Vain Repetitions

Having a toddler who can speak very well teaches you a lot of things about yourself that you might not have noticed otherwise. Sam has recently brought to my attention, through the things he prays about, that my prayers of late have become rather stale. Not intentionally so, but each night my prayers seem to fall into the same routine. I’m saying thank you for the same things and asking for the same blessings.

So I’ve tried to add more variation to my prayers.  However, I’ve run into a problem –  I don’t really have anything else to say.  For those of you who aren’t stay-at-home moms let me explain what I mean.  Every day I do pretty much the same thing – wake up, breakfast, entertain kids, lunch, nap time, more entertaining kids, dinner, try to make some family time, bedtime for the kids, teensy bit of time to myself, bedtime for me.  Exciting things in my life include things like trips to the grocery store, a walk to the park or talking to my mom on the phone.  More frequently than not the entire day passes by without me leaving the walls of our home or interacting with anyone aside from Eric or our kids.  So at the end of the day I don’t have a lot of unique things to be grateful for.  I’m grateful for my boys good behavior, for our comfortable circumstances, for the time we had to spend together as a family etc.  Likewise my concerns or things that I’m praying for help with don’t change a lot.  I want Sam to sleep through the night, I pray for my little brother to have success on his mission, I ask for wisdom in how I parent my children etc.

Now, I’m not saying this as a pity party that my life is pretty boring.  In fact, while I could use more adult interaction, I really do enjoy my life.  Each day may be a lot of the same things over and over, I enjoy what I’m doing and I can’t think of anything that is more important or fulfilling than my current endeavors as a wife and mother.  However, how do I keep from saying the same things in my prayers each day, when each day consists of the same things.  I could stop thanking the Lord for the blessings that I tend to thank him for regularly, or stop praying for the desires which I have, but that seems strange at best.

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I’ve come to the conclusion (feel free to put on your false doctrine glasses now, this is the gospel according to Brittny) that my repetitions aren’t a bad thing.  While I think we should always be mindful of new blessings in our life and putting our faith to good use in new ways, I don’t think that negates the need to be grateful for and pray for the routine things in our life.  Even though I make dinner for Eric every single day it doesn’t mean I don’t like it when he thanks me for making a meal.  Sure you could say that he’s already made manifest that he’s grateful for my efforts by thanking me once, and even if he didn’t thank me after a particular meal I wouldn’t necessarily think he was suddenly not grateful for dinner.  However, it’s always nice to hear it anyways.

I think that’s part of how prayers work.  Even though I’ve already said once that I’m grateful for my sweet little boys that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t express gratitude for them again the next day.  I’m still grateful for them!  In fact, each day I’m more and more grateful for them, even if I don’t  have different words to express that gratitude with.  And I think Heavenly Father still wants to hear about that gratitude from me.

More to the point (ok, really really have your false doctrine glasses on now :P) I believe that in large part prayer is more for our sake than for Heavenly Father’s.  I don’t think we’re telling Heavenly Father anything He doesn’t already know when we thank him for the blessings we’ve been given or ask for other blessings.  He can easily enough see how we act and know whether we’re grateful or not, and He can definitely see the things we stand in need of.  I think that a large part of expressing gratitude in our prayers is to help us see the blessings we’ve been given.  I think it is to better help us realize what we’ve been given to help us have a more positive outlook on life and find ways that we can spread the joy and blessings we’ve been given with others.

Furthermore, I think it’s good to continually pray for the same things.  I think it shows that they truly are important to you and it keeps the things on your own mind.  Plus we’re taught that prayer is a form of work and in many cases it’s the best way that we can help others.  Case in point, each night I pray for my little brother who is out on his mission.  I prayed for him at the beginning of his mission and the things I’m praying for don’t necessarily change all that much, so why bother?  For one thing, it helps me to keep him in my thoughts and finding what I can do to help him.  Even if it just helps remind me that I ought to write him a letter, that’s a positive outcome from praying for him daily.  I also think that it helps him to know that I remember him each night and realize the importance of what he’s doing.  And of course, I think by praying for him each night I’m asking for a renewed portion of the powers of heaven to help him with what he’s doing.

Recently I read a book by Orson Scott Card called Enchantment. It’s an excellent book that gave me a lot to think about.  The book is a fantasy novel and as such it has different people who possess magical/spiritual powers.  In the book the people of a particular village avoid the name of a particular evil witch because as they use her name more frequently they give her more power.  In another part of the book there is a deity whose power is greatly diminished because the people in his time have forgotten his name.  I think there’s some interesting truth to that principle.  As we call upon the power of God, His power is in some way strengthened.  Not that He had less power before but that we are combining our faith and energies with His power and together those powers are more potent than either one alone.  I think as we pray for the same things over and over we are giving over more of our faith/trust/energy/power or whatever you want to call it over to the Lord and He can make better use of our power than we can ourselves.

Another reason I think I have difficulties coming up with original material for my prayers is that I try to communicate with God as I come up against different problems or situations.  I’m not always good at stopping, kneeling down and saying a formal prayer, however I frequently will pray in more of a conversation with the Lord.  For example, we have dealt a lot with getting Sam to sleep through the night.  So when I’m trying to come up with what our next steps should be I’ll often just start thinking through the problem and ask the Lord to help me come up with a solution.  Then I’ll try to go through in my mind the process of “studying it out” and consider what things we’ve tried, what I think the problems might be etc.  I try to listen for feedback, if you will, on the ideas and thoughts that I’m having.  Most of the time the answers that I get will just come as ideas that hadn’t been presented to me before or a good/bad feeling as I consider different courses of action.  So while my nightly prayers may not seem original there’s still communication that’s more personalized throughout the day.

Anyways, maybe this is all just rationalization, but as I’ve considered the stale nature of my prayers lately I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not as bad as it seems.  I don’t think I ought to artificially change my prayers to have different things that I’m being grateful for or praying for because those are the things that are dearest to my heart.  I think by praying for them continually it is just a way of expressing their importance to me.  I still ought to look for other blessings in my life and places that my faith ought to be applied, however that should be in addition to rather than in lieu of my repetitions.  So long as I am sincere in the things I’m praying for they defy the definition of being “vain” so I’m still in good shape.

I would love to get other people’s feedback on these ideas.  Like I said, I’m not preaching this as doctrine, just the thoughts I’ve had as I’ve faced a situation in my own life.  Does anyone else have good ideas on how to keep your prayers from becoming rote?  Do you totally disagree and think that repetition is always vain?  I welcome any constructive feedback, positive or otherwise… so long as it’s constructive 🙂

5 thoughts on “Vain Repetitions

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  • 7 June 2011 at 7:37 am
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    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. Just yesterday I was reading through old journal entries, and found two quotes I had recorded about repetition. While not specifically prayer-related, I think they can still apply:

    “Chesterton notes our low capacity for being able to deal with monotony and says in a moving passage: “It is possible that God says every morning, `Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes all daisies separately, but has never got tired of making them.” The divine delight in what seems to us to be mere repetition is one clue to the sublime character of God. Since we must, at times, accept what appears to us to be routine, repeated experiences, we too, if we try, can find fresh meaning and fresh joy in the repeated experiences. God’s course is one eternal round but it is not one monotonous round. God is never bored, for one who has perfect love is never bored. There is always so much to notice, so much to do, so many ways to help, so many possibilities to pursue.”
    (Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way, p.84-85)

    and

    “After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all man-kind, is the truest greatness. …We should never be discouraged in those daily tasks which God has ordained to the common lot of man. Each day’s labor should be undertaken in a joyous spirit and with the thought and conviction that our happiness and eternal welfare depend upon doing well that which we ought to do, that which God has made it our duty to do. Many are unhappy because they imagine that they should be doing something unusual or something phenomenal. Some people would rather be the blossom of a tree and be admiringly seen than be an enduring part of the tree and live the commonplace life of the tree’s existence”
    (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.285-286).

    Like the freshness of Eric’s thanking you for dinner each night, I think that I feel less self-conscious about the repetition in my prayers when I see each prayer as a fresh opportunity to talk with Heavenly Father.

    Your talking about praying for the same thing for long periods of time (for your brother on a mission, etc), reminded me too, of Mosiah 27:14—you wonder how long that Alma’s prayers for his son were the same sort of thing.

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  • 7 June 2011 at 3:09 pm
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    I’m totally with you on this. I think that the problem with repetition is the “vain” part. I don’t know about you but when I am just repeating a pattern for a prayer I find my mind wandering, but when I am actually just thankful for the same things my mind is focused. Plus now that I write it out I think a lot about the word vain itself. It means 1. Having or showing an excessively high opinion of one’s appearance, abilities, or worth. 2. Producing no result; useless. I think truly that is what we should be weary of in our prayers. 🙂

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  • 8 June 2011 at 12:27 pm
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    I also agree. I think your last statement (“So long as I am sincere…”) and what Steffy said is what I think. There is a difference between repeating things because you are still feeling them and repeating things because you need a longer prayer, or you are “supposed” to say them or whatever. I always think about the Rameumptom and what it says about vain repetitions in that story. (Alma 31)

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