“He Is There,” New Era, Oct. 1993, 4
I have always been impressed with an experience President Hugh B. Brown, former member of the First Presidency, shared with me when I was serving a mission under his direction in the British Isles. He told about his mother’s encouraging words as he left on his mission when he was about 20 years of age. This essentially was her message, as I recall:
“Hugh, you remember when you were a little boy and you would have a bad dream or wake up in the night frightened, you would call from your room: ‘Mother, are you there?’ and I would answer and try to comfort you and remove your fears. Now as you go on a mission and out into the world there will be times when you will be frightened, when you feel weak, inadequate, alone, and have problems.
“I want you to know that you can call to your Heavenly Father as you used to call to me and say: ‘Father, are you there? I need your help.’ Do this with the knowledge that He is there and that He will be ready to help you if you will do your part, and live worthy of your blessings and needs. I want to reassure you that He is there and will answer your prayers and needs for your best good.”
What a blessing it is and can be in the future if, when we have special challenges, heartbreaks, unusual experiences, or disappointments, we know He is there and we can cry unto Him in faith and complete trust.
Very often over the years I have had peace and patience knowing He was there and would not forsake me even though some prayers were going unanswered. What a joy and strength it would be in all of our lives to have the childlike faith and complete trust to know He is there and we can cry unto Him under all circumstances.
Perhaps it would be good for our souls to build the relationship and understanding that He is there, our loving and eternal Father, and that oftentimes delays to our urgent pleas can be best for us. Who is to say it isn’t more important to know He is there than to receive immediate answers? Often I think of the conditions under which Joseph Smith pleaded within the confines of horrible prison conditions. It appeared that his needs and pleas were justified as he was confined away from his family, church, and friends. He undoubtedly suffered intense mental as well as physical anguish. Answers appeared to be not the Lord’s way at that time. Nevertheless, he seemed to be sustained by the overruling knowledge that God was there, knew him and loved him. While answers to his pleadings and prayers were delayed, God was building a stronger prophet.
“O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
“How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
“Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?” (D&C 121:1–3).
Relief and release were not imminent, but an eternal principle was being stressed.
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes” (D&C 121:7–8).
God was there, and He heard. But His purposes and timetables were and are eternal. Often we mortals misunderstand and instead of answers there are sometimes delays, tests, and a trying by fire.
What a great strength it would be to all of us in times of desperation and wonderment to humbly approach His throne with, “Please hear my prayers. Answer them in thy great wisdom for my best good. But please give me the constant reassurance that thou art there and that peace, contentment, and the courage to continue are mine because I have faith and can come to thee who has promised not to forsake us.”
One of my favorite “cry out during the night children’s stories” is about a four-year-old boy who came during the middle of the night to his parents’ bedroom, sobbing and crying. His mother put her arms around him to give comfort, saying, “What happened?”
He said, “I fell out of bed.”
She asked, “Why did you fall out of bed?”
And he cried, “Because I wasn’t in far enough.”
It has been my experience that most people who fall out of the Church do so because they were not in far enough.
At one time I was visiting with an excommunicated member of the Church. I told him he had been disciplined and was out of the Church so it would now be possible for him to come back in, with greater strength and appreciation for the gospel. Thank God the great majority realize that every policy and standard recommended is to keep them in comfortably and securely and not drive them out. I have always thought the Savior, Jesus the Christ, drove the money changers out of the temple so they could come back in with righteous desires and new commitments.
Our Heavenly Father loves each of us. We are His children. He wants us to return to Him. It is the adversary’s purpose to deter us from a course which leads to happiness and eternal life. Knowing that, our Heavenly Father ordained prayer as a means by which we could always keep in contact with Him, and not become a stranger to Him.
For what do we pray? As nearly as I can tell, the Lord has not placed any limitations on where we pray or for what we should pray. Only with this caution: we are not to pray just to gratify our selfish desires. He said, “Do not ask for that which you ought not” (D&C 8:10).
What if we don’t feel like praying? We may all benefit by this admonition from Nephi: “If ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Ne. 32:8).
Perhaps we could do well to involve ourselves in more and more quiet saying of prayers. There are strength, power, and discipline rewards in communicating with God on a continuing personal and private basis. Quietly we can pray for the patience to have our secret prayers answered. Sometimes we fail to recognize answered prayers because we are deaf to His quiet promptings.
Listen to President Brigham Young’s counsel on the matter of praying even when we don’t feel like it or when earthly requests have not been satisfied.
“It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do. … You will find that those who wait till the Spirit bids them pray, will never pray much on this earth” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941, p. 44).
Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? Over the years I have listened to, or observed from troubled lives of individuals, reactions to prayer. Here are just two examples:
A brokenhearted mother who has prayed and mourned over a wayward son. In spite of her fasting and prayers, the young man continues on his wayward course. I am sorry to report I am concerned about both the son and the mother because they tell me they are sour on prayer.
A brother who is faithful in the Church—paying his tithing, serving in the Church, and attending the temple—but who experienced failure in his marriage. He can’t understand why the Lord doesn’t get his wife to change. He tells me he prays for this every day.
These individuals felt their prayers were not answered, promptly and properly. But their understanding was incomplete.
“We are looked upon by God as though we were in eternity. God dwells in eternity, and does not view things as we do” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 356).
I want you to know that I know God hears and answers prayers. He has answered many of mine. I have lived sufficiently long on this earth to see that some of the prayers, which I concluded were not answered, were answered for my best good. I am still trying to recognize a “no” answer. I am still trying to recognize and accept silent answers.
Let me conclude with an intimate “Are you there?” experience. Sister Ashton and I live in downtown Salt Lake City. From our sixth floor condominium window, we have a full view of the Salt Lake Temple. We enjoy frequent views of the majestic structure, particularly when the sun is setting or at night when the lights are on.
A few years ago, Sister Ashton developed a sudden need to receive hospital attention. After taking her to be admitted, we prayed. Then I returned home and prayed privately. Worried about the suddenness of the medical problem, and thinking of the deep affection I have for her, I was not able to sleep.
After a restless hour or so, I got out of bed, walked to the living room, and looked at the temple. The lights on the outside of the temple are on all night. I remember well walking around the living room countless times looking at the temple and saying to myself with a bowed head and with unwavering faith, “I know He is there.” It was a kind of silent crying out for that reassurance and strength we have been discussing.
I have total confidence and faith in the wisdom and omniscience of a loving, merciful Heavenly Father. Please know He is there. I testify He is. He is a living, loving Father, and as the Prophet Joseph discovered, we can ask Him our innermost desires and He will not upbraid! Pray constantly for help, endurance, and understanding. God does answer our prayers.