Holding Places of the Heart

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(This is an excerpt from the chapter "The Fourth Watch" from the book Walking on Water and Other Classic Messages.)

Occasionally, answers aren’t given or the blessings we desire don’t come or the trials we bear continue because there is no place in our hearts for God to put the answer we need. Life must carve or hollow out this place. The very experiences we are going through help to create these holding places. Yet he still hears our prayers and promises the resolution will come in time.

When the Missouri persecutions were raging, the Lord comforted the Saints by telling them: “Fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks; waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted” (D&C 98:1–2). Not yet, nevertheless they will be granted. “He giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory” (D&C 98:3).

Moses once asked the Lord a question after having been shown the multitude of God’s creations. Why do you create all these wonders? he puzzled. The Lord answered, I have my reasons. These are his words: “For mine own purpose have I made these things. Here is wisdom and it remaineth in me” (Moses 1:31). Now that’s a very polite way of saying, I’m not going to answer your question, Moses. You want to know why I create all these things? I have a purpose and it’s a wise purpose, but I’m not going to make it known to you right now. We know that God eventually answered Moses’ question. The answer is a very famous one: “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). I create all these worlds to make men gods, the Lord was saying. I have often asked myself why the Lord didn’t answer Moses when he initially asked the question. A close reading reveals that God wanted Moses to understand a few things before the answer came—things that would make the answer even more powerful. He was creating a holding place in Moses’ heart to receive it.

Let me illustrate this particular concept by a personal story. When I was just a baby, my father, because of concerns in his own life and challenges that he was having, left our family. Our mother alone, therefore, raised my sisters and me, and as I was growing up, my father had very little to do with us as children. I realize he was working with things in his own life, but his decisions created certain challenges and hardships for my mother, my sisters, and me. At age fourteen or fifteen, if you were in my situation, and you knelt down and said: “Father in Heaven, help me find peace concerning my father leaving us and really having nothing to do with us for all these years. Help me forgive my father,” would you not think that was an appropriate prayer, one that deserved an answer? But no answer came at age fourteen and fifteen. Twenty, twenty-one comes, same prayers, still no answer. Twenty-five, twenty-six passes, same prayers, yet still no answer. Thirty, thirty-one, thirty-three, thirty-four all come and go. Surely I’m in the fourth watch by now, would you not agree?

Then one day I was asked to prepare a talk on families. I thought I would speak about my mother. My mother was a saint. In my eyes she could do no wrong. I would talk about my mother—her wisdom and goodness, and how she raised us. But the Spirit seemed to whisper, Speak about your father. And I thought, What am I going to say about my father? I have hardly had anything to do with my father growing up. Yet the Spirit seemed to urge that I think about him.

Just at that moment, my two sons came into the room where I was working. I was married, and I had two daughters and two sons at the time. The eldest son was about six, his younger brother was around two, and they stood in front of me, just stood there staring at me. I looked at my boys and all at once the Spirit literally flooded my mind with wonderful memories of things that I had shared with them.

We are told that a whole life can pass before us just before we die and we see everything all at once. It was that kind of experience. All the simple little memories, none of them major, came into focus—carving Halloween pumpkins; trick-or-treating with bags bulging with candy; Christmas mornings and the aroma of gingerbread; listening to their tiny-voice prayers; their first tearful, hesitant Primary talks; a squirming puppy wrapped in the tangle of their arms; walks by the pond to see the turtles; piggy-back rides; reading stories at night with mimicked voices; catching a fish out of the same hole where I caught my first fish twenty-five years earlier; the smell of saddle leather as I lifted them up for their first horseback ride. All these simple, tiny, little, everyday memories that I shared in those years with my sons washed into my soul.

And then the Spirit said: I am now ready to answer your question. Now that you are a father, now that you know a father’s love, would you be the son who lost his father, or the father who lost his son? When I heard those words, I just began to weep. I grabbed my sons and hugged them and just sobbed and sobbed.

My wife came into the room; I was holding those two boys and crying. Not for me! For my father! Because I knew what he had missed. He doesn’t know what he missed. There’s a mercy in that. But I knew what he missed, and I knew it was a greater tragedy to be the father who lost his son than to be the son who lost his father.

My wife became concerned and said, “For heaven’s sake, Mike, what is the matter?” I said, “I can’t talk about it now.” I went up and shut myself in the bathroom and cried myself dry. Have you ever done that? There are no tears coming—you’re still crying, and there’s nothing coming?

Why didn’t my Father in Heaven give me that answer at fifteen, or twenty-one, or twenty-five, or when I was married, or when my daughters were born? He needed to wait until I was a father of sons and had enough experiences with my boys to understand what a sweet thing it is to be a father and share memories with sons. The holding place had to be carved in my heart, and as soon as I could really receive and comprehend the answer, the Lord gave it to me. Maybe we are in the fourth watch, but the Lord is saying to us: I’ll answer your prayer. I’m aware of your needs. It is recorded in heaven, and I’m going to answer it. But right now in your life there’s no place for me to put the answer. Life will create a holding place, and as soon as you are able to receive it, I will give it to you.

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