“Si Dios quiere.” If God wills it.
It was a phrase I’d heard hundreds of times as a missionary.
“Hermano, will you attend church this Sunday?” – “Si Dios quiere?”
“Will you read this chapter of the Book of Mormon before we come again next time?” – “Si Dios quiere.”
“Will you pray to know if the things we have taught you are true?” – “Si Dios quiere.”
It was exasperating to hear this, day after day, people using their so-called faith in the will of God as an excuse for their own inaction.
However, in my own life, this is a question I have struggled with for years: I believe in the principle of making things happen through my faith, but what right do I, a short-sighted and imperfect mortal, have in telling the God of the universe what needs to happen?
I could have faith to pray to be accepted to the college of my choice, but, if it was better for me to go somewhere else so I didn’t get in, did that mean my faith was invalid? I could believe that it was possible for a trial to be eased or taken away, but if it didn’t happen, how could I know if it was a lack of faith on my part or if it was what needed to happen according to some divine plan? Where is the intersection of faith and God’s will?
Although I’ve never stopped praying for things I feel I need or want in my life or in the lives of those I care about, in the back of my mind, there is always the quiet thought telling me that it will be futile. Not in a “there’s no one there to hear my prayers” type of way, but rather a feeling that anything I pray for is unwise and ultimately misguided. Above all, my faith is rooted in the knowledge that God’s perfect plan ensures the best outcomes for us, contingent upon our righteousness. Consequently, the role of prayer in my life has frequently been more to tell my Heavenly Father about my thoughts and feelings, rather than to request things I want. I can and do pray for things, but in the end, I’d rather have an all-knowing and all-loving Being deciding my course than have me try to force His hand in things that wouldn’t be the best outcome. So, if I’m doing the best I can, why bother asking for what I want when I believe He’ll give me what’s best?
My own answer to this question helps, but doesn’t satisfy me completely. One of the most frequently quoted sections of the Bible Dictionary teaches that “the object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them.” I understand that a great number of things that happen in our lives, perhaps the majority, are not divinely decreed. We have agency for a reason. God does not seek to micromanage every decision and situation in our lives. Many times there can be multiple good and acceptable options in our lives and God will allow us to have, and help us attain, the one that we want most. But how can you know when things are truly up to us versus when there’s a heavenly-directed path?
This question particularly bothered me as a missionary. Missionary culture emphasizes (as it should) diligence, obedience, and faith. Work hard and you will have success. Be obedient and you’ll be led to those who are seeking your message. Have faith and your investigators will progress. Though my efforts as a missionary were far from perfect, I felt that I truly did try the best I knew how. However, I spent most of my mission wracked with guilt, sure that I was the reason my investigators didn’t progress, I was the reason there hadn’t been a baptism in my area for months, I was the reason the work wasn’t progressing as I thought it should be.
Sometimes, the thought would cross my mind that maybe God’s work was progressing in the area how He wanted it to, even though it didn’t match my vision of what I thought should happen, which would mean that a lack of faith or diligence on my part wasn’t to blame. Because I saw very little success as a missionary, I returned home feeling that I had failed to accomplish anything meaningful, which I attributed to my own perceived faithlessness and personal weaknesses. I agonized over trying to understand if my failure rested upon my shoulders or if it was because of investigators’ use of agency or if somehow what God had wanted done had still gotten done, even if I didn’t realize it.
I’ve also considered this question as I look back at my life several years ago. For example, when I started college, I didn’t want to live in Utah any longer than I had to. I didn’t want to serve a mission. Part of me thought there was a good chance I would get married before I graduated.
My life now is very different from the one I planned for myself but I am happy that it is. Almost nothing I expected to have happen has happened, but I’m grateful for it. Things have turned out better than they would have if life had gone my way, and experiences and circumstances I never would have chosen have shaped who I am today for the better. I can see now that things I wanted then weren’t what was best for me and that God had a better way. Those things didn’t happen not because I didn’t have enough faith when I prayed, but because a wise and loving Father knew better than I did. So, what was the purpose of praying for all the things that didn’t occur?
This is a question I’ve thought about a lot. I’ve spoken with several people about it, though I hesitate to because I am afraid they will try to give me an easy answer without understanding all the thought, feelings, and experiences behind it. I’m afraid that they will think I am having a crisis of faith and am on the brink of personal apostasy instead of understanding that I am really just trying to better understand how God works. In the end, no one can give me an answer, and I don’t expect them to. God’s the only one that can really understand the question or its answer, so I’ll keep turning to Him as I strive to understand and learn more.
“Si Dios quiere.” If God wills it.