Sometimes it's easy to fall into repeating the same phrases in our prayers over and over again, but when we start praying on auto-pilot, do we really mean it anymore?
Have you heard this prayer before?
"Heavenly Father, we thank thee for this day, and thank thee for the moisture we have received. Please bless the refreshments, that they will nourish and strengthen our bodies..."
We have. At least once a week.
Don't get us wrong—any prayer is better than no prayer. And sometimes just getting through it is something to be celebrated. It's also important to remember that these are great things to be praying for! But when a prayer becomes an automatic exercise filled with stock phrases without any meaning behind them, that's when we run into trouble.
Considering that the Lord counseled us not to use vain repetitions in prayers, here are seven clichéd phrases from LDS prayers we may want to think about before saying:
We should always be grateful to be alive, but rather than giving a blanket 'thank you' for the day, which could have been fantastic or could have been terrible, try tuning in to specifics. For instance, maybe you’re grateful that you made it to work on time. Or that your favorite uplifting song came on the radio. Or that the full glass you spilled all over you only had water in it. Even a bad day can have a grateful slant when you look more closely at it than "the day."
However, if you’re like me and freeze when trying to think of a different way to start, you may need to just say it so you can move forward with details of why you are grateful for it!
Especially in warmer climes or in times of drought, it’s always good to be thankful for rain or snow, but this phrase is often thrown into prayers no matter what the weather patterns are like. I do love the rain--and am often thankful for it! But there’s something much more personal and sincere about a simple, “Thank you for the rain" or "We thank thee for the beautiful snow."
This is a very passive way to thank God for everything He has blessed you with. Check out what President Monson has said about gratitude:
"A grateful heart comes through expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for His blessings and to those around us for all that they bring into our lives. This requires conscious effort—at least until we have truly learned and cultivated an attitude of gratitude. Often we feel grateful and intend to express our thanks but forget to do so or just don’t get around to it" (emphasis added).
Counting your blessings isn’t for God—it’s for you! So make a conscious effort to be grateful and enumerate at least a handful of blessings you have the next time you're tempted to skip this vital piece of prayer.
Most of us have been in the uncomfortable situation of being asked to pray—right before refreshments are served. Do you pray for them to nourish and strengthen you? Because you know that the three chocolate-covered donuts you’re about to eat aren't going to do that. But you have to say something about them, since that's the whole purpose of the prayer you're about to give.
Part of the reason for this dilemma over refreshment prayers is because of another cliché that Mormons are famous for: blessing the food to nourish and strengthen our bodies. Hopefully we are already making wise food choices that will "nourish and strengthen us." Perhaps a better approach would be to simply reflect and say thank you for the food we have to eat and/or the company we enjoy it with.
This would be a wonderful thing to pray for—if we actually intended to do it. However, most of the time, the second the amens are said, we're out the door and back to our old habits, lesson all but forgotten.
Next time, instead of vaguely requiring the Lord to do the heavy lifting and "bless" you to remember it, try praying for more specific aims related to the lesson. If it was on gratitude, pray that we will be able to see and appreciate our blessings in the coming week. If the lesson was about missionary work, pray that we will recognize and be able to take advantage of missionary opportunities. If the focus was on families, pray that we will be able to see ways we can help our parents, siblings, and children in a spirit of heavenly love.
Once you start thinking about applying lessons this way, and then make a concerted effort to recall and work towards your prayed-for goal, the outpouring of blessings will stagger you.
Like the previous phrase, before we say this cliché it’s important for us to think of and plan to put into action ideas to help “those who aren’t here today” to be able to come. Elder Bednar has said that rather than praying that those who are not in sacrament meeting this week may be here next week, we ought to be praying for the courage to go find them and help them, and then go and do. This prayer phrase should be about softening others' hearts and guiding your own as you go out and act as the Lord’s hands.
The request that those present can "travel home in safety" is said at the end of most meetings, but then little is thought about it afterward. When you pray for this, do you do your part to help you get home safely? Do you take extra caution when driving? If it's late, do you offer rides to those who might have to walk? If we want those at the meeting to get home safely, it's as much our responsibility as God's to ensure that happens.
Obviously, these phrases are repeated with good intentions. And as long as we take time to think about what we're saying and say it sincerely, there is nothing wrong with being grateful or asking for these things. No one can judge the sincerity in our hearts—only we can. As James E. Faust reminds us, "Sincere prayers come from the heart. Indeed, sincerity requires that we draw from the earnest feelings of our hearts when we pray."