Remember How Merciful the Lord Hath Been

By Brian Boyer


Photo courtesy Oliver Roos.  
It would be a mistake to neglect or disregard the choices we can make, simply because we can’t change everything.

Edward Lorenz was a mild mannered, soft spoken professor of meteorology at MIT.  On a cold winter day in 1961, he was simulating weather patterns on an old main-frame computer.  He entered the initial numerical conditions and then left for a few minutes.  When he returned, he noticed something that would change the course of science.  The solutions given by the computer were drastically different than results he had previously found.  At first he thought a vacuum tube had gone bad in the computer.  Upon closer examination however, he figured out what was going on. In entering the initial numerical conditions he had rounded off one variable from 0.506127 to 0.506.  To his surprise, this tiny alteration entirely transformed the whole pattern his computer produced in simulating two months of weather.   The initial round-off errors were amplifying through the system of equations until they dominated the solution.

This surprising result led Lorenz into a powerful new insight about the way nature works.  Tiny changes in initial conditions can amplify through a system and have huge consequences, much larger than scientists had previously considered practical.  The idea came to be known as the “butterfly effect” after Lorenz suggested in a paper that perhaps even the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil may ultimately cause a tornado in Texas.  His insight turned into the founding principle of what is known today as “chaos theory”, and which expanded rapidly during the 1970s and 1980s  into fields such as geology, and biology.  Many scientists now rank the ideas behind chaos theory and the butterfly effect among the great scientific revolutions of the 20th century.

Similar to the flap of a butterfly’s wings, we often make small choices that may seem insignificant and inconsequential.  These small choices can have a significant impact on who we become and how much we accomplish.  One of the greatest gifts of God is our right to make these kinds of choices.  The prophet Lehi taught “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man.  And they are free to choose”  (2 Nephi 2:27).  President David O. McKay said “Next to the bestowal of life itself, the right to direct that life is God’s greatest gift to man.”

While we cannot immediately alter all of life’s circumstances, we have been granted a domain over which we have freedom to choose.  It would be a mistake to neglect and disregard the choices we can make, simply because we cannot choose to immediately change everything.  The choices we can make today may have far reaching effects.  How are we making use of this power, the gift of agency from God that is next to the gift of life itself?

One important choice that confronts us on a regular basis, perhaps without us even knowing, is the choice between fear and faith.  Jesus admonished his disciples to “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).  Fear comes in many forms, and often seems outside the domain of our freedom to choose.  When I feel fear it often feels innate, something over which I have no control. But the two words in this scripture, “let not” suggest that in some sense, we have a choice.

The prophet Moroni teaches that “perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16, see also John 4:18).  In other words, perfect love is a causal force that drives fear away. Ten verses later, in the same chapter, the words “perfect love” appear again, but this time as a consequence rather than a causal force.  The verse states “And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost which comforter filleth with hope and perfect love” (Moroni 8:26).  These words describe a connection from experiencing a remission of sins, to meekness, to being filled with the Holy Ghost, to  hope and perfect love.  And, “perfect love casteth out all fear.”  The process begins with having our sins remitted which brings a deeper understanding of the generous mercy of God and our dependence on such mercy.  This understanding is the key to being filled with the love of God.  We choose to “let not” our hearts be troubled nor afraid, as we choose to look up, “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men” (Moroni 10:3-5), and know that He will continue to be so.

Sorting Out Fear

Not all kinds of fear are bad and should be avoided.  Some kinds of fear, such as the fear of a hot stove or the fear of a bear in a forest can lead to heightened awareness and keep us safe from harm.  The scriptures also teach us we should “fear the Lord.” Clearly we should not try to avoid this type of fear.  Elder David A. Bednar explains that this “righteous fear . . . encompasses a deep feeling of reverence, respect, and awe for the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This kind of godly fear strengthens our capacity to “let not” our hearts be troubled nor afraid.

The kind of fear we are to avoid is fear that leads to despair, hopelessness, or inaction.  This kind of fear debilitates and erodes our confidence, and makes it impossible to change for the better.  Elder Worthen recently described this kind of fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real: FEAR.”  If faith is the evidence of things not seen that are true then faith is the exact antithesis to this type of fear: false evidence appearing real (see Heb 1:11, Alma 32:21).  When the Lord tells us to let not our hearts be troubled, nor afraid he is asking us to let not our hearts “resist the spirit of truth” (see Alma 30:46 and Moroni 10:5).


Courtesy unsplash.com.
The kind of fear we are to avoid is fear that leads to despair, hopelessness or inaction.

One such type of fear that we should let not trouble our hearts is the fear of missing out because of gifts we lack.  It is easy to look around and see that God does not give everyone the same gifts.  Some people are attractive, and some have wealth.  Some have the gift of leadership and others have the gift of wisdom.  Some have the gift of temperament and poise 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.  “For all have not every gift . . . for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:10-11).

As the gifts of others become more apparent, especially in this age of social media, it can be easy to let our hearts be troubled and afraid that we are somehow missing out, to feel some envy, and to think “If only I could be more like him,” or “If only I could have the opportunities or circumstances that she has.”   May I acknowledge, I know what it is like to feel forgotten or insecure when others get the blessings I had hoped to receive!  Giving in to this fear of missing out, however, 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.”  With the many blessings God had given, there is so much good for us to do.  As Elder Maxwell taught, “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.”    When we let our hearts be troubled or afraid that we are somehow missing out because of gifts we lack, we needlessly give way to false evidence appearing real.

At times fear can envelop us when circumstances occur in life that we never anticipated would happen.  Mistakes, poor choices, and sometimes events beyond the control of any mortal being can leave us feeling that perhaps our lives may not turn out the way we thought it would, or perhaps even the way God had planned. In such times, as we try to make our way back to some semblance of normality, the choice to let not our hearts be afraid can especially seem far beyond the domain of our freedom to choose. May those facing such an experience have the strength to endure it well.   Time is often necessary for healing.  In the meantime, we can choose to be still and trust in God even as events unfold in a manner that we never anticipated.

Although wounded, we can still choose to let not our hearts be afraid.  As the young stripling warriors of the Book of Mormon fought their enemies, all escaped being killed on three different occasions, yet “neither was there one soul among them who had not received many wounds” (Alma 57:25).  In the heat of battle they must have felt the type of anxiety and fear that helped keep them safe from harm. Yet, even though deeply wounded, fear never troubled their hearts in a manner that led them to hopelessness, despair, or inaction.  The last words of Helaman in decribing his men are that “they are strict to remember the Lord their God from day to day . . . and their faith is strong” (Alma 58:40).  Even as we struggle with events that we never anticipated, we can still choose to trust in God and fear not.  “All things work for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28).  Any indication otherwise is false evidence appearing real.


Photo courtesy Ben White.
Although wounded, we can still choose to let not our
hearts be afraid.

According to the Multitude of His Tender Mercies    

The prophet Lehi found himself in various circumstances he never anticipated.  At the onset of his vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon (1Nephi 8:5-7) he tells us,

“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.”

“And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.”

“And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.”

Lehi then travels for many hours alone in darkness.   I imagine it would have been very easy for Lehi to fear, to let his heart be troubled and afraid.  His response instead is to “pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy . . . according to [or consistent with] the multitude of his tender mercies” (1Nephi 8:8).  Remembering how merciful God is, Lehi chooses to acknowledge the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies when fear could easily have been the innate respose.  In consequence, he eventually arrives at a “large and spacious field” (1 Nephi 8:9), and the vision of the tree of life unfolds; another experience I imagine he never anticipated.

Like Lehi, we can choose to let not our hearts be troubled neither afraid by choosing to look up and “remember how merciful the Lord hath been.”  As we remember and ponder the “multitude of his tender mercies” we become more merciful and generous ourselves.  We become more forgiving, patient, and meek. Our capacity to feel love and to love others increases, even perhaps those we thought unlovable.  We recognize and magnify the gifts and blessings God has mercifully bestowed upon us to render more meaningful service.  We cease to be overly focused on ourselves.  We quit worrying about gifts we lack and lift our gaze from wounds that may need a little more time to heal.

The Mercy of God and the Law of the Harvest 

In the parable of the talents, the Lord teaches us to remember how merciful he is. While the first two servants put their money to work and double their holdings, the third servant, who was given less, is full of fear and buries what he has been given.  The servant justifies his actions saying, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou has not sown, and gathering where thou has not strawed. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine” (Matt 25:24).

In using these words, the servant is clearly accusing his master of being arbitrary, unjust, and unfair. In essence he may have been saying, “Lord, you require too much of thy servants, more than they can accomplish.  Life is messy and sometimes things happen for no apparent cause to people who do not deserve it.  Even if I were to work hard and try to magnify what I had been given, there is no guarantee of success. Can you blame me for being a little afraid?”

In what may have been a surprising rebuke, the master agrees with the servant, saying, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed” (Matt 25:26).  I have often puzzled over this reply.  If the master in this parable represents the Savior, how could he be anything but just and fair?  The point the master is trying to make in this parable, I believe, is that he is merciful.  In essence, the master in this parable may have been saying something like, “Yes, things do happen to people who don’t deserve it, the most stark evidence of such is the talent you are holding right there in your hand. That talent was given to you freely, because I am merciful, not because you earned it. With faith in such abundant mercy, recognizing all that you had been freely given, you should have chosen to let not your heart be troubled, nor afraid, and looked up with courage to magnify what you had, even though it may not have been exactly what you desired and in what you might have considered to be ideal circumstances.  In the end, any success in building upon what you have depends on faith in my mercy, and the power of such mercy to overcome the demands of justice.”   God does indeed reap and gather beyond what is merited by the demands of justice alone.  He gathers us.

In discussing the parable of the talents, Charles Ellicott, a noted bible scholar writes, “So in the souls of men there springs up at times the thought that all the anomalies of earthly rule are found in that of God, that He too is arbitrary, vindictive, pitiless, like earthly kings; and that thought, as it kills love, so it paralyses the energy which depends on love.”  In contrast, as we choose to remember the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies, we open our hearts to be filled with the love of God.  This love nourishes the energy we need to overcome fear and let not our hearts be troubled, neither afraid.


Go and Sin No More. Courtesy www.lds.org media library.
God does indeed reap and gather beyond what is merited by the demands of justice alone.  He gathers us.

Josie’s Courage

In the 2016 General Conference, Sister Carol Stephens tells about a young girl named Josie who suffers from Bipolar disorder.   She “lives with a crippling and debilitating depression, inconsolable hopeless feelings and constant, unrelenting anxiety.” Let me share some of her experiences in her own words.

“The worst of the darkness occurs on what my family and I have deemed ‘floor days.’ It begins with sensory overload and acute sensitivity and resistance to any type of sound, touch, or light. It is the apex of mental anguish. There is one day in particular that I will never forget.

“It was early in the journey, making the experience especially frightening. I can remember sobbing, tears racing down my face as I gasped for air. But even such intense suffering paled in comparison to the pain that followed as I observed panic overwhelm my mother, so desperate to help me.

“With my broken mind came her broken heart. But little did we know that despite the deepening darkness, we were just moments away from experiencing a mighty miracle.

“As a long hour continued, my mom whispered over and over and over again, ‘I would do anything to take this from you.’

“Meanwhile, the darkness intensified, and when I was convinced I could take no more, just then something marvelous occurred.

“A transcendent and wonderful power suddenly overtook my body. Then, with a ‘strength beyond my own,’ I declared to my mom with great conviction seven life-changing words in response to her repeated desire to bear my pain. I said, ‘You don’t have to; Someone already has.’”

Josie was not healed from her mental condition that day.  But as she traveled through her own dark and dreary waste, when fear seemed like the innate response, she was able to remember how merciful the Lord is, and to feel the power of his atonement, by which he suffered all “the mental, emotional, and physical torments known to man.”   Despite her circumstances, Josie was able to focus her attention on the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies.  Josie continues on her journey of faith.  Although her daily struggle with mental illness has robbed her of a normal life, she has decided, in her own words, “to be brave and choose joy.”  She has chosen to let not her heart be troubled nor afraid despite conditions around her.

A Temple in Philadelphia

A few months ago my wife and visited the temple in Philadelphia.  The existence of this temple in its current location is nothing short of a miracle. City official were strongly opposed to it being built.  When church leaders struck a deal with the owner to buy the property, city officials filed a legal claim to stop the transaction.  They wanted the property for themselves.  Church leaders tried every means to change the minds of city officials and show them the benefits of having a temple in the city.  Bishop Dean M. Davies flew out to meet with the mayor, but nothing worked.  All felt lost, and it seemed like nothing could enable the transaction to go through.  The leaders of the city appeared to have made their decision.  At that very moment, however, a local stake president from Tonga who was with Bishop Davies spoke up.  He described his days as a young boy in Tonga, when his family sold their home, sold fruits and vegetables, and sold everything they could to have enough money to travel to Hamilton, New Zealand, to be sealed as an eternal family in the temple. “You need this temple,” he told city officials. “This temple will bless your city. This temple will bless your community. It will bless the people.” The words of this stake president softened the hearts of city leaders.  The transaction went through.  The temple was built.  That small simple testimony, like the tiny changes in initial conditions of Edward Lorentz, has had, and will continue to have a dramatic impact on the lives of people who live in and around Philadelphia.

Like many temples, the celestial room of the Philadelphia temple has a magnificent chandelier and large stained glass windows.  As my wife and I sat in the celestial room, light poured in the windows, danced off the chandelier and filled the room.  At that moment  I noticed that everyone in the room was looking up to the light.  I thought of all that had happened to allow that temple to be built and make that moment possible, a moment I felt was symbolic of the Lord’s invitation to look up to God, and choose to let not our hearts be troubled nor afraid.


Photo courtesy www.lds.org.  
Philadelphia Temple

The choice to look up and remember the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies can have far-reaching impacts on our lives.  As we remember how merciful the Lord hath been , we open our hearts to feel the love of God.  And “perfect love casteth out all fear.”  We choose to “let not” our hearts be troubled nor afraid, as we choose to remember and focus our attention on the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies.  May we look up and let not our hearts be troubled by false evidence appearing real, but rather choose to receive the gift of faith, the evidence of things not seen which are true.

The Giver of Good Gifts

By Brian Boyer

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Courtesy Annie Spratt. 
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.

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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 shopping and some thought, we purchased a new mountain bike for her and decided to 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 an excellent idea.  Surely this would make the day stand out.  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 explained that she didn’t have to go with me. After all, it was her birthday, and she could do whatever she wanted.  “Are you sure?,” she asked  several times. In the end, she stayed with her friends, and I ended up 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?  Are some of these gifts sitting idle and overlooked like the bike in the garage of our rental?  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, Luke 11:9-13, Matthew 7:7-11).

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).  I wonder, however, if the process of hungering, thirsting, and seeking is often less about wishing for new abilities or circumstances we don’t have, and more about magnifying and building upon what God has already allotted to us.

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 see more clearly, develop greater gratitude for, and magnify what God has already given?  Three important elements are at least part of the process. First, we must overcome the fear of missing out because of the gifts we lack. Second, we must have faith to act in the face of uncertainty, sorrow, and despair. Third, we must take time to remember how merciful the Lord has been to us and our families.

It is easy to look around and see that God does not give everyone the same gifts.  The diversity of God’s blessings creates a need to interact and serve.  Some have the gift of leadership and wisdom.  Some have the gift of faith.  Some have the gift of temperament and speech 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.  “For all have not every gift . . . for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby” (D&C 46:10-11).

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Courtesy Erik Jan Waider. 

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.

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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 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).

I wonder if anxiety over gifts we lack can sometimes be misinterpreted as righteous desires. The prophet Alma, who had fantastic gifts of leadership, courage, and faith, at one point expresses his yearning desire to preach the gospel to all nations of the earth.  I can imagine Alma being amazed and puzzled by all the sorrow and pain around him in the world.  He then, however, concedes, “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish” and he acknowledges 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” (Alma 29:1-8).  Despite any apparent disparity of God’s gifts and blessings, Alma sees that his role is to trust in God, and magnify whatever light he has been given. 

Over the next fourteen verses Alma’s perspective undergoes a compete transformation as he begins to see the good he can accomplish with the gifts and blessings he already has.  He perceives the satisfaction and joy that comes from bringing  even “some soul to repentance.” He imagines many of his own brethren  “coming unto the Lord”  (Alma 29:9-10).  He expresses deep gratitude for the many blessings in his life and in the lives of his people (Alma 29:11-16), and his focus moves away from concern over gifts he does not have, to praying for the welfare of ordinary people around him  (Alma 29:17).  Although never given the ability to teach in the manner he described, Alma subsequently dedicates his life to the God in whom he has put his trust, magnifying the gifts and blessings he has already been given, and miracles ensue.

As Alma illustrates, acknowledgement and gratitude for the gifts of God does not coincide with shoulder-shrugging acceptance but, rather, determination to fulfill God’s will.  As Elder Maxwell states, “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.”

As Elder Davies teaches, 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, and 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.  Such fear only prevents us from acknowledging and putting to use the gifts God has already given.

Sometimes circumstances that bring uncertainty, sorrow, and despair can blind our perspective and prevent us from seeing the many wonderful gifts we have from God.  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.

One young member of the Martin party, Sarah James, dutifully followed her parents out onto the plains. By the middle of October, the two parties were hit by unusually heavy snow storms in central Wyoming.  Sarah writes, `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 responsibility of 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 see] now that it saved his life” (Rescue of the 1856 Handcart Companies, 18).


“Mother Carry On,” by Julie Rogers. Used with permission.

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.

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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 body of little Rueben, who was badly frozen, but 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).   Sarah, her mother, and little Reuben reached the Salt Lake Valley on the 9th of November about four weeks later.

Despair 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 and cause our hands to hang low. Given the realities of life, is it any wonder that at times we lay down the shafts of our carts, sit by the trail, and weep?

To those facing such challenges, may you have strength to endure it well.   Do not sit for long.  Acknowledge the good God has given and use your creative abilities to magnify that good in whatever small way you can.  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” or his gifts.

God knows us perfectly and is The Giver of good gifts.  At all times we bear the responsibility to receive and magnify whatever small ray of light we can still perceive.  “He that receiveth light and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).

Such light is most capable of penetrating through the darkness of envy, fear, and despair as we remember how merciful the Lord has been in giving us the gifts and blessings we have.  At the onset of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life in the Book of Mormon (1 Nephi 8:5-7) he tells us,

“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me.”

“And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him.”

“And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.”

Lehi then travels for many hours in darkness.  Despite evidence that he has done anything wrong in the account there is no indication that Lehi suffers from the bitterness of entitlement.  Lehi’s response is to “pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy . . . according to [or consistent with] the multitude of his tender mercies” (1 Nephi 8:8).  Remembering how merciful God is, Lehi chooses to acknowledge the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies in his time of need.  As he does so, he eventually sees a “large and spacious field” (1 Nephi 8:9) and the vision of the tree of life unfolds.

The mercy of God is among the greatest of all His gifts.  It is a ray of light that always shines and that can illuminate the many other gifts and blessings we have.  Gratitude for such gifts and blessings does not come, in the end,  by independently forcing ourselves to be grateful, but rather, through  the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.   Remembering how merciful the Lord has been in our lives  builds faith and opens new perspectives to see how we can magnify the many gifts he has given according to the multitude of his tender mercies.

Towards the end of his record, Moroni lays out a pattern often referred to as “Moroni’s promise” to recognize the truth of the Book of Mormon.  We can apply elements of this pattern to develop more understanding and awareness of any gift from God.  I believe we often overlook the first important step which is to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3).  We are to ponder, specifically, how merciful the Lord hath been.  We are then to pray with “real intent” (Moroni 10:4) and ask God for greater understanding of our particular gifts.  Elder Oaks describes “real intent” in this verse as “a commitment to act upon the inspiration you receive, promising the Lord that if He will inspire you to [act], you will do it.”    Such commitment may require courage and faith to change focus, to leave behind vain imaginations and to let go of fears.  As we pray with such real intent, we then need to follow through and act on any inspiration we receive.  As God helps us see the value and potential of what we can do with the gifts we have, we are to do whatever he inspires us to do, even when it does not coincide with our initial plans or way of thinking.

Through the course of life we will make mistakes. Others around us will make mistakes.  As well, many things will happen that will be difficult to explain and comprehend within our understanding of what is fair and just.  Through all of this, remember that God knows us perfectly and is The Giver of good gifts.  Such gifts are all evidence of his mercy, which has power to compensate for any 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 the face of uncertainty, fear, and sorrow.

I testify that God knows us perfectly and is The Giver of good gifts.  There is no need to fear that we will somehow miss out because of gifts we lack. Peace comes as 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 because we each have our own.  As well, we should not view adversity as a withdrawal of the Lord’s blessings. Patient endurance involves the faith to pick up the shafts of our cart and magnify whatever small ray of light we can still perceive.  As we receive light, such light will grow brighter and distill upon our soul as the dews from heaven.  Finally, remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men in giving us the gifts and blessings we have.  God’s mercy is abundant and is among the greatest of all His gifts.  It is a ray of light that always shines.  As we choose to see more clearly the good that God has already given, we will develop deeper gratitude for these gifts and better understand how He would have us use them.  May we all recognize and magnify the many gifts God has given us, to do His will and be what He wants us to be.

What Would God Have Us Understand?

By Brian Boyer

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Yielding our hearts to God is necessary to learn what He would have us learn.  In the process we are to be still and trust in Him, even as events unfold in a manner that we never anticipated.

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In the classes I teach, students sometimes mistakenly believe their sole objective is to memorize facts and recipes,  simple step-by-step procedures that enable them to earn points on tests and quizzes.  While facts and recipes can be helpful in the learning process, solutions to real-world  problems require much more than following a set of memorized routine steps.  Life is messy. That I know.  Circumstances vary and recipes that may be applicable to one setting can be completely inappropriate in others. Real problem solvers learn to creatively reason using a set of given tools to employ fundamental principles that apply generally. Such students develop a willingness to take the first step toward an answer even when the precise, exact path to the end is unknown.  The alternative is almost certain failure, since the blind application of recipes rarely works to solve problems they were not meant to solve.  Those too afraid to innovate are unlikely to ever find a solution.  Although innovation always involves some failure, real problem solvers somehow learn to make failure work for them.  They pick themselves up and start again from a new angle when they fall short, with faith in the fundamental principles that can lead to an answer.  These are some of the most important ideas that I hope my students come to understand.

Recently I have been wondering if I am learning what God wants me to understand. The scriptures teach that fundamental principles such as love, faith, repentance, meekness, obedience, and forgiveness, lead to a full life, a life that is pleasing to God.  As we show a willingness to take the first step He personally inspires us with insight that provides a deeper understanding of how to creatively apply these principles in our lives.  In the process  we expand our capacity to build meaningful relationships, lift others, and find true joy. Such insight requires that, as we innovate, we yield our hearts to Him.  Yielding our hearts to God is especially necessary as we seek to accomplish personal goals and as we heal from painful circumstances in order to learn what He would have us learn.  In the process we are to be still and trust in Him, even as events unfold in a manner that we never anticipated.

One image of yielding hearts comes from the New Testament. “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two bretheren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20).  Peter and Andrew were passionate fishermen.  Their owned boats, managed a prosperous fishing business, and employed other men (Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:10).  They looked forward to fishing for the rest of their lives. As noble and fulfilling such a life may have been, Jesus could see in them higher potential.  When Simon and Andrew heard the call, there was no hesitation. They let go and abandoned their business affairs, wholly or in part, to follow the Savior.

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When Simon and Andrew heard the call, there was no hesitation.

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Most worthwhile pursuits require resolve, energy, and a determination to do whatever it takes with integrity. Righteous endeavors will demand our time and attention, and sometimes many tears.  I believe such efforts can be pleasing to God.  He commands us to be anxiously engaged in good causes and to do many good things of our own free will (D&C 58:27). However, sometimes excessive concern over the slow pace of progress, resentment over past failures, and even envy for the achievements and blessings of others can interfere with our ability to learn what God would have us learn. When left unchecked, such attitudes of the heart burn excessive amounts of emotional energy so that we have nothing left to offer Him.

God commands us to pray for His help with our personal ambitions (Alma 34:17-27).  As a loving father, He wants us to succeed.  Because of this very truth, however, to learn what God would have us understand we ultimately need to be willing to let go of our determination that we get the exact results we seek.  After all we can do, we are to leave the rest in God’s hands, with a willingness to be what He wants us to be.  Perhaps there is more for us to achieve than we realize.  God always sees paths of greater potential, though such paths are rarely smooth and without unexpected difficulties and sacrifice.    As we yield our hearts to Him and trust in His love, we can maintain proper perspective for what really matters, and learn what He would have us understand.

A second image of yielding hearts comes from the Book of Mormon, an account written many centuries ago.  A group of people had been enslaved by their enemies who would beat them and treat them like animals. The pain and suffering of this people was so great that three times they made violent attempts to rise up and free themselves. Each time, however, they were driven back in defeat, death, and sorrow. Eventually, “they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.”  And the Lord heard their prayers. Over time, a long period of time,1  the hearts of their enemies were slowly softened.  The people began to “prosper by degrees” until they were entirely freed from their afflictions in a series of miraculous events (Mosiah 21) through the mercy of God.

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The passage of time is often a necessary element for healing and the development of understanding.

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Unexpected events that bring sorrow especially have a way of focusing our minds and hearts to search for answers. As we pray to God for understanding and for healing, we often expect answers to come in a certain way and within a certain time. Yet the passage of time is often a necessary element for healing and the development of understanding.  As one writer expressed, “By itself . . . the passage of time does not bring an automatic advance. Yet, like the prodigal son, we often need the ‘process of time’ in order to come to our spiritual senses . . . So many spiritual outcomes require saving truths to be mixed with time, forming the elixir of experience, that sovereign remedy for so many things.”

Faithful endurance involves letting go of our insistence that healing and understanding come exactly as we think they should.  It also involves more than passively allowing life’s circumstances to inflict its wounds upon us, and instead, actively magnifying the blessings, gifts, and talents God has already given.    As we trust in Him with faith and patience, understanding and healing can slowly build on our souls as small flecks of gold are harvested from the stream or as the dews from heaven distill upon the earth (D&C 121:45).  Ultimately, it is God’s own patient long-suffering which provides us the needed developmental space or time to improve.  As we yield our hearts to Him, we can prosper by degrees until we learn what He would have us understand through His grace and mercy.

A third image of a yielding heart also comes from the Book of Mormon.  A prophet named Nephi provides an account in which his father describes a strange vision that includes a tree with fruit.  Nephi, believing that the tree represents something deep and meaningful, prays and asks God to know what the tree represents.  In response to his question, Nephi is shown a vision of Mary, and is told that she is the “mother of the Son of God.” He then sees Mary, holding a child in her arms, and is told that the child is “the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the eternal Father.” Then, without even mentioning the tree, God asks Nephi, “knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?”  Amazingly, Nephi somehow understands and responds “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11).

At first Nephi has no idea why he is given the vision, or how it fits in to his question. But what better image to teach the meaning of true love, than that of a mother, even Mary, holding the Savior of the world as a child in her arms?  Perhaps there was no other way to really teach Nephi what the tree meant.

As we seek to learn what God would have us learn, events are likely to unfold in a manner that we never anticipated because there is no other way to teach us what we really need to know.  In my experience, spiritual insight rarely comes as I expect, but as I can understand.

I believe that God loves us and wants what is best for us. I believe He wants us to pursue our passions with joy and determination. I also believe that painful experiences can teach us perspective that we can learn in no other way.  The purpose of life is not to memorize recipes, but to learn to creatively apply fundamental principles that apply eternally. As we show a willingness to take the first step, God will teach and inspire us, provided that we yield our hearts to him in patience and faith. God will teach us what we need to know. With a yielding heart we can be blessed by His guidance through episodes of both unanticipated sorrow and amazing success.

Notes
1Long enough to raise grain abundantly, flocks and herds.