My husband and I had an interesting disagreement the other day. He was on the side of "only meaningful prayer" and I, surprisingly enough, found myself defending rote, repetitious prayer. Here's the scoop:
He feels like everytime he turns around it's time for another prayer. We Latter-day Saints are a praying people: personal prayer, breakfast prayer, family prayer, dinner prayer, Family Home Evening opening prayer, Family Home Evening closing prayer, bedtime prayer. Prayer for this, prayer for that. It makes him weary, and it makes him grumble. "If we're just saying the same old thing over and over again, then let's not say it!" he gripes. Let's say fewer, more meaningful prayers.
Now, I know the leaders of the Church have counseled and cautioned about the quality of our communications with God. We should be wary of falling into patterns of 'vain repetition' in our prayers. We should be aware that we actually are communing with Deity, and not just muttering words into space. But as a parent, and even as a human being, I am seeing prayer as being necessary in both quality and quantity.
Teaching a child to pray must start from a very early age. It begins with patterning and routine. A child copies what we do and say, thus the primer prayers we give to our children often keep surfacing even years later when dinner is on the table and they just want to quell the rumbling in their empty tummies: "Please bless this food to nourish and strengthen our bodies."
Or when we don't know what else to say first: "We're thankful for this day." Or last: "Bless us to sleep well. (or go home in safety, etc.)"
And though I will continue to teach my children (and reinforce to myself) that prayer is an active, living communication, and should reflect our most personal, intimate feelings of concern and gratitude, I also defend the 'same old prayer'. Here's why:
Much of what we do we do because we've always done it that way. Patterns and habits have to be put in place in our lives, and that happens purely from repetition. I want my children to feel that they've forgotten something if they begin to eat a meal that has not first been blessed, just like I would want them to feel that they have forgotten something if they accept a birthday gift without first saying 'thank you'. I want them to feel that they're missing something if they lie down to sleep at night without saying their prayers, just as I want them to feel that they are missing something without my kiss and love before they fall asleep. We pray often because we're commanded to, and because it keeps our Heavenly Father on the front burner of our minds. I never want too much time to go by without turning to Him.
There will come a day when my children live outside the walls of the home I have prepared for them. There will come a day when they are lonely, or confused, or angry, or betrayed. There will come a day when the buffetings of the adversary will try to crush them. I hope in that day that they will automatically turn to prayer because that's what they were taught by example. If we only make the effort to pray when we're really feeling meaningful, it's like only taking out the good china for a special occasion. . .that never happens.
In my own life, the quality of my prayers has steadily improved with practice, just as anything else I do improves with practice. I trust it will be the same with my children. But thank goodness my parents taught me to practice! Thank goodness I never had to wonder where to turn or what to do. I do what I have always done, sometimes more meaningfully than others: I pray.