Mormons tend to form pretty tight-knit little communities, as one of our fundamental beliefs is the responsibility to care for one another. We usually have large families, so that even far apart little pockets of church members tend to have connections to each other. Consequently, tragedies that happen to "our own" tend to hit us very hard, even if we don't know the individual directly. In this case, being so close to home (indeed, occurring in a ward where we have friends, to an individual my husband knows, and in a building where my mother and father in law usually meet), its left me in tears several times already.
Over the last 24 hours since this horrible event happened, I have pondered what this young mother must be feeling--the shock, anger, and terrible, aching hurt she must be going through. I've thought about how on earth I would find a way forward were I in her unenviable position. I keep feeling like I should do something for her family--but what can I do?
I have prayed for her. I have asked others to do the same.
That is a pretty standard practice for me when it comes to big challenges in the lives of others--ask people, whether they know the individuals involved or not, to offer prayers on their behalf. I once had a conversation with a friend who seemed to think that this practice, while perhaps comforting to the one asking for the prayers, was silly. "I don't get it," he said, "Do you think God will help them more if you get enough people to ask? That seems like a pretty stand-offish parent!"
I do absolutely believe that there are times when the Lord steps in and changes the course of events in someone's life in order to reward the selfless faithfulness of those who were willing to ask, with the faith believe that he can do anything they ask, if its in his will. I think the Lord still whispers to individuals today, "Thy faith hath made thee whole". Certainly as he walked the earth, he could've pulled lepers and blind folk from the crowd at will and made them whole, but in practice what he actually did was heal those who asked to be healed. Through this method, he taught us over and over again, "According to thy faith, be it unto thee." I happen to believe that sometimes he also blesses us according to the faith of those who love us.
But what good are prayers in a situation like this? A husband and father is gone, and we know that no amount of prayer will change that. All that can be healed is the hearts of those who loved him, and it is much more difficult to heal a broken heart than it is to fix unseeing eyes.
I believe, however, that the sincerely offered and truly heartfelt prayer, that is a true expression of love and faith, does change something--that that act of faith does somehow nudge the world a little bit. Many people think its pointless to offer prayers on behalf of people we don't know, people who don't know we're praying for them. I vehemently disagree. I think that when we pray out of true, selfless concern for another, there is a very real, very literal transfer of. . .what? Energy? Power? I can't pin down the specifics, but something tells me there is more to it than we can understand. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told that "all spirit is matter", its just that its so fine and so pure that we can't see it with our mortal eyes. I believe that faith and love are much more tangible things that we could possibly know on this side of the veil. I believe that when we selflessly exercise our free will on the behalf of someone else, even if it is simply to ask that they be comforted, there is a very real offering that is made--that perhaps a measure of our spirit buoys them somehow. Someday, beyond the veil, I hope to understand all the spiritual physics of how our lives are moved forward and touched by others. For now, I don't care about understanding the mechanics, all I care is that I know that it does work.
Prayer is powerful, when we use it correctly. I believe that not only does Christ offer his comfort when we pray for others, but that something very real and important is relayed from our souls to the souls of those for whom we pray. To dismiss prayer as simply a kind gesture severely underestimates its power and dismisses what is ons of our greatest weapons in the battle for the souls of men. When we offer our hearts to the Lord and to each other in sincere prayer, we are all strengthened, and I think that's because our souls, for a moment, combine, in an amazing way that we may never understand in this life.
My prayer is that God will bless and comfort the Sannar family and the Visalia 2nd ward. They will need much borrowed strength in the difficult days and months ahead. It is our sacred obligation to offer it to them.