When Prayers Are Answered

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Devotional Address Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

July 21, 2005
Elder Robert Parchman
CES Missionary

Brothers and sisters, ALOHA!

It is an honor for me to be with you today. Indeed, it is an honor for me to be with you in any setting on campus on any day.

You would be well-served this morning, however, if I had introduced Sister Parchman to speak. She is a remarkable person: spiritual, organized, resourceful, thoughtful, loving and kind. She gives wise counsel and speaks plainly. It's the equivalent of living with all the combined forces and efficiency of the Relief Society—24/7 . . . and, I love her for it.

She also expects personal prayers to be answered. And that is something that has—or should have—profound relevance in each of our lives.

At a time when the noise of the world is becoming so loud that it can minimize a connection with Heavenly Father and when the potential for doubt and discouragement is so blatantly present, there is a tempting tenancy to set afloat on life's journeys without a working steering mechanism—without earnest personal prayer.

In Alma 34:26-27, Alma points out that we are expected to gratefully pray over our livelihood and our possessions—our earthly "things" — then hastens to add:

But this is not all, ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.

Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.

Much, in fact, is said about the importance—the vital nature—of personal prayer in the scriptures. And light continues to be shed on this key gospel principle in our day. It is life-saving information and encouragement that we should often reference and re-reference.

Because personal prayer is personal, however, not a great deal is shared about when prayers are answered, and how. From my personal experience, I cannot overstate that, even though in very interesting ways, some times, personal prayers are answered—that things are as they really should be.

As a boy I dreamed of someday going to the islands of the Pacific. These places came to life for me in books and stories, and through the travels of others.

I doubt very much—no, you never dreamed of coming to the island where I lived as a boy. It was a small farm near a tiny town in Tennessee—surrounded by an enormous ocean of dense, hardwood-covered hills—deep forests on steep inclines that went on forever.

"Out of the way" and "insignificant" were understatements in describing it! It was so isolated that the sound of a passing car or truck motor on the road some distance from our farm house qualified as excitement.

I was one year old and my mom was 23 when my dad died; I never knew him. Seven years later, out of the need for a family circle, we continued to live with my grandparents.

As you might expect, my mother was a great influence in my life. She was a doer—a petite and beautiful woman with drive. She owned a restaurant, had traveled some, and always paid her own way in life. She read to me, laughed with me, and she took me to the Presbyterian Church every Sunday morning. We didn't miss.

Life had become a comfortable routine; you know, secure. I had my own bedroom. I had a horse to travel the farm's acres and sometimes trot into town. And I had a faithful dog that shared my every adventure. Granddad sometimes even let me drive his new, red Farmall tractor. What more could an 8-year-old boy ask for?

. . . Well, there was one thing I wanted in the worse way: I wanted to know something that I had long thought about. Mom didn't have the details and neither did my grandparents. Brother Davis, the minister at the Presbyterian Church couldn't really explain it; and even seemed annoyed—more like frustrated—at my persistence in asking.

So I thought I would turn to someone who did know. I clearly remember offering a prayer on my knees one summer night—a secret prayer—that was different from the rote prayer I had repeated every night since I could remember. The prayer was simply to know how I could see my father some day. It was a simple, but sincere prayer and I continued to ask and think about it. I knew that God was there; I just didn't know if he ever heard me.

I had also been thinking a lot about what it would be like to have a dad. It didn't seem complicated, and I determined that it was awfully important to a boy who had never had one.

Now I share this because exactly a year later, my mom sat me down, looked into my eyes and explained that she was soon to be married; that I was going to have a dad. She couldn't mask her excitement.

Frankly, I was shocked—in awe! I didn't know how to react. How could just thinking about having a dad actually produce that kind of results? Maybe God had considered it to be a prayer, I thought!

Living on my little island ended abruptly. In what seemed like minutes, my instant family was speeding on its way to Detroit, Michigan, 700 miles north, where my new dad worked in Ford Motor Company management.

As the last familiar farms and landmarks flashed past the car windows and then disappeared, so did my huge ocean vanish a few hours later. I felt a kind hopelessness; something akin to mild terror.

I knew things were never to be the same again. The journey that was beginning was filled with uncertainties I couldn't begin to articulate. It was time to add some more requests to my long-standing prayer about knowing my father someday, and then really hope that God would hear it.

The cultural shock was instant. I did not blend in. School confirmed that American English was not spoken in Michigan. It sounded like English, only spoken with lightening speed. After a couple of days in class, I resolved to speak it faster than anyone in the state. I think I came close!

Needless to say, my world had been turned up-side-down, but eventually it became righted. Dad loved baseball and spent years trying to teach me the art of pitching. Mom placed a premium on education. And home became a haven.

And, yes, every Sunday morning Mom and I went to church. Dad was always asked to come, but declined.

One Sunday morning, however, when I was seventeen, mom gathered the magnitude of her southern communications skills and almost pleaded for Dad to go to church with us: "It would mean so much to me, Joseph, if you would come," she said.

Dad opened the phone book, made a call, put on a suit and tie, and unceremoniously announced, "Let's go."

The building was rather plain, but stately. One cornerstone pronounced: A.D. 1928. The other read, Glory to God. A stone panel above the door read, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We couldn't leave the building that day after the meeting until we shook hands with everyone there; some people twice. It seemed to be a tradition. Some guys with whom I ran track in high school offered slaps on the back, and the man who directed the meeting walked us out to our car.

It turned out that dad was a member of the Church since he was a boy in Tennessee; had left the farm as a teenager to survive the after-effects of the Great Depression, and had become inactive.

After mom and I were baptized, we went to church as a family and it brought her immeasurable happiness. Dad never missed again—ever.

The missionary lessons answered the very questions I had longed and hoped would be answered: who God really was, and, how I might someday see my real father. I consider finding that information, and the gospel, a miracle.

Having a dad come into my life, a great dad, was a wonderful bonus; the catalyst in my finding the gospel.

The most practical principle to me in finding the restored Church was that prayers are answered. That knowledge became increasingly profound while serving a mission, while at BYU, in the process of finding my sweetheart, also in being a father and grand father, during long years of a career, and while serving in the Church. That principle has never been more apparent than now while being with you on this unique campus.

I do not fully understand why the prayer of a little boy who was not a member of the Church, in a place known relatively to a few, was answered. I just know that it was and my entire life was changed. Every day I marvel. And I am still grasping to capture words to thank my Heavenly Father.

Brothers and sisters, please forgive my mentioning personal experiences today. I dearly wanted to share that life is filled with challenges—also hopes and blessings. Challenges come to all. Hopes and blessings come to those who seek them.

Now, what about your righteous dreams and aspirations? I will ask you a rhetorical question: does the Lord care about you—about your personal voyage?—about the potential of your life? I truly hope you know that that is a given; and that it is perfectly okay to look forward to the future; to hope and pray, and to expect answers.

Looking forward in life, these words were penned:

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
"Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown!
And he replied:

"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a Known way."
So, I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod Gladly into the night.
And He led me toward the hills and the breaking of
Day in the lone East.

— Minnie Louise Haskins

At the very least, life is a grand adventure; one in which you set afloat without a rudder, unless you can count on guiding blessings from a loving Heavenly Father—guidance that comes through personal prayer.

Be obedient, be worthy, and expect answers. They will come; on the condition that you are faithful and grateful.

How the Lord feels about being faithful appears in D&C 101:7: They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble.

Regarding gratitude, in D&C 59:21 the Lord says: And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things and obey not his commandments.

Brothers and sisters, I have no idea where your personal voyages are to take you. At this point, I seriously doubt if you have any idea where your life adventures will take you. But I do know that God lives, and that He knows where your travels should take you. He is waiting to give you instructions and markers along the way as you gratefully ask for them. That you might ask for them in unwavering personal prayer, and that you might reach safe harbors is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.