How prayer sustained President Jeffrey R. Holland during his recent trials — even when his prayers weren’t answered how he hoped

During the Saturday morning session of April 2024 general conference, President Holland bore powerful witness of prayer, eternal life and Jesus Christ

President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has felt the power of prayer during the year and a half since he last spoke in general conference.

His wife, Sister Patricia Terry Holland, passed away in July 2023; and shortly after, he suffered “an acute medical crisis” that resulted in a six-week hospital stay.

But during that time, he received priesthood blessings and was the subject of multiple fasts. His name “must have been on the prayer roll of virtually every temple in the Church.” Many across the globe prayed for his health, just as they had prayed for Sister Holland’s health weeks before.

“I testify that both of those prayers were heard and answered by a divinely compassionate Heavenly Father, even if the prayers for Pat were not answered the way I asked,” President Holland said. “It’s for reasons known only to God why prayers are answered differently than we hope — but I promise you they are heard, and they are answered according to His unfailing love and cosmic timetable.”

President Holland shared his witness of prayer during the first talk of the first session of the 194th Semiannual General Conference on Saturday, April 6.

He also spoke about his recent personal trials and urged Church members to prepare for the reality of eternal life.

When Christ comes, “He needs to recognize us — not as nominal members listed on a faded baptismal record but as thoroughly committed, faithfully believing, covenant-keeping disciples,” he said.

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Saturday morning session: See photos, read summaries from April 2024 general conference

The power of prayer

President Holland said the “most personal and painful” of his recent experiences has been losing Sister Holland. He described her as “the greatest woman I have ever known… a complete daughter of God [and] an exemplary woman of Christ. I was the most fortunate of men to spend 60 years of my life with her.”

Two days after Sister Holland’s burial, President Holland was hospitalized for six weeks, and was in-and-out of consciousness for much of that time. While he doesn’t remember a lot about his time in the hospital, a more personal journey to the “edge of eternity” was not lost to him.

“I cannot speak fully of that experience here, but I can say that part of what I received was an admonition to return to my ministry with more urgency, more consecration, more focus on the Savior [and] more faith in His word,” President Holland said.

He expressed gratitude for the thousands of people who prayed for him and Sister Holland, and said that “if we ‘ask not amiss’ (2 Nephi 4:35),” there is no limit to when, where or about what someone should pray. Prayers ought to be vocal if possible, President Holland said. When that is not possible, they should be carried as silent utterances in a person’s heart. Quoting the hymn “Prayer Is the Soul’s Sincere Desire,” he described prayers as “motion[s] of a hidden fire,” offered to God the Eternal Father in the name of His Only Begotten Son.

President Holland said prayer is the simplest, purest form of worship. Pray individually, in families and in congregations of all sizes, and pray as a shield against temptation.

President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference.
President Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during the Saturday morning session of the 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 2024. | CRISTY POWELL

“If there be any time we feel not to pray, we can be sure that hesitancy does not come from God, who yearns to communicate with His children at any and all times,” he said. “Indeed, some efforts to keep us from praying come directly from the adversary. When we don’t know how or exactly for what to pray, we should begin and continue until the Holy Spirit guides us into the prayer we should be offering.”

Ultimately, individuals can look to the Savior as an example of prayer. President Holland said it has “always been intriguing” to him that Jesus felt the need to pray at all. “Wasn’t He perfect? About what would He need to pray? I have come to realize that He, too, with us, wanted to ‘seek [the Father’s] face, believe his word and trust his grace.’”

President Holland said, “Time after time, He retreated from society to be alone before piercing heaven with His prayers. At other times, He prayed in the company of a few companions. Then He would seek heaven on behalf of multitudes who would cover a mountainside. … In fulfilling His Atoning sacrifice and through the pain that attended its universal reach, He felt to pray ever more pleadingly, with the weight of His offering finally bringing blood from every pore.

The reality of eternal life

Against the backdrop of Jesus Christ’s victory over death, “and His recent gift to me of a few more weeks or months in mortality,” President Holland bore witness of the reality of eternal life and the need to seriously plan for it.

This is an urgent matter, he said, but fortunately, lots of help is available, from angels, families and friends, to the promises of the holy priesthood, the gift of the Holy Ghost and the power of Christ’s pure love.

“Brothers and sisters, as we repent of our sins and come boldly to the ‘throne of grace’ (Hebrews 4:16), leaving before Him there our alms and our heartfelt supplications, we will find mercy and compassion and forgiveness at the benevolent hands of our Eternal Father and His obedient, perfectly pure Son,” Elder Holland said. “Then, with Job and all the refined faithful, we will behold a world ‘too wonderful’ to understand (Job 43:3).”

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