A Prayer of Unknowing

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We’re now fully into Lent. If you intended to do something but haven’t yet decided what to do, there is still time! It’s okay if you start now.

But I also know there have been years when just setting aside time to think about this (much less coming up with a plan) is too overwhelming.

So, as part of my Lent prayer practice, I’ll do an extra post every week to share a prayer I find meaningful, along with a few thoughts. If you take a few moments to read the prayer and think about it mindfully, then you have added prayer to your week. Maybe it will inspire you to do more, but perhaps this alone is a good enough Lent practice for this year.


My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.

— Thomas Merton* in Thoughts in Solitude


I discovered this prayer several years ago, and it remains one of my favorites. I’ve found it to be meaningful at all times in my life, but particularly when I am feeling uncertain and afraid.

For me, uncertainty and fear often arrive together. I like being in control of my life. Actually, I should say I like the illusion that I am in control of my life. No one gets to this age without facing the fact that we are not always in control of our lives. We can eat healthy foods and get our exercise, go to church and be good people who help others, save our money to have an emergency fund, and stay on top of preventative maintenance for our bodies/cars/homes, but none of this guarantees that bad things won’t happen.

I don’t know why God lets bad things happen to good people. The wisest people I’ve asked about this question have come to peace with the fact that it’s a mystery we won’t ever understand. (Full disclosure: I’m not at peace with this – at least not yet, even though I’m trying – it still confounds me and frankly makes me pissed off every time I think about it.)

But this prayer helps me cope with that existential uncertainty and fear. Merton acknowledges that we don’t always see the road ahead of us and that even though we think we’re doing God’s will, we may be wrong. But we can trust that wanting to do God’s will can be enough. God will use that desire and lead us on the right road, even though we may not realize it is happening. We may feel lost, and bad things may happen, but we should not fear because God will never leave us. God does not promise us an easy life, but He does promise to be with us.


*Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was an American Trappist monk and a prolific Catholic writer (over 50 books in 27 years!). His best-known book is his spiritual autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain.” Later in his life, he studied other religions, particularly Eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. He was a firm believer in interfaith dialogue (which was unusual for that time in history) and wrote about how Christianity relates to other religions. He also addressed social justice concerns such as racial injustice, the immorality of war, and the plight of the world’s poor.

5 comments

  1. God is with me today because you posted this prayer at a time when it is needed by me (and others, I am certain). Thank you, Tacky, for your words and for Merton’s words.

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  2. Lovely Cathy. I find my certainty ebbs and flows, and I like this as a reminder to “Let go and Let God” … I might use it with my 8th grade Faith Formation Class, whom I think want clear answers sometimes, where there are none.

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    1. I love the idea of you sharing this with 8th graders, Shauna. I remember my religious education classes presenting God/faith as being so absolutely certain and neatly categorized. I didn’t always feel that way and felt that there must be something wrong with me and God couldn’t possibly approve of me. I wish I had heard this prayer during those times.

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  3. Cathy, Your words and the words of Merton touched me deeply. As I go through the unexpected trials in my life right now, I struggle with the need to take control and to get results immediately. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not walking through this journey alone, that the Lord is guiding me and bringing people in my life who support me. He has plans for me; plans for hope and a future.

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    1. It warms my soul that these were the right words at the right time for you. So many of us wrestle with the need to take control. I find it comforting that even spiritual masters like Thomas Merton had to deal with this struggle! I have no doubt that God is with you and does indeed have plans for you.

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