Sunday, May 07, 2006

Personal eternal impact

I had a few thoughts about eternity today, and what the effects of my actions on it will be. This was triggered by my acting as voice for Kiya's baby blessing today. Earlier this morning I read 2 Nephi 4. Verse 12 reads:

And it came to pass after my father, Lehi, had spoken unto all his household, according to the feelings of his heart and the Spirit of the Lord which was in him, he waxed old. And it came to pass that he died, and was buried. (emphasis added)
And so, Lehi's blessings to his children appear to have been largely influence by the 'feelings of his heart'. We can see that they were all upheld. That got me thinking about all the other instances in the scriptures where the Lord is bound to bless people because of the faith of and the convenants made with their fathers. I am a father. My sphere of influence has become, in a very real sense, eternal. "Could the words that I feel inspired to speak during this blessing really have such a huge impact on the future of this baby girl?" I thought to myself. Other such thoughts got me really nervous and so I had to stop and pray for some peace. (When I get really nervous I have very real biological reactions that are not so pleasant.)

These thoughts were triggered by my participation in a priesthood ordinance, but I realized that we make decisions very often throughout each day that have a very real effect on eternity--for ourselves and for everyone around us. In those terms, living seems like quite a large responsibility. Everyday, Heavenly Father puts my family (and others I come in contact with) into my sphere of impact. Will I be an instrument in his hands to further the eternal potential of his children? Or will I excuse myself, sink into a corner, give up my power "to act" and become something "to be acted upon"?


Nick said...

Future post by Randy: The Eternal Impact of Unpleasant Biological Reactions

When Elder Scott came to our stake two weeks ago, he said something that I had kind of thought for a long time but never really heard vocalized by any priesthood leader "in the know". He said he had heard way too many Priesthood holders, in attempting not to say anything that might not actually come true, give very bland and uninspired blessings, whether to infants, or to the ill. He told us that unless you're getting very very clear signals to do otherwise from the spirit, to fill the blessing with all the desires of your heart, even at the risk that not all of them will happen. He says that this is how President Hinckley prays in the temple- that he just pours his heart out with all his wants and desires for the world and the church, and even though it is highly unlikely that war will cease immediately, he prays for it anyway.

I've always tried to think, as I am about to give a blessing- 'What would God say himself if he were giving the blessing?' So I try and literally put myself in God's shoes (or sandals) and try to come up with what I think he would say. I find that helps me avoid the "bland blessing" syndrome that Elder Scott was referring to.

Jenny said...

From a non-giver of priesthood blessings perspective ... I find these questions very interesting. I tend to think of blessings as a type of prayer (with the object of prayer being to change ourselves so that we eventually align with God's will) and as such, they necessarily have a little "wiggle room." That's why they're blessings, not prophecies. I'm going to mull this over more and then come back with a more cogent thought.

Jared said...


It is hard to define exactly what a blessing is and where it always comes from. Of course there are times it feels like a prayer and our knowledge of an individual's situation will influence what we say (knowing, for example, that a person is sick with the flu usually keeps one from blessing someone that everything will go fine with their root canal).

But there is definitely a non-prayer feeling to a blessing as well. I've never given a blessing where I've not felt that part, if not most, of the blessing came from not me. Hmmm...many negatives there...

In other words, I always feel like the Spirit speaks through me in a blessing. The words come out of my mouth, but they come from God. That's what the priesthood enables us to do--to exercise God's infinite power through our own finite hands. When I give a blessing, I try to put myself aside and truly say what Christ would say if he were standing in my place with hands laid on head. And I usually feel that I do.

Jenny said...

Jared--I think we're saying the same thing (differently). When you say that in giving a blessing you try to put myself aside and truly say what Christ would say if he were standing in my place, to me, that sounds like you are actively trying to align your will with God's. Do what Christ would do, say what Christ would say. While this could be construed as simply a way to try to live one's life, it seems like the actual act of providing a blessing concentrates these desires into a specific action. When we manifest spiritual desires in (repetitious) physical actions (in other words, when we submit ourselves to the power of ritual), I believe our connection to the Spirit is able to be magnified (hence the power in going to the temple). Thus, your effort and concentration on acting in the name of Christ when giving a blessing would, hopefully, produce the effect you describe: you feel that the blessing is not from you, but the Spirit. But what I would add here is that this occurs through the effort to align one's will with God's. The giver is very much an active participant in the blessing--and by the same logic, so can the receiver be too. This whole process has always seemed similar to the point and process of prayer to me, hence my previous comment. And I would think that it would work differently for different people--for some, it might seem very clear that the words they speak in giving a blessing are coming directly from the Spirit. For others, that feeling might be obfuscated, but maybe because they're learning a different part of the process, or simply because the will of God is, at times, indescribable, undecipherable. I don't know, but that's where I'm at right now.

JonnyF said...

I feel like a prayer comes from me, but a blessing, at least partially, does not.
Katie and I went to Colorado a week and a half ago to visit family. My parents and my brother (Brentarrr) met us there and we blessed Elizabeth. When I gave the blessing I paused often, sometimes for several seconds. There were two reasons for this: 1)During many parts of the blessing I felt like I was inspired with ideas, rather than words, and communicating those ideas by the means of words was up to me. I am not particularly eloquent, so that took some thought. 2)A couple of times I had a doozy of a "stupor of thought".
Anyway, I am told it turned out to be a unique blessing, though I only remember parts of it.
Like Randy, both Katie and I are aware of the awesome responsibility we have to raise Elizabeth, in addition to the responsibility we have over our own lives. Katie and I have talked about it a lot and we agree that many of America's problems can be traced back to disfunctional families. Not that people that have disfunctional families don't have agency. . . that's another topic though.

Jared said...

I see now. Yes, I do believe we're saying the same thing. Thanks for your analysis. You are quite good at breaking things down and putting order into them. Ah, the wonders of college training.

You pose an interesting question then at the end, one that's difficult to answer because I've never been anyone besides me when I've given a blessing. But perhaps you're on to something. Maybe some blessings seem "bland" because the person giving it is still learning to trust that the words coming to him are from God. If you didn't understand that fully it might be a scary thing; you wouldn't want to bless someone with something that wasn't going to come to pass. Giving a blessing and being confident in your role as a conduit is another gift of the Spirit, perhaps.

There's also the tendency we have to confuse our own thoughts with those of the Spirit. When I give a blessing, I try and say everything that comes into my mind, and I assume that it comes from God. Others might try and make a distinction, thinking, as you put it, that God's will is undecipherable or maybe indistinguishable from their own thoughts and desires. I think for these people Elder Scott's comments hold the most value. We should feel free to express the desires of our heart and not be afraid to say things that may not have necessarily come from the Spirit. God knows our desires and intentions and will bless us accordingly. I also believe in using the Mormon test (as stated in Moroni 7): if it's good, it comes from God. I guess that's why I feel free to go ahead and pronounce all of the things that come into my mind. They're usually all really great things, so they ought to be from God.

I don't know if this is adding anything to your ponderings and attempts to understand, but it's at least helping me process my thoughts. Thanks for starting this, Randy. Thanks for keeping it going, Jenny.

randy said...

I think giving a baby "name and blessing" is slightly different from other blessings of counsel or for the sick. Obviously, as a parent, I want the best for my child's life. I could have sat down and thought up every good desire that I might have for her throughout her whole life. However, such a list would definitely be from me in my effort to have a PERFECT child. My child, once past the age of 8, most likely won't be perfect, and her challenges and difficulties are unknown to me at this time. So I tried to keep my mind free and let thoughts and feelings flow through me (hopefully from the Spirit), perhaps inserting my righteous desires for her as well as stupors of thought occurred :-). However, I don't feel that a baby blessing should be a fortune, in that I don't see the value in blessing her to "do" certain things. Perhaps that's just my fear of saying things that won't happen, but I felt much more strongly about blessing her "with" things that will bless her whole life: knowledge of the Gospel, the ability to serve and influence for good those around her, a strong testimony of the eternal nature of our family and of the temple, etc. I was told afterward that there was a whole lot of the word "Gospel" in there. And I think I fumbled a lot when she started crying... then comes the fear... (this baby won't stop crying...) and that's a hard medium for the Spirit to work through. Anyway, interesting discussion. Thanks for taking part.

Nick said...

Yeah, people that bless others that they WILL DO certain things annoy me. You can conceivably bless them that they will have the opportunity to do something (such as serve a mission)

So Jenny, if I understand your view of priesthood blessings, you seem to think they are very similar to prayers. How are they different from normal prayers?

Nick said...

Yeah, people that bless others that they WILL DO certain things annoy me. You can conceivably bless them that they will have the opportunity to do something (such as serve a mission)

So Jenny, if I understand your view of priesthood blessings, you seem to think they are very similar to prayers. How are they different from normal prayers?

Jenny said...

I tend to think of blessings as a variant of prayer--the words are intimately linked in scripture, along with the words "ordinance" and "sacrifice." Each of these actions has as its objective the opportunity to work toward coming to know God's will and aligning oneself with that will. They are also ways or means to go about asking and receiving, knocking and having it opened, seeking and finding. The whole plan of salvation rests on the idea that we must exercise (again, the idea of work) our agency and literally ask for the blessings that God is already willing to bestow upon us--but our own action of asking is fundamentally necessary.

I think part of the difficulty in thinking through the relationship between prayer and blessing comes from the fact that they are so connected. But, to get around to addressing your question Nick, here's an attempt to break them down.

Priesthood blessings invoke the strength of multiple persons seeking after the Lord's will together. They could be seen as a variant on communal prayer. They involve aspects of ritual, specifically in the laying on of hands and in the use of consectrated oil, and also in the use of specific wording or phrases (question to consider--aren't the sacrament prayers a form of priesthood blessings?). Priesthood blessings often occur in connection with a recognized ordinance (e.g. we believe in the "laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost"). I think it's interesting that these blessings are also often invoked upon a congregation, nation, etc. by priesthood leaders--think back to General Conference and President Hinckley's closing remarks. I think Randy's observation that giving a baby a name and a blessing is somehow a different experience from giving a blessing for comfort or counsel is interesting here--some blessings contain an element of public expectation (often the more ritualistic ones) and others are more intimate (and closer to an experience of personal prayer?).

Prayer is, fundamentally, communication with deity that results from the desire to converse with our Father. As such, it can encompass a wide range of definitions. Prayers may be silent or spoken, may be said in a specific physical presentation (kneeling, standing, arms folded, arms outstretched, etc.) or not, and may be personal or communal. There are a lot of variables. Prayer may seek for blessings, but it may also express gratitude. Because it has the potential to be "casual," our normal idea of prayer may not seem as inherently formal or ritualistic as a priesthood blessing, yet prayer in the temple is overtly formal. I think I sometimes dismiss the potential weight my everyday prayers hold by forgetting their formal roots--kind of makes everyone gathering together in a circle for family prayer a bit more powerful.

So. This comment is entirely too long already. And I have other things I wanted to respond to ... but I'll stop.

Nick said...

I think there is a way in which prayer and blessings are fundamentally different. In prayer, a person or persons ask God for his blessings, thank him, and otherwise align their will with His. Blessings however are given by the priesthood holder. True, the power by which they are given is God's power, but there is a mortal person wielding that power in a blessing. In a prayer I speak to God, but in a blessing I speak to the person, often in an authoritative manner of speaking.

Now I wonder, why? Why not just prayer, I mean, God's power is God's power. Isn't prayer good enough? If I need healing, won't God heal me if I ask Him? Why should I need to ask an imperfect mortal for divine help? I believe it serves three purposes.

One: God is the Great Delagator. He is always spreading the work around. Why should he have to do everything?

Two: related to number one, when we become part of the work, we grow spiritually- that is why God delagates. He certainly could do everything for us a lot better than we could, but we do not grow that way.

Three: In the same vein as Jenny, blessings have a very formal, physical component to them. I think this is to increase the faith of those participating, whether on the receiving end or giving end. When Jesus performed his miracles, more often than not he always accomanied his miracle with some physical act, whether it was anointing the eyes of the blind with clay, commanding the leper to wash himself in the river so many times, or even just laying his hands on the person to be blessed. Would it work otherwise? Probably. But accompanying the use of the priesthood with a physical act helps to focus the mind and faith of all people involved. I mean, would it be the same if you went and asked for a blessing, and the priesthood holder paused a moment, muttered under his breath and then said "Ok, there you go. Anything else?"

Here's a question that I think I know the answer to but always like to hear what others say about it: Is there a time and place to ask for a blessing? In other words, is it ever inappropriate for a person to ask for a blessing, when really they should just be praying. If you think no, what about a person who keeps on repeatedly asking for a blessing for the exact same thing over and over, or what if they ask for a blessing because they skinned their knee?
In other words, when does one ask for a blessing, and when does one just pray (or even solicit prayers on their behalf)?

erin said...

This is such an interesting conversation. It's so neat to examine why and how we do things that we've been commanded to do (as a blessing to us) by Someone we trust (trust on a million different levels). It's interesting to think about why we pray and why we've been commanded to pray and why God set it pu the way He did. Same thing with blessings. Obviously, not bearing the priesthood, I don't give priesthood blessings, but it seems to me that in giving a blessing there is more than just the alignment of wills with the Father, more than just being a part of the work and a part of the glory (please do not make any connection of that statement with Gerald Lund). It seems like in prayer we come to our Leader who we trust and connect with Him and band with Him--at least to the point of asking or approaching but usually more than that. In giving a blessing or being the mouthpiece, it seems that there is more authority--we're not just with Him or near Him--we're actually speaking for Him, as I understand it. I think that with that added element of authority to speak for Him, there is an added responsibility to speak His will--a call that the Lord qualifies the priesthood bearer for. It's so neat, like Nick was saying, that things are set up this way. I love seeing again and again how Heavenly Father wants us to be a part of things, not just spectators or puppets. It makes sense that we need the practice if we're going to be gods and goddesses. If we were just being prepared to sit on clouds, picking out a tune on harps forever, maybe we wouldn't need so much drill-time. That's really neither here nor there, though. But over and over I'm struck by how clever God is. He's a thinker. Really.

randy said...

I left out one piece that I wanted to mention earlier. One fundamental difference between a baby blessing and a priesthood blessing is that during a baby blessing, the giver of the blessing addresses Heavenly Father. This is much more like a prayer than normal blessings. I've seen the meat of the blessing done in 2 different ways: continuing to address Heavenly Father, and changing to speak directly to the child.

The morning of the blessing, I had to decide which way to do it (both have merits). My dad was there (currently bishop of his ward), so I consulted him. He was in favor of continuing to address Heavenly Father, but we couldn't find any hard sources to support one method over the other. It seems that the published instruction on baby blessings can be interpretted either way. One of my dad's reasons was that it is rude to begin addressing Heavenly Father and then just cut off and start talking to the child. However, addressing the child directly seems a lot more personal and affectionate than addressing Heavenly Father on her behalf--basically boils down to a change in pronoun (we bless her vs. we bless you).

We asked several fathers and got several opinions. However, since my bishop holds the keys for the ordinance, I determined to do what he preferred, if he had a preference. He said it has traditionally been done that the baby is addressed directly, but he would counsel that it is more correct to continue addressing Heavenly Father.

So that's what I did. It was actually a little weird, and I did seem to have a harder time connecting with that "blessing" feeling that has been talked about, having more of the "prayer" feeling instead. Strange, considering the source of the power is the same.

Nick said...

Yeah, I would say that it is more appropriate to switch to address the baby, since you are blessing the baby with the priesthood. I don't think God takes offense that we switch who we're talking to in a baby blessing- "Hey, that baby totally just upstaged Me!"
Not that I think it's bad to go the other way, I just think it makes sense to address who you're blessing.