One of my favorite family activities as a kid was when we would float down different rivers wearing a life preserver. I don't think my mother liked doing it herself because there were always a few perils involved. First off the whole idea was to float down a stretch of river, feet pointed down stream for safety, in an area that had decent sized rapids. You had to guide yourself down and avoid the more treacherous looking parts of the river. Then you had to book it back to the car and beg my mom to drive us to the top, but she wouldn't let us in the car because we were soaking wet. So, what we had to do was run bare foot to the top ourselves. I remember one occasion specifically, not because it was one of the times that someone injured themselves on a rock, but because it was a little more symbolically meaningful to me.
My dad went into the rapids about 30 feet ahead of me and we both came out to our spot of more calm water that we had decided was where we would get out of the water. It was very dark and muddy in the shallows where we got out, and my dad had forgotten to take off his ring. As he reached down to steady himself, then mud sucked it right off his finger.
At the time I didn't notice it, or maybe he didn't show it, but he was definitely panicking on the inside. We scrambled through the mud looking for the ring for about 15 minutes with our hands in the dark, murky water, praying we would feel it. The number of Gollum/Smeagol Lord of the Rings jokes I could have dropped was almost unbearable, but my dad didn't seam in the mood. My memory isn't perfect, but I do think we ended up finding the ring after quite a bit of prayer and searching.
A prophet is a man chosen by God to act on his behalf for the salvation of his children. Prophets receive revelation about the true nature of God and about how we can draw nearer to him. If people do what the prophet says, then God blesses them. But when people don't follow the prophet, they don't receive those blessings. When this happens widespread it is called an apostasy, and if it gets bad enough, God takes away the prophet. But because God loves us, he will always send another prophet. This pattern of apostasies (no prophet on the earth) and dispensations (period of time with a prophet on the earth) goes all the way back to Adam and Eve.
Just like the ring was in my dad's possession but then was lost and subsequently found, so is the pattern that happens with prophets. But just like the ring has deeper significance than it's surface value (namely it is a symbol of my parents marriage) Also having a prophet of God on the earth has deep significance. For example: it means the authority of God to do things like baptism is on the earth (priesthood), it means that we can receive guidance from God through the prophet on current day challenges, and it means that God is still communicating with us today. Having a prophet doesn't take away from our personal relationship with God, we still must seek that through prayer, reading scriptures, etc. But rather, following the prophet strengthens our relationship with God.