By Brian Boyer
Last April my family spent a few days in Zion National Park with some neighbor friends during spring break. The third day of our trip happened to be my daughter’s thirteenth birthday. Knowing this, she reminded us several months in advance that we needed to do something special that day, something that would make the day stand out from the other days away from home. I assured her that we would, however, she continued to bring up the issue as the day approached. It became apparent that she was very worried, because of all that was going on with preparations and excitement for the trip, that we would somehow forget her birthday. With her continual reminders I felt the pressure to do something great. After some thought I decided to get her a new mountain bike and that as a family we would spend her birthday exploring trails near Zion Canyon. I envisioned us riding along dramatic red cliffs near the Virgin River, and was quite pleased that I could come up with such a great idea. Surely this would make the day stand out, I thought. On the day before leaving we tied a bow on the handlebars, presented her with the gift, and explained the plan for her birthday. She was thrilled, but her excitement would not last. On the day of her birthday several activities competed for her attention. Our neighbor friends, in particular, naturally had other plans, and our daughter was suddenly fearful of missing out on what they were doing. She tried to think of how she could go mountain biking, but also be with her friends. As she struggled inside, I gently told her that she didn’t have to go biking. After all, it was her birthday, and she could do whatever she wanted. “Are you sure?” she asked me several times. In the end, she stayed with her friends, and I ended up going out biking entirely alone. Incidentally the plans she envisioned for the day never materialized. Her bike sat in the garage of our vacation rental and was never touched the entire trip.
Now, I was glad that my daughter could choose to do whatever she wanted on her birthday. But the experience made me wonder, am I making the most of the gifts that God has given me? Our Father in Heaven knows us perfectly and knows how to give good gifts. “Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (3 Nephi 14:9-11).
In the scriptures we are taught to “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6, 3 Nephi 12:6), to “covet earnestly the best gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), and to “seek earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8). But perhaps this process of hungering, thirsting, and seeking, is often less about wishing for abilities or circumstances we don’t have, and more about magnifying what has already been mercifully allotted to us. Sometimes we can be overly focused on turning weaknesses into strengths and gaining new opportunities while overlooking the many gifts that God has already given.
Yearning for expanded opportunities while failing to use those at hand exhibits a lack of hope that God knows us perfectly and truly is The Giver of good gifts. How can we strengthen our hope that God is The Giver of good gifts? Three important elements are part of the process. First, we must overcome the fear of missing out because of the gifts we lack. Second we must resist the temptation to succumb to the dregs of grief and discouragement. Third, we must build faith in the ability of the atonement to heal and help us learn from failure.
It is easy to look around and see that God does not give everyone the same gifts. Some have the gift of leadership. Some have the gift of wisdom. I would suggest that some have the gift of material prosperity while some have the gift of temperament that garners the respect and admiration of others. Some unique individuals have the gift of empathy and understanding, to feel the pains and burdens of others. God is the author of such diversity.
God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit.
As the gifts of others become more apparent, it can be easy to fear that we are somehow missing out, and to think “If only I could be more like him,” or “If only I could have the opportunities or circumstances that she has.” Succumbing to this fear of missing out weakens our faith, in the words of Elder Christofferson, that “God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit.”
Given this truth, I am drawn to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s question, “Why do we feel damaged when somebody else is blessed?” This, he said, is a “fundamental question that we ought to work through in our life before it’s over.” Such feelings of damage distract us from recognizing the good we have, and in that sense, are self-fulfilling. As the writer Samuel H. Hislop stated, “I’ve spent too much of my life thrashing about in attempts to be what other people are and to have what they have, all the while not trusting God’s promise that I have something special to offer.” Or as the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, “Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else. … There is no need to want someone else’s blessing. We each have our own” (Not in God’s Name, 139).
Sometimes we may justify the dissatisfaction we feel for the gifts we have by assuring ourselves that our motives are righteous. The drive for personal growth is noble, provided we do not get ahead of ourselves and overlook the good God has already given when that growth does not come exactly the way we think it should. The prophet Alma, who had fantastic gifts of teaching, leadership, courage, and faith, expressed the dissatisfaction of his heart and expressed the desire to have other abilities to preach the gospel with angelic zeal. He then recognized “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish” and he acknowledged all the good that God grants to all nations, “yea, in wisdom, all that he seeth fit that they should have . . . in wisdom according to that which is just and true.” With that perspective, Alma realized the joy he could have, and the miraculous nature in “being an instrument in the hands of God to bring some soul to repentance.”
As Elder Maxwell stated “ . . . within our givens are unused opportunities . . . all about us. Neither should we pine away, therefore, for certain things outside God’s givens . . . because there is so much to do within what has been allotted to us.”
According to Elder Dean M. Davies, God will “use you for his sublime purposes . . . [He] doesn’t need you to be mighty, intelligent, well dressed, well spoken, or well inherited. He needs you to incline your heart to Him and seek to honor Him by serving Him and reaching out in compassion to those around you.” He needs you to better use the gifts he has already given to lift where you stand, to do His will with a heart sincere, to be what he wants you to be.
God knows us perfectly and is The Giver of good gifts. There is no need to fear that we are somehow missing out because of the gifts we lack. We gain no benefit from feeling such fear. It only acts as a barrier that prevents us from seeing the good God has already given.
As well, so can excessive feelings of grief and discouragement. In October of 1856 the Willie and Martin handcart companies found themselves struggling to survive some 400 miles east of Salt Lake City. Despite warnings that it was too late to cross the Rockies, the two parties had departed on their journey in late August of that year. Many had been eager to go, although some, including many young children, had little choice but to follow along with the choices of others.
By the middle of October, the two parties were hit by unusually heavy snow storms in central Wyoming. Sarah James, a young member of the Martin party recalled that “We were cold all the time. It was either rain, or snow, or wind. Even when you wrapped up in a blanket your teeth chattered” (Across the Sea, Across the Plains: The Epic Account of The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies, 158). Her father was losing strength, and her mother had taken much of the load off his shoulders in pulling the cart.
At one point Sarah watched as a man just ahead of her laid down the shafts of his cart in the snow and began to cry. “We all wanted to cry with him,” she writes. “One of the [other men, however] . . . came up to him and just slapped him in the face. That made the man so mad that he jumped right up and [began] to run with his cart. I remember that it was a mean way to treat the poor fellow, but [I recognize] now that it saved his life” ( Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies, 18).
In contrast, Sarah describes the reaction of her mother upon hearing of her father’s death. Her father had sat down to rest with her little brother Reuben, and the two didn’t show up at camp when the party had halted for the night. Some of the men in the group went back on the trail to find them, and in the morning, came into camp bearing the dead body of her father and the badly frozen body of little Rueben, who was still alive. Sarah writes, “I can see my mother’s face as she sat looking at the partly conscious Reuben. Her eyes looked so dead that I was afraid. She didn’t sit for long, for she was never one to cry. When it was time to move out Mother had our family ready to go. She put her invalid son in the cart with her baby, and we joined the train. Our mother was a strong woman and she would see us through anything” (Across the Sea, Across the Plains: The Epic Account of The Willie and Martin Handcart Companies, 180)
Discouragement and grief can be incredibly difficult burdens to carry. Death, divorce, poverty, broken dreams, the poor choices of loved ones, and other afflictions can weigh us down so heavily that they slow our stride, cause our hands to hang low, and our gaze to look down. Given the realities of life, is it any wonder that at times we lay down the shafts of our carts, sit by the side of the trail, and weep?
To those who are facing such challenges, may I encourage you to endure it well. What does that mean? It means more than passive acceptance of circumstances. Elder Maxwell taught, “Patient endurance is to be distinguished from merely being ‘acted upon.’ Endurance is more than . . . acceptance of the things allotted to us, it is to ‘act for ourselves’ by magnifying what is allotted to us. . . . . We are to do what we can within our allotted ‘acreage,’ while still using whatever stretch there may be in any tethers.” Elder Cook recently taught “Adversity should not be viewed as . . . a withdrawal of [the Lord’s] blessings,” even though at times we may feel forsaken and alone.
God knows us perfectly and is The Giver of good gifts. Perspective can come as we extend ourselves beyond passive acceptance of difficult circumstances, and move toward doing all we can within our “allotted acreage” with gratitude and humility.
Magnifying what is allotted to us in this way requires faith to become somewhat vulnerable. Along the way, mistakes will be made, some that reflect mere deficiencies of style and others that are manifest in sin. Failure is part of life by design. It brings us closer to truth by a process of elimination.
Moroni exhorts us, at the end of the Book of Mormon, to magnify our gifts of understanding, that we may know the truth of all things. The first step in this process, is to “Remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men.” The gifts and blessings of the God are all evidence of His mercy. Because of the atonement, such mercy has power to compensate for any mistakes made as we seek to magnify the gifts we have been given.
Elder Holland recently related a story that powerfully demonstrates the Lord’s mercy about a young man in southern Idaho. One night he stormed out of his home and set off to join a motorcycle gang. For 20 years he engaged himself in a culture of “temptations yielded to and degradations explored”, never contacting his parents who feared he was dead.
He eventually ended up in Southern California, and was one day sitting on the porch of his rented home when he say two LDS missionaries walking up the street.
“With a rush of memory and guilt, regret, and rage, he despised the very sight of them . . . But he was safe, because he kept all visitors at bay by employing two Doberman Pinschers, who viciously charged the gate every moment that anyone came near.”
The dogs startled the missionaries as they walked by and continued on. The man on the porch laughed as he wished the gate had been open.
Then the two elders stopped, looked at each other, conversed a little, and turned around and approached the gate.
The Dobermans charged the gate again, snarling, frothing, and then stopped in their tracks. The looked at the missionaries, dropped their heads, walked back to the front steps, and lay down.
The man on the porch was speechless as the missionaries opened the gate, walked up the path and greeted him.
“One of the elders said, ‘Are you from this part of California?’
“The man said, ‘No. I’m from Pocatello, Idaho.’
“There was a pause. ‘That’s interesting,’ the elder said. ‘Do you know the [such-and-such] family in Pocatello?’
“With a stunned look, our biker paused, and then, in very measured words, said, ‘Yeah, I know them. They are my parents.’
“‘Well, they’re my parents too,’ the missionary said. ‘God has sent me to invite you to come home.’”
The younger brother had been born after the older boy had left home. The elder brother did not even know of him.
“Mom and Dad have been praying for you every morning and night for 20 years,” the younger brother said. “They were not sure you were alive, but they knew if you were, that someday you would come back to us.”
The wayward son invited the two in, and they talked for the rest of the day and some of the night. He did return home, returned to Church activity, and, in March 2015, was married and sealed in the Boise Idaho Temple.
As we strive to magnify the gifts God has given, mistakes will be made. As well, many things will happen that will be difficult to explain and comprehend within our understanding of what is fair and just. As we strive to magnify what has been allotted to us “Remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men.” His gifts and blessings are all evidence of His mercy. Because of the atonement, such mercy has power to compensate for the mistakes, injustices, and afflictions we face along the path to magnifying what we have been allotted. Faith in such mercy can give us confidence to move forward in an uncertain world.
I testify that God knows us perfectly and is The giver of good gifts. We can magnify and make the most of what has been allotted to us as we overcome the fear of missing out because of the gifts we lack, resist the temptation to succumb to grief and discouragement, and build faith in the ability of the atonement to heal and help us learn from failure. In so doing we can live the abundant life and eventually become what he wants us to be. As the Lord teaches “And, if you keep my commandments and endure to the end you shall have eternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.”