Face to Face: Seeking a Personal Relationship with God (Hardcover)
“And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11).
Is it possible to talk with God as Moses did—face to face? This is not only what we long for, but what God also ardently desires. For Moses that may have meant an actual physical encounter, but for most of us it is an expression that suggests friendship, open communication, honesty, and the conversations of familiarity. But how is that done? And how can we learn how God speaks to us individually? Bestselling author S. Michael Wilcox explores the scriptural expressions and concepts of “pouring out,” “wrestling,” being “filled with desire,” and “knocking” at the door Jesus promised would open to us— particularly in those times when we deeply need heaven to hear us and to confirm to our souls that more than our words are being received.
- Size: 5" x 7"
- Pages: 128
- Year Published: 2013
About the Author
S. Michael Wilcox received his PhD from the University of Colorado and taught for many years at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah. He has spoken to packed crowds at BYU Education Week and has hosted tours to the Holy Land and to Church history sites. He has served in a variety of callings, including as bishop and counselor in a stake presidency. He has written many articles and books, including House of Glory, Sunset, 10 Great Souls I Want to Meet in Heaven, and Finding Hope. He and his late wife, Laurie, are the parents of five children.
Reaching through Pouring Out
I did pour out my whole soul unto God.
I did pour out my whole soul unto God.
Sunday Morning Bibles
I was raised by a mother who taught me that shopping on Sunday was not done except in the most exceptional of cases. I lived by this religiously. Because of this, you can imagine my quandary when the first serious temptation to violate this commandment swept over me one Sunday morning as I looked at the four-hundred-year-old pages lying before me. I have been intensely interested for many years in the history of the English Bible, so when an exhibition of old Bibles came to our community with displays of everything—a handwritten Wycliffe, the Great Bible from an old English parish church, a 1611 original King James edition, Geneva Bibles held dear by the early Puritans, a 1526 William Tyndale facsimile—I was compelled to go see it. They would be in the local high school on a Sunday morning. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning, so I drove down and peered at the precious copies, including a first-edition Gutenberg. So far, so good!
The temptation came as the seminar concluded and the opportunity was offered to buy single pages of torn and damaged Bibles. The prices were far out of my range as a young institute teacher, so I hesitated to even look, but what harm could it do? I might have survived except for two pages that stared up at me from the display case. There was the parable of the prodigal son, my most loved story in all the standard works—in all literature!—taken from a first-edition King James Bible published in 1611. Next to it was the story of Hannah, pleading with the Lord for the son she would eventually call Samuel, recorded in 1 Samuel 1 salvaged from a 1599 Geneva Bible. This was one of my favorite Old Testament stories, one that had blessed my life for years. I love Hannah. I had to have those two pages! Out came the credit card and a faint hope I could justify the purchase to my wife, let alone the Lord. I had them both framed to museum standards and they have hung in our house for many years now. (I made sure I paid off the credit card on a weekday just in case I might get any points with the Lord for that small act of repentance. Laurie and I used to laugh about that justification.) To be honest, I have never really regretted my purchases. I suppose telling this story is a strange way to begin a publication for Deseret Book about feeling after and finding God, but I know no other way of projecting how much the Hannah story means to me. I have taken the chapter title from that story.
Hannah had a problem no earthly help could solve. Have you ever felt that way? We are poignantly and briefly brought into her life with the very cryptic introduction, “Hannah had no children” (1 Samuel 1:2). We are quickly told that she had a good husband, Elkanah, who “gave [her] a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah” at the yearly sacrifices held at Shiloh, “but the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Samuel 1:5). In the world of the Old Testament, everything was attributed to the Lord—in this case, Hannah’s inability to bear a child. What the Lord’s actual involvement was gives us room to ponder, but Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, couldn’t restrain herself from constantly reminding Hannah of her deficiency. She “provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb” (1 Samuel 1:6). There are those fateful words again, so blunt, so suggestive that something was wrong with Hannah. Again, in the cultural thinking of the time, why else would the Lord withhold this righteous and holy desire? This goes on “year by year.” I would highlight the words, “provoked … sore” and “make her fret” because they are so easy to relate to our own situations from time to time. How many times in my life have things over which I had no apparent control made me fret? How many of us have been “provoked sore,” by life or by other people? I have often wondered if God was sending me a trial—crafting my dilemmas—or if life was just happening. I believe that, most commonly, the truth is that life just happens, though we often talk of the Lord testing us or bringing us trials. Generally speaking, mortality brings enough without the Lord’s additions. There are, no doubt, some trials that do come from him. Determining which are tailored trials from God and which are not from Him sometimes amplifies our perplexity. Our questions generally increase as time passes; the causes for our fretting seem never to diminish. Because of our experiences, we respond easily to how long this goes on for Hannah—“year by year” sounds so endless.
As the years crawl by, stronger words begin to emerge from the Hannah story, some from Hannah’s own mouth. Fretting and being provoked sore are one thing, but what do we do when we feel “bitterness of soul” and have “wept sore”? (1Samuel 1:10). We are told she prayed at this juncture, but prayer is not the term Hannah used. “I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have … poured out my soul before the Lord. … Out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken” (1 Samuel 1:15–16; emphasis added). Here is a woman perfectly honest with the Lord and with herself. What are the things which are in her soul? Notice the words and how completely we can relate to them. She is filled with sorrow, complaint, grief, and these in abundance. I don’t believe that she is bitter in the sense that we attribute to that word, but there might be a bit of accusation contained in her words.
All this she pours out! All this she empties! The soul can be described as a vessel that fills from time to time with various emotions, thoughts, memories, questions, and so forth. The very phrase pour out suggests this visual image. I have found it useful to see my soul as a vessel; I often ask myself what it contains before I kneel before the Lord. There is a difference in my approach when I say, “I’m going to pour out my soul to God,” rather than “I’m going to say my prayers.” There is more intensity, more earnestness, and more honesty. The very phrase suggests there will be no holding back. Prayer to me seems to imply only words or ideas. Pour out encompasses the world of emotions and feelings. It is helpful to me to understand or recognize exactly what is in my soul. I must be totally honest with myself. Is it confusion, or doubt, or complaint, or sorrow, or love, or gratitude, or guilt, or shame, or worry? I believe what the Father wants from us is the contents of our souls. I sense that unless we pour out, he cannot pour in. We want to make sure we empty everything to make room for what he will give us in return. In deep communication with our Father in Heaven, this pouring out and pouring in binds us to one another. Saint Teresa of Ávila, the renowned, sixteenth-century Spanish Carmelite nun, issued the invitation to pour out with these words, “Avoid being bashful with God, as some people are, in the belief that they are being humble.” Do we not have God’s own word that we may communicate with him? She continues: “It would not be humility on your part if the King were to do you a favour and you refused to accept it; but you would be showing humility by taking it, and being pleased with it. … Speak with Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord and a Spouse” (St. Teresa, The Way of Perfection, 184).
Sometimes just the relief of pouring out is so great we don’t need anything else—the pouring out itself is the answer. I recall many days coming home from work to a frustrated, despondent, even desperate wife at the end of her rope. Five little children can do that to you! I was far too often prone to put on my Mr. Fix-It hat and begin showering her with solutions. So very many times this was not what she desired. I simply needed to listen with a loving and understanding heart. Once she had everything out, my role ended. Often I didn’t need to say a word. I just looked at her with empathy. Other days, something wonderful had happened and she just had to pour out her joy. Once again, my own comments were not really essential; it was the outflowing of her soul that was central.
This is not always the case with our Father in Heaven. There are needs that demand answers if they are available. Yet frequently we just need the understanding, patient, and loving ear that listens. So we pour out. At other times, there is a spiritual exhaustion that our Father in Heaven recognizes, and he waits, for a time, for our spirits to prepare for the pouring in. In Hannah’s case, “she went her way … and her countenance was no more sad” (1 Samuel 1:18). All her fretting, all her bitterness of soul, all her sorrow, all her complaint and grief, all the “abundance,” she poured out and left at the Lord’s altar. What relief I sense in those words.
We may ask ourselves, “What things in my soul am I allowed, encouraged, or invited by God to pour out?” Whatever we find within ourselves we may pour out, and we should do so with the most open honesty—fears, disappointments, hoped-for fulfillments and dreams, wounds, frustrations, everything. At times I visualize the human heart as something like a racetrack. At the center is the magnetic pull of our deepest needs, desires, anxieties, or questions. But for whatever reason, we spin rapidly around the track in our thoughts and communications with our Father without ever going to those tender center points. The speed of our prayers tries somehow to keep us out of those sensitive places. We do this for a number of reasons. We may not wish to open up old wounds or disappointed hopes and desires. Perhaps we sense our thoughts are inappropriate, or we fear a “no” answer may be forthcoming, or even that there will be no answer. Perhaps we feel we are being selfish or lack faith or will appear ungrateful for all we already have. At times I have said quietly to myself, But Lord, if I talk of these desires what can even You do? This may not be a lack of faith, but an acknowledgment that agency may be involved, the limitations of mortality may be involved, or our own faulty perspective may be involved. We might think, I have gotten myself into this place; what else should I expect? Perhaps we are afraid the truth will be too painful to hear; it may require a too-threatening openness with self.
But Lord, if I talk of these desires what can even You do ?I have gotten myself into this place; what else should I expect?
Another possibility exists, however. Have you ever thought you were making a mountain out of a molehill? I certainly have. I remember one critical year in our family’s life when, after pondering a great deal on a certain dilemma, I finally let my circling talks with God slow enough to be pulled into the center place and I cried out, “Lord, is this such a little concern in thy sight that I shouldn’t even bother you with it? Is my own vision the problem?” And after that final, full pouring out, he answered, “If it is important to you, it is important to me.” This was not the answer my troubled heart wanted, but I can’t tell you how much courage, comfort, and renewal it imparted—and still does.
I will try to illustrate pouring out with a few other examples. I know of no child of God who does not need to, on a fairly consistent basis, simply pour out. We will pray, certainly, and that daily, but in addition to those more casual, not-so-consequential conversations, the heart has need to reveal itself at the pouring-out level. Those informal, intimate talks we have with the Lord throughout the day give us dignity born of the realization that a Being of such majesty permits this familiarity, but pouring out unites us to a Father with the trusting, loving innocence of a child. He becomes our “Abba,” as Jesus in Gethsemane cried out to him (see Mark 14:36). As the Lord himself said in Hosea, “I drew them … with bands of love” (Hosea 11:4).
Remorse of Conscience
I believe one of the most painful and discouraging things to keep in the vessel of our souls is guilt, or what Alma calls “remorse of conscience” (Alma 42:18). Though Hannah’s story does not speak of this often-destructive emotion, I wish to begin with it. This type of regret has its purposes, but of all things necessary to pour out, this is first. Guilt does positive damage when stored in the soul too long. It bars the entry of mercy and peace, which cannot heal when the space is occupied by guilt. God delights in forgiveness. He offers it to us unreservedly and without restraint.
We speak of confession as part of the process of repentance. Confession is, in a sense, pouring out. I am not speaking of ecclesiastical confession, but of the personal moments when we tell God all. Our feelings of failure that create this specific remorse need to be emptied. It is before our Father’s throne that we go to empty them. If you are like me, however, even before the Lord I hesitate to speak of those things I have done wrong or failed to do right. I much prefer to say, “Lord, forgive me of my sins,” and leave it at that general level. Sometimes I hear the Lord answer, “Why, Mike, what have you done?” Knowing this was coming, I reply, “Well, you know.” And he lovingly and tenderly responds with, “Yes, but it will do you so much good to tell me.” So I pour out my sins. There is such relief in doing this—all the shame, the disappointment in self, the embarrassment, the self-recrimination, the regrets, the fear—even loathing at times—empties with the pouring out. The humility of these experiences is in itself a beginning of the renewing pouring in.
Having been a bishop, I know the relief that others feel when they empty their hearts in confession to a Church leader, but I always felt the majority of this easing was just “getting it over with,” as they would often say. The peace was not so much an aspect of the emptying—or even of the repenting—but of overcoming the embarrassment of revealing to another human soul (even a sympathetic one who knows from his own life what sin is) the acts of shame in our lives. I am not convinced that the relief others felt was a sure indication of finally received forgiveness. In many cases God had, in all likelihood, offered forgiveness long before. At times, the very difficult battle of forgiving oneself still continued in spite of assurances that forgiveness had been given. Yet pouring out to the Lord is devoid of this element because we understand he knows all anyway. The relief is purer, more cleansing, not imbued with that tiny sense of pride that hates that another person knows our failings—and hates to know them in ourselves.
Our family loved to explore the canyons and arches of the Moab, Utah, area. We spent a great deal of time hiking and camping there. One day while in Moab we walked into the Moab Rock Shop. (Every time I drive by, I recall this experience and the warm memory always brings a smile to my face.) Inside there were trays and boxes of various minerals, geodes, antiques, blue bottles and mason jars, old farming tools, and more. My youngest son, about eight or nine at the time, was captivated by a particular shiny rock in one of the smaller bins, marked for sale for one dollar. He had to have that rock, but failed to express this to either his mother or me. Instead, he picked it up, put it in his pocket when no one was looking, and walked out with it. That was a small act of dishonesty, but it began to trouble his little heart. As the days went by, that gnawing, gripping pain filled his soul more and more. He thought about it almost hourly. His demeanor changed; he was no longer a happy-go-lucky kid. He hid the rock at home under the paw of a stuffed animal, but it had ceased to give any joy. Instead, it became a reminder of his shame. A rock that cost a dollar isn’t, in reality, much to worry about, I suppose, but remorse knows no price value.
His heart needed emptying, but he needed help to do so. He took the rock into the kitchen where his mother was working and began to tap it on the counter. In time, the sound annoyed my wife and she turned and asked him what he had in his hand. He opened his fingers and showed her the glittering stone which weighed a ton in his mind; the tears began to fall. Laurie, guessing the cause, asked our son the question that allowed the pouring out to begin: “Where did you get this, McKay?” Out spilled the story. The two of them sat down to decide what should be done. McKay taught our family one of the purest lessons I know about remorse and cleansing. He decided that he should write a letter to the Moab Rock Shop and return the rock. This was not enough, however; he wanted to include a dollar as payment also. The letter was written, the dollar and rock enclosed, but before sealing the envelope, McKay asked, “What if they don’t remember who I was?” He decided he needed to draw a picture of himself and include it as well. We were moved by his picture; he drew a sad face with tears and a downturned mouth. He remembered he had been wearing a Cub Scout hat the day he had taken the rock, and told Laurie he thought they might know who he was if he drew his face with the hat. So the hat was added. With the letter sealed and mailed, our son no longer moped. The pouring in had begun. The full inward tide came a little while later when McKay received a letter from Moab. It read:
My name is Cooper. I work at the Moab Rock Shop. [Below this, Cooper had drawn a picture of the rock shop with his own face looking out one of the windows.] Thank you very much for returning the rock you stole. Your Mom and Dad are right—it is very bad to steal. To steal is wrong and it makes you feel badly too.
I am keeping your dollar and sending you the rock. You have paid for the rock now, so now you can feel good. [Cooper had drawn a picture of McKay with a happy face.] Thank you for being so considerate—stop by and see us next time you come to Moab!
My son still has that letter, and the shiny rock taped to it.
Remorse of conscience—guilt—and moral regrets must not be harvested and stored in the heart. They must be poured out or they tend to grow. With that growth, our perception of their nature can change. Either they diminish through rationalization or, far more frequently, they grow to unnatural dimensions not commensurate with their true seriousness and nature. Our own assessment of our goodness or folly is often woefully inadequate. Remorse is not a stable thing; it moves and shifts and gathers momentum until we open the floodgates and let it pour out into the loving ears and heart of a kind Parent who comprehends, forgives, and pours in peace and solace. This cannot take place when the soul is crowded with self-recrimination. Yet forgiveness is also a growing thing. My family witnesses that growth each time we hold Cooper’s letter and the smiles—and their accompanying joy—return. Surely forgiveness is the most beautiful of emotions and the kindest of virtues.
The scriptures are filled with beautiful examples of this type of pouring out. More than this, they contain a longing for the pouring in that follows, and therein is contained their power. The Savior’s nature and personality drew sinners to him because they felt safe in pouring out in his presence. Perhaps the most beautiful example is the woman described in Luke 7, who approached him in a public setting with a box of ointment. Though she would also be in the condemning company of Simon the Pharisee, “when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” (Luke 7:37–38). Her actions brought from the Savior an illustrative parable that assured her of her freedom with the simple phrase, “he frankly forgave them both” (Luke 7:42; emphasis added). Yet sensing in her a greater need because she had poured out so openly, trustingly, and poignantly, he reaffirmed his teachings with three further expressions of mercy. She needed a pouring in equal to the pain of her shame, and Jesus offered it to her. Here are the Savior’s three declarations, two of them directed to her personally. “I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much. … And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. … And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:47–48, 50).
Isaiah, interceding for his straying people, wrote one of the most touching prayers in the Old Testament, rendered more gentle because of its poetic imagery and intensity: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee. … But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. … Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? wilt thou hold thy peace?” (Isaiah 64:6–9, 12).
Perhaps David gave the most poignant pouring out as contained in the 51st Psalm after his sin with Bathsheba. It has been viewed as the epitome of the penitent heart since it was written so many centuries ago: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. … Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness. … Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. … O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:1–3, 7–12, 17).
Most of us do not have to have the poetic power of an Isaiah or a David, but we are invited to open our hearts as they did and let the love and the longing, the aches and the agonies, reach out for returning compassion. The emptying itself is half the healing. Then we await heaven’s rivers of pardon, empathy, and mercy to flow in—which they always will if we let them.
“Bitterness of Soul—Abundance of Complaint”
Hannah’s own words spoke of complaint and bitterness. They are strong words. Can one complain before God and not cross over the line of appropriateness? Can one pour out bitterness and complaint, especially in abundance, without offending the giver of so much goodness? Can one protest life’s unfairness without inheriting Laman’s and Lemuel’s soul-sickness of murmuring? We would not criticize God nor find fault with the wisdom of the heavens, yet what do we do when doubt attacks, anger seeps in, or simple confusion bewilders? These, equally with remorse, must not be allowed to remain within.
we may doubt God himself. We may cry out as Joseph did in Liberty Jail, “O God, where art thou?” (D&C 121:1). Yet our faith and need to believe tries to hold on against winds of skepticism, uncertainty, disappointment, and hesitating conviction. Is He there? Is He love? Is He aware? Does He care? The evidence against faith can be at certain moments of our lives frighteningly real. The heart fills with fear, with unease, distrust—and faith feels crowded, even shunned by the bright glare of experience. Hannah’s story used the term bitterness of soul. The soul may feel during these challenges both the pain-sorrow aspect of bitterness and the anger and accusatory nature it brings. We run exhaustedly around the racetrack of the heart because to slip into the center puts us at odds with God, in the position of counseling him or questioning him on how he runs the universe—or at least our lives.
Years ago while I was directing the LDS institute of religion in Boulder, Colorado, a young woman, about twenty, came through the door needing help. She was diminutive, frightened—like a cornered rabbit—hungry, out of money, and eight months pregnant. She was homeless and had been told by another church, “Go see the Mormons.” She was terrified of men, but accepted me because in her mind I was a “reverend.” Thus began for me one of those challenging trials of life when we wonder if God really is in his heaven. The story is long and I have detailed it in another publication (see Wilcox, The Ten-Day Daughter), so I will only dwell on how it applies to pouring out.
We learned as we cared for her that she had been abused by her father as a child, had run away from home, and had been assaulted by two men next to a burned-out street lamp, her present pregnancy the result of that assault. She had wandered from the Midwest to New England down to Florida and then to Colorado and was absolutely destitute. Over the space of a few weeks we gathered all the Church resources—counseling, doctors, and social services—to help her. She wanted her unborn child to be placed in a caring and loving family, and steps were taken to accomplish this desire. Educational opportunities were offered. But her fear and inability to deeply trust or accept love were always present.
In spite of all our assurances, compassion, and care, one morning she walked out the door, caught a bus, and disappeared from our lives. I had expected what I call an “Ensign ending,” the sort of stories I read each month in which “charity never faileth.” Yet that ending eluded me. I was affected by it more deeply than I cared to admit. All the questions, an abundance of complaint, were in my heart, centering mainly on blaming God for not allowing everything to turn out happy. I couldn’t talk to my Father in Heaven about it, but just like guilt, my doubts, uncertainties, and, yes, anger, began to grow. Things that need pouring out of the heart always seem to expand, send their roots deeper, grip more tenaciously, and can often become menacing.
When my ordinary prayers for this lost young woman’s protection and welfare could no longer spin around that magnetic center, I heard the Lord ask me a simple question: “Do you think I am not aware of what is in the center of your heart?” Then came the invitation: “Pour it out!” And so I did. Where were you? Why did you not stop her from running? What will happen to her now? Couldn’t you have kept her here long enough for the child to be born and placed in a caring family? What will happen to the baby? Where was heaven’s help when we were all trying so hard? Was there no pity looking down on us all? On and on the questions and recriminations came! In time I was spiritually out of breath, but I got it all out. I sense God’s dignity is large enough to take even these kinds of outbursts. I was so full of bitterness, doubt, confusion, and hopelessness there was no room for answers or peace until I poured it out. Then I was taught one of the great lessons of my life as the Spirit simply replaced all that indignation, pain, and disappointment with these words: “What you have done is not lost! Did you need an answer for your love? Was not the giving enough?”
I have talked to a great many people who have doubts about God, Joseph Smith, a literal creation, other religions, the Church’s positions on various issues, the Book of Mormon, events in their own lives, and other concerns. I have had serious conversations with wonderful Saints who usually do have some justification for their personal abundance of complaint. We will explore this more intently in another area. Suffice it to say here that inevitably people harbor these thoughts in their souls often without taking them to God, not just in simple prayer, but in pouring out prayer which speaks honestly and lays everything before their Maker. If they become disaffected, despondently discouraged, or overly despairing they often cease to pray at all. Even the very existence of the Being to whom they could pour out might be in question. We have a beautiful example of this manner of pouring out in Alma 22:18, when king Lamoni’s father movingly expressed his desire to believe, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee.” There is such great honesty in these questing words. Frank sincerity is always a part of pouring out.
Pouring out an abundance of complaint was not unique to Hannah. The scriptures provide many witnesses. I think of Elijah reaching the depths of discouragement after his encounter with the priests of Baal at Mount Carmel. Warned by Jezebel that she would take his life, he fled hundreds of miles to the summit of Mount Sinai. In two verses in 1 Kings 19 we read the exact same words of frustration and complaint from Elijah: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1Kings 19:10 and 14). It is at this point in his life that Elijah asked God to take his life for he had no hope of success in his prophetic calling. It is at this point, after demonstrations of fire, wind, and earthquake—the outward manifestations of a God of power—that Elijah hears “a still small voice” pouring into his mind offering comfort and counsel (1 Kings 19:12). The voice’s presence assured him God is not “out there,” but close enough to be heard as a whisper. The very description of the Spirit as “still [and] small” suggests this intimacy. There is no need for God to shout, or even to call loudly across the room or the expanse of his universe.
Moses was even more open in his pouring out to Jehovah while wandering in the wilderness with the inconstant, wavering, and lacking-in-faith Israelites. When they had complained and rebelled one time too many, Moses had enough. He asked the Lord: “Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? … I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness” (Numbers 11:11–12, 14–15). Here is an open, heart-revealing pouring out! And it brings an equal pouring in from God.
“Sorrowful Spirit—Abundance of Grief”
Hannah spoke of sorrow and grief, two words that all humanity will sooner or later come to experience. These are slightly different from the emotional states of bitterness and complaint. The Lord is described as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” We are specifically reminded that sorrows and griefs were common to man, that the Lord had “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:3–4; emphasis added). I do not read this in a vicarious or atoning sense, but in an experiential one. He truly shared these experiences with us by encountering them in his own life. He understood these things because he chose to be one with humanity, and therein lies his greatest power as a healer. Alma eloquently testified of this truth to the people of Gideon (see Alma 7:11–13).
The story is told in Buddhist lands of a woman named Kisa Gautami whose son had died. She carried his body to the Buddha asking for help. Could he not give her back the child she loved? Moved with compassion, the Buddha told her that, yes, he could give her back her son, but that she needed to bring him four or five mustard seeds from every home in the city in which no one had died. Filled with hope, Kisa Gautami ran into the city, but with each new house she was told this family had also lost one they loved. After a day of searching, she realized that sorrow and grief were common to man and her pain was not unique, though it was her pain. She returned to the Buddha, thanked him for his wisdom, and took her son to the river to be cremated.
Eve promised at the very dawn of creation that it was better to pass through sorrow that we may learn from life, for it has so much to teach. I have quoted to myself many times Robert Frost’s brief poem titled “A Question.” Therein Frost asks if the pains of life including both physical and those rendered to the soul—life’s scars—are too high a price to pay for the great gift of being born. (See The Poetry of Robert Frost, 362.)
How would you answer that question? I think we can safely conclude that sorrow and grief seem to be desirable, if not easy to bear, aspects of life’s journey—mortal and moral positives, not negatives. We are dealing with a different perspective on life here than we do with remorse of spirit, bitterness, or complaint. We may feel we ought not to complain and wish fervently we had acted in a manner to avoid guilt, but sorrow carries no such negative weight. It is what it is without a moral load attached. This too, however, is to be poured out. We surely must not during these times create unnecessary guilt by thinking, I should be more grateful. What is the matter with me?
In truth, we are invited to pour out our sorrows. We find a beautiful example of that inviting in the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was Resurrection day and they were confused and troubled by the events of the last few days and hours. “And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him” (Luke 24:14–16). Now here is a comforting truth! Like the two disciples, though our own eyes may be “holden” that we do not understand the Savior’s presence by our side, nevertheless he is there, walking with us, communing with us, feeling with us. He asked them a question he asks of us all when we are filled with sorrow: “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?” (Luke 24:17). This is the beginning of his invitation to pour out. They cannot believe he does not know what has happened in Jerusalem and reply, “Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?” (Luke 24:18). Now comes the full invitation for them to empty their sorrows into his empathetic care. He simply says, “What things?” (Luke 24:19). And they pour out! For the next six verses they empty their souls. In similar manner the Savior often comes to us when we are sad, troubled, anxious, or in despair and asks, “Why are you sad, and your communications filled with sorrow?” We might reply, “Are you a stranger, Lord? Don’t you know what is happening? I’m facing a divorce!” or “My child is straying from the gospel!” or “I want children and can’t have them!” or “I want to be married, but no relationship is promising!” or “I’ve lost my job and don’t know how to take care of my family!”
I must admit there are times when I say, as did the two disciples, “Are you a stranger to my life, Lord? Don’t you know what things have happened to me?” Gently he replies, “What things? What is the cause of this sadness in your soul?” Then the pouring out begins and I can say, with unhidden truthfulness, “My beloved Laurie is gone and I am lost in life.” He is not a stranger to our grief; there is such a release in telling him all that is in our souls.
I do not believe I really knew what sorrow was until my wife passed away two years ago. Every previous moment of despair paled in comparison. I will not dwell much on this, as I have shared my thoughts in another publication (see Wilcox, Sunset). It is sufficient to relate that the sorrow seems to seep back into me after each pouring out. As it builds, I feel the pressure mounting, and my soul aches with all the earliest feelings of loss. Music brings it on, as all songs are now about her, or an old memory will ignite a flood of others, and then I have nowhere to go but to my Father in Heaven and pour it all out. The frequency of this need has often astonished me. I wonder if I have so little hope in the promises of eternity that I should grieve so. Nevertheless, perpetual pouring out is how I survive. So many times when I have poured out my eternal longings, my Father in Heaven has poured in the promises of everlasting reunion. I hope the following two examples will be illustrative.
After Laurie died, each night as I watched the sunset, a familiar despondency would take hold of me. That sinking sun, hung low over the horizon, seemed the final symbol of her life. I wanted to hold the sun in place, but within a few minutes it would slip below the mountain and I would feel the tears gathering. It was always so difficult to watch it disappear, and yet the Lord had earlier given me such consoling words comparing her life to the setting sun and linking it to the promise of a future rising one. Why could I not take them fully into my heart with lasting, not just momentary, peace? One evening when the sorrow gathered around me, I fell to my knees and poured out again all my seemingly never-ending and continually renewing grief. I told the Lord I would not watch any more sunsets. Did I take some kind of perverse pleasure in my own pain? When my soul was empty, as he had done so many times in the preceding weeks, he poured in. With a single sentence sent into my mind, every future sunset changed and became a refreshing symbol of hope: “Each time the sun sets, say to yourself: I am one day closer to Laurie.” I do not believe I could have received those words in a soul still so filled with sadness and need that it could not hear the whispered silent voice of the Spirit. But in the hollow chamber of a poured-out heart I could catch its echo. Now each setting sun is a reminder that I am moving toward unrestricted, pure-flowing happiness, toward Laurie, not just moving on with life. I was farthest away from her the day she died. Each day draws me nearer. Life is full and good and wonderful, worth living every day with joy. Mine is flowing in a direction toward the highest happiness, the most loving fulfillment.
Laurie passed away a few days after Christmas. The last three weeks of her life were spent on a hospice bed in our family room right next to the Christmas tree. In that glad festival of light and color reminiscent of the joy of Jesus’ birth, she left mortality. As Christmas drew near again, many of those very painful moments surfaced. Christmas trees are for presents and pine scent, not hospice beds and morphine. I could not set up the tree nor put out the nativity set. The bright lights and merry ornaments took me to places I wished not to go. For me there was a continual pouring out during this festive season. Once again, as with the sunsets, when my soul was empty, heaven’s words could come, which changed Christmas for me and restored its celebratory joy. It was a simple thing really. I heard a good friend sing, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (See Home for Christmas). Most of you know the song’s lyrics and can imagine how those words touched the tenderest places in my heart. There is a pleading in the song that Christmas remain a time of joy and happiness. I was filled with love as I heard Laurie’s voice behind the music. Christmas will now forever be a lesser reunion before the lasting one, a time of overflowing joy and cheer as it was always meant to be. The Christmas tree by which she died became a symbol of anticipation and love with God’s pouring in.
“He Shall Teach You All Things”
I have learned the purpose and the power, the need and the hope, of pouring out even when no answer is forthcoming. We stand face to face with God because he always listens and many times that is enough. We feel his compassion or understanding, or his forgiveness, or his acceptance of our love—we receive his divine smile. Sometimes we pour out not because we are going to change God’s mind, or because we expect God to make things different, or even because we expect an answer. Our pouring out arises out of our own need. We pray because we must pray, and prayer becomes its own answer. God’s listening is the simple restorative for our spiritual health. We depart from heaven’s grace as did Hannah—“so the woman went her way … and her countenance was no more sad” (1 Samuel 1:18).
In most of what we have explored, the pouring in given by God has consisted of feelings of comfort, peace, forgiveness, acceptance, hope, words of consoling intimacy, but more often than not, I have discovered that the pouring in comes in the form of truth or insight. I recall once studying rather intensely the Savior’s teachings to the apostles at the Last Supper. John’s account of this is the most expansive, covering almost a third of his entire Gospel. In the midst of so many gracious truths and peace offered by the Lord, we find the Savior’s own emphasis on what he calls “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26). The title Comforter in the past always meant to me the mission of the Holy Spirit to transmit the traditional understanding of this title; that is, the Spirit brings soothing, warming, calming, gently flowing love and mercy to the soul. Having once attached this meaning to the title Comforter, I always after thought of these precious gifts in the same frame of mind without looking for additional insight. The Holy Spirit, however, is also a witness of or testifier to truth. I admitted that the two roles overlapped, but still kept them distinctly separate in my mind. But in reading Jesus’ teachings during the last hours of his life, I suddenly realized that everything Jesus said about the Comforter related also to witnessing to the truth, not just causing a troubled soul to “be still.” Notice this emphasis in these words of the Savior:
“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17; emphasis added).
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost … he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26; emphasis added).
“If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7–8; emphasis added).
“I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth … and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:12–13; emphasis added).
“He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:14).
Imparting truth seems to be the primary role of the Comforter. The comfort, as we traditionally understand it, must come from the truths taught. These consoling, calming truths may be things we never knew or they may be pulled from memory and applied to the ever-changing condition of our lives. They guide us, or teach us, or show us, or reprove (correct or convince) us as the situation demands. In other Bible translations, Comforter is sometimes rendered Counselor. I like that! It has face-to-face connotations. This confirms his role as a bringer of truth. Peace and assurance and strength come from his truths.
To illustrate: I mentioned above the passing of my beautiful companion and its accompanying heartache. I cannot think of a more intensive tutorial life has given me than learning to live without her. I have been taught many necessary things. As much as any other lesson, I have learned how to answer a question she once so poignantly posed to me before we were married. When we were engaged and at Brigham Young University, my major in English kept me busy reading literature and writing papers. I also worked two jobs to get us through school. My temperament, whether good or bad, is one where I cannot truly relax until all tasks or assignments are completed. Once they are, I can enjoy doing what I want to do. Anyone can see the trap herein. When are we ever really done? There is always a new project. At any rate, I was failing to spend time with Laurie to the degree she needed. The call of the next novel, or essay, or work shift was always persistent. I recall arriving at her apartment quite late one day when I had not been properly attentive. In the ensuing conversation, I tried to explain that I wanted to be with her much more than I did with Wordsworth, Twain, Tolstoy, or Austen, but the pressure of tests and grades weighed on me tremendously. Close to tears, she simply asked, “But Mike, don’t you need me?” I can still hear the pain in her voice, the effort to control her emotions. I was twenty-two, and at the worst really quite stupid and at the best simply foolish. I didn’t answer the question correctly. I loved her, I wanted her, but at that point in my life I would not have used the verb need to describe my relationship with her. I’m not sure I could even have answered that question correctly when I was sixty. Now she is gone and I know how to reply. Life has taught me. Death has taught me. The Comforter has taught me. Loneliness for Laurie has taught me. I would give up every A I received at BYU to answer that question in her presence, but I did not remember it until after her death. One night, after the urgent pouring out of my heart, I remembered that painful conversation on the front porch of her apartment. I had not thought of it for many years, but it came back with force and brought my own tears. “The Comforter … shall … bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26). Now in my silent conversations with her (which I plead with God he will let her hear), I say, Laurie, please ask me the question again. I know how to answer it now. I need you like air and sunshine.
Robert Frost’s question has come frequently to mind. I answer his inquiry with a resounding “Yes.” All the emotional and physical scars may not be worth the gift of birth alone, but they are certainly worth the learning which follows that birth. Perhaps each pouring out expands the soul a little so the pouring in has more to fill and thus we progress and grow until all meetings with God are face to face.
It is necessary to add that with any of the above pouring outs, one is usually not sufficient. Whether it is sorrow or guilt or anger, the soul may fill again. Life, I have found, contains the constant motion of pouring out. Sometimes the grace we receive from God is the ability to simply continue emptying all that lies within our souls as those things we thought, hoped, or believed we had already cleared, contained, or resolved seep back in.
The Supreme Pouring Out
Perhaps the greatest examples of pouring out were those of our Savior in Gethsemane and on Calvary. Isaiah described those moments of more-than-prayer with the brief phrase, “He hath poured out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12). Luke beautifully and simply recorded, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). We know that prayer very well—the pleading that the cup might pass. “Abba,” Jesus cried out, which was the intimate, trusting word Hebrew children used when addressing a beloved parent. In the Gospels we witness the Savior’s agony in the third person, but in the Psalms we are taken right up onto the cross when Jesus, quoting Psalm 22, asked why he had been forsaken. We then read, “I am poured out like water” (Psalm 22:14). Telling His Father openly all that he is experiencing touches the chords of our heart as we witness, as though we were with him on the very cross, the Savior’s pouring out. “All they that see me laugh me to scorn. … They gaped upon me with their mouths. … All my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. … The assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. … They look and stare upon me. They part my garments among themselves, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me” (Psalm 22:7, 13–19).
In the concluding verses of Psalm 22, we hear the Father’s answering love: “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. … All they that go down to the dust shall bow before him. … They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this” (Psalm 22:27, 29, 31).
<p.“Is It All Out?”
Pour out—that God may pour in! When I served as a bishop and members of the ward would come to me with problems or a need to confess, I would try to listen silently. This was often difficult because it is part of human nature to jump right in and begin solving problems or giving advice. I was far too frequently thinking about how I would respond rather than truly understanding the words I was hearing. This was usually counterproductive because my readiness to speak at times stopped the outflowing of their hearts. I would interrupt that flow. I cannot tell you how often I chastened myself after an interview for not letting someone get it all out before I started speaking. I have found this to be true even with conversations I have with my children, friends, students, or others who just want to talk. It is better to wait for the silence that comes when the soul is really empty after a true pouring out. However, I did learn to ask, “Is there anything else?” Our Father in Heaven is a much better listener than I am. Perhaps the answers or comfort or direction we so earnestly want don’t come because the Father knows when there are still things inside that must find an exit. We wonder why he is not answering when he is patiently waiting for us to finish. I think I hear him say to me from time to time, “Mike, is it all out?” This invites me to deeper reflection as I search my soul. It encourages wide-open-door honesty not only with God, but with myself. I think you will agree that often the last bit, so difficult to get out, is usually the one that most needs expressing. That final bit may not, however, always be the most serious, but may bring the highest relief or the most joyful pouring in.
I recall my mother and my Uncle Duna laughing with great delight as they retold what came to be known in our family as the “candy bar story.” “Duna” was a Danish nickname given to my mother’s younger brother. They were the best of friends when they were growing up, my mother being a few years older than Duna. It was the height of the Depression and treats were few and far between. One day while they were walking, they saw a candy bar on the ground. The coveted treasure was divided, but my mother, wanting more, cut it into unequal portions, one about two-thirds and one about one-third of the candy bar. Duna watched carefully, his mouth watering, and noticed the unequal division, so my mother held the two pieces up, concealing the larger piece with her hand and pushing the smaller one above her curled fingers. “Look,” she said, “I’m giving you the bigger piece.” The small boy was tricked and both ate their treat. Just like my son McKay’s dollar rock, this was not a kingdom-denying sin, but it was always on my mother’s conscience as they grew up. During World War II, Duna came home on furlough and Mother, fearing perhaps that the war would take her favorite brother, bought a candy bar and waited for him to come home. As he entered the room, she slapped the penance for her guilt on the table and said, to my uncle’s utter confusion and bewilderment, “There’s your darn old candy bar!” She then recounted the story, which, of course, he couldn’t remember at all. He laughed merrily at my mother’s final, perhaps not so humble—but certainly sincere—pouring out. At last, this small irritation to her conscience brought love and peace and perpetual mirth. I enjoyed so much hearing either one of them relate the tale as they would both laugh long and heartily with the telling.
In my own life, I did not handle a situation with my son very well. It was also a trivial matter, but its memory has always stung. After he grew up, married, and was raising his own children, we were talking one day about the seemingly never-ending supply of parental guilt, our fear we are doing it all wrong. It brought back this memory and I told him about it, along with a deep apology for my insensitivity. To my utter shock, he could not recollect it at all! How could he not have stored in his own memory what was so obvious in my own? Had the roles been reversed, the need to pour out would have been just as great if he remembered and I did not. Had he harbored a tiny level of bitterness or anger over my parental fault, this pouring out would have brought the same unity. These scratches on the soul, whether they come from shame, or bitterness, or sorrow, or, as we shall now explore, expressions of gratitude and love, bring such satisfaction when we pour them out and have them replaced by the pouring in.
Pouring Out Love
We do not always pour out our spiritual and emotional needs, but also our adorations, gratitudes, and loves. Are these not also needs, in truth? We watch in wonder as Mary anoints Jesus with the spikenard just prior to his atoning hour. “As he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3). In John’s account, she then anointed his feet with the spikenard “and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment” (John 12:3). Though criticized by some of the disciples for her extravagance, Jesus came to her rescue, telling them she had done a good thing, “and this which she has done unto me, shall be had in remembrance in generations to come, wheresoever my gospel shall be preached” (JST, Mark 14:8).
At times the heart is so full of love it spills over, as it did in Bethany that day. This kind of pouring out focuses not so much on gifts given by our Father in Heaven, but on the giver of those gifts, which marks the difference between simple gratitude and adoration. Gratitude centers on the gift, adoration on the giver. I recall being taught the necessity of this type of pouring out one evening during the last months of my mission in France. I had sat down to a dinner of a bowl of yoghurt. I had eaten many such dinners. In fact, I can’t think of a day in France when we did not eat some yoghurt. We used to mix in sugar, oatmeal, and fruit, but for some reason this night all we had was the yoghurt without the extras. I gave a very rapid blessing that ran something like this: “Father-in-Heaven-thank-you-for-this-yoghurt-please-bless-it-in-the-name-of-Jesus-Christ-amen.” There were no pauses, just a running linkage of words that meant nothing but the habit of saying them. Sometimes we say the closing to our prayers so quickly it becomes one word. I must admit I was not filled with adoration that evening nor even simple gratitude; I was merely going through the motions.
Later that night, through the gift of my imagination, I was taken on a mental journey by the Holy Spirit. During that journey I learned how wonderful it is to pour out love and adoration—even over a bowl of yoghurt. It was a face-to-face encounter I had not felt after, but at its end I did find God. Nephi talked of being carried “upon the wings of his Spirit” (2Nephi 4:25), and the Doctrine and Covenants tells us that we can “mount up in the imagination of [our] thoughts as upon eagles’ wings” (D&C 124:99). Both are beautiful expressions. We fly or soar or are lifted up by the Spirit. I know of no other way to describe this experience.
The first stop was the California coast near where I grew up. The sun was setting over the Pacific and the sky was radiating color. Orange, coral, pearl, scarlet, and pink shone on the clouds against the backdrop of deepening blue. The sun rode the sea on the horizon for a brief moment, then slipped into the water. I could hear the waves lapping the shore and gulls crying, feel the soft salt spray on my face and the wet sand pulling at my feet as the ocean rose and fell rhythmically. Everything was so serene, so lovely! “With your bowl of yoghurt,” a voice whispered, “I give you all the beauty of the earth.”
The scene shifted to a more painful memory. I was a fresh young missionary who had been raised in the open opportunity of American middle-class bounty. I was walking in Marseille with my companion when a movement down a back alley caught my attention. There, amid the garbage cans and refuse, was a man. He was pulling himself along the ground on a mechanic’s dolly; he had no legs. His fingers seemed fused together with calluses. He was picking through the trash, looking for food. It was my first encounter with gripping, soul-hungry poverty. The voice at my side came again, gently, without rebuke: “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you dignity, and hope, and security.” (I am now sixty-three years old and I have never known a day of hunger. I have fasted, as we all have, but hunger—real hunger—is accompanied by fear and sterile uncertainty. This I have never experienced.)
We moved on to the beaches of Normandy in northern France. There in the American cemetery, the white crosses and Stars of David stretch out in parallel lines across the deep green lawn. The beach below is peaceful now, but once reverberated with the cries of dying men. Through the returning echoes of those voices came the whispered one at my side, which earnestly and again, without reproach, said, “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you liberty, freedom, and independence—bought at the terrible price of human suffering and sacrifice.”
The shores of France dimmed and I found myself back in America, at a stone jail in Carthage, Illinois. It was a June afternoon, the air humid, a sense of melancholy brooding in the atmosphere. I looked up at the window from which the Prophet Joseph Smith fell in 1844. The memory of that day resounded in my soul. I could still faintly hear the strains of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief,” then the cries of angry men and footsteps on the stairs. Through the music and the voices, the accompanying presence reminded me, “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you truth and light which ‘cost the best blood of the nineteenth century’ (D&C 135:6).”
Then we were at South Pass, Wyoming. The year was 1856. I watched as the Willie and Martin Handcart companies climbed through the snow and wind heading west, always west, toward their dream of Zion. They buried their dead in shallow graves scratched from the frosted soil and continued the long pull to their journey’s end. On the fading burden of the wind came the mildly worded pronouncement, “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you a heritage built on the sacrifices of countless thousands who came before you and bequeathed to their posterity the blessings of chapels, temples, universities—all the fulness of the Church.”
The images shifted again and I saw myself as a small boy sitting on the floor next to my grandfather’s green leather rocking chair. I heard the musical murmuring wrinkle of thin paper as my grandfather turned the pages of his scriptures to tell me a tale of prophets, apostles, a Savior—all the heroes and heroines of my childhood and youth. Rising from the whispers of those moving leaves of printed page and the tones of my grandfather’s gentle voice, the voice at my side reminded me, “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you wisdom—six thousand years of shared experience from the lives of humanity’s greatest souls.”
From ancient voices to the living present we traveled. I sat on the hard wooden benches in the balcony of the Salt Lake Tabernacle, seventeen years old, my knees drawn up, my eyes focused on a man praying at the conclusion of his general conference priesthood session address. President HughB. Brown was pleading for me, for me only, it seemed. His words filled the beloved old building, expanding my soul and filling me with courage and a sense of destiny: “O, Father, bless these young men. … Let thy Spirit guide them. May it hover over them, shield and protect them. … O Father, help these young men who are listening tonight … that they will know, that with thy help they need not fear the future” (Brown, 116–17). As his words faded into the chambers of my memory, another voice projected into my conscious hearing, the voice of my accompanying companion: “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you guidance—a clear path to walk marked by the vision of seers.”
By this time humility and praise, the deep appreciation that saturates and soaks the soul with love, with adoration, began to pour out and I said, “Father, if I may, I should like to bless the bowl of yoghurt again.” But there was one more stop on the mind’s passage and there we traveled.
To what time and place did we journey? The destination of all voyages, a garden in the Kidron Valley outside of the walled city of Old Jerusalem. I sensed in the darkness the outlines of twisted branches and the heavy trunks of deep-rooted olive trees. I watched the Savior enter Gethsemane, kneel and plead with the Father those wonder-filled words that still have the power to penetrate and trouble the soul with amazement, “Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mark 14:36). In that reverent stillness, through the silence that speaks higher truths than words, the voice that had filled me to overflowing already now brought the double portion of our birthright with an affirmation and a question: “With your bowl of yoghurt, I give you my Son. What more can I give you to make you happy?”
Then there was a pouring out and a pouring in and I felt like the Nephites who recorded, “No tongue can speak … and no one can conceive of the joy” (3 Nephi 17:17). Throughout my life I have been taken on this journey with stops added from time to time as life has progressed, such as a sealing room in the Cardston Alberta Temple as I looked across an altar into the face I most love of all human faces. These spiritual flights of the imagination navigated by God himself bring the most lovely of pouring outs because they never leave one only empty, but filled with a fullness that wants to pour out again and again because it will never be sufficient, will never be enough, worlds without end. Paul spoke of our need to “know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).
Jesus was once met by ten lepers who asked him for mercy. This he kindly bestowed by telling them to go and show themselves to the priests as required by the law of Moses. As they went, the desired healing came, but only one of them returned to praise the Lord by falling at his feet in gratitude and adoration. “Were there not ten cleansed?” questioned Jesus, “but where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17). I sense his tone was not condemnatory, but sad and subdued, reflective. This is one of my most beloved stories in the New Testament. I often tell my Father in Heaven, “Among my many failings, I ardently hope that ingratitude or inattention to bestowed goodness will not be among them. Open my eyes where they are closed.” We would not be one of the nine. Let us pour out, genuinely, and candidly, even if amongst the ten we are alone in doing so.
I think often of Miss Woodward, my eleventh-grade English teacher, who had such a profound impact on my life. She taught me to love the great literature of the world and the magic that well-expressed, elevated thoughts can have on the mind and soul. At sixteen I could not possibly comprehend the gift she was giving me by teaching me how to draw the lovely and noble truths out of poetry, short stories, novels, the classics. I attribute whatever skill I have developed in reading the scriptures to her training, for I believe they are the greatest literature of all. One year under her tutelage gave me tools for a lifetime. Years after graduation I wanted so much to thank her and returned to San Bernardino High School to find her. Much to my disappointment I failed in my attempt, and to this day I look forward to a future meeting, undoubtedly not in this life, when I will be able to pour out my appreciation and let her know that of the thousands of students she taught over the years, one of them remembers her as the most influential woman in his life outside of mother and wife.
As it is common for us to remember our failures in life, how wonderful it is to hear when in a few instances we were really splendid. These pouring outs to each other are needed, perhaps not for us who do the pouring out as much as those into whose ears the love and appreciation flow. If this is true of our interpersonal relationships, how much more true is it with our Eternal Father in Heaven? If it took me years to comprehend the wonderful bestowal grafted into my mind by an English teacher, how long might it take to fully embrace the truths and gifts instilled in us by our Father in Heaven? I sometimes tell him, “Father, I thank thee for all those things thou hast granted of which I am ignorant and for which I would further praise thee if I had the eyes to see or the heart to understand.”
An excellent perspective and direction for a closer relationship with God
by Paula - reviewed on August 21, 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed S. Michael Wilcox’s newest book, “Face to Face:A Personal Relationship with God". His personal stories and insights make for an easy read yet open naturally to the reader’s opportunity for personal reflection. I was happy to see that as a convert to the Church, I also have struggled with the question, “Why wasn’t I taken from this earth before I was eight years of age – still pure and a candidate for the Celestial Kingdom” and “Why? . . . Wasn’t I good enough?” I found great wisdom and direction in this well-written book from one of my favorite speakers/writers. I would give this book a 5-Star rating. Paula B. Winchester, VA
A little book that teaches a LOT about prayer!
by Stephanie - reviewed on August 15, 2013
I had an opportunity to hear S. Michael Wilcox speak at Time Out For Women in April. He is an amazing, spiritual man who has such a strong testimony of prayer that it took my breath away. Having lost his wife to cancer during the Christmas holidays he is extremely familiar with grief and pain and he knows what it is like to feel like your prayers go unanswered. In this book S. Michael Wilcox breaks down the concept of prayer into its most basic elements and helps the reader understand that prayer is more than just saying words that bounce back off of the ceiling. Prayer requires "more intensity, more earnestness, and more honesty." The pouring out literally suggests that as you pour there can be "no holding back" and it encompasses an "entire world of feeling and emotions." Saying your prayers involves wrestling, believing, acting, desire, and knocking on the door and through this book the author shows you what that looks like, how it works, and invites you to act upon the word. I am enjoying this book although, for me it is not a "sit down and read it through" kind of a book. I find myself going back again and again and rereading certain paragraphs and sections. I'm not going to lie, S. Michael Wilcox is a smart man and I find myself rereading as well to try to understand what he is telling me but -- I am steadily working my way through to the end. For such a little book, it teaches volumes about prayer!
It Struck A Chord
by Jinky - reviewed on August 21, 2013
This book started off strong. I definitely could perceive the author's then childhood thoughts about prayers bouncing of the ceiling and the wonderment of how it reaches "up" to Heavenly Father given the barricade. Then as an adult discovering Paul's words from Athens, "In him we live, and move, and have our being" (Athens 17:28), leading to believe that God is more "around" or "next" than "up" (pg4). Like the author, I still think God is situated above but Paul's statement offers the concept that we can speak to God in a matter of familiarity. A kind of face to face. So viewing God as being reachable provides confidence that we can have an intimate relationship with Him. Wilcox goes on to demonstrate the exchange of "pouring out" (us) and "pouring in" (God). Wow, that struck a chord! Because just a couple of weeks ago did I find myself in despair and "poured out" my aching soul to Heavenly Father in prayer and once all was unloaded, the "pouring in" from Him was immediate comfort. Oh, what a confirmation did it give to me that Heavenly Father was at that moment giving me a huge hug. That was my face to face! Hence, this "pouring" was one way of reaching God that this book pointed out. Others that were discussed included reaching through: wrestling, believing, acting, desire, and knocking (my favorite chapter next to pouring out). Then ending with a solid summary. A powerful little book that can inbreathe the reader to build a meaningful relationship with God and shows how. Insightful examples backed by scriptures grants this book good ground to construct that feeling of speaking "face to face" with our Almighty God. A definite great addition to a collection of inspiring books. **Provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.
by Janet - reviewed on August 08, 2013
I love love love Michael Wilcox's writings, and cd's. Any chance this will come out on a cd? I love to listen as I'm driving to work etc., It starts my day off on the right foot.
More understanding and closer to God
by Marie-Christine - reviewed on October 02, 2013
And again an absolute wonderful book by S. Michael Wilcox. This man is so gived with the talent of explaining difflecult subjects and make them easy to understand. By reading this book, I gained more understanding of personal experience and lots of moments of deep spiritual talkshow with my husband. By reading this book, you feel closer to God. Increase your understanding of prayer, get a desire to change them and give more depth to your prayers. An absolute musthave
Quality of Prayer
by Lorie - reviewed on July 22, 2013
Brother Wilcox has a great way of expanding ones mind and inspiring one to reach higher. He gave me so much to think about concerning my "Quality of Prayer." I am excited to once again 'Pour" my soul out to my Father in Heaven and then be still as I wait upon the Lord. As always I found this book inspirational and edifying. A must read for anyone who is truly seeking.
More Meaningful Prayer
by Lisa - reviewed on July 29, 2013
I confess that often my prayers have tended to move more toward repetition and less toward meaningful conversations. Brother Wilcox's book helped me consider new ways to make my prayers more meaningful and beneficial. I especially enjoyed the chapter on "Reaching Through Pouring Out" but every chapter helped me gain further insight and has taught me to stretch further as I go to my Father in Heaven in prayer. A must read for anyone striving to make prayer more meaningful.
by Lisa - reviewed on December 16, 2013
We all desire a good personal relationship with God, but the real question is how do we get it? How do we get that true communication that makes us feel like we are being heard and valued? This book looks to explain some ways that we can reach out and make our conversations more meaningful for us. By exploring the various ways of reaching out towards the heavens, we can truly develop a more personal relationship with God and understand that our thoughts and prayers are important to him. This can help us to seek out and recognize answers in good times and bad. This is a subject that I'm always trying to work on. It can be so hard sometimes to really feel like my prayers mean something. I was excited to read this book, and I was not disappointed. I think the author really managed to put in interesting information that was still meaningful. The chapters are separated into different ways you can reach out to the Lord. Some of these include reaching through pouring out, reaching through desire, and my personal favorite, reaching through acting. I thought the examples used were easy to understand and helpful. This book is not terribly long, so it's easy for even the busiest person to fit it into their schedule. I think a lot of people would benefit greatly from reading it. It helps to make you realize all the different ways there are to reach out and find answers and peace from the Lord. Anyone could use that I'm sure. Take some time to check this book out! Book provided for review.
This book opened a window to heaven
by Rachelle - reviewed on October 07, 2013
I received a review copy of this book and I have cherished my reading time each morning for the past month as I've included it in part of my daily devotional. Wilcox shares his personal journey to grow closer to God and explains from the scriptures a multitude of ways that we can be sure God hears our prayers. I especially love his idea of "pouring out", just talking with God, sharing our deepest emotions, anguish, happiness, and trial. God already knows what we're going through, but He wants us to share with Him and in doing so, we often learn something from our pouring out. If you're looking for a short inspirational read to lighten the load, I'd encourage you to read this book.
This book provided valuable insights to increase spirituality.
by Cheryl - reviewed on July 22, 2013
I have enjoyed many of Dr. Wilcox's books. Referencing his personal experiences always help me to better understand the lesson/point he is making. In Face-To-Face, those personal experiences and his message are even more meaningful as he mentions experiences that were/are difficult for him. Showing his vulnerabilities make the ideas he presents more real as he has struggled with the some of the same things I struggle/have struggled with. I highly recommend this book to those individuals who are looking for ways to enhance their relationship with our Father in Heaven.
Line upon line, precept upon precept
by Brooklynn - reviewed on August 02, 2013
I love S. Michael Wilcox for ability to put into words the feelings that I can't seem to describe or explain. Once again, Brother Wilcox has taken a key gospel principle and taught, uplifted and edified. Prayer is possibly the most basic of all gospel principles; the means through which we communicate with our Heavenly Father. One of my favorite ideas from his book, Face To Face, is that we should literally pour out everything to Him in prayer--good, bad, difficult or joyous. Give it all, empty your soul or vessel, enabling Him to pour in as much as possible. I loved this visual. Those who are already familiar with Brother Michael Wilcox, as well as those who are reading his words for the first time will not be disappointed with this new book. Through his experiences and understanding of the gospel and of prayer, Brother Wilcox challenges us (along with him) to stretch ourselves to pour out (pray) more regularly, more honestly, and more earnestly.
Motivating and inspiring!
by Kimberley - reviewed on September 05, 2013
This book is just what I needed! Not only is it inspiring, but it really helped motivate me to improve my prayers. I can be a true "Race Track" person, and this book helped me get to the heart of my prayers. I loved the oncept of the pouring out prayer. If you rant Heavenly Father to pour in all that you need, you must first be willing to pour out everything o Him first. Loved it!
by Customer - reviewed on August 08, 2013
I read this book in two evenings. I love the way that this book is presented. It has given me the tools to communicate with Heavenly Father more effectively and to really understand how much deeper my relationship can become with Him.
by Shauna - reviewed on August 14, 2013
This is a book that needs to be read... and then pondered... and then read again... there is SO MANY AMAZING thoughts in it! If we want to talk with God face to face then we need to change from "saying our prayers" to "pouring out our soul to God." "We (need to) always pour out our spiritual and emotional needs, but also our adorations, gratitudes, and loves." When we "pour out" it leaves us empty so God an "pour in" the blessings. If we want to talk with God face to face we need to be reaching through wrestling just like Enos. Instead of saying "I must go and pray" we must we willing to "go and wrestle before the Lord." If we want to talk with God face to face then we need to be willing to "reach." Reach through Believing Reach through Acting Reach through Desire Reach through Knocking Filled with many stories including personal and scriptural this book is a treasure that everyone needs to read.
What a relief to exchange my stale prayer practices for fresh, satisfying ones!
by Sarah - reviewed on July 27, 2013
In the midst of slogging through the eating stale of crackers, have you ever discovered that you actually are in possession of a new package and allow yourself to start eating fresh ones? Do you remember the contrast of the flavor, the quality, and the satisfaction? I have. And that explanation is analogous to my experience with personal prayer at the point in my life where I intersected S. Michael Wilcox's book, Face to Face: Seeking a Personal Relationship with God. In his latest work, Brother Wilcox connects beautifully appropriate scriptural examples with insightful, humble, and often raw experiences from his own life to demonstrate various forms and types of reaching for heaven through prayer. The night after I read the introduction and first chapters, my prayers were already changed for the better. I felt immediate relief from my old, stagnant way of participating in this act of worship which should feel all but mechanical and ordinary and dissatisfying. As I continued to read, I felt more and more drawn to heaven, armed with a fresh perspective and more clarity—and even more freedom--on the topics of sharing what I needed to say, listening to what I need to hear, feeling, searching, and working through prayer to feel heard, known, understood, and loved by God Himself. This book will sit on my bookshelf for years to come within reach, ready to be used as a reference and reminder that a personal relationship with God is nearer than we sometimes think, and that the act of prayer need never feel impersonal or without Audience. I am basking in the affirmation that He reaches for us even as we feel after Him. I likewise rejoice that the author's experiences with prayer could exchange my stale practices with more dynamic, nourishing, and gratifying ones. Five stars!!