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When #PrayforAmerica Will Start to Really Mean Something

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Enough already. I know many of you share that same sentiment when reflecting on the horrific violence and heartbreaks that have plagued our country as of late.

If we’re cringing and crying over recent events, imagine what God our Father must be feeling. We are His children. And no parent ever wants to see his or her children pitted against one another, bickering with blatant disrespect for the other, harboring hate, unwilling to understand or to be understood, and closed off to compassion, unity, and love. Enough already.  

After any great tragedy, I think it’s interesting how quickly we see people petition heaven for help. And why wouldn’t they? When everything feels so broken and so hopeless, it often feels like only a higher power can possibly make things right. And so we pray. A lot. And to promote that practice, hashtags like #PrayforOrlando, #HealOurWorld, and #PrayforAmerica are created and shared hundreds of thousands of times.

Imagine if each one of those hundreds of thousands of posts, likes, and shares on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram represented a meaningful prayer to God. No doubt millions of them already do. That means a loving Father in Heaven is hearing from more of His children, some of whom He probably hasn’t heard from in a while. I believe this makes Him happy. As a person of faith, it makes me happy to think of hundreds of thousands of people turning to God and lifting their voices in prayer. But are our prayers enough? Are our hundreds of thousands of posts, likes, and shares asking the world to pray actually making a difference? I say no—not on their own.

You know the scripture “faith without works is dead”? I think that’s the crossroads we find ourselves at in today’s world. It takes faith to pray and believe that God can comfort those who have lost loved ones and fill their souls with peace. It takes faith to pray and believe that God can soften the hearts of those so filled with hate that they can no longer see love. It takes faith in God to believe that He will answer our prayers and fix our world. He wants to do those things. He wants to answer our prayers But He can’t comfort alone. He can’t soften hearts alone. He can’t fix our world alone. Like it says in the book of James, “faith without works is dead.” We cannot just pray in faith for these problems to go away. We have to do work. We have to change.  

“Hate is learned. Love is natural”

I wrote those words a few months ago in a blog post I penned about what my kids taught me about loving anybody. The post got comments like:

“Hate is just as natural a response as love. It just depends on which seed gets watered more.”

“Children learn their prejudices from their parents without even being aware.”

“A beautiful truth … if only we could live by it, as the little ones do.”

“I am grateful we are finally talking about this!”

Finally talking about this? If only we could live by it? Why can’t we? Why don’t we?  

One of the great gifts we’ve received from God is the gift of agency. We can choose to change, each and every day. Because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can reset, over and over again. Christ gives us that chance to repent every day because He never gives up on us. So let’s not give up on ourselves.

If hate is learned (and I still believe it is), stop teaching it. Stop watering that seed within our hearts and in others. Choose a different way, and if needs be, ask God to help you do that. Enough is enough.

I still believe we naturally are born to love. But that love can get lost when we let pride, fear, and prejudices fill our hearts and minds. Love is natural, but it doesn’t grow on its own. It takes work. Love works when we put it to work. And that’s how we make the powerful sentiment “more love; less hate” really happen—we start with ourselves and choose to grow more love each day. Here are some simple ways we can do that.  

Make It Personal

My four-year-old son made this canvas that hangs in my office. Though it is simple and sweet, it carries a deep message for me. What makes love special is when it’s personal. And that means, like his little handprint, our hands and our hearts need to be in it. It’s nice and easy to say you love someone or you love a group of people, but it’s your hands in action, your efforts, done in a genuine way, that make those expressions of love really mean something.

Teach It at Home

We weed out hate when we teach love more fully in our homes. Our turbulent times are the perfect teaching grounds for this. Talk about hard news stories with our children. Talk about the divisive debates that fuel so many emotions. Use those stories and instances to see all sides and to show the consequences of hate and the consequences of love. Those consequences are real and they’re all around us.

In scripture study, point out verses where Jesus sets the example of loving unconditionally. Talk about why love is the essence of the gospel and the crux of the first and second great commandments to love God and to love our neighbors. Why does God think that’s so important? Why have prophets said that without love, or charity, “I am nothing”? Teach the importance of love.

Most importantly, practice what you preach. It’s up to us adults to lead by example. We can’t say we’re disciples of Jesus Christ if we’re not trying to love unconditionally like He did, if we’re not loving our Father in Heaven more fully like He did, if we’re not choosing love over hate in every instance that we can.

We change the world one person, one family, one community at a time when we start to better teach our children about the consequences of love and hate.

Don’t Be Afraid to Believe in Love

The world is more full of love than evil. I’ve read that sentence and others like it these past couple of weeks, and I absolutely believe it is true. It goes along with my belief that Jesus Christ will overcome Satan, that good triumphs over evil, and that despite this world of thistles and thorns, we can still “find joy in the journey now.”

We live in scary times. There is no doubt about that. Hate is all around us, but so is love—if we believe in it. God loved us enough to bless us with the ability to talk with Him through prayer. God loved us enough to bless us with a way to hear His answers through the power of the Holy Ghost. God loved us enough to tell people from thousands of years ago to write what they experienced in books of scripture so that we can learn from their trials, triumphs, and mistakes. God loved us enough to bless us with living prophets and apostles to help us better see the light in the darkness. Divine love is all around us. We just need to believe.

I love seeing that “belief” in the form of hashtags, profile pictures, and social posts calling for prayer, healing, and change. But I also recognize that #PrayforAmerica means little if I don’t do something to change, if I don’t teach my children to love better, if I don’t more fully practice what I preach. It’s faith without works. And without works, it means nothing.

At the end of the Book of Mormon, we read about the demise of a people so hardened by pride and hate that they got to a point where they found joy in killing hundreds of thousands of their brothers and sisters. Mormon wrote, “It is impossible for the tongue to describe, or for man to write a perfect description of the horrible scene of the blood and carnage which was among the people.” Maybe we can’t understand that scene, but we can understand what we’ve seen.

Like them, do we feel justified in our anger? Do we crave vengeance? Do we refuse to forgive? Do we refuse to admit we’re wrong? Do we choose hate over love over and over again?

I trust when Mormon saw his people doing those things, he prayed for his world. He must have prayed and cried with all his soul for something to change. He put his faith in action by begging his people to repent and to turn to God. But they didn’t listen. They didn’t change. And so the consequences of hate eventually led to the destruction of everyone Mormon knew and loved.

We need God today. We need to #PrayforAmerica. But faith without works is dead. And our prayers are only as good as our practices. When we change, when we correct, when we live with true charity, that’s when God can work His miracles. That’s when #PrayforAmerica will not only mean more but be something more.

Irinna Danielson is a Florida native and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in print journalism. She is a wife and mother to four beautiful children and embraces all of the craziness that comes with that.