Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoughts on Prayer Question

This is an answer to the Anon. commenter who asked about what prayers really can do. The full comment can be found under the post requesting prayers for Gracie.  Here is a portion of it:

So, what can my prayers do? When I learn of a family in despair, He already knows about them and is already there. When I learn of a sick or injured child, He already knows about them and is already there. What do you think our prayers do in these situations? For example, I read this post about Gracie yesterday. I have thought of little else since. I have been praying and praying. What can my prayers do, when His plan is in action? I don’t believe that any amount of praying can change His plan. I do believe what you have said about Him not giving us anything that we cannot handle with Him at our side. I believe he is there always. I know that He is with you and your family now. I know that He is with Gracie and her family now. I KNOW this. So, what can a prayer from a complete stranger do? How can my prayer affect something that is already happening? 

This may be a lengthy answer because there are many aspects to consider.

Prayer Affects the Prayer
First and perhaps most significantly, prayer is a tool we can use to refine ourselves. By communicating with God we can draw closer to Him. It is through prayer that we come to know, understand, and accept God's will. This is an essential part of having faith sufficient to offer affective prayers.

As a praying person, I am sure you have experienced how prayer can help you align your life and your will with the Lord's. But the thrust of your question is one I have pondered upon greatly in my life. And I will share what I have learned about this subject thus far.

The Prayers of Others Have Power to Strengthen and Lift Those In Need
I had a small understanding of this concept given to me when I was 21. I was alone in a hotel room in the night before taking my LSAT exam. I had studied so hard for this exam and the stress got to me. I got a severe migraine. All night the night before the exam I laid in agony in the tub or bed worrying all the more about how I would take this test with little or no sleep and how I could get rid of this headache. 

Lying there and praying for relief, I felt a strong impression and power come over me. It was as if I had been sent a package of power through heavenly mail. I felt distinctly the power of my mother's prayers for me. I knew she was praying for me that night. And I felt a power come into my body specifically as a result of her prayer.

Could I have survived the night without her prayer. Sure. Would I have been more miserable? Yes. Does the Lord have His plan for me down so specifically that he would designate my degree of misery in this instance? No. The Lord gives us agency. We use that agency to make choices that affect our lives and the degree of happiness or misery we will feel. 

Many times situations arise in our lives that cause misery or sorrow. Some of these are sent to teach us lessons we need to learn. Some are the effects of another's agency. Some are just accidents or natural disasters. God has placed us in an imperfect world where bad things happen. He does not plan for every earthquake and car crash and fire. But He knows they will happen and he allows them to happen. That is part of our learning process. At least that is what I personally believe. 

That being said, I do also believe He has a plan for each person. The plan is this - help this person grow and learn as much as he or she can in mortality and allow him or her opportunities to become more like the Savior. Ultimately, help this child of mine become like Christ and return to Me. 

God is our Father. He is our parent. And just as parenting different children calls for different skills and tools, each of us have different needs to be best led toward the Savior. And we all have our agency. I believe that using this agency, we can, through prayer, soften Lord's heart toward us.

I believe this because as a parent I feel this. When a child is humble, meek, submissive, and wanting to please me I am more prone to wrap them up in my love and work to make their way as easy as possible. This is true even if they have made a mistake and a consequence must follow. 

So no matter the outcome of certain events, even if our prayers cannot change His will, they can give strength to those in need. Our prayers can send angels to stand next to a family or loved one in need. I have said this before but I felt the power of the thousands of prayers offered up for our family surrounding Camille's passing. It was as if every person who was praying for us sent their own guardian angel to come support us. That is what it felt like. And it did feel different than if only I had been praying for myself. That is part of the "magic" or more appropriately the miracle of being able to "mourn with those that mourn" and "bear one another's burdens." When we pray for others, a small part of their burden is heavenly distributed onto our heart and off of theirs. I don't know how this happens. There must be some heavenly science class on it. But I do know that it does happen, for my heart and my burden have felt its effects both ways.

Prayers Can Change Outcomes
Now while I think some things in our Father's plan for us are set and necessary for to bring to pass His will, other things are not set. Sometimes His purposes can be accomplished in various ways and/or flexible time periods depending on how we as His children are exercising our agency to pray and based upon the degree and exercise of our faith. 

First a hypothetical example - perhaps it is the Lord's will that a person come home to Him. But this person or someone close to him or thousands of strangers are praying for this person to live. It is also the will of the Lord that these people become more like Christ and grow in their faith. Suddenly we have a balancing act to consider. Which will more fully bring to pass the Lord's will? That I guess depends on how badly the Lord needs the man to come home right now. Perhaps the Lord can wait 5 years for the man to come home and inspire him or those who prayed for him to do more to build the Lord's kingdom here on earth. 

I have no doubt that that has happened many times. Lives are miraculously extended daily based upon the prayers of faith offered to heaven. While I have not had that happen that I know of to me personally, writing it right now, I just know it is true. I can feel it in my heart. I just know it.

Such was not the case in our story. I actually feel as if Camille's life was extended many times previous to her accident. I was in the habit of praying for our safety and protection as a family. And as early as being in a car accident when I was 6 months pregnant with Camille, there were plenty of accidents that could have happened and taken her life that didn't. We were blessed to have her here for the 14 months we did.

Now for a true personal example but one not so "life and death" - In the summer of 1996 I was in a very serious relationship with a really wonderful guy. We were preparing and planning to become engaged and were very much in love. Still something in the back of my mind kept nagging me. I just wasn't sure this was the right thing, even though the guy was great and the timing seemed great. 

We discussed this at length and in that summer we broke up. It was a brutal break up. The worst I ever had to endure. Still, I felt we had done the right thing. I had been friends with and dated this guy on and off casually and seriously for 4 years. I knew him and he really knew me. I was so scared I would have to marry some guy I didn't even really know. I didn't want to spend another 4 years really getting to know someone.

I remember praying during that time that I would at least meet the man I would eventually marry, even if it was not the right time for me to get married yet. I prayed that I would at least meet him so I could know him when the time was right for me to marry.

That summer I met Jonathan. And I met Kathryn whom Jonathan home taught and with whom I decided to become roommates in an apartment in Jonathan's ward. That fall Kathryn helped me get to know Jonathan better. It was not the right time for me to get married. But the Lord answered my prayer of faith and let me meet the man I would eventually marry. I am fairly certain this was a direct answer to my prayer. It was a long hard road being friends with Jonathan. He thought I was a great friend but had no further interest in me. Sometimes I was fine with that. Other times, well, it was hard.

I could easily have met him later. After college he moved to California and I to DC. He lived in my brother's ward. His family lived in Vegas. I could easily have met him later when it would have been more timely for me to marry. But the Lord allowed me to know him well before the time was ripe for us to date and marry.

I even think the Lord sped up our wedding. The summer after my first year of law school I was praying every day for a serious boyfriend/potential husband by the end of the summer. It had been a hard and lonely first year and I just didn't want to do another year like that. At the end of the summer Jonathan was "inspired" to date me and miraculously fell head over heals in love with me. We waited 8 months to be married.

You see, the Lord had it in His plan for me to go to law school at Georgetown. I felt that strongly. He let me meet Jon early but would not allow Jonathan to see me as anything more than a friend. Meanwhile he kept inspiring me to stay friends with him. And at the very earliest time possible for me to start dating Jonathan and then marry Jonathan and still get my degree from Georgetown, he took the blinders off Jonathan and turned his heart to me.

In this way, the Lord was able to answer my prayers and still keep His plan on track.

Okay. I have typed too much today. I am off to play with Lauren and then help in Annie's class. I hope my thoughts were helpful. If you want to discuss this more I know I did a previous post on prayers and whether they can change God's will, or you can email me. My email is on my profile page.