By Brian Boyer
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.
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).
God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit.
As the gifts of others become more apparent, it can be easy to fear that we are somehow missing out, and to think “If only I could be more like him,” or “If only I could have the opportunities or circumstances that she has.” Succumbing to this fear of missing out weakens our faith, in the words of Elder Christofferson, that “God does rain down upon all His children all the blessings He can—all the blessings that love and law and justice and mercy will permit.”
Given this truth, I am drawn to Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s question, “Why do we feel damaged when somebody else is blessed?” This, he said, is a “fundamental question that we ought to work through in our life before it’s over.” Such feelings of damage distract us from recognizing the good we have, and in that sense, are self-fulfilling. As the writer Samuel 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 struck and somewhat puzzled by all the injustices, sorrow, and pain he could perceive in the world. I often empathize with such feelings. He then, however, concedes, “But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish” and over the next fourteen verses his perspective undergoes a compete transformation. 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). With that acknowledgement, Alma begins to see the good he can accomplish with the abilities 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 magnifying the gifts God had already given him, and miracles ensue.
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 may 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).
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.
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.