Prayer: Coming to the Table With the Divine
Among the books beloved by American children for many decades is a piece titled “Are You My Mother” by illustrator and animator P.D. Eastman
“Are You My Mother? is a story about a hatchling bird. His mother, thinking her egg will stay in her nest where she left it, leaves her egg alone and flies off to find food. The baby bird hatches while the mother is away. The hatchling does not understand where his mother is so he goes to look for her. As he lacks the ability to fly, he walks, and in his search, he asks a kitten..., a hen, a dog, and a cow if they are his mother, but none of them are.
Refusing to give up, he sees an old car, which he realizes certainly cannot be his mother. In desperation, the hatchling calls out to a boat and a plane (neither responds), and at last, he approaches and climbs onto the teeth of an enormous power shovel calling to it "Mother, Mother!". However, after it belches "SNORT" from its exhaust stack, the bird cries "You are not my mother! You are a Snort!" As the machine shudders and grinds into motion, he cannot escape. "I want my mother!" he sobs.
At that moment, the Snort drops the hatchling into his nest, and his mother returns. The two are reunited, much to their delight, and the baby bird recounts to his mother the adventures he had looking for her.”
Unlike this baby bird, we have been given blueprints and clues to recognize our spiritual parentage as we cry out in search of them. The clues are found in the divinely inspired words of scripture and the prophets and our cry is sent out through prayer.
So what do these clues tell us about the nature of our God?
Joseph Smith wrote, while studying the Hebrew version of Genesis,
“If we pursue the Hebrew text further, it reads, … ‘The head one of the Gods said, Let us make a man in our own image…In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation. It is a great subject I am dwelling on. The word Eloheim ought to be in the plural all the way through—Gods.”
Who then is Elohim? The answer to this can be found in many places, but it is written in an especially beautiful and simple form in our recently updated YW theme.
It states, “I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.”
There you have it. The God that we cry to as we stumble, like that little bird, on our journey back to our eternal nest is a divine and ever loving Heavenly Father and Mother.
(Worlds Without End by Rose Datoc Dall)
As President Harold B. Lee taught, “We forget that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who are even more concerned… than our earthly father and mother, and that influences from beyond are constantly working to try to help us when we do all we can.”
Now to clarify, I am not specifically advocating that you verbally direct your prayers to our Heavenly Mother. For reasons beyond my comprehension, we have been instructed by our living prophets to direct our prayers to our Father in Heaven. I am not standing here because I have all the answers or because everything makes sense in my head. I am standing here because, like all of you I am doing the best I can with the information I have.
What I am advocating for, and what the teachings of prophets past and present point towards, is that you seek to understand and remember who is standing at the other end of that line.
As you seek guidance, comfort, and most of all a relationship with the divine, remember that that divine power reflects the love and structure of a family as we hope to know it on this earth. As you come to better understand this, the more natural your prayers will seem and the more you seek them in prayer, the clearer they will become.
Just as our understanding of God and prayer mutually benefit each other, so do prayer and our understanding of ourselves.
One of the words that struck me as I studied the content for this talk was “concordance”. Multiple sources describe prayer as being a means to bring our will in concordance with God’s. The word concordance stems from the Latin “con cordia” which translates to “hearts together” or “hearts in unison”. The pre-fix “con”, emphasizes a state of harmony and mutual agreement, not a supplanting of free will or a bending to obedience.
As President Bonnie Cordon emphasizes in her BYU address “Ask of God: Our Solace Guide and Stay”
“When we approach this communication with real intent, I believe we will see how prayer can bring ‘the will of the Father and the will of the child… into correspondence with each other.’ “
From this we gather that prayer’s role is not to plug ourselves in and download a heavenly virus that completely overwrites our software, it is rather a meeting of hearts and minds to align priorities and perspectives. For this to happen we must bring a heart full of righteous desires and mind full executable goals and plans to the table.
God’s greatest gift to us was and is agency, therefore it would make no sense for them to supersede that gift in our moments of communion with them.
The scriptures give us multiple examples of people coming to God lacking in desire or strategy only to be told to come back when their homework is done. A prime example of this is the Brother of Jared who upon recognizing a flaw in the construction of his seafaring vessels, comes to God with a slate blank of ideas and full of questions. He is quickly sent back to that slate with the simple phrase, “What would you have me do?” Ultimately, it is his intellectual and physical efforts, culminating in prayer and divine intervention that resolve his dilemma.
At the end of the day, God can help us to pursue our goals and dreams but they can not set our goals or find our dreams for us. We must determine what we will do with the time given us and then bring our hearts to a place where God can guide us to fine tune our plans and desires.
Last of all as we bring our hearts to the table, we must be sure they are unshackled by expectations, traditions, and cultural practices that may prevent us from seeing or accepting the guidance that is laid before us.
So much of what we teach, read, and internalize about the gospel has been filtered and presented through years of built up church culture. Because of this, we often blur the lines between where eternal doctrine ends and the practices and single sided teachings of mortal institutions begin.
A personal example of this happened my senior year at BYU-H. I had been home from my mission for a few years and had just experienced a long string of disappointing and heartbreaking dating experiences over the course of a year. The pressure to date and marry was breathing heavily down my neck emphasized by my approaching graduation and potential move to a non-Latter-day-Saint graduate school.
One day as I sat in the temple pondering and praying over how to best proceed with my efforts to date, the answer came to me loud and clear, “Stop dating for a semester, take this time to focus on your schoolwork and career.” I was shocked, this was not the answer I expected, or the answer my church community would have told me to look for. But I took it to heart. I broke off ties with potential romantic interests, halted my social efforts to find new ones, and threw myself into my BFA thesis work and student leadership responsibilities.
Those ended up being some of the happiest and most productive months of my undergraduate career. I was able to help build a, still flourishing, student dance club from the ground up and make it a place where a broad array of students found acceptance and community. I painted enough work to fill the university gallery all by myself, and I sold enough of that work to fully fund a summer residency at the New York Academy of Art.
Last but not least, I graduated early and with honors but no boyfriend, fiancé, or husband. Eight months later, after moving away for graduate school, I met my husband.
I often wonder what my story would have been like if I had discredited that answer based on it’s apparent unorthodoxy. What if I had let the cultural perceptions of what I was “supposed to be doing in college” supersede the concordance I had found between my desire to bless and change the world with my art and God’s knowledge of my future. I doubt it would have led to the joy and fulfillment I found.
In conclusion I would like to recap the three points I have discussed thus far.
By internalizing the knowledge that we are children of Heavenly Parents who love us beyond mortal comprehension, we open the door for more effective prayers that will ultimately lead us to a greater knowledge of that love.
By recognizing the gift of agency in our lives and striving to come prepared to the table of divine communication, we are able to find alignment rather than grasping for a spoon to feed us every answer.
By recognizing the attitudes and practices in your life that are the trappings of the church rather than the eternal bones of the gospel, and being willing to shed them as needed, you open the door wide for the full range of possibility that God has prepared for you.
I testify that God is real and can see so much more in our potential than we ever can. I testify that He loves us, that She loves us. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.