Why children’s prayers are better than adults’ prayers

Since I am a horrible person, I sometimes roll my eyes at the “prayers” I hear given over the pulpit.  They are sometimes sermons, sometimes poetic declarations, sometimes dramatic presentations, sometimes obviously scripted, and sometimes downright over-the-top long.  (Notice the abundant use of sometimes.  I’m not trying to make a sweeping generalization about all prayers.)  I remember a few years back in General Conference, Elder Cree-L Kofford got up and said a one-sentence prayer asking the Spirit to be with us.  It was awesome.  It may have been right after Elder Russell M. Nelson taught “Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers:”

A closing prayer in a Church meeting need not include a summary of each message and should not become an unscheduled sermon. Private prayers can be as long as we want, but public prayers ought to be short supplications for the Spirit of the Lord to be with us or brief declarations of gratitude for what has transpired.

So it’s about a thousand levels of refreshing to hear my children say their prayers at the end of the day.  Sure they seem super short, and perhaps even a little thoughtless, but take a close look at one of my recent favorites from Clark:

Dear Heavenly Father, Please bless me that I won’t have any bad dreams.  But if I do, I won’t be mad.  But please bless me that I won’t have bad dreams.  Please help us that our days will be great.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

There’s much to learn in that prayer.  Children just get it sometimes.

General Conference Book Club Week 19: Elder Scott and President Packer

To ensure we get through all the talks before the next General Conference (which, by the way, is in SEVEN weeks!), I decided to double up some of the messages.  These two seemed like a good pairing to study together, with a common theme of receiving spiritual answers and direction.

Elder Richard G. Scott gave a talk in the Saturday morning session called To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” where he teaches that guidance will be gained “by careful practice, through the application of correct principles, and by being sensitive to the feelings that come.”

In President Boyd K. Packer’s talk from the Saturday afternoon session, Prayer and Promptings,” he asserts that both these communications are still available to all of God’s children.  He says, “You can know the things you need to know. Pray that you will learn to receive that inspiration and remain worthy to receive it.”

I’m looking forward to studying the two talks together and finding the common threads.  Simply the fact that two talks on a very similar topic were given in Conference on the same day is an alert that it was a principle worth addressing.  What do you think the “action items” for these talks are?  What are these brethren both trying to encourage us to do more/do better?

You can find both the audio and video versions of these talks here.

General Conference Book Club Week 16: Elder Nelson

I’ve been attending some ward conferences lately and listening to our Stake President’s message to the youth.  He challenges them to pray, really pray, two times a day.  He encourages them to get their rote prayers out of the way and then ask “What should I have done differently today?” and then review their day step-by-step with the Lord.  Then after repenting for mistakes they see they’ve made, ask “What should I do tomorrow?” and then listen.

This is a fascinating concept for me and one I’m getting up my courage to try.  So this week, I’ve chosen the talk “Ask, Seek, Knock” by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  He gave this talk during the Sunday morning session, where he proclaimed that “Every Latter-day Saint may merit personal revelation.

“To access information from heaven, one must first have a firm faith and a deep desire.”

“For each of you to receive revelation unique to your own needs and responsibilities, certain guidelines prevail.”

“Patience and perseverance are part of our eternal progression.”

You can read the talk here.  You can also  watch it here or listen to it here.

What are some things that help you prepare for, ask for, receive, and recognize personal revelation?

———

p.s.  Join us in the Winter Poetry contest.  Entries due by Tuesday night.

The parable of the Ranch dressing

I had a meltdown yesterday.  A put-my-head-down-on-the-desk-and-cry kind of meltdown.  I also cried in the kitchen and again in my bathroom, and up and down some stairs and halls.

I’ll tell you why.  (This may sound a little bit like complaining or self-pity.  That’s because it is, but I’ll get over it by the end of the story.)

I went to bed too late and my children woke up (as usual) too early.   I lay in bed listening to them crack each other up with jokes you have to be in kindergarten to appreciate.  Grant came to my bedside to tattle that Clark was playing the game downstairs that they’d been grounded from yesterday.  I sent him back to deliver a warning, and a few minutes later I could hear them both playing that same game.  I heard (and felt) bumping, laughing, wrestling, fighting.  They finally progressed to breakfast and scavenged around in the kitchen because I was so out of groceries.  The noise, scuffling, and lame jokes continued.  I tried in vain to hush the boys so that they wouldn’t wake up Natalie.  They did.  It was one of those mornings where I dreaded getting out of bed and starting the day.  (This happens occasionally when the day begins out of control before I’m even awake enough to face it.  It usually fades once I get up and start moving. This time it didn’t.)

Dishes in the sink. Cottage cheese on the floor, table, wall, door.  Grant couldn’t find his library book.  Hurry, you’re going to miss the bus and I’m not taking you. It’s so cold outside and I’m in a constant state of chill, even in my house.  No food, no milk, can’t put off grocery shopping any longer.  If I’m going out to the store, I should go to the Post Office too (dread, dread, dreaded task) to mail Christmas cards and a package that I’ve been meaning to send for at least a week.  “Matt, is the printer working yet?  I need to print the address labels for my cards?”  He’s been studying for finals and couldn’t get it to work since our Internet went down last week.  On his way out the door, he handed me a network code on a post-it note and claimed it would be easy for me to punch it in somewhere and make the computer recognize our printer.  I was bathing Natalie and told him to put it on the desk.

As I walked downstairs, I passed the waist-high reminder of laundry that needs to be done.  Sigh.  And, oh great, look what the boys did to the playroom this morning.  Where’s that blasted post-it note?  Not on the desk.  Called Matt.  Finally found it on my bed.  Tried, tried, tried to get printer to work.  No clue.  Frustration.  Called Matt again.  He can’t really help me over the phone.  Frustration again.  I tried a few more things and somehow managed to disconnect the Internet all together.  Huh?  Tried again to fix it.  Nope.  No Internet.  No printer.  No labels.  No Christmas cards.  Too late, will never get mailed on time.  I spent too much money on them.  No internet?  Now I can’t even transfer money to my account to go grocery shopping either.  That’s it.

I hit a wall, dropped my head on the desk and cried.  Pretty  hard.  Clark wanted to ask me some questions and I answered the best I could, but I wanted to get away.

The phone rang, and I composed myself.  It was my neighbor who wanted to borrow some Ranch dressing for her boys’ lunch.  A wave of frustration set over me because I remembered I had NO GROCERIES.  I told her I didn’t know if I had anything, but I’d check.  She assured me it was fine if I didn’t.  I opened the fridge and found some.  I told her I had less than a quarter bottle.  And it wasn’t even regular traditional Ranch, it was the three-cheese kind.  I sort of apologized I didn’t have more or the right kind, and she said it sounded totally fine.  We agreed Clark would drop it off when he got on the bus for kindergarten.  Then Matt called and asked about the printer.  I started to cry again and he (wisely) decided he’d just call back a little later and promised he’d help when he got home.  I managed to keep my tears to a minimum while I fed Clark and Natalie a piece-meal lunch and got him out the door for school.  I put Natalie in her room for quiet time, and the flood gates opened again.

There was no place to hide.  Every room had some glaring pile or reminder of something else I needed to clean or do or wrap or fix or fold or put away.  More crying.  I thought about my grandma who had a nervous breakdown once, but she had nine children and lived in an old drafty home and had no money to buy groceries.  My life is so much easier than hers was.  What is wrong with me?  All my thoughts started with “I can’t . . . I can’t . . . I can’t . . .  I  just can’t.”

I was melting down.  I stood at my window and stared out across the street.  I saw into my neighbor’s house where she was feeding her children lunch at the table.  With my ranch dressing.  This is what my brain said (and I know it’s dumb, but this is really what I thought):  You know, Stephanie, maybe you’re like that ranch dressing.  It didn’t seem like enough, and it wasn’t the “traditonal” kind, and you assumed it wasn’t what was wanted or needed.  But it was.  It accomplished exactly what it was needed for, and everything’s fine.  It was enough.

I took a deep breath and thought, “What does Satan want me to do right now?”  (It seemed a little more concrete at the moment than “What would Jesus do?”)  He probably wants me to crawl into bed and never get out. I did get in bed, but I said a prayer.  I told Heavenly Father I can’t do this on my own– even stupid laundry and wiping cottage cheese off the door.  I needed help outside of myself to get this stuff done.  I sat up and the first thought that came to my mind was, “Start with the red coat.”  I looked at my coat on the floor by my closet for a minute and felt grateful that God gave me a place to start because I just felt too overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I needed to do.

And little by little, I made progress.  When the kids got home from school, I had some warm banana chocolate chip muffins waiting for them, and a long list of chores and three dice.  They rolled dice and did the chores with the matching numbers.  We all worked together for a couple of hours, and we got a lot done.  I felt lighter and lighter, and by the end of the day, I was myself again.  I felt silly about my meltdown.  It’s only happened two or three times since I got married a full decade ago, but it happened.  And it might again, but God helps me crawl out when I finally break down enough to admit how much I need Him.

And I don’t think I’ll ever see a bottle of Ranch dressing again without remembering that no matter how little I have to offer or how different I feel from what I think I should be, I am enough (with God’s help) to accomplish anything that really needs to be done.

My morning prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

I’m not sure I have the energy for today, so I’m asking for your help.  Please bless Natalie to take her medicine without screaming, gagging and throwing up so she can get better.  I need courage to start the job of helping my children pick up the playroom.  Again.  Help Matt to be ready for his finals and get done all the papers and work he needs to do so he can graduate in January.  I need my husband back in the evenings so that I don’t harm my children when I put them to bed by myself every night.  How do you do it, Heavenly Father?  How do you not lose your temper when no one listens to you?  Help me to be more like you.

Every time I think about all the laundry I need to do, I want to run away.  I know it’s a silly thing, but please give me the discipline I need to actually start it.  I’m thankful I have a washing machine.  I remember washing all my clothes by hand in Argentina, and I know I’m blessed, but I still need help to tackle the job ahead of me.  Help me to remember that my children are not adults, and they are not like me.  They don’t care if the house looks as clean today as it did yesterday.  Help me to be patient and understanding, but still teach them responsibility.

I’m running out of Thanksgiving leftovers, so I should probably start cooking again.  Help me to plan and be resourceful so I don’t get overwhelmed at dinner time when the kids are all crazy and I have no ideas.  I’m thankful we have food.  And a warm house.  Seriously, Heavenly Father, I’m so glad that I have a place to stay warm and comfortable when the weather is so cold.  Please bless those who aren’t as lucky; help them find the shelter and care they need.

Finally, Heavenly Father, help me to relax and face today with a good attitude.   Forgive me for my mistakes and childish pouting.  Help me be worthy of the blessings of my covenants because I need them.  Help me to remember how much I love my children and how much you do too. Bless me with the patience and kindness and charity I need to give them a good example and teach them all they need to know.  Help me to turn to you again when I start to forget.  I’m sure we’ll talk again really soon.  I love you.

Amen.

Guilt: The Motherload

responsiblewoman

I consider myself a practical woman.  I don’t expect to be an all-encompassing superhero.  I scoff at the idea of quilting my own bedding, growing and canning my own vegetables, keeping my home in magazine-ready condition, scrapbooking in any form that includes more than sliding photos into plastic pockets, making recipes with more than four or five ingredients, and teaching all my children to play classical musical instruments.  Now I don’t scoff at most of these endeavors individually; in fact, I’ve dabbled in some of them and tried to learn new things.  But the concept that I should be doing all of them (or even several of them) in my life in order to be a “whole” woman is absolutely preposterous.  Holding yourself to a standard like that is emotional suicide.

However, I have a firm testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I want to be the best person I can be.  Sometimes I look at my world, and the acquaintances I have, and other people near and far that I know and love, and I have a thousand ideas of things I wish I could do to help them–  to do good deeds, to better fulfill my own responsibilities, callings, and commitments, to be a servant in the Christian sense, and to make the world a better place.  And then I have days where feeding my children and picking up one room and restocking the toilet paper in all the bathrooms is all I get done.  A lot of days are like that.  But in the back of my mind is a long to-do list of things to be and deeds to carry out.  And once they sit on that list for a while, they start to feel heavy to me.  They gnaw at me.  They turn into a feeling.  They become guilt.

I want to make clear that intellectually I know that’s not right.  I know that my work with my family is the most important work I can do.  But I struggle sometimes with realistic expectations about what else I should be accomplishing.  It’s difficult to gauge how much of that is my own wishful thinking, how much of it is inspired direction from the Lord, and how much of it is simply my fears about what someone else might expect of me or how I might be judged by others.  During my daily devotional time on Saturday (otherwise knows as a shower), I thought about this question and the thought that occurred to me and sort of clarified this issue for me is that the Lord does not expect more from me than what I have already covenanted with him– my simple promises that I made at baptism and when I renew those promises while taking the Sacrament or worshipping in the temple.  He doesn’t hold me to a standard higher than that.  I felt like this was a right answer and I had it on my mind most of the day.

That night, I attended a fireside by Sister Julie Beck, the General Relief Society President.   She was in town doing some training and invited all the local women to come and meet with her in the evening.  I love Sister Beck.  I’ve posted several times before about her and her messages to women, and how those messages have helped me in many ways.  She shared her testimony at the beginning of the meeting and then opened up the rest of the meeting for questions and answers.  Even though I felt like I had received an answer to my question that morning in the shower, I kept feeling prompted to ask my question out loud.  So toward the end of the meeting, I barely raised my hand in front of my chest, her eyes fixed on me and she called on me.  My best guess is that there were an excess of 2,000 women in attendance.  An usher wriggled his way through the crowd and brought me the microphone.

“You’ve touched on this a little bit in some of your other answers, how we go to church and read scriptures and learn so many things we can do, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.  I would like your insight on the role of guilt in an LDS woman’s life.  I know there is good guilt and bad guilt, but what role should guilt play and what role should it not play?”

I want to share some of her answers.  Part of it was in direct response to my question, and part of it came up throughout the rest of the meeting, but they all gave me greater clarity and direction, and feeling the Spirit as she shared these things confirmed for me that God was behind this advice.

  • Any thought that tells you “You are not good enough” is from Satan.  If the thought tells you “You can do better, and I’ll help you,” it is from Heavenly Father.
  • There will never be enough of you to do all your heart wants to do.
  • Pray, eliminate your distractions, and follow the Spirit.
  • We impose things on ourselves that the Lord would never impose.
  • Be an example of joyful gospel living.
  • Beg for miracles every morning.  Recognize and give thanks for them every night.
  • Navigate this experience you’ve been given with dignity, faith, hope and charity.
  • She recommended a three-column to-do list every day:  #1) The essentials (short list of things that are eternally important:  Pray, read scriptures, maybe some days the list will include temple or service or family time), #2) Should do (feed children, clean clothes, go to work, etc.), #3) Nice to do (wish list).   Whatever you do, make sure the essentials happen, and work hard on your should list, and you’ll be surprised how often you get around to things on your “nice to do” list.  She also said that women cannot work all three shifts in a day.  We can do one well, one pretty well, and we need one shift to rest and take care of ourselves.  She recommended deciding which shift was the most important time of the day when we need to be at our very best (for her it was the afternoon into the evening when kids came home from school and prepared for bed, etc.), and then use the other shifts to help us prepare for and get ready for the important shift (maybe prepare dinner in the morning, rest well at night, etc.).
  • Women are leaders.  “Influence is ultimate leadership.”

Anyway, I walked away from that meeting with a greater understanding of how much good simply doing the essentials in our life can do, and does do.  When we do them, we ARE changing the world for good. I also sensed that God is much more proud of what we ARE doing than he is worried about what we’re NOT doing.  And I also learned (again) that I need to pray harder and more sincerely to get specific direction each day, and to let the Spirit help me navigate my priorities.  I felt the confirmation that He will help me with that if I give him the opportunity.  And I learned to give myself permission to ignore the guilt and embrace the important accomplishment of simple obedience.  Guilt is totally overrated.

Image credit:  “The Responsible Woman” by James Christensen

Why I cried three times today, or how a two-year-old can set the universe right again.

Today has been a hard day.  I lost my wallet, again.  I spent most of the morning looking for it.  My house shows no remaining evidence of the thorough cleaning it received a mere three days ago.  I’ve also been struggling with a silly issue where I’m trying to accomplish something that I know is right, but I’ve felt a lot of opposition and frustration.  That’s been heavy on my mind for the past several days, with my asking myself “Why?” a lot.

I called Matt at work for my daily “hey, have you seen this item I lost?” call, and he even walked out to his car to see if my wallet was there.  No luck.  I felt discouraged, like maybe nothing’s going like it should.  Maybe I just don’t have it together.  Matt suggested to have the kids pray about it (their prayers always help) and he would too.  The boys were at school, so I hung up the phone and looked at little Natalie sitting on the floor playing with her button book.

“Natalie, can you say a prayer for me to help me find my wallet?”

She just kind of looked at me, and then went back to her book.  I turned my head and stared out the living room window.   Feelings of discouragement started to pile up and I felt myself on the verge of tears.  I don’t cry very often, so I just kind of swallowed the feeling and tried to control my emotions.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Natalie looking up at me from the floor.  She closed her book, climbed up the couch on to my lap, and hugged me.  Hard.  The tears slid quickly down my cheeks.  After a couple minutes, she looked at me and said, “Why are your eyes wet?”

I told her I was a little bit sad because I couldn’t find my wallet, and …

She hopped down, walked over to a chair, climbed up into it and looked at me.

“Where is Heavenly Father?”

“Where is he?  He’s in Heaven?”

“Can we see him?”

“No, we can’t see him right now, but he can see us.”

“How can he see us?”

“Well, because he knows everything.”

“Does he have a telescope?”

“Maybe he does.  I don’t know.”

“Maybe he has a periscope.”

“Maybe.”

Something about her words made me remember that despite all His wonder, He watches us individually.  And I remembered a devotional I attended once where the speaker, who I knew personally and admired,  said this:

“I testify that he who will bring about the universal restoration of all things also brings to pass those intimate restorations that heal our wounds, cleanse our sins, and fulfill divine promises.”

I went into the kitchen to get Natalie’s milk ready for her nap, and while I did, a thought came to my mind.  I went and looked, and I immediately found my wallet.  Tears came back as I realized that this was a testimony that God was mindful of me and my simple problems.

I walked down the hall to tuck Natalie in, and she asked me to read her Llama llama red pajama, one of her favorite stories.

llama

It’s about baby llama who goes to bed at night and waits for his mom to bring him a drink.  As he waits and waits, he gets scared, then frustrated, then angry, and cries out frantically to his mother.  I’ve read the book probably a hundred times before, but today I felt like it was a parable for me and my Heavenly Father.  So, the tears ran down my face (again!) as I read this page:

Little Llama, don’t you know, Mama Llama loves you so?

Mama Llama’s always near, even if she not right here.

So, yeah, I cried three times today.  I also got a hug, an answer to prayer, and a little insight that maybe, just maybe, Heavenly Father does have a periscope.