Is There a “Right Way” to Pray?

Because I’m not sure “anyone’s” listening.

It’s two a.m. My husband gets out of bed and leaves the room. He doesn’t know that I’m awake and that I hear him. I know where he’s going. First, to our home office, where he’ll sit in front of his PC watching old movies and then down to the basement where he’ll lie down on the sofa in the hope of getting some sleep. ANY amount of sleep. Most nights, his nocturnal ramblings leave him exhausted, both mentally and physically. Many nights—he gets no rest at all.

You might wonder how long a body can go on like this. So, do I. And that scares the hell out of me.

Like so many people, my husband suffers from chronic insomnia and sleep apnea. He’s never been what one would call a “sound sleeper,” but the last two years have been hell. The insomnia has escalated to a point where, if he gets three hours of sleep, that’s considered a “good” night. Compounding this is the panic that an insomniac feels knowing that he or she will have another long, wakeful night ahead. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s nearly impossible to break on one’s own.

As if not being able to sleep weren’t bad enough, this waking nightmare has resulted in other physical challenges. I won’t go into them all as I want to respect my husband’s privacy, but, I’ll just say that he’s seeing a number of doctors who prescribe a plethora of pills. Nothing has helped. Nothing.

A few years ago, when my husband was first diagnosed with sleep apnea, he tried using the CPAP machine. It was a complete bust because you see, you have to be able to fall asleep in order for it to do you any good. Therein lies the proverbial rub. It is now gathering dust in a closet somewhere. The good news is that these machines have evolved over the years and there are alternative options available.

Soon, my husband is going to undergo yet another “sleep study,” where he goes to a clinic and is hooked up to electrodes so that he can be monitored overnight. He was told to bring his sleep meds with him but, I’m doubtful as to whether he’ll be able to fall asleep in a strange environment, with nothing but a pull-out bed and a TV.

Years ago, the first time he was tested for sleep apnea, my hubby was sent home for that very reason. He couldn’t be monitored because he couldn’t fall asleep!

I can’t adequately describe how helpless I feel in that I can’t fix this. I’m lucky in that the pills I’ve been prescribed to help me get a decent night’s rest work for me. And I feel guilty because of that. But, as my husband says, one of us needs to get some sleep. There’s a house to run, four kids who depend upon us. Work to do. Bills to pay. You know: A life. But the quality of this life has taken a sucker punch to the gut.

Working from home four days a week is a blessing for my husband. Stumbling into his home office most mornings beats having to drive on zeros Zs. As it is, I don’t know how he does it.

When someone we love is hurting, we hurt. How can we not? What do we do when we can’t think of one more thing…to do?

I don’t know much about prayer. I’ve been very vocal about this. The product of a gentile and a Jew, both who were non-practicing, I know nothing about organized religion. Or un-organized, for that matter.

So, what do I believe in? I don’t know. Myself, I hope. Beyond that, I’m grasping at straws. I know precious little about God, Jesus, the Holy Trinity, the Torah. If I sound ignorant, in this regard, I suppose I am. I’m not ashamed, just floundering.

Buddhism always appealed to me because it seems to make sense. The whole idea of “Karma.” Of what “goes around comes around.” And adhering to the Golden Rule: Treating people as we’d like to be treated in turn.

Several years back, I actually bought the book, “Buddhism for Dummies.” I never read it. Maybe I’ll give it another shot. I’m desperate. And desperation does make me feel ashamed.

The notion of God. It’s hard to believe in a deity when there’s so much suffering in the world. So much pain and destruction. I know that the devout among us would have a response to this that might make sense to them, but woefully, not to me. Not as yet, anyway.

I never understood the concept of God giving men free will to do as they please. If that’s the case, we’ve screwed things up royally, haven’t we?

Here’s the irony in all this. I pray. Yes, me. I. Do. Pray. But I’m screaming into the abyss because I don’t feel as if I’m being heard. How do you know if you’re being heard? Is it a visceral response? Do fireworks go off in your head? Do you feel the breath of a whisper on your cheek?

My prayers are not for myself. I don’t pray for my screenplays to sell or to make a ton of money as a freelance writer, or for better hair—or any of that crap. I pray for my husband. I pray that he finds the strength to do what he needs to do in order to be healthy. I pray that we can find the right doctors. Doctors who will guide him…listen to him…help him realize why he can’t sleep. Instead of tossing another prescription at him when his fifteen-minute allotment of doctor/patient time is over.

The doctors my husband is currently seeing are highly rated and affiliated with a top Chicago hospital, yet, I’m left wondering, “What the hell are they doing? Or NOT doing?”

I go with my husband to many of his appointments. I’m the “mouthpiece,” the one who asks the questions that he might forget, or neglect to ask. When my husband talks at these appointments, I often talk over him, so as not to forget what I want to ask. That’s irritating, I know. But it helps me feel that I’m doing something.

I have to do something.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a form of hands-on problem solving that is supposed to help change certain thinking patterns, will be the next step. The challenge is finding the right therapist. That’s a job in and of itself. But I’m trying to remain hopeful. What recourse do I have?

When I said that I don’t pray for myself, I realized that this isn’t the absolute truth. I pray for my having the strength to deal with this situation, calmly and empathetically as sometimes I get angry and resentful. And then I realize how unfair resentment is. After all, could I have avoided getting breast cancer? With all the mixed messaging and reams upon reams of research, who can say? Did I eat the wrong food? Drink too much? Work out too little?

In 2019, roughly 1.8 million people received a cancer diagnosis. It’s the plague of our time and all the pink crap and walks and runs and “awareness days” appear to have had little effect. Lest we forget, it’s a money-maker after all.

So, I pray, but I don’t know who or what I’m praying to. Sometimes I pray to our cats who are gone, or my parents, also gone, or the man in the moon. It is ultimately exhausting, especially for someone with OCD. You don’t know what you’re doing but you’re afraid to stop.

I am not ungrateful. I am a breast cancer survivor, after all, but I’m searching. That’s the cliché of getting older. Questions loom that you never thought of asking before. Like this one:

For those of you who are heard, who get answers—what am I doing wrong?


Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.

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  1. Sherry, thank you for being so authentic with your writing and addressing the hard stuff. It is not easy to see our loved ones struggle, especially when we may be experiencing our challenges. I grew up in a Catholic household and went to church almost every Sunday. I rarely attend and haven’t regularly in too many years to recall. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in a higher power or have faith or pray. I do. We all find what works best for us.

    There are many days when I ask for help in a silent conversation or talk to my mom, who is no longer with us. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to have faith during our most difficult journeys. I think that’s why I turned to write a few years back – to help me sort out what was going on in my head and my heart. I needed a place to unbury the heaviness and find faith and hope again. I had lost touch with them for far too long.

    I do hope that you and your husband find a healing path and that one day soon, he’ll find a way to combat his insomnia. In the meantime, I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.

    • I’m not sure if I replied to everyone who commented so I would just like to say that I am touched beyond measure and so appreciative of your kindness and support. Each and every one of you is a shining light…a candle amid the dark, so thank you.

  2. Sherry, it is with compassion and understanding that I am responding. What you and your husband are experiencing is difficult and not getting any help from doctors adds to the frustration. Know that prayer is a powerful tool, yet it can sometimes seem to elude us. However you are praying, it is out “there,” and I would like to think is being heard. Sometimes, what comes back to us from praying we may miss the cues. Life is so vast in it’s interwoven web, and to understand why things happen and how we can create what we want, seems is part of our life journey. The challenges is what makes us stronger, but I will say it would be nice not to have to endure some of the things we do!! You have much strength and with confidence that you will find what is needed to help you and your husband, things have the potential to get better. Holding you in my thoughts and sending positive vibes that you find the answers you are looking for. Please message me if you would like to chat, I have had my own challenges that I have self-healed from. Cheers!

  3. Your piece, Sherry, hit home on a couple of levels. (1) I just spent another “uneven” night – couldn’t get to sleep; couldn’t stay a sleep. Finally just got up. (2) We have similar backgrounds. I grew up in a fairly non-religious household. My Mom was a Catholic converted to Judaism, and my Dad was Jewish. We attended Friday night services and the high-holy days, but nothing ever clicked for me. I have always wrestled with the question that if there is a God, why does he/she/it allow such terrible pain in the world? Why the Holocaust? Why genocide? Why the Crusades? Why political divisions that threaten to tear our country apart fomented by men and women who spent part of the weekend in their church or synagogue? The hypocrisy is stupefying. I have been told that the answer is “Why do we as humans allow it?” When I pray that my wife will return safely from a business trip, I feel guilty because somehow I haven’t earned the right to pray. How screwed up is that?

    I know prayer works for many people. It does something for them, God bless them. If it works for you and you find some solace, great. Judging by the response here, you have a lot of voices pulling for you and your family. I have no answer for you other than a big virtual hug.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. I adore you, Sherry.
    I feel like I am sitting with you when I read your work and we are having a latte together.
    There is such wonderful words and people here sharing that I have little to say other than I send you and your husband my deepest wish for prayers and healing. You are doing what you feel called to do in your heart and how could that be wrong, Sherry. You have been through a great deal with your health and obviously dearly love your husband and want the best for him. I hope you find solace and comfort in knowing you are perfect in your actions. Love to you.

  5. You are not doing anything wrong Sherry. You are writing from your heart through your pain, frustration and confusion and your unanswered prayers.

    Your life seems to be a whirlwind of turmoil and doubt as you attempt to find true solace.

    God knows your struggles. Learn to be still and He will answer you. Read the book of Romans for starters. Seek to believe in order to understand and then understand to better believe.

    You and your husband are in my prayers.

  6. Sherry – First and foremost, both you and your husband are in my prayers.

    Now for the good news. Prayer is just talking to God – there is no right way or wrong way. He actually knows your needs before you speak to Him but our prayer demonstrates our understanding that we trust Him with our concerns. So, just talk to Him – pour your heart our – laugh, cry, yell, whisper, or sit silently and let your heart speak – but talk to Him.

    When you are ready to continue your journey of seeking, contact Dennis to have him provide my email address. Then we can speak back and forth without the public forum because this takes honesty that must be confidential. I will answer all your questions – but remember, “I don’t know” has to be considered an valid answer.

    Take care, my friend.

    • Thank you, Len. I both admire and envy your conviction. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. All good, I expect. I will take your suggestion. Again, thanks so much.

  7. Hi Sherry, I don’t know if you received my last reply but I am going to re-send in case to anser your last questions, “For those who are heard and get answers, what am I doing wrong”.

    I can assure you, you are doing nothing wrong. As one who struggles with the same problem of not being able to get more than maybe 3-4 hours sleep, I understand. I don’t rely on sleep aids except liquid melantonin but I can’t really do that much either because it leaves me with a headache. With only one kidney as a result of cancer, I don’t take meds.

    I am devout in my faith, which wasn’t always the case and I learned that perseverence in all things is the key. I began to set up a prayer room/area, where I could go in the quietness of my home and just concentrate on God. I began to read a lot on my Catholic Faith, and returned home to it after being gone because I felt its peace. But it didn’t happen over night and as one who is up several times a night, I find myself falling into a deep morning sleep after reading and praying. But it did not happen over night, and I am going to pray that you will be able to do the same. Find a place in your home that is for you and God.

    I have to leave for Mass but I will be praying you.

  8. Sherry – as usual, you shoot straight and with both barrels! I love your honesty! You bring up some great (and very common) questions and concerns when it comes to God and prayer. How can a good God allow such bad things to happen? That’s is a concern that keeps many people from trusting in Him. To put it succinctly, God’s plan from the time of Adam and Eve was to live in harmony with man – peace on earth, etc. Satan tempted Eve….Adam ate the apple (or whatever fruit it was)….and here we are; sin entered in and Adam and Eve effectively (as representatives of humankind) gave control to our spiritual enemy (no horns and pointed tail…..but real none-the-less).
    Why free will? Because God wanted us to love Him on our own – not as robots.
    Many people wonder why doesn’t God speak to them……well, that’s why He provided the “owner’s manual” for us humans….otherwise knows as the Bible. It tells us if we truly seek Him we will find Him. I was encouraged by your words, “I’m searching”. I encourage you to by all means, KEEP DOING SO!! I would also suggest you read the New Testament (book of John in particular).
    Jesus suggests a model of how to pray (Matthew 6:9-15) – but it is not meant to be meaningless repetition. We should pray conversationally……the Bible also talks about asking, seeking and knocking……a persistence in prayer. As for me, I know without a doubt God hears and answers prayers – sometimes with a “yes”, or a “wait”, or in ways I had no idea…..or with a “no”, but always with my best interest and at heart and to accomplish His purposes in my life. You are already in my prayers – I will add your husband (can you share his name?).
    CBT is used by the drug treatment programs I was a part of (and still do some training with) in the prison system – supposed to be pretty effective in that realm…..don’t know how effective as it apples to chronic insomnia and sleep apnea. I personally prefer support groups – a free flow of ideas – what may have helped someone else; there’s also a lot of comfort in getting to know some folks who are going through the same stuff. In the meantime, know that I, and others on this site, care and are pulling for you and your husband. God bless.

    • Mike, I am choked up right now so I can’t adequately express what you and the rest of this community mean to me. Forgive me. And thank you so much. Yes, we will definitely be looking into CBT. I am trying to find a good psychologist who specializes in these disorders. My husband’s name is John, but he prefers to go by Jack. Like Kennedy. 🙂

  9. Dear Sherry, your pain, prayers and perplexing frustration is real. You write from the heart. It is easy for me to advise you to be still and listen for God’s answers when you are in turmoil, but that’s the key for understanding.

    Try reading the book of Roman’s. It might foster your belief and understanding and your understanding will foster your belief.

    God bless you and your husband – both of you will be in my prayers!

    • That means a great deal to me, Gumshoe. Thank you. I don’t know anything about the book of Roman’s but I will certainly look into it. All the best to you.

  10. Wow Sherry, your life might be a parralell to mine, but first and foremost, let me say that prayer is healing. It doesn’t happen over night and takes perseverence. I can’t go into a lot due to time, but please, please find a prayer room in your home, some place where you go in the quietness of places. Pick up a bible, and randomly open it.

    I struggle wtih the same thing of not being able to sleep through the night. I am on the go all day, but start unwinding around 5 or so. After preparing dinner for my husband, I go upstairs to my “happy place”, the bath and for 30 minutes I pre-pare the bed, bath and think over thoughts of the day. I then go down stairs and spend time with my husband till I look at the clock and see that it is almost 11 p.m. and I am still not tired. I read for a bit, then doze and the next thing I am up at 2 a.m. I go downstairs, and begin to pray and read; when the clock strikes 3:30 a.m. I return to the bed and in between then and 6 I am up to more times average. I don’t want to rely on pills as I only have one kidney as a result of cancer several years ago. I have to take care of it.

    In the end I find that as I delve more and more into prayer and reading it is slowly my sleep aid. Hang in there and I wont forget you in my nightly prayers.

    • Linda, you are such a good person. I can feel that. And we certainly do have a lot in common. The bath is my “happy place,” as well. It’s one thing I do for myself. I will take your words to heart and try my best to integrate your suggestions into my life. I’m at a point where I can feel the stress affecting me physically, and I really want to fend that off. Thank you so much.