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anne lamott talks about “help, thanks, wow: the three essential prayers”

Anne LamottIf I had to pick one author whose words stay with me, inspire me and haunt me, it would have to be Anne Lamott. I have devoured every word the woman has ever written and I am as enamored as much by her attitude and subject matter as I am by her actual writing. So I was extraordinarily disappointed when I was invited to meet her and another of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed — ON A DAY THAT I WAS LEAVING TOWN!

Thanks to publicist extraordinaire Lydia Hirt, I was able to send over  some questions for Anne to answer about her new book, Help, Thanks, Wow. In signature Anne Lamott style, this is a small, simple, no-nonsense, no-holds-barred guide to  the only prayers that matter. The book is a must-read, a must-share, and the perfect gift for everyone this holiday season. For many people, it may be a life-changer.

I still hope to meet Anne in person one day but, meanwhile, I’m grateful for the chance to host her here. Not surprisingly, there are sentences in these answers that are as beautiful and meaningful as any in her books.

To say I’m a fan of yours is a major understatement. I often feel like you are reading my mind. As someone who says please and thank you to God – or Howard or Ralph or whatever you want to call Not Me – many times a day, Help, Thanks, Wow resonated so strongly with me. You make faith so practical and accessible that it seems fitting that you’ve cut out all the blah blah blah and come up with a simple, perfect treasure that gets down to the heart of prayer. Why did you decide to write this? 

My editor and publisher at Riverhead heard me speak on spirituality and how most of my prayers spring from these three simple prayers, and they brought up the idea.  I’ve actually been working on a book on grief and coming through, called As In Life, but first my editor pitched the idea of a follow-up journal to Operating Instructions, called Some Assembly Required.  So I did that for a year with my son, did the book tour with him, got back to work on As In Life, and then pivoted to writing Help, Thanks, Wow very quickly.  I wanted to write a sort of Bird by Bird of spirituality — distilled, sensible, encouraging, no b.s.  Now I am on a promotional tour for Help, Thanks, Wow and someday will get back to As In Life. 

One of my favorite parts of the book is when you suggest to an atheist that he just act as if he believes in a higher power. The fact that belief itself causes miracles is, in itself, a miracle. What are some of the miracles that belief has brought you? 

Oh, god, way too many to mention.  Every week, something happens within my family or galaxy or public life that seems SO amazing, where you can’t get from where we were to where we have arrived. 

I was with you this whole election season and did a lot of asking for help (uh, along with writing op ed pieces and ranting on Facebook). I also said “wow” a lot but, unfortunately, that was more in reaction to the Republicans’ rape comments than to anything awesome. When my family did our What I’m Thankful For lists on Thanksgiving, number one was that Obama is still President. How did your prayers calm you during this wretched Presidential campaign? 

Well, it was prayers for serenity AND taking the action, of being on Facebook and Twitter a lot, helping people keep the faith in the decency of the American people, and raising money.  We raised $70,000 on my Facebook page. I always believe that you take the action and then the insight follows, so I’d make a pitch for more fundraising for Grassroots Obama, and people would respond with such generosity that it would completely lift my spirits and calm me down. 

I cried reading about putting your dog, Jeanie, down because we had a very similar experience with our 12-year-old Newfoundland, Jessie, this year. Very similar. You do a great service for pet owners when you say, “Jeanie hit the lottery when she got me as her person for thirteen years, and the bad death was only ten minutes.” I don’t really have a question here but I do want to say a heartfelt thanks to you for this.  

You are welcome.  I just got back from the vet with my two high-needs dogs –one elderly and arthritic, one injured during puppyhood by abuse, with consequent trauma six years later — and it cost a fortune, and I couldn’t care less, because pets are the world to me.  I think they are the most obvious manifestations of divine love that we are going to see this side of eternity. 

What do you think about keeping a gratitude journal? 

I don’t do that but it sounds like a good idea.  I don’t keep a regular journal, either.  It’s just not my way. 

You wrote one of my favorite lines ever: “She lived in fear of ironic endings.” That line haunts me. Do you live in fear of ironic endings? What are you afraid of? 

I remember after I got sober, I got very worried that I would get run over by a drunk driver, after I had driven drunk and stoned for so many years.  But I don’t live in fear of death.  I believe it will just be a change of address.

As a fellow crabby optimist (my crabbiness seems to have come a la premenopausal hormones. Yours too?), I’m looking forward to the fourth great prayer – “Help me not be such an ass,” about which you say, “Perhaps we will address at another time.” Any quick words of wisdom about that?  

It’s something I have to pray for in some way or another every single day. Left to my own devices, I have a giant ego and terrible self-esteem, so I need to hit the re-set button fairly regularly — to get into presence, and humility, and being right-sized.

We are giving away five copies of Anne Lamott’s book, Help, Thanks, Wow. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment below. It can be about Anne, about your own form of prayer, or about something that makes you say, “Help,” “Thanks” or “Wow.” Winners will be selected and announced on Wednesday, December 12.


  1. for years people have told me to read Anne Lamont, that my writing was similiar to hers, this past summer I was helping a friend move, we went through hundreds of her books, she gave me three of her Annie Lamott books, I devoured them in two days I could relate in some form to everything she wrote , I passed on two of her books, but Bird by Bird is my new bible…..I hope she reads these comments, thanks for getting her scoop. and yes a free copy of her new book would be welcome and devoured………..

  2. I too have read and re-read most of Anne’s books. After checking them out of the local library and renewing the maximum number of times (because I just feel better having them around when I need something that speaks to ME)…I have decided to purchase Anne’s books for my Xmas present to myself this year! I would be honored to have her newest book in my library!

    Peace and serenity to all in this hectic, glorious Holiday season!!!
    Cindy O’Neill

  3. Marina McIntire says:

    Oh, Anne Lamott! One of two authors whose books I buy in hard cover, as soon as I can get my hands on them — and convince myself that this is not an over-indulgence. We have a shelf in our office with thirteen volumes of Lamott — having foolishly allowed some of them to get away from us. Once we saw/heard her do a reading at UCLA-Royce Hall with (if memory serves) K.D.Laing. What an evening!
    Thank you for making your spiritual side so apparent.

  4. Blakely Sanford says:

    Though I am not as spiritual as I should be, learning to pray gives me comfort.

  5. As someone who has spent the majority of her 51 years trying to “control” life, and yes, even some of the people in my life (not proud of that but am working on it!), in the past year or so I’ve learned to let go and trust. And I must say I’ve said WOW so many times in the process. I am discovering the peace and contentment that comes with releasing control (we don’t really have control anyway) and being open to what shows up instead… to expressing gratitude for what is… and in asking for guidance and then just listening for the answer. As such I totally resonate with the idea of Help. Thanks. Wow. I’ve never read Anne Lamott but something tells me I’d like her. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. “Help me not be such an ass,” will stay with me :)! I love Bird by Bird and am so looking forward to this book of distilled wisdom. Just the title gives me so much.

  7. I’m reading Some Assembly Required right now. Anne’s one of the few people who can write about Christianity and speak to little struggling Jewish me in a way that I can relate to. I’ve read all her nonfiction, and am sure I’ll read this, too, whether or not I win it from you guys!

  8. Janet Domenitz says:

    Last weekend, I had a several hour drive by myself, and I took out “Grace, Eventually” on CD from the library. There is simply no other author who, in the space of a few hours, could make me laugh, cry, re-examine past events and actions, and consider re-directing future plans. On top of that, I get to steal great lines, like “cellphones: the teenager’s pacemaker.” I’m using that one in my house (two teenage boys), hopefully won’t get caught ‘plagiarizing.’ Thank you, Anne Lamott, for all your books and for speaking the truth.

  9. I love that you said the animals are the “most obvious manifestations of divine love that we are going to see this side of eternity” – what a beautiful way of putting it! I believe that my dog connects me with the divine every single day – she is a constant reminder to me to only live in the present and simply ‘be’. Thank you!

  10. Anne is simply amazing. The only Christian I know who doesn’t limit the Divine with dogma in some way. I’m super interested in seeing what her new book has to say.

  11. Thank you for this interview. I love hearing about authors and books that I’ve never read before and finding that I would like to ; ) I am always lead directly to the books that I most need or would like to read.

    From what I can tell of the book by the interview, it sounds like this dovetails very nicely with my current form of prayer. Thanks very much for the chance to win a copy!

  12. I love-love-love Anne LaMott. I have read her books and laughed and cried and enjoy her amazing stories of letting go and then seeing how miracles happen. I especially remember reading about the kindness in others when she had her baby in her arms at church and others giving their coins and dollars to help at a time that was especially needed. The generosity, the caring, the loving way she tells stories keeps the reader wanting more. I enjoy her spirituality and belief in knowing all is well and wonderful things come about when we let go. The new book sounds like a must have for everyone. Thank you again for sharing your gift of words.

  13. cathy albery says:

    ironic that my womempn’s fellowship/study group at church is studying debbie macomber’s book about choosing one word to focus on per year, and just did the chapter on prayer. she talks about praying for an hour a day on her knees and i very honestly said i would have real trouble focusing like that. anne’s idea of help, thanks, wow sounds like it is more my style!

  14. Kim LePiane says:

    I love Anne Lamott and I love this question and answer with her! The more conscious we are the more we are aware that every thought is a prayer. In her ever accessible style Anne is showing us the way, once again. For that I am grateful. Thanks!

  15. Danna Givot says:

    I was with a friend today when we discovered her mother had passed away. At that moment, I thanked God that I had the privilege of being by her side so that she was not alone at that very moment. We spent the day engaged with prayers of all sorts – prayers of “dignified departure,” prayers chosen at the funeral home for prayer cards, psalms and prayers to be read at the church as part of the funeral service, eulogy, etc. Now, as my friend is finally resting in the next room, I opened my email and found this article/interview. My friend is incredibly spiritual and this article seems destined to have reached me so that I can share it with her. While we will await “As in Life,” I believe “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”” would be salve to my friend’s very raw wounds having lost her Mom just today. If I were to receive one of the available books, it would go straight to her. If not, I will get the book for her myself. Your comment about death being a “change of address” would be a huge comfort to her….a perspective she could use in the coming days, weeks and months. It appears that “Serendipity” has brought your work to my attention on this challenging day! I am grateful for this article and my introduction to your work.

  16. I love the title and can’t wait to read this book. When you said “animals are the obvious manifestations of divine love that we are going to see this side of eternity”….I was sold.

  17. I don’t have prayers that I say regularly, but I do have a mantra that helps with my self esteem: why not me? (that got me to grad school, and helps me keep my spirits up when submitting work to lit journals, and applying for _________ jobs, fellowships, grants, etc)

    I’ve had Help, Thanks, Wow on my list for a while… Bird by Bird is one of my treasured books–forever grateful for that one! and FYI in case Anne Lamott’s publisher is reading this– I would LOVE to read a book about grief from Anne Lamott. I’ll be teaching a class, Writing Through Grief, in January (in Albuquerque)

  18. Love her.

  19. I relate 100% to “Help, Thanks, Wow.” I start every day by lighting a candle, saying thank you, asking for “help,” and ending by being grateful for it all! So in a sense, mine is; thanks, help, wow! It’s not only an amazing way to start the day, it’s an amazing way to live life!

  20. I adore Anne Lamott. I devour her books. How wonderful you were able to ask her these questions!

  21. Like everyone here, I love Anne Lamott. When I was an editor at the newspaper, I made each of my writers a sign to place above their desk that said “Bird by Bird” and printed out that particular passage from that very special book for each to read and know and remember. Some days it was our mantra and the only way to survive the crazy. I recently finished Some Assembly Required (which a lovely friend had autographed by Ms. Lamott and gave to me). I so would love to feature her as a Grilled Grandma on my site but have not yet figured out how to contact her. Looking forward to this book, too. She is indeed amazing.

  22. Dia Draper says:

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this. Thanks for the interview, so fun yet uplifting to the spirit. I’m sure I’ll have to get a couple extra copies because people always “borrow” her books and they don’t seem to make their way back 🙂

  23. Brooke Ellis says:

    Ms. Lamott’s comments on animals here really struck me. Unfortunately we lost our two 16 year old dogs within 4 days of each other this May. However, as I write this I have my 9 year old cat in my lap and our newest addition – 4 year old rescue dog Dillon – curled up at my feet. My pets are my angels, and I hope I am theirs.

  24. “Help me not be such an ass.” Oh how I look forward to that. So do the people who endure me regularly.

  25. elizabeth says:

    Thanks for seeding reflection and insight beyond yourself.
    I feel so magnitized to Anne Lamott’s work and I envision devouring
    Help, Thanks, Wow.

  26. Nice article. I think it’s time for me to get her books out and reread!

  27. Nancy Nussbaum says:

    Everyone has already said everything I would want to say!!

    Anne Lamott, I love you!

  28. I love Anne Lamott’s writing. I have read about every one of her books and absolutely delight in her Facebook posts. I was excited to hear about her new book and look forward to reading it. Terrific interview. I hope you get to meet her in person some day.

  29. mary hazlett says:

    I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Anne speak in Akron, OH, recently. as far as i am concerned, i could still be sitting in that library auditorium listening to her. every once in a while i encounter someone whom i wish i could know in-person, not because they are famous, but because i would choose them for a friend if i met them and they were NOT famous. Anne is just such a person. I love her books, i love listening to her, i love her attitude.

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