Unexpected Answer


Based on the life history of Hester Neal Harris, the author’s grandmother
Pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17).

I stood on the step of the train and hugged my father good-bye. “Have a nice time in Wales, Hetty,” he said.

“I will,” I answered, smiling.

The spring of 1910 was one I would never forget. I had been baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just a short time before, and now I was going on a trip all alone from Bristol, England, to Wales to visit my Aunt Nell.

“Hetty”—Father caught my hand—“don’t forget to say your prayers.”

I squeezed his hand. “I won’t, Father.” But as I turned to go, I added under my breath, “I hope.”

I had a hard time remembering to say my prayers at night. Before the missionaries visited our home, I had sometimes said a little prayer before going to sleep that started, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” But the missionaries taught us that prayer was actually talking to Heavenly Father. I wasn’t used to that—and I wasn’t always sure I had anything important to tell Him. But at Aunt Nell’s house there would be lots to tell Him. I didn’t think that I’d forget there.

That night I didn’t forget. I thanked Heavenly Father that the train hadn’t derailed and that Aunt Nell had been there to meet me. I thanked Him for the lovely green Welsh hills and for the pastures filled with sheep.

The next night was different, though. I spent all day exploring the hills with Aunt Nell. I was so tired at the end of the day that I fell into bed and went right to sleep.

“Oh, dear,” I thought the next morning. “I forgot to say my prayers. Well, I’ll say them tonight.” But we spent all day visiting Aunt Nell’s relatives in the nearby village, and the same thing happened that night. And the next.

The next morning, Aunt Nell surprised me. “Hetty,” she said, “how would you like to go into the village by yourself today and buy something for me?”

“I’d love to!”

She gave me some money and told me where to find what she needed. Then she said, “Now, remember—don’t stay too long. A fog often comes in from the sea in the late afternoon. If that happens, you might not be able to find your way home.”

I told her that I’d be careful. Then I skipped off. I had to go over a bridge, walk down a long lane, and cross two fields to get to the village. The fields were surrounded by high hedges. They had stiles, or steps, in them that allowed people but not animals to go through. After I crossed the last stile, I went straight to the village store, made my purchase, and turned toward home.

“Hetty!” someone called. I turned back and saw some of Aunt Nell’s cousins playing on their doorstep. “Can you stay and play?”

“Well …” I hesitated. The sun was still high in the sky. It wouldn’t hurt to stay a little while. “OK,” I said, “but not long.”

“Not long” turned into “too long.” The sun was getting low in the sky when I started back to Aunt Nell’s. I crossed the first field just fine, but as I entered the second field, the fog came rolling in. I walked around and around the field, but I couldn’t find the stile.

Finally I stopped and stood shivering in the thick, damp fog. My father’s words echoed in my head: “Don’t forget to say your prayers.” I knew I needed Heavenly Father’s help, but how could I pray to Him after I’d been disobedient?

I knelt in the wet grass. “Heavenly Father,” I whispered, “I’m sorry I’ve been forgetting to say my prayers. And I’m sorry I stayed too long in the village. But please help me find my way.”

Just then, a horrible “Eeee-Aaaa!” sounded right by my ear. Terrified, I leaped up and stumbled away from that awful noise. And there, right in my path, was the stile! In an instant, I climbed up and over it. Then I ran down the lane, heading straight for a lantern bobbing towards me. It was Aunt Nell! I threw myself into her arms.

“There, there,” she soothed, and she took me home. That night I knelt and thanked Heavenly Father for helping me, and I promised to never again forget to pray.

The sun was out the next morning. I asked Aunt Nell to go for a walk with me. We crossed the bridge, walked down the lane, and came to the stile. I took a deep breath and climbed it. As I reached the top, I looked down into the field and saw the answer to my prayer. There, tethered near the bottom of the stile, was a donkey.

I laughed.

“What is it?” Aunt Nell asked.

“Oh, I’m just happy,” I answered. And I was. I’d found out for sure that Heavenly Father loves me and answers prayers—sometimes in unexpected ways. He might even use a donkey to do it.

[God Listens to Our Prayers]

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

“Isn’t it marvelous, brothers and sisters, that God, who knows everything, still spends time listening to our prayers?” Elder Neal A. Maxwell Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles From an October 2000 general conference address.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dan Burr