Monday, August 19, 2013

How To Pray

When I was around eleven years old, my Sunday School teacher gave a profound lesson about prayer that stuck with me for a very long time.  It just happened to pop into my head today.

He was teaching us how to organize our prayers and explained that, after beginning by respectfully addressing God the Father, we needed to express gratitude before asking for anything.  He illustrated his point by role-playing how the beginning of our class could have gone.

TEACHER:  Good morning, Danny, it's great to see you.  How are you?
DANNY:  Um...good, thanks.
TEACHER:  I'm glad to hear that. Would you mind saying the opening prayer for us?

Our teacher then proclaimed that, if Danny hadn't wanted to give the opening prayer before, he was more inclined to give it now, after he'd been treated so nicely.  This immediately clicked with me--it made so much sense!  Of course that's how you should organize your personal prayers!  How could it have ever been any other way?

I have two problems with this.

First, that makes God sound like a little snot-nosed brat that you need to butter up before you can expect him to lift a finger.  If he's an omniscient, benevolent God (like we'd been taught he was), he shouldn't be the kind of being to require brown-nosing.

Second, why the hell was he teaching us the "correct" way to pray?  This was the last year before I was given the Priesthood--we weren't toddlers anymore.  Why was he wasting time teaching almost-deacons stuff that really has no value?  Is God going to return your prayer, marked insufficient postage, because you asked for help before you thanked him for your family?  This is the equivalent of an English teacher focusing her class on proper citation of references and skipping the vocabulary and the grammar.

But then again, the church does have a thing for focusing on superfluous exactness.  The sacrament prayer has to be exactly right or it doesn't count.  There is a precise limit to the number of earrings you can wear.  And the debate about whether caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom rages on.

None of that seems right to me.


  1. I don't get prayer. I never did. I'm not a disrespectful person, and I am very grateful for all I have (my "blessings"). However, there are many things regarding prayer that just don't work for me.

    First, I was always taught to imagine who I'm praying to. Think of God as a man. I couldn't do that. As soon as I started that imagining, my mind would wander off onto the next ball game, a toy, food, girls, etc. I probably have ADD, so I could never focus long enough to get out one sentence let alone concentrate on receiving an answer. I would usually fall asleep in the middle of my personal prayers, and of course, that couldn't have made God happy with billions of other people to listen to at the same time.

    Second, as a missionary, we taught people how to use the 4 steps of prayer. 1) Address Father in Heaven, 2) Say what you're thankful for, 3) ask him for what you want, and 4) Close in the name of Jesus Christ. That's fine, but I had the same problem you have. I think if you're respectful, why does any order matter. Why do we have to kiss up to him. What all this correct order/manner stuff does is put the responsibility on you. If your prayer isn't "answered," then it was because you didn't pray right or lacked humility. If God doesn't answer your prayer, is he going to tell you he's not going to answer it? No it just goes unanswered, and you are left to wonder why, beg, plead, kiss up, and suffer.

    Third, I always hated being called on to pray. I'll offer to pray if I want to, and I find that I almost always don't want to. Well, now I just don't.

    Fourth, Mormon prayers have become pretty much "cookie cutter" like most everything else. They have become routine and insincere. I usually feel like a lot of people who pray are trying to show off their "prayer skills." Many others just go through the standard checklist. In fact, if they would just give us a checklist to read off as we go, it would make things a lot easier.

    Heavenly father
    Dear Father in Heaven
    Our most gracious...

    We are thankful for:
    our many blessings
    this day
    our families
    our ward
    our leaders
    our prophet
    our missionaries
    the weather
    the moisture
    our teachers
    the speakers
    the spirit that is with us...

    Please bless:

    the prophet
    the missionaries
    the bishop and other leaders
    the speakers
    our teachers
    the do us the good we need
    the hands that prepared it
    the refreshments
    those who are sick and can't be with us today...

    Help us
    to get home safely
    to feel the spirit
    to do the things we should
    to choose the right...

    In the name of Jesus Christ

    I wonder if my prayer checklist idea would sell at Deseret Book. They'll sell anything to gullible Mormons to make a a bucks.

    1. I bet if you make that into a poster with cute illustrations of reverent children around the edges it'll become a staple for primary classes in no time!