But now, after 36 years of practice, I’m rethinking prayer. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I’m not a “lose the keys, pray for keys, find the keys” sort of guy by nature. When I hear those sorts of stories, I am more likely to roll my eyes than dab with a Kleenex. Nevertheless, I have a confession to make: I suffer from Enos Envy (E.E., for short).
You all know the story: Enos was a young man who, while raised with a knowledge of the truth, found himself having strayed from it. Then, while out hunting, he had epiphany of sorts, which left him with a heart full of joy and a soul that “hungered.” Overwhelmed with these rushing emotions, Enos prayed. And prayed. And prayed.
The zenith of this day-long supplication was a conversation with God, in which God basically agreed to a long list of requests presented by Enos. Not only did God forgive Enos’s sins, he agreed to, among other things: (i) visit the Lamanites according to their faith, and (ii) preserve the records that would eventually become the Book of Mormon. Pretty good for a day’s work, right?
We use this scriptural account to teach one another about the power of prayer. In most recountings, however, Enos’s powerful experience is reduced down to a simple formula to be followed (the Enos Equation):
Earnest Prayer = Tangible Results (i.e., blessings)
This is the model of prayer I hear lauded consistently as the ideal. A quick example: Just this past Sunday, our EQ lesson dealt with temple worship. The instructor spoke at great length about the revelations that await us in the Celestial Room. His lesson culminated with his promise that if we want those revelations and/or spiritual manifestations, “all we need to do is pray.” Citing Christ’s words in Matthew 7:7, he said: “‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’ That’s the promise; it’s a guarantee from God.”
This used to be a great source of consternation for me. So often I felt as if my prayers simply went unheard — I did poorly on tests, both my sisters ended up with MS, and I often was plagued with doubt. That’s where the Enos Envy kicked in. I was praying with real intent: why wasn’t I getting the same results?
As I have thought about prayer, I have come to see the Enos Equation as missing the point of the story. It has all of the right elements — faith, prayer and blessings certainly are wonderful things and belong together in the same sentence — but the emphasis is wrong. In the traditional telling, the Enos Equation focuses on ends of prayer, rather than the means by which we communicate our desires to God. In my example above, the well-intentioned EQ teacher taught prayer as the direct method to by which to obtain revelation, with nary a word about how we should approach God with our requests.
Taken to its extreme, this view of prayer smacks of the Prosperity Theology (or “Health and Wealth Gospel”) preached in Evangelical mega-churches. In a nutshell, these churches teach that God wants us to be financially prosperous; if we want a new Mercedes, all we need do is ask for it and, if God deems us “godly” enough, we’ll get it. And the secular version of this approach is wildly popular, as well. After reading “The Secret,” some folks I know have taken to “sending” their requests “out to the Universe.” Want a new a new and bigger home, get the Universe on the horn and you’ll moving in sooner than you think.
In short, the Enos Equation reduces God (or the Universe, for you atheists out there) into a spectral Santa Claus, just waiting to grant even the most materialistic wishes of our hearts. To be clear, I am not suggesting that those who adopt this approach pray only with selfish intent. But focus on self is inherent in the model.
This strikes me as backwards. For me, the important part of Enos’s account is his “wrestle” with God which preceded his experience. To that end, I propose a Revised Enos Equation:
Faith + Humility + Prayer = Communion w/God
In this formulation, the emphasis is on our relationship with God, not on what he can do for us. Said another way, the point of prayer is put ourselves on a spiritual and emotional plane (i.e., the “wrestle”) where we can communicate openly with God. This “wrestle” is no easy feat — it requires faith, humility, patience, sacrifice, etc. — characteristics Enos had in spades. For example, think about how we teach our kids to pray: kneeling with eyes closed, arms folded, and head bowed. Simple gestures, but they bespeak a reverence for the act of communicating with God. I don’t imagine God cares one whit about the position of limbs during prayer, or that he conditions his blessings on our ability to pray in ritualistic form. But these gestures can help us to focus ourselves such that we God can speak with us. The means by we speak with God matter far more than whether we obtain the end we seek.
Even with this new perspective, I still suffer from occasional bouts of Enos Envy. But now, I’m less concerned about my abilities to call forth the tangible blessings of heaven, than I am jealous of Enos’s ability to find peace with God, to reach a state of mind where God can communicate with him directly. So what if I haven’t moved a mountain or cured anyone’s cancer? If I can, even on an occasional basis, reach that state of Enos-like zen, then I consider my prayer a success. Blessings will follow according to God’s will. I no longer feel I have the authority/right to demand such blessings at will. God is God, and that’s good enough for me.
So, do you suffer from Enos Envy? What are your thoughts on, and expectations regarding, prayer? (I would have created a poll, but I am far too lazy for such an endeavor. Perhaps I should throw that out to the Universe — check back in a day or two to see if my wish has been granted 🙂 )
*Anyone who served a mission South of the border offered this prayer more than once, guaranteed! Unfortunately for some, God is sometimes cruel, even to his beloved servants.