I've been asked to speak for five minutes today in church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My topic: personal prayer.
Today is a special day for us in our church. We've invited our friends and neighbors. Four people, including one family, have agreed to come with our family today to visit. We are not that much different than other Christian denominations; we have a lot in common, and we want others to know more about our faith.
As I've pondered on what to speak about, I couldn't help but recall my time in Iraq. Hopefully everyone listening (or now that it's posted online, everyone reading the things I'll say) will be touched in their hearts enough to evoke positive change in their lives enough to bless their life individually and the life of their family (and posterity) for an unforeseen future. That is my hope and my prayer.
The experiences that I'm going to share are personal and sacred to me. I pray by posting these things online it will not be mocked. Indeed, the experience I'm going to share has changed me forever. Here is what I've written and plan on speaking about today, Sunday, March 14, 2010.
Ever poignantly, the famous military General, Douglas MacArthur, declared, "The soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war."
Come Father's Day this June I'll have been home from Iraq for two years. It was there in "the cradle of civilization" that I learned more about what it means to be a father (and subsequently, a son) than what I could have ever learned anywhere else, or at any other time. My sufferings and trails faced there in Iraq refined me. They helped me become a better husband and a better father. My sufferings helped me lean to my own Father—the Father of our Spirits—our Heavenly Father, through the power of personal prayer.
According to the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, we do know that a young person’s developing concept of God centers on characteristics observed in that child’s earthly parents. (See “Parent-Child Relationships and Children’s Images of God, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Mar. 1997, 25–43.)
But I would submit that the weaknesses each of us have as Dad's doesn't equate even one iota of the characteristics of our Heavenly Father. Each man here, though created in the likeness and image of God, falls short of perfection. As Father's Day draws near, we could do more to develop our relationship with our own sons and daughters and try harder to accumulate characteristics of divine fatherhood.
Some were bereft of earthly fathers. Taken from him at a young age, my neighbor Sam, told me the tragic story of his youth. His dad died when Sam was only 15 years old. Yet Sam said to me, "There's nothing more important than family. My mom taught us that."
In Iraq, I lost a dear friend and a father of tiny children.
One of our full-time missionaries, Elder Rudd, lost his cousin over in Iraq. I was there at the time and learned about his cousin's misfortune. Only 24-years-old, a former Marine-turned contractor, he left a young wife and a baby boy not two years of age.
When considering the pain of separation, whether by death, abandonment or sometimes the result of bitter divorce, I personally know what it's like to not have a father around as a boy who desperately needed one—someone to play ball with, someone to fish with and someone to love.
In writing to the Hebrews, the Apostle Paul observed of the Savior, "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8)
If the Savior suffered so, we should give thanks to suffer likewise.
But Jesus was not without His Father—though his step-father God trusted and loved, perhaps more than any other man considering Joseph would raise His Only Begotten Son in the flesh.
Jesus knew from a young age where to turn for companionship, nurture and love: heavenward. In the temple, at 12 years of age, he went to do his Father's business. He taught his disciples how to commune with their Father. He said to Mary upon his rising from the tomb, "I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17)
It has been said that prayer is the passport to peace (Pres. Thomas S. Monson). One of the Father's of our Nation, Abraham Lincoln, said, "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go." In times of severe anguish and pain, most every mortal turns heavenward, searching desperately for comfort and peace. Even the soldier axiom goes, "There's no such thing as atheists in foxholes."
In my own desperate circumstances, with a lovely wife and four tiny children (at the time) home in America, separated from them by war and conflict, I leaned to my Heavenly Father, the One sure refuge for peace in a troubled world.
During one particularly troubling day after nearly a year spent in Iraq, living in the hell associated with war and conflict, I was walking alone on the dusty roads silently pleading for help, comfort and peace. My prayers had, at that time, become much more fervent. Being in an agony, I was compelled to pray more earnestly (compare to Luke 22:44).
As I pleaded with our Heavenly Father, I felt an overwhelming feeling burning deep into my heart and mind. I knew and comprehended that He was listening to me—that He could walk beside me and hold my hand, as a little child needing his Father's loving guidance. As I watched my swaying hand, I learned more about our divine heritage than I ever had previously. We were created in His image! (See Genesis 1:26-27)
The romantic-era poet, Lord Byron described, “Yet in my lineaments they trace / Some features of my father’s face.” (Lord Byron's couplet, Parisina.) His hand was in likeness of mine, and mine like His. I comprehended and knew in my heart that God, our Father, has a body of flesh and bone as tangible as man's, though perfect and immortal. I realized more deeply then than ever that I could speak with Him as a man speaks with another man, face to face.
God is our Father—our Father in Heaven. I believe that when we reunite after this life is over it will surprise us just how familiar His face is to us.
We are indeed God's children. As such, we are brothers and sisters with a divine heritage and a celestial destiny. Though we look different and come from different parts of the world, we are all created of the same spiritual DNA. If for that reason alone—knowing we are children of a loving Heavenly Father—we should never give up and always have hope.
Our Father in Heaven loves us more than we can comprehend. He is anxious to hear from us, both in times of prosperity and peace, as well as in times of darkness, trouble and conflict. I know He lives. I know He hears our prayers. Our prayers are never ignored.