It doesn’t need to be extraordinary. There doesn’t even need to be a special reason or an overwhelming problem. Sometimes I am just frustrated or uneasy about something. However it comes about, the most sanctifying prayers I have experienced are usually when I just stop, go to my knees, clear out my vocal chords, and seek my Father in Heaven. I start out sort of venting, but eventually I quiet down a little and my soul settles. I feel myself sink into a kind of listening, waiting attitude. A willing reception. A quiet space that I was craving.
It is at this time that thoughts, images, memories, and feelings come to mind that help me to re-evaluate, to understand, to begin to feel differently about myself or the situation. And I kind of work through it with God, talking less, just keeping company with Him, like walking with someone to a new viewpoint. Led by the Holy Spirit, I experience an evolution of thought that brings me a little closer to the truth that my Father sees. Inevitably I submit to a good dose of honest self-evaluation and repentance before I really come full circle.
By the end of the prayer, I am usually wiping tears. My head feels like it’s been “taken off” a little at the top. My heart feels cleaned out and free. And I have found “sweet refreshment” of my soul. When I stand up, the world is still the same old dusty, imperfect, loud world, but I am a little steadier on my feet, and I crave light and truth a little more than I crave all the other things. I feel more truly myself and less like the public mask I often put on in the mornings.
It’s been harder for me recently to have these kind of moments. I know I’m busy, but I was busy before. It makes me think it might have something to do with a destructive interference that interrupts my communication with the Spirit. I’m talking specifically about my phone.
I remember walking across the university campus when cell phones were finally more common than not. Instead of waving at each other as before, students were now on their phones or plugged in. The thought I had was: “Well, with these phones in our pockets, we will probably pray less!” And I don’t think I was wrong. I used to pray when I was trying to meet up with a friend and couldn’t find her. I used to pray when I couldn’t find my way to a building. I used to pray for help to get through traffic on time to an appointment. I used to pray to understand something when I was confused. Now all of those things still happen, but instead of petitioning God, I make a call, use GPS, send a text, or ask Google.
I definitely still say my prayers, but it’s so easy to merely pray as a formality. A duty. I settle for a shallow bucket of enumerated blessings rather than drawing deeply from the well of living water. Sometimes it goes so long between real communion that when I do pray, I feel either desperate or defensive, like I’m begging from a stranger.
On the other hand, I am incredibly familiar with my phone – I hardly even need to look at it to find my various apps, scroll through social media, or send a text. If it’s not sitting near me, I feel its absence. My kids rarely see me without my phone in my hand and have to compete with it to get my attention. I read news, listen to podcasts, manage my calendar, and study my scriptures on my phone. These are not bad things, but cumulatively, they create a kind of noise in my mind, a barrage of information and stimulation, such that I find myself quite uncomfortable when things get too quiet.
Significantly, the best remedy I have found to help me combat this reliance on my phone is prayer. At the beginning of the day, I express my intention to limit my phone use and otherwise leave it plugged in. I ask for God’s help. David Bednar teaches that morning prayers can be like a spiritual creation to the day, kind of the outline or sketch, before being fleshed out in full color. I express my hopes, my concerns and my commitments to be better. Then I feel accountable and also empowered. As Elaine Cannon said: “Having been passive we become active through prayer.” I lean into the day with a little more grit, such that when the prompting comes to play trains with my toddler instead of researching ship lap walls and gray paint palettes, I pick the trains. I am more willing to acknowledge my justifications, to admit my limitations, and to choose “that good part.”
I need to remember how to be okay with quiet, for it is “in the silence of the heart that God speaks.” I need to remember how it feels to sufficiently dwell in a moment of uncertainty so that I can exercise faith. Ultimately, I don’t need quick opinions, how-to’s or entertainment. I need to “draw myself apart,” and satisfy “that quiet and sacred part” of my soul. Says James Faust: “It is that part of us wherein no other soul intrudes. It is that part of us that permits us to come close to the divine, both in and out of this world. This portion of our being is reserved only for ourselves and our Creator; we open the portals thereof when we pray.”
Indeed, we die a little when we block this holy connection with God. Said Mother Teresa: “Prayer is as necessary as the air, as the blood in our bodies, as anything to keep us alive.” And from Martin Luther King Jr.: “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” This must be true, because I can feel it. I can be healthy in body and mind, have a clean, beautiful home, vibrant children, and a loving husband and friends. But without a meaningful connection with God, I begin to wither up inside. It seems essential that I restore this connection. It seems absolutely essential that I pray.