Sometimes, I’m like the man who went to live in a
monastery. His abbot limited him to only two words
every year.

After his first year, he reported to the abbott and
said, “Bed hard.”

On his second annual opportunity, he pronounced,
“Food bad.”

Finally, on his third year, he proclaimed, “I quit.”

“I’m not surprised,” said the abbott. “You’ve done
nothing but complain since the day you arrived.”

Well, truthfully, I don’t want you to think I complain
much, but one day I had an off day fretting over lost
keys, car repairs and my daughter’s somewhat risky
international travel.

That’s when Mrs. Chaplain, as I like to call her when
she’s right about something, asked: “Have you
prayed about it?”

“At this point,” I said, “honestly, my prayers would
sound more like complaining.”

“What’s wrong with that?” she asked.

As I thought about her challenge, I remembered a
guy who did a fair bit of complaining himself,

After bringing his people to the oppressive desert to
rescue them from slavery, the people started
whining about the lack of good Chinese takeout.
(OK, maybe they weren’t that picky, but they were

So Moses asked God, “Why are you treating me this
way? What did I ever to do to deserve this? Where am
I supposed to get meat for all these people?

“Hey, if this is how you intend to treat me, do me a
favor and kill me. I’ve had enough.”

Just an observation, I wouldn’t recommend daring
God to kill you; it’s not a prayer for the faint of

Nevertheless, God threw down a challenge of his
own and said to Moses, “Gather together 70 men
from among the leaders of Israel, men whom you k
now to be respected and responsible. . . . (and)
you won’t have to carry the whole thing alone.”

In the end, Moses didn’t get struck dead for the
audacity expressed in his prayer; quite the
opposite. God answered the prayer with a little help
from his friends.

Now, I don’t pretend to know how prayer works, but
I think Moses’ prayer worked for two reasons.

First, the prayer was simple and direct. No
analogies, no metaphors, no colorful or obtuse
tangents. God likes us to be direct.

Whenever I meet someone who complains about
their raw deal, I challenge them: Stop gossiping
about God. Talk to God directly, not behind his

Go right up to God (wherever you talk to God) and
say, “Hey, God! My life stinks!”

Then, turn it into something like Anne Lamott
describes in her book “Traveling Mercies.” She
writes: “Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help
me, help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you,
thank you.’ ”

Finally, Moses’ prayer worked because God heard
the heart of the prayer — honesty.

In the midst of the griping, God heard a confession
known by anyone in a 12-step recovery process. It’s
a prayer that in its various wordings says, “I’m
powerless to do anything by myself. I need help.”

It was the same kind of prayer my wife was
challenging me to pray. Later that day she asked,
“Find your keys yet?”

“No, but I think God’s given me a plan to find them.”


“Yeah, how do you feel about having 70 readers
come over and help me look for my keys?”

“Really, you’ve got 70 people reading your column

I wonder how she’d like the name “Mrs. Moses.”

Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an
Air National Guard chaplain. Write or visit