Learning to Pray

I was raised Roman Catholic but my religious education in that faith was not very extensive. My Mom enrolled me in the religious classes offered by the local parish to the Catholic students of the nearby public school I attended, and I attended mass most Sundays with my family, but I don’t remember scripture reading and family or individual prayer as a child, or the other practices I associate now with a religious upbringing. Prayer, from my childhood experience, was the recitation of Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s.

When I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I started to see prayer in a different light. The Latter-day Saint teaching, probably not unlike many other Christian denominations or even non-Christian faiths, was for me centered on communicating and building a relationship with Our Heavenly Father. I found this idea to be very appealing. I’ve also found having consistent meaningful prayer, or leading a prayerful life, to be much harder in practice than in theory.

Too often I think we can take this very simple but profound concept, communicating and building a relationship with Our Heavenly Father, and constrain it with so many rules that the whole endeavor becomes more a burden than a blessing.

Even the use of the term prayer can be a stumbling block for some. To me, there is more common ground than differences between prayer, meditation, pondering, collecting one’s thoughts, listening for the still, small voice, decompressing, or even perhaps just “chilling out.” Prayer can be seen as a form of engaging your mind in a fuller appreciation of the wonders of Creation, or the universe, or natural world, if you prefer.

The issue of who we pray to can also needlessly become a source of contention. When I pray, as I’ve said previously, I pray to Our Heavenly Father. The “Our” signifies that the being to which I pray is not just my personal deity, but ours collectively. This being is not just there for me personally, but for everyone. This being is not just there to serve my wants and needs, and to enlighten me, but to serve everyone’s wants and needs, and to enlighten all of us. The “Heavenly” distinguishes the Father I am praying to from any earthly, or biological Father, whether my literal biological father or any figurative earthly father. I don’t pray to any man or woman. Finally, the “Father” signifies that this being to which I pray is the creator of my being. Some may have an issue with praying to a being identified with the male gender, as opposed to the female gender or a gender-neutral identifier. To that I have no answer other than this is what I feel most comfortable with.

Others may certainly pray using signifiers or names other than Our Heavenly Father. I don’t claim my preference as the only acceptable one. Others may use God, Lord, Creator, Jehovah, Allah, the First Principle, Divine Truth, any number of appellations. I can’t imagine that Our Heavenly Father is offended when one of his children, from the vast and myriad peoples of various languages and religions who inhabit this planet, uses a name different from my own chosen name for Him. Our Heavenly Father knows His children’s voices, and to whom they seek guidance.

I also don’t imagine that Our Heavenly Father is overly concerned about the words we use when we’re learning to pray. Certainly at a minimum our prayers should be as sincere as possible. The words we use should be our words and convey our thoughts and what we individually feel the need to communicate with Our Heavenly Father. But Our Heavenly Father will forgive us if the language we use lacks sophistication and demonstrates our humble origins, or ignorance of religious norms. Our Heavenly Father prefers sincerity and humility over proper form and prayer etiquette. Audible words or even a silent prayer in our hearts aren’t even necessary to be prayerful when communicating with Our Heavenly Father. Just as any attentive parent can at times know the thoughts and needs of their child without the child speaking a word, Our Heavenly Father knows more about us than we know about ourselves and we can communicate that without words, as He can communicate to us in many different ways.

Likewise, I don’t see that how we position our bodies during prayer is critical. Some may kneel, some stand, some sit, bow or prostrate themselves. Some may do any or all of the above and more. Some may not have any set positioning when they pray. Our Heavenly Father is not as concerned about these sort of issues as we may be. Personally, I’ve tried to pray while kneeling and I find it distracting. My knees ache and I have a hard time maintaining a comfortable position for any length of time. And I can’t even fathom putting my body in the lotus position. The position recently I feel most comfortable in while praying is laying on my back on the hard wood floor in my bedroom. The position is surprisingly comfortable and I like that the position requires minimum effort to maintain, simply breathing and pumping blood through my body. The hard wood floor keeps me from drifting off to sleep, unlike laying in bed. And I feel open to Our Heavenly Father’s instruction while laying on my back, versus crouched in submission.

Prayer is a matter of personal preference. Certainly, for each of us there are less effective versus more effective ways to pray. But Our Heavenly Father wants for each of us to come to Him, to seek Him out, to engage with Him. Our Heavenly Father will not punish us for our clumsiness, misconceptions, or inarticulate ways. He is there to help, not hinder, building our relationship with Him.