The Grand Bookends

What will your heart say? See Matthew 6:5-8.

When in morning you arise,
Or at the close of day,
Do you merely say a prayer,
Or do you really pray?

For prayer begins with “Father”
And ends with an “Amen”
Becomes but vain repetition
When mindlessly said again.

But when you more than say a prayer
And really learn to pray,
These words become the grand bookends
To what your heart will say.

Do you know what a ceiling bouncer is?  If you don’t, I will tell you.  It is what my family calls the prayers that are said so casually and insincerely that they only make it high enough to bounce off the ceiling; they never make it to heaven.  You know the prayers that I am talking about.  They are the rote, memorized prayers that are said out of habit and not out of heart

I said one of these prayers the other day.  I asked to “bless Abram on his mission” even though Abram had been home from his mission for months and was kneeling there in the prayer circle!  It is the prayer where someone says, “Please bless the prophet and those that work with him; and please bless the prophet. . .” before they catch themselves and realize that they just said that.  Not that the prophet wouldn’t want a double blessing, it’s just that neither time it was said had much meaning at all. 

I was in a Sabbath Worship service one day and the person saying the closing prayer got his prayers mixed up and asked for a blessing on the food (there was no food)!  And, speaking of church, I bet that most of the time when people ask in their prayers “that we can all drive home safely” or for the sugar-laden cookies to be blessed to “nourish and strengthen our bodies” they are not even thinking about what they are saying.  I know, I catch myself doing the same thing.  Sometimes while saying my morning prayers, I mindlessly say, “Bless that I can sleep well” even though I am getting up to start the day!

I was amazed when I went on my mission to meet many supposedly religious people who did not know how to pray.  Don’t get me wrong, these people had said many prayers throughout their lives but that is all.  I remember seeing a “Book of Prayers” once.  It was a book that had prewritten prayers based on topic.  You want a prayer for graduation?  Look it up in the prayer book.  You want a prayer for a wedding?  Look it up in the prayer book.  You want a prayer for your kids?  Look it up in the prayer book.  There are three things I learned from these experiences: first, how grateful I am that I was taught how to pray; second, just how rewarding it was to teach people how to really pray; and, third, how clever it is of the Devil to twist prayer into something you just look up in a book.

Some time ago the phone was ringing and someone ran and answered it with “Heavenly Father.” Oops, that should have been “Hello!”  But it got me thinking.  What if God had responded?  What kind of conversation would that have been?  What things would I say?  What questions would I ask?  What gratitude would I show?  What counsel would I seek?  What would He say back?  What love would He express?  What direction would He give?  If I had God on the phone, would I do all the talking or would I give plenty of time to listen?  Now, why can’t prayer be more like that? 

The answer is that it can and should be.  Not that prayer should be a casual chatty conversation or that God will enter into a verbal dialog, but we have the awesome ability to humbly approach the throne of God and seek counsel, help, love, and direction.  We have the ability to cry out to the all-powerful creator of the universe and get personal answers.

These thoughts were the basis for this poem.  Several years ago I was sitting in an Institute class and the topic of discussion was what it meant to pray.  I started getting a bunch of thoughts and turned to the back of my notebook and quickly wrote this poem down.  For years after that I would inadvertently stumble across my hastily made scribbles and remember what it means to really pray.

And if it helps, maybe next time you pray, think of it as a special call from a precious child to a loving Father.  I promise that prayer won’t just bounce off the ceiling.

Written: Fall 2012

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