I remember being a child and saying my bedtime prayers. I'm sure there was some variation, but I remember asking for 3 specific things every night. One was “please don't let there be a tornado.” One was “please don't let our house burn down.” and the third was “please forgive me for everything I did wrong today.”
Now, there was certainly an element of faith shown in my prayers as a child. I knew Heavenly Father was there. I knew He was all powerful and could help in any situation. I knew I could ask for His help, and I didn't doubt that He could give it to me. I knew the atonement was real and that I could be forgiven of my sins, and I sincerely desired to be forgiven. These were all great building blocks, but I have learned that prayer is much more than a wish list and a catch-all. I have come to learn that there is so much more to prayer than I realized as a child.
To understand the great power that prayer can provide in our lives, we must understand our relationship with Heavenly Father. We know that God is the father of our spirits. He loves us more than we can understand, and He has the strength, direction, knowledge, peace, and power that we need to successfully navigate this life. What's more, it is His deepest desire to share those with us, so that we may one day return to HIm, clean and worthy.
Revelation 3:20 reads:
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Our Heavenly Father loves us and values us so greatly, that He will not force anything upon us. He will knock. He will invite us to open up to Him, and He will stand, ready and waiting for us. When we pray to our Father, we are opening the door that will allow Him into our lives.
Now there is an entire spectrum of prayer, as I'm sure we all have experienced. Sometimes our prayers are those of immediate needs that we desire help meeting. Sometimes they are prayers of repentance and sorrow for mistakes. Sometimes they are prayers of gratitude. Sometimes they are sincere, and other times they are hurried and said out of duty. I have learned that the quality and sincerity of our prayers determines how much we are opening the door to our Father. If we can understand how to fully open that door, He will, like the scripture in Revelation said, “come in unto [us], and will sup with [us], and [we] with [him]. “
I have been a member of the church all my life, and was taught to love Heavenly Father and to pray to Him. As an adolescent and as an adult, I rarely, if ever, missed a morning or evening prayer to my Heavenly Father. So when I was asked to speak on prayer a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I had it down pat. After all, I was consistent and dedicated in saying prayers, a real prayer veteran, if you will. But that evening after life calmed down at our house and my children were all tucked into bed, I finally had a few moments of quiet to myself, and a thought came to me, “Okay. Now you need to figure out what sincere prayer really is so you can actually know what you're talking about.” The thought surprised me, because I was pretty confident that I knew what prayer was all about. But I then felt impressed to spend 20 minutes sharing my thoughts and feelings with my Heavenly Father, and then to spend 10 minutes listening for what He might have to say to me, and to write it down. So I did. And I have done it every day since, and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
If I were to sum up what I have learned through this experience, it would be that prayer is really about connecting with our Father in Heaven. I feel like I knew that before, but I didn't truly understand it.
Our lives are busy. They are wonderful and difficult and full of both little tasks that must be accomplished and large eternal goals that we must strive towards. We love others, and carry their worries and burdens on our shoulders along with our own. We learn and succeed and fail miserably and get up the next day to do it all again. Our Heavenly Father knows this. He knows each of us by name, and knows perfectly the struggles we face and the burdens we carry. He stands at the door, ready to help. And oh, what help He can give, if we will take some time to connect with Him!
I have come to imagine that I have a pitcher inside of me, and I feel that it is always full. Sometimes it is full of gratitude. Other times it is full of worry. Sometimes it is full of confusion. Sometimes it is full of faith. Most of the time, it is a great big mix of all of these things and more.
In the Book of Mormon, in Mosiah chapter 24 verse 12, the people of Alma “did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.”
We approach our Father in prayer not to inform Him about our lives—He already knows us perfectly—but to pour out our full pitchers to Him. As we pour out our joys, our concerns, our confusions, our pain, our gratitude to Him, we forge a connection with Him, and He, in turn, can fill us with something infinitely better.
Doctrine and Covenants section 19 verses 38 and 39 reads
“ Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth...Behold, canst thou read this without rejoicing and lifting up thy heart for gladness?”
I have experienced this great blessing in my life. As I have connected with my Heavenly Father and poured out my heart to Him, He has poured out His spirit upon me in countless ways, that there has not been room enough to receive” the blessings. I can testify that it is indeed greater than if I had obtained treasures of earth, and I have felt so much joy because of it.
Here are a few of the specific ways over the past 2 weeks that I have felt the Father's inspiration as I have listened for His direction:
Sometimes I have felt sweet assurances that I am His daughter, that I am just right for the challenges before me, that I am capable and that He loves me and will help me.
Sometimes I have felt specific answers come to questions I have asked, that come in the form of an idea, like a little flash of inspiration, and then I know what to do or say or change.
Sometimes I have felt him teach me as a feeling, without words, who I really am, how He feels about me, and how I should feel about myself.
Sometimes I have felt the need to repent, and have had specific moments brought to my mind that help me realize my error and how I must change.
Sometimes He has helped me realize where I can go to find answers or help or strength and helped urge me to go and find it.
Sometimes He has taught me about the Savior and His role in my life.
Sometimes he has brought words of scripture or words of a hymn to my mind to answer or comfort me.
The way, however, that He has most often spoken to me is through a feeling of love and peace and warmth.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson likened it to sitting by a fire and feeling its warmth. He said,
“I think that is a lovely metaphor—just sit with the Lord and let Him warm you like a fire in winter. You don’t have to be perfect or the greatest person who ever graced the earth or the best of anything to be with Him.
I hope you will take time...to sit for a few quiet moments and let the Savior's Spirit warm you and reassure you of the worthiness of your service, of your offering, of your life. Sit quietly with [Him] and come away spiritually strengthened and better prepared for all that is going to come later. Let that moment be one of rest and refreshing and reassurance and renewal.”
I love that metaphor, and it rings true for me. As I have sat with my Father, just feeling and listening and enjoying His presence, I have come away feeling warmed, prepared, refreshed. I have come away with a far greater gift than I could have thought to ask for.
In each of these cases where I felt the Father's presence during my prayers, if I had not taken the time to open that door, and to open it wide enough to let my Father in, and if I had not made room in my heart for Him, I would not have received that precious direction and knowledge. Our Father will give us as much as we will allow Him to give us. The amount is up to us to decide, and we make that known to Him through our actions.
So now that we have talked a little about what it means to connect with our Father and what blessings can come from it, I wanted to talk about what I feel are the three important steps associated with it. First, establish that connection with our Heavenly Father. Second, keep the connection. And third, Let it change you.
First, what does connecting with Heavenly Father look like in practice? For me, it didn't necessarily take the place of the regular morning or evening prayer, but it was me setting aside some time in my day when I could spend time with my Heavenly Father without distraction. Sometimes I spent that 20 minutes on my knees in my bedroom. Sometimes I sat quietly by myself somewhere. Sometimes I was doing chores alone and talked with Him then. Sometimes I did it while I was mowing the lawn. Think about how we would build a relationship with our earthly father—spending time talking together! They wouldn't care where or when, and neither does He. We can connect with Heavenly Father in our lives by opening up our hearts to Him anywhere and at any time. However it requires that we give Him the attention and focus of our minds and hearts. After I poured out my heart to Him, I would find a quiet place to sit for a while and listen for His answers and inspiration.
Find a time where you can spend an extended period of time connecting with your Heavenly Father, even if it's not a time where you are necessarily kneeling in prayer. It can be out loud or whispered or thought. It can be anywhere. When you run out of things to say, start thanking Him for things, and I guarantee more things will come to your mind to talk about. When I pray to Him, I imagine Him sitting next to me, with His arm around me, as a loving father would. Picture Him. Try to imagine what He looks like. Imagine Him there with you. When you listen for His answers, remember that they might come as feelings. Think about those feelings and try to examine them. Enjoy that feeling of warming yourself in your Heavenly Father's presence. Then take time to write down your thoughts and impressions.
Second, Keep the connection. As I have felt that closeness to my Heavenly Father, I have noticed something—it feels so familiar to my soul to draw near to Him. I feel a comfort and peace that simply feels like home. This makes sense to me, as we all lived in our Father's presence before coming to earth. We knew Him there, we felt of His love and we learned of His plan. I am convinced that we knew Him well. If our earth life is just a small moment in eternity, then it makes sense that, eternally, feeling our Father's presence is the rule, not the exception. The natural state of our soul is to be connected to Him. We must learn to seek after Him, to take the necessary steps in our lives to connect with our Father and then to cleave unto that connection.
Jeremiah 29:13 says
As we develop a love for our Father and a deep desire to find Him, and to be with Him, we will find Him. We will enjoy that feeling of coming home, spiritually, and feel His comfort and peace in our lives. Feeling that connection should not be a rare occurrence, but a regular feeling in our lives. As we come to realize this, we deepen our understanding of who we are as children of God, that we have a right to be connected with Him, and we will do all that we can to keep that connection vibrant in our lives.
As we make this connection a habit in our lives, something wonderful begins to happen. We begin to recognize when we are missing those feelings of peace and love and comfort, and we are ready to do something about it so that we can restore those feelings.
In Alma 32:14 it reads:
“And now, as I said unto you, that because ye were compelled to be humble ye were blessed, do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?”
We will be more blessed as we develop this habit in our lives—as we humble ourselves and compel ourselves to repent and align ourselves with our Father, so that we can fully enjoy his presence in our lives. This cycle will repeat itself again and again, and we will find that we are able to keep ourselves connected to our Heavenly Father.
Third, let it change you. When I was a junior in high school, I moved from my hometown in Michigan to Eagle, Idaho. It was a big change for me, and I felt unsure of myself as I struggled to build a new life with new friends. I met a few girls who became my friends, but it was an emotionally and spiritually exhausting time. I felt that I was always refereeing arguments, helping them fix problems, trying to help them stay on the right path and trying to be a good friend to them, and I felt glad to help, but at the same time I knew it was not sustainable, because I felt constantly upset and depleted. My mother noticed my exhaustion and I explained the situation to her. As she talked with me, she used an analogy likening friends to pitchers or sponges. We are a bowl, and our friends are either sucking up our water, like a sponge, or pouring more in, like a pitcher. She encouraged me to look for friends who were pour water into my bowl, not deplete it. She was right, but I still didn't know where to find such friends.
After this had gone on for a few months and a new semester in school rolled around, I found myself sitting in a new class next to a girl named Kristen. She was friendly and kind, and before long she and her friends were inviting me to spend time with them. That wonderful group of friends changed my life. They worked hard to do what was right. They were smart and funny and kind. They were uplifting. Suddenly I was being filled! I could pour water into others' bowls without a care—I could even handle some sponge friends, too—because I, in turn was having others fill my bowl. I felt whole and happy and capable, ready for whatever life had to throw at me, because I was constantly renewed emotionally, and if I ever had a day where I was feeling depleted., I had wonderful friends to help fill me up again. These wonderful girls became my roommates when I went to college at BYU, my bridesmaids, my friends as a young mom, and are still my friends today.
I tell you this story to illustrate a point. Being renewed in spirit will change us from night to day! Our Heavenly Father is the perfect example of a faithful friend who will always be ready to fill us again. If we will draw near unto Him through sincere prayer, we can be whole and happy and capable, armed with a knowledge that we can serve and fill others, always returning to our Father to be filled again. If we will adhere to this process, it will change us! We will progress towards our potential to become like our Father in Heaven.
Yesterday as I sat and watched my children's' swimming lessons, I noticed a mother and a little girl. The mother had brought the girl to her swimming lessons and the girl was ready to go in her swim suit and goggles. Her mother asked her to get in the pool. She refused. Her mother urged her again, even walking to the side of the pool with her. Still she would not get in. She dipped her toes in the water but continued to refuse to get in the pool. The mother calmly argued her point. “But we paid for these swimming lessons so you could learn to swim, and if you won't get in the pool, how will you ever learn to swim?” “You can do it, I know you can! You teacher is right there to help you!” This went on and on. Finally, the little girl entered the pool, but would only go on the stairs, and she stayed seated on the top stair until it was time to go home.
It occurred to me that we are often like this little girl. Our loving Heavenly Father wants us to learn to swim. He cannot force us to learn, and he cannot practice the skills for us, but he has prepared the pool, the teachers, the life guards, the floaties, the goggles. He gently asks us to get in the pool and learn how to swim. He does not require that we figure it out on our own, he has provided every means for us to learn what we need to learn, if we will just jump in and get to work learning. Jump in the pool! Leave the comfort of the stairs, even if it feels scary. As we turn to our Father in sincere prayer and maintain that connection with him, through our daily efforts, He will guide us! Our leaders will teach us the techniques and the strokes, if we will listen to them. They will teach us the dangers that we may face and what to do in those situations. As we practice those skills, we will, over time, learn to swim so well that it becomes second nature to us. All the while, our Father is there ready with a watchful eye, anxious to help, to advise, to comfort, to encourage, to celebrate with us. He is never far away, if we will but open the door to Him, and keep it open.
In conclusion, I want to leave you with a passage from my journal, speaking of my experiment with sincere prayer:
“I have felt such an incredible connection with my Father in Heaven. As I have poured out my feelings to Him, He has laid my burdens upon His own shoulders. I feel light and happy and determined. He has filled me with peace and with understanding, and I am so very grateful. When I have struggled, He has lead me to comfort and to help. I have seen His had in my life and I have felt His love in abundance.”
I testify that as we make the effort to connect with our Father through sincere prayer, keep that connection vibrant in our lives, and allow it to change us, we will be blessed above measure. We will have all that we need. As we pour out our hearts to Him, they will be filled again, “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over”. We will feel his love permeating our lives, and we will have the capacity and desire to go out and share it.