Praying Always, Not Just in Foxholes…

“I recently heard a quote from United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that I would like to paraphrase for the benefit of relating to prayer. ‘When you [kneel to pray, it should be] as if you are entering a gateway from the profane toward the sacred. Let it be [an act where we] enter the presence of a majestic God, …of meditation, and of celebration before [Him]. Let [prayer] be a haven of rest for the weary, …healing for the wounded, …comfort for the grieving, and a source of hope for the despairing and forgotten’ (Music and the Spoken Word, February 23, 2020). As the turbulence of our world increases with every coming day, let us make prayer a haven for peace and shelter from fear.”

Daniel Joseph Malcolm, 20 April 2024

My father was a United States Marine during the Korean War. He had the unfortunate need during tours of duty to barricade up on many occasions. In the precarious predicaments of war, Dad learned much from his battlefield experiences. We can all learn from the dilemas of others described by understanding promoting axioms and adages, but a proverb’s strength to influence is best acquired through the forerunner of wisdom, personal experience, which provides inspiration’s true light.

William Richard Malcolm, USMC, served in combat during the Korean War. 

A well known aphorism Dad came to understand by personal experience is reported to have been first spoken in a 1942 Battle of Bataan sermon by U.S. Military Chaplain William Thomas Cummings, a Catholic priest martyred in the Philippines. Although Dad did not coin the maxim, my father’s real life experience in Korean War gun pits gave greater weight for my understanding when he shared with me the sense of insecurity and anxiety encountered in the heat of battle: “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

“There are no atheists in foxholes.”

Father William Thomas Cummings

For members of younger generations less familiar with the term, foxholes are a reference to the pits that are dug by soldiers in times of battle to protect them from weapons fire. Although a foxhole is a place with likely greater security than on open ground, the dangers in battle encourage greater humility and a desire to hope for higher power that can save. In other words, when we are in the heat of battle, under life endangering stress, we tend to believe and to pray more. Prayer begets hope. Hope increases feelings of security. Feeling safe positively passes time, helps us to feel blessed, and engenders greater faith, the foundation for belief that God has a plan for us, and that everything will happen for our benefit and according to His abiding love, hence, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

In life we all endure periods when we feel under fire, the need to duck and cover while lifting trembling voices heavenward with necessity driven optimism. “If You are up there God, surely You can see what is happening. Can You help me now? Please!”

A grief stricken American infantryman whose friend has been killed in action is comforted by another soldier. (Haktong-ni area, Korea, August 28, 1950)

Feeling insecure, urgency to upwardly incline our voices toward God, comes in waves and in varying degrees. The trials of life do vary and are rarely if ever predictable. If such were easily foreseen, perhaps the insecurity and urgency would not feel so dire.

Surely, we have all felt under fire’s duress, at least in various stages of it. Whether communally experienced, as in the crisis faced during the Covid epidemic, or during personal faith stretching adversity that independently strain the vary threads of our mortal tapestry, we are all subject to the tribulations required for growth and development as sons and daughters of God. Without such, our Father’s plan for us to return to His presence would be frustrated, as we could never learn to become more like He.

One of my earlier experiences endearing me to prayer for help and hope came during my missionary service in Paraguay. I made a habit of reading regularly the missionary handbook. Contained therein were rules and inspirational guidelines to serving faithfully. One of my favorite passages to read focused on the importance of prayer. “Pray individually and with your companion. ‘And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto Him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto Him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens’ (Enos 1:4). ‘Pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good’” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24). Those days of prayerful study and ministry were instrumental in forming the lifelong habits of study and prayer that I enjoy.

My early experiences have taught me to ponder before I pray, and to pray in all seriousness. I have long been familiar with foxholes, the feeling of being compelled to pray because of my circumstances, and I am grateful for the same. While I can easily be described as “always believing,” I have often had to endure humbling experiences in order to remind me of the importance and serious nature of prayer, I have come to know foxholes well. Have not we all, and are we not experiencing them now? Are we coming to know the seriousness of prayer?

“Enos Praying” by Robert T. Barrett

Look at the circumstances of the world in which we live. One can hardly watch a news broadcast without becoming immediately aware of the turmoil that is running amok. Between inflationary activity and supply shortages, economic turmoil strains us all. Crime, wars, and rumors of war, are certainly of dire concern and cause to seek assistance from on High. The uncooperative incivility of campaigners for office, wannabe leaders, and those already empowered, does not set the kind of example that we would have for the generations to come. In the face of ongoing crisis, they do not lead. With so much that affects us all, our individual trials alone carry the humbling capacity to bring us to our knees for hopeful relief.

We are feeling under fire right now, or at least in various stages of it. Fear affects us. In our trials there are bright sides to all that we are experiencing, and if any of this causes us to appeal more to God in humble prayer, then it is all likely for our good. Of the most bitter trials endured by the prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord declared, “know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He? …hold on thy way, …fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-9).

“O God, where art thou?”

Joseph Smith

I am, like most, not a prophet of God, but we are all sons and daughters of Heavenly Father, and He is mindful of our needs and desires our happiness and well-being, therefore, we have equal opportunity to seek and receive God’s comfort and care. I would like in humble hope to borrow from the words of that prophet Enos in the telling of my story and my recent personal witness account. “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God” (Enos 1:2), in the days following my near fatal accident while pruning my trees, when I laid in a hospital bed, hardly knowing who I was, or to whom I should look for comfort and healing.

Due to the nature and severity of my traumatic brain injury, I was not completely cognizant and able to follow my daily routines of scripture study and prayer. I could not kneel, but nor did I even feel aware of the habits I have for all my life practiced. Several days into my hospital stay I realized that I was not daily reading the word of the Lord, nor kneeling and lifting my voice heavenward.

Although I have grown accustomed to using digital devices for my scripture study, for the sake of my healing needs such was prohibited. I asked my family to bring my scriptures to me from home, that I might reengage once again in my long held daily practice.

Daniel Malcolm at Fresno Community Hospital, December 2023.

One evening, when I was alone in my hospital room confined to bed, I opened my scriptures for the first time to read. Almost immediately, I experienced confusion and inability to read the words before my eyes. I could understand some simple words, but many I had long understood, appeared hieroglyphic and indiscernible to me. I continued to look, and look deeper, but the appearance did not change. Whether a trick of my brain or eyes, the confusion did not cease.

There, alone in my bed, laying on my back, I began to despairingly weep, as I realized that in the preceding days of jumbled thought, my near instinctual reflex to pray had also been lost. I felt in the depths of sorrow. I wanted to position myself to pray, to kneel with head bowed before my God and plead His forgiveness and mercy, but my injuries would not allow any position other than my back down, facing heavenward. “And my soul hungered;… and I cried” (Enos 1:2) in desperate supplication, ‘Please do not abandon me!’ I felt wholly alone. I pleaded, and I cried for mercy in a dark hour, fearing that I would never be able to read God‘s word again. Again I cried, ‘Please do not abandon me!’ And then, all at once, my heart still in despair, but my injured mind coming clear and able to hear a holy reassurance, “Danny, I have never left you. I have been with you all along.” My heart still in trauma, but utterly exhausted, the peace of the Lord gave me rest, and I was able to sleep in His rest.

Daniel Malcolm at Fresno Community Hospital, January 2024.

My ability to read the scriptures did not come back to me for several days, nor have I been able to as easily kneel since my injuries, but my Monica and children read to me daily until I could again do so on my own, and pray I do often from whatever position I am able.

It is a wonderful opportunity when we may reset ourselves and take stock in our blessings, especially those that we often take for granted. How much do we take for granted? I never foresaw a day when I would not be able to kneel and pray, or have the scriptures at my easy reach for light and inspiration. With now those blessings restored, I worry much less about the fact that I am still unable to drive, elect to choose my comings and goings, or even enjoy the privilege of pruning my trees, and tending to my simple responsibilities. I am so grateful to now be able to renew my covenants and ponder on the sacrifice that was made for us. We need to pray a lot more than we do, and pray with a lot more gratitude.

Let us pray mightily, even as Enos, and for those who can, let us fast and give generously, that we might provide relief and show our Heavenly Father that we are united and lovingly devoted to serving His children, our brothers and sisters. Let us pray all the day long if need be, that when the night falls our prayers will reach the heavens and those that are in need of relief and comfort will receive. Let us pray from the foxholes in our lives and never again take for granted His mighty and tender hand of comfort, and His atoning sacrifice. May the God of Heaven and Earth preserve us in faith, in joy, and in health. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.