May Young Women Lesson Plan: How can I make my prayers more meaningful?
Increasing the Power of Personal Prayer
Guest Post by Jessica Finnigan
Jessica Finnigan is currently an Advanced Diploma student in the study of religion at the University of Cambridge. Her research centers on the intersection of technology and religion. She graduated from BYU in 2003 with a BS in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. She and her husband Tom have four daughters ages 6-11 years old.
How can I make my prayers more meaningful? (The lds.org outline is here.)
One of the most important aspects of my life has been the ability engage in prayer. I feel that it is my window into Heaven. Prayer has always come quite easy for me, even as a child I loved saying my prayers. I have had the privilege of having countless spiritual experiences while engaging in prayer. Moments of sacred connection where I knew God loved me and had a plan for my life. There are times when truth and answers have come to my mind and released me from my turmoil. But as I have aged and served in various callings, parented, and talked with countless friends, I have come to see that God speaks to all of us in various and individual ways. I have seen individuals feel guilty for not finding God in the traditional way we teach prayer. I have seen them loose access to needed revelations and feelings of peace.
My lesson will focus on making prayer more meaningful for everyone, including those who may struggle to develop their communication style with God. As I have attempted to help friends and my children find connection I have come to see the dynamic possibilities of prayer, and as I have prayerfully applied the in my own life I have felt the transforming power of payer grow.
I like to think of prayer is our personal connection with God. We have been taught that God will speak to his people in their own languages and tongues. I believe that this is true for individuals. I believe one of the key aspects of prayer is to learn how we communicate with God. Finding our prayer language with God I think is one of the most important gifts we can give our youth and children because it impacts so many vital parts of their lives including the ability to fully utilize the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It is important as we teach this lesson to be mindful and remind the YW that we should never discourage others from developing their prayer language (other than for safety issues). I think the story of Hannah and Eli demonstrates this point (1 Sam 2:1). Eli did not understand the manner in which Hannah poured out her heart to God, instead assuming her was intoxicated or praying in a manner becoming of the followers of Baal. But Hannah was desperate when she approached the temple willing to plead her soul out to heaven for the blessing of a child. Although Eli did not approve initially her work towards developing her prayer language connected her with God.
Teach the YW that prayer can take on many forms, often in the church we see prayers offered when standing up, kneeling, or sitting with arms crossed, in public and in our secret spaces. According to the Bible Dictionary there are many appropriate postures for prayer. The scriptures show examples of praying with arms outstretched, praying to music, praying while dancing, praying while laying down, sitting in ashes while wearing torn clothing or clothing made of camel hair (not recommended). Changing our body position can change how we interact with prayer. It is a different experience to pray in the woods than it is to pray at our beds. Being open to try new postures in prayer can be powerful. Another way to pray is to include touch. I have found this to be extremely powerful in helping little children learn how to pray. We have also had family prayers where we go around the circle holding hands and offering prayers as a group rather than individually. The temple suggests that touching is an important component of prayer. While for others the individualize act of prayer will be the most meaningful.
There are five forms of prayer recognized in Christian theology; Gratitude, Worship, Intercession, Petition and Confession. As Mormons we tend to mix these forms of prayer into one unit. But the act of isolating certain types of prayer may provide additional insight and experience. Lastly, one Mormon writer, Adam Miller, has suggested that we listen more in prayer. I find it hard to quite my mind and my body and listen. In a modern society with increased access to instant media, the ability to sit and be still is one that must be more intentionally taught and practiced.
An additional point to consider when teaching this lesson is that prayer is often complex, and the results are not always happy. Sometimes answers have been heartbreaking or the opposite of what was desired, leading us down life paths we did not plan. There will be times when we might miss interpret a revelation. Sometimes answers will come years later or not at all leaving us to wait upon the Lord. I think too often we teach prayer as a formula, where we tell kids all you have to do is plug in the variables and solve for x. But prayer like any communication is complex. I believe prayer is an essential lifeline that it must be taught with care and understanding and within the nuance of real life. I cannot imagine my life’s journey without deep meaningful prayer, and I want those whom I teach to know that no matter where life takes them they will always be connected to their Heavenly Parents and that we must create space for every person to develop that connection even if it looks or feels slightly different than the norm. Creating space for cultural, intellectual, spiritual, and personal differences because we are all needed as parts of the body of Christ and we all have something to teach each other.