Life in mortality is filled with petty complaints and surly jostling. In fact, mortality is designed to challenge the best in us. Our spirits yearn for peace yet face a tangle of annoyances, disappointments, and injustices. Our spirits are pained by being immersed in a world where thorn and thistle choke out flowers and vines.
I remember reading the story of an elderly woman who showed up every morning at the grocery store and bought only a few items—about enough food for one day. The clerks thought her behavior was odd and speculated about its cause. Did she have no refrigerator? Did she have no room for storage or no place to live? Did she love to shop? Did she go shopping for exercise? They found no persuasive answer. One of the bolder clerks determined to ask her. The next morning as the older woman was checking out, the clerk asked, “Ma’am, every day you come in and buy just a few items. Why is that?” The woman sighed. “You might not know that I am a widow. I live with my nephew. I hate his guts. When I die, I don’t intend to leave him any extra groceries.”
That is the spirit of mortal smallness. We tend to meet badness with badness. We reflexively become filled with petty jealousy, anxiety, small-mindedness, hoarding, and resentment. We are neither at peace with ourselves nor with others. And mortal smallness does not readily relinquish its grip on our souls.
But there is another message inside of us. Our spirits whimper, “God can transform all this dusty ore of mortality into the pure gold of eternity.”
Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord” (D&C 98:3).
In some way, quiet, unexpected, and mysterious to mortals, God will take our disappointments, pains and transform them into blessings if we turn them over to Him. We may be tempted to cling to our grievances; He invites us to surrender them.
Van Wyck Brooks has described people who rise above smallness: “How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere.”
In each of our lives God places many proximate if imperfect models. I think of Greg, who suffered painful family disappointment and still gives thanks and praise to a perfect Father in everything (see D&C 98:1). I think of Barbara, who resolutely serves in the Church in spite of personal doubts. I think of sweet A. Theodore Tuttle who, dying of cancer, resisted the prayers of loving church members. “I have had a good life and am ready to go Home. If you have faith and goodness to spare, direct it to the poor people of South America.”
The ultimate model of graciousness is the Lord Jesus Christ, who not only absorbed our sins and paid our debts but went the extra mile and voluntarily bore our griefs and carried our sorrows so that His compassion for our suffering would be fully informed (see Isaiah 53 and Alma 7:12). No one has ever been as gracious as He. No one has ever done so much for so many. No one has ever been so resolute in the commitment to bless.
There is a distinctive spirit to work inspired by His goodness. It is filled with light and kindness, which greatly enlarge the soul (see D&C 121:42.). “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness. When persons manifest the least kindness and love to me, O what power it has over my mind, while the opposite course has a tendency to harrow up all the harsh feelings and depress the human mind” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.240).
Greatness of soul is captured in a story of a kindergartner who showed up at school one day with a note pinned to his jacket. He wore the note proudly. The teacher eventually spotted the note and asked the boy, “Would you like me to read the note?” The boy responded, “Yes, I would.” The teacher removed the note and read: “My son was unhappy this morning because his sister had a note and he did not. Now he has a note and he is happy.”