Thoughts inspired by The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

I just finished listening to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.  If you haven’t read it before and you’re someone who enjoys reading I highly recommend it.  It’s an interesting story about a young man who grew up in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded and took control of the country.  He flees with his father to America and returns later during the Taliban rule.  I don’t want to give too many details because I think the fun of reading a book is experiencing it for yourself (ironically this is discussed in the book as a very American attitude).

Coincidentally I also recently challenged myself to read through the entire Old Testament as it is the one book of scripture that I can’t say I’ve read cover-to-cover.  I’m pretty sure I’ve read almost all of it at one point or another, but I can’t actually say I’ve read every page so I’m working towards that.  I haven’t made it very far and I just read last night most of the story of Abraham (Genesis 15-21).  Reading that story while listening to a book about the unrest in the Middle East and the Muslims there led to some interesting thoughts which I figured I’d write about here.

One of the first things that struck me is that if Sarah hadn’t given Hagar to Abraham to wife, none of the problems in the Middle East for the past thousands of years would have ever taken place.  Which makes me wonder if the world would have been better off if Sarah hadn’t done that.  The whole feud between Muslims and Jews wouldn’t have existed because there wouldn’t have been any Muslims to begin with.  I’m not trying to say that the world would be better off without Muslims, just that the way that Sarah and Hagar dealt with each other afterwards has created an animosity between those two peoples that has endured through many centuries.  Perhaps under different circumstances Hagar would have married another man within Abraham’s camp, raised those children peacefully alongside Issac and everyone would have lived happily ever after.  I know that’s a big what if and it doesn’t even do any good to speculate on that issue, but I had a different insight that I thought *was* worthwhile to think about.  What if Sarah had kept her faith in God that He would keep His promise to Abraham and herself rather than doubting and giving her handmaiden instead?  Perhaps all of the turmoil that has happened ever since that point could have been avoided by exercising greater faith.

I’m not necessarily saying that what Sarah did was wrong, perhaps she was even commanded to by the Lord (which was what I had thought originally, but in reading through last night I didn’t see indication of that, please let me know if I just missed it).  I definitely think that it was a HUGE sacrifice on her part to give another woman to her husband to wife.  I’m probably too jealous of a woman to do that myself.  However, it was just a reminder to me to have even greater faith in what the Lord is capable of and allow him to do great things through us.  I think a great example of the converse is Nephi.  When the Lord asked him to build a boat he didn’t ask where he could find a boatmaker, he asked where to find ore to make tools and then let the Lord make him into the boatmaker.  It made me wonder in what ways I’m limiting the Lord’s power to make me into an even better person by accepting things as they are.

By the way if you’re interested in another book about Abraham and Sarah one of my very favorite books that I’ve read recently is Sarah: Women of Genesis by Orson Scott Card, it was excellent and I recommend it even more so than Kite Runner, but obviously they’re totally different books so it depends on what you enjoy reading 🙂

The other thought that I had was how much we are all really the same.  If you look at Christians, Muslims and Jews we think of those religions as being SO different.  However, we each branch off at tiny intersections.  Muslims and Jews came from the same spiritual heritage, are both the offspring of Abraham.  They just branch a little bit when Ishmael and Hagar are sent away from Abraham’s camp, but still at the roots and essence of Islam, they believe in basically the same things, and they’re worshiping the same God although by different names and in different ways.  Again Christians and Jews come from the same spiritual heritage all the way up until the birth of Jesus.  Then we differ in that we believe Jesus is the Christ and that He has already come, whereas the Jews are still waiting for the Christ to come.  But again we’re still the same at our roots and worshiping the same God, just in different ways.  I think we can often focus too much on our differences than on our similarities.

Now, that isn’t to say that the differences that we have aren’t important.  I think one of the things I see most frequently are people who say that we’re all good so don’t worry about how we’re different.  I strongly believe that it is very significant that Jesus is the Christ, that He suffered for our sins and was resurrected and that because of Him we can be forgiven of our sins and live again.  Eric was told by many people on his mission that there are “many roads that lead to the top of the mountain”, meaning it doesn’t matter what you believe we’re all going to end up in the same place.  I do believe that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the face of the earth today that has the complete truth.  It’s why we believe in doing missionary work and that it’s so important to spread the truth to others.  What we have *does* matter, and we should be doing all that we can to share it with others.  However, that doesn’t exclude any other religion from having any truth.  Nor does it give Latter-day Saints a monopoly on God, I believe God loves all of His children regardless of race or religion and He will answer the prayers of a Muslim or a Jew or anyone else as readily as a Christian, so long as they’re asking in faith and with righteous desires.  Most importantly I don’t believe that people are simply damned for not accepting the fullness of the gospel in this life.

What I believe is best expressed in C.S. Lewis’ book The Last Battle (I know, lots of different book references today, what can I say, I love reading ;).  In that book  there is a young man who is a Calormene (i.e. not a Narnian or the equivalent of Christian) and he fights vehemently throughout the book for Tash (the Calormenian god) against Aslan and the Narnians.  At the end of the book **SPOILER ALERT** everyone dies and they have “judgement day”.  When they get to judgement day the Calormenian young man steps aside with Aslan for a little bit and they have a conversation where Aslan basically says – you missed it by a little bit and were fighting for the wrong side, but your intentions were correct, you are a noble and just person and if you will accept this path you still get to come and live in Aslan’s kingdom.

That’s the best explanation I can think of for how I believe things are going to be on the other side.  Yes, I think it’s absolutely important that Christ is the Savior of mankind and that the pathway to eternal life and exaltation means that we need to accept His atonement in our lives and do those things that will help us return to and become like Heavenly Father.  But if you were a faithful and good person in this life I fully believe that in the next life you’ll be told – you’re awesome, way to be faithful, here are the steps that you need now to gain eternal life and exaltation.  It’s why we do work for the dead in temples.  It’s not to force our faith upon people who have passed on or to tell those people that they were evil.  Quite the contrary, it’s simply to give them the opportunity to accept those things they might not have known before and have the chance to progress onward.

Which isn’t to say that it isn’t important to accept the gospel in this life if given the chance.  I think one of the most important things to realize about what happens on the other side is that we will still be the same people we are now – just dead.  We won’t suddenly be a completely different person with different desires or abilities.  If you weren’t going to accept the gospel in this life and feel inclined to do those things that the gospel requires, you aren’t likely to do so in the next life. (See Alma 41 for a more eloquent explanation of this)

Anyways, I know a lot of this is fairly off topic from the book itself but they’re things that I’ve thought about in the past and have meant to write down and post, this just provided a good jumping off point 🙂  As always, you can feel free to add in your two cents below.

Vain Repetitions

Having a toddler who can speak very well teaches you a lot of things about yourself that you might not have noticed otherwise. Sam has recently brought to my attention, through the things he prays about, that my prayers of late have become rather stale. Not intentionally so, but each night my prayers seem to fall into the same routine. I’m saying thank you for the same things and asking for the same blessings.

So I’ve tried to add more variation to my prayers.  However, I’ve run into a problem –  I don’t really have anything else to say.  For those of you who aren’t stay-at-home moms let me explain what I mean.  Every day I do pretty much the same thing – wake up, breakfast, entertain kids, lunch, nap time, more entertaining kids, dinner, try to make some family time, bedtime for the kids, teensy bit of time to myself, bedtime for me.  Exciting things in my life include things like trips to the grocery store, a walk to the park or talking to my mom on the phone.  More frequently than not the entire day passes by without me leaving the walls of our home or interacting with anyone aside from Eric or our kids.  So at the end of the day I don’t have a lot of unique things to be grateful for.  I’m grateful for my boys good behavior, for our comfortable circumstances, for the time we had to spend together as a family etc.  Likewise my concerns or things that I’m praying for help with don’t change a lot.  I want Sam to sleep through the night, I pray for my little brother to have success on his mission, I ask for wisdom in how I parent my children etc.

Now, I’m not saying this as a pity party that my life is pretty boring.  In fact, while I could use more adult interaction, I really do enjoy my life.  Each day may be a lot of the same things over and over, I enjoy what I’m doing and I can’t think of anything that is more important or fulfilling than my current endeavors as a wife and mother.  However, how do I keep from saying the same things in my prayers each day, when each day consists of the same things.  I could stop thanking the Lord for the blessings that I tend to thank him for regularly, or stop praying for the desires which I have, but that seems strange at best.

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and I’ve come to the conclusion (feel free to put on your false doctrine glasses now, this is the gospel according to Brittny) that my repetitions aren’t a bad thing.  While I think we should always be mindful of new blessings in our life and putting our faith to good use in new ways, I don’t think that negates the need to be grateful for and pray for the routine things in our life.  Even though I make dinner for Eric every single day it doesn’t mean I don’t like it when he thanks me for making a meal.  Sure you could say that he’s already made manifest that he’s grateful for my efforts by thanking me once, and even if he didn’t thank me after a particular meal I wouldn’t necessarily think he was suddenly not grateful for dinner.  However, it’s always nice to hear it anyways.

I think that’s part of how prayers work.  Even though I’ve already said once that I’m grateful for my sweet little boys that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t express gratitude for them again the next day.  I’m still grateful for them!  In fact, each day I’m more and more grateful for them, even if I don’t  have different words to express that gratitude with.  And I think Heavenly Father still wants to hear about that gratitude from me.

More to the point (ok, really really have your false doctrine glasses on now :P) I believe that in large part prayer is more for our sake than for Heavenly Father’s.  I don’t think we’re telling Heavenly Father anything He doesn’t already know when we thank him for the blessings we’ve been given or ask for other blessings.  He can easily enough see how we act and know whether we’re grateful or not, and He can definitely see the things we stand in need of.  I think that a large part of expressing gratitude in our prayers is to help us see the blessings we’ve been given.  I think it is to better help us realize what we’ve been given to help us have a more positive outlook on life and find ways that we can spread the joy and blessings we’ve been given with others.

Furthermore, I think it’s good to continually pray for the same things.  I think it shows that they truly are important to you and it keeps the things on your own mind.  Plus we’re taught that prayer is a form of work and in many cases it’s the best way that we can help others.  Case in point, each night I pray for my little brother who is out on his mission.  I prayed for him at the beginning of his mission and the things I’m praying for don’t necessarily change all that much, so why bother?  For one thing, it helps me to keep him in my thoughts and finding what I can do to help him.  Even if it just helps remind me that I ought to write him a letter, that’s a positive outcome from praying for him daily.  I also think that it helps him to know that I remember him each night and realize the importance of what he’s doing.  And of course, I think by praying for him each night I’m asking for a renewed portion of the powers of heaven to help him with what he’s doing.

Recently I read a book by Orson Scott Card called Enchantment. It’s an excellent book that gave me a lot to think about.  The book is a fantasy novel and as such it has different people who possess magical/spiritual powers.  In the book the people of a particular village avoid the name of a particular evil witch because as they use her name more frequently they give her more power.  In another part of the book there is a deity whose power is greatly diminished because the people in his time have forgotten his name.  I think there’s some interesting truth to that principle.  As we call upon the power of God, His power is in some way strengthened.  Not that He had less power before but that we are combining our faith and energies with His power and together those powers are more potent than either one alone.  I think as we pray for the same things over and over we are giving over more of our faith/trust/energy/power or whatever you want to call it over to the Lord and He can make better use of our power than we can ourselves.

Another reason I think I have difficulties coming up with original material for my prayers is that I try to communicate with God as I come up against different problems or situations.  I’m not always good at stopping, kneeling down and saying a formal prayer, however I frequently will pray in more of a conversation with the Lord.  For example, we have dealt a lot with getting Sam to sleep through the night.  So when I’m trying to come up with what our next steps should be I’ll often just start thinking through the problem and ask the Lord to help me come up with a solution.  Then I’ll try to go through in my mind the process of “studying it out” and consider what things we’ve tried, what I think the problems might be etc.  I try to listen for feedback, if you will, on the ideas and thoughts that I’m having.  Most of the time the answers that I get will just come as ideas that hadn’t been presented to me before or a good/bad feeling as I consider different courses of action.  So while my nightly prayers may not seem original there’s still communication that’s more personalized throughout the day.

Anyways, maybe this is all just rationalization, but as I’ve considered the stale nature of my prayers lately I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not as bad as it seems.  I don’t think I ought to artificially change my prayers to have different things that I’m being grateful for or praying for because those are the things that are dearest to my heart.  I think by praying for them continually it is just a way of expressing their importance to me.  I still ought to look for other blessings in my life and places that my faith ought to be applied, however that should be in addition to rather than in lieu of my repetitions.  So long as I am sincere in the things I’m praying for they defy the definition of being “vain” so I’m still in good shape.

I would love to get other people’s feedback on these ideas.  Like I said, I’m not preaching this as doctrine, just the thoughts I’ve had as I’ve faced a situation in my own life.  Does anyone else have good ideas on how to keep your prayers from becoming rote?  Do you totally disagree and think that repetition is always vain?  I welcome any constructive feedback, positive or otherwise… so long as it’s constructive 🙂