Living in Texas means that when your neighbor says, “You’re in my prayers,” they mean that they actually are offering prayers on your behalf. It isn’t a supportive figure of speech or a shorthand for “good thoughts.” Instead, it is a promise to exercise one’s faith on your behalf. And even if they haven’t told you they will pray for you, they often do.
I already had seen this when we had our car accident in 2012. Months later, people I never had met before would learn that my family was the one involved in the wreck, and they would tell me that when they drove by the accident, or saw reports of it on the news, “I prayed for you.” It was always said with sincerity, and I would feel the warm assurance that not only had the prayers been said, but they had been honored.
This time was no different. In my extremity, the community of believers rallied around my family with their prayers. And not just the Mormons. Once again, I heard from Baptists and evangelicals, people whose ministers believe that my Mormonism is hopelessly misguided, that they had called upon the power of God to heal me. Some of those prayers were individual, others made my congregations. A Muslim family with whom we are close let me know that not once, but several times, their mosque had prayed on my behalf. And the Mormons were there as well, praying for me and with me. Submitting my name to the prayer rolls of our temples. Remembering our family in congregational prayers.
I love those who petitioned God on our behalf, and I am grateful for every prayer offered. I believe that our Father in Heaven listens to all of our prayers, and that they make a difference. Whether the prayer is made to Jesus, to Heavenly Father, or to Allah, there is a palpable power in it. In times of tragedy, it is refreshing to see details of doctrine set aside so that the community of the faithful, the broader family of believers, can join together in a common expression of brotherly love and trust in the divine.
I cannot adequately express the effect those prayers have had on me and my family. Nor can I explain why we were rescued when other good people–better people–are not. I have felt considerable guilt over the last several months as I have seen better men than me pass to the other side with what were less serious conditions. I have no idea why I am still here and people like Fred Brown and James Ojo are not.
But I am. And I know that miracles have attended my family once again. I should not be alive, but I am. The stress of illness and financial difficulty should have torn my wife and I apart, but it did not. The mere fact that each morning I can wake up and reach out and take Esther’s hand is a wondrous miracle, and I attribute it to the collective prayers of the community of faith.
These experiences have transformed me in other ways. My defense of people of other faiths is more robust as a result of these nine months. While others engage in broad-brush criticism and condemnation of Islam, I cannot speak ill of those who have prayed for my family. Doctrinal differences with other Christians are a fair subject of discussion, but when someone has exercised his faith for me, I couldn’t care less that his view of the Trinity is different from mine.
It also has changed my own behavior with respect to prayers for others. I am very careful about saying that someone will be in my prayers unless I intend to make good on that promise. Often, I will stop what I am doing in that moment to say a prayer, so that my promise immediately is fulfilled. Other times I will jot the person’s name on an index card or make a note on my iPhone so that I can review it at the end of the day before saying my prayers.
What I have learned from doing this is that those prayers have an impact on me, regardless of what they do for the other person. Those for whom I pray stay on my mind, closer to the forefront of my concerns. I am more likely to follow up with the person to check on their status or perform some small act of service for them. I think that one of the ways that prayers are answered is not through divine intervention, but from stirring up Godlike love in the person who prays. We often become the answers to our own prayers. Not infrequently, our plea for the intervention of angels can transform us into ministering angels ourselves.
I am deeply grateful for every prayer sent Heavenwards for me and my family. I love everyone who has remembered us in this way, and I respect and honor your faith. And I, in turn, pray for your welfare and happiness, especially during this holiday season. I do not know all of your names. In fact, I do not know most of your names. But regardless of whether I can put a face to your faith, you have knit my heart to yours.
Tomorrow: The Examples for Enduring Well