“Please, Thanks, Sorry,” by Craig Freshley

Message given at Durham Friends Meeting, December 3, 2023

You can hear a recording of Craig Freshley’s Message, “Please, Thanks, Sorry,” at his website Craig’s Quaker Messages.

This message focuses on three types of prayer and during this message I held up three little signs to match what I was saying; signs that read PLEASE, THANKS, and SORRY.

For a few cycles to start the breathing exercise at the end, I held up PLEASE as I inhaled, and THANKS as I exhaled.

There’s silence in the middle of the message from 13:30 to 16:30, and also at the end of the message beginning at 18:34.

Here is a transcription of the message:

Please, Thanks, Sorry

Good morning, friends.

The last message I brought was about prayer, and today’s message is about prayer. Last time I recited my prayer, a specific prayer that I have pushed myself to write over many years, and it’s evolving. In fact, I’ve changed it since the last time I spoke to you about this prayer, and maybe I’ll say it at the end of today’s message. Last time I talked about the value of what I’m going to call stock prayers, prayers with specific words and verses that we say over and over again the same way. The Lord’s Prayer, the prayer of St. Francis, the 23rd Psalm, the Prayer of Yellow Hawk, the Serenity Prayer. These are some of my favorite stock prayers. A lot of thought has been put into the words of these prayers, and it’s so helpful to say them and think about their meaning. Take them to heart over and over. Reciting stock prayers is, for me, a form of meditation. It focuses, the mind cuts out distraction. It’s in keeping with the Catholic tradition of using rosary beads, or the Buddhist tradition of chance or mantras. It provides a discipline. So whereas last time I focused on my stock prayer, my way of bringing discipline and saying the same things over and over. I say that to myself several times a day that, that prayer,

But I also ex explained last time that sometimes I make up prayers, and that’s good too. That’s the focus of today’s message, is making up prayers on the spot. I think there is great value in quieting the mind in wrestling with this question. What should I pray for right now? What a big question it requires me to consider all that I could pray for and make a short list. It pushes me to decide what’s most important. Just the exercise of making that decision before we even get to the prayer. Deciding what to pray for is, I suppose its own form of prayer. I’ve been told, I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ve come to believe this, that there are basically three kinds of prayer.

Please. Thanks, and Sorry. So to help me make my short lists, I think of prayers in these three categories. I think to myself, what do I want help with? What am I thankful for? What things have I done that I’m sorry about.

In a moment, I’m going to ask you to think about your short lists of what’s most important in these three categories. But first, I’m going to say just a little bit more about these three different types of prayers and what they mean for me, how I think of them. These are often prayers of desperation. Please help so and so get better. Please prevent X, Y, z, bad thing from happening. Please stop the fighting. Stop the oppression, stop the flooding. Please help those in desperate need. Please help me get out of this jam. Sometimes those are the most desperate prayers of all. I’m in trouble. I need help. Please help me. But a please prayer can also be from a not so desperate place, a more, a more thoughtful place. Please help me be a better person by blank, blank, blank. Please help me with this particular thing so I can be better. Please help me better understand why. Blank, blank, blank, blah, blah, blah. Please help me forgive him or her. Please help me be more open to them.

It can also be a prayer of humility. Just yesterday, I heard Rob Levine say, if you don’t know what to do, pray. If you don’t know what to pray for, pray for help. Sometimes I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know how to be, but I remember that I have this available to me. I can ask for help. I can say a prayer and I can begin it with please. It’s really hard for me to ask for help. Yet I’ve learned that it’s one of the most valuable things I can do, and I’ve learned that when I ask for help, it’s good to be okay with non-specifics rather than please change that person in these ways so that they’re nicer to me. I’ve learned that’s not a helpful prayer. I’m likely to be disappointed with that type of prayer, but rather, please help me find peace in this situation from a place of humility, not knowing the answer, rather than, please tell me what I should do about this or that. Instead, please help me be okay with however, turn this turns out and help me play my part.

It’s okay to ask for help. It’s good when you start with the word please, and it’s good to be open to however the help might come. Thanks. This is gratitude. When I’m not feeling good about myself or about the world around me, there is nothing more helpful to me than to take stock of the good things I have. Do not take things for granted.

It seems to help me every time. I knew a guy named Leon, an old guy, and when you asked him how he was, he would always say the same thing. I’m fantastic. I woke up on the right side of the grass today.  Every time, same answer, grateful to just be alive. That is a good place to start.

But not only that, it’s not just that I’m alive. I have an amazing life. So many blessings. We as humans have a long and deep tradition of prayers, of gratitude and blessings. Blessings before a meal, blessings at the start of an endeavor. Gratitude at the end of an endeavor. Gratitude upon winning the award. I couldn’t have done this without you. All prayers of gratitude. Folks in recovery are often asked to make a gratitude list. When I was a child, my mom encouraged me to end my day by kneeling at my bed and thinking of the good things that happened that day. Pretty simple prayer. Just think back on the good things that happened. I have found that gratitude is pretty much universal medicine for whatever ails you.

Sorry, another type of prayer. You might call this confession or repentance. I’m going to bring something else that I have learned in recovery. This is, this book is called Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m going to read a paragraph. “When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves, which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving towards all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others of what we could pack into the stream of life?”

But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse, or morbid reflection for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review, we ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken. I find it helpful to review my actions, to look at me and consider how I have been aligned or not aligned with how God wants me to be. And consider what corrective actions need to be taken. What apologies do I need to make to help me feel better? What do I have to fix with actual actions and what do I need to let go of? I don’t need to be responsible for everything. Back to please. I can ask for help with the burdens of my regrets. I would like us to pause for a moment. I’m going to stop talking and I’m going to offer a few minutes of silence for you to consider, for us all to consider our transgressions. What are you sorry about? What regrets do you have between you and your God? Let’s just take two or three minutes here and each try to make a short list.


I love that everyone seems to be praying so hard, and I hate to interrupt.  But I’d like to wrap up and take us into even more silence, and I’d like to do one or maybe two more things before I walk back over there. I’d like to do a little breathing exercise with you. 

We just spent some time reflecting on, sorry, regrets, transgressions. Now I’d like to spend a little time reflecting on please and thank you. And the way that I do this sometimes is I, I breathe and when I breathe in, I think please. And when I breathe out, I think thanks. It’s a really simple prayer, and when I breathe in, I think of things that I need help with, and when I breathe out, I think of things that I’m grateful for. So I’m going to ask that we start this together. I’m going to hold up signs, and then I’m going leave you to your own rhythm and we’ll see what happens after that.

We breathe in and we breathe out.

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