Sara is the youngest of our three children. She was always more cautious than Emily or Andy. I don’t know why. We never tricked or deceived her. She was just more cautious. In fact, she was born two weeks late. If the doctor had not come after her, there is no telling how long she would have remained in utero.
For example, when we went to the water slide in our small Utah town, Andy immediately went to sliding, Emily gathered friends, and Sara hid in the car. Sara was only about six at the time. But it was not her age that explained her behavior. It was her temperament. She was cautious.
When I invited her to come into the water park with us, she set her jaw and declared, “I will not ride the water slide!” I assured her that she did not have to ride the slide but we would love to have her with us. She came reluctantly and warily.
When Sara had finally gotten comfortable in the park, I asked her if she would like to see what the waterside looked like. She eyed me suspiciously. But she took my hand. We climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool. Then again we climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide, laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool. Yet again we climbed the stairs and watched people sit in the tube and shoot down the slide laughing. We walked down the stairs and watched people shoot out the tube into the little pool.
After uncounted repetitions of the process, Sara asked if I could go down the slide with her, hold her tight, and make sure she didn’t drown. I assured her that I could. So, once more, we climbed the stairs. When it was our turn, Sara sat in front of me, I held her ribs, and we launched into adventure. Sara began laughing immediately. All hint of concern was gone now that she felt safe.
We laughed our way through the drops and curves. As we approached the end of the tube, I checked my hold on her ribs. When we shot out into the pool, I pushed her into the air as I sank to the bottom of the pool. We worked our way to the side with me sputtering. As we climbed out, Sara enthused, “Let’s go again!”
The waterslide of life
For some people, trusting God is as natural as eating. It seems to be written in their natures. For others it is as hard as it was for Sara to launch into the water slide. (Lest the metaphor be misapplied, I should note that Sara has great faith, has served a faithful and loving mission to the people of Paraguay, and is now married to Mike, with whom she is raising sweet baby Gabe. She is a magnificent daughter of God.) Yet those who never climb to the top and rush down the slide—however reluctantly—miss out on the biggest adventure and central purpose of life.
There are those who study the waterslide from a distance. There are also those who read about it or write about it. There are those who hide in the restroom. And there are those who claim to be involved in worthier pursuits than water sports. But the fact remains, we all must finally say, “Okay. I’m not sure what this will be like. But Father has promised to take care of me. I will go. I will trust Him.” To fail to do so is to miss out. Or, as Robert Louis Stephenson has said, “To miss the joy is to miss all.”
I love the story—and the lessons of the story—told by Francine Bennion:
For the Dominion Day celebration in July, my parents and some friends arranged to meet in the afternoon for a picnic at Park Lake. My family and two others arrived first. Camp kitchens were filling fast, and we needed a stove for hamburgers and hotdogs. The men stayed at the entrance of the park to meet our other friends, and under a darkening sky the mothers and children walked some distance round the lake to a three-walled rectangular shelter complete with roof, two wooden tables, and a metal-covered cement stove for wood fires. A violent thunderstorm came up, splits and rumbles shaking the universe and us with light, sound, and finally a deluge. Under the sheltering roof we huddled in wonder, till an astonishing clap of brilliance, tingle, shaking, and smell came all together: lightning traveled down the chimney and exploded our stove. Pieces of cement flew into bare arms, children were thrown against walls, purple-brown lines streaked down necks to ankles, and I ran out into rain and tall wet weeds screaming my question: “I thought heavenly Father would take care of us?” No one was dead or permanently damaged, and my mother came into the rain answering me, “What do you think he did?” (p.108, 1986, A large and reasonable context. In P. L. Barlow (Ed.), A thoughtful faith: Essays on belief by Mormon scholars, pp.103–116, Centerville, UT: Canon Press).
“What do you think He did?” A wise mother saw the protection beyond the pain. This story is instructive not only for those who have tried faith and felt let down; it is also inspiring for those of us who forget our faith. Sometimes we forget to see every experience of life through the lens of faith.
In all things
President Kimball quoted Orson Whitney’s instructive observation:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God. . . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, p. 98).
We are commanded to give thanks in all things (Mosiah 26:39, D&C 59:7): “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.” That is the perspective of faith. Every experience has purpose. “Faith always sees more with her eye than logic can reach with her hand” (Harry Emerson Fosdick (1918), The Meaning of Faith, p.8, New York: Association Press).
Some of us want God to sign a contract before we trust Him. We want assurances related to every contingency. We want guarantees. William James encouraged a more trusting stance:
Just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn—so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods’ acquaintance. (p. 9 in Harry Emerson Fosdick: The Meaning of Faith, 1918, NY: Association Press.
For those who are cautious, this willingness to trust may strain every particle of courage. God graciously allows us to take baby steps in the journey toward faith. “Yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you” (Alma 32: 27).
The perversity of faith
Faith would be simple if we had immediate and incontestable results from our mini-experiments in trust. We believe. We are blessed. We believe. We are blessed. But God is aiming for something more mature than vending-machine mentality. In response to our faith, we will often get new challenges—along with inner assurance. It seems that God is pointing us away from the evidence of convenience toward the assurance within. W. E. Orchard said it well:
Oh God, too near to be found, too simple to be conceived, too good to be believed. . . . Show us how foolish it is to doubt Thee, since Thou Thyself dost set questions which disturb us; reveal our unbelief to be faith fretting at its out worn form. . . . Teach us to trust not to cleverness or learning, but to that inward faith which can never be denied. Lead us out of confusion to simplicity. Call us back from wandering without to find Thee at home within” (Fosdick, p. 34).
So faith invites us to evaluate God and His work by something more than the material evidence. He invites us to listen to the whisperings of that still, small voice that testifies that God is good, He loves us, and He is blessing us in the way that is perfect for us.
To interpret difficulties and disappointments as blessings is a perverse set of mind that requires a lot of faith. And that is what God is looking for.
If a friend asked me to define faith, I would find it difficult. It is more than believing there is a God. It is more than loving Him. It includes trusting Him—but it is more. Maybe it is the willingness to do the things that we think He wants us to do. That is a complicated formula.
God often invites us by His subtle messenger the Holy Ghost—who is never announced by blaring trumpets. He gives subtle hints. When we practice noticing them and following them, we grow in faith. When we disregard them or demand more specificity, our faith turns to confusion. So faith is the willingness to listen carefully and follow gladly—even when the message is nothing more than a hint. When God heads toward the waterslide, I want to follow Him.
I also compare having faith to a horse that does not have to be dragged by the bridle. Rather, as the rider leans in the saddle, the horse senses—and follows. Or faith can be compared to going toward the light—even small hints of light. “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
Stretching our faith
Lest any be smug, we should all ask—even the most faithful among us, “What is the next opportunity to grow our faith?” Are we ready to see God’s goodness in our difficulties? Are we willing to see God in the ordinary? Do we seek God actively? Do we thank him for every breath we take?
With beloved, departed Elder Maxwell, I rejoice in the words of Malcolm Muggeridge:
I feel so strongly at the end of my life that nothing can happen to us in any circumstance that is not a part of God’s purpose for us. Therefore we have nothing to fear, nothing to worry about except that we should rebel against his purpose and that we should fail to detect his purpose in things and fail to establish a relationship with him. On that basis there can be no black despair, no throwing in of our hand.
You know it’s a funny thing but when you are old as I am there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you. The pleasantest thing of all is that you wake up in the night at about, say, 3 a.m. and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. It seems quite a toss-up whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the city of God. In this limbo between life and death you know beyond any shadow of doubt that as an infinitesimal particle of God’s creation you are a participant in God’s purpose and that his purpose is loving not hating, is creative not destructive, is everlasting and not temporal, is universal and not particular.
With this certainty comes an extraordinary sense of comfort and joy. Nothing that happens in this world need shake that feeling. All the happenings in this world, including the most terrible disasters and suffering, will be seen in eternity as in some mysterious way a blessing, as a part of God’s love. We ourselves are a part of that love and only insofar as we belong to that scene does our existence have any meaning at all. The necessity of life is to know God. Otherwise our mortal existence is no more that a night in a second-class hotel.
Whatever the stature and vigor of our faith, may we be strengthening and growing it. May we be reaching toward God.