A story of prayer from 1960s Germany

I recently re-read Enzio Busche’s book, Yearning for the Living God. Enzio Busche, who became a Mormon in his late twenties in his homeland of Germany, is a former general leader in the Church who had responsibilities over many areas.

The book is a collection of experiences he has had in seeking a personal relationship with God and helping others to do so as well.

Here’s an account from the 1960s he shares about a young man named Wolfgang. I particularly like this experience because it shows what can happen when we turn to God for help. Too often we think a matter is too small or simply falls outside the domain of what God can – or should – do for us.

[Wolfgang] was working as an unskilled laborer in a foundry where hot iron was poured into molds after it had been melted in huge ovens. He was working in a very hard environment among all kinds of rough and tumble people and felt most unfulfilled in his job. He suffered especially because of his young age. He was only seventeen, and he was the special target of a tall, husky co-worker who teased him whenever he could. This man would deliberately take Wolfgang’s tools, then, when confronted by Wolfgang, would gruffly defend himself saying, “Are you calling me a thief?” The man would regularly shove him around and even beat him up.

 

One day when Wolfgang was again humiliated by that man’s behavior, he remembered that he had learned that God is alive and cares to help us when we ask Him in faith. He realized he could ask God to fight his battles with him. When a hammer Wolfgang had just purchased turned up missing and the man claimed it was his, Wolfgang went into the restroom and knelt in prayer to Heavenly Father. He explained with emotions of a soul in despair, “I have this miserable situation, and I don’t know how to deal with it. What should I do?”

 

[In relating this story], Wolfgang told…how he suddenly felt a great peace come into his soul. Calmly, he went back to the man and apologized to him, saying, “I have accused you of things for which I am sorry. I do not want to accuse you. I have so many reasons to be grateful that I am permitted to work with you. You are a good man, and I look up to you as an example because I need to have an example in my life.” Wolfgang said this sincerely because he was also aware of the goodness hidden in that man.

 

The man broke down in tears and said, “I am not a good man. I am not a good example.” The man then admitted to taking Wolfgang’s tools and returned them all to him, saying, “I am not worthy to be an example to you but, from now on, I will try” That was the beginning of a solid friendship.I still remember the overwhelming happiness Wolfgang radiated as he described that first experience with the power of prayer and the Lord’s ability to help us deal with difficult circumstances, even turning around seemingly hopeless situations.

 

A Lesson from Screwtape

Screwtape

Not long ago, I pulled from my bookshelf a 1961 copy of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and began to read the first few chapters. This particular copy had belonged to my dad when he was a teenager and was the same copy I read when I was in high school 12 years ago. As you can see, the binding’s a bit loose and the title page has been reattached with some tape – can’t remember if that was my handiwork or if I inherited it that way – but most impressive, the jacket says this book originally cost $0.95, which I’m told by this website is worth $5.70 in 2013 dollars. Oh, the good ol’ days!   

I think many people are familiar with this book, but if you aren’t or simply don’t remember, Screwtape is a senior devil writing letters to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, offering professional guidance on how to successfully lead a human soul or “patient” to hell. This one excerpt from Screwtape’s first letter impressed me:

you don’t realise how enslaved [humans] are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter…I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably bade the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what he says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already halfway to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true.

My experience leads me to believe that we are indeed slaves to the pressure of the ordinary, perhaps even more so today than in 1942 when Screwtape was first published. Nowadays, it’s so easy to let our phones, the news, and other gadgets consume our time, thought, and attention. I’m certainly not perfect at shutting off and powering down the electronics in my life, but I have found that there is immense value in taking some time each day for personal solitude. Sometimes I’ll write down some recent learning experiences, the things I’m grateful for, or my desires and goals. Other times I’ll write questions or observations I’ve had. Combined with prayer and reflection on some meaningful scriptures, I find these practices make it easier to arrive at a spiritual center.

This aligning of our souls creates an environment where we just might receive the messages God wants us to receive. Doing so likewise strengthens our capacity to recognize destructive influences which may initially seem so subtle and harmless.