It’s easy to get stuck saying routine prayers with repeated words and phrases. It’s hard not to when you pray every day, even multiple times a day, and it becomes a part of your everyday life. For many Latter-day Saints, learning how to pray is one of the first things you do as a small child. As soon as a child can speak in clear words and small sentences, loving parents help them say their own prayers and teach them the importance of communicating with God on a regular basis.
Because prayer is such an integral part of our faith and everyday lives, we often discuss it in Sunday meetings and lessons. I have heard hundreds, probably thousands of stories about the importance of prayer and the miracles it can bring. But one particular Young Women’s lesson stands out in my mind as I think about the purpose of sincere prayer.
We were discussing the importance of gratitude when my leader asked, “If you woke up with only the things you thanked God for last night, what would you have left?”
That question hit me hard. If that had actually happened, I probably wouldn’t have been left with much. But on a larger scale, it made me realize how much I really had to be thankful for, and how much I took for granted on a daily basis.
Thanking God for your blessings is such an important part of prayer that is too often forgotten. It’s easy to get caught up in asking for what you need that you forget to show gratitude for what you already have. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are a few ways you can show sincere gratitude to Heavenly Father.
1. Say a gratitude-only prayer.
Nothing will remind you of your many blessings like saying a gratitude prayer. Kneel down and thank Heavenly Father for all of the wonderful gifts He has blessed you with—both temporal and spiritual. Even if you’re going through a difficult time, there’s always something to be grateful for. Elder Bednar shared an experience he had with this in the October 2008 general conference along with this profound insight:
“The most meaningful and spiritual prayers I have experienced contained many expressions of thanks and few, if any, requests. As I am blessed now to pray with apostles and prophets, I find among these modern-day leaders of the Savior’s Church in the same characteristic that describes Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon: these are men whose hearts swell with thanksgiving to God for the many privileges and blessings which He bestows upon His people.”
2. Keep a gratitude journal.
Carry a small notebook with you and write what you’re grateful for throughout the day. Writing down your experiences and impressions will help you remember them better and notice them more frequently. And when you pay more attention to your personal tender mercies, you’ll be able to recognize God’s hand in your life and realize that He is always with you. President Eyring shared the importance of writing in a journal daily in his October 2007 conference talk, “O Remember, Remember.”
“Before I would write, I would ponder this question: ‘Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?’ As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.”
3. Pray for others.
Praying for and serving others is an amazing way to take your mind off of your own struggles and focus on loving God’s children. When you make an effort to focus outward instead of inward, it’s easier to recognize and be grateful for your life and your blessings.
Elder Bednar explained, “Just as expressing gratitude more often in our prayers enlarges the conduit for revelation, so praying for others with all of the energy of our souls increases our capacity to hear and to heed the voice of the Lord.”
4. Thank Heavenly Father for your trials.
This is such a hard thing to do, especially when you’re in the thick of your trial and you can’t see the good that will come out of it. But it’s so important to remember that even if you don’t know why you have to endure trials, God is helping you through and making you stronger. Thank Him for the lessons you learn and cling to Him during these hard seasons of life.
Elder Utchdorf beautifully explained this in his April 2014 address.
“When we are grateful to God in our circumstances, we can experience gentle peace in the midst of tribulation. In grief, we can still lift up our hearts in praise. In pain, we can glory in Christ’s Atonement. In the cold of bitter sorrow, we can experience the closeness and warmth of heaven’s embrace.”
5. Focus on having an “attitude of gratitude.”
It’s easy to list off the temporal things you’re grateful for, but Elder Utchdorf reminds us to focus on a deeper meaning of gratitude.
“True, it is important to frequently ‘count our blessings’—and anyone who has tried this knows there are many—but I don’t believe the Lord expects us to be less thankful in times of trial than in times of abundance and ease. In fact, most of the scriptural references do not speak of gratitude for things but rather suggest an overall spirit or attitude of gratitude. . . . I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.”