Message in a Bottle
by Kerry Blair
I told you some time ago how (and why) my grandmother kept her worries in a box. Since that has worked so well for me, I’ve now started to bottle prayer.
Yes, really. While I am still in the early stages of market research, all signs point toward it being quite effective.
You see, I’ve long relied on Elder Maxwell’s declaration that prayer is the most efficacious thing one mortal being can do for another. With so many people I know going through so much in these latter days, bottles of jam still have their place in compassionate service—and I distribute them widely—but bottles of prayer spread even farther.
My favorite recipe is one I happened upon years ago when I was a young RS president. There was a woman in our ward who could have campaigned against Job for “Most Persecuted Person in the History of the Planet”—and won. Every time I answered the phone it was her or the bishop or her Visiting Teachers, calling to report yet another calamity. The Elder’s Quorum president suggested we hire one of those fire-fighting planes to drop consecrated oil over her house, but since the Priesthood failed to follow through on that one, crisis management was mostly left to me.
They were some of the scariest days of my life. Every time I approached her door I feared I would be overcome and consumed by her dozens of cats. It never happened (obviously) but I was consumed by the felines’ fleas—until I got smart enough to wear jeans and tuck the hems into the tops of my boots. I helped her clean, I really did, despite the very real concern that her derelict roof would collapse, trapping me alive with all those felines and fleas.
(And, yes, it has occurred to me that I may be turning into a little old cat lady myself, but how rude of you to think it while I’m trying to tell you a story.)
One Sunday afternoon, I sat with this poor sister in the hall outside the bishop’s office while she waited for her tri-weekly appointment. (He was too smart to go to her house.) She was going on and on about how diligent she had been in following his counsel to say her prayers morning and night—and every minute in between.
Amazed at the still-sorry state of her life I blurted out, “What in the heck are you praying for?”
She smiled with the self-righteous assurance of a St. Benedict and replied, “All I ever ask is for patience and the strength to endure.”
It was like a lightning bolt of divine revelation struck me right there on that cheap plastic chair. “So that’s your problem,” I said. “My gosh! If you’re going to pray for patience and endurance, what do you expect the Lord to send you? Could you try praying for peace and joy for awhile and give us all a break?”
I was not the most compassionate RS president to ever serve in that ward. Not even close.
It was then that the bishop opened his door. “Never mind the appointment,” I said, standing. “I’ve solved Sister Job’s root problem. She just needs to stop praying . . . and buy flea powder.”
I didn’t say that last line, but I thought it very loudly, so it will still count against me on Judgment Day.
I tell you this flippantly, but I believe it is true at a very basic level. I know with all my heart that the Lord hears and answers prayers. Moreover, He often gives us what we pray for, if only to teach us to be more aware of what we truly want—and need—in life. This sounds irreverent, but it’s not too much unlike that old monkey paw morality fable where a man wishes for what he thinks he really wants/needs and then discovers to his horror that he should have thought his heart’s desires out much more carefully. I once received a blessing in which I was instructed to ask the Lord for things only under the direction of the Spirit. When I do, life is good. Or, when it isn’t good, I am at least good with it. It’s when I believe that I can run the universe at large better than You-Know-Who that I get into trouble. Deep trouble. (Do not try this at home, in other words.)
So, while I can’t know or maybe even guess at the desires of others’ hearts, let alone perceive the needs of which only the Lord is aware, I can (and do) put my prayer for them in a little bottle. It is my way of offering the Bread of Life along with the much more meager gift of bread and jam. The prayer I include is always the same. I ask in their behalf for what the angels promised us all at the birth of our Savior: comfort and joy.
And it works. When we ask for joy and seek after the gift of the Comforter, it doesn’t matter how many jams* we get ourselves into or how many worries we have in our boxes—we’ll be fine.
*Sorry. I tried so, so hard to write just one blog without a bad pun in it, but I just couldn't.