Praying that All My Kids Would Serve Missions and Marry in the Temple

 BCC welcomes Holly Miller, who will be publishing a series of articles about LDS missions. Holly earned an MA in Religious Studies and an MM in Classical Piano. She is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, raised in Utah, living with her family in New Zealand. Email: imagine.inspire.inquire@gmail.com

This is the story of a 20-year prayer experiment.

It started in 1993 in the MTC with Sr. Bean.

As I walked out of class one day, my idol-teacher, Sr Bean, asked if I’d hang back for a second.

I admired Sr Bean the way a kid sister admires a wise and glamorous older sister.  I can still picture the brown flush of the leather cross-over shoes she wore. I got a matching pair when I got home from my mission. I remember the way she’d set her jaw when she got serious, the skin on her cheekbones, and her stories.

Earlier that day in class, I had shared a scripture about praying with real intent. I had made a case for the idea that rattling off memorized phrases while praying is useless.

After class that day, in this rare, intimate exchange with Sr Bean – the only time it was just the two of us – Sr Bean told me that her family had a tradition of ending every prayer in the exact same way. They ended every prayer by praying that they would all “go on missions and get married in the temple.” She said that all 8 (?) of the kids in that family repeated that memorized prayer from the time they were little until the time they left home, over every meal and at every family prayer. 

She said, “If there ever was a phrase that was rattled off without thinking, that would have been it. But, guess what happened? We grew up, and all 8 of us went on missions and got married in the temple.” 

This is the moment my 20-year prayer experiment was conceived.

In the moment, I felt like I’d underestimated the power of prayer. 

I felt that I’d underestimated God. 

I decided to follow the example of Sr Bean. 

When it came time for me to raise my own family, I started the tradition of us all praying “we’d all go on missions and get married in the temple” at the end of every prayer. Our family repeated this phrase religiously through the years.

Fast forward to the time when my oldest kid was on his mission and my second oldest kid was in high school. The high-schooler let it drop: he didn’t want to go on a mission. 

It wasn’t overnight; it probably took 6 months for me to catch on to things. At first, I didn’t think he was really serious, but I slowly realized that he meant what he said. 

It didn’t take a genius to realize that home wasn’t going to feel very homey for my son if we continued praying in every prayer for something that he had chosen not to do. 

So I stopped. 

When I stopped praying that “we’d all go on missions and get married in the temple,” I felt like I was untethering my son while he was on a spacewalk. Withdrawing my verbal support for him to serve a mission, especially when it had become such a habit, left a void that didn’t have a quick replacement. 

I told my son what I was doing and why, and a long-time tradition started to fade into family history. 

That’s the story of praying – and then not-praying – that we’d all go on missions and get married in the temple. 

Was it brainwashing or emotional coercion to pray that prayer all of those years? That’s a valid way of looking at it, in one sense.  

The idea of reciting “bless-that-we-will-all-go-on-missions-and-get-married-in-the-temple” came from a sense of wanting what was best for my kids. It came from a sense of wanting to invite God to be involved in the home environment we were creating. It came from a sense of wanting my kids to aspire to the most worthwhile, elevating things my husband and I had experienced. 

If I were doing it again? Maybe I’d pray instead for the things I just listed in the previous paragraph. I dunno – stick with the Lord’s Prayer? 

How can I pray in a way that doesn’t involve another person’s agency? Should I try? 

It’s funny to realize that the minute you pray for one thing, you’re not praying for everything else. Articulating a prayer exposes maturity, and it can also help develop maturity.

That high school son, the one who I thought I’d untethered, did choose to serve a 2-year, full-time mission. He served in Russia and doesn’t regret it. 

Sr Bean, if you read this, has your family prayed that you’d go on missions and get married in the temple all of these years? How is it turning out for you?

Comments

  1. What a well thought out and awesome post. Thank you.

  2. Not a Cougar says:

    If I’ve learned anything, it’s that God is not a vending machine, and yet so often Church members seem to think of their relationship with God very much along those lines.

  3. I’ve often struggled with the push and pull of prayer vs agency. I’ve started praying for inspiration, strength, capacity, etc. for myself and others, rather than for a particular outcome. That’s not always true—I still pray for a quick recovery from illness or protection from danger—but more often than not my prayers now assume that I or someone else will need to make a choice.

    That even goes for blessing the food. Rather than, say, praying that the unhealthy mess of a meal in front of me will be nourishing, I simply express gratitude for it and ask that God bless it.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    This is a wonderful meditation on prayer, agency, and kinship. Thanks, Holly.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Maybe your son just needed to know it was his choice, not that he had been coerced into it by years of your prayers. Kids are like that. Perhaps it would be better to pray that “we all grow in our testimonies so that we have a desire to go on a mission and marry in the temple,” kind of complicated for little kids, I realize. Thank you for your thoughts.

  6. A lovely meditation on prayer. My own journey in prayer has also been a changing one. How to balance our pleading for righteous desires and our seeking God’s will in our lives.

  7. My 8 year old came up with the phrase “bless that the virus will go away and that we won’t catch it” about 14 months ago, and it’s been something very regular said in family prayers since then.

  8. These days (after many years of prayers like the OP) I just pray that my kids age 23 and 20 will remain alive and healthy and that I will be able to support whatever path they are on. One is currently a missionary and the other is teaching exotic dancing…

  9. I’ve really struggled with the concept of prayer especially in terms of asking for outcomes for myself or others. (For example, if it actually is effective to have a ward pray for you doesn’t that make prayer into a kind of popularity contest where the more people who like you and will pray for you the more blessings you get? That doesn’t seem right.) And if I pray for a specific thing for someone (like for them to make a specific choice) am I trying to control their agency? And isn’t taking the difficult things out of a person’s life sometimes actually counterproductive to their growth? I don’t have answers and I see a lot of people who have strong testimonies of praying in exactly those ways. But I have started to pray for understanding and peace and inspiration of how to help others and the knowledge of when not to help. Which is a work in progress but I’m still trying to figure it out.

  10. Old Man says:

    Immer,
    Here is my favorite C.S. Lewis quote:

    “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
    ― C.S. Lewis

    I doubt many think of it this way, but intercessory prayer seems to be about pleading more than it is about miracles. It is about recognizing weakness, restoring humility and centering. I believe that the greatest prayers were uttered on Calvary. Prayers such as “Forgive them…” and “I thirst.” Among the vicissitudes of life, in the big scheme of things, I think God is after the most important healing, the truly ultimate miracle, which is the heart that can’t quit praying.

  11. Holly Miller says:

    “It doesn’t change God. It changes me.” One of my spiritual aspirations is to become better pray-er in this way.

    Sometimes when I feel like my prayers are hitting the ceiling or falling flat, I search for a different angle or a different topic to pray about. It’s like the hot-and-cold children’s game, but without any sense of hurry.

  12. My job often puts me in zero-sum fights–if my side wins, somebody else loses. Nearly from the beginning, I was uncomfortable with praying for my side to win, since I don’t have any idea what God might want as it relates to a certain contract dispute or tort claim. So I starting praying that my performance in court or deposition or on the briefs would be commensurate with my preparation. That way, I’m only praying to do a good job, not for a specific outcome. I’m not sure that fixed all my qualms, but it helped quite a bit.

  13. Insightful missive on prayer, Holly. Thank you. As I have aged, I too have wondered why we–speaking generally–focus our prayers on what might be called spiritual transactions or even bargains (blessing food to nourish and strengthen us, that we might all serve missions and get married in the temple, or get an A on that test, etc.) rather than more on self-understanding and personal change that seeks godliness and everything that implies. You said something I think is profound yet simple: your “20 year experiment.” I know when it comes to me and my kids, I have changed from a mindset of self-interest to enlightened self-interest…but it took a learning cycle of about 20 years for me to clue in. I wish as a church we placed more focus on how our faith and understanding should change and grow over time, and that because we can bear testimony of truth doesn’t mean we understand everything. I wish I had a mentor who would have said to my 25-year-old self, “If your perspectives on nearly everything haven’t dramatically changed by the time you hit 50, you’ve probably done something wrong.” The nature of our prayers may be a good litmus test for us to personally measure this development. Looking back, I can say my desires for my children as expressed through prayer were vain and centered more on what I wanted than what might be best for them. As I learned how they are unique and beautiful and develop in their own personal ways, I realized my prayers for them, what I desired for them, needed to change. And that changed me. None of my children will serve missions for valid reasons, (yet they suffer at the hands of our culture despite their being wonderful and faithful and true moral agents who seek “the good life”). What they need from their dad and mom are prayers they can continue to find peace, strength, and wisdom, to continue to discover themselves through their ongoing efforts to make an incredibly positive impact on the world, to make it a better place, and to do it in their own anointed ways.

  14. Realizing that we “see through a glass darkly” and can never know all the details behind a person’s life decisions in mortality, I’ve taken to praying that “X may be granted the wisdom to follow his/her individual life plan in a way that will most enhance their growth in this lifetime.” It is not for me to decide what would be best for another.

  15. Geoff-Aus says:

    If 70% of members voted for trump, how many voted for him to win? How many still believe he did win, and are praying for the destruction of democracy in America?

  16. Geoff-Aus says:

    Sorry mistakehow many prayed for him to win

  17. Holly Miller says:

    “What they need from their dad and mom are prayers they can continue to find peace, strength, and wisdom, to continue to discover themselves through their ongoing efforts to make an incredibly positive impact on the world, to make it a better place, and to do it in their own anointed ways.” Maybe I’ll make this my new prayer experiment. Thanks for the insights, BigSky.

  18. David Harman says:

    I have prayed for my children and relatives to be healed. I have prayed for wisdom, as a bishop, in how to respond to problems brought to me. I have prayed to find lost keys and been answered often. And I prayed so hard for my sweet wife to be healed before she, mercifully in retrospect, was taken home. Mostly, though, I have prayed that I might be a good friend, a good husband and father, and a good servant to those in need. And I HAVE prayed over politics, but have often been reminded that He knows the end from the beginning and His Plan reflects His love for all His children. Fortunately, He is in charge…not me.