Category Archives: Hope

Am I Good Enough



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How to Pray in a Way God Can Answer

April 12, 2016


It’s 4:30 a.m. and my two-month-old son is up again—for the fourth time tonight. “God, please help him to go back to sleep,” I silently beg in my head.

Nope. He’s still awake.

I pick him up, feed him, and put him back down. “God, please help him to sleep in!”

Nope. He doesn’t sleep in and wakes up an hour later.

Now repeat this scene for two more months.

I think when my third child was born, a good 90 percent of my prayers revolved solely around our collective sleep patterns. However, these prayers never seemed to be answered—at least not in the time frame I was hoping for.

This did not cause me to lose my faith in prayer or the power of prayer, but it did cause me to reflect on how I could improve my prayers to ask for things that God is more able to answer.

The Bible Dictionary says: “We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us (John 15:7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind.”

What are those things it is possible for God to grant? How could I make sure my wishes are the wishes of Christ?

To figure this out, I drew a little diagram: my desires on the left, God’s on the right, and things we both want in the middle.

On the left I wrote some things I tend to pray for a lot (sleep, ease, comfort, health, happy and obedient children, happy husband, everything happy and easy); in the middle are the things that I want that I’m sure God wants for me too. These circles are not mutually exclusive. It could be God wants everything in the left circle as well; I’m just not sure what His will is for those desires yet. But I am sure He always wants me to keep His commandments and to be faithful, kind, and forgiving.

On the right, I wrote things God wants for me that I don’t always want for myself. The biggest thing here is trials. I rarely want them, but I fully admit my times of trial are when I learn the most and grow closest to God. It’s good for this heart-changing goal we both have. Also in this circle could include commandments that are particularly difficult for me to keep.

I noticed that the things I want are largely circumstantial things—things based on the circumstances of life—while the things that God wants for me are mostly un-circumstantial (don’t look that up; it’s not really a word), or things relating to the state of my heart.

Does this mean I should never ask for circumstantial things that I want? No way! Does this mean God will never answer my prayers if I just ask for things I want? Certainly not! I have had way too many experiences praying for things I want when God has given them to me to think that God doesn’t care about the left side of this diagram. I think God loves every one of us and cares deeply about our wants. I think He delights in giving us even those little things we ask for sometimes. Like any good father, He knows how to give us good gifts. But above all, He wants what is best for us, and what is best for us eternally does not always include the circumstances we desperately hope for.

So how to pray to align these two circles? How to pray for the things I want while accepting God’s will and His desires for me?

I came up with a little formula to help me in my prayers. It is simply this—whenever you ask for something you want and you’re not totally sure if it’s something God wants for you, tack on the phrase “but if not” and then add something you’re sure God would want for you.

For example: “God, please help me get some sleep tonight, but if not, help me to have enough energy to be pleasant and hard working anyway.” “God, please bless that my child will get over this sickness and feel better, but if not, help us to trust in Thee and be patient with each other.” “God, please bless that I will be included in my group of friends, but if not, even if I feel excluded, help me to be kind and generous.”

I’ve tried this out for about a year now, and I can say my rate of prayer success has skyrocketed. Here are some benefits I’ve experienced so far:

I feel like I’m finally fulfilling the real purpose of prayer, which is not to negotiate my desires, but to align myself with God. The two circles from my graph have grown much closer since praying in this way.

An unexpected benefit has been that I don’t fear hard situations or not getting what I want nearly as much as I used to because I’ve seen and felt God answer my prayers—both my desires and my “but if nots.”

It’s been a great exercise in praying not for my circumstances to change, but that I in my circumstances may be changed, which is what Elder Bednar says is the key to unlocking grace in one of my favorite gospel talks of all time.

I feel a deep trust in God growing up inside me.

And eventually my son and I did get more sleep (though he still has this lovely habit of waking up at 5:30 a.m.). But that’s OK. I may not always get what I want when I want it, but I can feel God’s love and receive those things I need to become the person He wants me to be.

Celeste graduated from BYU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology. Her proudest accomplishments include her marriage, her three kids, and that one time she had all the rooms in her house clean at the same time.


“Jesus achieved perfect unity with the Father by submitting Himself, both flesh and spirit, to the will of the Father,” taught Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“… Surely we will not be one with God and Christ until we make Their will and interest our greatest desire. Such submissiveness is not reached in a day, but through the Holy Spirit, the Lord will tutor us if we are willing until, in process of time, it may accurately be said that He is in us as the Father is in Him.”1

“I have struggled to banish the mortal desire to have things my way, eventually realizing that my way is oh so lacking, limited, and inferior to the way of Jesus Christ. ‘His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come’

--- Neill F. Marriott, Second Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency 
of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints

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How I Learned My Worth Isn’t Measured By Checkmarks



When I was a teenager, if someone asked me about Mormonism, about what differentiated it from other faiths, I usually listed off a few outward expressions of what made our church stand apart:

  • Three hours of church
  • No drinking or smoking
  • No sex before marriage
  • Tithing
  • Dressing modestly
  • No rated-R movies

Since these things tended to outwardly distinguish me from the rest of my friends quite notably, they became what I thought were the “biggest deals.” They came to define my religion, becoming the benchmark of a successful Mormon in my mind. No coffee or beer? Wore sleeves to prom? Didn’t see American Pie? Check, check, check. I’m a success!

I see now that these things easily became my standards of success because they were measurable. They were the outward stuff. Anyone could see them and check them off lists.

Inner vs. Outer

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see the gospel as much, much more than those “outward” commandments. I’ve grown to trust and love the inward ones as well:

  • Love
  • Faith
  • Repentance
  • Hope
  • Charity
  • Gratitude
  • Devotion
  • Goodness
  • Kindness
  • Humility

These inward features have largely formed my new standard of “successful” righteousness. But there is one main problem with these new measurements: they are almost impossible to measure!

Do I have enough humility? faith? Do I love enough? I don’t know! How much is enough, anyway?

I think it is human to want to know how we’re doing, how we’re measuring up. We yearn to know if we are doing OK. As humans we also crave acceptance and validation. Often in this quest to know where we stand, we gravitate toward that which is easiest to measure—outward commandments.

Additionally, in order to know where we stand, we want to know where those around us stand so we will have points of reference, so these outward commandments become further ingrained as benchmarks. It is easier to see if someone is showing their shoulders than to  determine how much faith they have, so we tend to judge that instead—both in ourselves and in others. (Facebook makes this brand of judging so easy!)

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The people of Christ’s time became so focused on those outward measurements of righteous success that they forgot almost entirely the inward stuff, which is why Christ spent most of His efforts preaching and discussing inward improvement.

So often this realization wants to make us reject all the outer (bad measurement—not as important). But it’s not a contest between the outward commandments versus the inner commandments. Neither should be neglected. Certainly they go together, but the danger for the Pharisees is the same for us—when the outward stuff is our primary benchmark, we miss the mark—both in judging others (which we really should leave to God) and in judging ourselves.

As President Uchtdorf recently warned: “How easy it would be to select our favorite gospel topic, draw a bull’s-eye around it, and then make a case that we have identified the center of the gospel. … The two great commandments are the target.” Those two great commandments he’s talking about are loving God and loving our neighbors. Unfortunately, neither of them can be easily measured with a checklist.

Seeking the Spirit

Wanting to know how we stand with God isn’t a bad or unworthy desire. So if we can’t measure our success on the outward stuff, how do we measure how we’re doing? The best answer I’ve found to this quandary I found in Preach My Gospel. Perhaps at no other time in my life was I as desparate to know if I was successful than when I was a missionary (since those outward standards of success, like baptisms, were not working out for me). Then one day I read, “You can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when you feel the Spirit working through you.”

Huh, that’s it? That’s so easy! I felt the Spirit all the time!

I found myself equally eager and frightened to believe this statement. But it stuck in my mind. I read it, reread it, printed it, and laminated it. Satan knew just how to get me down, and that was by making me feel like I was a constant failure. When I was tempted to believe that, each time I felt the Spirit I would think, “I’m not failing right now. I’m succeeding. I feel the Spirit.” That helped me keep things in check because it was shocking how often I was tempted to feel like a failure and how often that feeling kept me from feeling the Spirit.

How do you know if you are successful? You feel the Spirit.

Can it really be that simple?

Well, it depends. “Feel the Spirit” may be an overly simplistic measurement, since a feeling could be a one-time event. Living with the Spirit, praying for the Spirit, repenting regularly so we can keep the Spirit, and loving the feeling of having the Spirit would all be better measurements. Because when we feel the Spirit, we feel God. Done with regularity, we become close to God. And if we’re truly close to God, we’re treating ourselves and others as we should. Since at the end of our days God is going to put us where we are most comfortable, if we are most comfortable in His presence, that’s where we’ll end up. And that is the ultimate success, right? Eternal life with God.

So, yes. I think our relationship with the Spirit is actually an excellent way to measure our success (thanks, Preach My Gospel!) since with it comes all those inward and outward commandments included in the package, with loving God and loving our neighbors at the forefront.

The funny thing is, even after all this good lesson-learning of success-measuring I did on my mission, I seem to have completely forgotten it in my life as a mother. I find myself having to relearn and reteach myself these exact same lessons over and over again. Life is funny like that.

What makes the success of a mother? Righteous, obedient, clean, happy, non–fit-throwing children?

What marks the success of a day? Checking off everything on my to-do list? A clean house?

Based on these outer criteria for success, guess how often I feel successful? (If you guessed often, you were sadly mistaken.)

I’m always tempted to measure my success in any realm on the outer measurements, particularly on how much I accomplish. Unfortunately, I’ve found that obsessing over accomplishing the outer as my primary goal almost always comes at the expense of working on and valuing the inner (a change of heart, love, gratitude, feeling the Spirit).

So instead of making my only benchmark of a successful day/month/year “How much did I get done?” maybe better questions would be:

  • How deeply did I love?
  • How grateful did I feel?
  • Have I helped anyone in need?
  • Have I made someone feel awesome about themselves?
  • Have I worked hard toward a worthy goal?
  • Did I get up when I fell down?
  • How often and how deeply have I felt the Spirit?

As Mother Teresa says: “It’s not how much we do, but how much love we put into the doing. It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into the giving.”

And again, it’s not inner versus outer. I still need to get things done. But a focus on the outer at the expense of the inner is where things get dangerous.

So if you, like me, find yourself tempted to measure your own success on the outer stuff, remember these wise words:

“Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; … for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

When you’re working on getting your heart right and feeling the Spirit, you, my friend, are a great success.

Celeste graduated from BYU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology. Her proudest accomplishments include her marriage, her three kids, and that one time she had all the rooms in her house clean at the same time.

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Joseph & Mary with Baby Jesus


Joseph and Mary hold the baby Jesus on the night of His birth.:





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