George Smith’s First Prayer

May 7, 2012    By: Matt W. @ 8:45 pm   Category: Life

This week, I will be teaching Chapter 9 from the George Albert Smith Manual. It is a lesson on prayer.

The lesson begins with a story about Smith’s Mother teaching him to pray. You can hear Smith himself give the original address back in 1946 here.

One thing that was interesting to me was that first prayer that Smith hadn’t forgotten.

It was:

“As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.”

In my (almost) 14 years as a saint, I have always been warned of vain repetition. Now am I wondering, was Smith’s rote prayer an anomaly, or is this idea of being completely against any sort of normative prayer something that evolved within our faith over time?


  1. You see alot more of this during this time. Pirmaries often recited the Lord’s Prayer into the twentieth century.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 7, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

  2. Not quite the same thing since the prayers were not memorized, and maybe weren’t even read aloud, but one of my favorite texts for seminary-age kids used in the first half of the 20th century included “suggestive prayers” — prayers or meditations based on the material in the lesson to suggest how the students might include the lesson in their lives, including praying for help in so incorporating it. I thought they were wonderful illustrations of tailoring prayers to the situation — a very Mormon way to pray. One one-time-only visitor to my blog was appalled and gave me a stern lecture on the evils of writing out prayers.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 7, 2012 @ 9:15 pm

  3. J.- that’s interesting. My wife asked me last night if we should start talking to our kids more about the Lord’s Prayer.

    Ardis- gimme linkage. I’d love to check it out. I don’t remember it on the first go around.

    Comment by Matt W. — May 8, 2012 @ 8:42 am

  4. In case Ardis doesn’t make it back here:

    (Pretty simple search: Google for “suggestive”)

    Comment by Mark B. — May 9, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  5. That is the first bedtime prayer that I learned. I can remember reciting it every night when I was around six. Imagine what a delight it was to find it in Humperdink’s opera Hansel and Gretel.

    We had a blessing for the food that was pretty much the same every time. Later I decided to do something else that I liked better.

    Comment by YvonneS — May 13, 2012 @ 12:40 pm

  6. I think prayers can be vain without being repetitious, and I think prayers can be repetitious without being vain. Certainly they can be both.

    I mean, there’s only so much creativity I can muster while teaching my children to pray over their food.

    Comment by Log — May 13, 2012 @ 10:08 pm

  7. Speaking of vain repetitions in connection with dinner-time prayers, doesn’t it seem to be a vain repetition to ask the Lord to bless the food? Maybe there was an age when the food truly needed to be blessed, and maybe the same concept would apply when we pray to bless refreshments; but in general, it is the people who need the blessing, not the food.

    Comment by ricke — May 16, 2012 @ 5:46 pm

  8. In our family, we try to emphasize the thanking for the food over the blessing. Also, the Lord warned against VAIN repititions, not sincere repititions.

    Comment by Britain — May 26, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

  9. In any age, it would be the people, not the food, that needed blessing. So I think of ‘bless this food’ as a request for physical blessings on the partakers, as a request to sanctify the time of eating, or as a way of sanctifying the act of partaking.

    Comment by Adam G. — July 3, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

  10. And actually repetitious prayers can have a positive cognitive effect. There are studies that show that repeatedly meditating on positive aspects of God can actually increase pain tolerance – in fact those same researchers found that migraine sufferers have reduced severity and frequency of symptoms after such spiritual meditations, as opposed to control groups or those doing non-spiritual repetitive meditations. Catholicism and Orthodoxy have millenia-old, very disciplined and structured meditation practices (take the Orthodox tradition of using the Jesus Prayer as basically a mantra). You can find analogues in Sufism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

    Mormonism encourages meditation, but when we say meditation we mean kind of a more free-form, reflective sort of thing. I think we might benefit from developing some kind of Mormon-appropriate structured meditation to enhance our daily walk with God. As long as it doesn’t replace our prayers, I don’t see the harm in it, and I do see a benefit.

    Comment by Syphax — July 3, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

  11. I agree with Log. The other day I heard someone attack the Catholic practice of praying the rosary as an example of vain repetitions. I was considering responding, but knew that my response would not be well-received. I was going to point out that when the rosary is prayed correctly, the person praying has a different focal point in mind every time the prayers are recited, and the reason it is repeatd so frequently is to allow a sufficiently deep meditation on each topic or thought. I think the rosary is a good example of prayers that can be repetitious without necessarily being vain.

    Comment by themormonbrit — September 18, 2012 @ 5:03 am