Where do we find God? At the end of our journey—or somewhere along the way?
I am not sure why some ideas, words, or scriptures resonate as if spoken by a heavenly baritone. Why does an idea feel so powerful that I feel compelled to write it down? Why do a few words jump out of a familiar hymn and lift my soul? After recording these ordinary-looking treasures on 3-by-5 index cards, what am I to do with them? How should I gather, collate, and organize the impressions of the divine?
Just last week a scripture jumped out of a familiar context to invite me to new growth. I was listening for the umpteenth time to a glorious talk on patience by Elder Maxwell. “And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life” (D&C 101:38).
The idea is familiar. From the time we were young, we were taught by our parents to seek the Lord. Dad regularly quoted Doctrine and Covenants 93:1: “Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.”
Dad encouraged us to take the invitation literally. He challenged us to seek for that day when we might see the Lord and to hope that it might happen during our mortal experience. For years I was fascinated by any discussion of calling and election being made sure, second anointings, and the more sure word of prophecy. I have been inspired by Melvin J. Ballard’s vision of the Savior.
As the years have passed, my focus has changed. Rather than await a call to meet the Savior in the temple, I try to discover God in the tiny details of life. Rather than wait for him to come to me, I have gone looking for Him. “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27).
Just today in sacrament meeting, I felt invited to inventory recent discoveries. So, while cocking one ear for the program, I also pulled out my month-at-a-glance journal and recent index cards filled with scribbled treasures. Maybe if I could gather the clutter in one place, I might find a way to combine them. Some corner of the puzzle might take form. I might discover a coded message from heaven by combining the fragments of truth. So I reviewed some of the ideas that have captured my soul in just the last month. As I poise my spirit for guidance, I felt like an amateur telegrapher at his appointed place to receive word from the home office. And the telegraph armature began to click out truth as fast as I could write. “. . . for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
The first idea that came across the wire was a stark contrast. I recently heard of a man who was troubled by the Mountain Meadows Massacre and has chosen to distance himself from the Church because of it. I contrast his disaffection with my own experience of reading Brother Lefgren’s effort to establish the date of the First Vision. While his discoveries are not doctrine, the article enlarged my appreciation for the detailed reality of the experience. I felt the exhaustion of the Smiths as they frantically boiled maple sap over wood fires to make precious syrup. I could imagine young Joseph waking up “on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty.” It may well have been a Sabbath day and the exhaustion of the previous days’ labors may have combined with his spiritual yearning to make him unusually susceptible to heavenly messages. I felt that I was there as a grateful witness as young Joseph entered the grove a boy and returned as a designated messenger to the latter days. Joseph and the Vision seemed more real and present than ever. I may not fully understand the Mountain Meadows Massacre but its significance pales as I consider a boy prophet who opened a great latter-day work.
The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him (D&C 88:49).
I found another hot spot in my journal. In recent days I have been blessed to compose a letter to the family of a favorite teacher. Rhea Bailey left an enduring imprint on my life. As I wrote the letter, I felt the remarkable way that one person can change the course of lives. I realized that Mrs. Bailey was not only my fifth-grade teacher but also is an enduring symbol of service. I thank heaven for her and for anyone who strives to serve with love.
Many of our joys come as we are in the line of duty. Last week while teaching institute I felt that the lesson was taken away from me as my plans were set aside and floods of unexpected ideas poured into the class. Several disparate discoveries blended to counsel that we should never make the important decisions of our lives based on money. For example, a career should be chosen because it is the best way for us to use our gifts to bless—not because it promises great riches. A student in the class told me afterward that he had been praying for guidance in career decisions; the discussion came as a shaft of light to his life. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).
Often seemingly unrelated experiences combine to provide unexpected tutoring. I taught a college class about the folly of the self-esteem movement and pointed to the recent reaffirmations from research that the highest form of human happiness comes when we use our gifts to make life better for others. I mused to myself that when I try to reign as god of my own life, I never find the meaning and purpose that come when I acknowledge God and His goodness as ruler of all eternity.
Within hours of that college class the lesson was given tender emphasis as I listened to a man who had let bad decisions separate him from cherished church membership. He said, through tears, “I don’t want anything else in life. I just want to be back in the Church.” I joined my tears with his in honor of his struggling and yearning. When the breezes of eternity brush against our faces, our petty ambitions and envyings seem provincial indeed. “And the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).
As I have fretted about the demands of preparing an hour-long program every month for our educational television station, the Lord has gently nudged me. He reminds me that he has consistently provided the right story, the perfect panelist, and the ideal props for every show. It sometimes seems that the less I worry about the show and the more I fill myself with Him, His principles, and His goodness, the more I am blessed. “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (D&C 84:85).
Even as I surveyed the month’s discoveries, a message from the speaker broke through my reverie. As he earnestly enjoined honest self-evaluation and unrelenting repentance, I felt God tug me toward a path for improvement that has worked better for me. When I go to him for specific instructions (“What can I do to be a better disciple?”), He gives wise and manageable counsel. He tells me exactly what I need to do to take the next step along the path.
Sometimes I half suspect that He is micromanaging my life. Maybe He is getting me to exactly those experiences that will teach me exactly what I need to know to be ready for the next lesson in the journey toward home. Sometimes I half suspect it is true. Most of the time I am certain of it. And anyone who can work in harmony with my contrary and discordant will is patient indeed. Maybe I hold the violin, but He makes any music. “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation” (2 Nephi 26:24).
For example, how many times have I recently been riding in the car and changed stations just in time to hear about a book that is important to my work. I shake my head. How does He organize this seeming mass of confusion that we call mortality to bless each and all of us? “Wherefore, I am in your midst, and I am the good shepherd, and the stone of Israel. he that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall” (D&C 50:44).
While I look forward to fuller and fuller revelations of Him, I feel that I am seeing him every day. Sometimes when I am flooded with joy and truth, I am tempted to exclaim, as Martin Harris did after receiving his witness of the Book of Mormon, “‘Tis enough; ‘tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld.” Yet maybe there is a better way. When I am flooded, rather than stanch the flow, maybe I should ask for a greater capacity. “Dear Father, replace my tiny cup with something larger.” “And the day cometh that you shall hear my voice and see me, and know that I am” (D&C 50:45).
We received a missive from our sweet Paraguayan missionary. Sara identified the pattern beautifully: “Last Thursday we were having a tough time finding people who wanted to listen . . . so we sat down, read a bit of Joseph Smith history, and said a prayer.” Within a matter of hours they had opened a gospel relationship with Carlos. Then Felipa. Then Gladys. “The spirit was so strong and the words just flowed.” Rafaela and Oscar. “Then the day was done. The Lord had poured out his blessings and we had simply been guided. It’s amazing how ready the Lord is to help us if we just ask.” I wonder how often we keep him from being the God of our lives by insisting on managing our hours and days on our own. “Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:47).
As we feel His spirit brooding over our lives, we turn our face toward His light. We feel that sweet aching that reminds us that we are strangers here. We strain for hints of our home on high.
We can even learn through our stumbling. Some respected friends asked us why we regularly trek to the temple some distance from our home. I had no ready answer and was surprised to hear myself saying, “It is a ritual of commitment and renewal.” Commitment. Renewal. Yes, that’s it. In sacred places Father promises us more and more as we prove ourselves ready to receive it. “And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things” (D&C 88: 67).
I look over a month’s discoveries with two very different reactions. I hope I am not missing the forest for the trees. Am I seeing the big picture as well as the pine needles? I yearn to be like Samuel who “did let none of [the Lord’s] words fall to the ground” (1 Samuel 3:19).
At the same time I am abundantly grateful for a Father who is mindful of sparrows, the hairs of our heads, the aches in our hearts, the confusion in our minds, and the vacuums in our souls.
When I inventory the blessings of just the last month, I feel like a small child surrounded by a mountain of toys. I am almost paralyzed by the opportunity. But I sense that life is a blessing. And the One who oversees each of our lives is abundantly good. “Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me” (D&C 50:40–41).
I will keep filling index cards with spiritual manna. I will keep collecting the cards and studying them for hints of heaven. When I die, I hope our children and grandchildren will gather up the thousands of index cards I have filled, start them on fire, and warm their hands by one man’s record of heaven’s goodness.
Until that day when mortality ends for me, I hope to be inexpressibly grateful that each step of the journey is attended by His personal assistant, a full-fledged God. Whatever manifestations may come, I am thankful for a personal guide whom we call the Holy Ghost. God is already in every detail of our lives.