By Brian Boyer
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.
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.
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.
1Long enough to raise grain abundantly, flocks and herds.