I prayed today. Scratch that, as an afterthought on my way to dinner, I let God know that if He wanted me to learn something, let alone go to institute, He’d have to lead me in that direction. That may sound harsh, but that’s been my relationship with God for the past few years. I want His peace and assurance, the feeling of being close to Him and occasional promptings to help out my fellow man. In return I follow those promptings, try to follow all of His commandments, and try to be a decent human being.
I was talking with a friend about this a little while ago. We talked about how before our missions we were pretty close to perfect. We had a burning testimony, we did Personal Progress, we went to seminary every day, and our lives were constantly filled with good things. During the mission our patience was tried and we testified of Christ every day. I prayed over and over multiple times a day. Ever since we’ve been home we’ve felt a lull, and maybe it’s because we will never make it back to the spiritual high we were on during our missions.
I dragged myself to institute (fashionably late) and there was only one class that caught my attention. It happened to be Christ-Like Attributes. The room was freezing, I came in half way through the lesson, and one of the other classes kept blaring distracting music down the hallway. While sitting there, I realized I’d never come to this class in the year that I’ve been attending this institute. I always go to the same classes and rarely go anywhere else. However none of the other classes interested me and this one for some reason stuck out. They had us rate ourselves from a page in Preach My Gospel on attributes that the Savior had. I remember taking this same test in institute at one point and I had a near perfect score.
Today however, I had the opposite answers. One of the questions talks about praying twice a day. I thought to myself, “I rarely pray once a day, unless I really need something.” I felt really stupid and foolish for going to this class and letting myself fall so far from where I used to be. However, as we discussed it, apparently everyone was feeling pretty close to exactly what I was feeling. I realized maybe I hadn’t fallen as far as I thought I had.
What impressed me even more is that even though I realized I didn’t score as high as I once did, I felt like the Lord was patiently still standing by waiting for me to ask for His help. He wasn’t going to force me to be a patient person. He wasn’t going to make me have charity for those around me. He was happy with my halfhearted prayer in the car, because at least I still wanted to talk to Him.
As I drove home I thought of the last 2 ½ years I’ve spent in my apartment. I thought of the handful of times I’ve knelt down in prayer, pleading for my loved ones or for myself to be safe and find comfort. Then I thought a lot about how my prayers usually go. As I lay down to go to sleep my mind is usually racing and I get nervous and can’t turn off my brain. However if I lay there in the darkness and focus my thoughts on the Lord, and tell him about my day, I start to feel calm and eventually at some point of my prayer fall asleep. I can’t fall asleep unless I pray, and that’s the only way I could find to fall asleep after coming home from my mission. However, back then I didn’t want to hear what the Lord had to say. I wanted Him to know I was thankful, but I didn’t have the heart or energy for Him to give me tasks to do. I was so focused on saving myself, that I couldn’t even fathom helping anyone else. However thinking about it now, He let me take things at my own pace. In fact He gave me friends that were going through similar experiences, and that made me realize that I really didn’t have it that bad.
As I was thinking about all of this driving home I saw a girl walking home in the dark and the cold. I pulled over to offer her a ride and realized it was a Taiwanese girl that I had served my mission with. Once again I realized I didn’t have it that bad. The Lord had blessed me with health and with a warm car to get me places, and offer rides to those around me. I asked her if she was going home for Christmas, and she said since all of the Americans were going home, that she’d have to stay here and work to cover their shifts. I was grateful that I have family close by that I get to see all of the time. I was grateful that I didn’t have to come home and do homework, but that I could come home and hang out with friends instead.
My two earliest memories as a child include my mother. The first is that every night when I was young my mother would tuck my sister and I into bed, and she would sing to us the song “I Am A Child of God.” That melody would send me off to sleep. Here is my favorite version of that song I Am A Child of God - April Meservy The second memory probably occurred around the same time. I had woken up from a nightmare, or couldn’t sleep, so I went to my mother’s room. On my way there I saw her kneeling in the darkness by the couch. I went over to her and knelt next to her. She prayed for a VERY long time. Eventually I nuzzled my way underneath her so she was kneeling and praying with me between her and the couch. I don’t know how long we stayed there, but I know that I felt peace and safety.
Lately when I think about praying, especially in front of people, I have a hard time because I don’t care that the food “nourishes and strengthens our bodies.” I want each of my prayers to be real and thought out. I want to actually mean what I say. I read a story once from a woman who prayed daily. She prayed the way I was taught to pray, and never thought much of it. She met a woman of another faith and her whole world changed when she heard this woman pray. This woman prayed as if she was talking to a friend. That’s how I’d like my prayers to be. More open communication and less of me being the only one talking.
I realized that when we pray and ask for things the Lord will give us gifts. It’s almost Christmas time, so I’m going to use a Christmas analogy. When the Lord answers our prayers He gives us gifts. We collect them and stick them under the tree. In my case, I don’t usually really want His help (because I’m being stubborn and trying to show Him how independent I am.) So I accept His gift (because it’s the nice thing to do) and stick it under my tree to open later. However I never open it. I leave them there all year long, piling up. Isn’t that a great analogy? I thought it was. Then I felt foolish for praying for so many things and not actually allowing the Lord to help me with things. I know He does, I have no doubt in my mind that He’s saved my life multiple times, and I’m grateful every time, but I’ve never let Him help me with the little things.
I found this quote today and I’d like to share it here.
God is anxiously waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has. But He can't if you don't pray, and He can't if you don't dream. In short, He can't if you don't believe.” ― Jeffrey R. Holland
Most of the time my prayers may not be the most ethical, and they are prayed as I’m scraping ice off my car in the morning and driving to work, but I know that the Lord is always there for me. He seems to hear a lot more from me in the middle of the night and early hours of the morning then throughout the day, but He’s always patiently waiting and ready to take my call.
I wrote another blog post about a year ago about some of the really cool blessings I’ve seen when I focus in on my prayers and try to visualize actually sitting and talking to the Lord. If you want to take a look at it here is the link Do You Know What Day It Is?