Someone recently asked us if prayer worked and if praying for a sick family member might help her get better. My short answer: Yes and Maybe.
Prayer is the medium through which we can communicate with God. God is our Heavenly Father and he loves us and wants us to be happy.
The scriptures are full of examples of prayers being offered and answered—Hannah, Solomon, Daniel, Peter, Nephi, Alma, the Savior, and the list goes on. But some if not most of these examples are pretty dramatic. Babies aren’t always conceived, wars stopped, people healed, or lives saved because of my prayers, no matter how much I may want these things to happen. In fact, I often feel like the answers to my daily prayers are rarely (if ever) dramatic and if that’s the case then how do I even know that prayer works?
One of my favorite descriptions of prayer comes from the LDS Bible Dictionary:
“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”
Presumably God already knows what we want and need. Prayer really isn’t about convincing Him to give us what we want. Instead, prayer is about learning to align our desires with God’s will. It’s about us learning how to have a conversation with our Heavenly Father that can change and bless us.
Becoming a parent has broadened my perspective on many topics and prayer is one of them. Our relationship with our Heavenly Father may not be that different from my relationship with my toddler (perhaps we’re all essentially toddlers in God’s eyes anyway). Teaching her how to communicate effectively is one of my jobs. She may be able to physically take a toy she wants out of my hands but I want her to learn to communicate differently. I want her to learn to be polite (please), and grateful (thank you), and I want her to learn to understand her desires and motives and learn to articulate them. I want her to learn how to ask. I imagine our Heavenly Father is the same.
I also know that there are times when no matter how politely she asks for something I won’t give it to her. I love her and I want her to be happy but no matter what she may think I know better than she does that, for example, eating chocolate chips for every meal won’t really make her happy like she thinks it will. Thus, I don’t let her do it not because I don’t love her but because I do love her and I want her to be happy and healthy in the long run.
Similarly, Heavenly Father is a loving parent who wants us to communicate with him. He wants us to be happy and He has a much wider perspective than we do on how that happiness may come to be. Over time (and I believe this is something we’ll be learning our whole lives), as we learn how to pray to him and align our will with His we can learn to trust Heavenly Father and recognize His hand in our lives. We can come feel his love for us and recognize the answers to our prayers, even if they aren’t the answers we expect.