Have you heard the admonition to "always have a prayer in your heart?" I never understood that when I was growing up. How could I always pray? I had school to attend and friends to play with! I couldn't pray then! I learned how to have a prayer in my heart during the summer of 2004 when I taught English at the Xia Xi School of English in Dalian, China. I entered the country alone and afraid. I will be forever grateful for the Holy Ghost, my constant companion. I prayed before I walked from my apartment to school. My blonde hair and blue eyes drew stares from everyone in the black-haired, almond-eyed sea of Chinese people. Most stares were friendly and curious, but some in the shady neighborhood I walked through frightened me. I prayed before I stood to teach a room full of eager teenagers and students. I didn’t want to let them down. I prayed before I ate delicious dumplings and hot pot; I prayed even harder over the cockroach shrimp, boiled just until they were dead. Ugh. I attended an LDS sacrament meeting one Sunday in Beijing. It was held in the room of a high rise office building. I cried when I walked in because it felt so good to be surrounded by Mormons again! I cried when I walked out because China is dark and I hated to leave the light of that sacrament meeting. China needs the gospel. I eagerly await the day when their corrupt government will allow missionaries to proselyte. Many good people are ready to accept the gospel. I know because I met them.
The scripture story that sustained me during that time of teaching is found in the Book of Mormon. When Alma and his people were in bondage to the wicked high priest Amulon and the Lamanites, their afflictions were so great that "they began to cry mightily unto God" (Mosiah 24: 10). Amulon threatened to kill every person found praying. So Alma and his people "did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts." God answered their prayers, made their burdens light, and eventually freed them from the Lamanites. This is what it means to always have a prayer in your heart – to pray to God often throughout the day.
Praying to Heavenly Father is like making a phone call to a dear friend, except my speech is elevated with "thee" and thou" and "thine". He always answers on the first ring. I never get a busy signal. I can talk as long as I need to and He will listen intently the entire time. I could never call at a bad time because time is an earthly, not heavenly, concept. Heavenly Father is always available. He is always happy to hear from me, even when I have made poor choices, because He is forgiving. He loves me. He misses me. He communicates back to me too. Not by talking (wouldn't that be cool if He did!) but by giving me promptings and impressions from the Holy Ghost. I close my prayers, but I never hang up the phone. I talk to Him many times throughout the day. In this way, my heart is continually drawn out in prayer.
We can call Him when the kids are jumping on the bed and ignoring our plea to get dressed! He will grant us patience. We can call Him when we leave for work and school. He will grant us protection. We can call Him when we don't know what to make for dinner. He will remind us of a forgotten recipe. We can call Him when we learn that our friend is battling cancer. He will bless her with strength and us with inspiration to help her. We can call Him just to say thank you while we are laughing on the couch with good friends. There is always a reason to send a prayer, either long or short, to heaven. We can always say thank you for our blessings or ask for help, whether for ourselves or someone else. Whenever I hear an ambulance siren, I send a prayer to heaven. Ambulances always remind me of the night my brother died. I have flashbacks of the terror I felt. I pray that God will bless the person who needs medical help, the person's family, and the driver and paramedics in the ambulance.
The prophet Alma also taught us never to hang up the phone:
"Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto Him. Cry when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto Him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you" (Book of Mormon, Alma 34: 19-27).
Is there ever a time NOT to pray? Nope. As Alma said, we should always pray for help for ourselves and for those around us. We could spend our whole day on our knees thanking Him for all His blessings! But then we could not take care of our families or fulfill our responsibilities. But if we always have a prayer in our heart, we do not have to be on our knees to pray. Our prayers reach heaven in the midst of whatever we are doing. No matter where in the world we are, from China to America, we never have to hang up.