I will be the first to admit that I do not read “churchy” books. However, an opportunity came up to review Why Isn’t God Answering Me?By Gerald Lund for the blog and I decided to take it. What drew me in was my own thought of “why don’t we know more about Heavenly Mother?” This book will not answer that question, and it doesn’t claim to. However, it is a useful manual for finding peace with our (lack of) answers to prayer.
The preface to this book emphasizes that “this book does not need to be read from start to finish” (x). I did read it that way for the sake of this review, but I would not suggest that method to anyone else. Each chapter addresses possible reasons why we may be struggling to receive or understand personal revelation. The preface asserts that “this book will largely ignore the more obvious reasons why God isn’t answering prayers” (viii) but I found that the first several chapters were still very much what I might hear if I asked this question in a run of the mill Sunday School class. This does not mean these chapters are worthless or without value. Someone who has not long wrestled with this question, or who for a variety of reasons may not have attended adult Sunday School recently may find that these chapters provide exactly what they’re looking for.
I found that the second half of the book held interesting insights. Chapter 8 deals with the problem of “our wants are too high” – that is, we want something so badly it makes it harder to hear the Spirit clearly. Lund points out that one issue may be that “we believe that having strong feelings proves that these feelings come from God” (75). I had my own experience with this many years ago when I had decided to serve a mission after receiving my Patriarchal Blessing, praying, fasting and studying the scriptures. My boyfriend objected that he knew we were supposed to get married. This was confusing to me, but looking at Lund’s discussion provided some clarity on that issue. It also made me question how we tend to intertwine our political beliefs with our religious convictions. We know that sometimes strong feelings come from God, and most of us have strong feelings about political and social issues, and so it is easy to be convinced that God must be confirming our views.
In some places I found myself wondering whether the book would sound different if it had been written by a woman, or if there might be added insight. In Chapter 9 he discusses how irreverence in Sacrament Meeting can make it difficult to receive revelation. He acknowledges that the reaction to that might be “ ‘Really? Bring noisy in sacrament meeting could be directly contributing to our inability to deal with life’s challenges?’ Remember those three words President Packer used in the opening quote to this chapter: ‘Reverence invites revelation.’” (84) I don’t disagree with any of that, and I think it is probably wise counsel. We recently had a post on this blog discussing how the author wishes she’d be left in peace to ponder more rather than chatting in the chapel. However, I have two small children (3 and 1) and Sacrament Meeting is a circus. I found myself wondering “what am I supposed to do about noisy irreverent Sabbaths? Is that why I don’t hear revelation? Am I ruining this for other people?” Surely God would have some kind of override mechanism for this situation?
To me the most powerful chapter of the book came toward the end. I think the book really picks up steam as it goes along and the author approaches more thorny problems. Perhaps this makes sense, as a casual reader might have their simple issue solved by reading the first few chapters, while it may take more work for a serious struggle to be resolved. Lund reviews the parable in Luke 18:2-5 wherein a judge decides to help a widow because she continually begs him. This raises the question, why does God sometimes make us ask and ask and ask for something before we receive it? And what if that is the wrong thing to do, like when Joseph kept asking about loaning out the manuscript and finally God threw up His hands and said “do what you want.”
Lund provides an insightful explanation: “No matter how difficult our challenges or trials, the Lord fully expects us to continue in prayer, even if there seems to be no answer forthcoming. Why? Because we are not trying to change God’s heart; God is trying to change our hearts . . . He may be saying to us, “This is an opportunity for you to grow in faith, in trust, in spirituality, and in experience. Because I love you, I will not take away such opportunities from you.” The very act of asking, and not getting a response, and continuing to ask, may be what God wants for us. Perhaps, in a sense, this was an answer to my original question of “why don’t we know more about Heavenly Mother?” In searching, and studying and desiring to know Her, our hearts are changing.