About a year ago I wrote about an African refugee, named Comfort, who my husband and I were assigned to help on our service mission in the Salt Lake Inner City Project. Now I’m going to tell you “the rest of the story” and what I’ve learned from it. You might remember that with the help of ward members, the end of July last year, after helping Comfort overcome miles of red tape with the Utah Housing Authority, we moved Comfort and her three children out of a dark, tiny, miserable cockroach-infested apartment into a comparatively roomy house. It had a fenced yard, a kind landlord who was willing to take a chance on them. We found two LDS babysitters within a block of the home for three-year-old Prince. School for the older girls was only a short walk away. She and the children all seemed thrilled.
Imagine my frustration when, just days later, they wanted to move again. In all their lives they had never lived in a single-unit house, and being very communal, they were used to relatives visiting constantly. Now, miles away from relatives and friends, they felt isolated. Comfort immediately started applying for other apartments and continued to have her application declined—finally learning that she had suffered identity theft when her purse was stolen; her credit rating was messed up with unpaid bills she knew nothing of. Her old landlord had also given her “do not rent” tag. In the meantime, Comfort continued to procrastinate turning in her final papers to receive Section 8 help on the house she was in (the only way she could afford to stay there!)
After consulting with refugee and housing specialists, I typed up a whole list of the benefits we could see for Comfort and her family in her present location and the blessings we thought the Lord was trying to give her. I sat the whole family down and explained it all to them—and that they would likely be homeless if they didn’t stay in this house. Comfort ignored it all. I began getting information about homeless shelters because I was sure she was going to land there.
I couldn’t believe the landlord would continue to work with her, but he did, and I learned a huge lesson about agency. We could only do what we could do and she needed to do the rest. Until Comfort was willing, our hands were tied. Finally she had run into enough brick walls to see that she had no other reasonable option and she turned in her papers, only to learn that her time had expired. I sent a letter of appeal, explaining her situation, and she was reinstated. In January she began receiving the help she so badly needed. She has called three times since, expressing appreciation that we persevered so that she could get the housing help she so badly needed. The Lord made a miracle for her . . . and she almost refused to receive it.
Applying the Lesson to Myself
That whole situation has caused me to ponder: How often have I questioned the blessings showered into my life because they weren’t quite the ones I thought I wanted? How many times have I failed to recognize the Lord’s intervention and His tender mercies—which are always exactly what I need whether I realize it or not?
How often have I resisted receiving what the Lord has given me? How often have I been unwilling to receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or have not sought or listened to the counsel that could have benefited me from loved ones or church leaders?
So Much Offered, But Not Received
A gift is of no benefit at all to one who will not receive. One of the most frustrating moments of my life also had to do with Comfort’s family. I had planned much of a “Girl’s Night Out” with her teenaged girls in mind. I found a couple of girls who gave a great presentation on the benefits of modesty—a message I felt the girls badly needed. I knew they loved pretty jewelry and other “girl” things, and had almost no money to get them. I invited my home ward to donate a wide variety of items and the response was overwhelming. The girls could have received so many nice things that night at no cost—all who attended did! They could have received a fantastic message prepared just for them. They said they were coming, but in spite of phone calls and offers to pick them—they didn’t come and they didn’t receive.
Application to Spiritual Gifts
Spiritual gifts and guidance we must also be willing to receive. These could be compared to radio or TV waves—always there for us, but we have to have our receptors in working order and we have to make the decision to turn the set on and “tune in” to the desired station in order to receive. We have to do our part.
I have a brand new recognition of the importance of the willingness to receive. So many spiritual blessings are dependent on us being willing to receive them.
When I researched this subject in the scriptures I was surprised to note that there are nearly three columns of references in the topical guide that include the word “Receive.” Many of the references could be grouped into the following categories of blessings:
Category 1: When we are confirmed members of the church we are told to “receive the Holy Ghost.” Every day we have to renew our willingness to receive that gift by choosing to live our lives in a way that does not offend the Spirit and cause it to depart from us. Pres. Eyring said, “Heavenly Father has given a simple pattern for us to receive the Holy Ghost not once but continually in the tumult of our daily lives. The pattern is repeated in the sacramental prayer.” When we remember Jesus we will have His Spirit to be with us. To receive the Holy Ghost in our daily lives requires that we rise above the natural man and keep our thoughts on spiritual things.
1 Cor 2:14 tells us, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
To be hard hearted means refusing to receive the Holy Ghost. At home it may mean refusing to receive a sincere apology. In spiritual terms it usually means resisting or ignoring spiritual promptings. Think about Laman and Lemuel. Then think about the humility of Nephi, who in contrast, exemplified having a broken heart and a contrite spirit –a heart open and willing to receive. Maybe that’s the most important reason the Lord allows us to have our hearts broken by adversity and weakness: to get us past our prideful thinking.
Pride is such a dangerous character flaw because it causes us to be hard hearted, unwilling to receive guidance or counsel because we think we already know what is best. Laman and Lemuel continued to think it would be best to go back to Jerusalem and refused to receive their father’s prophecies of destruction. We may be unwilling to even listen to apostles and prophets– just as they were unwilling to listen to their father or Nephi– for instance, when modern prophets warn us to have our food storage.
When Comfort really thought she knew it was best for her family to live closer to other family members and closer to her work opportunities, she closed her mind to the deliverance the Lord was trying to give her.
Category 2 . The word of God that contains the commandments of God will do us no good if we do not receive it. The scriptures are such a precious gift, but do us no good if we do not open them and receive what is there for us. Proverbs 10:8 tells us that the wise in heart will receive the commandments
2 Nephi 28: 28-30 reads: For behold, he that is built upon the rock, receiveth [the truth of God] with gladness . . . Wo be unto him that shall say; We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a litte; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.”
Category 3 . Answers to prayers will not be recognized if we are not open to receive. Matthew 21:22 “And all things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. I think the “believing” part is being willing to receive. Doubt keeps us from receiving, keeps us from accepting the possibility of receiving, or even noticing or appreciating the blessing when it is given.
Category 4 . God’s forgiveness is freely given, but will not cleanse us if we do not receive it. I recently read of a man who prayed for 500 consecutive nights for forgiveness of a sin that he had sincerely repented of. When he counseled with a church leader about his distress at not feeling he was getting an answer, and felt somehow he must not be worthy of forgiveness he was told, in effect, “The Lord forgave you the first time you asked. How sad for you not to be willing to receive what He has given—but to just keep asking for it.” The process of repentance is not always easy and not always instant, but being miserable for a long time does not prove to the Lord how repentant we are. He wants us to repent, receive the Lord’s forgiveness, and move forward NOW. Alma 34: 31 says, Yea, I would that ye would come forth and harden not your hearts any longer; for behold, now is the time and the day of your salvation; and therefore, if ye will repent and harden not your hearts, immediately shall the great plan of redemption be brought about unto you.” The Lord is willing to give. Are we willing to receive?
Comfort’s situation brought to mind a period of several years in my life when I was grieved by one son’s unwillingness to receive. From the time he was 16, he refused to receive the blessings of church activity. One Christmas I had bought and wrapped a stack of gifts for him, but when I called to arrange a time to bring them over, he basically said, “I’m too busy. Don’t bother.” Many times he simply refused to return calls or respond to invitations to join the family. I yearned to give him so much he wouldn’t receive. I thought so many times during those years how Heavenly Father must feel when we refuse to receive all the wonderful gifts He is so willing to give us.
The Atonement is freely given, but we must be willing to receive it. 2 Nephi 26:28, and 33 read “Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged, one like unto the other, and none are forbidden. . . He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female.”
During King Benjamin’s powerful sermon, his people received his words and said as one, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood Christ that we my receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified . . . And it came to pass that after they had spoken these words, the Spirit of the Lord came upon them and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins.”
Alma the Younger is another excellent example of willingness to receive. When he was struck down and helpless all he could do was call out to the Lord for his mercy and express belief in him. That calling out was with his heart—not his voice. Remember, he couldn’t even speak.
What Is “All We Can Do?”
What a revelation it has been to me to realize that “all we can do” may not refer to our checklists and striving and accomplishments at all. Colleen Harrison said, “This course of ever-deepening humility, of a willingness to acknowledge that all wisdom and power and all glory for all good works belongs to the Father and the Son, is, in truth and reality “all that we can do” (Alma 24:11). And it will bring forth the grace of Christ.“ (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, p. 100 )
In Alma 24:11 we read, “It was all we could do to repent sufficiently. . .” So many times “all we can do” is repent. So many times, “All we can do” is to take our weakness to the Lord, as we are told in (Ether 12:27). Sometimes “all we can do” is plead to feel His love for us. And many times, like Alma the Younger, all we can do is believe, cry out to him in our hearts and be willing to receive the cleansing power of the atonement.
The Choice to Receive Christ
If we choose not to believe Christ’s promises and receive the Atonement, we choose not to receive Christ.
John 1 includes some of the saddest words in the whole Bible. Speaking of Christ it says,” His own received him not.” Receiving Him or not receiving Him is the very deciding factor of our exaltation.
D&C 132: 22-25 reads, “ few there be that find it because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me. But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation . . . Receive ye, therefore, my law.”
We receive him not when we do not accept the price he has already paid for us, when we keep begging for gifts He has already given but we are not willing to receive, when we close ourselves off from His Spirit and refuse to listen, when we refuse to recognize tender mercies and blessings he is attempting to shower on us.
God never runs out of mercy or forgiveness; but I can run out of willingness to receive it.
So many gifts of mercy, grace, forgiveness He willingly offers each day—what sense does it make to refuse them? To close myself off from them? To pretend I have to achieve some level of “worthiness” in order to receive them. Jesus doesn’t extend his gifts because we deserve them or have earned them, but because He loves us. No one deserves the level of love He is capable of. That’s not the point. The price is already paid and we don’t add to His pain by bringing our unworthy selves to Him; only when we withdraw and refuse to come to Him.
President Eyring is a beautiful example of choosing to be aware of the Lord’s hand in His life and being a grateful receiver. I loved his talk about keeping a daily record of the guidance and blessings and answers to prayers he received from the Lord.
I pray that we will all recognize and receive the great gifts and great love that the Lord is continually offering us. That we will choose to receive the Holy Ghost and receive Christ in our lives daily.