I believe that, ofttimes we make things much harder than they have to be--especially when it comes to turning life around. I remember, during the darkest and most unhappy period of my life, I had no clue how to change. It seemed like I was stuck at the bottom of a deep pit and I couldn't figure out how to escape it. I thought I would need to make some grand gesture to get back into the light, and I wasn't sure where to start.
It's funny because, when I was younger and doing alright, I still thought I had to make some grand gesture to keep on keeping on. Although I wasn't in any trouble or doing anything wrong, I still felt like I should be doing something more. I was saying my daily prayers, trying to read my scriptures, and going to church with my family. But it seemed too easy and I felt like it wasn't enough. In a way, that was true.
Notwithstanding, all it comes down to are those simple answers we always gave in Sunday School to the question, "What should we be doing?" or a variation thereof: pray, study the scriptures, go to church. That's it. It's that easy.
Having said that, we can't just do these things in vain; saying the same repetitive prayer day after day, skimming through the scriptures just to finish the chapter, or physically attend church with our mind on other things. I needed to discover how I should truly apply each of these actions in my own life.
Although I was saying daily prayers,they were just the same vain repetitions day after day. I treated prayer as another item on a checklist to be crossed off as quickly as possible. That's not how prayer should be. I needed to realize that prayer should be a heartfelt and sincere communication with my Father in Heaven. I desperately needed to learn to talk to Him as I would a dear friend; to get to that point where I could pour out my heart to Him by voicing my thoughts, emphasizing my gratitude, confessing the areas I need help and strength in. I needed to specify those issues that trouble me, ask for guidance, plead for those I love, and express gratitude for those things that are going absolutely right.
I started praying out loud when appropriate. Just that one change added a new to my prayers that I never thought I could achieve. I began praying more often during the day, just to give thanks for something or to ask for strength in overcoming a trial. The biggest change to my prayers however, came when I started repenting. I began to ask God for forgiveness for every single one of my shortcomings, the ones I remembered and generically for the one's I couldn't exactly recall. I would come to Him in heartfelt prayer and repent for my transgressions, then ask for the strength and guidance to overcome these weaknesses completely. Once I started praying in this way, I was filled with so much peace and love that my desire to commit to the following two actions grew to fulfillment.
Next, I knew I should upgrade my approach to scripture study. Instead of just skimming though the passages to say I read for the day, I tried a new avenue. I found my mother's old Bible study guides and actually studied the scriptures alongside it. I looked at scripture study the same way I used to look at studying for a major exam in college. I took notes, read every verse thoughtfully, and pondered the words of these ancient prophets. Since I hadn't read the Old Testament since high school, I started there and gleaned so much from this book than I ever had before. I also began reading from the scriptures with my daughter. Although she is only three, she listens attentively and loves hearing me read them to her. This one simple act has brought us closer as a family.
Reading the scriptures in this way opened my heart to personal revelation, peace, and inspiration from the Holy Ghost. I became even more determined to keep the commandments and live my life in the light of my Savior. I wanted to keep reading and keep learning of the gospel of Christ. Additionally, I came to realize the best way to compliment my study was to start attending all my church meetings.
I never quite understood why attending church was so important. I used to think that all I needed was my own testimony of the gospel. It took me a while, but I now know why I need to attend all my church meetings. Foremost in my mind is, when I attend church I have an opportunity to take the sacrament and renew my baptismal covenants. Sacrament meeting allows me to reflect reverently and thoughtfully on my week. I can repent of areas where I fell short, ask for the strength to overcome those shortcomings, and appreciate the areas in my life where I excelled. This is the time where I feel that same clean-ness I felt the day I was baptized.
Church gives me an opportunity to serve others. Through my church calling as a youth Sunday School teacher, I can serve the teenagers in my congregation by instructing them in gospel topics. I hope and pray that each and every time we come together as a class, the spirit will enter their hearts as I teach them and to help cultivate their growing testimonies so they will apply those truths to their own lives.
In addition to teaching my own students, I'm fortunate enough to be a gospel student. Through sacrament talks, priesthood leader instruction, and Relief Society lessons I can refill my spiritual batteries to help me do better week after week. My testimony, like my students', also needs regular tending and cultivation to ensure it will flourish. This ensures I will always leave church with a sense of peace and spiritual fulfillment.
Finally, when I attend church I get to worship with the brothers and sisters in my congregation. In this way, we are supporting and encouraging each other to keep the commandments, strive to choose the right, and continue moving forward. Furthermore, we can receive any assistance we need to overcome trials and tribulations that arise in our lives from those very same people. I know that my friends and church leaders were a major factor in helping me turn my life around and I will be forever grateful for each of them. I hope that I can be an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help those I associate with in the very same way.
As long as we are making a true effort in each of these areas, we will be doing exactly what our Heavenly Father desires of us. Prayer, scripture study, and church attendance were the simple start I needed to get back on track to living a happy, more righteous life. Prayer, scripture study, and church attendance are the consistent steps I take to stay on this path. They all go hand-in-hand and compliment each other perfectly allowing everything else falls into place. Of course, there are so many other good things we can do as well: family home evenings, acts of service, fellowshipping others, fasting, temple work, family history research, missionary work, the list goes on. Prayer, scripture study, and attending church are the best ways for us to start and stay on the path our Father in Heaven has set for each of us.