Prayer: Ritualizing the Routine

 

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Art by Nicole De Clerck

When I was a child I kept diaries. In them I would write the secrets of my innermost heart. There was safety in those pages. They were discreet. They didn’t judge. They didn’t rush me to write faster. They never critiqued the length. They never forgot what I said.

Over time my journal writing changed to “journal typing” on the computer. This transitioned to keeping a personal blog, and that changed everything. Although I have never experienced any negativity in that medium, I censor myself in a way I didn’t in private journals. It’s only natural. On rare occasions I’ve encountered bloggers who write anything and everything, despite the risk of being criticized on their own page, but I think most bloggers write through the filter of wondering how their writing will be received.

People like myself, who call ourselves “writers,” do so not because we are published or renowned, but because we are compelled to write. I write poetry, but I am not a storyteller. I do not create plots, characters, and settings. I am a “life interpreter,” always trying to find a deeper meaning in the day-to-day, seeking to better myself through the written word. Comments and followers are wonderful, but they are not my ultimate goal.

And my history of journal writing? It will become more relevant as you read on.

Rituals vs. Routines

A week ago today at BYU Education Week, I attended a class on acquiring the Holy Spirit taught by Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt. She described the difference between rituals and routines.

Rituals

  • are symbolic in nature
  • are made sacred
  • have emotional outcomes

I suppose you could say I have ritualized the routine of writing. No matter who reads it, it is sacred to me.

Routines

  • are viewed as tasks
  • are part of To Do lists
  • limited to time

Which begs the question: Am I turning rituals into routines? Are things we claim to value (reading the scriptures, praying, attending church, interacting with our families) becoming tasks?

Quantity vs. Quality of Our Prayers

I believe the quantity and frequency of our prayers is more important to He who listens than the quality. But their quality still has value, mostly for us, and that is what I really began to contemplate.  Sister Platt shared the following quote. Its effect on me was profound.

“I prayed, reviewing with the Lord what I thought I had been taught by the Spirit.  When a feeling of peace came, I thanked Him for the guidance given. I was then impressed to ask, “Was there yet more to be given?”

I received further impressions, and the process of writing down the impressions, pondering, and praying for confirmation was repeated. Again I was prompted to ask, “Is there more I should know?”

And there was.

When the last, most sacred experience was concluded, I had received some of the most precious, specific, personal direction one could hope to obtain in this life. Had I not responded to the first impressions and recorded them, I would not have received the last, most precious guidance.”

–Elder Richard G. Scott

The words of Elder Scott, a late church leader and beloved apostle, have always spoken to me on a very personal level. So it is no surprise that of all the quotes Sister Platt shared, this one impacted me the most. In pondering them, I began to think about changes I could make.

The Prayer Journal

There are two quotes by Elder Scott on the wall near my computer:

“We become what we want to be by consistently being what we want to become each day.”

and

“To reach a goal you have never before attained, you must do things you have never before done.”

Admittedly, I printed and taped up those quotes a few years ago when I was trying to change my diet and exercise habits, but they are just as applicable to prayer or anything else we are trying to improve.

I began wanting to improve the quality of my prayers. In doing so, I needed to do something I had “never before done.” For me, it meant writing them down. Something so basic and simple.

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My very first prayer journal

The day before we drove home, I bought the journal you see above. It sits by the bed. I write in it before going to sleep at night and when I arise in the morning. The process of writing my prayers has humbled me and helped me to focus. I’ve imposed no rules except to just do it. And yes, I’ve already noticed a difference.

Again, it is a process.

I write what I am grateful for and the blessings I hope to receive. I write what blessings I pray for others. The length varies, as do the details. I know Heavenly Father knows me, my challenges, and the wishes of my heart. I know written prayers don’t receive more attention from Him than prayers offered silently or prayers said aloud. But I will say it again: I’ve already noticed a difference. My day is better.

What I haven’t done yet, as Elder Scott did, is write my spiritual impressions. That is my next step. But I can testify that the clarity brought by writing my prayers has helped me visualize the day better when I write in the morning and create a more peaceful ending when I write at night. The focus I feel also makes me feel more focused upon. I feel the Spirit more strongly. I feel the love of our Father in Heaven even more. All good things. Very, very good things.

“Weary the Lord until He blesses you.”

This quote was also shared in class. It was the first time I heard it. It followed the theme of asking for more, not worrying about bending God’s ear for too long, wondering if He would tire of your prayers and pleadings.

He won’t.

And so, coming full circle, I suppose that is what keeping a prayer journal and “ritualizing” the routine of prayer has done for me. Prayer wasn’t a daily “routine” like the definition I shared at the beginning of this post, but, once in a while, it could be.

Good, Better, Best

Elder Dallin H. Oaks used the phrase “Good, Better, Best” in a talk while referring to forgoing good things in favor of better things, ultimately striving for the best things. I will apply that principle here:

GOOD is knowing the difference prayer can make in your life.

BETTER is praying regularly and developing a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven.

BEST is feeling the effect of that relationship though the impressions of the Spirit.

Are we always at the “Best?” If you’re like me, probably not. Impatience, pride, and laziness can sometimes rear their ugly heads. But the more we try, the more we focus and humble ourselves, the more often we experience it. That experience motivates us to strive for it.

And “Best” is definitely worth the effort.

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