Imagine a house created by a tornado. It might have a fascinating combination of building materials including car parts, street signs, and tree branches together with soaked wallboard and fragments of PVC pipe. The host of materials might make the do-it-yourselfer fill with envy. Unfortunately it is not likely to be inhabitable and it surely will not be functional.
It is easy to see our lives as equally random and uninhabitable, especially if we are not feeling close to the Architect. There is no apparent order and nothing seems to work in our lives. Sometimes we suspect that we deserve just such a wreck.
The counsel in heaven
In addition to the Grand Council in heaven, I speculate that we had our individual counsels in heaven. It is my suspicion that God met with each of us individually. (I believe that a God who is infinite and eternal has time for each of us, In fact maybe He has an eternity for each of His children.)
In our heavenly one-on-ones, God may have shared the scrapbook He has kept for us since the beginning of time (a phrase which, of course, is of questionable meaning for eternal beings). He helped us identify our strengths and celebrate our premortal accomplishments. We glowed. Then He asked us the pivotal question: “Where would you like to spend eternity?”
In answer to the question, two powerful reactions clashed within us. “Of course I want nothing more than to be with you and the family.” But another voice within us worried, “How could I ever hope for such a lofty station in eternity?”
Father knew our thoughts. He always has. So He rephrased the question: “Where do you want to spend eternity?” We blurted it out: “Oh, Father, I want to be with you if there is any way possible.”
He beamed. “And I want you home with me.”
The great plan
I don’t think God is one to sneak the pain into the small print. Once we declared our hopes, I think He said, “Do you mind if I show you exactly what you will need to experience in mortality in order to be ready to return to be with us?” I imagine that we were excited for a preview of our own personal mortal journey.
So God, our Father, had a counsel in heaven with each of us. Together we designed a life that would help us grow so that we could not only return to be with him but would be prepared to join him in the family business, the glorious work of loving, saving, and blessing.
Our lives are not the result of random events. We saw all the struggles and triumphs. I believe we helped plan even the pain and disappointment. With the whole show carefully designed and fully previewed, He asked, “Are you willing to go through all that?”
When we saw it all laid out before us, we might have been daunted by the prospects. But, brightened by the hope of our eternal home, and sitting by His regal side, we ultimately felt confident. “I would gladly do all that and more if I could be with you again someday.”
He nodded with pleasure.
And He sighed. “The hard part about mortality is that you will not see everything as you do now. You will sometimes be quite unsure about the purpose of the journey. You will feel quite lost.”
Preparing for the journey
A cloud of concern shadowed our brows. He continued. “The fact is, that in that distant and dark land, you cannot make it unless you get help from your brother. He will light the path. He will clear the way.”
“How will we know him? How will we find the path?”
“I will send my special helper who will whisper guidance to you. Listen to Him. You will never be alone.”
I’m sure He told us much more about how to tune in to that still, small voice in order to connect with heaven. He warned us that the counsel of that heavenly guide would sometimes be swamped by the mortal cacophony. But He counseled us: “Listen for the sweet voice of heaven.”
Before we left, He gave us a father’s blessing. He embraced us: “I will look forward to your return.”
Lost in the fog
So here we are in mortality. He was right. Sometimes we feel hopeful. Sometimes we are quite forlorn. Sometimes we even come to fear God, our dearest friend and surest refuge.
I have asked people what they would do if God knocked on the door and asked to talk to them. “I would hide under the bed.” The fog of mortality causes us to forget the sweetness of His embrace. We are tempted to run from Him. Yet, even when we are soiled and silly, He yearns to help and bless us.
Better ways of thinking about badness
We tend to think of our failures and errors as evidence that we are on the trail to a dismal outcome. “If I were truly celestial material, I wouldn’t make such mistakes.” The evidence doesn’t support that conclusion.
Elder Hafen offers comfort to those of us who fret about our shortcomings. “So if you have problems in your life, don’t assume there is something wrong with you. Struggling with those problems is at the very core of life’s purpose” (The Atonement: All for All, Ensign, May 2004, p. 97). Our mortal discontent can even be a sign of our growing yearning for home. “As we draw close to God, he will show us our weaknesses and through them make us wiser, stronger. If you’re seeing more of your weaknesses, that just might mean that you’re moving nearer to God, not farther away” (Ibid., p. 97).
Most of us suspect that our stubbornness and contrariness get in the way of God’s redemptive plans for us. Brigham Young taught otherwise. “There is not a single condition of life that is entirely unnecessary; there is not one hour’s experience but what is beneficial to all those who make it their study, and aim to improve upon the experience they gain” (JD 9:292).
Perhaps God uses our mistakes to further our education. Certainly He is not surprised by them. Perhaps God sees order, purpose, and growth where we see only mess and disappointment. Elder Robert D. Hales described it like this: “In the school of mortality, the tutor is often pain and tribulation, but the lessons are meant to refine and bless us and strengthen us, not destroy us.” (“Faith through Tribulation Brings Peace and Joy,” Ensign, May 2003).
When God knocks on our door, rather than hide, maybe we should take a deep breath, bow our heads, and run to Him. We know we should be better than we are. We also know that He gladly refines us if we accept His tutoring. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
As embarrassed as we may be by our shambles of our mortal effort, we should welcome the Master Architect and Builder. He will never forget the plan we developed in that premortal counsel. He will take the broken branches and fragments of plastic that we offer him and create a castle. We will be amazed. In fact our knees will bow and tongues confess that He is the Master Builder.
Then we will join him in that glorious work.
An institute teacher once posed this question: “What if the Lord came to your Sacrament meeting one week and told you that He would be staying after church to meet with any who would like that day. Or you could choose to make an appointment with Him a year from that day. Which would you choose?”
Even though I may not feel prepared, I would choose today.