I’m sure we’ve all heard the Savior’s injunction to avoid vain repetitions in prayer (Matthew 6:7-8). Yet I continually encounter prayer after prayer populated with trite phrases that are really nothing more than filler material.
And I know why this is. People are simply living life from habit. They aren’t thinking about what they do when they do it. They’re just playing a habit. It’s what we are all hardwired to do.
And it’s also the way we deny ourselves much of the joy God wants us to have right here and now. Without conscious awareness of what we do when we do it, the true joy of living simply can’t come to us.
Bless this food
Many of our activities include food. Typical offerings like cookies and punch are anything but healthy. Yet what do we usually pray before partaking? “Please bless this food that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies.”
Peeps! Cookies and punch are fat and sugar. While they taste awesome, fat and sugar by themselves do not nourish and strengthen the human body. So why are we praying that they will?
I’ll tell you why. We’re living life on autopilot. But we can break free. It’s called agency. Acting with conscious intent is prerequisite to extracting the most joy out of living.
The obvious alternative is to serve more healthy fare. Then our prayers will match our actions. We also get the bonus of supporting each other in caring for the temples our bodies are.
If you insist on serving less-than-nutritious foods that taste awesome, at least be conscious of what words you include in your prayers. Better to give thanks that we have the health in our bodies to enjoy what we eat than to plead that somehow God will bend the rules of nature so we can have our dream diet of eating what we want without consequence to our bodies.
Bless the absent
This next one is classic. “Bless those who are absent that they will come next time.” Of course, it ends right there. There’s no effort to reach out to anyone who’s absent. Hey, we often don’t even reach out to people in need in the same room who heard our prayer!
Yet we continue to play out this bad habit. Again, we have life on autopilot.
Instead of using the same trite expression, look around you. Identify someone who isn’t there and pray for that person by name. Then follow up by reaching out after that specific individual.
And if you don’t know who’s absent, then try this. Acknowledge in your prayer that you want to pray for someone who isn’t there but you don’t know who. Ask to be guided to that someone. Then after the prayer, show the Lord some real intent by asking around if anyone knows of someone who is absent. Once you identify that person, go reach out to him or her.
Some closing words
Unfortunately, we don’t limit the habit of vain repetitions to prayer. Many of us have the same habit when bearing our testimonies.
The one that sends me looking for my roll of duct tape the quickest is when someone says, “in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.” So, what? You’re bearing a public testimony to God the Father? I thought you were talking to the humans in the room. And I don’t have any son, let alone one named Jesus Christ. Rest assured that if I did have a son, I certainly wouldn’t name him after a member of the Godhead.
Habits left unchecked lead to life on autopilot. Life on autopilot creates a rote existence of just going through the motions. That arrangement runs counter to the nature of joy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. You’ll find more meaning in what you do when you gain awareness of what you do when you do it and do what you do because you consciously intend to do it. That approach opens the door wide for joy to enter your life, regardless of your situation.
It really is all in how you approach it. So what expressions do you repeat blindly out of habit? Take a moment to examine yourself. If you find anything rote, replace it with consciously chosen words and actions. Get out of your own way and start experiencing the most your life has to offer you.
And feel free to share below in the comments section if you have a vain repetition I failed to mention. That can help all of us to stop living on autopilot and start living more by conscious choice. Start experiencing more joy in life, and then help others do the same.
Howdy! I'm Lance, host of Joy in the Journey Radio. I've been blogging about LDS singles life since 2012, and since 2018 I've been producing a weekly radio show to help LDS singles have more joy in their journey and bring all Latter-day Saints together. Let's engage a conversation that will increase the faith of LDS singles and bring singles and marrieds together in a true unity of the faith.
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