I tried an experiment this 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.
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'd been praying 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 was frustrated and angry. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I grabbed a piece of paper and made a list of my failures. There must have been twenty things on my list before I gave up on it. 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 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.” One grateful prayer wasn’t enough to turn my attitude around. I needed to set a goal that would make an impact. I decided I wouldn’t ask God for anything for the next four weeks. It wasn’t simply a good idea, or something to try. This was an answer to an accumulation of two months of prayers.
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 the 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. 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 had to think of things I was grateful for like medicine, the ability to walk, the sunshine coming through my window, and a husband to help me.
I 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 be pleased with my performance.
Something changed. Even though I'd been sick and day to day life continued with its ever present challenges, I noticed miracles happening. Peace was more constant and more accessible. It was easier to let go of hurt feelings or things that caused 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.”
There are many reasons to pray. The most important reason is to understand God’s will. He already knows what I need. He answers my prayers with what is best for me. With what will humble, strengthen, and refine me.
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.