Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Same Old Prayer

My husband and I had an interesting disagreement the other day. He was on the side of "only meaningful prayer" and I, surprisingly enough, found myself defending rote, repetitious prayer. Here's the scoop:

He feels like everytime he turns around it's time for another prayer. We Latter-day Saints are a praying people: personal prayer, breakfast prayer, family prayer, dinner prayer, Family Home Evening opening prayer, Family Home Evening closing prayer, bedtime prayer. Prayer for this, prayer for that. It makes him weary, and it makes him grumble. "If we're just saying the same old thing over and over again, then let's not say it!" he gripes. Let's say fewer, more meaningful prayers.

Now, I know the leaders of the Church have counseled and cautioned about the quality of our communications with God. We should be wary of falling into patterns of 'vain repetition' in our prayers. We should be aware that we actually are communing with Deity, and not just muttering words into space. But as a parent, and even as a human being, I am seeing prayer as being necessary in both quality and quantity.

Teaching a child to pray must start from a very early age. It begins with patterning and routine. A child copies what we do and say, thus the primer prayers we give to our children often keep surfacing even years later when dinner is on the table and they just want to quell the rumbling in their empty tummies: "Please bless this food to nourish and strengthen our bodies."
Or when we don't know what else to say first: "We're thankful for this day." Or last: "Bless us to sleep well. (or go home in safety, etc.)"

And though I will continue to teach my children (and reinforce to myself) that prayer is an active, living communication, and should reflect our most personal, intimate feelings of concern and gratitude, I also defend the 'same old prayer'. Here's why:

Much of what we do we do because we've always done it that way. Patterns and habits have to be put in place in our lives, and that happens purely from repetition. I want my children to feel that they've forgotten something if they begin to eat a meal that has not first been blessed, just like I would want them to feel that they have forgotten something if they accept a birthday gift without first saying 'thank you'. I want them to feel that they're missing something if they lie down to sleep at night without saying their prayers, just as I want them to feel that they are missing something without my kiss and love before they fall asleep. We pray often because we're commanded to, and because it keeps our Heavenly Father on the front burner of our minds. I never want too much time to go by without turning to Him.

There will come a day when my children live outside the walls of the home I have prepared for them. There will come a day when they are lonely, or confused, or angry, or betrayed. There will come a day when the buffetings of the adversary will try to crush them. I hope in that day that they will automatically turn to prayer because that's what they were taught by example. If we only make the effort to pray when we're really feeling meaningful, it's like only taking out the good china for a special occasion. . .that never happens.

In my own life, the quality of my prayers has steadily improved with practice, just as anything else I do improves with practice. I trust it will be the same with my children. But thank goodness my parents taught me to practice! Thank goodness I never had to wonder where to turn or what to do. I do what I have always done, sometimes more meaningfully than others: I pray.


Lori said...

Beautifully said as usual Jenna. I also believe that just as we as parents would never tire of a "phone call" from our children when they leave our homes, Heavenly Father wants to hear from us, even if it is the "same old thing". If I love to hear my children's voices on the other end, how much more does it mean to Him? ;) Love you! Aunt Lori

Unknown said...

hi jenna,

beautiful post again. well said. thanks for the reminder. and it was my pleasure to get to give a talk in Sacrament last sunday on prayer. means so much more to me since my teen daughters ran away last summer. awesome post, felt peaceful to read your words, thanks, kathleen :)

Luisa Perkins said...

Well done, Loveliness. It reminds me of Elder Bednar's talk "Ask in Faith" from April's Conference.

Annette Lyon said...

I hadn't thought of prayer with my kids in quite this light before. I DO hope they leave this house with that habit so ingrained in them that when life's storms hit, they fall to their knees, because that's what they've always done. Thanks for this.

Unknown said...

i love annette's comment!

Lesley said...

There are definitely 2 ways to look at it, and both can be right--but so true that you have to form the habit--something I need to be much better at. Great post.

Andrea "The H family" said...

Hey's 4am and I'm blog stalking. I must've blogged about one of my fav subjects. I love prayer. It's my peace. My biggest prayer is that my son will "Know Him". Love God more than me. Seek Him more than anyone else's counsel. I guess because I went so long drifting..I know Jesus is the only way. Prayer is for me. Pray that your children will understand..prayer is for them. Not anyone else. Yes, it's awesome to pray for people that God leads you to pray for..but at the end of the day..prayer is talking to God. I affirm you in this for sure.

Momo Fali said...

I'm totally on your side. We Catholics pray a lot too.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

I understand his frustration, but I love the point you've made here. So very true!

Laurie said...

I had never taken the time to think prayer through like that. This makes me want to really make prayer a bigger part of our lives. My kids love to pray and if we don't make it through at least 6 prayers a day (one for each kid) then I have tears by the end of the day. I guess I tend to think more like your husband, let's do less and make them meaningful but I think you figured it out. Thank you!