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Toward A Remedy For Vain Repetitions

MCQ - August 19, 2010

I was recently discussing prayer with my 16 year old son and he mentioned that he has found himself saying the same things over and over again in his personal prayers, which seemed silly and un-spiritual to him.  He felt he was getting nothing out of these repetitious prayers and that the Lord was probably not happy with them either.  His remedy for that was to simply stop saying any more personal prayers until he had something important to say.  Sort of like telling the Lord that no news is good news.

I was a little alarmed by this and didn’t know what to say.  Having repetitious, not-particularly-spiritual prayers is a common problem, and one I’ve never really been able to solve on a permanent basis.  It happens to everyone at one time or another, right?  But the answer is probably not to just quit praying, it’s probably to try harder to find the connection with the Spirit that will allow you to pray with real meaning.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

What I eventually told him just came out of the air.  I don’t know if it was inspiration, or just an idea, but I told him to just stop talking.  He said he had already stopped praying.  I said, no, don’t stop praying, just stop talking.  Stop repeating the same worn out things you always say and just don’t say anything.  He asked what exactly he would be doing then.  I told him to just think about what he might want to talk about with the Lord.  

Think about your problems and the things you’re grateful for and the things you need help with and think about what, if anything, the Lord might want you to talk about.  If something then comes to mind that you need to say, then say that, but otherwise, just close your prayer and move on.  That will have a lot better chance of connecting with the spirit than just repeating the same things over and over again, and it’s sure a lot better than not praying at all.

He said he would try that.  What do you think?  What is your remedy for this problem?


  1. Brilliant. I’ve been doing bible study with the neighborhood pentacostals (it took months of internal debate before they allowed me to join; the catholics in the group eventually won out and brought me in), and have been fascinated to see a whole ‘nuther form of prayer. They’ll pretty much say anything, and do it in a very insistant manner. It’s been inspiring.

    Comment by Juan Figuroa — August 19, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

  2. MCQ,

    Even we dubiously more mature members run into this problem. At least I did. Then after spending hours with my bishop, hearing his conversant prayers, I learned that just plain talking works for me. Now when I approach the Lord I tell him exactly what I’m thinking– things I’m grateful for, my concerns, etc.– as if I would be talking to myself on a walk, or deferentially confiding in a close family member. I don’t worry so much anymore about checking off my “ask-thees” and “thank-thees,” and I keep the King James English to a minimum. I can’t say if this would work for everyone, but I find myself on my knees a lot more often and a lot longer.

    Comment by David T. — August 19, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

  3. Nice suggestion, MCQ.

    I sort of do like David T. I think personal prayers should be conversational. Forget the niceties of public pray, such as th- form pronouns, the four-steps we taught investigators, elevated language. Just talk as you would to a friend. What’s on your mind? What are you concerned about? The calculus test? Asking Susie to Homecoming? Talk about those thing in a simple, conversational manner.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — August 19, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  4. MCQ, Thanks for reminding me that I’m not the only one who struggles with this stuff. My best prayers come as I walk by myself through my neighborhood (on the way some where). I even mutter under my breath sometimes- to keep my brain from veering off into other thoughts. Kneeling by my bed just puts me to sleep – every time.

    Comment by CJ Douglass — August 19, 2010 @ 7:31 pm

  5. On home teacher challenged us to pray with a pause. Instead of jumping into a normal prayer, pause. It has done what your suggestion to your son has done. I think about what that Lord would have me pray.

    Comment by Rich Alger — August 20, 2010 @ 9:11 am

  6. “One of our home teachers”

    Comment by Rich Alger — August 20, 2010 @ 9:12 am

  7. One word: thesaurus.

    Comment by Clark — August 20, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

  8. Years back I would go for a walk every evening and I challenged myself to spend the entire time in prayer. I think my walks were about 20 minutes long.

    I’d run out of things to pray about, so I started praying for people I knew. Sometimes I had trouble thinking of anyone to pray for. So I asked–who should I be praying for? My answer was my niece. So I prayed for her and her husband and their kids. Found out much later that they’d been close to divorcing at the time.

    Anyway sometimes it’s good to just pray for other people, even people you think might not be in particular need of it at the time.

    Comment by Susan M — August 20, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

  9. Great recommendations. I think the idea of being quiet in prayer is an excellent one, if one can stay awake. :-)

    I also like the conversation recommendation.

    Something else (which might be more than a teenager is ready to do) is to jot down ideas during the day to talk about.

    I learned to pray with a pencil and paper on my mission (eg, to have one ready to record thoughts). I don’t always do it, but when I have a “big” topic I sometimes do.

    Comment by Paul — August 20, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

  10. Thanks for the comments and recommendations. Thinking about prayer as a conversation, rather than a petition or audio presentation is a good idea. Not sure if I’ve discussed that with my son before, but I will.

    Clark, not sure if you’re joking, but vocabulary isn’t the problem. He’s feeling like he’s just repeatedly addressing the same subjects, like checking off a list.

    CJ and Susan, that’s an incredibly good idea. I pray while walking the dog, and sometimes find myself talking out loud in places where people can hear me. Embarassing, but good prayer time.

    Paul, I’ve never tried writing things down as I think of them, but I think it’s a good idea. Remembering to do it is the hard part there.

    Comment by MCQ — August 20, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  11. I love it. Some of my most poignant prayers happened when I couldn’t find words.

    Comment by SilverRAin — August 20, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  12. If I’m not mistaken, the Lord cautions us against VAIN repetition, not repetition per se. I’m also mindful of the sometimes thoughtless way we breeze through the hymns on Sunday.

    Comment by david r. — August 20, 2010 @ 8:01 pm

  13. I’ve also given up the formalistic language for my personal prayers, and talk like a conversation. I haven’t had trouble with vain repetition recently, since my life is undergoing some dramatic changes. But in the past, I’ve revitalized my prayers by reading aloud Psalms, especially psalms of praise. There’s something about praying and telling God how incredible and majestic he is that brings an instant connection to God. I think of it as the “hallowed be thy name” step in the Lord’s Prayer.

    I’ve also had some good experiences with Susan’s suggestion to pray for other people. I like the change of heart that comes from praying for someone I’ve had friction with.

    Comment by Melinda — August 20, 2010 @ 8:14 pm

  14. Awesome idea.

    Perhaps another option is to tell him to try saying a prayer of just thank-yous. I did that once, and I ended up praying for an hour.

    Comment by Kim Siever — August 21, 2010 @ 8:26 am

  15. Teenagers seem to lack the ability to feel much gratitude, but I agree that’s a good idea for prayer, Kim. An hour is about 55 min. longer than I’ve ever been able to pray.

    Comment by MCQ — August 21, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

  16. Sometimes changing how or where I pray helps. Sometimes I’ll prostrate myself flat, sometimes bend over like the pictures of Islam toward Mecca, sometimes I’ll raise both hands in the air, sometimes I’ll literally go into the closet, one of my most memorable prayers was in a very cramped bathroom sitting on the toilet (with the lid down), I try and do about anything to get out of the curse of the normal.

    Comment by Don — August 24, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

  17. I thank you all for your wounderful comments. I to also find myself saying the same things in prayer. Just a remember to always in your prayers daily to plead with the LORD for the Holy Gohst daily to guide you and lead you in the way back to your Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is very nessesary in our lives. I think what repitition is in prayers is like saying memorized prayers. When you pray to God you should always pray from your heart and not any memorized prayers. When i go somewhere and I think i see someone in need I pray for that person and i pray if there is any way that i can help that person. If there isnt then i pray for him or her and leave them the LORD’S blessings. The main thing is to pray for guidence everyday from the sweet Holy Spirit. Pray and thank Heavenly Father for everything. I dont care if your rich or poor. How did you get rich. By God’s holy blessings. Pray and thank him for your food. Pray and thank him for getting an A on you school paper. Pray and thank him for his beautiful creations. There is alot we can thank him for. Just remember to pray for all for that is what our Saviour Jesus Christ taught us to do. Also pray before scripture study to get greater personal revelation from the Holy Gohst, and pray before studying the words of the living Prophets and Apostles,but always remember to keep silent after your prayers and listen to what God is saying and write doun the impressions you get wheather thoughts or felling. Always pause in your prayers and write doun impressions and thoughts that come to you during prayer. The spirit is always teaching us new things daily, exspessally how we can be better people and be more like Jesus. I’m trying to be like Jesus and ctr (choose the right). Well, that is all the advice I have for now. God bless you all. You can all reach me at mormonpat@yahoo.com Please email me anytime. I will be lookinf forward to your emails!

    Comment by Patrick — October 4, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

  18. I hope that i am writing to mormons. It really dosent matter. God Bless you all!

    Comment by Patrick — October 4, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

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