During general conference last spring, Elder Steven E. Snow of the presidency of the Seventy recounted a story about a small town in the high Utah desert where it is so hot and dry that even clouds are rare and every prayer is for rain. He told of an out-of-towner driving through town and seeing an old gentleman with his grandson standing near the dusty road, quenching their thirst with cold sodas. The stranger pointed to a small cloud in the sky and asked, “Do you think it will rain?”
The old-timer looked up and pondered for a moment, then responded, “I certainly hope so. If not for my sake, for the boy’s. I’ve seen it rain.”
I laughed when I first heard this story, but in recent months I must have crossed over into old-timer status myself because now it makes me teary. I think of these verses:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord:
"And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.
"In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst." (Amos 8:11-13)
In my youth I heard about saintly folks whose prayers were answered and to whom angels appeared, people who called down the rain. I longed for dramatic spiritual experiences that would make me like them, filling my spiritual bucket and — while we're at it — giving me a great story to impress those of lesser faith (who otherwise ignored me).
Eventually I learned better motives. I began to simply yearn for what would help me know God and understand his will. I learned there was nothing more meaningful to me than feeling the Spirit and being in God’s service.
I also learned that sometimes water in the desert is a mirage. Sadly, I was not always very good at telling the difference between a revelation and a pipe dream. Chase down a few mirages when you think you are headed for water and you can get a little cynical, a little wary. You acquire a really good excuse for not trying too hard to live by every word, every still, small word, every tiny drop that appears out on the horizon where earth meets heaven.
But get too picky in the desert and you might die of thirst.
So I begin again. Sometimes I still worry that my desire for increased spiritual power is driven by self-interest more than charity. I still fear that seeking the Spirit is too complicated, or will require too much of me, or that I can’t sustain it, so why bother starting?
But then I think of my children. If my husband and I were granted three wishes by the Lord, those wishes would bear the names of our children. They are what is most precious in all the world to us. They are also the ones who will, or will not, carry living water across the desert to their children − the ones next in line on my wish list.
When I look at their parched world, my search for water feels ever more urgent. If I cannot hear, understand and respond to the word of the Lord in a way that qualifies me for more, where will I get the spiritual clarity and power to protect, prepare and claim those I love? If I do not help build Zion now as a place of refuge, peace, justice and unity, a place where the pure in heart move mountains and walk with God, where will the children find water?
Even in this thirsty land, I live among those who have seen it rain. For things to keep growing here, we need much, much more of it — not only for our sake, but for the sake of the fair virgins and the young men who are faint for thirst. They look to us to know how to open the windows of heaven, and to help them see the rain. If we have not trained well for the task, what will they have to drink when they must stand in the heat of the day?
Wendy Ulrich, PhD, MBA, is a psychologist, business consultant and speaker. She is the author of "Forgiving Ourselves" (Deseret Book) and co-author of the New York Times best-seller "The Why of Work" (McGraw Hill).