At lunch today, a friend confided in me that is struggling in his communications with God. Try as he might, he finds it hard to focus. His mind immediately begins wandering to other things, and pretty soon his body gets up and follows.
I feel for my friend, because I have been there. I believe fervently in the power of prayer; indeed, I believe it has saved my life. That said, I often struggle with my prayers, finding myself too busy, too distracted, or too distanced from God to engage in meaningful prayer. Often I am so busy mumbling about my hardships that I forget to make them a matter of prayer. Other times I am consistent in my prayers, but I feel they are bouncing against the ceiling and floating back to earth like fallen leaves.
Christ was unequivocal in His commandment to pray “always,” and the Book of Mormon cautions us that the Adversary’s agenda is that we not pray. What to do, then, when our prayers come up empty? There are a few things that have helped me through the rough patches of prayer.
First, it is essential that we remember. Remember what? Start by trying to remember times at which your prayers have taken on greater depth and you felt the nurturing, enlightening presence of the Spirit. Bust out a pen and write some of those moments on a pad of paper or in your journal.. Such remembering will enhance your faith as you realize that this process has worked before and therefore can work again.
Remember also that you are a child of God, and that our Father in Heaven wants to communicate with you. Just as mortal parents draw close to those of their children who are in jeopardy, our Heavenly Father listens most closely to His children who are in despair. Remember that He is listening, because that is what He does best.
Second, in is important that we slow down and quiet our minds. Sadly, most of us expressly reject the counsel of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon and stubbornly insist on running faster than we have strength. The Holy Ghost is not likely to engage in a shouting contest to get our attention. The still, small voice requires plenty of attention in order to be heard. This is why I combine my prayers with my meditation practice: If I am going to place a call on a celestial phone, I need to first turn down the terrestrial radio. If we can be still, we will see and feel the reality of God.
Third, we must have patience. Perseverance bears blessings of its own. The struggle to communicate with God forces us to examine our hearts closely, to make sure we are open to answers to our prayers and willing to act on them when they are received. It requires that we develop a deeper trust in God, believing and hoping that He is there in the dark with us. Paradoxically, it makes the weakness of our prayers a matter for prayer.
I believe that our Father in Heaven longs to communicate with us. He does not expect us to struggle in isolation. He has answered my prayers and the prayers of those on my family’s behalf in such a way that to deny the power of prayer would be, for me, absurd. In the moments when praying is difficult for me, and those moments come more often than is to my liking, I trust that past rescues portend answered prayers in the future. I press forward, knowing that even if I cannot see it, His hand is outstretched to me still.