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. 

17 comments:

Jen said...

You amaze me every day Stefanie. Thank you so much for your daily scoop. This one was great. I still pray for you and your family and all the other families out there that have precious angel babies. And I sincerely pray for all those families hurting now as their babies hurt. I hope you all can feel my prayers.

Jen said...

Hi again - I'm so embarrassed...I'm sorry I spelled your name wrong... :(

Alison said...

Hi! I saw your blog on a friend of a friend's and have been reading it ever since. Thank you for all your inspiring words. This is so bad of me because I don't know the reference or exact phrasing at all, but I thought of this when I read your post: I believe a general authority said that Heavenly Father wants to give us blessings and He does all the time. But there are some blessings that He only gives us if we ask for them. He is just waiting for us to talk to Him and just waiting to bless us, and all we have to do is follow His commandments and ask in faith. Of course, He does not give us everything we want, but you get the point. :)

Captain and First Officer said...

Fantastic answer, Stephanie. You're a spiritual giant!

Anonymous said...

I pray everyday, but I seem to be falling out of my faith sort of. I used to have such a huge passion to learn about Jesus Christ and now its getting to be less. I pray that it'll get better, but I'm not quite sure what to do anymore. Any suggestions?

Stephanie said...

Anon,
Praying for desire is a great place to start. We all go through phases where our prayers our more or less fervent and faith filled. But there is a blessing in being obedient to the Lord's commandment to pray to Him.

I find when I a get apathetic in my quest for religious knowledge it helps to force myself to do it anyway. Get out of bed and read the scriptures even on the nights I don't want to. Then once in a while they just sing to me exactly what I needed to hear or know.

On the nights I am not in the mood to pray, I try to stay on my knees and ponder all the blessings the Lord has given me and ponder what the Savior has done for me until my heart is full of thanksgiving and I want to express that.

But I think praying for a desire is the first step to finding the hunger again. Pray and listen. Don't forget to take the time to ponder in your heart and listen for direction.

I don't know if you go to any certain church but I urge you to get a copy of the Book of Mormon if you don't already have one. You can get them free. Just order one on the internet at www.mormon.org. Sometimes the desire to learn is fueled by the learning itself. If you have only ever read the Bible, there is so much more to learn of Jesus Christ by reading the Book of Mormon.

Pick it up and read it. It may light within you a burning desire to know Christ better. I know it does that for me.

I will say a prayer for you tonight. I hope you are able to feel the power of my simple prayer on your behalf that you will find the desire you seek and find your faith in prayer rekindled.

loves,
stephanie

mommy boo of two said...

I saw your blog on my mom's (bacardi mama) and thought I would check it out. I'm so glad I did. With Lent just starting it was great to read this. I love that your faith is so strong and you're so proud to share it. You're in my prayers

Grandma Holt said...

I have a friend who lost her 17 year old son in an accident when the truck he was working under fell on him. He lived for a week and it was prayers that kept him here. Finally when his mother could say, "thy will be done" he quickly went home. She later told me that she had impressions from the time she carried him and all through his life that his time on this earth would be short. He lived through the most incredible accidents and illnesses all through his 17 years of life and it was prayers, specifically the prayers of his mother pleading with the Lord to spare her son that kept him here. His best friend had died the year before in a rock climbing accident and her son mourned him terribly. Both boys were incredibly righteous young men, and everyone has no doubt that they are serving missions together on the other side as that was their life's greatest desire. Prayers indeed can change the outcome and have great power! Thank you for your wonderful willingness to share!

Amber said...

What a wonderful post! I feel so strongly that faith is an amazing thing, and I have also felt the power of prayers on my behalf. Thank you so much, always for your wonderful example!

{ Bethany } said...

Sometimes I question the point of prayer (especially after Gavin died) but I do know one thing...it comforts me when others say they are praying for me.

I think if anything, when you pray you are taking time out of your day to honestly think about and sympathize with someone else. You are taking the time to wonder, "How can I help them?". By simply focusing your thoughts on that person for a couple minutes, you are more likely to figure out what they really need and to actually do it.

It makes people more thoughtful, more sympathetic, more helpful. It helps them to reach out when others are in distress. By listening to the Holy Spirit during prayer, I believe people are influenced to do God's work. Thoughts lead to actions!

So even if you don't believe in "prayer" or that God is actually going to change something bad that is happening...at least believe that sincere thoughts and pondering DO make a difference in the lives of those who are suffering because it helps you to be a better friend and support.

The Webb Family said...

Hi Stephanie,

My name is Natalee and I am related to the Fairchild's in your ward. I have been reading your Blog for quite a while. Everything you write is so inspiring and you have taught me so much about my own Faith.

I have been asking a lot of people to Pray for my son because he is sick. He has been for a long time. I thought to myself that I need to be Praying for other people since they are Praying for Konner.

I always think of people I want to Pray for, but when the time comes to Pray, I tend to forget names, and sometimes why I even wanted to Pray for them! I started keeping a small notepad in my purse and throughout the day I jot down Prayer Requests. (The mom struggling with her kids at the bank, Lisa at Subway who seemed to have been crying at work. . .) On this notepad I also jot down things that I want to express gratitude for. (Not getting in that almost car wreck, Not having everything missing in my apartment when I got home and realised I forgot to lock the door. . .)

I remember hearing (maybe even from you in an earlier post) that we should Pray using specifics, like names and details. I just wanted to share this idea with others who are trying to do better with Prayer. I know as a Mom of 2, life gets hectic and we are lucky if we remember to brush our hair.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us everyday!

-Nat

kathryn_m said...

This is a powerful post, Stephanie.

I remember so vividly my heartbreak upon having the 3rd one of my children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I prayed ferverently and equally for each of them.

One child "overcame" his difficulties over a period of 9 months -- he went on to graduate with an honors degree in chemistry last spring and is now doing post-grad studies. I was very grateful for this but wondered why God didn't provide me with two more healings.

I was puzzled, hurt and angry that 2 of my children would not experience the fullness of life as I knew it. Why didn't God provide the relief I sought? That question troubled me to no end.

I was discussing this with my minister one day. We agreed that everyone's life experiences are different yet still held the same value and how no one can or should judge that value.

I was still not a happy camper -- parenting is the most important thing I will ever do in my life and my heart ached (and still does in many ways) for the challenges my children will face throughout their lifetimes.

What was His plan?

It just seemed so blatantly unfair to me. Surprisingly, in the course of trying to reconsile the matter, I came to give God thanks for choosing me -- in His plan, he ensured that my children were born to a mother who loved them so intensely & unconditionaly and would go to any lengths to make sure they got all the available supports. I came to realize that the focus was not me as a mom but rather my children as the precious souls that they are. It was not about my pain but about my children's earthy life.

What happens after I'm gone?

I don't know the future - I can only prepare for it the very best way I can. However, I take great comfort from the fact that "God allowed in His wisdom that which he could have prevented with His power".

This bring my mind and heart a great measure of peace and also gives me hope for His promises for us all. I trust the Lord with my most cherished children.

That many people pray for them is an added blessing -- one that does not go unnoticed.

Love 'n hugs,
kathryn_m

Anonymous said...

This is the same Anon as the one you replied to on the 26th. Seeking more is exactly what I need to do, and the Book of Mormon is a great thing to rely on. Thank You very much :) and please keep me in your prayers.

Stephanie said...

Anon,
Just want you to know that I have been praying in earnest for you daily since I wrote my last comment. I will continue to do so.

Loves,
Stephanie

Anonymous said...

Thank you for continually praying for me. I ordered the Book of Mormon and it arrived at my house about 2 days later. I am going to begin reading it tonight, and I am anxious to see what the Lord will do with my life. I continue to pray that I'll be directed by the Lord and I know that I need his help right now. Thanks again :)

Stephanie said...

Anon,
I am so happy you now have the Book of Mormon. I would encourage you to pray before and after you read. Prayer can open our hearts to help us hear what the Lord would have us learn. And I know from personal experience that the Lord can speak to us quite directly when we read the scriptures, and particularly the Book of Mormon and liken the words to ourselves. When we put ourselves in the story or apply the story or teaching to our lives we can find concrete direction.

Praying before reading can help us open our heart to feel the Spirit pointing out the meaning we must take from the words on the page. That is one of the wonderful things about scriptures. We can read the same chapter at different times in our lives and get totally different messages depending on what WE need to hear at that time.

Also praying after to ask if what we have read and felt is "of God" is also very helpful. Sometimes it is in this time that we can most profoundly feel that warm peaceful feeling in our heart telling us that we are learning truth.

I am very excited for you to become acquainted with this most precious book. Please feel free to email me anytime if you ever have a question about anything you read or to let me know how you feel reading it.

I do continue to pray for you. And I pray my angel daughter will help lead you to our common Father.

Much love,
stephanie

Anonymous said...

I have started to read the Book of Mormon. I am really enjoying the sense of comfort and realization that it is beginning to give me. I pray every time before I start to read it, and also when I decide to put the bookmark in and pick up again later. I pray that I will be told and lead to the truth. Nothing has happened yet, but I'm praying and hoping that something will happen soon.