Choose the Better Part: Confronting Mental Illness

By Deborah Call

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Minerva K. Teichert (1888-1976), Jesus at the Home of Mary and Martha, c.1935, oil on canvas, 46 x 70 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, 1943.
Used with permission.

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We should not be so occupied with what is routine and temporal that we fail to cherish those opportunities that are unique.

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My mother had severe anxiety and depression.  This inhibited her relationships with others and left her incapable of taking care of herself.  It went undiagnosed for most of her life.  She always told people she was fine and refused any form of treatment.  As a child, I didn’t know there was anything different, I thought my mom was tired a lot because she didn’t sleep well at night.  Most days she would sit on the living room floor and not move.  If the phone rang, she would answer it, if someone knocked at the door, she opened it and she kept a cheerful voice when speaking with others, but all other times, she sat on the floor.

My father was very social and outgoing so she let my father do the talking.  She was always very kind to others, but didn’t seek them out.  One day I wanted to visit a friend’s house and I asked my mom to call their mom to see if I could come over.  I remember she picked up the phone but wouldn’t dial.  I remember being pretty upset when she put it back down.

She was unable to discipline her eight kids and we were pretty wild.  As long as my father was at work, we knew we could get away with anything, so we did whatever and went wherever we wanted.  We dug holes in the lawn, we lit fires, we disappeared into the woods, we ran through the sprinkler naked. Sometimes my dad would go out of town on business and dishes piled up in the kitchen until mold grew on them.  It never occurred to me that my mom should be doing something about it.  I thought we were naughty, lazy kids for not doing our chores.

I didn’t know anything was different with my mom until I was a teenager.  At girls camp, girls would mention how much they loved their mom, how much their mom did for them and taught them, how much they appreciated their mom talking to them at night or enjoyed spending time with them or how their mom was their best friend.  This seemed strange to me and I wanted that kind of relationship with my mom too.  I wanted her to be interested in things that were going on in my life.  I wanted her to be excited for things I did and help me pursue my interests, but I didn’t know how to make that happen.
The relationship I had with my mom was very lukewarm. There was no friendship, but there was not hate either.  There was little emotion involved. When I was in college, my roommates called home frequently to talk to their moms and would be on the phone for an hour.  I called home very seldom and the conversation was only a few minutes and relayed little more information than “I’m fine, school is fine.  I’m having fun.”

As I got older and got married and had children of my own, I wished I could go to my mom and get advice, or just talk about life.  I wanted to hear her hopes, to know what made her happy and what frustrated her or to even just have her talk about her day.  She couldn’t do any of this.  Some days I deeply resented her for this.  Most times, I just ignored it.  It was easy to go for a year without talking to my mom, and then, it was usually only on mother’s day for a few minutes.  I had almost no contact with my mom for almost 12 years.
Ultimately, my mom’s anxiety and depression was the cause of my parents’ divorce.  My father left her the house which was paid for, the car which was paid for and money each month to support herself and the kids.  After all her children had left home, it was evident that my mom was unable to manage a household on her own.  Her new car had been repossessed, and the bank was foreclosing on the house due to unpaid debts.

In 2005 my mom moved closer to where I was living so that I could take care of her.  As a result I got to know her a little more.  She wanted to be with us, but didn’t participate in what we were doing.  It wasn’t easy to hold a conversation with her. She would briefly answer questions but never expound or tell stories or express interest or ask questions. The best she was able to do was to be present. She came to my house almost every day, but while she was there, she would quietly watch from a corner.

In 2007 she found a lump in her breast.  She waited months before mentioning it to me.  We went to the doctor and she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.  I was with her every step through her treatment, the surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, and the doctor appointments and after several months, it was gone.

It was after her cancer treatment that she spent a week in a mental hospital and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.  They tried a couple of different medications but she didn’t like any of them.  Once she went home, she would stop taking the medication.

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Photo by Brendan Church. Used with permission.
My philosophy in life has always been that you do your best. When you pray for answers and don’t seem to get them, you look for what you think is the best option and do that.

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In 2015, she started having lower back pain. It got bad enough that she went to have it checked. She called me and told me that they had found some cancer and wanted to do some more tests. My philosophy in life has always been that you do your best. When you pray for answers and don’t seem to get them, you look for what you think is the best option and do that. My mom and I never had a very strong bond, but she was my mom I was ready to do my best to take care of her through this cancer treatment again. I approached it like an employee.

Now, there are not very many times I have had a divine course correction.  But this was one of them.  I didn’t even know anything about how serious the situation with my mom was, but after I hung up the phone, I had a distinct impression that this began the end of my mom’s life, and I needed to help her through it.  I needed to forget the past and create a different future. I needed to build that relationship we never had. No more lukewarm relationship.  I needed to be there for her.  I needed to be her advocate and her strength. I needed to be her family.  I needed to do more than pay her bills, make sure she had groceries and get her to her doctor appointments.  I needed to show compassion.  I prayed for strength. I prayed that I could be the Lord’s hands and make the right choices.

Bad news came and we learned this cancer was back, had spread and was terminal.  The doctors strongly suggested hospice, but my mom wanted to beat this like she beat it before.  We went against the doctor’s advice and fought.  After 4 really horrible months, my mom got about 1 year of good life. This was a blessing for her, but it also was a blessing for me.

Knowing that I wouldn’t have much time left with my mom, I spent a lot of time with her and saw her almost daily.  She still didn’t have much desire to do anything or go anywhere, but I pulled her out of her corner.  I talked to her more and asked my kids to tell grandma about what they were doing.  I made sure she was as involved as she would allow.  Instead of just doing things for her, I included her and asked her opinion.

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Photo by Michal Grosicki. Used with permission.
I know it seems insignificant, but when you only have small things, they become the important things.

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Every few days I would ask if she needed anything from the grocery store. She lived in an assisted living facility and had everything she needed including dessert after every lunch and dinner; but every time I went to the store, she asked for a Hershey bar with almonds. She said she just needed something to give her energy. I tried other candies, but she just wanted the Hershey bar with almonds. I know it seems insignificant, but when you only have small things, they become the important things.

She was too weak to go shopping so I would go buy her clothing and rather than show her what I bought and hang it up, I would pick each piece up and ask if she liked it. We talked about when she could wear it and what other items of clothing would go with it. Sometimes I would help her try them on and talk about how she looked in it.

After her doctor appointments we would talk about what happened. When we talked about her options, I didn’t just tell her what I thought was best for her, we talked about what she wanted, I asked her what she wanted to know about. I gave my thoughts, but I let her call the shots. I waited for her. Most days she said she didn’t want to talk about her health or hear any of it, so we didn’t talk about it at all. We would talk about food or family or anything else. Only once she asked what cancer was and what she should expect from it and once she asked what the end would be like. These were two conversations where I felt a tenderness towards my mom that I hadn’t before. In these two questions, I felt her open up even though I was doing all of the talking.

As I took care of my mom, I came to see my mom in a new light and understand her. I came to accept her for who she was rather than expecting her to change. Her thoughts and reasoning were still unconventional, but I started to really see who she was and how she thought. We developed a closer relationship then we ever have had before. As I tried to alleviate her suffering and help fill as much of her life with good things, I grew to love her for who she was, depression, anxiety and all. She was my mom and I loved her. We had small moments that became precious memories. I am very grateful that I listened to the prompting to show my mother compassion.

So often I wanted to take care of things and make things run smoothly. While this is good there is something better about sometimes stopping to see the people we serve.

The Savior taught this idea in the tenth chapter of Luke. He had traveled to Bethany, not far from the old city of Jerusalem. When Martha “received him into her house” Mary, Martha’s sister “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was “cumbered about much serving,” and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” Jesus replied “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38–42). We should not be so occupied with what is routine and temporal that we fail to cherish those opportunities that are unique.

Sometimes the most important item on the grocery list is the Hershey bar with almonds. By having compassion, I was given a chance to have a relationship with my mom that I never had before. She became my friend.

My mom passed away in January 2017.

The Giver of Good Gifts

By Brian Boyer

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Photo by Annie Spratt. Used with permission.
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 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 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 carefully told her 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 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?  Are some of these gifts sitting idle and overlooked?  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 and ponder the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies.

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 with others and to 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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Photo by Erik Jan Waider. Used with permission.

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 somewhat puzzled by all the sorrow and pain all about 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 God is not reflective of shoulder-shrugging acceptance but, rather, shoulder-squaring to better fulfill God’s will.  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.”

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 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 we can fall short in efforts to magnify what we have been given as we face circumstances that bring uncertainty, sorrow, and despair.  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 an 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, the how merciful the Lord hath been.  As we do so we are 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 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 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 the 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 gifts. 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.  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 a better understanding of 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.

Have Miracles Ceased?

By Anonymous

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Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven? . . . Behold I say unto you, Nay; neither have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men.
Book of Mormon, Moroni 7:27-29

 

I grew up in a small village in England where the Mormon church, first and foremost, was known as an American church. I first heard about the church when I was almost 14 years old. My friend Julie and I were sitting out on the school field one lunch time when we were approached by a girl, obviously a student as she was wearing the same school uniform that we were.  She began the conversation, saying that she had heard that we were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that she was new in the village, and asked if we could please tell her where the nearest chapel was located. We were not members and had no idea what she was talking about! However, Julie and I had lived in the village our entire lives and knew that we could find out where this chapel was and help her out.

The next day, my friend Julie’s dad had located the chapel and it was actually in a town about 20 minutes away. We found the girl at school, discovered her name was Sheila and told her what we had found out. Sheila thanked us and then very boldly asked us if we would like to attend church with her that Sunday! It sounded intriguing and she had a presence about her, so we said “Yes!” My parents were a little hesitant when I told them what had happened but agreed to let me try this new experience. I had grown up in the Church of England. My mum went to church often but I only went for the midnight Christmas Carol service.  It meant that I could stay up late on that night and I loved to sing!

Sheila gave us her home address as Julie’s dad had offered to drive us and the plan was to pick Sheila up on the way to the church. Sunday came and I have to say that I was nervous but also excited. We drove to the address that Sheila gave us and she was waiting outside of her house as we pulled up. All of this was before the block schedule had been introduced and so, for us, church was going to be an all day affair. Small branches and wards scheduled things in the towns and surrounding villages to accommodate the distance that the members had to travel and many had to rely on public transportation which had limited schedules on Sundays. This ward, we discovered, had Sunday School in the morning, Seminary during lunch, (everyone took a sack lunch) YW/YM in the afternoon and sacrament meeting in the evening. Sheila guided us through the meetings, explaining words and phrases that were completely foreign to us, demonstrated how to take the sacrament and introduced us to people although she was new to the ward herself.

We loved every minute of it. The missionaries talked to us throughout the day and wanted to schedule the first discussion, but being 14, I had to have parental consent. I spoke to my parents as soon as I got home. My mum agreed to let me hear what the missionaries had to say but my dad was skeptical and neither one was interested in the church for themselves. However, I was determined and so, on Monday at school, we looked for Sheila. Julie’s parents had given her permission to hear from the missionaries again and so we were hoping to find Sheila and see if we could go to church with her again the following Sunday. She wasn’t at school. We watched for her all week but she didn’t come to school. The weekend arrived and Julie and I decided that we would just swing by Sheila’s house on Sunday, pick her up and hopefully head back to church. Sunday arrived, Julie’s dad again drove us to Sheila’s house but when we pulled up outside her house, there was no one there, the garden looked overgrown and the house looked abandoned. It looked nothing like the previous Sunday. Julie and I carried on to church, somewhat confused by what we had found, but thoroughly enjoyed our experience again. We each set a date for the first missionary discussion and thus it began.

We looked for Sheila at school again at the beginning of the next week but she was not there. We started to ask around if anyone had seen her but no one could recall seeing a new student, no one remembered her in their classes. We never saw Sheila again.

I continued with the missionary discussions with my mum sitting in with me. After 4 months, the missionaries challenged me to baptism.  I said “Yes,” but my dad said “No!”  I kept going to church, however, and 6 months later the missionaries challenged me again. I went home to ask my parents, somewhat afraid of the answer and not sure what I was going to do if Dad said no again. My dad looked thunderous at the repeated request. My mum sent me out of the room and closed the door. Like all good teenagers, I listened through the door to what they were saying. I will never forget what I heard. My mum said to my dad, “If you can offer her something better, do it now.  If not, get out of her way.” My dad opened the door, didn’t say a word and walked right passed me.  My mum followed him out and said, “Call the missionaries – NOW!” I did and set up a baptism date right then and there.

That was 40 years ago. Because of Sheila, my mum, the missionaries, the tenacity of the spirit and the beginnings of a testimony (a feeling I had never had before) I am here today. I have no idea who Sheila was. I have no idea why she targeted my friend and I that day on the school field but I know that will be eternally grateful for what she did and for giving me a chance to find the gospel.

-This post was written by a good friend who wishes to remain anonymous. 

 

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, humility, 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, serve others, and find peace. Such insight requires that, as we innovate, we yield our hearts to Him.  Yielding our hearts to God is especially necessary as we seek personal achievement in righteous endeavors 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).  After reaching such success they probably looked forward to fishing and managing their business 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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Achieving success in any area for which we feel passion, including our families, our careers, and other noble endeavors, requires resolve, energy, and a determination to do whatever it takes with integrity. The pursuit will demand our time and attention, and sometimes many tears.  I believe such efforts can be pleasing to God.  When Adam was driven from his garden home, God gave the commandment “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:19). 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.

Passion, determination and appropriate self-sacrifice are all essential in pursuing any achievement that is truly worthwhile. God also commands us to pray for His help in these pursuits (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 comes exactly as we think it 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 baby 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.