Prayer is one of the most misunderstood activities in the world. It is a direct link to our Father in Heaven, an opportunity to repent and realign our plans with God’s, a holy moment when we can express humility and gratitude. Yet most of us—even those who understand what prayer really is—fall into the “wish list” trap, praying over and over for the same blessings we feel our lives lack.
Some cease to pray when life goes well, others become angry and blame God when things go wrong. Many people pray rote prayers without personal connection, others just “send good thoughts out into the universe,” and still others pray simply to feel good, with no expectation of a response.
As Latter-day Saints, we know there is a loving Heavenly Father on the other end of the line, so to speak, and we pray to the Father of our Spirits, through his Son, our Savior and Redeemer. He is real, he looks like us, and he loves us. He wants us to forsake our sins and make it home again.
But most of us fall into the habit of asking for a list of things we’d like. And then we wait. And wait. Often, for years. And these are not just prayers for ease or belongings; these are prayers for good outcomes, such as a wayward child returning to the fold. And still we wait.
Often we grow weary, impatient, even heartsick. We summon strength and faith to keep hoping, keep believing. But most of us find ourselves wondering why our prayers take so long to be answered. God’s timetable is not the same as ours, of course, and millions of prayerful believers can speak of the hindsight they now have, as they can see why the wait was necessary. So, for prayers that require time to pass, we must renew our faith and wait.
But there is one prayer that does generate an immediate response. Twenty years ago, in the September Ensign of 1995, Henry B. Eyring’s son, Matthew, said, “My father has told us that there are two things that he prays for every night. The first is, ‘What blessings do I have that I am not aware of?’ and the second is, ‘Whom can I help?’ And Dad says there has never been a day that his prayers haven’t been answered.”
Based on this idea from Elder Eyring, my bishop often urges members to pray a very simple prayer: “Whom can I help?” He promises that a face will come immediately to your mind. It could be a neighbor, a friend, even a family member. I have put it to the test, and he’s right. I always think of someone I can call or check on. And I’ve always been glad when I’ve done it.
This is not a prayer that requires any growth or development of understanding on our part. God is not going to wait a week or a decade for us to learn before answering this one. Every one of us is capable—right now—of reaching out to aid another. And that’s Christ’s work, the “follow me” he was talking about. So you can rest assured you will get a swift reply.
Elder Eyring’s other suggestion, to ask what blessings we’re not aware of, might also startle you. Your mind will fill with amazing realizations of blessings we all take for granted. Tears of gratitude may fill your eyes. Humility will rush into your heart. As I’ve said before, we are all overpaid. And what a gift that is, to see your world as brimming with wonder and gifts from God. Prayer can unlock that vista and restore joy to those who feel discouraged.
Serving and appreciating. These are verbs that need to fill our lives. And one little prayer can do it. And do it right now.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.