When I was a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood, the member of the bishopric who advised the deacons quorum came into our quorum meeting the Sunday before Thanksgiving and said, “I hope we won’t have one family of this quorum who won’t kneel down in family prayer and have a blessing on the food this Thanksgiving.” It was 1943, and our country was engaged in World War II. We discussed our need for a divine blessing for those who were in military service and for all the other difficulties we as a nation were facing. We also talked about the blessings we each enjoyed. Then we were again encouraged to have family prayer.
A heavy cloud settled on my heart. I didn’t know how my family could have family prayer. My father had a drinking problem, and my mother was not a member of the Church at that time. We had never had a prayer in our home, not even a blessing on the food. After quorum meeting I continued to consider the challenge, and finally concluded we would not be able to have prayer.
That evening at sacrament meeting the bishop stood up at the close of the meeting and said, “Brothers and sisters, Thursday is Thanksgiving. I hope we will not have one family in the ward that will not kneel in family prayer. We ought to express our gratitude for the great goodness of our Heavenly Father to us.” And then he enumerated some of our many blessings.
Again it seemed as if my soul were filled with an enormous gloom. I tried to figure out a way our family could have prayer. I thought about it Monday, and again on Tuesday, and on Wednesday. On Wednesday evening my father did not return home from work at the normal hour, and I knew from experience that, because it was payday, he was satisfying his thirst for alcohol. When he finally came at two in the morning quite an argument ensued. I lay in bed wondering how we could ever have prayer with that kind of contention in our home.
On Thanksgiving morning, we did not eat breakfast so we could eat more dinner. My four brothers and I went out to play with some neighbor boys. We decided to dig a hole and make a trench to it and cover it over as a clubhouse. We dug a deep hole, and with every shovelful of dirt I threw out of the hole I thought about family prayer for Thanksgiving. I wondered if I would have enough courage to suggest to my parents that we have a prayer, but I was afraid I would not. I wondered if my older brother, who has always been an ideal in my life, would suggest it, since he had been in the same sacrament meeting and had heard the bishop’s suggestion.
Finally, at about two-thirty in the afternoon, Mother told us to come get cleaned up for dinner. Then we sat down at the big round oak table. Dad sat down with us silently—he and Mother were not speaking to each other. As she brought in the platter with the beautiful golden brown turkey, my young heart was about to burst. I thought, Now please, won’t someone suggest we have a family prayer? I thought the words over and over, but they wouldn’t come out. I turned and looked at my older brother, praying desperately that he would suggest prayer. The bowls of delicious food were being passed around the table; plates were being filled; and time and opportunity were passing. I knew that if someone did not act immediately, it would be too late. Then suddenly, as always, everyone just started eating.
My heart sank, and despair filled my soul. Although I had worked up a great appetite, and Mother was a marvelous cook, I wasn’t hungry. I just wanted to pray.
I resolved that day that no son or daughter of mine would ever want to pray and not be able to do it because of shyness or lack of courage. In our family we have family prayers, personal prayers, and blessings on every meal. As one who has known the contrast between families that do not pray and those that do, I know the value of prayer in the home and in the life of every child and youth in the Church. What a blessing it is for us to know that our private, individual prayers are heard and answered by a kind, wise, loving Heavenly Father, and that we can take our problems—no matter how simplistic they may be—to him in prayer!
My wife and I have seven children, six sons and a daughter. Each one of our children has been taught to pray as soon as he or she was old enough to kneel. Some of the sweetest prayers ever offered in our home have been those of our children.
Heavenly Father is accessible to us all, both young and old. In my own life there have been moments when I have felt an overwhelming, absolute need for intervention by a kind Father in Heaven.
Before our fifth son, Lawrence, was born, my wife had complications in labor, and the doctor stayed by her side all day. She also had had a dream that frightened her. She dreamed that two men in black clothes had come to get her, and she feared this may have been a warning she might not make it through the delivery. Late that night the doctor asked me to leave the room so he could examine her again. Greatly concerned about her, I went out into the hall, stood by a window looking over the twinkling lights of the Salt Lake Valley, and, with tears in my eyes, pleaded with the Lord to spare her life.
While I was praying, someone came rushing down the hallway. I saw a nurse run into my wife’s room, then come out, get a cart with a tank of oxygen, and wheel the cart into the room. Now I knew my wife was in great danger. Although I thought I had been praying with all my heart, I suddenly found I could pray with even greater humility and pleading. I promised the Lord I would do anything I was ever asked to do in the Church if he would spare Merlene’s life. The prayer was offered with every particle of my being.
In a few moments the door opened, and they were wheeling her to the delivery room. Lawrence, weighing ten pounds and twelve ounces, was born shortly after, and his mother soon recovered her health. Our prayers had been answered.
When Lawrence was 13 we were expecting our seventh child, and again I was concerned for my wife’s well-being. I tried not to alarm my family. However, I had told Lawrence about some of the difficulties connected with his birth, and this affected him greatly.
When I took Merlene to the hospital I told the family I would call them and let them know how their mother was and whether they had a little brother or sister. After Paul was born, I called home and Lawrence answered. I told him the good news and said I would be home in a little while. When I went home I told them all about their new baby brother and that their mother was doing well. That evening as I left the house to go to the hospital, Lawrence handed me a letter to give to his mother. When I arrived, I gave her a kiss, then handed her the letter. Her eyes moistened as she read it; then she handed it to me. It said:
“To my favorite and most loved Mother. Congratulations. When Dad phoned us and told us we had a little brother I just about freaked. After you left to go to the hospital I went in Dad’s den and knelt down to have prayer to ask Heavenly Father to bless you that you would be all right. Well my prayer was answered. After Dad came home he told how just before the baby was born you gritted your teeth and tears flowed down your cheeks but you wouldn’t cry out. I kind of got this unstuckable lump in my throat.
“I’m working on my hiking merit badge.
When our second son, Dave, was 12 years old, he was home alone one afternoon when the telephone rang. It was one of the Laurels in our ward who was calling. Her car had a flat tire and she had been unable to find anyone to help her fix it, so she called to see if my wife, who was president of the Young Women of the ward, could help her. Dave said, “I’m home alone, but I can ride my bike and help you change the tire.” When he hung up the phone, he remembered he hadn’t asked her where she was. He went into his bedroom, knelt down, and asked the Lord to take him to this girl. Then he went out, climbed on his bicycle, and rode directly to where she was.
Some time ago a couple came to my office with very heavy hearts. They had a priest-age son who was an Eagle Scout, a Duty to God Award winner, a good student who had been conscientious in school and on his part-time job. Then one night he just walked away from home and didn’t return. He had been gone for several weeks, and they were heartsick.
I asked them if they had pleaded with the Lord to know where their son was. They assured me they had. “Have you pleaded with all your strength?” “Yes, we have.” “Have you pleaded with every particle of your being?” “Well,” they said, “maybe not every particle.” I said, “You go home and pray again—this time with every particle of energy and strength of your being.” They said they would.
That afternoon the couple knelt down and pleaded with the Lord. At six o’clock the phone rang. It was their son, calling from Banff, Alberta, Canada. After talking to him for a few minutes and finding that he was safe and in no danger, they asked why he had called at that particular time. He replied, “The bishop this evening had the strongest impression to have me call home. He came over to my apartment and said he would not leave until I called home.”
We need to understand that some things demand pleading with the Lord. When we come to know that without his help we cannot possibly accomplish our desires, then we must learn to plead to whatever extent necessary.
Great blessings are wrought through prayer. The God of heaven would not expect us to pray to him if he had no intention of answering our prayers.
One of the choicest experiences of my life was to kneel in prayer in the office of President Spencer W. Kimball. I felt President Kimball’s overpowering love for our Father in Heaven as we knelt together. He taught us much about prayer through his example. We need to learn that we should pray as though everything depended upon God, and then work as though everything depended upon us. When we follow through on our part of the agreement with our Heavenly Father, answers always come. May we have gratitude to God, who is always available to answer a simple prayer of a believer.