Entries in Svithe (9)
Painting from the book This is Jesus, by J. Kirk Richards
I remember well my first experience with repentance. When I was about five years old, I was at the supermarket with my mother, and I asked her if she would buy me some chewing gum. She said no, and I was very disappointed. I wanted that gum. And then, at the checkout line, while my mother was busy with my two younger sisters, I noticed that the carton holding the chewing gum had the words “Free Gift” printed on it—doubtless some kind of mail-away offer requiring proof of purchase. However, even though I knew it was wrong, I decided that the words “Free Gift” meant I could take the gum while no one was looking and put it in my pocket.
Once we got home, my mother noticed me chewing something and demanded to know what it was. I showed her the empty pack of gum and tried to employ my “Free Gift” defense strategy. My mother would have none of it. She bundled up my sisters again, marched me back to the store, and summoned the manager out of his office. I then had to confess what I had done and apologize. I felt alone, exposed, and utterly friendless. My mother gave the manager a nickel—that’s how much gum cost in 1971—and we left. Mortified by the experience, I vowed never to sin again, because I didn’t think I could ever live through another instance of such embarrassment and shame. Unfortunately, that was a promise I could not keep, though I can say with confidence that I have not stolen anything since.
As a footnote, I must admit that when I found out that children younger than eight years old were not accountable for their misdeeds, I felt a little ripped off. But I acknowledge that my mother taught me a powerful lesson that day.
Here’s a more tragic story of restitution: In the thirteenth century, Jacopone da Todi, a successful young lawyer, married a devout young woman named Vanna. Though he loved his wife, da Todi was a greedy, worldly man who frequently gave himself over to temptations. Not long after they were married, the couple attended a tournament, and Vanna was killed when the stands in which they were sitting collapsed. After her death, da Todi found that Vanna had been wearing a garment of sackcloth under her gown. He was stricken to his core to realize that she had been secretly doing so for months in an effort to perform penance for his many sins.
Da Todi, in his shock and guilt, gave up his legal practice, gave away all his money and possessions, and lived a long life of poverty and repentance: preaching, serving others, and seeking to live as the Savior did. He was a gifted poet, and wrote many laudi, or poems of praise, to express his devotion to God.
His most famous poem is “Stabat Mater Dolorosa,” which means “the sorrowful mother stood.” In it, da Todi imagines Mary’s grief at witnessing the sufferings of Jesus. The Stabat Mater has been set to music dozens of times by composers like Palestrina, Haydn, Schubert, and Dvorak, and has been sung as part of Easter worship services for centuries. Here is part of a nineteenth-century translation.
At the Cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful Mother weeping,
close to her Son to the last.
Through her heart, His sorrow sharing,
and His bitter anguish bearing,
now at length the sword has passed.
O how sad and sore distressed
was that Mother, highly blest,
of the sole-begotten One.
Christ above in torment hangs,
she beneath beholds the pangs
of her dying glorious Son.
Is there one who would not weep,
whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ's dear Mother to behold?
Can the human heart refrain
from partaking in her pain,
in that Mother's pain untold?
For the sins of His own nation,
She saw Jesus wracked with torment,
All with scourges rent:
She beheld her tender Child,
Saw Him hang in desolation,
Till His spirit forth He sent. —Edward Caswall, Lyrica Catholica, 1849
Though I am a mother, and know firsthand how parents suffer when their children are in pain, I, like da Todi, can barely imagine Mary’s grief. I am sure, though, that Mary would have taken on some of her son’s pain, shouldered part of his load, if she could have. We have this urge when we see that those we love are hurting.
But, though we are commanded to mourn with those who mourn (Mosiah 18:9), our sorrow does not pay the price for the mistakes of others—or for our own. And though we covenant to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, any relief we provide is only temporary. Vanna da Todi, though moved to an act of vicarious penitence by love, could not redeem her husband. Mary, though she stood by her Son “to the last,” could not lessen his burden. And Jacopone da Todi, though he spent decades praising God through his virtuous acts and beautiful poetry, could not atone for the mistakes of his youth.
Only Jesus Christ can reconcile us to our Father by offering flawless, complete, unlimited atonement for our sins. That Atonement has four parts:
Christ’s condescension to live a sinless, perfectly obedient life in humble circumstances;
his infinite suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane;
his willing death on the cross of Calvary;
and his triumphant resurrection from the borrowed tomb of a friend.
Gethsemane: In Gethsemane, Jesus not only paid the price for every one of our sins, great and small, but he also suffered each of our pains, sorrows, and infirmities. How could he do so in a matter of mere hours? And how could he suffer beforehand for everything that has happened in the almost 2,000 years since that night—and beyond?
This crucial piece of the Atonement must somehow have been wrought outside of the restrictions of time itself. In fact, as the Only Begotten Son of our Heavenly Father, the mortal Christ had power over both death and time. Because of this, he was free to experience every second of every life of the billions of his brothers and sisters—and he chose to, so that he would know through his own experience how to succor us. (Alma 7:11-12) He did not do so from afar, through some kind of spiritual movie screen. There is no distance between him and our iniquities and afflictions.
This means that each one of us, immersed in time, literally have Jesus with us right here, right now. Our bad behavior may chase away the Holy Spirit, but Christ chooses to stay through it all. Our currently finite minds have a hard time comprehending this. But in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ last recorded words are “lo, I am with you alway, even until the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) These are not the kind words of a well-intentioned friend. This is a statement of fact, an echo of his own words to Isaiah: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Likewise, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, when Jesus tells us “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” (Matthew 25:40) he is not speaking figuratively. He is declaring a literal truth. Whether to lift up or to beat down, whether to serve or to hurt—because the Savior is with others each moment, we are doing whatever we do unto him as well. None of us is ever alone—which can be both a comfort and a condemnation.
The Cross: Throughout his earthly life, Jesus did not experience spiritual death, or in other words, the separation from God that befalls us through sin. He had the constant companionship of his Father. To the Jews in the temple, he declared, “he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:29) Later, he testified to his apostles at the Last Supper, “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” (John 16:32)
But there was a moment on the cross when Christ realized that he was suddenly and utterly alone. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” he cried in agony. (Matthew 27:46) Elder Holland has said that “For His Atonement to be infinite and eternal, Christ had to feel what it was like to die not only physically but spiritually, to sense what it was like to have the divine Spirit withdraw, leaving one feeling totally, abjectly, hopelessly alone.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “None Were With Him,” April 2009) It was only after that his suffering was finished, and he could lay down his life. His family and friends then hurried to lay his body to rest before the Sabbath began that evening.
All the next day, while his people rested from their labors in observance of the fourth commandment (Luke 23:56), Christ was at work. In the spirit world, he proclaimed “liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that [were] bound…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1, 3) He offered himself to all, both living and dead, both those who knew who he was and those who had never heard of him.
The Resurrection: And then, on Sunday morning, he took up his body, never to die again. Mary Magdalene, hurrying to the garden to finish the traditional anointing process of Christ’s body, was shocked to find the tomb empty. Later, Christ appeared to her, and she recognized him once he called her by name. She then ran to announce the joyful news to the other disciples. Jesus had risen, and become “the firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) In doing so, he opened the way for us all.
Near the end of his first letter to the saints in Corinth, Paul expounds on this mystery: “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye..for the dead shall be raised incorruptible.” Paul tells us that this is a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (Isaiah 25:8) He goes on to marvel, “O death, where is thy sting, O grave, where is thy victory?…thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57, ed.)
Though he promises us perfect bodies in the next life, Christ chose to keep several physical imperfections as part of his glorified immortality. The scars of the wounds inflicted upon him remain still, and have become a sign to the world that he is who he says he is. “Arise and come forth unto me,” the resurrected Lord commanded the Nephites when he first appeared to them, “that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.” (3 Nephi 11:14) And the multitudes did so, one by one, that they might each have their own personal witness of the reality of the Savior. Those present at his Second Coming will have that same individual opportunity. (D&C 45:51)
I am overcome when I consider the Savior’s gifts to me. The beauty of this marvelous earth. Countless opportunities to repent and forgive. The temple and its covenants; the scriptures and the way I hear God’s voice whisper to me through them. His teachings; his example; my sure knowledge that he is the Christ. His offering to share his yoke with me, even though I will never be able to pull my own weight. His willingness to spend an untold amount of time experiencing all of my moments, good and bad. And finally, gloriously, reconciliation to my Heavenly Parents through his victory over sin and death.
And there is more. To quote Elder Holland again: “Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the [Christ’s] Atonement.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, ibid.)
I say these things humbly in the name of my Savior and yours, even Jesus Christ, Amen.
This is the Christmas program I wrote for today's Sacrament Meeting. We used this choir book and this hymnal. Our theme was inspired by this beautiful book. Due to the skills of our lovely reader, Lael Littke, our brilliant organist, Janet Smith, and the stalwart choir under the direction of my spectacular husband, I think it was our best program ever.
Jules Bastien-LePage, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, 1875
Congregation: #212 “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains”
The Gospel is rich with symbols, and at no time are they more abundant than at Christmas time. The purpose of symbols is to enlarge our understanding and help us to see patterns and relationships. Symbols are the sign language of faith.
Many of our favorite Christmas symbols teach us about Jesus Christ, His merits and mercy, His condescension and His atonement. But we can find meaning in even the most secular of symbols; we can see Christ and the Father’s plan of happiness all around us, if we only take a moment to look and contemplate. A kind, immortal, bearded man who brings gifts to all the world and has a special love of children. Bells that herald the coming of priests and the call to worship. The diversity and uniqueness of a snowflake, each of countless known to God. We invite you now to ponder some of the most powerful symbols of Christmas, for as Moses writes, “all things bear record” of the Lord.
The holly plant has been a symbol of both Christ’s birth and death for centuries. Its leaves stay green throughout the darkest, coldest winter, and its thorns represent the crown of thorns the Savior wore at his crucifixion. The holly berries also point to Jesus and the reasons He came into the world. We celebrate the birth of a baby because of what that baby will become and do: live a perfect life, then work out an infinite Atonement for each and every one of us. For “he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
Choir: “Sans Day Carol”
Congregation: #209 “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”
Every year at this time, we decorate our houses with evergreen wreaths, garlands, and fir trees. Throughout the Christian world, the evergreen tree symbolizes the Savior, growing and fragrant seemingly eternally. Alma tells us a parable about such a tree, teaching, “But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beignets to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”
Quartet: “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree”
Prophets from Abraham to John the Revelator link Christ to the image of the star. Job asked, “Is not God in the height of the heaven? And behold the height of the stars, how high they are.” Shining in the night sky, stars are guiding lights through the darkness, helping those with eyes to see to navigate their journeys. We sing of one particular star that led believers to the birthplace of the Savior. “And, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
Choir: “Star Carol”
Congregation: #201 “Joy to the World”
Before the modern hybrids we have now, the rose blossom had only five petals. For early Christians, this simple, humble flower brought to mind both Jesus and his mother, Mary. The petals stood for the five wounds of Christ; its pure white color spoke of purity of both mother and child. Its fragrance and hardiness represented Jesus’ generosity and His long-suffering. But the rose also represents the kingdom of God on the earth. Isaiah foretells that, when the Lord begins to gather and restore His people, “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing.”
Choir: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”
One of the sweetest visions of Christmas is that of Mary nurturing her newborn Child. We can imagine her devotion and sense of wonder whenever we see a mother with a new baby. But Isaiah repeatedly reminds us that Jesus’ love for us is more perfect and full than that of even the most mindful of parents. Our Lord would gather us as a hen gathers chicks; he calls after us as softly and tenderly as a lullaby.
Choir: “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly”
Congregation: #204 “Silent Night”
It’s not enough for us to hear and accept the good news of the Savior come to earth; we must do something about it. President Hinckley said, “As [Christ’s] followers, we cannot do a mean or shoddy or ungracious thing without tarnishing His image. Nor can we do a good and gracious and generous act without burnishing more brightly the symbol of Him whose name we have taken upon ourselves. And so our lives must become a meaningful expression, the symbol of our declaration of our testimony of the Living Christ, the Eternal Son of the Living God.”
Wenceslas, the compassionate ruler, is an emblem of Christian faith in action. He ventures out in a terrible storm to bring food, drink, and light to a poor peasant family. The servant who accompanies him struggles and nearly freezes to death in the forest wilderness—until he walks in the footsteps of his master. When the storms of life rage around us, we, too, can find refuge in following our Master’s steps—especially when we unselfishly follow James’s admonition to take care of the widows and fatherless wherever they may be.
Choir: “Good King Wenceslas”
Closing Hymn: #202 “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful”
"Svithe" is a word coined by Th. It means roughly "to tithe a seventh," and refers to the blog posts he puts up on Sundays. I have used it in the past and do so now with all proper homage and deference.
In 1740, John Wesley started a new tradition in his young church. As an alternative to the usual drunken revelry that was (and is) New Year’s Eve, he held a special late evening service called “Watch-night” or “Covenant Renewal.” Worshipers would contemplate the past year, make confessions, give testimonies, and prayerfully formulate specific resolutions to keep their Christian covenants more fully. Watch-night is one of the sources of our modern-day New Year’s tradition. In late December, we think about the year that has past and the year that is to come. It’s a time of measuring and contemplation, and above all, resolution.
Judaism has a much older, if similar, tradition—but the order of events is a bit different. The faithful celebrate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year—which usually falls some time in September. It is said that the Book of Life is opened on Rosh Hashanah in order to judge the nations, and any people found lacking have the ten days until Yom Kippur to repent and make things right in their lives so that they can be “sealed up unto life.” Observant Jews fast and attend synagogue services on Yom Kippur, repenting and making restitution for wrongdoings in the past year and resolving to become better in the new year to come.
Many of us will at least consider making a resolution or two sometime this week. Maybe we want to lose weight or save money or learn a new language. There’s a reason that every gym in America has a membership boom every January.
Of course, many (if not most) New Year’s resolutions end up failing. I know lots of people who don’t even make resolutions anymore, because they seem to lose steam any time between mid-January and March. What’s the point of making a goal that’s doomed to fail, they ask.
It can be a discouraging prospect, but perhaps it’s helpful to compare resolutions to baseball. In the only true and living sport, a player’s batting average is a calculation of the number of hits divided by the number of times he comes up to bat. A season batting average of .300, or three hits for every ten at-bats, is considered excellent, and a season average of .400, or four hits for every ten at-bats, is a nearly unachievable statistic. So, whereas a thirty to forty percent is a miserably failing grade on, say, a chemistry final, in baseball, thirty to forty percent is outstanding. Apply baseball stats to your resolutions going forward, and maybe you’ll feel a little better about your success rate.
Of course, we can’t define success by intentions alone. Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells is famous for saying, “You are what your record says you are.” This can be a bleak doctrine, except for one thing. In real life, unlike in sports, repentance can change our record entirely. In Mosiah 26:30, the Lord promises “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” Further, he tells us in Doctrine & Covenants 58:42, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” This, to me, is one of the great miracles of the Gospel. Jesus, our Advocate with the Father, will literally no longer remember our mistakes once we fully and sincerely repent.
LDS composer Leroy Robertson based the text for a treble chorale in his masterpiece “The Book of Mormon Oratorio,” on 3 Nephi 12:47. “Old things are done away, all have become new, fulfilled in the coming of our Savior. The Father maketh his Son to rise and smileth down in favor.” The chorale is sung at the moment the resurrected Christ descends from heaven and shows Himself to the Nephites, but the scripture has a broader application than that specific instance. When we repent and allow the Savior into our lives and hearts, old things are done away. The Holy Spirit renews us; Christ’s covenant is fulfilled again each time we fully avail ourselves of His Atonement. “Old things are done away” when we forsake sin and apply the healing, atoning blood of Christ to our wounded souls—and all becomes new.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for a once-a-year transformative renewal. The Lord, in his wisdom and mercy, instituted the ordinance of the Sacrament, ideally to be celebrated on a weekly basis. In Doctrine & Covenants 59:9, the Lord instructs us: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” By doing so, we can have the tremendous privilege of having the Holy Ghost for our companion. As we mindfully partake of the Sacrament, offering up our broken hearts and contrite spirits, we will find renewal, and peace. The Holy Spirit will give us the strength and courage to keep the commitments we’ve made.
I read a fascinating book this week written by Marie Kondo, a successful Japanese decluttering expert who has a huge following in Tokyo. Her approach to home organization resonated with me, and I found it applicable to the way we should live the Gospel. Kondo’s key to success is simple. Instead of focusing on what you want to get rid of, she explains, focus on what brings you joy. She outlines a detailed plan for the resulting decluttering process that includes the following steps: taking a thorough inventory of your belongings in a given category; picking each one up and holding it in turn; and noticing whether that particular belonging sparks joy when you touch it and contemplate it.
If it does not, Kondo recommends thanking the item for however it has served us or whatever it has taught us—and we should be specific—and then let it go. To the trash, to the charity shop, wherever—just out of the house (which includes the basement and garage). Kondo promises that if we do this thoroughly and as quickly as possible, we’ll be left with only that which makes us happy or is useful to us in our lives going forward.
I only had an hour between finishing her book and dinner preparation time last Friday, so I decided to experiment with her technique on a relatively small job: my knitting cabinet. Over the years, I’ve acquired a fair amount of yarn, most of it for unspecified purposes—projects to knit “someday.” Living in Southern California, I’ve known for a while that I should probably find another home for some of the heavier wools that simply won’t be useful to me here—but I hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it.
On Friday, I took all the yarn out of the cabinet and held each skein individually. I found that some of the yarn I still wanted to keep; it still sparked the thrill of creation for me, and I could imagine beautiful, useful things to make with it. But I discovered I could easily part with two thirds of the stash. I’ve boxed it up and will send it to a fellow knitter in New York next week.
How does this apply to the Gospel? Too often, I think that we as members of the Church approach change with a Puritanical attitude. We look at our bad habit or poor choice or foolish behavior with disgust and shame. Regret, or “godly sorrow,” as it’s called in the scriptures, is part of the repentance process; shame is Satan’s counterfeit. Regret inspires honest, forthright change; godly sorrow recognizes the lessons learned from the mistakes made. But shame isolates and encourages us to hide. Shame brings both despair and a perverse desire to wallow in our past rather than learn from it and move on.
So, let’s not focus on what we want to discard; let’s focus on what we want to keep, and let the rest go. In 1992, Elder William Bradford gave a General Conference talk on uncluttering our spiritual lives. He cautioned against letting terrestrial pursuits take time away from celestial goals. Notice that he didn’t mention telestial pursuits, but instead reminded us that the good can often rob the best if we’re not careful. Do we make time for sincere, heartfelt prayer? Do we immerse ourselves in careful scripture study, or do we merely read a few verses in a hurried half sleep?
Do our personal relationships with the Lord and our families come before work, hobbies, or even Church callings? Both Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy and Elder Bradford’s talk remind me of my favorite quote by President Ezra Taft Benson: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities."
That’s a promise from a prophet of the Lord: when we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. That is the very definition of holding onto what sparks joy. And as we let go of the past, we can do so with gratitude for the lessons we’ve learned. When old mistakes resurface in our memory, we can mentally thank them for how they’ve shaped us into better people, and then refuse to obsess over them. How streamlined and serene could your spiritual life be if you followed this principle faithfully?
In the days to come, consider taking a page from John Wesley’s book. We have no Watch-night service, but a visit to the temple or a quiet hour with the scriptures and our journals can accomplish similar results.
One of my very favorite hymns is #215, “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the words in 1850 to express his grief over the untimely death of a close friend. While listening to distant church bells swing wildly in the wind of a major storm, he outlined nearly every New Year’s resolution we might possibly make. Crawford Gates loved Tennyson’s poem so much that he set it to music. Gates used only the first, second, and last verses for the hymn, but the original poem is seven verses long. I find all seven to be a perfect meditation as I contemplate changes I want to make in my own life in the coming year:
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease,
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Christ at the Column, Antanello da Messina, c. 1470
I’ve had plenty of occasions to contemplate patience lately. I thought about patience as I sat in horrendous traffic on my way to the Temple last Wednesday. I thought about it as I scrubbed scorched milk out of a cooking pot for what felt like an hour. I thought about it as I waited to hear back from an editor that has had one of my manuscripts for months. And, when she finally got back to me with a negative response, I thought about patience as I contemplated the seeming lack of progress of my career.
These are garden-variety, everyday trials of patience, but I've have had opportunities to practice patience on a significantly grander scale. When we stood by helplessly twelve years ago as our tiny baby Tess struggled for breath and life in a NICU incubator; when Anne repeated her older sister’s five-week-premature arrival trick and added a collapsed lung to the mix, just for extra drama; and then, last March, as I sat in another hospital room and watched my father fade from this life.
Perhaps my first significant experience with patience as an adult occurred while I was on my mission to Montreal, Canada. I loved every day of my mission. I thrived on the daily intensive study of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I enjoyed the country and culture, and I found true, deep joy in serving and working with people who wanted to learn more about our church.
But one day, I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I was so sick that just walking across our tiny apartment to the bathroom or eating a meal would exhaust me, and I’d have to sleep for several hours to recover. After several visits to the doctor, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). This was a relatively new disorder in 1989. The doctors in Canada tried a few experimental treatments with me, but nothing worked.
My mission president was a physician by training, and for some strange reason, many, many missionaries in our mission had already come down with CFS during the first two years of my mission president’s service. He called me in to see him, and told me that after much prayer and consideration, he’d decided that I’d have to go home. I begged him to change his mind. He was compassionate, but firm. He’d seen other missionaries stay in the field for months in my condition, only to have to be sent home in the end.
When I went back to my apartment that evening, I cried and prayed and cried some more. I was so angry; I couldn’t understand why the Lord would do this to me. I was a good missionary. I loved Christ and His good news, and I loved bearing testimony of both. I had become fluent in French and conversed easily. I kept all the mission rules. I worked hard and got along well with my companions. Didn’t the Lord need me? Why was He punishing me?
In the days before I left Montreal, I spent my waking hours in prayer and scripture study; that’s about all I had the strength to do. One day, I came across this verse in Doctrine & Covenants Section 5:
“Yea, for this cause I have said: Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.”
That verse cross-referenced to Isaiah, chapter 30, verse 15:
“In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.”
No, that’s right, Isaiah: I’d rather not.
But “in returning and rest shall ye be saved”: those words hit me like a thunderbolt. It seemed like they had been written just for me, and the Holy Ghost whispered their truth to me as I read and re-read them. Suddenly, I saw that my getting sick and going home was neither a random accident nor a punishment. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan for my mission and my life. I might not know the reasons why, but I realized that I could trust Him and obey gracefully.
For the next year, I slept 20 hours every day, and after that, got better very gradually. I learned both patience and humility as I relied on the Lord to guide me through something that I didn’t understand then and still don’t fully understand to this day, almost exactly 24 years later.
Brigham Young taught that when he didn’t understand something, he would pray “Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.” And then he’d keep praying for understanding. (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, p. 75) I try to do the same.
Likewise, patience cannot be separated from trust, faith, and hope. In Proverbs 3:5-6, we read,
“Trust in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Why are we always trying to direct our own paths, when the Lord can do it so much better? Our impatience is actually a lack of trust, faith, and humility; it implies that we know better than God does. When we remember to lean not unto our own understanding, we find the beginnings of patience.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” (Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience," 4/2010)
Oh, that’s hard for me. I have to endure well? When I’m in a trying situation—whether it’s something temporary, like a cranky child, a rude driver, or a broken dish; or something ongoing, like a chronic illness or a relationship that has turned toxic—sometimes it feels like it’s all I can do just to keep my mouth shut.
And that’s a good start. But it’s not enough to grit our teeth and push through; God asks us to work through our trials cheerfully, putting selfish desires aside and reaching out to help others in the midst of our own struggles.
But He does not leave us to that work alone. Speaking to his son Helaman, the prophet Alma counseled, “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 36:3)
Jesus Himself is our ultimate Example of patience in trials. He was patient with His disciples, with His family, and with the multitudes that constantly sought help from Him. He was patient with children and sinners and hypocrites. Then in the Garden of Gethsmane, He patiently bore the weight of every sin and every pain of each one of us, descending below all things (D&C 88:6) that He might raise us all up unto eternal life. At the end of his mortal life, He was humble and patient with those who persecuted and killed Him. No matter what happened, Christ submitted His will to that of His Father and endured to the end with perfect patience.
He calls to us to do the same, always promising His help and grace. He counseled the Prophet Joseph Smith in the revelation recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 101:38: “And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.”
In other words, if we first attain the proper perspective—a vision of what our mortal life is really about—we find that patience comes much more easily. When we seek the face of Christ by remembering Him throughout our days, our burdens become lighter. We’ll possess our souls—body and spirit—instead of letting circumstance control us. We’ll be living with agency, acting and not being acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:14)
Neal Maxwell echoed this, saying “Patience is a willingness…to watch the unfolding purposes of God with wonder and awe—rather than pacing up and down within the cell of our circumstance.” (Maxwell, “Patience,” 11/1979) I love that image. How often do I imprison myself in a cell of my own worry, irritation, and dissatisfaction? Unlocking the door to that cell is as simple as letting go and looking up. The use of patience, like the use of every heavenly virtue, magnifies our agency—which is exactly why we’re commanded to do so.
Though patience in trials is a significant challenge, and patience with those around us can be difficult at times, my biggest struggle in patience is with myself. I live with my significant weaknesses and frailties every hour of every day; I can’t ever escape them. And every time I falter—which is constantly—I’m tempted to get frustrated with myself. Shouldn’t I be better by now? Shouldn’t I have learned these lessons I keep repeating over and over?
But when I feel that temptation to frustration and despair, I try to remember my “personal” scriptures, those verses that opened my eyes and quieted my heart when I was full of anguish on my mission:
“In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength….” “Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.”