Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Struggle with Formal Prayers

One of the reasons I scheduled "refocus on prayer and fasting" for this November, after this month's focus on prayer is that I always have struggled to pray formally and daily on a personal level. For as long as I can remember, I have had a hard time kneeling alone and praying verbally. For most of my life I didn't understand why, and, although I tried to recommit numerous times, I never could "conquer" that particular habit. My struggle continued through various church callings, including stints in a Stake Mission Presidency, as a Ward Mission Leader, in a Bishopric and to this day as a High Councilor. I still have a hard time, but now, at least, I understand why.

I have struggled with "formal prayer" all my life, largely because I have not struggled with "informal prayer" at any point in my life. All my life, I have prayed regularly; it simply has not been on my knees and vocally, on a set schedule. I naturally commune with God; I just do it silently, in my own head. I understand the following passage from Amulek in Alma 34:18-27, since it resonates with my own experience:

18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
23 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

I truly do naturally have a prayer in my heart always, and I truly do pray by actually forming words in my mind often throughout each day. I struggle, however, to vocalize those prayers and to offer them in a formal manner. I have reached a degree of peace with that conflict, since I believe it is more important THAT I pray than HOW I pray, but I still am not comfortable completely with my inability to remember and schedule formal prayers. I see it as a weakness that I still have to overcome, even as I see my tendency to pray "continually" as a great strength.

Last year, as I was contemplating this irony, it struck me that it has been easy to excuse my difficulty with formal prayer by thinking what I do (pray continually) is obeying a higher law - that if I have to choose one or the other, it is better to pray as I do than as I don't. I actually believe that, but I have come to realize that I still don't pray "completely, wholly and in a fully developed manner". In other words, I don't pray perfectly yet. That is the goal for which I am striving this month - not necessarily to pray perfectly by the end of the month, but rather to be able to learn to pray more completely by finally praying more consistently in a formal manner - hopefully once each day, but at the very least in a manner than can be considered "regularly".

I have no driving desire right now to do more than that, and, honestly, I'm not sure I ever will - since I truly am satisfied overall with the way and regularity with which I pray. All I know is that I need to learn to pray formally (and, perhaps, vocally) more easily than I currently do.


ConservativeRepublican said...

I've always had a problem with getting down on my knees and praying when I'm alone. And yeah, doing it on a set schedule doesn't work for me either. That having been said, the prayers I say quietly are usually fairly structured.

The general form:

Dear God/Heavenly Father (It really alternates between the two about 50/50. My baptist and mormon influences combining again. )

What I'm thankful for

Content and needs

In Jesus' name, Amen

I don't mean to suggest by the above that most of the prayer is robotic. During the 'content' portion of the prayer, I'll often get very personal, and that's when things might get a little chaotic and less formal. I think of God as both a friend and a father, so I'll cry, laugh, get angry, and have a bunch of emotions during my conversation with the Father. It works remarkably well for me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. It brings up some good points about prayer.

Meaningful prayer isn't easy. I think that is why the scripture refer to prayer using words that describe work and effort:

1. crying unto the Lord
2. mighty prayer
3. laboring in the Spirit
4. wrestle

I've tried to do as Amulek counsels and pray three times a day formally and then have a continuous prayer in my heart through out the day.

I think the bottom line for each of us isn't so much how or where we pray, but are we receiving and recognizing the Lord's answers.

One additional thought, our education, church callings, and success in our fields don't give us the advantage we'd like to think they do when we're seeking a blessing from the Lord. In fact Elder McConkie even suggested they may get in the way.

I think it is important to view ourselves as unworthy and in need of repentance when we approach the Lord (Alma 38:14).

It's natural for us as fallen beings to draw near to the Lord when things are difficult, but when things are going well we get caught up in the things of the world and quickly forget the Lord. That's when pride slips in to our souls and we become slothful (D&C 101:8, D&C 30:1-2)

bwebster said...

I could have written that post, almost verbatim (and have come close to doing so a few times). On the other hand, I must confess that I sometimes avoid kneeling prayer in the morning because I plan to use my day in less-than-productive ways. (Explanation: I work at home and often don't have that much to do in the way of work. But there's always plenty to do around the house, and I can always write. But sometimes I just want to sit around and read, etc.) So I find myself avoiding morning prayer to avoid getting nudged in certain directions. Sad, but true. :-) ..bruce..

Christy said...

This is a weakness for me too. Although I have gotten much better (but certainly not perfect) about praying morning and night regularly, my prayers are very short, but intense (at least they seem that way to me). I found Elder Bednar's talk on prayer very helpful (as I've said many times, I know). I think I need to re-read it because I have gotten away from it. Thanks for the reminder.

Stephen said...

That was an interesting perspective.

Anonymous said...

I totally understand your post and this was a problem for me until I got excommunicated.
The problem was that I had come to such a degree of "intimacy" with God that I just did not feel the point of kneeling. Then it drove me to the feeling that I had not accomplished anything by myself and really wanted to prove myself and to know what I was capable of by myself but this is my long and complicated story.
It is kind of like living in your parents home. They know you love them, they know you communicate with them, they know you, it is ok. They don't need evidence of your affection.
In France we "kiss good morning" members of our family as well as we "kiss good night" before we go in our bedroom. This is right before we go in our bedroom for good and we don't intend to come back in the living room or the kitchen, a way to say "you won't see me until tomorrow". Not doing it is perceived as being either rude or weird or heartless (unless you really don't do it in your family which may happen) and I see formal prayers as a way to "kiss good morning/good night" our Heavenly Father. It does not mean that I am not going to communicate all day long with Him, it does not mean that I am not going to think of Him. It is a way to show my affection because I take one minute of my time that is 100% for Him and nobody else. The world may explode I am not going to stop my prayer like when you hug someone, you only hug this person.
It is also a time for me to turn to him 100% even if it is to say "dear HF. Too tired tonight. Can't think straight. In the name of J.C, Amen" and having to turn to Him, having to "face Him" in the only way we can "afford" right now on earth forces me to keep myself in check not in the big things (this is easy to do) but in the little ones such as my mood or the spirit I am in.
I see formal prayer also as a way of being polite with God not in a distant way but in a way that shows the respect and gratitude I have for Him and therefore the respect I have for my own divine nature.
I could go on and on about this subject LOL

Papa D said...

Thanks, everyone.

Not to single anyone out, but I just want to thank back&then for the French perspective. I've never looked at it that way, and I really like the imagery.