Prayer is a process of transformation because it is learning how to come out of darkness into light. This can be a frightening and difficult thing. This is because we have come to love darkness. It is comfortable. It is what we know and it is through the darkness that we have come to try to understand ourselves. For the most part, most people have relative success at finding a level of stability or comfort in this fallen world. It is our normal.
Of course in this world we live in a blend of light and darkness. As we yield to God and his goodness that is vested within us we become more aware of the light that is here. We desire more of it. And as we experience and yield to the fallen nature of this world and its constant pull we likewise also increase in darkness. And as we have more darkness in us we desire even more. We can easily come to love it.
The natural thing to do for all of us is to find a set point. A place where we have just enough light to feel the pull upwards and that we are trying to become a “good person,” and have settled upon an acceptable amount of darkness that keeps us comfortable and our bearings in a fallen world.
Let me suggest an example (when in reality almost everyone on this Earth is an example). Here is mine. I love God and want to draw closer to him. I feel love for most everyone I encounter – or at least a desire to be kind to everyone. I have committed myself to a certain level of obedience to God’s commandments. I am not waking up every morning and going to the temple, but I congratulate myself on being a pretty good keeper of commandments.
I also like to watch TV. Actually, I love it. Coming home at night after a long day or working and fulfilling all of the commitments I have TV is a great outlet. I am discriminating of content in the extreme, but allow a constant stream of mid-level evil into my home that usually is on the boundary of acceptability. More than once a week I have the thought, I should probably shut this off – but usually I don’t. It is a comforting darkness. When I think about getting rid of it my heart rate goes up. I think to myself, “If I gave up TV, then I am giving up the last comfortable thing I give myself every day. What does God really expect of me??? Isn’t this life to be enjoyed? Is the point of the Gospel to have every fun and enjoyable thing to be stripped of me? This is so extreme. God does not want us to be extremists, he wants us to pace ourselves and not run faster than we have strength. He wants us to just do better each day and for now, I can fulfill that great commandment and not have to give up TV. Didn’t I already do a little better today by not eating that candy at work?”
And so the deception plays out. And usually, without a heroic leap of discipline, I give into the routine of light and darkness of my day. The result of this is I become comfortable in an acceptable environment of spiritual twilight.
What would happen if you walked into the Celestial room of the temple and on one wall there was a big screen TV playing a show with people having casual sex and putting on display the all of the enticing things of the world? We know what our gut-response would be. It would be so strikingly awful that it would make us sick. And yet, often this is allowed into the home. What this tells me, personally, is that my home is not a temple. It is a battlefront where both armies are invited and the outcome of the spiritual war has yet to be determined.
What plays out in our homes is a reflection of our own hearts. Our own inner-spiritual world. If there is disharmony within me there will be disharmony in the home.
And so we all have a spiritual set-point. We all have a place of comfort that we feel good about the improvements we are making and, and still rely on a comfortable level of darkness in this world to offset the peace and comfort that we think we need because God will not do everything for us, so we have to do it for ourselves.
Joseph Smith called spiritual set-points “stakes.” It is the point that we will come to God and still retain a comfort in darkness. Joseph Smith describes it as such:
“The great thing for us to know is to comprehend what God did institute before the foundation of the world.—Who knows it? It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes & set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty.[i]”
He expands our understanding of these stakes by pointing to our traditions, which we will address later.
“To all those who are disposed to say to set up stakes for the almighty—will come short of the glory of god. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions”
“The mystery power and glory of the priesthood is so great and glorious that the angels desired to understand it and cannot: why, because of the tradition of them and their fathers in setting up stakes and not coming up to the mark in their probationary state.”
This process, this, looking from the bottom up and sacrificing our love for our Telestial bearings can appear to be a dreadful thing. It is the spiritual pull of our Telestial existence that we have learned to find comfort in the darkness.
The Prayer of Transformation is the process of disrupting our spiritual set-points.
[i] Words of Joseph Smith, 238.