Sometimes when I’m praying, I realize that I’m speaking, but not conversing. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Prayers are sometimes said when we are tired, run down, stressed, or spiritually drained. Occasionally, it is all of the above. We say our prayers because we want to be obedient and we know we are supposed to pray, but we are not really talking with Heavenly Father. Sometimes we just say the same thing we said the last time we prayed because it is easier than opening up a real conversation with Him. It is times like this that I work on refining prayer.
Recently a church class discussion touched on this very issue. Someone in the class said that there is a difference between talking to God and expecting Him to be the “genie in a bottle” that solves all our problems. I was really struck by that. That’s exactly what happens. We rattle off our stresses, needs, and wants, and then expect that Heavenly Father will grant us our wishes and take away all stress. It just doesn’t work that way.
When my prayers become repetitive, I think of ways to picture Heavenly Father in my mind. Sometimes looking at artwork where Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to the prophet of the restoration, Joseph Smith, helps. I can conjure up in my mind a picture of what I think Heavenly Father looks like. It helps to remember conversations I had with my earthly father while he was still on the earth.
I remember how I began talking to him, how we interacted, and how loved I felt when we had important conversations. My earthly father was kind and had an amazing sense of humor. I’ve always thought that my Heavenly Father has a sense of humor, as well.
After I get a picture in my mind of who I’m talking to, I think about what kind of conversation I want to have. Do I want this to be a gratitude conversation? Do I need answers or advice? Do I need confirmation of a decision I’ve made? Do I want confirmation of spiritual matters? Do I need an understanding of a gospel principle? Do I need help in my personal life? If I know what type of conversation I want to have before I begin, I can keep on track without slipping into the same words and phrases I’ve used in previous prayers.
Finding the proper surrounding for prayer is helpful. That is not to say that all prayers need to be said in ideal situations. Many of my prayers have been said in my car or while washing the dishes. Those times when I’m trying to refine the quality of my prayers, however, I make an effort to find a quiet place with peaceful surroundings. That can be in my family room when I’m the only one awake, sitting underneath a tree in the park or the mountains, or in the temple.
Two or three times in our marriage, I was angry and unprepared when my husband asked me to be the voice of either a family prayer or a husband and wife prayer, and I refused to be the voice of the prayer. Each time that happened, I knew I was wrong when I did it and regretted it later. Those are the times when I needed prayer the most.
We should prepare ourselves for prayer. If we don’t feel like praying, then we should pray until we feel like praying. We should be humble. (D&C 112:10.) We should pray for forgiveness and mercy. (Alma 34:17–18.) We must forgive anyone against whom we have bad feelings. (Mark 11:25.) Yet, the scriptures warn, our prayers will be vain if we “turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of [our] substance.” (Alma 34:28.) (Ezra Taft Benson, “Prayer,” Apr. 1977 General Conference.)
I love the phrase pray until we feel like praying. Now, that’s a real conversation! If we open up our hearts and pour out our souls in prayer, how much better our lives will be.
Have you ever prayed and then quickly gone about your business without waiting for answers? Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.
[L]istening is an essential part of prayer. Answers from the Lord come ever so quietly. Hence He has counseled us to “be still and know that I am God.” (D&C 101:16.)
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “It would not hurt us, either, if we paused at the end of our prayers to do some intense listening—even for a moment or two—always praying, as the Savior did, ‘not my will, but thine, be done.’ (Luke 22:42.)” (Russell M. Nelson, “Listen to Learn,” Apr. 1991 General Conference, quoting Spencer W. Kimball, “We Need a Listening Ear,” Oct. 1979 General Conference, Ensign, (Nov. 1979), pp. 4–5.)
I experimented a few times in the temple. At the end of heartfelt prayers at the temple, I said, “Heavenly Father, that’s all I’ve got. I’m ready to listen now to anything thou has to tell me. I’m going to be quiet and just listen. If there is anything thou would like me to know, I’m ready to hear you.” While I didn’t receive any great revelations about the mysteries of God, I did receive distinct impressions of things I needed in the moment.
Since my little experiment in the temple, I’ve been much more willing to sit quietly after I pray in my daily life, clear my mind, and just listen. There is so much noise in our lives, that the voice of the Spirit is often lost on us. It is important to make quiet moments to listen and hear. It needs to be a conscious effort to quiet our lives and squelch the noise.
I’m currently working on refining my prayers. I hope you will join me in this effort, as I truly believe it will make a difference in our lives. Prayer is a gift from God. The connection has not been cut. We just need to take advantage of the gift and do it in a meaningful way.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.