The older I get, the more I realize how little I knew yesterday. It seems I’m often bowled over by how many insights still await. And I think this is a common experience. Instead of feeling smug and smart, most of us are slapping our foreheads and saying, “Wow!” (As an aside, this happens with greater frequency as we increase our temple attendance.)
And, very often, these discoveries are not at all complicated, but quite simple. For example, I recently realized that the entire experience of life on earth can be elevated and enhanced by making one small change in our focus. Think of it as a deliberate mental typo. Instead of wanting what we want, (“My will be done”) we must change our hearts to truly mean it when we say, “Thy will be done.” Changing my to thy in our minds and actions can literally flip an unhappy life into a happy one. But, of course, we have to really mean it.
Several years ago I wrote a book called, The Power of Prayer (Covenant Communications). In it I explained that we start praying like a grownup when we stop thinking of all the things we want, and we focus instead upon what God wants. When we try to advance his goals and purposes, we seem to segue into a better, more joyful dimension. Our problems shrink, our material desires take their proper place on our priority list, and our relationships bloom. By giving him our hearts, we pledge to be his servants, to advance his kingdom. We replace selfishness with selflessness.
That formula also brings a marriage into celestial light. Forgetting ourselves and thinking first of our spouse is as close to a genuine magic trick as you can find. It yields instantaneous results, and heals wounds you thought were hopeless. Other-centeredness is a balm that soothes life’s agonies and injects purpose into the lives of the discouraged. It brings an almost childlike joy into our souls, like a happy laugh welling up from our bellies.
Neal A. Maxwell once said, “Selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion.” And you can absolutely see it in failing marriages. You can also watch the amazing reconstruction of a relationship when partners set aside their own self-interests and truly put the other one first.
Our relationship with God responds to this same inner change. When we can set aside our list of “stuff we want” and “problems we want God to solve” we become his teammates. By making his priorities our own, we have a virtual guarantee of success, because he will absolutely help us achieve those goals he cares deeply about. Henry B. Eyring said, “I have had prayers answered. Those answers were most clear when what I wanted was silenced by an overpowering need to know what God wanted.” (Write Upon My Heart, Oct. 2000 General Conference)
Before we can make God’s will our own, we must know what it is. And there’s no mystery here; we have been given all the information we need. When we follow the Savior we will be immersed in serving others. By demonstrating a willingness to fully obey God and love our fellowmen, our prayers will actually change. We will find ourselves praying for other people and their problems, we will be praying for help with our missionary and family history work.
Throughout Holy Writ, we are told our prayers will be answered if what we are asking is right, proper, and expedient for us. Here are just three scriptures that underscore this requirement:
“Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you.” (D&C 88:64)
“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” (3 Ne. 18:20)
“Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things; do not ask for that which you ought not.” (D&C 8:10)
That’s not to say God won’t teach us patience as we wait for something we feel meets the criteria. We can pray for a righteous desire for years, and God’s timing may not match ours. Every ward in the church is filled with people who can testify of the broader view of hindsight, and how they now understand why God delayed their request.
Meanwhile, we find joy and peace through switching from “my will” to “thy will,” as we busy ourselves accomplishing God’s objectives. Other blessings pour forth, inspiration and understanding comes, and lives are blessed for our service. It’s as if we now realize that life is one big journey changing the natural man into a selfless one.
Our beloved Prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has exemplified this trait his entire life, even saying his birthday wish was for each of us to perform an act of service for someone else. Obviously there are two lessons here: One, be like that. Two, the earlier you overcome selfishness in this life, the happier you’ll be for a longer time. Why struggle all your life grappling with self-interest, when you can make God’s will your focus as a youth, and then have a blessed life for years to come?
Remember what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “In the end, the number of prayers we say may contribute to our happiness, but the number of prayers we answer may be of even greater importance.”
When we sincerely pray “thy will be done,” we must remember that we are instruments in God’s hands, carrying out his purposes and putting words into action. If you’ve had frustrating moments—even for a prolonged time—when you didn’t feel God was hearing your wishes, decide today to listen to His. It might make all the difference.