When I pray, I feel nothing. Help?

Dear AMG:

I have been a member for 20 years, and I’ve held many positions in the Church:  Relief Society president, seminary teacher, and so forth. I often feel the Spirit, especially when I teach, but I’ve never really felt it when I pray. So what does this mean? I have faith in prayer. I want to talk to my Heavenly Father, I’ve seen miracles and great blessings in my life, and I pray several times every day. First of all, I’m not a dope, I know how to pray, I know that answers come in many different ways, I know the Spirit manifests itself in many different ways but I’m talking about getting nothing. I’ve spent ages sometimes in pleading agony for just the smallest touch from the Spirit when I pray, but still nothing. I love listening to others’ testimonies of prayer but I’m starting to wonder if it’s all true or just mass hysteria. Or could there be something wrong with me?

Help.

Amanda in Australia

Dear Amanda:

This is a moment when I wish I had actually read all those books of Tibetan Buddhism my sweet husband offered when we started dating.  I tried, really, just as he tried to read the Book of Mormon.  He really did try.  But all those “and it came to pass”-es proved difficult for a dyslexic Jewish guy who could barely make it through the stacks of graduate school anthropology texts on his desk.  I think he made it to the book of Mosiah before giving up. Just like I gave up when the Tibetan Book of the Dead got to the part about the four-fold path, with its fifty-pointed lotus, and the 120-sided jewel of truth guarded by 4,000 demigods.  All that gorgeous but arcanely mysterious detail just boggled my mind.

You see, we Mormons like to think of ourselves as very pragmatic people.  The mechanical engineers of the theological world.  Leave the speculation and mysticism (and most of the art and poetry as well, sigh) to other faith traditions.  For us, it’s about what works.  Irrigation canals.  Food storage.  Indexing genealogical records. Hands-on stuff.  We’re not even supposed to look into the mysteries. Ours is an intelligible God.

And yet, there are aspects of faith that defy mechanical understanding.  Just the other day, my six-year old daughter asked me:  “If God is like us, how can God be everywhere?”  She was referring of course to Mormonism’s radically anthropomorphic concept of God—in our faith tradition, God is not an abstraction but a set of loving Heavenly Parents, a Father and Mother.  I looked at her in the rearview mirror, knowing very that the most satisfactory answer I could muster would come from the chapters in the Doctrine & Covenants when Joseph Smith starts talking about light being a form of matter, and even that didn’t really give me what I needed to answer her question.  So, I swallowed hard, and I said, “Honey, it’s sort of a mystery.”  To which she said, “Maybe the answer is that God is in our hearts.”  “Maybe,” I told her.  “Maybe.”

Prayer is another matter that defies mechanical understanding.  Like, does God really hear actual words we pray? If so, how does God actually listen to all of us, around the world, and in worlds beyond, at once? In my mind, I imagine a giant old-fashioned switchboard, with lots of ancestral helpers pushing buttons and plugging in lines—and even this image cannot possibly suffice.  Then there is the matter of the words themselves. Does prayer really happen through words? My friend Liz once asked a deaf person how she experienced prayer, and she described directing wordless waves of feeling toward God.  I love that image, and yet even that image cannot tell me how God might answer in a transactional way pleadings from billions if not trillions of souls.

At some point about a decade ago, I redeveloped my own practice of prayer. I felt personally that it was rather vain and wasteful to pray in a transactional way:  to ask for this, and plead for that, and offer up a grateful phrase in order to be pleasing, and expect some concrete return.  I mean, I knew good Mormon people who were praying for successful real estate transactions—it was the height of the housing bubble, after all.  Who am I to judge, really, but that didn’t work for me.  So while still using conventional prayer language, I switched from thinking of prayer as a transaction to thinking of prayer as an exercise, a discipline.  I opened my heart and quieted my mind and tried to tune in and say a few words that would at least not chase God away with their craven humanity.  I dropped most of the personal specifics, unless prefaced by an “if it be Thy will.”  The Quakers of old used to place great emphasis on speaking very carefully and with great discipline so as not to obstruct the “opening,” their word to describe how the Spirit directs and enters our lives. I was pretty much working on that model too. And I believe it has created a quiet centering that orients my life in ways that I hope are good for creation. That’s what seems to work, and I’m going with it.

As for you, what works for you?  Amanda, you seem to feel that prayer is not working because you do not feel the Spirit in the more elaborate way others profess they do, or as you do when you are teaching.  You are frustrated, and you are hungry for some reassuring contact with God—who isn’t—but you are assuredly not a “dope.”  You express disappointment in getting “nothing” when you pray, and that’s striking to me because lots of faith traditions describe the experience of divinity as an experience of clearness, openness, nothingness, and quietness.  What if profound stillness is how you experience God in prayer?  What if you too backed away from a transactional concept of prayer, from the idea that you are supposed to feel something specific in return for praying?  What if you released yourself from that expectation, and just prayed for the heck of it?

You know, there’s a terrible bumper sticker and t-shirt slogan one sees in the United States, usually in some proximity to tie-dye and outdoor music festivals.  It reads:  “Dance like nobody is watching, love like you’ve never been hurt, sing like nobody’s listening.”  Only here at Ask Mormon Girl would such a cheeseball bumper sticker slogan find its way into an earnest discussion of prayer, and yet . . . here I go, heavens forgive me:

What if you prayed like you never expected an answer? 

Perhaps if you released your focus on a specific transactional emotional outcome and drew a wider lens you might find evidence of God’s love and mercy in the world around you all the time—like “letters dropped in the street,” as the poet Walt Whitman said?

Would that free you to experience prayer differently? I may not be able to explain the mechanics of how prayer works, but I do believe God does not want you to beat yourself up over it.  That much is no mystery to me.

What about you, readers?  How have you experienced prayer?  What advice do you have for Amanda?  (And, no, pray harder is not an acceptable answer!)

 Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com, or follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.

 

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46 Comments

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46 responses to “When I pray, I feel nothing. Help?

  1. Abby

    I too have felt the same way. I like Ask Mormon girl said I focus on the feelings of my heart. Instead I ask myself what would thou have me learn and what is thine will. Prayer is a funny thing and each feels answers in there own way. Just listen to what your heat is telling you. Throw the conventional Mormon rule book aside. Listen to your heart and gut. They will always lead you to the truth.

    • KyleV

      Abby that is a nice reply. I don’t think it says much, but it’s still nice and for some people would offer consolance.
      I’ve read the replies, and what a question it is. I wonder what Joseph Smith thought, 3 or 6 months in a prison where he said he felt complete absence. Even our saviour_finally_felt his humanity when the Lord withheld HIS presence from him. He knows how we feel, he knows how you feel. I personally don’t like the replies along the lines of “it will come in time” or “try speaking with your heart”. They are overly simplistic. Here we are in a world where alongside the majesty we have hate, and malice, and depravity, and suffering. Where is god amongst all of this? The child being abused praying for respite, the child dying from hunger praying for salvation, the members praying for wealth, because they pay their tithing, the adulterer prayinh his spouse won’t find out. And where is god in all this confusion of communication? We are promised we will get a reply to our prayers- we are taught from our youth to pray because god is listening and will answer all of your prayers. Right? And yet amongst this there is not even evidence of his presence, or his son coming not even 2000 years ago. No evidence of a flood, or a city called Jericho, and so forth. There is nothing to hand our hats on. Just dinosaurs to embolden the scientific and deniers. Yet we believe despite the absence of evidence. We rely on our faith, of the faith of others. But where is god? Is he here? Is he on his planet? Is he close? Is he a personal god- my god, or a god I will get 4 milliseconds of space-time in 4 billion years when he says “my child I love you”. How can he really know me, or love me? I mean come on, I mean ME, personally. How is that possible? My thoughts are that despite this absence in logic, he is there. He is here. It is probably the hardest thing to withhold his presence when a child seeks him in pain. Your pain is a feeling he isn’t listening. His pain is probably that he can’t speak to you, or possibly even that we can’t hear him. There are hundreds of thousands, millions of his children with very real pains right now. Dying, being abused, mental illnesses, same sex attraction, lonely, confused. And where is he for them? How can he help them, how can he be with them without showing his hand to the world and ruining the life by faith we all agreed to? He can, he can’t. Perhaps the only way he can is through sisters such as yourself. Healing, helping his children who are in pain to hear his voice, feel his touch, experience his love. Our kindgom is not of this world but we approach him through this world. Perhaps we have to stop thinking of this world to find him? Perhaps – like the suggestions with language and pronouns- perhaps we need to think in the context of angelic language…..which could be that Celestial beings communicate in a variety of ways as they interact with God and human beings, and some of those ways include speaking, writing, praying, and using telepathy and music, incense, meditation. Why just English or Korean or French? Why don’t we open ourselves us spiritually to him. This may not even involve words. Just spend 10 minutes researching how ancient Jews approached “G-d”. Maybe we are praying to god in green, or the music note G, [as an example of how we as English, Korean, Russian or French speaking Christians are approaching "him"]? Christ said to Thomas blessed are you for believing and you have seen, how blessed are they who haven’t seen. We seek for physical presence of god or christ- that we can see with our eyes, but unless we look and identify it as “thats gods presence” ie butterfly’s, colour, love, family, astronomy, childbirth, service, sacrifice, we know won’t see it. For some reason the gods have determined that its not going to be that easy. God is withheld unless we seek to find him. Do we seek for his presence when our eyes are shut- hoping for a feeling back. While it would be truly wonderful to experience something back – and many people have (some self possibly induced and some no probably the real thing) – who knows how we would be if we actually got responsiveness to our prayers? Maybe half his children would never make a decision for themselves. Or misinterpret their feelings and make terrible mistakes. My personal take is that they are as good for us as useful for him to know that we will still approach him even though we may never even feel him. If that disciple seeks to find others who may feel god has abandoned them, and is an answer to their prayers, then he and Christ have found true disciples. Does a malicious god withhold his presence from those who may be the greatest tools in his hands? I don’t know the answer to that. I would not be surprised to learn that his Prophets (through the ages) may have gone many years without feeling him beside them.
      For those who wish to consider new concepts in prayer (for why should we LDS feel we have a monopoly on gods ear), here is an unusual page worth a glance for no point more than perchance opening our minds to greater things http://angels.about.com/od/AngelBasics/f/What-Are-Angel-Languages-How-Do-Angels-Use-Prayer-And-Telepathy.htm.
      I have personally felt nothing. I have also experienced the supernatural in ways that could not have been self-induced. I’d like to feel him more, I’d like to see him more. My understanding is that the way he enters our lives is through other people. Maybe that is how we find god, and find the understanding of discipleship along the way. It is sad that we rejoice that Christ has broken the sacrifice away so that we can directly approach god, and yet as a people we dont spend time learning how to commune with him- beyond a 4-step page in a missionaries toolbook. One day we will exit the dark ages and become enlightened. I apologise for the long reply- but I don’t believe “try harder” gives the OP and the greater issue the attention it deserves. Shalom

  2. John

    I don’t have advice, just that I have often experienced similar feelings about prayer. Perhaps praying more as a form of meditation helps some people? I wish our Mormon culture actually taught meditation instead of just talking about it. I think training in that area might be a good use of the three hours in church, and while sacrament meeting helps sometimes the screaming kids make it hard. Some of my favorite lessons in church are when someone plays music or asks participants to clear their minds. Maybe that’s the first step? I am always confused between what is God’s voice and what is my own. Perhaps clearing the mind is a first step.

    • I agree. Training in this area would be helpful. In a world filled with so much to distract it can be difficult to find anything akin to a sacred grove.

    • The most effective prayers I have ever engaged in was on my mission when I would go to the rooftop of my house and think about all the people I was going to meet the next day. After that I would close my “meditation” with prayer and profound things happened to me.

      It has been a difficult practice to continue since I returned 10 years ago, but for me, it is what they mean when the bible dictionary describes prayer as a form of work.

  3. Amber

    I think that the answer and the spirit that Amanda is looking for has been given in ways and at times that are not during prayer. It isn’t a transaction, as has been said, I mean if we were to look for an immediate return on our words, we’d only ever pray when we needed something right then and there. Since we don’t, then that means our answer is coming later, at other times. Maybe try praying in other ways, writing it down instead of speaking it? It’s, to me anyway, more an exercise in self-control and concentration than it is me looking for that acknowledging feeling in my gut.

    • Aileen Hampton

      My initial reaction is the same as Amber’s. You are feeling the Spirit in your life, and you know God is there. You are doing your best to reach out to God, and you feel him reaching back to you. Don’t get hung up that you don’t feel it at the exact moment of prayer! Your expectations on timing are disappointing you, but you ARE experiencing the responses, reassurance, help, recognition of truth, and connection with Heavenly Father that you seek for and need. And that is what prayer is supposed to achieve for us.

  4. Paula

    It has helped me to combine meditation with prayer. I imagine a conversation with God in my mind after meditating to clear my mind of the endless chatter going on in there. I talk about what is going on and what I am planning to do or thinking about and just try to be open to feeling whatever I feel. I might feel good or bad about a decision I was thinking about and “discussing” with God. But even if I feel nothing, it no longer means nothing. Just the quiet without the mind chatter, the feeling that I have connected with my own thoughts helps me to feel more clear and more at peace than when I don’t meditate and pray. So for me, if there is a God listening and answering, that’s great. But even if there isn’t, this process helps me to live a better life so that’s great, too. Perhaps God commanded prayer for people like me not to hear from me, but to center me.

  5. Bethany

    I too have a hard time with prayer. I feel that God in His omniscience already knows what’s in my heart (and in my highly active overly analytical mind) and knows what I need, what I will ask for and what He’s going to give me, He knows every detail of the whole story. I have a hard time believing in agency when God knows what I will choose and what the result will be. But that’s another issue entirely.

    Amanda, God knows that don’t feel connection through prayer, and that you do feel a connection in teaching. Maybe that’s why He gives you many teaching opportunities. God knows that I feel a connection in music, and not just in hymns. I think that “prayer” can be any activity in which we open communication with God and invite the Spirit to reach us, to quiet our fears, to answer our questions and to guide us to the path that God already knows we will choose. Maybe teaching is your prayer, maybe singing is mine. Maybe speaking aloud at God with your head in your hands is not actually “prayer” for either (for many) of us.

  6. I have the opposite problem. I do feel the spirit when I pray and the inspirations that I have received are great and effective some of the time. At other times, I have to say with the benefit of hindsight, that the inspirations that I have received were false and had negative consequences for others and myself.

    • Joe

      I have had the same experience. I get answers right away and they are kind of odd. If I follow through with them, I end making myself miserable and confusing everyone around me. Because of this I often go for long periods without praying, or praying in a way that I don’t ask questions and try not to listen for answers. That probably isn’t the best way to do it, but I don’t have another solution yet.

    • Mark

      I’ve had this happen to me in a couple of ways. 1) If I was trying to ask for permission to do something when I should have known better, the Lord is essentially saying, “you have your agency, I’m not going to stop you.” And then I learn a little better why I shouldn’t do that thing. 2) When the consequences of a mistake are minor and it’s better for me to learn from the experience.

      Either way, it’s worked out for the best in the long run.

  7. Rose

    I have always struggled with the formality of prayer that is often tradition in the Church. There have been a couple of times during Sacrament or Sunday School where we are instructed to use formal pronouns, “thee, thy, thou” and old English. Yikes. It is almost impossible for me to give a sincere prayer when I’m wondering if I’m using the right Old English pronoun or verb tense. Has anybody else felt this way?
    I once read a story about a man on his death bed, and he prayed by acting as if Heavenly Father were in the chair next to his bed; I imagine that was a very conversational type of prayer, something I am more comfortable with. When I talk to my Dad, it’s never formal, and I try to view my Heavenly Father as my Dad; someone who doesn’t require formal address.
    While perusing Pinterest (haha) I found an small image saying that even if we do not know the words to say it, Heavenly Father still knows our prayers. I think that it is necessary to find SOME sort of prayer practice in order for a desire to be qualified as prayer, even if it just means shutting the door to your room and being quiet, or going for a walk (that works for me), basically anything that makes an attempt to reach out to Heavenly Father, even if we don’t have an eloquent arrangement of words for him.
    To the reader, perhaps you just need to find the type of prayer that works for you, like Joanna has suggested.Maybe the way you practice prayer doesn’t necessarily work for you, maybe it’s not the right fit. For me, I find myself in a better type of conversation with Heavenly Father while taking walks where its quiet. It’s nothing formal, but it works for me better than an Old English address.

    • Laura

      Praying in the car works for me. I try to pray formally and I just feel formal and uncomfortable–like I feel at my grandma’s house–always on guard to make sure I am on my best behavior. When I pray at home or at church kneeling or sitting I am always watching my words making sure I say it right. Did I put enough thank yous in? Did I say thee or you that last time? I am also usually a little bit uncomfortable physically because my eyes are closed and I can’t see anything, it is very distracting, so the only thing I am focused on is getting the prayer done. In the car I can let all that go. I have to have my eyes open because I am driving. I am alone in a contained environment where no one can walk in on me so I can talk out loud all I want–like singing in the shower. Also for some reason I feel more able to be myself in my prayer and more able to take time to actually listen for the spirit. I’ve gotten some amazing answers to my car prayers and exactly none while I was praying at home. Anyway, that’s what works for me–hope you can find what works for you.

    • K

      For what it’s worth, the original reason that prayer language involved “thee” and “thou” pronouns was because those pronouns were actually informal. The idea was to feel a more intimate connection with the Divine. Quakers were known for addressing everyone with “thee” and “thou” pronouns (they called it “plain speaking”) because they didn’t believe in using formal address, wanting to maintain a more egalitarian view of people.

      Unfortunately, pronouns in English shifted so that “thee” and “thou” dropped out of regular use altogether but were preserved in some religious works (e.g. the King James Version of the Bible). Mormons most likely use “thee” and “thou” because it’s traditional prayer language. In an attempt to explain why we use “thee” and “thou,” however, we talk about these pronouns as showing respect. This is likely because archaic language in general sounds formal to us. But that wasn’t the original intent for using “thee” and “thou.”

      The funny thing is that in other languages, the Church tends to use whatever prayer language is customary. In some languages, like Korean, where it’s customary to address deity with very formal titles of respect, Church members use those. However, in languages like Russian and German, which still have the formal/informal pronoun contrasts that English used to, it’s customary to address deity using the informal pronouns. Members of the Church who speak those languages address deity using informal language. I remember a linguistics teacher of mine saying that she felt the most distant from deity when she prayed in Korean, less so when she prayed English, and the most intimate with deity when she prayed in Russian.

      I don’t have a problem with people using the “you” pronoun when they pray in Church. I actually like it, even though I grew up Mormon and am accustomed to praying in “thee” and “thou.” I wish that members of the Church didn’t feel the need to “correct” someone else’s prayer language, when the point is to feel close to deity.

    • Aileen Hampton

      The Old English is confusing; it seems foreign to us, but thee, thou, and thine are actually more intimate forms than “you”! Compare it to French, with “vous” being plural or formal forms of you, and “tu” and “toi” being used only for children, close friends and family (although, like English, the language is rapidly devolving to a more casual tone). The older forms we don’t currently use, except in biblical texts and prayers, are analogous to the “tutoyer” forms. But I usually think of “thee, thou, thine” language as an extra-special type of language for a very special, sacred activity that merits the extra attention and effort.

      And I have to respect that my husband doesn’t get it that way, and uses “you” in prayer all the time. Although to me it sounds a little uneducated, for him it is more personal and understandable to use “you”. And I know that is OK with Heavenly Father.

    • Hi Rose,

      I’m only a member for 7 months, but I have always been praying in a ver personal way. And becoming a member, I too had questions about “formal” praying or not and i got the following advice: “Talk to your Heavenly Father as talking to you best friend.”.

      I still do that.

  8. Sam

    I agree with Rose regarding the so-called “language of prayer”. I don’t think it exists — I think it is a made-up construct. The Lord spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friends, not in an Old English language using outdated informal pronouns not in use today (yes, thee/thou are *informal*, contrary to popular belief). In fact, Old English is a language of the “apostacy” timeframe (according to Mormonism)…so apparently, they had it all wrong…EXCEPT the One True English Language.

    I also find it highly ironic that the KJV is held up as an exemplar because for the first time we could read the Bible in some form of English…and yet, the modern-day equivalent (for the first time being able to read the Bible in modern English that you are familiar with) is not equally encouraged, even though to many people Old English is obscure (though occasionally sounding somewhat familiar), kind of like Latin was obscure (though occasionally sounding somewhat familiar) to the people in King James’ day. There is already the “as far as translated correctly” clause — what more do you need?

    I have found it quite interesting to study a more modern-English version of the Bible. I’ve already made so many interesting discoveries (which are also in the KJV but never jumped out to me when reading the KJV until I saw them in another translation first). My preference is the New American Standard Bible, since it tries to preserve faithfulness to the original text, but uses modern language. In Sunday School (United Methodist Sunday School, not Mormon Sunday School, just to clarify), everyone brings a translation they choose and we frequently compare to try to get the most out of the passage. There is an official translation, but even the Pastors can deviate from it to compare and contrast so we can understand God’s teachings more.

    Back to the original topic, my personal experience was that I felt great strength in Jesus, but didn’t feel it nearly as much with Mormon-specific things like the (IMHO) obsession with ordinances and authority. Once I realized other Christians teach most of the truths I feel spiritual confirmation of, to me, that was the beginning of the end. I am now quite happy spiritually as a United Methodist. Not saying all Mormons need to come to this conclusion — there is good in Mormonism, and we should all go where we are called. The point is, God made you unique for a reason. We are all a part of the body of Christ; go where you feel called. We are not all given all of the gifts of the Spirit (nor do Mormons have a monopoly on the number or type of gifts of the Spirit). Where is God leading you? Hands, feet, heart, head all have very different functions and different things they are “called” to do, but all are required as part of the body of Christ.

  9. Mark

    I totally agree that Mormonism, at least in our culture, being a pragmatic rather than a mystical one. If we have any mystical and speculative aspect, it’s in the Temple. Which is why, in my opinion, most of our members don’t “get” the temple. It’s something unlike the rest of our tradition but I believe it makes our faith complete.

    As for prayer, do whatever works. It’s like so much else, you ruin it when you focus on results.

  10. melodynew

    Blessings to you, Amanda. Good for you for asking the question.(Disillusionment is the beginning of enlightenment, right?)

    These are lovely responses. I especially like what Paula says. These days, I suppose I pray in much the same way as she describes. I seem to have a prayer in my heart most all the time. And I am working toward a more open, enriched formal (meaning regularly-scheduled) meditation and prayer practice. And I agree with JoAnna’s suggestion about letting go of expectations when we pray. For me, that feels like a special kind of faith.

    There was a time in my life when I felt every prayer sent to heaven bumped into clouds and tumbled back to the ground; any request I made was muted by the vast, unreachable “beyond” and I was left barren of connection with God. I felt hurt, angry, alone.

    I took my picture of Jesus down off the wall and instead used the nail to hang my gardening hat. In a way, I was doing what JoAnna suggests. I gave up and gave in. Let go of whatever I thought prayer was supposed to be. And, miraculously, I found Jesus in the soil, the flowers, the tiny insects as I worked in my garden. I found him in sunlight and rain and in the smell of fresh-turned compost. I found God and the spirit in the silent labor of growing and sustaining life — in my garden — and in the quiet moments of reading stories to my children at bedtime. I never fully abandoned the form of prayer I learned in my LDS youth and I taught my children to pray in this way. I simply loosened the constraints of that form and left behind the idea that God owed me some sort of response or even an experience of feeling the spirit. It takes a bit of courage (or in my case hopelessness) to make these sort of changes, but I believe each person eventually comes to the truth that we have our own individual “language” and I believe God understands and knows how to communicate in every language – the least of which includes actual words.

  11. My son checks in quite often by phone, just saying hi and telling me what is going on. I sometimes think of my prayer time like that. I’m just checking in. When I have huge questions I rarely get the definitive answer. I just give it time and think it out and emotionally work through it and then choose.

  12. Tricia

    I believe prayer is God’s way of helping us settle down, pay attention, and set our intentions for good works. Prayer provides an opportunity to pause, acknowledge the divine connection, express gratitude and focus on those things that we need to work on to be ever closer to the divinity within us.

  13. azsoap

    Mother Teresa never felt an answer. She suffered terribly because she felt lonely and cast off from God. You can read about online– I am on my phone, can’t easily link to an article.
    Catholics talk about the Holy Spirit coming through charisms. Prayeris only one of them.

  14. courtney

    I can’t offer much by way of helpful prayer tips to Amanda, but I can say I totally understand. Prayer has always been difficult for me, even as a young girl I had a distinct feeling my prayers were just hitting the ceiling. I have felt a lot of anxiety over the traditional construct of prayer, particularly what the purpose is of asking for things. I don’t understand what others are feeling and experiencing when they pray, especially in light of what Joanna mentioned, the praying over real-estate transactions and what-not. During those times of anxiety and frustration, I have tried to pray only out of gratitude. Acknowledging god’s hand in my life helps me to see it more clearly. However, prayer has been too painful for me to engage in any form for a while now, I think Joanna’s suggestions are very good. I think a more meditative form of prayer could work for me.

  15. jr

    I’ve never had an answer so I gave up trying.

  16. Rawkcuf

    I have a few thoughts I hope will help.
    I appreciate the honesty of your ‘emperor’s new clothes’ type question. I think we all have experienced where you are coming from. My feelings have evolved greatly over the years. They began with the problem; “If God is all-knowing, why do we have to tell him anything?” and “God will do what He will do in spite of my pleas.” That pretty much took away any motivation to pray.
    I am self employed, and have an extremely irregular income which makes every month an adventure. Somehow, I’ve been able to manage it for the last 20 years. I have come to the feeling that we need to pray, not because God doesn’t know, or that our prayers may significantly affect some hoped for outcome, but because the very act of prayer is the process of laying our thoughts and feelings and desires and disappointments at His feet. By including Him into our day we have made it possible to acknowledge His participation in our life. The randomly capricious way in which tragedy strikes, or windfalls appear often demand an explanation. Sometimes there is none available. By including Him into our experience, we make it possible to express gratitude at inexplicable luck, or try to find the lesson, or possibility for growth in the disappointment. Prayer may also be the best way to step outside ourselves and see the important minutiae of our lives from a higher viewpoint.
    I have felt for quite some time that prayer may be much less formal and dependent on a four step model than your typical primary lesson would have you believe. I think it is more the conscious maintenance of a continual connection with God. Our experiences at work are just as important to Him as they are to us… this is the same for our families, and our church experiences too.
    Matisse once said that for him, the act of painting was a form of prayer. I suspect that whatever our profession, we can make it an act of prayer too.
    I like Alma 34…

    Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. [I think the humility is what makes us able to approach God without expectation or agenda... the non-transactional prayer Joanna mentions.]
    Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. [I am an expert in my 'field' and try to be connected and open to inspiration if appropriate. I suppose 'flocks' would translate into another form of asset in our day...]
    Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. [I suspect that is more of the 'continually' type of prayer than the number of times...]
    Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. [business rivals?]
    Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
    Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. [or over your clients, or co-workers]
    Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. [I don't see why we shouldn't pray for help in the face of so much that is out of our control... the rain falls on fields as capriciously as a customer decides to make a purchase.]
    But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
    Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

  17. Linda

    I think the answers are already here. We come here with everything we need and I think that includes the answers to our prayers. We just need to be mindful and aware to recognize them.

  18. Dawn Marie

    Johanna, once again, your eloquence and down-to-earth attitude in your answers to our soul-searching questions is amazing. Thank you. Amanda, I think prayer is different for everyone and our traditional stance on it doesn’t work for all of us. For me, I need quiet time or a meditative walk to get to where I need to be to feel open to the ‘wordless waves’, as Johanna alluded to. You may have been praying all along, you just might not have been on your knees or in church. Such a thoughtful letter and subject you bring to AMG. Thank you too.

  19. Chris Brewer

    I personally have not found the typical mechanical LDS approach helpful about seeking for an “answer” or in other words praying so that something will happen. I have not met anyone yet who seems to think they can control when the timing of their spiritual breakthroughs will occur. For me, that is part of the reason I feel they are inspired when they do come. I think of this scripture in John 3:8.

    

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”


    I value prayer greatly and it has been one of the only spiritual practices that has been successful for me as I have tried to reach for understanding about God and truth. In all of the complicated history and philosophical confusion we have to wrestle with now, it is the only thing that feels real to me.

    I think I can see some wisdom in why God does not quickly give us what we desire but as Mormongirl said, it is ultimately a mystery. It is an ongoing process of inner-refinement. When those answers come, in whatever language we hear them in, we are well prepared to understand the significance.

    In the church we like to talk about what people can claim to know after feeling something profound in prayer. Even after powerful experiences, In the back of your mind will always be the challenge, “What do I really know?” If I were to receive a little lightning strike or burning bosom does that mean I can start claiming to know truth like it was an answer on a multiple choice test? If a feeling tells us the Book of Mormon is true than HOW is it true? In what sense is it true? In my opinion personal transformation is the greatest proof of an answer to prayer.

    I feel that prayer represents reaching to God. The gesture is important. To me it is more about giving a place for your thoughts and intents and desires to come out. The words are not always important, but sometimes speaking aloud helps me to keep focus. Even though I am flawed and weak compared to most saints I find prayer to be a space where my inner desires can reach the heavens.

  20. xena

    It hasn’t been a lifelong experience for me, so a very different situation, but there have definitely been months and years where I feel like I’m just talking to the ceiling.

    During those times though, when I would engage in decisions prayerfully (even though it felt like more or less talking to myself), those decisions came out alright. Meanwhile decisions that I didn’t really work on in prayer turned out to be not so great, even if it was during a period when I was “feeling” more in touch during prayers. There was this one job that I took without much thought, being desperate for work at the time and it was the first thing to come along– I figured it was a no-brainer and took it without a second thought, but boy it was a mistake.

    I’ve had some rare but fairly “classic spiritual experiences,” I guess. But most of the time I just go analytical thinking guided by guts (e.g., if something bothers you on a visceral level, there’s probably a reason– think it through and find it). As both an analytical and passionate person, that’s probably just the best way to get through to me most of the time. And the brain and guts times have done me just as well as the spirit times.

    Anyway, I don’t have an answer for why the “classic spiritual experiences” happen more to some people and rarely or never for others. But I’m pretty sure that when anyone’s heart is in the right place, they’re getting a lot more guidance than may be readily apparent.

  21. “I’m starting to wonder if its all true or just mass hysteria.” Well, certainly mass hysteria must be a very common phenomenon. Millions of people think they talk to Jesus who confirms he is not a separate being, but part of a Trinity. Other millions are sure they are talking to Allah. Jews talk to a God who never even mentions that he has a son. Somebody must be hallucinating, so why would the fact that you aren’t having any hallucinations make you wonder if there is “something wrong” with you?

  22. David Wise

    I find myself in the same predicament. And I have come to believe that effective communication through prayer may be a spiritual gift…meaning some are born with the ability and others have to desire the gift and work towards it. But, for me, I have found the most success when I focus on the feeling rather than the words. I love the feeling I get when I’m in the temple…just being in that holy place. I try and recapture that feeling in my prayers, which means I don’t say much. Instead I practice a little creative visualization and imagine my room has a portal that allows me to sit in the presence of a loving Father in Heaven. And while I am there, I don’t need to fill the silence with words. He’s just happy I came for a visit. Sometimes I let Him know of my cares and concerns. And other times I just sit silently and bask in His love and support for me and my family. When the visit is over I “leave” as quietly as I arrived. And I am glad He is there…and grateful for His presence in my life. Inspiration rarely comes during these “visits” for me. But over the subsequent days, an answer will often come and I will fleetingly feel His presence again….it is almost like He is saying “I’ve been thinking about that problem you told me about the other day…this is what I think you should do… ” Maybe some day I will get the prayer spiritual gift. But for now, this way brings me peace and happiness. I hope this helps.

    • MerrittIslGrl

      David’s answer is the best one I’ve read so far. He has put into words exactly how I have tried to connect with God. I just never really could think of the words to describe. Thanks, David!

  23. Zac

    You have the Spirit with you so often you hardy even notice it. The Holy Ghost is with you, it’s just part of you. It’s like our body smell. Others may notice it, but usually we are completely oblivious to it. It’s around us all the time. Sometimes, when we forget, others may remind us of it. With the Spirit, it’s kind of a nice smell…hardly noticeable. But, when we lose it…uh oh. Then, you’ll notice something. But, if you don’t notice anything unusual…then you’re probably good. If you don’t believe me…try remembering the last time you lost the Spirit. Usually anger will do that. Fighting with others will kill the Spirit in you instantly. If you don’t notice anything unusual…then you probably have the Spirit with you constantly. It’s almost like your heart beat….hardly noticeable…but it’s there keeping you going. There are plenty of metaphors. Trust me. I nose what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

  24. Paul

    There is a very real way that in this sort of arena, the truth may not matter. I have been reading about recent discoveries about brain function, and folks like Jonah Lehrer speak about the experience of illumination, the sensation of inspiration. Our brains actually take information and farm out pieces of a problem to the part of the brain best suited to process that bit of information. But synthesizing a complex question takes time. We feel conflicted literally because different parts of our brains are leading us to disparate conclusions. We often experience a more sure and final resolution as an emotion that is that paradox of calming yet energizing, a sense of assuredness, and outburst of pleasure or warmth–in short many of the things people describe as experiencing the spirit.

    But it may not matter at all that some folks describe a communication with a being in a place, others describe a connection to the universe, a spiritual or ethereal place. But that sort of openness, meditation, ridding oneself of expectations, all these things associated with earnest prayer, worshipful meditation–all these practices put us in the state of mind where our brains best resolve complex questions. So whether all of this is neuroscience, prayer, or that prayers our are answered through this sort of brain function–the pragmatic approach is so similar that the differences between believers and non believers are far less than the commonality–mindfulness plus openness leads us to the very best answers and directions.

    But yeah, we can’t time the moments, we still get it wrong sometimes, and we often get frustrated in the in-between times.

    If we are seeking an answer–or even an approval–there has to be a question. If someone gets that answer so instantly and so certainly, isn’t that because there isn’t much of a question in the question? There has to be a certain humility, a certain willingness to un-know, to re-see if there is any possibility of vision, progress, insight. The bible speaks quite clearly about those who pray to be seen by the congregation. Those are not useful examples to instigate growth, sensitivity or inspiration. I say, rethink how you are failing. Anyone sensitive enough to get to that place of peace, insight, gratitude, wonder for the world and hope in new ways of seeing is getting to the best places prayer gets us. You are doing just fine from what you describe. Trust that your prayer is a part of getting you there.

  25. Shelly

    Begin with worshipping Heavenly Father. Praise Him for who he is. Search the bible for all of His attributes. Love Him. Adore Him. Pour your heart out to Him, ask Him to purify your heart (give you a heart of flesh), open your eyes to see, your ears to hear. Pray the Lord’s prayer and repeat it until you are distracted by nothing and hear and mean each word you say. Listen for what He has to say to you…the leading of the Holy Ghost. Be honest with Him, reveal yourself in a truthful way….if you’re broken, be broken. If you feel weak, be weak. Accept His love and return it to Him. Be thankful for Jesus and that we are living in a time when grace has been poured out on humankind. Heavenly Father, God, is loving and full of mercy. Jesus Christ died for our sins, confess them and receive peace. Ask Heavenly Father to direct every step you take. Be humble.

  26. I think I agree with the “pray like you don’t expect an answer” philosophy. I realized that I am very much like Amanda. I feel the spirit so often as I study the scriptures, attend church, listend to general conference, etc. But, either I have a hard time recognizing the spirit while I am praying, or that is just not the way I receive answers. My brother told me once that the spirit speaks to everyone differently. For me, I pray about something and then I don’t expect an answer until I open my scriptures. Then, the answer almost assuredly comes as I read.

  27. StillConfused

    I feel that way if I try to pray the Mormon way. If instead I have a sincere, plain english prayer in my heart directed generally toward the universe, I will receive a simple peace. Try praying in a different way and see if that makes a difference.

  28. Craig

    Prayer is a commandment.

    My personal frustrations with prayer come from the instances God has said no.

    Heavenly Father loves each of us with an infinite unconditional love. Sometimes experiences that come our way in life are meant to be difficult and we are to face the test. God is not going to intervene in every small detail of life and save us from facing every difficult thing,.

    Because we are loved we will face challenges. That is the design.

    “He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.” Prayer can be used to vent our frustrations regarding our difficulties. Prayer can be used to count our blessings. Prayer can be a time to meditate and ponder on what changes we can make to better ourselves and to grow our spirituality.

    For myself, the reasons I have not wanted to pray are often because I was angry that God would put me through the extremity of the tests I faced at the time.

    A church leader once taught me that prayer should be a telephone. I should speak, ask my questions, and then I should wait and listen for the response from the other line. There have been times when undoubtedly I have received answers to prayer in this way. However, for me, receiving immediate answers has been the exception. Usually, the answers to my prayers do not come as quickly as I want them to. But they do come!

    Prayers are heard and answered. Sometimes immediately, but not usually.

  29. Mark

    Amanda,

    Each of us has a different set of spiritual gifts. Getting answers to prayers in the specific way you are describing is one of those gifts. It’s good to seek for the gift, but don’t beat yourself up over not receiving it, you will if it’s expedient. Rather, cultivate the other spiritual gifts you have and rejoice in the gifts that others have and share with you.

    I’m trying to say that it’s not a matter of something wrong with you or even how you pray. That being said, if you continue to seek that particular gift, I suspect everyone’s advice here will be very helpful. For myself, I pray often in my heart, and try to carry on conversations with the Lord when I’m pondering a matter, or when inspiration comes from him. My formal prayers help me feel close to God only when they are particularly heartfelt and meaningful.

  30. Hi,

    I was happy to read that I am not alone in feeling nothing while I pray.
    But on the otherhand, I feel the Spirit very good when I am working for the Lord. I do get answers, but not while I’m praying but while I’m doing. Which was a surprise to me because I’m more a talker than a do-er. It seems that our Heavenly Father knows what kind of answers we require.

    And I know that He listens, because I get answers, but always when I start acting upon the inspiration I get.

    I guess maybe it’s similar for you.

  31. Louise Mc

    From an ex Mormon who left the church in my teens, over 20 years ago now, I have never read anything that makes more sense about prayer than your answer. Thankyou

  32. Kent

    I am convinced that each of us has a unique way of being touched by the Spirit, just as each of our earthly children uniquely understand and hear their parents who recognize the need to communicate with each of them differently in order to reach them more effectively. Conversely, it is the same with how we express our feelings and thoughts to our Father. For me, I have often sung with my heart my prayers unto the Lord with an inner sense of sacred song/music that I feel is of a pre-existent nature, as I am deaf. I do not care for earthly music or hymns or songs, but I can relate to Job 38:7 “When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” It is a sacred thing which I’ve shared only with my wife. I also “hear” His voice through the same spiritual channel. With that said, I dread giving public prayers, it feels alien to me and reminds me of those who prayed on the Rameumptom. Nevertheless, I look forward someday to joining the Angelic choruses in the next life so that I, along with my kindred souls, can sing praises and glory unto our Lord and our God forever and ever. Find your own way of connecting with the Divine; do not let your means of prayer or listening be prescribed by others.

  33. Mim

    Hi Amanda,
    Psalm 16:11 says ‘In your presence is there is fullness of joy’. Yes you can know Him and feel His presence! Jesus died & rose again so we could be reconciled with our heavenly Father & have an every growing personal & beautiful relationship with Him. I must be honest with you in saying I have been many times in His presence, overflowing with joy. He has set me free in His presence & continues to renew my mind through His word. The Holy Spirit makes His word come alive to me & heals my soul. I find (and feel) life, hope & joy in His presence. Sometimes at home & also when I go to church where we all begin praising & worshiping Him. I’ve seen people healed of addictions & so much more in His presence. I still have to live by faith even when I don’t always ‘feel’ Him but I know He lives in me and I have complete access to His throne day and night. He’s my loving Father & I’m His child. He said ‘if you draw near to me I will draw near to you’. It’s a promise …& the bible says He is watching over His word to perform it. He’s moved by faith. He looks over the earth for a heart that is toward Him. You want truth & it’s Jesus ..’the way, the truth & the life’ The bible also says in Joel 2:32 ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’. It’s not because of our works or what we have done that gives us access to the Father…it’s what Jesus did on the cross (while we were still sinners!) that made a way to the Father. His blood made a way! He won everything! The bible says in Romans 14:17 ‘the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’. Please keep it simple and call on the Name of Jesus…Jesus didn’t die so that you could have a religion but so that you could have a relationship with God. You are loved!!! xxx

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