Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Bending the Will of God

A few weeks ago my neighbor, who is a theology professor at a local private university, asked me what I thought the purpose of prayer was. I told her the standard answer. Something like: God knows what we want already, but we have to show faith by asking.

"Yeah, yeah," she said. "That's the standard answer. But do you think it possible to bend the will of God?"

I had to think about that one for a while, but the next day I remembered the story of Joseph Smith and the loss of the 116 page manuscript. For anyone who doesn't know the story, you can read it here. Basically, Joseph goes to Lord several times to ask for permission to do something and the answer is no. After the third time or so, the Lord finally says okay, but gives him some strict conditions.

When I was younger I really liked this story because it taught me what I had been hoping all along: if you bugged high powers long enough, you could sometimes get them to change their mind. It wasn't till much later that I realized there was more to it.

As we all know, the results of Joseph's decision were bad. Those 116 pages, which contained the book of Lehi, were lost and God would not allow them to be re-translated (for reasons we can speculate about but don't totally know), but amazingly, God already had a back-up plan (or maybe the real plan. Who knows?). A back up plan that he had put into place almost 2400 years prior. In 1 Nephi 1:17, Nephi says:

"But I shall make an account of my proceedings in my days. Behold, I make an abridgment of the record of my father upon plates which I have made with mine own hands; wherefore, after I have abridged the record of my father then will I make an account of mine own life."
For some reason Nephi was inspired to make an abridgment of his father's record. He didn't know why, but he trusted there was a wise purpose behind it. I have to remind myself that this was not an easy task. Making plates out of ore and engraving them takes a lot more time than journaling in ballpoint on the perfect bound journals that arrive to me in the mail bulk from Amazon.

I like to plan ahead for some things, hence the ordering in bulk, but this blows my mind. 2400 years ahead of time, God was planning ahead so that the Book of Mormon would not start en medias res.

So, while this story illustrates that we may be able to bend the will of God on occasion, it will never frustrate His plan. "Remember remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men."(D&C 3:3)

So is it wrong to keep asking God for something? No. In fact, in the Parable of the Widow and the Magistrate, which Jesus tells in Luke 18:1-9, He is instructing us to persist in asking for what we know is right. If we do this, we will be blessed.

How does this all relate to pregnancy and birth? I have some ideas, but I'd like to hear yours.


  1. I think something like this happened to me, without really thinking about it. I remember when I first got pregnant I was constantly in debate as to whether I wanted an epidural or not. Like, I've always been kind of holistic and I'd read some scary things about epidurals, but on the other hand, I was SCARED TO DEATH OF THE PAIN. After a bunch of reading and soul searching, I found Hypnobirthing and decided that's what I wanted to do. Throughout my pregnancy I found myself switching from an OB/GYN to hospital midwives. I practiced relaxing techniques. The more I learned, the more confident I was.

    Throughout the entire pregnancy, I was constantly petitioning God, asking him first to help me figure out what I should do, but once I got that figured out to please help me have a natural childbirth. Like, constantly. Labor was on my mind a lot, and whenever I was thinking about it, I was also praying about it. I think, in a way, I was pestering God. Telling Him, "This is what I want and I need your help to get there." Over and over and over again.

    My birth did not go as planned. I ended up being induced 2 weeks early for reasons that ended up being false. All of the more gentle forms of induction appeared to work for awhile, but didn't really do anything. Finally they broke my water and I endured 2 hours of intense pain (thanks to the Pitocin that they still had going) until finally my baby was born with her hand on her face, causing me to tear. 24 hours after I was initially induced.

    Some people would say that God didn't do a great job of answering my almost constant prayers. Sure, I ended up doing it pain med free, which is what I was really asking, but he sure didn't make it easy.

    I look at it differently, though. There were so many mini-miracles throughout the labor that I simply can't believe that God wasn't there, looking out for me and helping me every step of the way, despite the fact that sometimes life doesn't turn out as planned. For the first 22 hours of my labor, despite the many various types of induction, I barely felt any contractions. I could see them on the screen and if I touched my belly, I could feel it being rock hard. But the worst pains I ever got felt like bad menstrual cramps that lasted 30ish seconds, then went away. I worked (yes, I brought my work with me. The induction was rather last minute and I had a time-sensitive project), I read, I slept, I played games, I walked out of boredom. But I wasn't in pain. (Well, except my tailbone from sitting on that horrible hospital bed.)

    I had the good sense (and thankfully the education) to request that they turn off my Pitocin since I was laboring naturally. At first my midwife protested, but after seeing the look on my face agreed to drop it to half. Contractions became substantially more bearable after that.

    The tear wasn't even all that bad. Nothing that Motrin couldn't handle. I had so many nurses and midwives offer me narcotics, then stare at me in shock when I turned them down. Why should I accept them? Motrin worked just fine.

    The worst pain I dealt with after labor was my tailbone. I injured it in 8th grade and it still bothers me. And that labor and delivery bed was what I imagine the beds in hell are like. My tailbone hurt for weeks after that. And ibuprofen was all I needed. I threw the prescription for higher pain meds away (after shredding it, of course).

    Without all of that, I'm not sure I could have ever gone through with my natural labor. The odds were against me. And I don't know what would have happened had I not been petitioning God. Maybe the same thing. But then again, maybe not. But I am convinced that constantly petitioning God for 9 months certainly didn't hurt my chances of success. And I'm pretty dang sure that I'll be doing the same thing with Baby #2, whenever that happens.

    (Sorry about the novel!)

  2. Chris and I have been trying for more than 8 months now. It was something we both prayed about and felt was right, adding a sequel to our wonderful Boy. But for whatever reason it hasn't happened yet. It's been really hard because we could really use something to be excited about.

    And I continue to pray for it to happen. I know that creation is Heavenly Father's business, much more than my own. And I know that the timing might be His business but I'm not going to stop telling Him that this is what we want.

  3. I am currently 6 months pregnant with my 3rd child, and around 10 weeks I began bleeding really heavily. Although it is normal for me to spot during my pregnancies, this was an exceptional amount. The clots were what scared me the most. My husband and I had been praying for a baby and felt so lucky to be pregnant, but we were terrified that we were going to lose her.

    I asked for a blessing. We prayed constantly. My prayers were not prayers of "please save my baby" but instead were prayers of "we want this baby born healthy, if that is Thy will. If not, please give us understanding."

    I was prepared to accept His will if I lost the baby, even though I knew it would break our hearts. I had experienced a miscarriage many years ago and I did not want to go through that emotional pain again. But I also know that often times things go according our Father's plan, not ours, and I want to bend my will to His, not the other way around.

  4. Thanks for the comments. I had lots of ideas floating around in my head, and it is nice to see what everyone else takes from an open ended pondering. It is obvious to me now, that once I know something is right, not to cease praying for it. But in the past I think I often skipped the first step and just prayed and prayed for things I didn't bother to inquire about. Or I didn't pray at all. I just made major life choices on the strength of my own understanding, which was not highly evolved, and even if it was, is less than God's. I used to think a lot about damage I did in the past--by being a bad example or not being in the right place at the right time--but I realize now that God would not let me screw up or frustrate His plan. He already has a back up plan if we aren't there to do our part. The only plan I frustrated was my own plan. The one he had for me. But even that--when we surrender to Him, He manages to salvage it and make it seem like it was all his plan all along. Like somehow marrying an abusive addict and ending up a single mother while pregnant was what needed to happen. God ended up transforming me and that situation into the most beautiful thing, and is now using me as an instrument to do His work.

  5. Hi! I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog. And it's interesting that you ask this question...because this has been on my mind for the past 9 weeks of my pregnancy. See...this is my fourth pregnancy. My first two are both boys and my third was a girl...all very exciting and planned just the way I had hoped and prayed for. But my third pregnancy ended in a stillbirth at 38.5 weeks, with no warning. I lost my baby girl. I got pregnant with #4 within three months and prayed my heart out that it would be another girl...and 9 weeks ago I found it's a boy...even though I thought I had spiritual confirmation that I was having another girl. It's been 9 weeks of mourning for my daughter again, added to by confusion, and lots of prayers that God not give up on giving me a daughter. I am finally getting to the point of being excited for this boy and moving on to accept that I'm going to have to wait who knows how long to have a daughter...when I had already been planning on having one. So my question has also been: is it ok to pray for the specific gender of our babies or are we supposed to sit back and take whatever comes? Which we do anyway, gratefully. But I've also been wondering if I pray enough and hard enough, will God finally give me an alive daughter in this life?

  6. Hmm. I have been thinking about your questions above: Is is okay to pray for the specific gender of our babies? And if I pray hard enough will God give me a daughter in this life?

    If I answered these questions yes or no, I would only be speculating on the mind of God. But this is the inspiration I had today as I was meditating: It is never wrong to pray for righteous desires of our hearts. In fact, Jesus instructed us to plead with the Lord for that which we know to be right. The question about whether or not what we want is a righteous desire depends on the circumstance and on our heart, but we can know through the Spirit. In Paul's epistle to the Romans 8:26 he says:

    "..The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities:
    for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."

    If you read the footnotes that basically means the Spirit will communicate to you.

    And I guess the non-answer to your second questions is in v. 28: "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God...."

    I really hope that your boy is happy and healthy and that one day you do get a girl.

    Much love and light,


  7. Thank you for answering my questions. I have felt direction in the same way. And I have really enjoyed the time that I have spent meditating over this and the closer relationship that it has given me to God and the spirit.
    Perhaps you may be interested in my home birth/stillbirth birth story. Your occasional guest blogger Heatherlady commented that I should submit it to you.
    Let me know what you think. As a mama who has had a stillbirth I look for stories of loss in every book about pregnancy and birth stories. Many other stories have brought me insight and comfort.



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