My car has become my prayer closet lately. In a home bustling with small children, household chores and endless to-do lists, finding the time to pray—and pray alone—can be a challenge. As a teen, I would barricade myself in the bathroom I shared with my siblings and pray while kneeling next to the toilet. It doesn’t exactly sound like a holy place, but I did the best I could. Now grown and with little ones, I find both space and time are limited. Every now and then, while my children are in bed and my husband can hold down the fort, I run a quick errand and turn my car into my prayer closet. It has become a sacred space because it is where I can truly cry unto my Father for relief.
But when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when though hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.“Matthew 6:6, KJV
Most of us pray differently in a church meeting than we do in private. Words offered to God on behalf of a congregation, or in a specific meeting can be powerful but do not always offer the same healing balm that private, reaching prayer can. It can be easy to let our pattern of public prayer affect our personal prayers. In 2015, I was serving with a woman who said the most heartfelt prayers. While she prayed with sincerity and sought for God’s help during a small committee meeting, I realized that I had let familiarity and a lack of focus turn my private prayers casual. What I had been doing was not working for me. I had always had a relationship with God but saw a glimpse of the power there could be with honest and searching prayer. So, I sought for more ways to change my relationship with prayer but also with God.
A few conversations with my friend and a viewing of the life-changing movie War Room showed me what a true disciple’s prayers can be: They can be powerful. They can be vulnerable. And they can be a conversation with God—not a grocery list of blessings. I realized the time on my knees could change from what it had once been. I could truly pour out my heart to God.
So now, I try to make more of my time in prayer vulnerable, pleading, crying, messy or unorganized, and absolutely, sincerely honest. This shift proved valuable in the years to come, as I would have more than one difficult moment where I could turn to my Father with real intent.
There is one session in my prayer closet that sticks out to me as I reflect back on what I have learned.
One evening, I was feeling incredibly confused and distraught, so I took a drive with the intent to run an errand and just let my mind clear, enjoying the quiet away from the house. But as I drove, I felt pulled toward God. He had given me relief before, but this time I preferred the “drive until I feel better” plan I had made to solve it on my own. I wanted to resist the need I felt to pray. Praying felt like too much, like opening the flood-gates, and I wanted to hold it in. Telling God of my hurt meant I had to feel it. After a few blocks of internal struggle and realizing that I needed to pray, I also recognized I couldn’t gloss over or just summarize the hurt in my heart if I was going to ask for His help. If I truly believed He could heal me, make me whole, I needed to be honest. I needed to show him all of my wounds. I needed to lay my whole heart on the altar. My whole heart—or rather my heart in its entirety—didn’t feel whole, it felt broken. But I would try to give Him all the pieces.
Blessed are they …that seek him with the whole heart.“Psalms 119:2, KJV
Giving God my heart meant I needed to have faith in His grace and mercy, to pray expecting that He could ease my hurt, even just a little. I needed to have the faith to allow the power of God in my life. I needed to have faith to pray at all, but especially faith to pray and believe that in my moment of weakness, He would be there. I had to believe that I could partake of the “power of his redemption” (see Omni 1:26, The Book of Mormon) if I prayed for help. I had to show Him my wounds in faith, hoping He would heal them.
As I continued to ponder this idea while finishing up my errand, the pull to petition my Father did not let up. It was almost a physical need that I couldn’t fight: I needed relief. So, I began my prayer with honest feelings.
“I don’t understand….” I said as I shook my head. “Please help me get through this.” Then I bowed my head and whispered, “This is just so hard.” My lip began to quiver, and many feelings flooded my mind. When my prayer began, I sought answers in humility. But as I continued to ponder the feelings of my heart, I realized I still was not being completely honest. My heart was hurting. And I wanted to hold back how much it was. But I knew I needed the faith to show Him all my doubts—even the angry ones.
I remember the first time I read an Instagram post from Al Fox Caraway talking about how she would yell and scream at God. I was shocked and a little concerned at first. How could she do that? Wasn’t that irreverent and disrespectful?
But then, what does it mean to wrestle with God as Enos did? I think I needed to wrestle with my feelings and with God that night.
So, I yelled. In my prayer closet. At God. It makes me cringe a little as I type it. This is not a regular occurrence for me, but in that moment, that was what it felt like to lay my whole soul on His altar. I had to show all of it. I needed to wrestle with the injustice I felt. The weariness of my soul. And the deep desire I had for answers to earth’s most challenging questions: Why was it so hard? Why me? Why now?
And God let me throw my tantrum. I screamed, I pounded on my steering wheel, and I cried. Like, ugly cried. But gradually, my overwhelming feelings began to subside. By laying them all out for Him to see, I no longer had them on my back. I felt lighter. The air began to clear. And I was still. Catching my breath, I listened.
Then He spoke to me.
“I know how injustice feels.”
I bowed my head in humility.
He let me have my moment of self-pity and frustration, and then He told me that He understood how I felt. As embarrassed as I was for the feelings I expressed to Him, I may have been more embarrassed that my pain had blinded me from what I already knew to be true: of course He would understand.
Yeah, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry unto thee in my field; when I did cry unto thee in my prayer, and thou didst hear me…Yea thou art merciful unto thy children when they cry unto thee, to be heard of thee and not of men, and thou wilt hear them.“Alma 33:5, 8, The Book of Mormon
When we are vulnerable with God or anyone else, we open ourselves up to hurt, pain or even rejection. The fear of disconnection can be a powerful deterrent to honesty and sincerity—especially in prayer. Vulnerability requires us to have the courage to ask while not always knowing what the answer might be. We must ask without knowing whether or not healing will come.
But it turns out even He understands my cries for relief, the messiness in the middle of my trial. Jesus understands because He descended below it all (see Doctrine and Covenants 122:8). It can be so easy to doubt that our trial is so unique and difficult to understand or explain to anyone. But Jesus Christ knows every hurt in our hearts. After all, He, too, “was wounded in the house of [His] friends” (Zechariah 13:6, KJV.)
After hearing the words whispered from the Spirit, my thoughts went to Gethsemane when Jesus asks for His cup to be removed (see Luke 22:42). We don’t know how Jesus said that to the Father. And I would guess He likely said it in hushed tones. But perhaps the mortal in Him wished He could have abandoned the strength and composure he had fostered as the Son of God and cry more messily to His Father.
And then I realized why He didn’t do that, why He didn’t save Himself, why He, when “in an agony, prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44) and why He continued to endure despite His pain:
He thought of me.
In this moment. In my car, crying all over my steering wheel.
He thought of my other pleading moments.
And He thought of you. When you are crying, and screaming, and lying on the floor, asking why. Or even when you are silently suffering.
He wanted and He still wants to take that pain away from you. He bore it all, so that we could more easily leave it behind. And the more I come to understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ and my relationship to Him, the more I see that to truly honor His loving sacrifice is for me to use it as much as I can, no matter how hard it seems. I show gratitude for His gift when I let Him take my pain away.
Come unto me all that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.“Matthew 11:28, KJV
He can’t always take away all of the pain experienced on this earth, but He can help us find rest before moving forward when up against insurmountable odds. I know that true relief comes in the next life, which He has promised time and again (see 1 Peter 4:12-13), but I also cannot discount the powerful relief Jesus Christ can give us now, in the middle of our trials.
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.“Mosiah 24:14, The Book of Mormon
Yelling is most definitely not the default setting for my prayers. And yelling in anger does not have to be the way you sincerely pray. This is just occasionally what prayer looks like for me.
Many of my prayers look like humble searching and pleading with a heart turned towards God. Others are tears in quiet desperation. Some are offered with a grateful heart and even joyful exclaiming. Whatever true, sincere prayer looks like for you today, embrace it, embrace Him, let Him in.
I still had more pleading moments in my car that night, looking for strength and answers. And it still took some time and more teaching moments and comfort from the Spirit to get my heartrate back to normal—to find stillness amidst my affliction.
But it came. Stillness came because of Jesus Christ.
Prayer may be the hardest work we will ever be engaged in, and it should be.“Patricia T. Holland, Strength and Stillness
It was incredibly hard to let Christ see my hurt. It was hard to be imperfect in front of a perfect being. And I still don’t fully know why I needed to have that trial, but I know the reason for my hurt: It turned me to Christ, so that He could, in time, take it away.
And the more we turn to Christ, and trust those feelings with Him, the more we can share our whole selves. Sincere prayer takes time to develop. It takes time spent on our knees, our hearts turned towards Him.
And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been this merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy. For thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.“Alma 33:11, The Book of Mormon
When we pray sincerely, we pray in faith. When we turn to Him, we strengthen our faith.
Find a prayer closet. Make one. Clean out your actual closet. It doesn’t really matter where. Find a place to be with God and to feel the love of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. Not for man, but for you. I know you will find relief, even if you are in the midst of affliction. I did. And He wants to do the same for you.
Go to Him. Find rest. And find joy. Even joy in the middle of hard things.
Have the faith to believe He can heal you.
Have the faith enough to pray with your whole soul.
He is waiting to heal your hurting heart.
Wilt thou be made whole?“John 5:6, KJV
Featured image can be found at amomentwithChrist.com