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 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.
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.