I prayed constantly for a physical healing for my mother. Many scriptures teach that if you ask in faith you will receive, so I asked. But it never felt right. At first, I thought it was doubt—that I lacked the faith to actually receive the miracle I wanted. I kept praying and trying to increase my faith that God could heal my mother, but my prayers never changed, and I always felt off. Then, I remembered learning about Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He ended His prayer saying, “thy will be done” and my seminary teacher taught us to end our prayers the same way, thus praying with humility and trust in God’s will. I began adding “thy will be done” to the end of my prayers and I felt right. Prayers for my mother brought comfort but I started worrying in a new way.
If I felt wrong when I prayed for my mother to be healed and right when I prayed for God’s will to be done, was that because it wasn’t God’s will to heal her or because I needed to be more humble in my asking? Desperate to hold on to hope, I wanted it to be the later. I became obsessed with how to find out God’s will. I reasoned that if I knew what His will was, I would have the faith required to receive the miracle He was willing to give or the strength to remain faithful after her death without becoming bitter or depressed. I wanted to be prepared for whatever would happen. I could pray for His will to be done, and if He would tell me what that will was, then I would be set.
While I was wondering about how to learn God’s will instead of just praying for it in the abstract, I went to an Institute class and learned about Enos. Enos was a prophet that contributed only one chapter in the beginning of the Book of Mormon, and in that chapter, he prays a mighty prayer all day and all night. While his prayer begins in asking for forgiveness for himself, he extends it to pleading for his friends and then his enemies. He doesn’t simply ask for his enemies to find the gospel in a general way. In the end, he asks for the ending and purpose of the Book of Mormon rather specifically. It involves the destruction of his own people—a rather illogical leap to make on his own. He somehow knew, as God did, what would happen and God’s plan to extend mercy to all his children.
Enos prayed for God’s will as if it was his own. In the Bible Dictionary, under the definition of prayer, there is this descriptor, “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” Throughout the course of the prayer, Enos showed how his spiritual strength grew until he not only felt Christ-like love but also thought in a Godly way. He understood God’s will and wanted it himself.
After this lesson, I went back to my dorm room and re-read Enos over and over. I wanted to know more of the nuts and bolts. What are the steps, how exactly does one achieve this final outcome in a prayer? Three thoughts came to my mind such that I now say the Spirit taught me how to pray.
First, I needed to think through my day before my prayer and settle on one thing to pray for at a time. This involved training my mind to think only one thought at a time and follow that one thought without becoming distracted by all of the other things racing through my head.
Once I had considered this one thing thoroughly, noting both good and bad, I was to prepare myself mentally to be in the presence of God. I was not simply writing a letter or sending in a report, but rather, I needed to think of God as right there with me ready to engage in a two-sided conversation.
Finally, I needed to pray slowly. Again, allowing only one thought at time and considering the sentences and words I spoke individually. Sometimes, I would note what time it was when I started my prayer and again at the end. If only a minute or two had gone by, I would repeat the prayer but speak more slowly. I began to notice that certain words and thoughts had different feelings. Some were lighter and flowed with ease, others were heavy and difficult to articulate. When a thought became heavy, I would change direction towards the words that flowed more easily.
One might assume that my prayers would then become only those things that were easy for me to talk about—good things, simple things, my own desires. However, because I had prepared beforehand, I knew what my own thoughts were. I did not shy away from thinking about my fears. I thought them through, one at a time. The way the thoughts flowed while I prayed was different than the way they felt during my mental review. Sometimes, my fears did feel lighter when I prayed, as if God was saying that it was a valid concern and He wanted to talk about it with me. New thoughts that hadn’t come to me before, came when I prayed.
It took me about a year to become proficient with these steps. They take a great deal of mental energy and focus. My prayers changed dramatically and I found, like Enos, that I not only heard the Lord’s voice, felt confident in His love and mercy, felt an increase in my own God-like love for others, but also knew the will of the Lord because it became mine and His words would come from my own mouth as we worked and talked together.