I am sharing the video above of a speech (transcript here) given by the late great Dr. Stephen R, Covey at my alma mater, BYU. He was the best-selling author of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. More importantly, he was a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a great husband and father.
I have enjoyed learning from his different books through the years. (The one I just mentioned, plus The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, First Things First, The Divine Center, and The 8th Habit. He has more, but those are the ones I have read from.) The video above is a beautiful accompaniment to the article I quote from below.
I found this highly beneficially instructive article by him and his wife, Sandra Covey, published in the January 1976 Ensign, about teaching your children how to communicate with God.
I love, love, love what they say at the very beginning of the article, especially what I put in bold:
As parents we are convinced that no other single activity has such a determining influence on the whole of life as does effective prayer. It can and should determine everything else, including our actions and our attitudes or responses to all that happens to us.
If neglected, everything else in life is negatively affected. If honored, everything else in life is graced. It is no wonder God commands parents to teach their children “to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” (D&C 68:28.)
We believe many of us in the Church are having problems and unhappiness because we are not properly teaching our children, and before we will be released from these plaguing problems, we will need to “set in order” our own homes.
We can apply all these teachings to our ourselves, as grown-up children of God. Brother and Sister Covey explain that we can’t really teach our children to pray unless we are modeling two-way communication ourselves. So let’s learn the following steps as adults, if we haven’t already, and teach them to our children.
The three ways we communicate with God:
1. Mechanical, one way prayers, also known as “saying our prayers.” This is where we begin. We say prayers out loud and in our heart too, but usually only when asked to by a parent or friend. It’s a natural fundamental first step. We talk to God by saying things, but we don’t necessarily feel any communication back from God. We follow these steps:
a. We address God: “Our Father in heaven …”
b. We give thanks for our blessings (and trials, as in “all things”): “We thank thee ”
c. We ask for help: “We ask thee …”
d. We close: “In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
2. Meaningful, one-way prayers.
This is where prayer becomes meaningful instead a rote, habitual thing that often feels like we are praying just to do it but that our prayer is bouncing off the ceiling. I really love the suggestions, examples, and stories the Coveys give to help us learn to pray this way. Here are their suggestions in a nutshell:
a. When you call the family for family prayer, pause and say something like, “Let’s take a few moments to think about who we are praying to and why. Let’s quietly think about what we are doing—about the things we are grateful for.”
b. If you have time, sing a hymn about prayer to invite the Spirit into your hearts and the room.
c. Go around the family circle and ask each family member what special blessings or help they need in their life right now.
d. When you ask a child to pray, remind them to remember who the child is praying to and to speak from the heart. I can just hear Brother Covey say in his gentle voice this quote from the article, “Think about what is in your heart and say it to your Heavenly Father. David, what are you really grateful for? How has the Lord blessed our family and answered our prayers? Let’s think about it and then just talk to your Heavenly Father as you talk to me. Don’t worry if you don’t say everything everyone else says. Say what you really feel in your heart. Heavenly Father loves and cares for you just as I do, even more so.”
e. Commend them for heartfelt, spontaneous expressions after you do step d.
f. Model praying for specific things. Be ready to interrupt what you are doing in order to model this. In the article, Sister Covey tells a wonderful story of her four-year-old daughter who asked, as they were riding in the car in a canyon, why they didn’t have a new baby in their family. Sister Covey explained that God was in control of that, so maybe if the daughter prayed and asked for that, God would grant them a baby. They pulled over to the side of the road to stop the car and pray. Then the little girl reminded the family every day to pray for a baby, and they eventually were blessed with a baby. Sister Covey credits the blessing of the baby to her little daughter leading out in prayers of faith.
g. Help them break up any mechanical prayers by reminding them that vocal, kneeling prayers are an accompaniment to a constant attitude of praying always in the heart. They say:
“Pray always” to us means a constant, subconscious commitment to and awareness of the Lord, so that his purposes and principles govern our every action, word, and thought, plus a frequent conscious renewal of that relationship and commitment in prayer.
h. After family prayer, encourage them to remain kneeling for personal prayers, if that seems appropriate, or excuse them to their rooms for more privacy to say personal prayers.
i. Teach your children to pray for what the Lord knows they need, rather than what they think they want. They say the following in the article:
“What is best for my character, my development, my spiritual growth, even if it’s a hard experience for me?” The Lord knows what we need—we know what we want. This is one excellent reason for regular scripture study. The Lord is constantly dealing with his children in terms of their needs, not their wants.
3. Genuine, heartfelt,two-way communication with God.
This is where we genuinely speak from the heart to God, and then we pause after speaking and listen to the Holy Ghost. This level involves asking God questions in prayer, and pausing to listen after the prayer is said. (The Coveys didn’t say this, but I am including it here, it helps to read the Book of Mormon after asking the question in prayer, reading until we feel some glimmer of an answer, and then taking time to write out all the thoughts and feelings that came with that glimmer. Then ask God if those thoughts and feelings are an answer from God, regarding your question. So you do what my friend Becky Edwards calls a “prayer sandwich.” A prayer before and after reading and writing is like the two slices of bread for the sandwich, and the “sandwich filling” is the reading the Book of Mormon and writing. She calls it “Heaven Journaling.”
OK, back to the Covey article. Brother Covey says:
We need to teach our children that the Lord speaks to us in many ways, but more particularly through his servants, the prophets, ancient (scriptures) and modern (conferences, writings), and through his still, small voice. We teach them that their heart is the ear of the spirit and that their conscience is His voice. President David O. McKay taught that for those in the Church in the line of their duty, the Holy Ghost normally speaks through the conscience. To a group of seminary and institute people, Elder Bruce McConkie of the Council of the Twelve once used a radio analogy, suggesting that the transmitter is the Holy Ghost, we are the receivers, and the Spirit of Christ represents the radio waves. Moroni taught that the gifts and powers of the Spirit come by and through the Spirit of Christ. (Moro. 10:7–17.)
Brother Covey tells the story of a college student who heard him speak three times at public events. Through what she heard him say to the general audience, and then in a personal conversation one-on-one, she learned to “educate her conscience.” She learned to listen to God by listening to her conscience after prayer and then acting on it. After her third visit with Dr./Brother Covey after a speech event by him she said that learning to listen and act on her conscience was the greatest practical religious step that had totally changed her life.
Here are the questions Dr./Brother Covey suggests, in the video speech at the top, that we ask ourselves in prayer, then take time to ponder and act on.
- What do I need to do to draw closer to the living Christ?
- What do I need to do to be a better member of my family, whatever role that may be: father, daughter, mother, son?
- What do I need to fully magnify my duty as a student here at BYU, or as a faculty or staff person? (If this doesn’t apply to you, apply it to whatever temporal stewardship assignment you find yourself in, whether it is housewife/mother, househusband/father, breadwinner outside of the home, breadwinner inside the home, etc.)
I will conclude with what they say, the best quote of the whole article, about two-way communication with God, with a hearty amen! Please read the original article here.
Once a person discovers the possibility of a dynamic, living relationship and communication, once he learns the special meaning of mighty prayer, he is never the same again. All things, including relationships, are changed and made infinitely more alive and beautiful.