We are well programmed in our society to place a high value on “being in control.” Self-help literature drips with suggestions for taking charge of our own lives, for becoming increasingly powerful people in control of every situation. Compare that mindset to the anti-Christ Korihor’s message: “. . . but every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength” (Alma 30:17).
Instead of asking, “How can I get control of my life, my child, and this current situation?” perhaps it would be better to ask, “How can I experience a mighty change of heart? How can I turn my children to Christ? How can I become more sensitive to the Spirit so I can learn the Lord’s will in regard to my children and other stewardships? How can I gain the strength and courage to yield to the Lord’s will and honor His plan of agency? How can I repent of pride, and through the Atonement replace it with charity for myself and others?”
A friend of mine said, “Sometimes I seem stuck and don’t know what to do. I frequently ask the Lord, ‘Am I asking the right questions? If not, then please help me ask according to Thy will.’ I also ask for understanding, to see a situation more clearly so I can ask better questions.”
The biggest changes I’ve made in my prayer requests and questions have been in regard to those I love.
God Does Not Give Us Power to Control Others
James Jones, a parent educator, tells about learning how God works with His children. Brother Jones’s words impressed me deeply. At a low point in his life, he was pleading with the Lord to spare and change the life of his drug-addicted son. With all the energy of a loving father, Brother Jones said, “Dear Heavenly Father, please help me to reach Danny! I must have more power. I need more power to convince him to change his life.” James heard the words spoken clearly in his mind, “No! That is not My way! I will not give you that power! Danny knows what is right and he will learn by the things he suffers.”
Brother Jones said the realization hit him hard that he had been completely wrong in his approach. He had actually been praying that God would give him the power to force his son to do right. He was asking for power to take away his son’s right to choose, to run his son’s life when God, Himself, wouldn’t run any of His children’s lives no matter how horrible their choices might be. He recognized that force is Satan’s method, and that God’s method is agency. He has given us each the power to choose for ourselves, to choose right or wrong without coercion or force—and Brother Jones realized he had been praying contrary to that plan.
He concluded that God, our Heavenly Father, is the only model we have of a perfect parent. Our job is to get in line with His laws and the way He does things, and to trust Him with the outcomes. He said it was a terrible blow to his self-esteem when he couldn’t convince his son of the danger of drugs. He felt that succeeding as a father meant being able to guide Danny to a better life. He finally learned that good parenting includes knowing when you should do something and when you cannot. We do not often have the key to “fix” things for our children, and often cannot do anything but wait and pray and keep on loving them.
Brother Jones greatly improved the quality of his own life by asking the Lord to help him changing himself and his attitude toward his son. As he changed his prayer questions and requests, he changed his life. As he reached upward to the Lord, he was able to relinquish his former goal of “control” and learn to see his son’s situation in a completely different light.
To Draw Them to the Light, We Must Be Standing in the Light
Years ago I went through a similar situation with one of my sons. One day the sadness of years of anxiety over his choices was weighing heavily on me. I sat down to do some writing therapy and a vital insight was suddenly revealed to me. I could not invite my son to share the light when I was sitting in the dark! No wonder I felt so utterly ineffective with him. I wanted to give him faith, yet I was courting despair. I wanted to give him purpose in life, yet I was mixed up about the purpose of my own life—feeling that my purpose was thwarted because I couldn’t get him to change.
I wanted him to experience the joy of belief in the Savior and His Infinite Atonement, yet I was not feeling the joy of it myself. Why would he want what I had? Was he seeing a perfect brightness of hope when he was in my presence or just my grief over his poor choices? I wanted to give him a sense of worth and self-confidence, yet my own sense of worth and confidence felt shattered. No wonder he was avoiding me. A person with an empty cup isn’t attracted to a dry well. Nor could I give him gifts of light from the dark and dreary place I had allowed my life to become.
I believed in Christ with all my heart, so why was I still trying to control things? Why was I asking Him to change Brian when I should be asking Him to heal my own heart? Why wasn’t I asking for assurance of His love and forgiveness, and the knowledge that He was mindful of my son and would reach out to him? Why wasn’t I asking the Lord to let me feel the joy of living gospel principles so that my light could shine?
Those insights were very motivating, allowing me to turn to the Lord and the scriptures with a far clearer vision. I changed my prayer questions and changed my life. Over time I rediscovered the light and joy I had somehow lost along the way.
So many of the Lord’s answers came in the form of clarifying my own stewardships. For instance, I came to understand that it was my job to offer help and gospel teachings, but it was my children’s job to choose how to respond. I could throw the ball; they had to catch it. If they chose not to “catch the ball,” I could work on my pitching ability. I could learn to “throw the ball” in a more spiritually edifying way, but still, their choice to catch or not catch—their choice of how they responded—was outside my area of righteous control.
Partial, Total, or No Control?
The more clearly I have been able to define my own stewardship with children and others, saying, “What part is mine? What part is yours?” the more I become convinced of the wisdom of using my time and energy to reach upward for strength to “clean up my own act.
” My prayer questions reflect that change.
My friend Patricia reminded me of an exercise she does to clarify her stewardship. When she is faced with a problem, she sits down and analyzes whether she has total, partial, or no control. We were discussing the limitations we face even in areas that we supposedly have “total control” over—our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Only Jesus had “total control” of His own thoughts, feelings, and actions, and Jesus said, “I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30). If even the perfect Son of God said He could of His own self do nothing, how much more should we recognize our own powerlessness, seek the will of the Father, and rely on His help.
Changing our prayer questions can change our lives. In Moroni 7:33 Jesus explains the marvelous result of doing that: “And Christ hath said: if ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” So our control, even of ourselves, is dependent on our faith and discernment of what is expedient to the Lord and desiring to know His will. My prayer question, then, is not “how can I get total control of myself?” but instead, “how can I get in tune with Thy will and have Thy help in mastering myself and helping my family progress?”
With the challenges we face in a world torn by war, evil, and violence, an exercise to change our prayer questions in response to world problems might look like this:
Problem: I keep focusing on frightening world conditions.
New Prayer Questions: Dear Father, what is there in this situation that I can righteously influence? Can I use my agency to choose a spiritual focus? Please help me! How can I choose to use my energy to improve myself and my immediate environment?
Problem: I am filled with fear and worry about terrorism, famine, war, pestilence, failing economy, and how all that is going to affect the well-being of my family.
New Prayer Questions: Dear Father, what can I do to prepare physically and spiritually for these latter-day trials? What do I need to add to my food storage, and how do I need to improve my 72-hr-kit? Please help me remember the scripture, “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). Please help me improve my spiritual strength through daily scripture study and prayer—to change my fear to faith.
I may have no control of the world situation, but with the Lord’s help I can change my prayer questions and requests and change my life. I can choose my responses to the world situation and have a positive influence on my immediate environment.
Learning from Divine Example
Jesus did not exert “control” over those around Him or the situation; He only used His influence by way of example and teachings. Not many in His personal sphere of influence followed His divine example. Still, by maintaining constant contact with His Father, no matter what others chose to say or do, He maintained control of Himself.
Jesus, our exemplar, didn’t achieve self-mastery by white-knuckled effort on His own, however. He often “took himself apart to pray” to His Father. He spent forty days in the wilderness fasting and praying in preparation to be a clear conduit of the Father’s will. His entire life shows us the example of self-mastery achieved by prayer, yielding His will to the Father’s, and following the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We, His imperfect disciples, have a far greater need to follow that pattern. Yielding to God’s will instead of seeking control means accepting God’s plan as it is. Agency means each of us and each of our children will make mistakes, and consequently have a need for the Atonement of Christ. The Atonement is all about making up the difference for our weaknesses and lack of understanding—all about extracting pure joy from the raw and often coarse material of mortality.
We gradually grow into the understanding that the tone of our prayer questions makes an important difference. When we begin to change our prayer questions, we begin to improve our lives. We can quit asking to be in control of the situation or to change others and start asking for the ability to yield to the Father’s will, accept His plan, safeguard agency, and rejoice over the merciful Atonement. The Lord will help us learn to change our prayer questions and change our lives!
Note: Darla Isackson has loved Meridian Magazine since its inception and has been a regular columnist since 2002. It has been her favorite writing experience in a long career as a writer and editor.
Special Announcement: Darla’s book of comfort After My Son’s Suicide: An LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On, is now available as an e-book. Check out Barnes and Nobles Nook Books. To learn more about Darla and her books visit her website: darlaisackson.com