Subscribe Contact Facebook Follow us on Twitter Pinterest Google+ bloglovin

Praying with Your Eyes Open

Back when I was very young, I prayed out loud, kneeling by my bed in the approved manner. Then about the age of five or six, I noticed that my mother didn’t speak any words when she said her prayers. When I asked why, she explained that she was praying silently.  

You can guess the rest. I quickly proclaimed that I was old enough to pray that way too. For the next several weeks, I kneeled by my bedside, eyes closed, arms folded, silent, for some random period of time. I don’t remember how long it was before I clued into the fact that I was supposed to be thinking words inside my head.

Prayer is a peculiar thing. We’re talking about ourself to someone who already knows everything we could possibly say. We’re asking for favors from someone who’s immune to bribery, threats, blackmail, or bargaining. So why even bother?

Scriptures suggest that prayer is meant to be a two-way communication. I was taught once that after praying, I should remain on my knees for a minute and listen for answers that might manifest themselves. The first few times I tried, I felt quite foolish. Over time, though, I started to experience thoughts and feelings that seemed to come from a source wiser, calmer, and more insightful than myself.

For many Mormon males, the time we start taking prayer seriously is while serving a mission.

Prayer is strongly emphasized for missionaries. We pray with our companions: morning and evening, over every meal and study session, and whenever we leave our apartments to go proselyting. We pray on behalf of those we teach. We pray with those we teach, to teach them to pray and encourage them to ask God whether what we’re telling them is true. In praying, we achieve greater spiritual strength — and we come to love and care about the people we’re praying for.

God clearly doesn’t change as a result of our prayers. The only party to prayer who can change is ourselves. We can tell prayer is working when we feel our emotions transforming, our understanding sharpen, our hearts soften, ourselves become more willing to do the things we feel are right. Prayer, when carried out properly, is a learning experience.

As a new missionary in the Missionary Training Center, I had great difficulty staying awake for prayers. To counter this, I would pray with my eyes open. This earned me some odd looks and comments. I’m quite sure, though, that it was better than if I’d fallen asleep instead.

Back when I was a missionary, we wrote a letter to the mission president once a week. At first I viewed this as nothing very important, assuming the mission president skimmed the letters at best.

Partway through my mission, my thinking changed. I started looking on those letters as an opportunity to report on my stewardship: personal concerns, noteworthy experiences, and the progress of the missionary work. I imagined the mission president using my letters to inform himself about the state of things in my part of the mission. This made the letters more important to me. I came to value them as a chance to assess, consider, and make meaning out of my experiences.

I received more tangible evidence of their impact shortly before the end of my mission. I was coming up on my last month before returning home, and I had a feeling that I was going to be transferred. I also had the feeling, however, that this was something I could change — if I wanted to.

That was the situation when it came time for me to write the last weekly letter my mission president would receive prior to the transfer date. In my letter, I didn’t talk about the transfer directly. Instead, I simply discussed all the things my companion and I were in the middle of doing. I later heard that before my mission president read my letter, he had moved my name to another city on the big mission map in his office. But then he read it, and my name went back to Lucca, where I finished my mission.

I don’t want to make too much of the parallel between prayer and those weekly letters. For one thing, there’s the whole omniscience-thing that God has going for him. My mission president, in contrast, really needed the information I provided.

Where the parallel does work is in the importance of knowing there’s someone at the other end — someone who cares about what you have to say. That sense of connection can make all the difference. For me, it’s what prayer is really all about.


Jonathan Langford ( is a freelance writer and editor who lives in western Wisconsin with his wife and two children (his oldest is currently serving a mission in western Washington state). His first novel, No Going Back, a 2009 Whitney Award finalist for best general fiction by an LDS author, describes a Mormon teenage boy’s struggle to remain faithful despite his homosexual feelings. Langford is also coauthor of the Latter-day Saint Family Encyclopedia, due for release from Thunder Bay Press in November 2010.

PHOTO CREDIT: Some  rights reserved by justifycole,

Enjoy shopping for quality baby clothing at

Google+ Followers