Praying honestly

I read a BYU devotional recently that mentioned something I’ve come to learn is very important. Praying openly and honestly is critical to bring change in my life.

I seek healing. I seek peace. I seek understanding of the situations I experience every day.

For me, prayer is a critical part of that. I have to be actively engaged in my healing, and I have to be completely honest with Father in my prayers.

Prayers often reflect my mental state. They are happy when I’m happy, they are dejected when I am dejected, but I always try to maintain a strong portion of gratitude. This is likely helpful, but not the subject of this post.

When I’m most depressed, when the world has piled itself on top of me (or when I’ve dug a hole, jumped in, and decided to fill it from the inside), my prayers often lack honesty. Only when my problems become so insurmountable that I cannot escape them alone (when I recognize how little control I have) do I elaborate the exact difficulties I have to God.

The is also true when things are going well. When I’m doing well, when life is full of blessings, I maintain gratitude, but my prayers are usually less specific than when I’m very troubled.

These things should not be.

Prayer is a method of engaging in honest, specific self-reflection. It has divine implications if you allow it to, but I believe the words of Jonathan Sandberg are accurate for me:

In your prayers, be sure to speak openly, sincerely, and directly to Him who is your loving Father. Sometimes I fear our prayers are too vague and too passive to bring about the spiritual support we need.

God requires us to know ourselves. He knows us perfectly. We must grow to that same knowledge. Even if we don’t like the things we discover and learn, acknowledging them specifically in prayer can be the first step to healing and overcoming them.

Specificity in prayer is important. It’s far more important to say, “Father, help me have the strength to fight through my apathy today” than to say “Uh, please help me to get some feelings.”

“I’m really unmotivated right now. All I do muster the desire to do and execute was say this prayer. Please grant me a little more strength to move forward with __[collecting tax documents, opening the mail, packing my clothes, writing more code]__.”

Praying honestly brings out honesty that is critical to my progress. By acknowledging my shortcomings to myself and to God in prayer, I fulfill the scriptural injunction in Ether:

If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness

and I learn more about me. I learn to identify the source of my challenges. From there I can make progress and grow. From there I learn God

[gives] unto men weakness that they may be humble [don’t I know it?]; and [he says] and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

My weakness isn’t yet strength. My weakness might change from prayer to prayer.

But praying honestly, admitting areas of weakness, asking for help, asking specifically, and asking for strength to move forward is necessary to my personal growth.

Why you should take up an endurance sport

I’m a sprinter. I’ve probably referenced this before. When I play volleyball, the only thing that matters is how fast I can get to a place on the floor within the gym. 

When I do things in life, I want similar results. I want immediate feedback. As a scientist, I like to perform controlled experiments that usually have predictable outcomes. 

But that’s not life. That’s not reality. Reality is so full of confounding variables that it’s very often difficult to tease out the things that most impact our success. 

Thus endurance sports are important to experience and understand. Nevermind the evolutionary argument that our bodies were primed over thousands of years to do endurance things. (It was a method of hunting for millennia; look it up.) Start running, swimming, cycling, or something that takes hours to accomplish so you can better understand the things you experience in life. (I suggest cycling. You go fast and see lots of things.)

Life is a multi-stage cycling race. Some people like to say marathons, but marathons are too short. Life is far more comparable to the Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, or the Tour de France. 

Everyday we get on our bikes and ride to reach and accomplish goals. Every trial is a stage or series of stages. We have battles we fight every day and they drag on and on and on. A marathon is over in five hours. One cycling stage might be, but then the cyclists have to recover and prepare to to the same thing again the next day. 

So take up and endurance sport. Do something you enjoy, but do something that requires a significant time commitment. And take time as you run, hike, swim (boring), cycle, whatever to ponder how the things you do and are learning affect your life and your future. 

Our challenges affect us forever

I didn’t ask to have the year I did. In fact, I fervently prayed for a completely different set of experiences. I worked really hard for things that I felt inspired to pursue, things I knew would be blessings in my life. I strove to land a full-time teaching job. I worked to be appointed as a head coach. And I fought tooth and nail to keep my relationship together and make progress toward making eternal covenants with her and God.

Now, none of those things exist in my life. I have no contact with the girl, I don’t teach for pay, and I no longer am the head coach. All those things I worked for, all those things that mattered most have been taken away. To top it all off, I experienced depths of depression I never thought possible, I mourned more deeply than I expected I could, and I quit the things I thought would bring me the most long-term joy.

But my heart is opened. I feel more deeply now than I ever have before. I’ve learned to draw on the pain I experienced and the worries I have about my future to empathize with friends who experience trials and challenges in their lives.

I wrote last week about seeing the people behind their trials. The things I experienced make me better. The long-term perspective shows that I am more like Father than I was last year.

But I am not the things I experienced. I am not a failed teacher. I am not a depressive. I am not a bad coach. I am not a failure as a boyfriend.

Viewing myself as these things limits my growth and improvement. Taking these experiences and recognizing lessons I can learn from them, has shown me to see my friends behind their trials.

The largest take-away is I must actively be pursuing the things that matter most. I value helping others. I value serving. I value following Father with trust and faith.

What I experienced this last year teaches me to be spiritually strong. It teaches me to follow God and be more like Him. I will be forever affected by my experiences, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Season of thanks: Empathy

The footballing world was shocked by the announcement of the death of Gary Speed today (article, ESPN).  The former Premiership great and current Wales manager was 42.

I’m grateful Heavenly Father has blessed us with empathy.  Because we all need support, we have been given the ability to understand the feelings of others.  Obviously we can never understand exactly how someone feels because that is directly determined by each person’s interpretation of his/her life experiences, but we can get close to understanding them.

My heart reaches out to express my condolences to the Speed family, to Mr Speed’s wife and children.  Only in my imagination can I begin to imagine what it would be like for my father to die at his own hand.  But I know it would be a horrible feeling and those children will be affected forever.  I empathize with the psychological struggles they will have as they search for understanding of their father’s action.

I know enough from my own experience being single and enough learned from talking with single parents that I would never want my spouse to die, let alone at such a young age or while children were at home.  Honestly, that may be one of the things that scares me the most about getting married–potential to end up where I am now before I’m out of my 20s.

So as I feel for others’ pains and struggles, I am grateful for that capability.  It helps me understand what Jesus did while He was in Gethsemane.  He experienced all the pain, sorrow, guilt, sin, and consequences thereof of every one of God’s children.  He did this to pay the price and so when we are in our darkest times, we can take comfort and strength in knowing we are not alone.  Not only can He empathize, He went through it.

But giving us the gift of empathy, we can begin to understand what He did for us.

Christ’s Role in My Life

It’s funny at first to think that someone I’ve never seen could be the central focus of my life. I mean, seriously, I centre my life around Jesus Christ, His atonement for me, and His example.It seems ridiculous looking in with no shared understanding of the effects Christ can have in a life.

I take comfort knowing I have felt His atoning influence in my life. I am grateful to have often felt the ease of the burden of guilt and shame for my actions. We often think of atonement in the terms of sin, but it covers much more than that. I have felt effects of the atonement for sadness, sickness, depression, and hatred. Truthfully, I have felt it in so many different situations I’ll bet it covers everything. At least that’s what the scriptures teach, and I’m pretty inclined to believe them.
Even when I’m not in the middle of some trauma, I kneel down and seek the love of the Lord. It comes. He gives it that freely.
When I ponder what Christ endured and overcame I am astounded at the amount of love He has for me. (I do not limit that love to just me, but this is about His influence on me.) His atonement wasn’t a finite, calculable experience. It involved infinite suffering and strength to perform. To kneel alone in a garden and take–individually–the sins of each person upon Himself shows more love than I can imagine. In some small way, I have suffered pain for others, usually emotional, but never the full extent of what they feel. never physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, and any other way you might think.
I know it’s an act of love that I could not perform. But because He was perfect, He could. Only He could. Only He can help us perfect ourselves. It’s something I know. And that knowledge supports me in my times of trial.