I tried an experiment this past month. I set a goal to focus my prayers specifically on things I’m grateful for and let go of any needs or wants. Here’s a little backstory for this decision.
At the beginning of the year I felt amazing. I had a vision for 2016 and I was going to make it happen. My personal prayers were filled with faith and confidence. I spent January committed to my “to do” list of righteous desires. My vision was grand and surely not misguided, but perhaps it sidestepped some of the lessons God had in mind.
By the end of January none of the things I prayed for were resolved. It seemed like doors were closing right and left. In February my prayers turned to discouragement.
One night during my volunteer shift on the rape crisis line, the phone rang just before 4:00 a.m. There was no question the male voice on the other end was a prank caller. It’s unfortunate there are people that take advantage of this service. I’d never advise anyone to do this, but I don’t think clearly when I’m tired. And I was frustrated and angry. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I grabbed a piece of paper and made a list of all the things I’ve tried and failed at. Specific things I’ve done in the past eighteen months to reach out in the community and let people know I’m willing to serve and feel passionate about helping victims of abuse. There must have been twenty things on my list before I gave up on it. Ugh! By the end of February I wasn’t ready to quit, but I felt empty.
Which puts me at the beginning of March. For my scripture study one Friday morning I read a talk by Elder David A. Bednar titled, “Pray Always”. While reading his words I felt prompted to follow this admonition, “Prayer becomes more meaningful as we express heartfelt gratitude… The most meaningful and spiritual prayers I have experienced contained many expressions of thanks and few, if any, requests.” (Bender, David A. Pray Always. lds.org. General Conference, October 2008. 4 April, 2016). One grateful prayer wasn’t enough to turn my attitude around. I needed to set a goal that would make an impact. I decided for the next four weeks I wouldn’t ask God for anything. It wasn’t simply a good idea, or something to try. This was an answer to an accumulation of two months of prayers. I was excited to have something to focus my efforts on.
I started that night. I knelt down. It was easy to think of many things I was grateful for. But when the next day presented a minor crisis, the first thing I wanted to do was beg for help from above. Instead I searched for something positive to learn from that day.
The following week came and each personal or family prayer I offered, I had to pause and think carefully about my words. Even when I was asked to offer the closing prayer in Sunday School I kept my focus on gratitude.
One week into my experiment I got very sick. In the morning I noticed my foot was feeling tender and by the evening I couldn’t walk. The doctor said I had a staph infection. The infection, along with being pumped full of antibiotics, knocked me out. I was useless for about eight days. Still I chose to think of things I was grateful for like medicine, the ability to walk, the sunshine, a husband to help me.
I began to put more thought into my prayers and the way I talk to God. If I needed something I rephrased my words as to not be asking but giving. For help preparing a musical number I expressed gratitude for my talent and how music has blessed my life. It was more important that I play the piano to aid the Spirit in our Sunday meetings than to play every note perfect.
My son had his camping gear packed and ready to go, but a few hours before departure he felt uneasy about the two day trip planned with his scout troop. We agreed he should make it a matter of prayer. I thanked God my son had the desire to receive inspiration. I left the asking to him and trusted his decision.
Something began to change. Even though I had been sick and day to day life continued with its ever present challenges, I noticed miracles happening for me daily. Peace was more constant and more accessible. It was easier to let go of hurt feelings or things that cause stress. “We notice… there are occasions where normally we would have a tendency to speak harshly, and we do not; or we might be inclined to anger, but we are not.” (Bender, David A. Pray Always. lds.org. General Conference, October 2008. 4 April, 2016)
I’m super excited to take my first trip out of the country. I walked through the door at my local post office at 2:53 p.m. with passport applications for myself and the kids. A postal worker pointed at me, “You’re number five in line”. I had no idea they started taking applications at 3:00 p.m. It was a small miracle I just happened to walk through the door at the right time. “The children’s father has to be present to submit their application,” I was told by another postal worker. I quickly called my husband and he left work to meet me. Just as the next agent became available, my sweet husband walked through the door. We were able to submit our applications without any trouble.
This may seem like a simple example. That’s why I call it a small miracle, but it was significant to me. It took all afternoon to fill out applications and print the right size pictures. And I was still on antibiotics that day. This situation could have turned into a disaster. Or I simply may not have recognized it as a miracle had it not been for my experiment.
There are many reasons to pray. The most important reason is to understand God’s will. He already knows what I need. In the past He has answered my prayers with what was best for me, not necessarily the thing I asked for. I may have righteous desires, but He knows how to refine. His way is always by small and simple means.
Moving forward I’ll be more thoughtful about what I’m grateful for and more careful about what I ask for. It’s no exaggeration to say this experiment has changed my life. But my life has been changed many times.