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.

Lady of the Lake

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Art by Jean Beauduin

If you Google “Lady of the Lake” artwork, your search will yield some interesting pieces.

My Lady of the Lake was one of those people whose name I will never know. A middle-aged woman with shoulder-length hair who would park by our neighborhood lake. She would arrive in the morning–seven days a week, rain or shine– and stay all day. Six hours. Eight hours.

She never got out of her car to walk around the lake, which most people do when they go there. I never saw her interact with anyone. She never talked on the phone, ate, or read.  Sometimes she would close her eyes, tilt her head, and take a snooze. Mostly she just sat in solitude.

Her car, a newer-model sedan, was very cluttered with miscellaneous items. In fact, it was so full that the only space in it was where she sat each day.

Over the months and years I began to wonder about this lady. Did she have anyone? Did she have anywhere to go? Did she have anything else to do?

Last year I was driving early to the grocery store when I saw that familiar car parked in a driveway on a street I frequent often. The driveway belonged to a house that was in great disrepair. Suddenly things became clear why the beauty of the neighborhood lake attracted my lady so much.

And then she disappeared.

A few days later there was a huge Dumpster in front of her house.

The car was cleaned out. Then the car disappeared.

The house got a new roof. Then the house was cleaned out.

This afternoon I went to buy groceries and saw the house for the first time in two weeks.

The siding has been removed, the windows have been removed. It is gutted into a shell on its foundation.

I think it is safe to say that my nameless Lady of the Lake has died.

Of course, she wasn’t nameless.

I’m sorry I never knew her name.

I think it is also safe to say that this lonely lady was connected to someone, and that this someone has taken the initiative to revive her house. After all, under the layers of disrepair, it has value.

Was Lady of the Lake unaware of her value? Did she fall into disrepair?

It is odd to drive by the lake these days and not see her. I wonder how many other people noticed her. I wonder if she is at peace.  I wonder if she feels loved.

I hope so.

Thoughts on BYU Education Week

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I love being on BYU campus! I took this photo on August 19, walking to the Marriott Center.

Somewhere, in the suitcase I still haven’t opened yet, is the notebook I carried throughout Education Week. Three quarters full, packed with ideas and insights, are the things I want to remember in the coming year. In all the years I’ve attended, there may be more “take away” ideas this time than ever before. I plan to devote individual blog posts to those ideas in the future.

The ones that immediately come to mind:

  • Our Heavenly Father is like the conductor of an orchestra. His music can be heard through different instruments. (S. Michael Wilcox)
  • Am I making myself an exception? Is it preventing me from receiving personal revelation? (Stephen Hunsaker)
  • Ritualize your routines, improve the quality of your prayers. (Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt)
  • Write down the music that’s most important to you. It may be a necessary tool of communication one day. (Michael Ballam)
  • The Savior said “Come unto me,” but He also went unto the people. (Susan Easton Black)
  • Being aware of the different ways/reasons husbands and wives communicate, helps you communicate better. (John Bytheway)

Even in these short phrases, I can feel my memory of these great talks’ profundity and their details are fading.  All the more reason to go through my notes and write my impressions. My favorite speakers have such a talent for interpreting the scriptures and displaying their own humanity and humility. I so admire these qualities.

The best part of Education Week (aside from the high-quality lectures and the opportunity to travel with my cute hubby) is that I have arrived home motivated to be better. I suppose that speaks to the success of the week. That’s not the same as feeling guilty for not being good enough in the past. Nobody likes that. But we can–all of us–always use “tweaking.” I’m inspired to tweak. I’m inspired to go forward a polished-up version of my previous self.

I’m inspired.

A Night in Meridian

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Photo credit: Mike Putnam Photography

This post is brought to you from our hotel room in Meridian, Idaho, as we make our way to beautiful Utah.

This morning we left a little later than we would’ve liked, but both of us were very tired and had a tough time getting up early. I am very thankful that our prayers were answered in that we had a very easy drive across Oregon and into Idaho.

Last year, with only 100 miles left on this leg of the trip, we encountered wildfires. The consequence was an additional 4-5 hours of driving to go around them. We hobbled into the hotel at about 10pm. That memory is still very fresh in our minds, which made us extra grateful for the ease of today’s travel.  Hopefully, tomorrow is the same.

Music, conversation, and laughter carried us through the day. (Along with Chex Mix, water, and gum.) Our driving was sponsored by the stylings of Michael Buble, Bette Midler, the Bee Gees, BJ Thomas, Amy Grant, and a mix from our wedding reception. The time flew!

The picture above? Up on the hill is the Vista House, which we were able to visit last year. It’s view is amazing. We saw everything in this photo.

Today was a great start to our trip!

Reasons Behind the “Why?”

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Sometimes our habits change without us noticing. When we do notice, well…this is what recently happened to me:

It’s no secret that I love to read. I can become completely absorbed by a captivating story.  It’s also no secret that I have been known to start a book and then abandon it. If it doesn’t hold my interest, I move on to something else. (Thank goodness for free online libraries that make this possible.) I gravitate towards the obscure rather than the popular, but I give popular authors and “books-of-the-moment” a try once in a while. It’s fun to be happily surprised.

Lately, though, I haven’t committed to any book. I was reading The Night Circus, which I still intend to finish, and stopped reading halfway through the story. And it’s a very unique story. Without a book to turn to, there is a part of me that feels a little lost, but why did I keep leaving books behind? Was it bad luck in choosing? Or something else?

Problem solved.

While looking for reading glasses with my husband–for my husband–I inadvertently tried on a pair. Nothing too strong, just a 1.00, and suddenly more than just my vision was clearer.

I could almost see the thought bubble above me with “Ooohhhhh…” inside it.

One month later, there are three pairs of reading glasses strategically placed around the house–by the bed, next to my computer, and in my purse. Trust me, they all get used.

There’s a reason why “clarity” is on my list of favorite things.

Happy Anniversary!

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The newly married couple in 2010.

What a perfect way to begin my blog in its new location!

Yesterday my husband, Eric, and I celebrated our 6th wedding anniversary. Because of his work schedule, we didn’t even get to see each other until the evening of what turned out to be a very busy day.

Eric arrived home with a beautiful bouquet of red roses and thanked me for the best six years of his life–proof that the best gifts do not have to be grand.

I love my husband dearly. I am constantly amazed at the strange and wonderful way we were brought together across 2 states and 1000 miles. I thank Heavenly Father daily for giving me the faith and courage to act on the feeling that this sweet man–who started out as a friend–was the person I was meant to marry.

Here’s to many more years, my Darling.