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Cover image via LDS Media Library.
This week’s lesson talks about how Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Even with so little food, Jesus was able to feed so many people. With what little I have to offer, I pray that it will be enough to feed you and give you insight into this week’s lesson! The little bit that we bring to the table in our acts of service and obedience is what allows the Lord to make of us what He would have us become in the process of sharing our gifts and making sacrifices for Him.
In his General Conference address “Five Loaves and Two Fishes”, Elder James E. Faust said, “Any man or woman who enjoys the Master’s touch is like potter’s clay in his hands. More important than acquiring fame or fortune is being what God wants us to be. Before we came to this earth, we may have been fashioned to do some small good in this life that no one else can do. The Lord said to Jeremiah, ‘Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations’ (Jer. 1:5). If God has a work for those with many talents, I believe he also has an important work for those of us who have few.
“What is the central characteristic of those having only five loaves and two fishes? What makes it possible, under the Master’s touch, for them to serve, lift, and bless so that they touch for good the lives of hundreds, even thousands? After a lifetime of dealing in the affairs of men and women, I believe it is the ability to overcome personal ego and pride—both are enemies to the full enjoyment of the Spirit of God and walking humbly before him” (April 1994).
This ability to let go of ego and pride are what allows us to follow Jesus when He bids us to come, with faith and hope, to serve the best we can with what we have, though it may be simple or hard. Learning the importance of allowing the Master’s touch to shape my life has been a harrowing experience that has taken me more than ten years to realize. This journey has been like a refiner’s fire, and I have had to learn what it means to bring my meager offering and do my best to follow even the scariest invitations to follow Him into the roughest waters.
Faith to Step Out Onto The Water
If you had told me ten years ago that I would spend a decade going through one of the most challenging trials of my life, I would have told you that was impossible. I knew back then that all problems have solutions. I just knew it. I knew that the Lord would never allow me or anyone else to suffer for so long without deliverance. How could that be? I was just sure that there would always be a way out.
My husband, Michael and I found ourselves living in one of the most expensive regions of the nation going to school and starting our family. We quickly found ourselves trapped with student debt and growing expenses, all while Michael was underemployed and I stayed home to take care of our babies. We were lost and didn’t know what to do. We prayed hard for an answer, and direction. It never really came. We were on our own. The answers we got were that the solution was up to us. Should we stay in this crippling situation, or give up and go move in with our parents? Giving up didn’t feel right, as much as we wanted to. It felt like quitting. So we pressed on even though it meant going deeper into debt and feeling like our lives were drifting further from our dreams. But, we thought we were doing everything we were supposed to do. So, we stuck it out.
Fast forward to about two years ago, we had the opportunity to leave Northern Virginia to live in a less expensive area. We rented a house that had more space, and a yard! Yippee! Things were looking up. But, everything changed one night when we woke up to the sound of rushing water and discovered a pipe had burst in the upstairs bathroom. Water was pouring down into the kitchen and living room. We rushed to shut off the water and move our furniture out of the way of the water spilling down the walls and draining from the light fixtures.
Thankfully none of our personal things were damaged. The next day, the landlord hired a company to come in and tear apart the house to begin treating the house for water damage and rebuild. We were forced out of the house and spent two months living with our parents in Michigan. During this time, Michael was able to work remotely, and we homeschool our kids, so that allowed us to stay away for as long as we did.
Again, we contemplated whether we should quit. Could we take this leap to leave our situation and start over? We were already living with our parents temporarily and wished that Michael would be able to network enough to find a way to move there permanently. But nothing materialized, and we went back to our broken house, the future still uncertain.
There have been many times when we look back over our history of the last decade and wondered, what if we were supposed to take that leap and cut our losses? Where was our faith? Could we have just stepped off the boat and braved the storm? It doesn’t seem that simple, does it? We have a family to care for and financial obligations to fulfill. Could it really be as simple as a question of faith?
I have no doubt that most people have a story a lot like ours. I’m learning that most struggles last months and even years, and some don’t have a solution in this life. We will all be challenged to ask ourselves, what is that thing that will be as if I am taking that step out into rough waters in faith that I will not sink?
It Mattereth Not
All of this time, I thought that if I could just keep plodding along the current path that the Lord would guide me on His path. He is my shepherd, and I, like a sheep, would follow. I checked off the boxes that promised success. I served a mission, went to school, got married in the temple, and started our family. But we were unhappy. We have prayed so many times for the Lord to reveal the path to us so we could know how to choose and take steps toward peace and security. We prayed for direction. We prayed to know how to make our dreams come true. And then we waited and listened.
I am starting to believe that there are some answers that Heavenly Father won’t give me because, in the end, it just doesn’t matter. In a talk given at a Worldwide Devotional last year, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:
“In many cases, the decisions you make may not be as important as what you do after making the decision…
“I have great hope for those who pick a less prestigious occupation but who do the best they can and find ways to make their work interesting and challenging.
“I have less hope for those who choose impressive-sounding occupations but along the way lose that inner fire necessary to make them successful at their work. In fact, successfully adapting to changes in the workplace will be one of the prime attributes your generation will have to develop to cope with the future.
“So how does the Lord want you to approach key decisions?
“His instructions to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph have been very helpful to me. The Lord told them, ‘You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.’
“Heavenly Father has given you a brain and a heart. If you trust Him, He will help you to use both of them properly in your decision making.
“For many decisions, you have more than one good option to choose from. When this happened to Joseph and his companions, the Lord used an interesting phrase as they sought His guidance. That phrase is, ‘It mattereth not.’
“But the Lord immediately added, ‘Only be faithful.’
“Your work is to make the best decisions you can based on the information available to you, grounded in the values and principles of the gospel. Then strive with all your might to succeed in the things you undertake—and be faithful” (“The Adventure of Mortality” January 14, 2018).
While our struggles over the last decade of our life have been very real to us, in hindsight Michael and I are beginning to see that we’ve made decisions with the expectation that if we picked the right path, and the “right” vocation then it would automatically deliver peace of mind. When that vocation was unavailable to us, even when we were choosing to follow the right path, we floundered. It always felt like our choice was between two risky options, and we were uncommitted to the outcome of our choices because we always doubted whether we were making the right ones.
The reality is, the Savior is out in the boisterous waters of the unknown, telling us to “come!” When Peter saw Jesus walking toward him on the water, he said, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” and Jesus bade him come (Matthew 14:28-29). The outcome of this story lands directly on Peter and his decision to commit to his choice. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says in his General Conference address of April 2006, “Instantly, as was his nature, Peter sprang over the vessel’s side and into the troubled waters. While his eyes were fixed upon the Lord, the wind could toss his hair and the spray could drench his robes, but all was well—he was coming to Christ. It was only when his faith wavered and fear took control, only when he removed his glance from the Master to look at the furious waves and the ominous black gulf beneath, only then did he begin to sink into the sea. In newer terror he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (“Broken Things to Mend”).
“It Mattereth not” whether Peter stayed in the boat or got out. What matters is that when he leapt from the boat, he fixed his eyes on the Lord and committed to that outcome. I think there comes a time in our lives when we feel drawn to make difficult choices, or we feel like we are being prompted to make these choices. All that matters in the end is that we commit to being faithful in whatever decisions we make! We have to take full responsibility for that decision and move toward the outcome we envision.
Faith and Doubt are Both Beliefs
I just listened to a training about belief that has confirmed a lot about what I have felt for a long time. We have two choices: move toward our vision in faith, or move away from our fears in doubt. I have written a series of posts on this topic that you can read on my site because I feel so strongly about this.
What I have learned most recently is that we are guided by our expectations of the outcome of a situation. If our belief about the outcome is positive, we have faith. If our belief is negative or ambiguous, we have doubt. When these beliefs turn into feelings, faith turns into anticipation while doubt turns in to anxiousness and fear of a possible outcome.
The problem is that so often we focus on the the possible negative outcome so much that we become driven by that expectation. Our anxiety leads us to doubt and we are acted upon by our fear. We cannot move toward our faith when we are being driven by our fears. In order to be proactive and committed to the outcome that we want, we have to focus on the positive outcome to enable us to move with anticipation toward the good expectation.
In my situation, Michael and I focused so much on the possible negative outcomes that we were blinded by our anxiety. We allowed our situation to act upon us and became reactive, rather than being proactive and taking action toward our vision. The other problem is that we didn’t have a vision. More on that later. (Credit for this idea goes to Myron Golden, coach and entrepreneur).
Waiting Upon the Lord
I would be lying if I told you our faith never faltered. We never left our faith behind, but we often questioned whether we were really doing the right thing, and if Heavenly Father was still listening. I leaned a lot on the faith of my childhood and my mission. I had a solid foundation, but the wait has been a heavy burden to bear.
In that same talk given by Elder Uchtdorf, he said, “Not all answers are of equal worth. Answers that come from worldly wisdom or popular opinion are easy to come by, but they lose their worth quickly when new theories or trends emerge. Heavenly answers—eternal answers—are priceless. Receiving these answers often requires sacrifice, work, and patience.
“These answers are worth the wait.”
Michael and I have waited eleven years for our answers. We have been relying on the Lord to feed us the answers, but the reality is that He expects us to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27).
Nowadays, if I am not receiving the answers, I ask myself whether I’m just not ready to receive the answer. I have changed my prayers from asking for Heavenly Father to give me the answer to asking Him what I can do to receive the answer. I have started to ask to be shown the way.
Now that I’m starting to see some of my prayers being answered, I can say with confidence that even the most harrowing trials I’ve endured had a purpose. I am convinced that what we are going through is exactly what we need to prepare us for the promised blessings, or even the blessings we have asked for all along. To paraphrase Elder Lynn G. Robbins in his talk “The Righteous Judge“, we have been asked to go through a chastening, or purification process in order to prepare ourselves for these blessings. The Lord has said, “whom I love I also chasten that their sins may be forgiven, for with the chastisement I prepare a way for their deliverance in all things out of temptation, and I have loved you—“ (Doctrine and Covenants 95:1).
I’m not saying this is true for everyone, but for me, I am sure that I needed to go through this refining process so I would be prepared for the blessings I have been asking for. I’ve needed to refine my character, and soften my heart. I have needed to be patient with the Lord and wait for those things. This is why I have started to ask what I can do so that I can live worthy of the blessings I ask for. I commit to the outcome, and I do my part.
“Peter had accepted [Jesus’s] invitation once, and he was willing to accept it again, even if it meant facing his fears and doing something that seemed impossible. Perhaps the Lord will not ask us to step out of a boat in the middle of a storm or contribute our meager supply of bread when thousands need to eat, but He may ask us to accept directions even when we don’t fully understand them. Whatever His invitations to us may be, they may sometimes seem surprising or even frightening. But miracles can happen if we, like Peter, will set aside our fears, our doubts, and our limited understanding and follow Him in faith” (Come, Follow Me Manual).
Coping with Uncertainty
I’ve been studying a lot about coping strategies because of all the anxiety and stress Michael and I have had to deal with over the last decade trying to figure out what we were supposed to do with our lives! Our coping mechanisms become the things we default to. An intentional family culture relies on designing our coping strategies around a desired outcome.
I have learned that coping strategies are either escape mechanisms out of fear or ambiguity, or constructive coping that lead to recovery and progress. I recently watched a TEDx talk that helped me reflect on my situation and give me some insight into where we went wrong. In this talk by Javier Sanchez, I learned that we are always trapped in a struggle between the fear of failure and the pressure to perform. Sanchez talked about a study that revealed that there were kids who were thriving in spite of this struggle because of four coping mechanisms:
Somewhere involves having a vision of where you are going, or a purpose. Somehow means you have a plan of how to get to where you are going. Something means you have a belief in a higher power or inspired by a bigger picture. Someone is a non-judgmental mentor who can guide you toward your vision and coach you through your plan.
In my history, I have realized that I have had two of those four things most of my life. I have always had a belief in a higher power, and I have always had amazing parents, siblings, and teachers who were there to support me. However, I have been lost in not knowing where I’m going or how to get there! Well, I could argue that the “where” and “how” is that checklist of items that involved going on a mission and going to school, etc., but those things only involve one aspect of my life. Plus, those things are only a part of the plan to fulfill a bigger vision!
When I was a teen, I loved to sing. I wish I had someone come along and tell me how to examine my ideal college program and show me how to prepare for it. Maybe that sounds intuitive, but I grew up in a small town and did not get this kind of counseling, or if I did, I didn’t have a vision so they didn’t know how to give me a plan. In my case, I would have chosen one of my local prestigious colleges that required learning three languages in their vocal performance program. They require ear training and sight-reading music, and knowing about Classical composers. If I had known these things in high school, I would have had a vision and a plan. I could have anticipated a successful outcome because I would have been able to cope with the uncertainty of life with a plan of action in faith to work toward a positive outcome.
Michael and I have struggled with where we are going because, since starting out ten years ago going to school and starting our family, we have had our values in place and a belief in a higher power, but that’s it. The rest of our decisions were guided by fear and so we allowed life to act upon us. We did not have a vision of where we were going, nor a plan, and we did not have a mentor. With these four coping mechanisms, we would have had the faith AND the vision necessary to step out of our boat and walk toward the Savior. We might have been able to endure the vulnerability of taking greater risks.
So, if you are struggling with what to do with your life, figure out your vision, and your plan. Then, put your faith in the Savior that when He calls you to come out onto the rough waters, you will have determination to follow through with your plan. Your mentor also needs to be some non-judgmental person who can offer support. We all need angels in our lives who can help us. Yes, we have the Savior, but He has also asked us to “help and lift another”, ministering to one another (Hymns “Lord, I Would Follow Thee” 220).
A word about this mentor: this person must be non-judgmental, and they need to be outside of your friends and family circles. I believe this because your friends and family are likely to be judgmental. They are likely to hold you back when you are trying to make significant changes because they don’t understand. Don’t ask them to understand. Just love them and be non-judgmental, too! Your mentor will be the person who will guide you to make improvements and changes, but if we go and tell our friends and family about those changes, they think we are trying to change them. So, just love them, and pray for them, talk to your mentor about your growth, and be patient. Keep working toward your vision, acting on your plan.
If you can, be that mentor for someone searching for a vision and a plan. Share your loaves and fishes from your experiences and capacity to serve. If there is nothing else I get out of the trials Michael and I have endured over the last ten years, I am grateful for the compassion and charity that I have developed. I know what it’s like to be a new mom and struggle with sleeplessness and feelings of inadequacy. I know what it’s like to deal with loneliness and shame. I know what depression and anxiety feel like. The point is that in this process of going through life’s trials, making decisions, and coping with the unknown is that we are becoming what the Savior would have us be.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks put it eloquently, “the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become…The gospel of Jesus Christ promises the incomparable inheritance of eternal life, the fulness of the Father, and reveals the laws and principles by which it can be obtained” (“The Challenge to Become” General Conference, October 2000).
Jesus taught the people in Capernaum the “words of eternal life” (John 6:22-71). He spoke of eating bread that does more than fill our stomachs. He taught, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (v. 27). The outcome of the decisions we make in this life will be determined by what we choose to become by our faith, rather than what we acquire or even a checklist of accomplishments. When we become the sons and daughters of God, we partake of those things “which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (v. 33). Jesus said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (v. 35). The process of becoming leads us the follow Christ, even when it is hard, and experience the change of heart to never hunger or thirst, for “he that believeth on [Him] hath everlasting life” (v. 47).
Activities for Applying this Lesson
- Read “In the Strength of the Lord” by David A. Bednar and consider the power of Grace through the Atonement to strengthen you.
- Read “One Step Enough” by John S. Tanner and ponder the importance of humble belief, keeping us going one step at a time in our journey of faith.
- Read “The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumphs” by Ryan Holiday (affiliate link)
- Check out “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth (affiliate link)
- Read “The Continuous Conversion: God isn’t Just Proving Us, He’s Improving Us” by Brad Wilcox (affiliate link)
- Write in your journal of a time that you felt you were being asked by Heavenly Father to do something frightening and the faith it took to overcome that fear?
- Write in your journal of a time you witnessed a miracle in your own life similar to the Savior feeding the multitude or Peter walking on water. If you are comfortable share it with your family or friends.
- Read, listen to, or watch Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s General Conference talk “The Grandeur of God” and write down your impressions.
- Read, listen to, or watch President M. Russell Ballard’s General Conference talk “To Whom Shall We Go” and write down your impressions.
- Structure a conversation with your family or friends around how you have been spiritually fed by the Savior and how he has used you to help others?
- Perform an act of service this week that may take you out of your comfort zone.
- Structure a discussion around a time when you, a friend, or a member of your family felt afraid and then how faith helped overcome that fear.
- Share a story of overcoming fear through faith to your preferred social media account.
- If appropriate, share a miracle you experienced to your preferred social media account.
- Ponder and write in your journal how you can strengthen your relationship with Heavenly Father and the Savior.
- Discuss with your family or friends strategies they can use to strengthen their relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
- Create a family home evening lesson around the miracle of the loaves and fish and explain why Jesus is the “bread of life.”
- Pray for those who are in desperate situations begging for deliverance and see how you can be an instrument in helping those who need encouragement with their belief.
- Write down ten new ideas every day to cultivate the ability to be open to inspiration and become familiar with how you receive revelation and how the Spirit speaks to you.
- Write down ten things you know for sure every day. Like, I know for sure that the sun comes up every day. I know for sure that I breathe, etc.
- Get clear on your vision for the future. Write it out. Where do you want to be in twenty years? Ten years? Five years? This interview with an Olympian athlete will help make this process clearer.
- Map out our vision with definite plans toward your purpose.
- Read Napoleon Hill’s “Outwitting the Devil”, a book that has taught me how to move forward with definiteness of purpose (affiliate link).
- Do you have a mentor? Find someone who has achieved the success you want, and get their advice and encouragement.
- Create a vision board.
- Write out your fears and discern whether they are swaying your decisions and actions away from your vision. Replace your fear with faith.