Monday, July 14, 2014

Talks are done

We are checking things off of our to-do lists.  I have so much still to do and every single day for the next two weeks have multiple things I need to complete.  It's nice to see things getting accomplished and I'm really grateful I don't have to pack all our stuff.  That said, there is still so much to do and anyone who thinks having the packers move us makes this an easy move haven't seen my calendar.  Moving is just busy and hard.  Anyway, we got our talks out of the way yesterday and I'm glad they are done.  Is it bad that I'm hoping the topics will be The Power of Prayer and Loving the Lord More Than the World when we move to the new ward and have to speak?  Because that would be awesome not have to write another talk soon.  I am posting my talk here for documenting purposes, nothing else.  I feel like it's a good way to keep my testimony of prayer recorded for my kids since this post will eventually make it into a blog book that they will inherit.

The Power of Prayer

When I was five I frequently had nightmares.  I had heard from my parents and from my primary teachers that if I prayed the Lord would answer my prayers.  I decided to pray and ask the Lord to help me not have nightmares.  I knelt by my bed and I repeated over and over, “Please help me not to have bad dreams.”  That night I my prayers were answered and I did not have any nightmares.  So the next night I did it again--and again, I didn’t have nightmares.  This went on for some time until one night as I repeated my request, my brother walked by the door and heard me.  He started giggling and I stopped and looked at him.  I asked him why he was laughing and he said I sounded silly and why on earth was I repeating my prayer over and over?  I had believed in my little five year old heart that it was the process of repeating the prayer--that if I said it enough times, the Lord would hear how serious I was about not wanting nightmares--but what I discovered was that it was the innocent faith I had that allowed the Lord to keep nightmares from invading my peaceful sleep.  

There is something about the innocence of a little child praying to their Father in Heaven that is so perfect.  We start out being taught that if we pray, the Lord will answer our prayers and we believe unconditionally.  Our prayers are innocent, faithful, and undoubting.  My children believe that if they lose something and pray for it’s recovery, it will be found.  We used to have a running joke in our home for awhile where someone would lose something and then we’d say, “Go get Will to pray to find it” and inevitably Will would have his prayers answered and we would find the lost item .  Will just has this unquestionable faith that if he prays, his prayers would be answered.  

I remember being 16 and learning a lesson from my youngest sister who was three at the time.  My youngest brother was born with Spina Bifida when I was 15.  I am the 5th of 11 children.  My two older brothers and my older sister had already graduated and left home when my brother Ammon was born.  That left my older brother Jess who was a Senior in highschool, and myself the oldest siblings at home.  My dad worked a graveyard shift at an explosive plant and so when we were at school he slept and then when we all got home he would go to work while we all slept.  When he wasn’t working or sleeping he was at the hospital with my mom and my brother Ammon.  My brother spent much of his first three years of life in the ICU and there were many, many incidences where he almost died.  My mom therefore, was gone for a large part of those last three years before I went to college because a large amount of her time was spent in the hospital.  My brother and I were left to care for the younger kids and we would go days without seeing my mom or my dad.  Often we would load the kids up in the van and drive an hour to Primary Children’s Hospital to see my mom and brother.  One particular night we drove to the hospital and visited with my mom and brother and my mom seemed extremely tired and stressed.  It was obvious that the mental stress of watching her youngest child struggle for his life, as well as being away from home and from the rest of her children for so long was wearing on her.  Our visit wasn’t long but it was getting late so we said our goodbyes and my brother and I gathered all the younger kids and walked them to the parking garage to our van.  When my brother went to turn the key, the van would not start.  My brother and I exchanged a look of concern and discussed what we should do.  There was no way we were about to go back into the hospital to tell my mom that the van wouldn’t start.  So, what should we do?  Suddenly we heard a tiny voice from my three year old sister pipe up saying, “Well duh.  We have to pray.”  Duh is right!  Why had we not thought of that ourselves?  All six of us bowed our heads and prayed together that the van would start and when my brother went to turn the key again the van started!  My brother and I felt rather foolish and also grateful that we were reminded by a three year old that there was power in a faithful prayer and that the Lord could help us in our predicament.  

These examples show the faith of a little child and a purity and trust in a Father that will and can give good things to us if we just ask for them.  The scriptures are replete with stories of men and women who pray and receive what they desire:  The joint prayers of Esther and her people save her life and the lives of her entire nation, The prayers of Alma and other faithful members of the church produce a life changing experience for Alma the younger that alters the path of his life.  Joseph Smith, prays in the Sacred Grove and sees Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ who answer his prayers about what church to join.   In John 11 we read about Jesus Christ praying, And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."
43 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice,  ‘Lazarus, come forth’.
44 And he that was dead came forth
These stories all depict people with a problem who went to the Lord in prayer and had miraculous events take place in their lives.  But what then, about those prayers that are not answered in this manner?  
When Alma and his followers were enslaved by the Lamanites, they  “did pour out their hearts to [God]; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.” 16  Their deliverance did not come immediately but the Lord assured them, “I will … ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that … you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

In my own life, I have prayed about many things with faith that I could receive them only to have the answer be no, or not now.  Many prayers were said in behalf of Laila the day she died.  Her mortal days were already ended and the prayers would not bring her back.   It would be easy to say, ”Perhaps we just did not have enough faith or perhaps our prayers were just not effective.”  

A story however, comes to mind of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to worship the Gods of Nebuchadnezzar. The punishment was to be thrown into a fiery furnace.  They boldly state, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.
18 But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”
These three faithful men were thrown into the fiery furnace after all.  The story continues with King Nebuchadnezzar exclaiming:  “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.
25 He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.”
In contrast, we consider the story of Alma and Amulek.  Again, we find faithful individuals cast into a fiery pit because they refuse to abandon their belief in God.  We read:  And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were being consumed by the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames.
11 But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.
Why were Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, saved from the fire while the faithful converts in Amulek’s city were not saved?  I believe the common theme in these stories is the will of the Lord.  Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego had faith that they COULD be saved if it was the will of the Lord.  Through the spirit, Alma understood that the will of the Lord was not to stretch forth his hand to save the people.  
Therefore, the challenge is to understand and heed the will of the Lord, to have faith that the Lord CAN and WILL save us, if it be His will and if it is not His will, to continue to trust in him and the plan he has for us.  The greatest example of seeking the will of the Lord comes from the Savior Jesus Christ who in agony cried, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt’ (Matt. 26:39).”
The prayers said in behalf of Laila that day did not bring her back to life.  They did however,  allow us to feel the spirit confirm to us that this was the plan of the Lord for her and for our family.  My brother administered to Laila while Mike performed CPR.  Of the blessing he gave he later said, “It was clear from the blessing and the words that didn't come out that Laila's time on earth was past. It was all a very surreal experience.

It's interesting that until that trip, I hadn't carried an oil vial on my keychain for years because I can't seem to be able to find one that doesn't leak. I got a new one just before we drove out to Colorado and ended up using it.”  

My brother was worthy and ready to act.  Had it been the Will of the Lord, Laila could have been saved.  But I am reminded of a talk by Elder Holland called Sanctify Yourselves.  He says “Now, my young friends of both the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood, not every prayer is answered so immediately, and not every priesthood declaration can command the renewal or the sustaining of life. Sometimes the will of God is otherwise. But young men, you will learn, if you have not already, that in frightening, even perilous moments, your faith and your priesthood will demand the very best of you and the best you can call down from heaven...You must be ready and worthy to act.

While my brother offered up a blessing, the children and I, as well as my three nieces, knelt in prayer in a different room.  The children were concerned and confused about what was happening and looked at me, who commanded them to kneel.  It was not a long or fancy prayer.  Through my tears I simply asked the Lord with all the yearning of a parent to save Laila.  I have often worried that this prayer, clearly answered in the negative, would shake the faith of the children, knowing that we prayed and she still died.  But I believe that it was the faithful prayers offered that day that allowed us to have an increase of the spirit, which gave us comfort, support, and confirmations of the Plan of Salvation.  

In the days following her death, we discovered that hundreds of prayers had been sent up to Heaven in our behalf and like the people of Ammon who were enslaved by the Lamanites, we felt our burdens eased and I stand today as a witness that the Lord visits us in our afflictions.  (My family felt a real, tangible power supporting us by the many prayers being offered and I can tell you the exact moment those prayers all ended.  I distinctly remember the difference I felt as life got back to normal and the shock wore off for people and the prayers stopped.  I do not mention this to make anyone feel sorry for us or to feel guilty, but rather to witness that for the first time in my life, I noticed the difference.  I realized that the many prayers that had been offered in our behalf had helped us immensely and now, I realized that I would need to depend on my own prayers to help me get through the suffering.)

Why does the Lord, who loves us, not just give us what we want all the time?  Why does he allow us to suffer and struggle?  L. WHITNEY CLAYTON Of the Presidency of the Seventy gives us insight when he says, “Burdens provide opportunities to practice virtues that contribute to eventual perfection.  Burdens become blessings, though often such blessings are well disguised and may require time, effort, and faith to accept and understand.  Further, bearing up under our own burdens can help us develop a reservoir of empathy for the problems others face.”
Knowing and understanding the will of the Lord for each of us individually is not always easy.   I would like to share one final example from my own life that taught me the importance of putting in the work and effort to know the will of the Lord.  
My oldest turned 3 a month before my third son was born so I had three boys in quick succession.  Some people seem to take to being a mother so easily but I am not one of those women.  It was a steep learning curve for me.  I was much too impatient and selfish and having three tinies to look after was really difficult for me.  We lived in Oklahoma, the nearest family member living 22 hours away.  The ward was small and there were very few women my age.  Both Mike and I had demanding callings and Mike’s work required him to be to work by 6:30 AM each morning.  Most nights he would come home for a quick dinner, then change his clothes and leave again for something calling related or to make visits with the missionaries.  I had a newborn who did not believe in napping and was up throughout the night to nurse.  I was struggling with postpartum depression and was completely in over my head.  I prayed and read my scriptures but truthfully, neither actions were very heartfelt.  At the time, I felt I was juggling so many different balls that I didn’t feel I could give more than I was giving and therefore, my scripture reading was not very detailed and my prayers were not very sincere except for the occasional outburst of, “Heavenly Father, why are you not helping me here!?”  In desperation I asked Mike to give me a blessing.  I’m not sure what I expected to happen.  I think subconsciously, I had hoped the blessing would tell me that my problems would immediately go away or at least tell me exactly what to do to fix them.  Mike began the blessing by telling me how much the Lord loved me……...and then he was silent….for a long time.  He was silent for so long that it was uncomfortable.  He then said something along the lines of, “The Lord wants you to work on understanding how the spirit speaks to you.”.......and then another very long silence.  Then he ended the prayer.  That was it!!  I knew immediately that the Lord was lovingly reprimanding me.  I had expected to get an answer through Mike without doing any work to receive it.  The Lord could have repeated Doctrine and Covenants 9:7 to me 7 Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
In contrast, we learn from the brother of Jared how to approach the Lord with a tricky problem.  He prepared himself first before he came to the Lord.  He considered his options, thought of an idea, then asked the Lord in humility if He would touch the sixteen stones with his finger so they could have light in their ships.  He prayed, “Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; … nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.” (Ether 3:2.)
After such an awkward and humbling experience, I realized that I needed to approach the situation differently.  I am happy to say that six years later I am much better at recognizing the promptings of the spirit.  I am still learning how to pray more sincerely and study more carefully, but I have gained greater confidence in my ability to ask and hear.  Elder Richard G. Scott said, “I have discovered that what sometimes seems an impenetrable barrier to communication is a giant step to be taken in trust. Seldom will you receive a complete response all at once. It will come a piece at a time, in packets, so that you will grow in capacity. As each piece is followed in faith, you will be led to other portions until you have the whole answer. That pattern requires you to exercise faith in our Father’s capacity to respond. While sometimes it’s very hard, it results in significant personal growth.”
I have come a long way from the five year old praying for help with her nightmares, to realizing that there is more to just asking for something and hoping to receive the desired blessing.  Rather, prayer requires faith, work, and trust in the Lord’s will.  I testify that the Lord will help us on this journey of life if we trust Him and his plan for us, which he will reveal through the Spirit as we seek Him through prayer.

1 comment:

The Duke said...

Extremely well written! And yes, the details of me being gone so much was true. I remember that experience of the van not starting. (I really would have freaked out had you come back in. We always had cars breaking down.)
This is a beautiful talk. You are a wise woman.