Let’s take a step back to something more personal this week – prayer. More specifically, I want to talk about my struggles with prayer. Maybe you’ll relate to the struggle of making prayer meaningful.
Prayer can take a lot of forms, so let me clarify what it is to me: Prayer is speaking directly to God the Father about anything and everything in our lives. It is a way of building a relationship with our Father in Heaven.
That’s what I know about prayer. Here’s what I struggle with: it doesn’t always feel like a two-way communication. I don’t always stay focused when I pray. And sometimes I don’t speak as sincerely as I’d like to.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are taught that prayer should be sincere and meaningful. That it shouldn’t be overly repetitive and that it shouldn’t be rushed or distracted.
But I am not always great about that. Sure, I’ve had some pretty powerful prayers in my life. Some that really helped change me.
I’ve also seen incredible results come from prayer. Miracles and comfort that wouldn’t have come otherwise. In anything from finding my lost keys to my hometown receiving water during drought years, prayer plays a powerful role.
I don’t question that. I can’t question that after everything I’ve seen.
But in the everyday humdrum of life, where does prayer fit in? And why does it feel like a chore as much as a blessing at times?
I don’t know if this is just me thinking this way. But I’m guessing at least some of you can relate.
Maybe one of my biggest struggles with prayer is that some little part of me wonders if I’m actually doing it right. And listening right.
Because honestly, I’ve thought in the past that I totally understood prayer and how it works and how answers come through praying. But then I ran into some circumstances where I thought I had done everything right, that I had the answer God wanted me to have.
Turned out, I was 100% wrong about that answer.
If it wasn’t such a long story, I’d give you more details than that, but I don’t want to get off topic. The most important thing to know is that when I realized how completely wrong I’d been about the answer I thought I had received, I spun out.
Everything I thought I knew about prayer, I questioned.
My issue wasn’t just with prayer; it was also with my relationship with the Holy Spirit. I’ve talked about that in another post and you can see that post here.
Prayer was a genuine problem though. The thing that really threw me off was that I wasn’t wrong because I hadn’t been doing my part to pray and find out the right answer. Instead, I had prayed constantly, daily, and (in my opinion) intensely.
I thought I had been sincerely looking for an answer. Sometimes I still think that I was sincere in my search, because how could I try so much without being sincere?
But in spite of all of those prayers, I was still wrong.
Like I said before, I’ve seen proof that prayer works. A lot of it. But I couldn’t figure out why, in this case, it seemed to have backfired.
I should say that as time passed, I realized that it was a very good thing that I was wrong. The situation I was praying about would not have turned out well had I stuck with it the way I thought I was supposed to.
So clearly, God knew what He was doing when He let me know I was wrong.
I just wish I understood better why I thought I was so right.
Have you ever experienced something like this? If so, I hope you will share your experience. First, because you aren’t alone in feeling that way, and sharing your experience will help you see that. And second, because I know I could really benefit from a discussion about why this happens.
I mean, since this experience, I sometimes struggle to accept answers I receive when I pray about important things because I’m not sure if I’m actually interpreting my feelings and impressions correctly.
Then again, my mom has told me many times that I overthink and overanalyze things way too much. This might be one of those things.
But even though I do sometimes struggle with prayer, there are some things that I think could help me, and maybe you, to feel better about our prayers:
- Remember that God loves us and has our best interests at heart. I do absolutely believe this. Again, too much proof in my life to be able to believe otherwise. And I think that remembering this relationship helps me trust God and His plan, and therefore, His answers to my prayers.
- Recognize that God’s answers aren’t always what we expect. God gives us what we want – when it brings us closer to Him and His plan. But He also gives us things we don’t want. (For more on this, I recommend reading “By Divine Design,” by Elder Ronald A. Rasband.)
- Acknowledge that we don’t know everything. This can be a toughy. I don’t like to be wrong. My family would not hesitate to confirm this to anyone who asked. But I don’t know everything. That’s just part of being human. God, being God, does know everything, so He probably (read: definitely) has a better idea of what He’s doing than we do.
- Address God like a person. Yes, He is God. And yes, He most certainly deserves the highest respect. But He’s also our Father. And if prayer is intended to build our relationship with Him, then we should approach Him in a way that says we want to talk to Him. Prayer really isn’t a chore, after all.
There’s a popular story in the Book of Mormon about a guy who prays for an entire day and night. Literally.
His name was Enos, and while he was hunting it hit him that he wasn’t in a great place spiritually. It hit him so hard, he couldn’t help but pray. He prayed for forgiveness and received it. He prayed for his community, his enemies, and much more. The Lord promised all of the blessings he asked for. (Enos 1)
I think people like this story because it is a big, obvious example of prayer, and it’s exciting to see such a miraculous interaction with God.
I like it because of what Enos says at the beginning of his narrative:
And I will tell you of the wrestle I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.Enos 1:2
Enos’s experience was miraculous and powerful. But it was also difficult, a “wrestle… before God.”
Prayer is work. It isn’t meant to be easy. If it were easy, how would we grow and learn from prayer?
I don’t know why I was so wrong about that answer I thought I received. But I can tell you this – things have worked out for the best because of it.
And maybe I wasn’t willing to see the real answer until it hit me in the face.
Either way, I think I’m starting to see prayer for what it really is – a conversation with a loving Father – rather than as something I’m just checking off my list.
This week, let’s see if we can pray like we’re really talking to our Father.
Have a great week, everyone!