I recently adopted a cat named Hank the Tank. He’s a big, cuddly tabby who likes to snuggle and meow for things and jump on the countertops because, well, he’s a cat. Of course, countertops are not spaces cats are supposed to be, what with the sharp objects and human food and need for cleanliness. So when he’s on the countertops sniffing at old dishes I should have washed yesterday, I call his name to get his attention. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t look up, doesn’t acknowledge me, and definitely doesn’t stop what he is doing. We don’t have the best communication.
I was thinking about Hank and how I could get him to mind me when it struck me that he and I aren’t so different. I’ve been pondering lately about revelation and how I’ve felt like I’ve cried to the Lord and only heard crickets, or I haven’t received timely warnings from Him that really would have helped me get out of some tight spots. But I guess I hear Him just about as well as Hank hears me.
So many of us struggle with a similar problem. We ask the Lord for help, yet the heavens feel closed to us. It’s like getting the answer “Good luck, kid, but you’re on your own this time!” It’s especially hard when we are told we can “hear Him” and receive revelation like Joseph Smith, who asked Heavenly Father a simple question and got such an incredible answer! The silence can cause us to feel isolated, lonely, and abandoned by our Father in Heaven, even when we have faith that He does want to guide us in some way.
But what if He has never abandoned us? What if we are the ones who are strangers to Him? What if we are the ones who don’t hear His voice or recognize His gentle Spirit calling us by name?
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (1928–2015) said:
“When one is caught in a whirlpool of emotion, it is difficult to find a way out alone. . . .
“When answers to urgent prayer don’t seem to come, it can be that we don’t understand some truths about prayer, or because we don’t recognize answers when they come.”
He went on to teach that the Lord always answers prayers in one of three ways:
“When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.
“When He answers no, it is to prevent error.
“When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. . . . We are to act” (“Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 30, 32).
But it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard for me to pray every night with the best of intentions—only to feel like I don’t recognize any yess, but I don’t find any nos either. And the third option? Sometimes having an answer withheld can feel even worse.
I recently read a fiction novel where one character wanted direction from another character. “Why hasn’t he helped me?” she wondered. “He knows I’ll die without his help.” But then she understood something about their relationship. He wasn’t helping her because he wanted to signal to her that she was already close to her answer. He trusted her to understand that she could get to where she wanted to go on her own—that she was really close to her goal.
And sometimes I think the Lord works in a similar way. When I pray to Him about something I’m worried about, if I don’t feel a yes or no from Him, He’s trusting me to rely on the direction He’s given in the past and to make my own choices—just like the loving Father that He is. He knows I’m close to my answer or that I will grow in needed ways from finding the answer myself.
I think back to all the times in my life when direction from the Lord could have prevented me from making big mistakes, but I realize that those mistakes have made me the person I am today.
And back to my relationship with my good ol’ Hank: As he starts to recognize my voice and his name, he will have an easier time minding me. And the more he minds me and stays safe, the more he’ll trust me.
Of course, my relationship with the Lord is a bit more complex, but I think similar principles apply. The more I listen for and obey the promptings I do get, the more I’ll trust the Lord. And the more I trust Him, the more I’ll listen to Him. When I don’t hear His answer, I don’t have to be worried that He isn’t there or that He doesn’t care about me. I can trust that He trusts me to make good decisions and learn from my mistakes.
Sometimes these thoughts still don’t satisfy me, and sometimes I’m still left feeling alone or confused. But to some degree I’m starting to understand that this is all part of what it means to be human. And, thankfully, I can always rely on my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ to be there when I just want to cry or feel angry or simply need to feel Their love. In times of stress and trial, They are the ones who get me through.
Have you had an experience following the Prophet’s invitations from last conference? Or do you have a story you’d like to share about finding peace in Jesus Christ? Send your submission (700 words min.) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!