Sometimes I get frustrated by the nature of prayer. The harder I try to please my Heavenly Father, the more personal prayer feels like the mental and emotional equivalent of swimming through peanut butter. My own weakness and failure, along with the needs of so many people around me (let alone the world at large) begin to consume my thoughts, lining up into an endless queue stretching into my mental horizon. I feel anxious. I don’t have time to express it all, and even if I did, I so often lack the words to express any of it.
I'm not implying that short, simple prayer does not often bring immediate light and peace. These are some of my favorites. But there are other times when our needs are great that prayer is a painful process. The term the scriptures use? Wrestle. “Wrestle” appears four times in the scriptures, and three of those refer to individuals engaged in prayer, Not a quick prayer over dinner, or the wrote prayer before Sunday School, not even the sincere prayer of thanks, but the gut-wrenching pleading of a beggar seeking for a glimmer of light in the darkness, a reprieve from the depths of pain, or a helping hand out of a literal hell. If you go beyond the word itself, wrestle-related descriptors accompany these "deep prayers" throughout the scriptures. Surely this is part of what Joseph endured, declaring that just prior to the First Vision he was ready to "sink into despair" and "abandon himself to destruction”?
This is all to say that I think it’s okay if prayer hurts sometimes. In fact, I dare say if prayer is never hard, we may be doing it wrong. And this type of prayer does not occur without spending legitimate time and thought.
References to wrestling in prayer:
- Genesis 32: Jacob and his wrestle with God. Be sure to note what his new name (Israel) means.
- Enos 1: Enos in his quest for forgiveness.
- Alma 8: Alma pleading for help as a missionary.
A few other wrestles:
- Joseph Smith History 1 - The First Vision
- D&C 121 - Joseph in Liberty Jail
- 3 Nephi 17 The Savior prays with the Nephites
When you’re done with "wrestle,” groan is another good word to chase down this rabbit hole.