Saturday, January 15, 2011

Quitting a Goal Seldom Feels so Right

I've often been offered the challenge to say a prayer without asking for anything - to simply offer thanks for all the blessings I've received. I've met that challenge multiple times, and find it very rewarding when done meaningfully. Now, I'm challenging myself to something a little harder: to go for an entire week asking nothing in prayer, and just offering my gratitude to my Heavenly Father in prayer. I don't know if I'll complete the full week or not (it's kind of a big goal - much larger than the single-prayer challenges), but I'm giving it a shot.

Wednesday the 12th:
So far, so good. I made the resolution last night to start today, so last night I asked for all the things I might need in the coming week :) I figure if something really drastic comes up, it'll be ok to break my goal and ask for help (for myself or someone else), but I think the blessings of holding to gratitude-only prayers will be greater. I've got to say, mealtime prayers feel really weird since I can't say "please bless this food, and help it to nourish and strengthen my body", the routine script :P Haha. I also had to catch myself in class when my laptop battery was dying; I almost prayed that it would last me through the last five minutes of class, but instead said I was grateful to have such cool technology available!

Thursday the 13th: 
I was tempted more frequently today to ask for things. The thoughts would start forming, and then instead of articulating them, I would say thanks for something related. I went to a dance that night by myself, expecting to see people I knew; while I did see some people, it took a while to create a niche for myself in the social situation. I wanted to pray for strength to stay optimistic during the drought of partners, but instead I expressed gratitude for the opportunity to learn how to dance, for places like that club that uphold virtuous standards in behavior and dress, for technology and music that make it possible, and for the friends that I know I do have. The night turned out pretty well :) I definitely made some new friends and saw some old acquaintances with a smile. While my cha-cha was INCREDIBLY rusty and my west coast swing practically nonexistent, I was blessed with a couple patient and understanding partners that I had fun with and didn't feel too self-conscious around (which is really a miracle in itself - avoiding the defeatingly negative self-conscious feelings). Five days left of this challenge, but I just need to take it one day and one prayer at a time :)

Friday the 14th:
It's getting harder and harder to not ask for relief in my prayers, and more of a temptation to yield to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and despair. Perhaps it's a build-up of the small, incidental situations that tempt me more to break this commitment than a drastic event (I allowed myself the option of stopping thanks-only prayers in case there's a family emergency or something). I've been turning almost constantly to singing hymns and children's songs to give me focus and strength. I'm reminded of the exhortation to "pray always" (found in so many places in the scriptures) to avoid temptation and to not faint. I also remembered the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 25:12, that God "delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." I've been able to find peace and comfort through the hymns of the church, as they have become constant prayers running through my mind and spirit. What a blessing they are. I also realized that expressing thanks and being thankful are related, but not necessarily the same. So far I've mostly been going through the motions and just expressing thanks; internalizing it and being is what will make the difference.

Today's (Friday) been a stressful day. The calmest moment I had was when I listened (inadvertently at first, but then more attentively) to a talk by President Henry B. Eyring in 2008, called "Walk in the Light". It was so nice to feel some peace. With the increased clarity of thought, and I think with the influence of the Holy Spirit, I decided that it would be best to leave this challenge alone. Prayer is so vital, and my attempts to complete this challenge were hindering my prayers more than helping them.

God is aware of all of our needs before we ask for them (Matthew 6:8). It's still important, though, that we do ask anyway. Doing the asking ourselves allows us to take initiative and seek things on our own, and helps us to learn and stretch ourselves. God is our Father in Heaven, and I have learned through others' and through my own experiences that He is anxiously waiting to bless us - sometimes the only condition is that we ask! And when we do, we can experience such an outpouring of love and blessing that it blows our understanding and brings us to our knees in thanks. Being grateful is also super important. We are commanded in the scriptures (D&C 46: 32 and 59:7) to thank God for all that He has given us. When you are grateful for what you have, you're content; trying to to be happy isn't so hard. 

Even though I didn't complete my week-long prayers of thanks challenge, I still learned a lot. And maybe that's what God intended out of the experience. I'm definitely grateful for it, and I appreciate the blessing it is to have open communication with my God as often as I want, for whatever I need. Heavenly Father truly knows how to give good things to him who asks in faith :)

(Something I found ironic in the aftermath of this: my prayers are more thanks-focused than usual, and it feels more natural than forced. Hopefully I can incorporate it more fully into my attitude and make it a regular practice to feel more grateful)

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