Wait Training

Patience
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As a young deacon I went on a 4 day, 40 mile backpacking trip with my father, younger brother, and Varsity scouts and leaders. It was memorable and enjoyable but it was not easy. We hiked through a canyon and along a river called the Paria. Just as the name implies – we were like outcasts in a remote location in Arizona. This is an area near the Grand Canyon with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Much of our hike consisted of following the river through the canyon; this meant we spent a lot of time walking through the river. We couldn’t carry enough water to last the extended hike but for two days we enjoyed pure water from springs that seeped or poured from the canyon walls.

Most of our hike kept us within the shelter of narrow canyon walls – walls at times less than 10 feet apart. Once we started to near the end of the canyon it opened and heated up. Soon we found ourselves away from springs and shade. We hiked through sand, cacti, and heat. We couldn’t rely on spring water and had to purify water from the river. The hike that had been tiring but pleasant turned more arduous. At one point one of the young men got tired enough that he started asking when the hike would be over. One of the leaders said encouragingly, “It’s just around the next bend.” After a few of those questions and responses after hiking some hours more, the young man finally blurted out in frustration, “It’s not around the next bend; it’ll never be around the next bend!”

Life can be like that. It can be hard, long, and tiring. The path to eternal life is similarly long. We might feel to cry out, “It’ll never be around the next bend!” but if we stick with it we will end up at our destination. As we hiked through the canyon, we had to endure to the end. We had to press through and press on even though we were tired and hungry. We had to press on in part because there was nowhere else to go. We couldn’t go up the walls or go back – our cars were at the end of the canyon – so we had to go through. This left us with two options – we could hike grudgingly and be miserable or we could endure with patience and enjoy our time. This is largely true of life. We can go through it grudgingly and be miserable or we can do all we can to make the most of whatever situations we are in – good or bad, happy or sad. We can choose to be strengthened and tutored patiently by the trials we endure or just suffer through them.

Patient endurance is a trait of the righteous. As part of the plan of salvation and gospel of Jesus Christ, enduring is resisting evil, not subsisting on it. As we go through trials it is important to go all the way through them. Press forward until you are past the trial. Don’t give up just because something is hard. You can do hard things. You can even be happy in adversity.

This leads to the age-old question of why God allows us to suffer. If God is good and loves us, why are so many people miserable? Why is there so much sadness, even among the righteous? C. S. Lewis wrote:

“By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness…by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness — the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven — a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.‘” (Source).

This reminds me of the scripture in 2nd Nephi 28: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us. And there shall also be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry; nevertheless, fear God—he will justify in committing a little sin…and if it so be that we are guilty, God will beat us with a few stripes, and at last we shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” (2 Nephi 28:7-8)

Many think God should be like the grandfather who spoils His grandkids and then hands them back to parents. We think God should just let us have a good time, eating, drinking, and partying. However, God really does love us, which means He allows His children to learn by experience. How many parents prevent children from learning to walk because they might fall? Or how many parents see their children struggling through school or a sport or another activity and decide that any difficulty or anxiety or challenge is harmful and should be avoided. If we avoided everything that causes us discomfort, we wouldn’t learn or grow. Parents are pained when their children hurt or are upset but there is no growth without adversity. Growth comes from enduring adversity and learning from it.

In weight training, strength and growth come from resistance exercises; it’s in the resistance that strength comes, not in giving in or giving up or avoiding the weights. Without following safety procedures and weight limits, however, serious injury can occur. The benefits also do not come from one session. Growth and strengthening take time and patience. Just as weight training can strengthen our muscles, wait – W A I T – training can strengthen our patience.

What is the longest you waited for something you really wanted? Hours? Days? Months? Years? Sometimes the more we want something, the longer it takes to get it. To hopeful children Christmas Eve feels like a year. But what blessings can come after the wait!

We live in a world of instant gratification. We can order enough furniture and other items to fill a house and get it all delivered within two days. We can instantly reach most people in the world through thin rectangular boxes in our pockets or purses. We can see events happen live around the world on those same devices. Sometimes we might feel impatient if a website doesn’t load instantly. Many people feel frustrated or even explosively angry by delays of a few seconds or minutes, especially when driving.

While it is a wonderful blessing to have instant access and near-instant gratification, much of life requires dedicated effort to reach goals. We need to learn how to wait if we want to make it successfully through life. In October, scientists announced a treatment that will cure many diseases and health challenges (Piercy KL, Troiano RP, Ballard RM, et al. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. JAMA.2018;320(19):2020–2028. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.14854). Among the benefits of this treatment are lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol. This treatment also lowers the risk of many types of cancer; it improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, improves sleep, and slows weight gain or reduces weight. There are many more benefits. What is this miracle treatment? Exercise.

Occasional exercise isn’t enough. We can’t run a few steps or lift a few weights and see the benefits. These health benefits take consistent and dedicated effort year after year. Those who consistently exercise can add up to seven years to their lives. That’s not just increased quantity but also increased quality. If we regularly exercise we will be healthier and happier than we are without exercise. While any amount of exercise helps, consistency is best.

Exercise has many benefits so why do most people get too little? One of the barriers is that it takes time. There are no instant health benefits; they require dedication and patience. Similar dedication and patience are required in the gospel and in life. Just as the full benefits of physical exercise take years of patient effort to receive, it takes years of dedicated spiritual effort and exercise to receive the full spiritual benefits. We receive many instant blessings from our Eternal Father but the ultimate blessings require faith and patience.

Jesus taught: “In your patience possess ye your souls.” (Luke 21:19). Joseph Smith read verses on patience as he contemplated the nature of God and which church he should join. In James 1:3-4 we read, as did Joseph: “The trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” The next verse was the key that inspired Joseph to pray and ask God. We often focus on the immediate answer to Joseph’s prayer but he spent years pondering, studying, and offering silent prayers before his miraculous vision (Source).

Many of us spend years seeking for answers to prayers. What do we do when answers don’t seem to come? Do we give up or do we continue trusting God? Do we only look for the answers that come how we expect or do we open our eyes and hearts to all the others answers God gives? Some of our prayers might be answered how and when we want or they might be answered how we want but not when we want. Some prayers might not be answered at all or maybe those ones are answered in ways we don’t expect.

President Uchtdorf said, “God’s promises are not always fulfilled as quickly as or in the way we might hope; they come according to His timing and in His ways…. I know for sure that the promises of the Lord, if perhaps not always swift, are always certain. Brigham Young taught that when something came up which he could not comprehend fully, he would pray to the Lord, ‘Give me patience to wait until I can understand it for myself.’ And then Brigham would continue to pray until he could comprehend it. We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes ‘line upon line, precept upon precept.’ In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience. Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” (Source)

God loves us. Our Savior Jesus Christ loves us. They want us to be happy – not just happy here but happy in eternity. As we develop patience, we trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not unto our own understandings (Proverbs 3:5). As we acknowledge Him, He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6). When we are tired and feel like our destination or an answer or blessing will never be around the next bend, we can patiently wait upon the Lord, doing the best we can. The blessings will come. The Lord “will go before our face. [He] will be on [our] right hand and on [our] left, and [His] Spirit shall be in [our] hearts, and [His] angels round about [us], to bear [us] up.” (D&C 84:88).

Image by airpix. Used under a CC by 2.0 license.

Faith is Proof

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The word faith is often used colloquially as a synonym for trust or belief: “You just have to have faith.” That is the “official” definition of faith as found in the Oxford English Dictionary: “Belief, trust, confidence”. Other uses and definitions of the word faith exist but faith as belief, trust, or confidence are the predominant uses of the word. Uses such as those, however, do not do justice to the real meaning of faith.

Let’s turn to the writings of the apostle Paul. “Now faith is the substance [assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence [proof] of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1).

We’ll accept the premise that there are things that are not seen but that exist. There are truths that are self-evident and self-existent that are not and cannot be observed. There are things that exist that we hope for but cannot see or hear or experience until some point in the future. As Alma stated: “And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32:21).

A part of faith is hope or belief but faith is much more than that. Thomas Hobbes explained faith in his work Leviathan: “But what (may some object) if a King, or a Senate, or other Soveraign Person forbid us to beleeve in Christ? To this I answer, that such forbidding is of no effect, because Beleef, and Unbeleef never follow mens Commands. Faith is a gift of God, which Man can neither give, nor take away by promise of rewards, or menaces of torture.” (Hobbes, Leviathan, iii. xlii. 271; spelling and punctuation not modernized). “Faith is a gift of God.” Wait, isn’t faith a gift we give to God? We believe in Him even though we don’t see Him? That’s belief and hope and trust. Faith transcends belief. Faith is a gift from God.

As Paul wrote, faith is an assurance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith is thus given as proof for our belief. Faith isn’t the antecedent, faith is the consequent. Belief and good works are the antecedent.

Alma further taught: “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28).

We have desires to believe. Do we plant that desire of belief in our hearts? Not really. What we plant is the seed of faith (really, the word but I’ll incorporate faith into the word for now). We do not create this seed, it is a gift from God. That seed is planted and not cast out by our unbelief. We have to belief and trust and follow the Lord’s commands to nurture the seed of faith. As we do so, we are blessed with further evidence (faith) as we see the seed grow and sprout and produce good fruit.

Why it is important to recognize that faith is evidence (proof) is that many times we feel like we are acting “just with faith” until we receive proof – some big spiritual manifestation that will remove the need for faith (e.g., “Yea, your knowledge is perfect in that thing, and your faith is dormant; and this because you know, for ye know that the word hath swelled your souls.” Alma 32:34). However, faith is exactly the proof we are looking for. How many times do we believe and trust and hope and experiment upon the word but miss the results of that experiment (faith)? So often we seek for signs without realizing that faith is the sign we’ve been seeking. Faith is a gift from God. As Moroni wrote on spiritual gifts: “And to [some is given] exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith comes of and by the Spirit of the Lord.

Faith is part of a positive feedback loop. This means that with increased faith comes increased hope and belief and trust. Those in turn can increase faith. However, at its core, faith is a manifestation of God’s spirit and power. It is a gift from Him given to us to bless our lives and help us know of His love for us.

To read more that is related to this topic, read this previous post of mine: Philosophical Arguments and the Existence of God. We need to realize that our assumptions of what constitutes as evidence do not necessarily equate with the evidence given to us by God.

A Move and Heavenly Father’s Plans

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My family and I just moved from Florida to North Carolina for school-related training. During the chaos of a move and the uprooting of a family, there is something that provides great stability – the Church. I don’t know how many outside the Church understand how amazing the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is. It is organized in such a way that all around the country or world, even with cultural and individual differences, congregations are the same – different people, same organization. You know exactly what to expect when going to church. There is unity in the Church.

As I drove in for the first time to the city in which I now live, I had the distinct feeling that this was where I wanted and needed to be. I had a series of interviews with different supervisors and faculty, which interviews strengthened my desire to be where I am now. After visiting a few other sites around the country, even though there was much to commend the other sites for, none of them had the same feeling of “rightness” for me as did where I am now. After all my interviews were done I submitted rankings of where I wanted to be and then waited to see where I matched (interviewees ranked sites and sites ranked interviewees and a computer algorithm figured out the best fit for everyone). I was extremely grateful but not overly surprised when I matched at my top site here in North Carolina. I was not surprised because I knew that this is where I needed to be.

Six years ago when visiting the university where I attend graduate school, I had a similar experience. As I was driving in to the city where the university is housed, I had a feeling that it was where I both wanted and needed to be. Sure enough, it’s where I ended up. There have been other times – four that are very distinct – when what I really wanted was not what the Lord wanted for me and what He knew was best for me. In those instances I have had to trust the Lord and give up on what I thought was best for what I knew was right. The Lord does not always give us what we ask for, for what we ask for is not always right even if we might feel it is good. In these times, what has been helpful for me is to review Hugh B. Brown’s story of the currant bush. The main message of his story is that sometimes the Lord cuts us down to build us up better than we would have been otherwise.

Now back to North Carolina. When looking for a place to live, we went through many options and took time to figure out where we wanted to live. We had to consider my commute time, whether or not we rented a house or an apartment, schools for the kids, rent cost, and which ward we wanted to live in. I felt drawn to the current area and ward boundaries in which we live. Maybe my draw to the ward was because we had heard that it had a lot of young families and a lot of kids but this was the ward for which I felt the most draw. Then, almost like manna from heaven, we discovered a house to rent where we wanted to be and where we felt that we needed to be.

We moved in and went to church and felt right at home. The people are friendly, the teachings are the same, and we are happy to be where we are. I don’t know why we need to be in this particular ward or even at this particular training site, but I believe the Lord needs us to be here, if only because it is what best helps my family. Are not all these feelings I’ve had just my wishful thinking? Are they not just what I want to further my career? Are these feelings of “needing” to be somewhere fanciful imaginations and, when I end up there, coincidence? No, I do not believe that they are. God has a plan for each of us. Our Father in Heaven loves us and wants us to have the most good that we can while doing the most good for others that we can. God gives us opportunities to help others; sometimes He places us in situations so that we can help others; we need to be sensitive to those situations and serve those around us.

This reminds me of an opportunity I had to help someone else. As an LDS missionary I had the opportunity to become good friends with a fellow missionary. What I did not know is that this missionary was struggling with wanting to stay on the mission – the stress of the mission and other factors (including difficulties with a companion) were becoming overwhelming. After we had become friends, this missionary confided in me that I was one of the major factors in this missionary’s decision to remain a missionary. This person and I were both in situations where we could meet and help one another. I believe the Lord directed me to my particular mission area not just for the people I could teach the gospel to but also for the opportunity to help missionaries around me. I write these not to seek accolades or to pat myself on the back, they are meant to serve as examples of the necessity of being in tune with God’s plan for us and acting to help Him with His work – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of humankind (see Moses 1:39). We need to be willing soldiers in the army of the Lord, willing to go and do the things that the Lord commands us (see 1 Ne. 3:7).

It is well

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One of my new favorite hymns is “It is well with my soul.” This moving hymn was penned by Horatio Spafford with music by Philip Bliss. You can read all the lyrics on the Wikipedia page I linked to but there’s one part of the hymn that I find powerful:

“My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Christ took our sins upon Himself so that we might not have to bear them. He suffered in Gethsemane, He was nailed to the cross, He rose triumphant from the tomb so that we do not have to bear our own sins. We, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, do not talk or focus on the cross as much as many other Christian religions do. There are reasons for this, which I won’t go into here but we’re certainly not opposed to the cross. Mainly I think we like to focus on Christ’s resurrection because we believe that we are part of His living church. The cross is important though because not only was the Savior born in the most humble of circumstances but also He was killed in one of the most horrific manners possible. Crucifixion was a fate given to the worst of the worst criminals. Christ was without His own sin but He took all our sins upon Himself. Our sins were nailed to the cross with Him.

The story behind this hymn is sad, which I think makes the hopefulness of the words more significant.

I’ll quote from Wikipedia:

“This hymn was written after several traumatic events in Spafford’s life. The first was the death of his only son in 1871 at the age of four, shortly followed by the great Chicago Fire which ruined him financially (he had been a successful lawyer). Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship, the Loch Earn, and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone.” Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.”

Amid all those trials Spafford wrote:

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

Is all well with your soul? Do you turn toward or away from God in your trials?

Here is my favorite recording of this hymn: