We recently had an opportunity to take a long trip and visit various family members. One evening we were asked questions about religion, and what we believe. It caught us off guard, but helped us realize that we need to be better at articulating what we know to be true. It's not enough to just know, we need to be able to share when asked.
One of the topics that came up was prayer and the reason we pray. I'm afraid we somewhat fumbled in our answers, but I've had a lot of time to reflect on that conversation and in particular that question. I know some of the reasons why I pray, to express gratitude for the blessings I have, to pray for the health or situation of either myself or those I know or know of. In James 1:5-6 we read,
5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Even the Savior prayed as we see in Matthew 14:23 - 23 And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.
So why do some prayers seemingly go unanswered? Perhaps it's because we don't understand the purpose of prayer. More often though it's because we don't see the whole picture the way our Heavenly Father and the Savior do. We might think that we, or someone we love needs to have a certain blessing, not realizing that while our request may be a righteous one, it may not be what that person needs to grow at the moment. Perhaps we don't recognize the answer because it's not what we asked for.
Our society has put forth the idea that life shouldn't be hard, we should never have challenges, and everyone should have the same amount of material goods in order for life to be fair, or to prove that God loves us, or that He even exists. If our prayers aren't answered, then either there really isn't a God, or He is a mean and hurtful God. For those who are parents, most realize that if we give everything to our children and never expect anything from them, most will become lazy and ungrateful, even mean and hurtful sometimes. Our Heavenly Father wants us to learn and grow, and the way we do that is by learning to make choices that will bring us the most peace and happiness. Lest anyone mistake my meaning here, it doesn't mean that we must experience everything, even those things that God has said aren't good for us. Some things we must take on faith that they aren't in our best interest to indulge in or do.
In Moses 1:39 it states "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." This earthly life is a test. We have a purpose for being here, and one of them is to gain a body, to have experience, and prove that we will do all we know to be right and good. Sometimes we are abused and hurt through no fault of our own, and while it is hard to watch the harm that others inflict on us or other people, Heavenly Father is mindful of our pain and suffering, and will be there to welcome us home on the other side. Some have a debilitating illness, either chronic, or deadly. How we handle what others have done to us, how we handle the lot given us in life, or whether we are willing to help those in need of help, comfort or care, determines our eternal destiny.
Prayer, thoughtful and considerate, can give us strength to meet the challenges that beset us. Whether our challenges are with other people, financial, or physical, as we seek guidance, again asking for that wisdom, we will receive the help we need to be able to deal with each situation. Perhaps the issue will be ongoing, but the help and strength we receive as we ask for it, is immeasurable.
Prayer can help us as we care for others. As I tended to my father-in-law as he was dying, the help I received was incredible. There were the long road trips back and forth each week that due to weather were sometimes quite dangerous. I was blessed with alertness to avoid the large semi trucks whose vans were sometimes blown about in the wind. I had several hair raising near misses as they struggled, or were just negligent in their driving and wandered all over the road. There were the many nights getting up over and over again to get a drink for or cover the feet of, or uncover the feet of, or move the legs back where they should be, or even just comfort Dad as he struggled to get through the night. He couldn't get up on his own so thankfully the nurses had a way of taking care of his bladder needs so we could all snatch a few minutes of sleep here and there. Most nights Dad and I were awake more than asleep, but the little cat naps during the day helped me be able to assist him and Mom in their daily routines. Lifting Dad off the toilet and helping him down to it should have put me down right away, but I was blessed to be able to help him until after he passed away. It was after he passed that my back went out and I spent months trying to get rid of the pain and be able to walk more that a few steps at a time. Again notice that I didn't avoid the aftermath but I was able to get back to walking again with the help of good physical therapists. The biggest surprise to me was cleaning Dad up after he had gone to the bathroom. I have the most sensitive sense of smell and I expected to gag my way through each bathroom visit, and yet, I have to say, his stuff didn't stink. It was the little things I was able to do, and with a tenderness in my heart and patience to be up all hours of the night that was a gift. Prayer, mine and those around me, helped me to be able to do all I was able to. I learned so much in the process.
Prayer can help us when we have a disagreement or an issue with another person. When I was younger I used to pray that the other person would change, and do things or think the way I do. Now I ask that I can see a way to think about the situation differently, and I pray for the other person as well, that Heavenly Father will help us both do the right thing.
There have been times when we as a collective body are asked to pray for rain, and I've seen the results of that collective prayer.
I could go on but there are those much better at sharing their wisdom and thoughts than I so I will add this link to a talk by Truman G. Madsen. Souls Aflame: The Prayer Heritage of the Latter-day Saints
Please take a moment to read this if you will. Feel free to comment any time. My prayer is that prayer can be more meaningful to all of us.