I'm grateful for the power of prayer in our lives. It's a tremendous blessing to know that we can approach our Heavenly Father in humble prayer and seek his direction. I've learned a great deal about sincere prayer and faith in God by listening to the personal prayers of my children. Over the years, my wife, Laurie, has been in the habit of recording in her journal some of the things they would say. With our youngest son's permission, I'll share some things he said when he was a child:
Heavenly Father, help me when I find myself in a bad situation to think, what would Jesus do?
Help me to do well in my soccer game tomorrow, and help our team to win, but help us to remember that playing soccer is fun whether we win or lose.
[After I returned home from bishopric activities one night looking tired and not very happy.] Bless my dad that he will have lots of fun being the new bishop.
Our son was praying for the things that were important to him and to others in his life. I'm grateful for the faith of children. I know that our Heavenly Father hears their prayers. Oh, that we could all be like little children in our faith, humility, and sincerity when we pray!
My earliest experience with earnest, heartfelt prayer was at the age of fifteen. It seemed that there was constant turmoil and contention in our home. My parents were usually upset at each other for one reason or another. On one occasion, after a particularly long fight between them, I remember quietly retreating to the backyard, looking up at the stars, and wondering if things would ever improve.
I desperately wanted us to be a happy family and to have the peace and love in our home that we had been taught about in church. Before I knew it, I was kneeling down on the grass and pleading with the Lord for help. I pled with all my heart that we could have love in our home. I knew that if such a thing were possible, the Lord would be able to grant it. I prayed longer that evening than I had ever prayed before, and afterward I received a calm reassurance that all would be well.
Unfortunately, things didn't change much in our home. However, throughout my teenage years, I didn't give up hope and continued to pray for my parents and our family. Eventually, I went on a mission, married, and had my own family. It was several years after we had our third child, when our family was gathered together for family home evening, that we had a lesson on the power of prayer. As we were discussing how our Heavenly Father answers our prayers in his own way and time, I suddenly had a powerful confirmation that the heartfelt prayer I offered at the age of fifteen had been answered. I was blessed with a home where we enjoyed the love and peace that I yearned for as a youth. How grateful I am to the Lord for this blessing.
God hears our sincere prayers and answers them in the way he knows is best for each of us. In our struggle to escape the pain, it's easy to forget that his timetable for answering and ours for receiving answers are not always the same. One of the challenges of overcoming the consequences of abuse and other unhealthy patterns of behavior is learning to focus on our blessings instead of our burdens. This does not mean we need to deny the pain; rather, we need to be careful not to become consumed by it, thereby making it more difficult to recognize answers to our prayers.
Elder H. Burke Peterson said, "Often the problem in our communication with the Lord is that not all of us have learned how to listen for His answers-or perhaps we are not prepared to hear Him. I believe we receive His answers as we prepare ourselves to receive them."
He goes on to tell of a time when he and his wife went to the Lake District in northern England. There they saw beautiful green meadows and hillsides with scores of white sheep contentedly grazing everywhere. On the rolling hills, they could see miles and miles of stone walls made of rocks of all sizes and shapes-all held together without mortar. The walls were placed there hundreds of years ago, built by sheepherders to separate their flocks and to identify their lands.
Elder Peterson suggested,
As we go through life, some of us build a similar rock wall . . . between ourselves and heaven. This wall is usually made up of our uncorrected mistakes or of unrepented sins. In our wall there may be stones of many different sizes and shapes. There could be stones placed there because we have been unkind to someone . . . criticism of leaders or teachers may add another stone. A lack of forgiveness of others may place another. Vulgar thoughts, dishonesty, selfishness, and so on [may place additional stones]. If we are not careful, this wall will develop into a very formidable barrier.
According to Elder Peterson, "One of our greatest challenges in life is to destroy this wall, stone by stone-or, if you please, to cleanse ourselves, to purify this inner vessel so that we can be in tune and receive His answers to our petitions for help."2
What are the stones of spiritual resistance that we place in our walls that may prevent us from receiving or recognizing answers to our prayers? One of the larger stones in the wall that I built has been my struggle to forgive my father. I carried that burden for many years, while he remained unaware of wrongdoing. Over the years, my wife would point out that I needed to move on, to forgive, and to let go of those thoughts and feelings. By holding on to such resentment, I added more stones to my wall in the form of feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and guilt. These additional stones made it more difficult to recognize answers to prayer and receive much needed guidance.
I didn't know how to move on because those thoughts were so much a part of me. They were firmly embedded in the wall I had created. They made it difficult for me to recognize the many ways the Lord had already blessed me. I've learned that such thoughts and feelings are thieves. They steal away our peace and our ability to live in the present. They make it difficult to receive or recognize answers to prayer.
Most of us have had similar experiences. Someone in our lives may have done something to us or said something that hurt our feelings. We can't let it go and allow resentful thoughts to fester. We may struggle to forgive that person.
The Lord warned us in Doctrine and Covenants 64:8-10:
My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
I know that as we work hard to let go of grudges and forgive others, we pull down one of the larger stones in our walls. The stone of past anger must be removed if we are to heal emotionally and progress spiritually. It may require effort, humility, fervent prayer, and even professional counseling, but, once removed, we will be able to feel God's love more freely.
Not all prayers are answered immediately. Some answers may not come for a long time. Other times we may need to make certain changes in our lives, thoughts, and actions in order to recognize the answers. With the habit of sincere prayer firmly in place, miracles do happen. Humble, earnest prayer helps us change and align our will with God's. As we humbly seek the Lord's assistance, we will "be blessed with a sweet and calm assurance that he cares," and he will gently "lead us by the hand and give us answers to our prayers."