Monthly Archives

May 2019

Self Development

Stepping Out Of The Time Line

We mortals are so immersed in time that we rarely glimpse timelessness—or eternity. We see fantastic movies where people hopscotch from place to place in time but, in our “real” lives we plod along our time-bound path with no sense that it is possible to do otherwise.

In 1892 my great-grandfather, Ben Goddard, left for a mission to New Zealand. He left behind his wife, son, and occupation. In his journal he said of his parting “Twas a hard struggle and only a sense of sacred duty would have reconciled us all to make the sacrifice.” For more than three years he traveled New Zealand, struggled with the language, taught the Maoris the Good News, conducted meetings, and sang hymns of praise. He even taught language, literature, and math in night school. He came to love the good people of that country far from his home in Millard County, Utah, or his first home in Huddersfield, England.

Lately I have been reading Ben’s journal, yearning to know his soul. His entry for April 2 had a real impact on me: “I received a letter from Mother but no letters from my dear family & on this account I was very sad & uneasy.” I pictured my beloved forebear far from home feeling anxious and lonely. I desired to send him a letter. My heart proclaimed: “I will write him!” even as my mind wondered how to send a message to the past.

If I went back to 1892 to write him a letter, I undoubtedly should not disclose that he would lead an important church work for 27 years after his mission. (We mortals are kept focused on today and faith by being shielded from a view of the future.) I hardly need tell him how much reason his only child, his beloved son, my grandfather, would give him to be proud. (He already adored his boy!) He would hardly have believed the number of descendants he would have only 70 years after his death. (I cannot count all the people!)

Maybe I could just tell him that I love him and that his devotion and testimony have blessed my life. Maybe I could tell him how his expressions of faith and life of service have blessed all his descendants. Maybe I could tell him that a file filled with his letters and journals are among my most cherished possessions.

But how does one predate a letter almost 110 years? I do not know the answer to that question but I felt that, if I made the effort, my message for my great-grandfather would not be wasted. I might—even now—write him a letter and both of us would be blessed by the effort. Time is no barrier for the work of God.

Elder Maxwell (1980) wrote about time: “Even now, time is clearly not our natural dimension. Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves impatiently wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. We can do neither, of course. Whereas the bird is at home in the air, we are clearly not at home in time—because we belong to eternity. Time, as much as any one thing, whispers to us that we are strangers here” (p. 220).

As Alma observed, “time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). God lives outside of time. While we impose our clockwork chronology on life, somehow God surveys all creation and employs the goodness in one corner to the blessing of all. “It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty” (Smith, 1938, p. 320). God seemingly can make our actions retroactive, sending goodness rippling through all of eternity.

We have a friend who has gotten the help of a therapist to work through her bad feelings for her parents. Her therapist suggested she mentally bring back her deceased father and unload on him; let him know how hurt, betrayed, and neglected she felt. Tell him off. After doing just that she sought my feedback. I did not want to interfere with her work with her therapist but I suggested that sometime she may want to try a different exercise. I suggested that some day she might again use her imagination to bring her father back from the grave. I suggested that she kneel at his feet and invite him to describe what he would have done for her had his health and knowledge been different. How might he have supported, encouraged, and loved her? What great times together would they have had if he had not been bedridden? In that interview, they could create a new relationship, a new history. Even as I shared the suggestion with my friend, I felt invited to travel across time, making improvements on my marred life story.

The past may be more malleable than we think. The Lord has said that He can make what is crimson as white as wool (Isaiah 1:18). When He removes the stains from our past, He does not leave a void, a vacuum, a gaping hole in our fabric of our lives. He, with our cooperation, creates a past filled with purposeful living and specific goodness. As we become a new creature in Christ, we get a new history filled with all those things we would have done if we had had the convictions we now have. We indeed are changed.

Even now our choices to understand, obey, love, and bless can ripple both forward and backwards through time. Our choices can change eternity. They can bind the hearts of children to their fathers and the mothers to their scarcely known ancestors.

With the tunnel vision of mortality, we do not glimpse the ripples of our choices. We march along mortality gritting our teeth, grieving yesterday’s losses, and dreading tomorrow’s ambushes—unless we have that transcendent faith that lifts us above the worries of mortality. With that faith we know that a perfect Father will backfill the sinkholes of our life histories with love, purpose, growth, and joy. In eternity we will inherit the wisdom gleaned from our own experiences and the wisdom He has given as a divine gift. He can repair anything, even the past.

Brigham Young gives us a glimpse of total trust in the Lord in instructions he provided to missionaries:

When you pray for your families . . . you must feel—if they live, all right; if they die, all right; if I die, all right; if I live, all right; for we are the Lord’s, and we shall soon meet again ( sel. Widtsoe, 1954, p. 324).

For now the veil keeps me from seeing my beloved great-grandfather, but my heart knows that we are bound together eternally in a bond of love. I may not understand just how to capture his eye with my long-delayed letter, but I know that we are connected. I will write him a letter and date it April, 1892.

April 1, 1892

Dear Grandpa,

Oh! How I love you! Thank you for your letters, pictures, and journals that have provided me a view of your life and commitments. Thank you for dedicating your life to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Thank you for your sweet devotion to your family. Thank you for your example of using all your gifts to advance God’s work and bless His children. You will bless generations far beyond your mortal sojourn.

May peace and purpose fill all the days of your mortal ministry. May glory crown your immortality. Even as you receive this message, there are those who rejoice in your whole-hearted offering.

Love,

Your great-grandson

I hope that somehow Ben’s loneliness in that distant day and land may be healed by my message written over 100 years later.
But wait, even now Ben sends a reply filled with love and encouragement for his descendent who is still stuck in time. I cannot discern all the words, but I feel its spirit. I bask in the warmth of his appreciation.

“Thank you, Grandpa. It is so good to hear from you.”

Reference

Maxwell, N. A. (1980). Patience. In Brigham Young University 1979 Devotional and Fireside Speeches. Provo, UT: University Publications.

John A. Widtsoe (1954). Discourses of Brigham Young. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.

Smith, J. F. (Compiler). (1938). Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book.

Self Development

The Cheeriest Person In The Universe

Recently I met with a young woman who is trying—sometimes half-heartedly and sometimes earnestly―to move from a substance-filled, cohabiting, bar-scene life toward a saintly one. When she came to see me, we talked about what she has learned and ways she is finding joy—which is the sure marker of God.

She is trying to get her spiritual bearings. She has been sober for six weeks. She loves the scriptures. But she still smokes and drinks coffee and dislikes going to church. So, how’s she doing? That’s the question that weighs on her heart. “Am I acceptable to him because of the progress I’ve made or repugnant to him because of my continuing failures?” She can’t quite decide.

Heaven’s answer

Heaven pointed us to answers. We read from Heber C. Kimball:

“I am perfectly satisfied that my Father and my God is a cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured Being. Why? Because I am cheerful, pleasant, lively, and good-natured when I have his Spirit. That is one reason why I know; and another is―the Lord said, through Joseph Smith, ‘I delight in a glad heart and a cheerful countenance.’ That arises from the perfection of his attributes; he is a jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man.”

“A jovial, lively person, and a beautiful man.” I like that. I love that! God is the kindest, finest, cheeriest person in the Universe.

So we established that God is different from anyone she knows. We can look around our circle of friends and see hints of Him. But no mortal can compare with Him.

Measuring our joy

If we look around sacrament meeting and average the apparent level of personal happiness among all those in attendance, the result might be disappointing―even dismal. But if you gather together the people in the room who know God and you asked them how happy they are, you had better be ready for an explosion.

I searched for a metaphor to explain God’s attitude toward her in her struggle to become better. I thought of some time I spent in the corporate world. When business got tough, they started talking lots about profit centers. Every department had to make money―be a profit center. It became the mantra.

But God doesn’t see us as profit centers. We are not little factories that must make a net profit. We are His children. He expects to lose money on every single one of us every day of our lives. He is okay with that. He has already set in store an infinite and eternal Atonement―so there is nothing we can do that will tax His resources. He has us covered.

A better mantra

So our discovery was that God doesn’t see us as profit centers. He sees us as His children. He wants a relationship with us. That is different from wanting to make a profit on us.

Most of us plug along doing a little good and making an occasional effort, but we loaf a lot—spiritually speaking. We do not remember him in all times and all places. We don’t jump up and help people who need us. We get casual in our relationship with the divine.

So, we imagine that He gets fed up with us and says: “I’m sick of your lack of commitment! You’re a consistently bad investment. I’m pulling out. I’ll put my efforts elsewhere.”

No. He says to us: “The rules of relationships are different from the rules of business. I’m not keeping a balance sheet on you; I’m building a relationship with you. May I tell you about sneaking into your room last night and watching over you as you slept? May I tell you what I am doing to bless and teach you? May I share with you the joy I have in the world I’ve given you?”

As He has often reminded us, through Isaiah, His hand is stretched out still. We are even written on the palms of His hands.

Holding back

Yet there are large chunks of her life that she is not ready to turn over to Him. She said, “I want control of my life. I don’t want to turn everything over to Him.”

While God wants us to become fully consecrated, I don’t think He is in a hurry. When we hold back most of ourselves, I think He calmly says: “Okay. Give me what you are ready to give me. I will bless it for you. Every time you trust me with a small part of your life, I’ll turn it into pure gold. I’m willing to take small installments over long periods of time. You have a guarantee. Whatever you give me, I will bless. Someday you will be ready to give me everything. When you do, you will know fullness of joy.”

God asks that we be converted—that we turn from Babylon, our natural destination, toward the bright lights of the city of God. Some people drive very nimble vehicles. When God invites them to turn toward heaven, they turn readily and efficiently. Unfortunately, most of us trace a meandering arc turning more toward God but reluctant to leave the world behind.

Maybe we’re not so different from Peter, to whom Jesus said:

“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).

I think Jesus may have been saying, “Peter, you are one of my dearest disciples. We’ve been together for years. You have a great heart. And you still have much to learn. When you are ready to fully turn toward me, you will experience great power. I will be ready to take and transform as much of your life as you will give me.”

His message to each of us

Maybe that is exactly what God says to each of us who is at least toying with the idea of fuller discipleship. “Wally, I love you dearly. I have bought you with an extravagant price—the sacrifice of my Beloved Son. You often resist full discipleship. Yet I am grateful for all the parts of your life with which you have entrusted me. As you are ready for thrilling spiritual adventures, give me more.”

His love and patience provide no cover or excuse for return trips to Babylon. Yet, as long as we are trying, hoping, struggling to point ourselves toward heaven, He stands at the gate and waits—just as He did for the prodigal, that wasteful son who turned from home and returned only out of starvation and desperation.

“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

As Elder Maxwell taught us in a general conference many years ago: “his relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs.”

Thank heaven for that loving patience. He makes it possible for imperfect mortals to make it back to His presence.

Parenting, Self Development

Going Down The Waterslide In God’s Embrace

Sara is the youngest of our three children. She was always more cautious than Emily or Andy. I don’t know why. We never tricked or deceived her. She was just more cautious. In fact, she was born two weeks late. If the doctor had not come after her, there is no telling how long she would have remained in utero.

For example, when we went to the water slide in our small Utah town, Andy immediately went to sliding, Emily gathered friends, and Sara hid in the car. Sara was only about six at the time. But it was not her age that explained her behavior. It was her temperament. She was cautious.

When I invited her to come into the water park with us, she set her jaw and declared, “I will not ride the water slide!” I assured her that she did not have to ride the slide but we would love to have her with us. She came reluctantly and warily.

When Sara had finally gotten comfortable in the park, I asked her if she would like to see what the waterside looked like. She eyed me suspiciously. But she took my hand. We climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool. Then again we climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide, laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool. Yet again we climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool.

After uncounted repetitions of the process, Sara asked if I could go down the slide with her, hold her tight, and make sure she didn’t drown. I assured her that I could. So, once more, we climbed the stairs. When it was our turn, Sara sat in front of me, I held her ribs, and we launched into adventure. Sara began laughing immediately. All hint of concern was gone now that she felt safe.

We laughed our way through the drops and curves. As we approached the end of the tube, I checked my hold on her ribs. When we shot out into the pool, I pushed her into the air as I sank to the bottom of the pool. We worked our way to the side with me sputtering. As we climbed out, Sara enthused, “Let’s go again!”

The waterslide of life

For some people, trusting God is as natural as eating. It seems to be written in their natures. For others it is as hard as it was for Sara to launch into the water slide. (Lest the metaphor be misapplied, I should note that Sara has great faith, has served a faithful and loving mission to the people of Paraguay, and is now married to Mike, with whom she is raising sweet baby Gabe. She is a magnificent daughter of God.) Yet those who never climb to the top and rush down the slide—however reluctantly—miss out on the biggest adventure and central purpose of life.

There are those who study the waterslide from a distance. There are also those who read about it or write about it. There are those who hide in the restroom. And there are those who claim to be involved in worthier pursuits than water sports. But the fact remains, we all must finally say, “Okay. I’m not sure what this will be like. But Father has promised to take care of me. I will go. I will trust Him.” To fail to do so is to miss out. Or, as Robert Louis Stephenson has said, “To miss the joy is to miss all.”

I love the story—and the lessons of the story—told by Francine Bennion:

For the Dominion Day celebration in July, my parents and some friends arranged to meet in the afternoon for a picnic at Park Lake. My family and two others arrived first. Camp kitchens were filling fast, and we needed a stove for hamburgers and hotdogs. The men stayed at the entrance of the park to meet our other friends, and under a darkening sky the mothers and children walked some distance round the lake to a three-walled rectangular shelter complete with roof, two wooden tables, and a metal-covered cement stove for wood fires. A violent thunderstorm came up, splits and rumbles shaking the universe and us with light, sound, and finally a deluge. Under the sheltering roof we huddled in wonder, till an astonishing clap of brilliance, tingle, shaking, and smell came all together: lightning traveled down the chimney and exploded our stove. Pieces of cement flew into bare arms, children were thrown against walls, purple-brown lines streaked down necks to ankles, and I ran out into rain and tall wet weeds screaming my question: “I thought heavenly Father would take care of us?” No one was dead or permanently damaged, and my mother came into the rain answering me, “What do you think he did?” (p.108, 1986, A large and reasonable context. In P. L. Barlow (Ed.), A thoughtful faith: Essays on belief by Mormon scholars, pp.103–116, Centerville, UT: Canon Press).

“What do you think He did?” A wise mother saw the protection beyond the pain. This story is instructive not only for those who have tried faith and felt let down; it is also inspiring for those of us who forget our faith. Sometimes we forget to see every experience of life through the lens of faith.

In all things

President Kimball quoted Orson Whitney’s instructive observation:

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God. . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 98).

We are commanded to give thanks in all things (Mosiah 26:39, D&C 59:7): “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” That is the perspective of faith. Every experience has purpose. “Faith always sees more with her eye than logic can reach with her hand” (Harry Emerson Fosdick (1918), The Meaning of Faith, p.8, New York: Association Press).

Trusting God

Some of us want God to sign a contract before we trust Him. We want assurances related to every contingency. We want guarantees. William James encouraged a more trusting stance:

Just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn—so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods’ acquaintance. (p. 9 in Harry Emerson Fosdick: The Meaning of Faith, 1918, NY: Association Press.

For those who are cautious, this willingness to trust may strain every particle of courage. God graciously allows us to take baby steps in the journey toward faith. “Yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you” (Alma 32: 27).

The perversity of faith

Faith would be simple if we had immediate and incontestable results from our mini-experiments in trust. We believe. We are blessed. We believe. We are blessed. But God is aiming for something more mature than vending-machine mentality. In response to our faith, we will often get new challenges—along with inner assurance. It seems that God is pointing us away from the evidence of convenience toward the assurance within. W. E. Orchard said it well:

Oh God, too near to be found, too simple to be conceived, too good to be believed. . . . Show us how foolish it is to doubt Thee, since Thou Thyself dost set questions which disturb us; reveal our unbelief to be faith fretting at its out worn form. . . . Teach us to trust not to cleverness or learning, but to that inward faith which can never be denied. Lead us out of confusion to simplicity. Call us back from wandering without to find Thee at home within” (Fosdick, p. 34).

So faith invites us to evaluate God and His work by something more than the material evidence. He invites us to listen to the whisperings of that still, small voice that testifies that God is good, He loves us, and He is blessing us in the way that is perfect for us.

To interpret difficulties and disappointments as blessings is a perverse set of mind that requires a lot of faith. And that is what God is looking for.

Learning faith

If a friend asked me to define faith, I would find it difficult. It is more than believing there is a God. It is more than loving Him. It includes trusting Him—but it is more. Maybe it is the willingness to do the things that we think He wants us to do. That is a complicated formula.

God often invites us by His subtle messenger the Holy Ghost—who is never announced by blaring trumpets. He gives subtle hints. When we practice noticing them and following them, we grow in faith. When we disregard them or demand more specificity, our faith turns to confusion. So faith is the willingness to listen carefully and follow gladly—even when the message is nothing more than a hint. When God heads toward the waterslide, I want to follow Him.

I also compare having faith to a horse that does not have to be dragged by the bridle. Rather, as the rider leans in the saddle, the horse senses—and follows. Or faith can be compared to going toward the light—even small hints of light. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Stretching our faith

Lest any be smug, we should all ask—even the most faithful among us, “What is the next opportunity to grow our faith?” Are we ready to see God’s goodness in our difficulties? Are we willing to see God in the ordinary? Do we seek God actively? Do we thank him for every breath we take?

With beloved, departed Elder Maxwell, I rejoice in the words of Malcolm Muggeridge:

I feel so strongly at the end of my life that nothing can happen to us in any circumstance that is not a part of God’s purpose for us. Therefore we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about except that we should rebel against his purpose and that we should fail to detect his purpose in things and fail to establish a relationship with him. On that basis there can be no black despair, no throwing in of our hand.

You know it’s a funny thing but when you are old as I am there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, 3 a.m. and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. It seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the city of God. In this limbo between life and death you know beyond any shadow of doubt that as an infinitesimal particle of God’s creation you are a participant in God’s purpose and that his purpose is loving not hating, is creative not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular.

With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy. Nothing that happens in this world need shake that feeling. All the happenings in this world, including the most terrible disasters and suffering, will be seen in eternity as in some mysterious way a blessing, as a part of God’s love. We ourselves are a part of that love and only insofar as we belong to that scene does our existence have any meaning at all. The necessity of life is to know God. Otherwise our mortal existence is no more that a night in a second-class hotel.

Whatever the stature and vigor of our faith, may we be strengthening and growing it. May we be reaching toward God.