By Darla Isackson
Life is stormy for all of us in these winding up scenes of the Last Days. How do we develop real faith in the midst of life’s storms? Two recent movies give us clues. The Other Side of Heaven, which I quote from later, shows Elder Groberg, a real-life hero battling real storms. Sam, a character in Charly created by author Jack Weyland, symbolically battles storms of the soul. For any who do not know the plot of Charly, Sam is an idealistic returned missionary, sure of himself and his faith, a bit rigid and very proper. He is certain he will find the right girl, marry in the temple and live happily ever after. Charly (nickname for Charlene) is a free spirit–full of life, spontaneous, utterly unconcerned about what others think. She is a sophisticated and rather irreverent New Yorker.
These two very opposites are attracted to each other and have an unconventional courtship. They eventually marry (after she is converted and joins the Church, of course). They adore each other, and have a beautiful little boy. When Charly is diagnosed with cancer and the doctor says she cannot live, Sam’s faith is tested to the limits. This is not the “happy ever after” he planned!
Sam gives one of the most real portrayals of honest spiritual struggle I’ve ever seen in a movie and I was hit square in the face with something I don’t remember “getting” when I read the book: Sam believed at first that if he just had enough faith he could get God to do HIS WILL. He was determined to pray long enough and hard enough to get his “one lousy miracle.”
Sam said to Charly, “We’ve lived good lives. We’ve been faithful. God will keep his promises.”
She replied, “God never promised us he would cure my cancer. He promised we could be together forever–even after death.”
Sam cries, “You know He’s a God of miracles. Why not now? I’ve done my part. All I want is one lousy miracle. Is it too much to ask?”
Later, Sam talks with his father: “I keep thinking it’s me. Maybe if I just had more faith, or maybe it’s a test; maybe if we had more time . . .”
His father replies, “And maybe not. Maybe you’ve got to face the fact that your faith may not fix this.'”
Sam objects, “Then what’s it good for? What? Why have faith if it’s only good for Bible stories and fairy tales and talks in Sacrament meeting. Then when it really counts–“
His father interrupts, “When it really counts it won’t abandon you. The pain may block everything for awhile. . . But if you keep your faith in all those answers you’ve been carrying around for a lifetime, then the pain won’t give way to emptiness–and neither will you.”
Later Sam puts a crucial question into words, “I’d always taken solace in the idea that God was in control, that God would make things right. But now that things were so terribly wrong, did I know Him well enough to trust Him now? Trust Him with her?”
And I asked myself this same question. Can I trust myself, my children, and my life to the Savior? Do I have that kind of faith? Do I know the Savior well enough? I was glad I was home alone watching the video, because the movie touched something deep inside of me and I sobbed. How many times have I, like Sam, sought my will instead of God’s? How many times, when in the midst of my own stormy trials, have I thought surely the Lord would answer my prayer in the exact way I wanted if I just prayed hard enough and had enough faith?
Life Gives Us Many Opportunities to Learn
Life is full of tests of faith, full of questions, full of storms. Life gives so many opportunities to examine our beliefs about faith and prayer and about God’s willingness to intervene or not intervene in his children’s lives. Here are a few of the most common dilemmas:
I pray really hard, with faith that I’ll be heard, to find my lost keys, marry that certain person, have my offer accepted on that dream-house, and get the job I want. BUT the keys stay lost, my sweetheart marries someone else, my best offer on the house is turned down, and a friend gets the job I wanted.
I exert all my faith, and fast and pray with all my heart for an afflicted family member; he or she still dies.
I pray with absolute faith for others’ hearts to be softened, for them to “see the light.” They stay stuck, and relationships falter.
The marriage I’ve had great faith in and prayed about for years crumbles.
The child I’ve invested my life in and prayed for with all my faith and hope still makes wrong, even grievous, choices.
IF we are facing any of the above, does it mean we are not getting the results we want because our faith just isn’t strong enough or that our performance just hasn’t been good enough? There is always that possibility. But could it also mean that our faith is misplaced or that we are asking amiss? Early on in my life I thought that if I just did enough “good works,” and mustered up enough faith, that my prayers would be answered in the affirmative and my expectations of “happy ever after” fulfilled. Never mind that many of my desires would have short-circuited the agency of others. Never mind that I was sometimes saying, “My will, not Thine be done.”
Faith . . . In What?
The first principle of the gospel is not just “faith” or “faith that things will turn out the way I want them if I do my part” but “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” (4th Article of Faith, P of G P, p. 60)
Moroni 7:40-41 sheds more light on the subject.
“How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?
“And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.
“Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.”
Without realizing it, Sam and I were ignoring the most basic part of real faith: the deep underlying belief that only God knows best, that our part of the equation is not to get Him to see things our way, but to pray for the ability to see things His way. In the movie, Sam finally comes to acceptance and peace and a renewed and stronger faith–and so have I in real life. The new faith is much more durable than the old because it is based on the reality of the Atonement and the resurrection, the reality of God’s loving care and the rightness of his plan–regardless of what happens. So often the miracles in our lives come in the “peace that surpasseth understanding” –in the sweet calm assurance of eternal life in spite of continuing storms or losses. Sam said, “All this time I’d hoped and prayed for a miracle–yet missed it. Perhaps the greatest miracle was all around me. Maybe the real miracle was that I could let her go and never lose her.” The miracles may come not in taking away the burdens or afflictions, but in strengthening us to be able to bear them, and enlightening us in regard to our part in the faith process.
My Part, His Part
Verse 43 of Moroni 7 tells me what performance is necessary in order to foster faith in Christ: “And again, behold I say unto you, that ye cannot have faith and hope, save ye shall be meek, and lowly of heart .” (He then goes on to explain that these character traits are vital for obtaining charity–the most important of all) So my part is to be “meek and lowly of heart,” to have that broken heart and contrite spirit that leads to charity, the pure love of Christ.
Phil Harrison, in the manuscript of his soon-to-be-released book, Clean Hands, Clean Heart, said, “It was really hard for me at first to adjust to this dawning realization that the Lord doesn’t usually rush right in and make everything perfect, even for those who genuinely seek His intervention.
“I always wanted God to be patient with my shortcomings, but gradually I realized that I also needed to have patience with Him. I needed to be humble and meek and willing to be long suffering as He worked out His purposes in my life. This business of getting me through the lessons of this life really was a joint venture between God and me. I needed to trust that God knew best how to lead me . . . -how much of my burden to lift and how soon.”
The experiences of Elder John H. Groberg illustrate these principles in a remarkable way. He had extreme trials and tests of faith on his mission. For example, he was caught at sea in a tropical storm of major proportions. The waves were gargantuan, the wind fierce, and when their tiny boat capsized, chances for survival were minuscule. Though tossed and blown, under water more than on top, he and his two companions were sustained by the Spirit and somehow rescued from the fury of the sea. In his book, Elder Groberg said, “sometimes the Lord calms the storm, and sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms His child.
“I don’t know why the storm came, why we got caught in it, or why things went the way they did, but I do know we eventually arrived home safely. No matter the trouble, we were safe and alive and had experienced firsthand His saving grace.
“So often in life we think that because we have done things in a certain way, certain results should follow. But life is like the ocean. Sometimes we get caught in squalls and storms and things don’t go the way we think they should, even when we think we have done right. But God can find us in the eye of a storm and give us courage to swim in rough water. We learn lessons from storms that we cannot learn from calm seas.
“I felt on a more personal basis than before that I could relate to the Lord’s words to all of us: ‘If thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.’ (D&C 122:7) (The Other Side of Heaven: Memoirs of John H. Groberg, p. 5, emphasis mine.)
What Kind of Prayers Engender True Faith?
I was raised in Elder Groberg’s home town of Idaho Falls; his father gave me my patriarchal blessing. I knew his mother. I have thought about their faith in Christ to send their son to this distant land in a time of such poor communication and uncertain and difficult conditions. Elder Groberg said, “At times I look back with great longing to those carefree days, when the only things I worried about were dangerous seas or broken ropes or ripped sails or being drowned or crushed against sharp coral or beaten by angry people or being seasick or learning a language or finding a place to sleep or getting enough to eat, and so forth.” If I had been Elder Groberg’s mother and had any hint of such “carefree” days, I might have been praying with all the faith I could muster to protect him from such perils as angry seas, angry people, or starvation. Yet those very situations brought him to understand and know the things of God, and built an unwavering foundation for his faith in Christ. Sam’s facing the death of someone he loved dearly did the same for him.
Parents can lose faith in Christ if they pray against His will, and it is likely that God will always be more concerned about His children’s growth than their comfort. All our prayers need to include “Thy will be done.” We need to honor agency and trust our children to the Lord’s school of adversity rather than pray that they won’t need to attend. We are wise to pray for their spiritual growth rather than for them to be protected from difficult trials.
True faith in Christ leads us to seek the Spirit and pray that we and our children will have the strength to endure the storms and trials of faith, rather than be spared from experiencing them.
When Fear Evaporates, Faith Prevails
From the days when Elder Groberg was near starvation, so weak he could do nothing but ponder and pray, he shared this glorious conclusion:
“At times I wasn’t sure which side of the veil I would end up on, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that God was in His heaven, and He knew me and my situation; He would see that what was right was done . . .
“What a great blessing to know that things will be right! What a tremendous blessing faith is! Faith is the opposite of fear. We fear what we don’t understand. When we understand who God is, who we are, how He loves us, and what His plan for us is, fear evaporates.”
In every moment of our lives, we choose to live in faith or fear. As our understanding of our Heavenly Father and our Savior grows, fear diminishes. As our trust in God and his purposes and plan become stronger, they eclipse our fears. For those of us who, like Sam, lose loved ones, real faith in Christ can also swallow up our grief. As faith in the Lord Jesus Christ grows, so does our ability to say, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” We begin to know in the deepest recesses of the heart that His will is always for our ultimate good. This knowledge can tune our ears to the Spirit’s “Peace Be Still”–even in the midst of life’s stormiest seas. Hymn 104, Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me, summarizes our main desires: “Jesus, Savior, pilot me, Over life’s tempestuous sea . . . Boist’rous waves obey thy will When thou say’st to them “Be still!” Wondrous Sov’reign of the sea, Jesus Savior, pilot me.”
For more of Darla’s work check out www.rosehavenpublishing.com