea.
For my birthday last week, a dear friend gave me a lovely wooden box with the tree of life and birds carved into the top. I have made this my God box (I just mistyped God as Dog – that works, too).
I also especially believe in the second prayer, “Thanks.” Gratitude is a powerful emotion, and I can attest to its ability to shift perspective. Every day I mindfully say thanks, for everything, and more often than not something even more serendipitous or fortuitous comes into my life.
The final prayer, “Wow,” is a wonderful expression and acknowledgement of how wondrous life is. Look around. You will always find something, even if it’s just a tiny hummingbird flitting around a bottlebrush tree – to be amazed about. Wow.
Help Thanks Wow is a slim volume – I read it in about an hour or so – but it packs a powerful message. And with the world we have today, it’s a message many of us need to hear.