Have you ever felt helpless in the face of loved one’s choices? Have you ever felt like you were watching them walk closer and closer to the edge of a dangerous cliff with no way to stop them? I recently received news about some loved ones that made me feel that way. Waves of anxiety began to sweep over me. However, I had been given the very reassurance I needed before the fact and I began to apply it. Let me tell you how the Lord prepared me and continues to help me through this.
In testimony meeting earlier that day, two people spoke of God’s plan for us and how we need to trust that plan. We hear that terminology a lot: “God has a plan for us.” I suddenly felt a need to be reminded of what that really means. I looked in the topical index for scriptures that included the word “plan.” I can’t explain the feeling that came over me as I took note of the following: God’s plan is a plan of redemption for all His children. His plan is the plan of salvation. His plan is merciful. His plan is the great plan of happiness.
I started by reading the whole chapter of 2 Nephi 9. Let me just give a few phrases that especially lift my heart (verse numbers on each) “O how great the plan of our God! (13, emphasis added) O how great the goodness of our God! (v 10) “O the wisdom of God, his mercy and grace! (8) “O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One.” (41) “And whoso knocketh, to him will he open. (42) “Come unto that God who is the rock of your salvation.” (45) “Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice. “(52)
I went from there to Alma 12:30 “Therefore God conversed with men, and made known unto them the plan of redemption, which had been prepared from the foundation of the world.” (emphasis added) Continuing in verse 33: But God did call on men, in the name of his Son, (this being the plan of redemption which was laid) saying: If ye will repent, and harden not your hearts, then will I have mercy upon you, through mine Only Begotten Son.” (emphasis added) The reassurances went on and on . . Alma 34:9 “. . . according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement.”
I was filled with a sense of joy and relief to be reminded that when we talk about “God’s plan” we are not talking simply talking about a map, we are talking about His plan to redeem us and His ability to do so! So often I simply need to remember, “be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
Later in the day, distressed, I reminded myself, “I am helpless to control this situation, but God has a plan of redemption in place for my loved ones. He knew beforehand the choices they would make and the consequences of those choices. He loves them and knows just what they need. He knows what circumstances will humble them and refine them and bring them to Him. He is their Savior, not me. I may be able to have some small influence for good, but only He can make the difference. He will continue to reach after them, to give them every opportunity to see more clearly, to choose differently.
But what is my part now? Do I even have a part?
Swim for Shore
Years ago Colleen Harrison was on a quest to overcome the codependency that led her to an unhealthy desire to control the actions of family members. She was deeply influenced when a speaker told about a nearly tragic rafting accident in which he and his daughter were thrown out into a river when their raft hit a submerged rock and tipped. Colleen gave me permission to share this story because it contains a powerful parable that is applicable to all of us who find ourselves helpless to “save” loved ones from spiritually dangerous circumstances and choices.
The speaker began his story describing a family vacation and the high adventure of spending a day on a white-water river-rafting trip.
Filled with excited adventurers, the raft, was carried along on the current, as the streambed beneath grew rockier. Boulders just below the surface caused the current to pass over them in smooth, unbroken humps of icy water. The river guide was doing his best to avoid these hidden obstacles, but suddenly the edge of the raft was caught in the upward rise of water over a boulder and the raft bucked and nearly flipped.
In a split second, the fun of running the river turned to terror for this father and one of his daughters as they both were thrown out of the raft and into the frigid temperatures of the river. Even though they were wearing life jackets, the deep current around the rocks pulled them under and the shock of the cold water was immediate. Dazed and confused, father and daughter began to desperately flail around, grabbing at each other. Their frantic efforts only served to submerge them both over and over.
Gasping for breath, the father realized he and his child were being swept away from the raft and ever closer to the rapids. Terror set in as he realized they could die in this incident. “O God,” he cried out, “please let me save my child. Please!”
Into his mind came the most irrational and counter-intuitive thought: “Turn and swim for shore.”
He couldn’t believe that thought could be from God! How could God tell him to turn away from his child and swim for his life. He knew he could probably make it on his own, but he couldn’t just abandon her to be pulled under and swept away, possibly to her death!
In a growing panic, he kept trying to get a hold on her, but with no lasting success. He could feel his strength waning. He knew that within a very short period of time he wouldn’t have the strength to even save himself. They would both be lost.
“Swim for shore.” The words came to his mind again, and finally a third time. “Swim for shore!” He could no longer deny the clarity and the finality in the words; they were a command.
Feeling like a failure, feeling he had lost his daughter, feeling he was saving himself while leaving her to drown, he turned sobbing and swam diagonally across the powerful current toward the shoreline. He couldn’t believe how strong the current was. Every stroke felt like his last. He felt like he weighed a thousand pounds and even when his feet touched bottom near the shore, he couldn’t keep his balance and had to keep swimming.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, he found himself in shallow water moving slow enough that he could get his feet under him. Only then, when he tried to stand up, did he realize that what he had thought was the terrible grasp of the swift current pulling him backwards was actually the weight of his daughter who had grabbed hold of a dangling strap on the back of his life jacket.
Thus, in obeying the impressions of the Spirit to swim for shore, he had not only saved himself, but his child as well.
Likening the Story to Ourselves
Colleen said, “As I sat there, that day, listening to this story, I cried. I knew it was the Spirit of Truth bearing down upon my soul in personal witness. This is what I needed to do . . . I had to swim for shore myself.”
Later in the chapter Colleen concluded, “Attempting to change negative behaviors by grabbing at our loved ones when we too are in water over our heads is like the father and daughter pulling each other down . . . . The only effective long-term solution is to help them come to Christ by doing it for ourselves. We cannot be agents of peace unless we have peace in our own hearts. Only internal peace can make us peacemakers.” (Phil and Colleen Harrison, From Heartache to Healing, Chapter 8: What It Means to Be Codependent.)
What Is Our Personal Stewardship Now?
It’s hard to give up the starring roles we had on the stage of young children’s lives and accept bit parts and supporting roles as they move through their teen and then adult years. How can we give up any notion of control, but still shine on their lives?
“Swimming for shore” is an active, not a passive role. It means praying with all the energy of heart for charity that Christ’s love might shine through us to them. It means praying for the kind of faith that Alma had, praying for angel help in our loved ones lives. It means searching the scriptures and words of the prophets for ways to apply gospel principles here and now. It means daily repentance and asking the Lord to apply the Atonement in our lives so we can be a living example of His redemptive power.
Remember, the Lord’s plan IS a plan of redemption: the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that God, “before [the earth] rolled into existence … contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth. … [God] knew … the depth of iniquity that would be connected with the human family, their weakness and strength, … the situation of all nations and … their destiny, … and [He] has made ample provision [for mankind’s] redemption” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith , 220).
Elder Maxwell read the above quote from Joseph Smith in his address in the October 2002 general conference then elaborated on it: “Recall the new star that announced the birth at Bethlehem? It was in its precise orbit long before it so shone. We are likewise placed in human orbits to illuminate . . . . Part of God’s “ample provision” consists of imperfect people like you and me, committed to shining and serving in our appointed orbits, knowing all the while that we are encircled in the arms of [His] love’ (D&C 6:20).”
My friend and counselor Ed McCormack told me years ago that the main task of a parent of grown children is to seek the Spirit and radiate the Spirit. He promised that as we do that, the Spirit will shine out to our children and touch them even when they are not in our presence. I cling to that promise. I cling to all the scriptural promises that assure us of God’s plan of redemption, salvation, mercy, and happiness for His children, (for Alma 41 refers to the plan of our Great God as a plan of happiness.) In Moses 6:62 we read, “And now, behold, I say unto you: This is the plan of salvation unto all men, through the blood of mine Only Begotten, who shall come in the meridian of time.”
We are given the gift of the Holy Ghost to help us accomplish our righteous desires to take full advantage of that plan that our loved ones may want to follow our example.
I continue to work toward the goal of seeking the Spirit and radiating the Spirit. Some days I fail dismally, but other days, I succeed. The sweetness of the Spirit can transcend and even wash away the pains of mortality-both physical and emotional. There is purpose in it all! God’s plan will prevail!
In his conference address Elder Maxwell continued, “In the churn of crises and the sinister swirl of global events, true disciples will maintain faith in a revealing, loving God and in His plan for redeeming His children, which plan is the why of all that God does! (see Moses 1:39). Furthermore, God’s character, as revealed to us, tells us that He has the cosmic capacity to ensure that He really is “able” to do His immense work (see 2 Ne. 27:20-21; Joseph Smith Translation, Isa. 29:22-23).” (“Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” General Conference, October 2002.)
We may be helpless to save our loved ones who are in the frigid waters, being pulled by swift currents into the rapids of the world, but the Savior is not! He commands us to “swim for shore”-His shore, His Spirit, His guidance. That is our role. That is our part, and we can pray that as we do so, our loved ones will choose to grab hold, to follow in faith, that we may all be rescued!
Note: Visit Darla’s website (darlaisackson.com) to learn more about her books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: an LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On.