Okay. So the plumber inspected the house we had just bought. Among other things he told Nancy that it would be a good idea to replace the hoses on our washing machine. They could burst and flood the house. (It is worth noting that we paid him good money to replace the washers in all our faucets. They still leak just as they did before his visit.)Nancy was quite worried about the plumber’s dire predictions. She was reluctant to leave the house for a vacation without getting the hoses changed.
In contrast, I inspected the hoses and found that they seemed solid and supple—reliable, black-rubber hoses. I found no cause for alarm.
I searched my memory trying to remember anyone I had ever known whose washing machine hoses had burst. I know it can happen. (And I am sure I will hear from many readers who have had the horrific experience.) But, on the great scale of likely calamities, it seemed to rank just a little lower than getting attacked by a marauding band of armed squirrels.
The course of duty
Yet I want to be a good husband and I knew that Nancy was worried. So, when we were at the home Improvement Store (otherwise known as the Money Pit Store), I asked the clerk for replacement hoses. He led us to a set of hoses that looked like woven steel in a space-age sheath–the kind that feeds liquid oxygen into an Atlas V booster rocket. In addition to being burst-proof, they also had an automatic shutoff feature that sensed extraordinary water flow and acted to protect your home and holdings when they suspected a leak. And they were endorsed by AARP.
Naturally we bought a set.
It was several days before I had a chance to install them. One Saturday afternoon I had a few spare minutes. I grabbed the hoses and the appropriate tools. I entered the laundry closet, shoved the dryer to the side, and wrestled the washer into a more-accessible position. I removed the old, perfectly serviceable hoses, trying to catch the loose water in a bucket. Of course the water went everywhere except in the bucket.
I put on the new hoses—which stretched my resolve to be patient almost to the breaking point since the spaces for the connections are too cramped for hands or pliers. Good design.
I turned on the water. I pushed the washing machine back into place, put clothes into the washing machine, and turned it on. Nothing. Not a drop of water. Only a low growl from the washing machine. I read the instructions again. No clues. So I went to the website. Not a hint of practical guidance.
However, the website does suggest that if the hoses sense a sudden flow of water, they will shutoff. They can be reset by disconnecting them. So I wrestled the washer around, shut off the water, and disconnected the hoses. Of course water dripped and sprayed here and there. Then I reattached and tried again. Nothing. I tried this several times as if I could reasonably expect a different outcome. Finally I detached, reattached, and turned the water on verrrry s-l-o-w-l-y.
They worked! Eureka! Intelligence conquered brute machinery. Civilization advanced.
Of course, as soon as the washer got to the rinse cycle and tried to refill the washer tub, the water shut off again. Apparently the automatic shutoff feature thinks that any use of water is suspect. This is a new kind of conservation.
The human reaction
When the hoses shut off again, would you guess that I found my way to my comfortable easy chair and mused on the ironies of mortality? Do you think I reflected on the Lehite challenges in the wilderness and considered myself fortunate? If so, you are mistaken.
I was mad. I was mad at the manufacturer and the plumber. But I did not write them salty letters. No, I did what any red-blooded man would do. I blamed my wife.
Why did she listen to that idiot plumber? How many people had she personally known whose washer hoses had burst? What harm could a flood do to a house built on a slab? Why didn’t she trust her wise husband? Etc., etc., ad nauseum.
I don’t want to misrepresent my wrath. I am just civilized enough that I do not yell. I just provided a slow, scorching heat rather than an explosion. So civil!
By now I had wasted more time than I could afford. I thought about removing the lovely new hoses and selling them to NASA for a handsome sum. But I intended to get my money back from the home Improvement Store. If I could just find my receipt. I dug in the closet where I stack them and found lots of receipts—but none for the hoses.
So we drove to the store and confronted the lady at the service desk. She meekly gave us a store credit. And we went looking for hoses. We were sent to aisle 27. Nothing. Then to an end cap on aisle 24. Nothing. Finally found some hoses tucked behind the appliance section in a corner. They had plain hoses without the automatic shutoff feature.
Of course the simple hoses cost more than the fancy hoses with the automatic feature. We bought them and installed them and found that the washing machine worked great. I had wasted a lot of time, scraped my knuckles, squirted water everywhere, spent additional money, and hurt my wife’s feelings. But the machine worked.
Yet this is not a simple victory. I do have nightmares that the hoses are not tight enough since the pliers couldn’t reach the connections very well. I wake in the night thinking I should check the connections. And I wonder if we damaged the washing machine when we ran it without any water. Every groan of the old machine makes me worry.
It seems that we never have any simple victories in mortality.
A new definition of victory
My guess is that you can recount numerous disasters more harrowing than my encounter with the washing machine. They are universal.
But let’s tinker with our assumptions. My default assumption in my run-in with the washing machine was that good sense and patience will triumph in our many challenges in life. If we live wisely, our lives will go smoothly.
Latter-day Saints may be especially vulnerable to the rosy world view. We expect to be blessed for doing what is right. Then the sky falls. We don’t marry. Or our made-in-heaven marriage falls apart. Our children stray. Our careers flounder. We ask, “What did I do wrong? Didn’t I have enough faith? Is God mad at me? Is the ‘good news’ really a deception?”
It turns out that doing good does not guarantee a life of contentment and fulfilled dreams. We may be blessed for our efforts with the gift of serenity—or with new challenges. God will provide precisely the experiences that can lead us to greater faith and a closer relationship with Him. We can shake our washing machine hoses at heaven or we can move resolutely and peacefully to our next rendezvous with God.
The rosy assumption does not hold up very well when we look at the lives of saints. Suffering Job. Joseph Smith. Jeremiah. Adam. Spencer W. Kimball. Jesus. These are good people who gave life their best and still got pummeled.
So maybe we should try a new assumption. Maybe life is designed to deliver a solid and growing measure of failure for each of us—especially the valiant. Maybe the Grand Designer wants us to be humble rather than self-sufficient. Maybe He wants us to learn firsthand our dependence on Him. By systematically inserting failure into our experience, we are likely to become either discouraged and bitter or relentlessly reliant on the One. We can learn to trust Him.
Any time we chafe at life, we have a need to submit to heavenly tutoring.
Trusting in the arm of flesh
We have had trials more troublesome than the encounter with the hoses. In the course of over 20 miscarriages, Nancy and I tried medical help, priesthood blessings, and raw faith. Nothing seemed to help. The miscarriages became more regular. At one point I confronted and threatened God. “Why would He do this to two young people who were trying to do good?”
In process of time I learned a life-changing lesson. God does not have to explain or justify His doings to me. I simply trust Him. I thank him for every miscarriage without understanding their purpose.
I do not believe that God caused our miscarriages. But I believe that He only allowed them because they could bless us. Out of our big disappointment came refining, consoling, soul-filling faith. I am thankful that He was not intimidated by my threats.
Whatever we come to depend on—our minds, our talents, our money, our connections, our bodies—will be taken from us. In the end, only one thing is left–there is only one thing we can depend on: Him.
We expect everything to work the way it should. Yet the world is designed so that nothing works the way we expect it to. But this is not random meanness. This is a perfect design that invites us to depend on God.
Each of us can anticipate our customized rendezvous with growth: The thing that we lean on and hate to lose is the thing that we must be willing to put on the altar. If we have any other gods but Him, we are not ready to join Him in His work.
Our exemplary first parents
After Adam and Eve lost everything and yet continued to trust God, they were taught. Our inspired First Mother expressed her discovery with perfect perspective:
Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient. (Moses 5:11)
Exemplary Eve said that our challenges are blessings carefully designed to help us recognize our need for Him. Everything in mortality will work against us, fail us, or disappoint us. We must not trust any thing. But God is the sure foundation on whom we must build.
Notice how beautifully this truth harmonizes with God’s invitation:
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and ; or if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, hen will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:27, emphasis added)
Surrender to conquer
If we want our talents to be refined and enlarged, we must be willing to surrender them to Him. Because of His great goodness, He will not simply strip us of everything. Instead, with perfect discernment, He takes only as much as He must in order to teach us where we will find salvation.
President Kimball is a remarkable example to all of us. He went from mere submission to actively seeking the tutoring of heaven. After suffering throat cancer and heart trouble, he is reported to have cried to God, “I have strength yet. Give me one more mountain to climb.”
If I am wise, I will call out, “Father, I have more to learn. Give me another repair encounter with the washing machine.”
I hope to do better next time.