When I first joined the church, I was accustomed to reciting my prayers, perhaps with a few “please blesses” tacked on for good measure. Now the missionaries wanted me to offer a very personal prayer, a conversation between God and me. I found this challenging to do at first.
We pray to God the Father in the name of the Savior, so I found it helpful to look for a few moments of a picture of the Savior, or perhaps a picture of the First Vision, to remind myself that I was talking to someone who is real. The Savior, being God’s son, would look much like Him, and so looking at the Savior’s picture helped me to envision His Father. When I could picture a real and living God clearly in my mind, it was easier to hold a conversation.
It also helped to think before I prayed. Instead of simply kneeling the moment I reached my room, I spent some quiet time preparing for prayer. Reading the scriptures, writing in my journal, and thinking about my day, my testimony, and my needs helped me to decide what I wanted to talk to God about that evening. In the morning, I also spent time thinking about my upcoming morning prayer, often before I tumbled out of bed.
“Will prayers that do not demand much of your thought merit much attention from our Heavenly Father? When you find yourself getting into a routine with your prayers, step back and think. Meditate for a while on the things for which you really are grateful. Look for them. They don’t have to be grand or glorious. Sometimes we should express our gratitude for the small and simple things like the scent of the rain, the taste of your favorite food, or the sound of a loved one’s voice.”– Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar 2004, 24–31
I practiced the formal language of prayer, so that getting the structure and language right wasn’t a distraction. This way, the words thee and thou felt natural and comfortable as I spoke, and didn’t prevent me from feeling that I was talking to someone I knew and loved.
I learned to make certain I had plenty of time to pray. Sometimes I waited so long to start I was nearly asleep before I knelt down. These prayers were seldom meaningful. If, however, I started my prayer before I was sleepy, and got up early enough in the morning that I wasn’t rushed, I was more likely to pray with meaning. The longer I prayed, the more meaningful and personal the prayers became. I ran out of the standard things to say and had to just talk, and when I started talking from my heart, the real prayer began.
Sometimes saying nothing at all can be the most personal part of the prayer. As I stopped talking and just sat quietly, listening and waiting for the Spirit, I felt closer to Heavenly Father than when I was actually talking. Quietness is a prayer when you’re paying attention to the Spirit.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.