Closer Than You Think

“Don’t give up.  You’re closer than you think.”  These bolstering words on the cover of Robert L. Millet’s latest book shout encouragement to gospel journeyers.  Are We There Yet? is Millet’s practical and truthful discussion about the Latter-day Saint struggle to pursue perfection.  He validates sincere spiritual effort, meager as it may be, and wittingly rejects the fallible belief that God will save only a few of His children.

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In 1976 Millet attended an orientation for seminary teachers at which Elder Bruce R. McConkie answered a question regarding discouragement among seminary students over the scripture, “Straight is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to eternal life and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14).  Elder McConkie’s words came unexpectedly to the group. 

He stood up straight at the pulpit and said, You tell your students that far more of our Father’s children will be exalted than we think!’  A stunned silence was followed by … guarded but animated chatter among the teachers” (8). 

The questioner asked Elder McConkie to explain himself further, and what followed, Millet says, was one of the most “enlightening and eye-opening discussions” he had ever been involved with.  Millet asserts that the worth of souls is great because of the dear price Jesus Christ paid for each person’s soul.  God’s plan is a winning plan, a plan to save those purchased souls.

More Than Worldly Wishing

The book is about hope in Christ.  Millet defines hope as “more than worldly wishing.  It is expectation, anticipation, assurance” (133).  He explains that with hope in Christ and a correct understanding and application of the Savior’s Atonement, we can receive that gift of peace that comes from God’s Spirit.  Peace comes to those who are clean, steady, and sure in the faith.  Repentance helps us become “a new creation of the Holy Ghost” (87), says Millet.  I like that.  We are not and will not be perfect in this life, but as we repent, we are given that peaceful Spirit that softly assures us we are on the right path.  For now, that is sufficient.  We need not dawdle in depressive thoughts that our best efforts won’t be good enough.  Millet explains, “It would be a terrible thing if we discover at the end of our gospel journey that we didn’t make the cut, that our puny and paltry offering simply wasn’t enough to qualify for the highest heaven” (5).  “I trust in and rely upon Him who says to you and me now, in essence, You’re not there yet, but you’re pointed in the right direction. Stay with it” (37). 

Living with hope often requires waiting – waiting on the Lord.  Millet urges us to be patient in our expectations and anticipations.  “To be impatient with God is to lose sight of the truth … that our Heavenly Father loves us, is mindful of our present problems … and has a plan, both cosmic and personal, for our happiness here and our eternal reward hereafter” (133).

Truer Than True

Since we are examining truth, let truth be told – I’ve become a Millet fan.  Professor of ancient scripture and former dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, Millet would probably cringe to think he might have a small fan club out there.  But after reading Getting at the Truth, I decided Millet’s forte is just that – he gets right to the truth, not beyond it.  Are We There Yet? does the same.  Charged with healthy gospel attitude, Millet’s writing is a blend of down-to-earth honesty and appropriate spiritual aspirations.  His points are easy to understand and worth applying when it comes to hurdling spiritual pitfalls. 

Millet’s specialty of getting at the truth allows him to write in very candid, confessional form.  It also gives him place to warn readers of spiritual snares, like what he calls being “truer than true.”  To be “truer than true” is to adopt spiritual hobbies that cause us to go beyond the established mark. 

“God does not expect us to work ourselves into spiritual, emotional, or physical oblivion” (66), says Millet.  Millet believes imbalance will lead to instability, deception and eventual destruction.

He cites several examples of individuals he knows who tried desperately to live the gospel perfectly.  Their zealousness led to unrighteous judgment and spiritual impairment.  “We have been counseled to stay in the mainstream of the Church, to see that our obedience and faithfulness reflect sane and balanced living.  While we are to be true, we need not be truer than true … we will arrive safely at the end of our gospel journey through steady and dedicated discipleship … not through crusades or marathons.  True conversion manifests itself in settled simplicity” (71).  These are great words.

To quickly sum up additional chapters, let me mention some of the pithy, helpful truths Millet teaches.  “People are more important than truth” (30).  “God does not grade on a curve” (40).  “We cannot force spiritual things” (127).  “Comparing just doesn’t work. Period” (41). “An attitude of gratitude is contagious” (53).  And “There is no all at once” (125).

Entering Heaven

Consider the idea that “there is no all at once” when it comes to the spiritual journey.  We don’t receive all heavenly gifts in one large package.  Line upon line, precept by precept, we fill our spiritual reservoir.  One “small stretch at a time,” Millet says, we move towards our eternal destination. 

What then, when we arrive there?  The final chapter of Millet’s book poses this question – asked of Millet by a theologian friend of another faith.  His friend wondered what he would say if God asked him at the end of his life, “Why should I let you into Heaven?”  This is a halting question.  I won’t give away his answer with all its delicious truth, but will tell you that Millet soundly declares our right to enter heaven is real if we have complete trust and faith in Jesus Christ. 

“It is when we are up against the wall of faith, stripped of personal confidence, and naked in our ineptitude that we recognize that we can’t handle it.  That simple admission, that moment of truth, that powerful confession has the effect of transferring not only our trust and our allegiance to the Omnipotent One but also shifting our confidence and reliance – and the fretting and worrying that accompany excessive self-reliance – to One who assumes the burden for us, the only One who is entitled to our complete trust (We call that faith)” (23).

Millet seems to find that heart-pricking place where realism and optimism meet.  “While we must never be arrogant or self-assured when it comes to our salvation, we need not yield to false modesty, false doctrine (that notion that few, if any, will make it) or false feelings of inadequacy.  There is a better way to live our lives, a more excellent way, one that comes through Him who is the way” (15). 

Again, he points out this place of balance.

  “My testimony is that we have a very good chance, an excellent chance, if we can learn to see things in proper perspective and live our lives in the light of that perspective.  We need to learn to achieve that delicate balance between divine discontent (sanctified dissatisfaction) and what Nephi called a perfect brightness of hope'” (35). 

Millet takes enormous comfort in the fact that he is not on the path alone.  His book constantly reminds us that Jesus Christ is our chance, the excellent way, the key to our salvation.  “Let’s be wise and honest: We cannot handle it.  We cannot make it on our own.  We cannot pull ourselves up by our spiritual bootstraps.  We are not bright enough or powerful enough to bring to pass the mighty change necessary to see and enter the Kingdom of God” (27).  Put another way, Millet states, “God and I are working together to save my soul” (127).  Isn’t that a hopeful approach?  We work together with God for the salvation of our soul.

 Never Give Up

“Satan … strives to discourage us whenever we fall short of the standards we and God have set for ourselves.  We simply must not let him discourage us.  I have a witness, burned into my soul as if by fire, that God is mindful of his children and that he has established a divine plan for the ultimate transformation of man and society.  I also know that we can make it, make it to the celestial kingdom, if we stay on the gospel path, trust in and rely upon him who is mighty to save, press on, and never, never give up” (14).

Such fiery words and earnest encouragement do what Millet intends – they give us hope in Christ – a hope that we can indeed “land [our] souls, yea, [our] immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven” (Helaman 3:30).  Are We There Yet? is a read for every active Latter-day Saint. It is a spiritual boost, a self-check book that will make you take heart when you imagine all of us “in the gospel harness” together. 

As Millet writes, “We’re on track and for now, that’s all that matters” (83).