Help, Thanks, Wow

9781594631290HHelp, Thanks, Wow

by Anne Lamott
ISBN 9781594631290
Riverhead, 2012

Do you pray? Do you wonder if you’ll ever know how to pray? Do you wonder what all the fuss is about?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, Anne Lamott will kick-start your journey toward the answer. This is not the definitive book on prayer, so if you want to delve deeply into the topic, keep scouring the library shelves. But if you seek a fun, non-threatening, welcoming invitation to prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow is it. In this slim volume (and I mean slim—9.25 x 6.25 inches in size  and only 112 pages long), Lamott breaks down the immense and unknowable concept of prayer into three ponderable ideas: help, thanks and wow.

“People say ‘help’ without actually believing anything hears that. But it is the great prayer, and it is the hardest prayer, because you have to admit defeat — you have to surrender, which is the hardest thing any of us do, ever.” —Anne Lamott

She begins with help, because it’s a classic approach to prayer, and it’s what most people think of first. And it’s often the reason non-believers reject prayer, and God into the bargain. If people see God as separate and apart from us, up there in the heavens waving a magic wand, and if people call out to that kind of God, and if the magic wand isn’t waved in the right direction, faith breaks. With her trademark frank humour, Lamott addresses answered prayers, unanswered prayers, and why we need keep asking for help no matter what.

“The full prayer, and its entirety, is: Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. But for reasons of brevity, I just refer to it as Thanks.” —Anne Lamott

Gratitude gets lots of air-play these days, and it’s the second most common kind of prayer. It comes out of us unbidden when we catch the last bus, when we receive welcome medical news, or when our lost child turns up safe in the department store. Lamott encourages us to express our gratitude. It leads us to the glass half full.

“Wow is the prayer of wonder.” —Anne Lamott

Awe and gratitude overlap somewhat, but wow is the kind of prayer we express when we’re stopped speechless in our tracks by the extraordinary.

The book study group at my church used Help, Thanks, Wow as the springboard for discussions about prayer. You would think that people actively involved in a church enough to attend study sessions on prayer would have the subject all figured out, but that was not the case. Most of us struggled with how to pray, when to pray and, especially, to whom to pray. (That’s worth a book in itself.) Lamott addresses those concerns, and encourages us to set aside the who, what, where, when, why and how of prayer and, to quote Nike, just do it. Keep it simple. Keep it authentic. And stop fussing about it.

Although Lamott is Christian, she doesn’t slant her ideas toward a Christian audience. The introduction to her book (read the excerpt here:,,9781594631290,00.html?sym=EXC ) breaks down those kinds of barriers and welcomes believers and non-believers of all kinds into the discussion.

Again, I stress, this is not the definitive book on prayer. Lamott has no theological training, so her prayerful insights spring from her own life experiences. She has faced some life struggles in her past and the damage lies just beneath a thin surface veil, and often breaks the surface in her writing. Readers who have faced similar struggles resonate with those feelings. Readers who have not find it oppressive.


About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on March 20, 2013, in Book reviews, Books I borrowed, Non-fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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