When I was a teenager, a friend invited me to attend a camp out the teens in his church were going on. He said they’d raised more money than they needed and the leaders had asked if anyone knew someone who might like to come along. They had chosen me. I was the new kid in town, so I was thrilled to have a chance to get to know some of the students at school better.
My friend was a Mormon. I’d known Mormon kids before and always liked them, but I’d never spent extended time with them. When I came home after the campout, my mother asked what we’d done. I said, “Prayed. Every time I turned around we were praying as a group or people were praying on their own or they were saying they felt inspired to do something. I’ve never seen such a praying people.”
Praying All Day
This was a whole new concept of prayer for me. I’d grown up saying bedtime prayers but not attending church much. Prayers were really more of a tradition for me than a central feature of life, but for these Mormons, prayer was something very different. They didn’t always get on their knees to pray. They had formal prayers in the morning and evening, before meals, before we went canoeing, before we drove to or from the campsite, and when some teens got lost for a short time. However, they also prayed informally for guidance, comfort, or wisdom.
Over the years, since becoming a Mormon, I’ve realized I can keep the lines of communication open all day long. I can talk to God just as if He was standing right here beside me as I do the dishes, write, or shop. Just as importantly, He can talk to me while I do all those things. It has led to a much more personal relationship than anything I’d ever imagined in my pre-Mormon days.
My early prayers hadn’t included waiting for answers. I got answers to action-based requests such as, “Please help me do well on my test,” but I didn’t know how to get answers that required God to send me information. I don’t think I even realized God could give me information.
Praying for Information
It made a huge difference to me to find out God could help me with anything at all if it was righteous and important. Prayer was a conversation, not a monologue. While I have formal prayers, those informal chats are essential to my spiritual growth. Often as I’m doing something that requires no thought, I talk informally about something that is on my mind. Somehow, those prayers, rather than the formal ones, are more productive. I don’t think about the formula for a formal prayer and I’m not in a hurry to get on with my day or to go to sleep.
When my children were young, car rides and housework were great times to get them talking and to share my ideas with them. It seems God uses that technique as well and so during those times of mindless work, I can talk quietly, openly, and in-depth with God about anything that is on my mind that day—my business, my family, my church work, or even just me. God is never too busy to stop and listen to me while I talk, no matter how long it takes. He never gives me pointless advice and He always knows just what I need.
How do I know when God is talking to me?
At first it was hard, simply because I’d never listened to Him before. I knew that during spiritual situations, I’d often felt my heart leap or feel full and I’d come to recognize it was the Holy Ghost confirming the correctness of something. When I asked a yes or no question, I frequently discovered I had that same feeling if the answer was yes and a negative feeling in my heart for a no. I was able to confirm that by keeping track in my journal of how things turned out. If I followed the warmth that I interpreted as a yes, things always went well. When I ignored it, or when I went ahead and did what I suspected I had been told not to do, things did not. It was a personal science experiment.
From time to time, thoughts came into my mind. It’s very difficult to explain how a thought placed there by the Holy Ghost, who delivers God’s answers, is different from my own, but again, I recorded my ideas about the source in my journals and then monitored the results until I could tell the difference. I suspect the way they come differs with each person—the method of idea delivery is one that is comfortable for me.
Waiting for Answers to Prayers
Sometimes God makes me wait. I have to pray for a long time in order to get an answer. I have realized that when those things happen, there is always a good reason. Often I already knew the answer but was hoping God would give me a pass on doing what I knew was the right thing. He sometimes didn’t answer in those situations because I needed to learn personal responsibility for my knowledge. Other times, I feel He wanted to know if I really wanted an answer. If I was willing to keep asking, I was also more likely to act on the answer. Other times, the timing simply wasn’t right or I was asking the wrong question. Often, I needed to ask a smaller question first. Sometimes, I hadn’t studied the issue enough to come to a decision on my own that I could confirm with God.
Over the years, I’ve come to trust God. He promised He would hear and answer prayers, and so He does. He is able to make sure I know the source of those answers. Whether I’m on my knees or elbow-deep in dishwater, God is ready to have a serious conversation.