The truest prayers I know are not poetry. They do not flow, lilting in a sweet melody of joy and awe and gratitude. They have no rhyme, no alliteration, no metaphor. The truest prayers I know are not so pretty.

The truest prayers are creased and sweaty, smudged letters, crumpled up in grimy hands, urgent and repetitive. They are a choked and spluttering cry, an infant’s wail in the night. Hold me, feed me, love me.

The truest prayers are the ones that force us to look into ourselves, into the dark corners we don’t like to see, the tendencies we rarely acknowledge. They crack in the middle, voices hitching on a sob. The truest prayer begins when we finally put down the facade of competence, of independence, and acknowledge that we can’t. We can’t manage. We can’t handle. We can’t fix.

The truest prayer is the admission that we are small and needy and afraid. They are offered like a child’s hand reaching, grasping and squeezing tightly. Achingly trusting, helpless and yearning. The truest prayer says, I need. I can’t. Please help. You’re my only hope. Please. Please. Please.

I don't like this kind of prayer. It makes me uncomfortable to admit my lack, my inability and my dependence. It makes me know that I have nothing to bring to the table, no chips with which to bargain. I have nothing to offer. Who wants to feel so small?

But I think of my young children giving me gifts. Used erasers, stickers that don’t stick. They lift them up to me and their faces say, Accept my meager offering, this wilted dandelion, this faded, folded, drawing. Accept them with love, because this is all I’m capable of. This is all I can offer. But it’s everything I have and that has to count for something.

I think when I pray that maybe I am that child, offering nothing to the One who has everything and hoping that He finds favor in it because He loves me.

The truest prayer forces me to recognize for real and for always that all I have is this relationship. The trust and the hope that God loves me, truly loves me, like a parent loves a child. Even when I know that I am unlovable, imperfect and unredeemed. Even then He loves me. Even when I don’t love myself, He loves me.

And I wonder how this is possible. Can the One who knows my thoughts, the smallest, pettiest parts of me, can He truly find me worthy of favor?

But I think again about my own children. Don’t I love them even when they are unlovable? When they are imperfect and unredeemed? Of course I do. I look at them and I see works in progress, souls in the process of becoming and I want to help them, guide them, give them what they need to grow. Can it be that this is how He sees me?

I am not wise; this is all I know about prayer. In the place where desperation yields to dependence, where we finally admit our need, we find connection. And when we offer our small offerings with trust and faith, we elicit love from the One who made us, who breathed us into being, who loves us.

In our deepest darkness it is the truest prayer that brings us light.