The following is an excerpt from the book, Falling to Heaven: The Surprising Path to Happiness, by James L. Ferrell. We will share one chapter or excerpt, with permission, each week.
To see the previous chapter, click here.
Years ago I dreamed that my father and I were together in an elevator. We were alone and rode in silence. I don’t recall much about the ride except that we were ascending. I didn’t know where we were going or why, yet I had the overwhelming impression that this was a very important trip. For some reason that I could not articulate, it also seemed clear to me that my father did know the reason for our trip as well as our destination. It seemed a journey he had already experienced, and that he accompanied me on this trip as my escort.
After a long while, the elevator came to a stop. As the doors opened, I recall being overcome by the presence of an incredible being. Words fail me here. This being radiated a light that was bright beyond my capacity to describe or imagine. He turned toward me the moment the doors opened, and it seemed that he had been waiting specifically for me. He exuded a warmth and love that attracted me to him immediately. I rushed to him and we embraced. I felt an indescribable love, and I remember realizing at once that this must be my Savior, Jesus Christ.
But I shudder when I think of what happened next. I remember wondering, while in the Lord’s embrace, whether it was really him. On the one hand, I knew—his arms were around me; I had been enveloped in his love. On the other hand, I somehow didn’t know. Something in the way I had been living my life was holding me back from a fulness. At that very moment of exquisite joy and excruciating doubt, I awoke.
As I lay in wonder upon my bed, I was overwhelmed by what I had just seen and still felt. Why hadn’t I known for sure? The question both haunted and inspired me. I believed that the embrace I had experienced was a foreshadowing of an embrace that yet awaited me. It seemed that I might have been allowed to experience a representation of it because I wasn’t yet ready for what was to come. The dream was at once an offering of the most divine love I had ever experienced and the most scathing rebuke I had ever received. It seemed that out of love for me, God had awakened me more fully to my sinfulness. I had been invited to a deeper and more complete repentance. He had beckoned me, as Lehi did his sons, to partake of the fruit of his love—a gift I could receive only by grabbing more tightly to the rod and allowing it to take me more deeply along the strait and narrow path of repentance.
As I reflect now upon this dream, I am stunned by something I am seeing for the first time as I write these words—a detail I had never noticed, a truth that is just now penetrating me. I didn’t fall at his feet!
This is the answer that I have long sought! Perhaps I couldn’t know him for sure because every particle of my soul had not yet learned or felt compelled to bow before him. What audacity simply to run to his arms, as if he were merely a friend long unseen! And yet his grace is so great that he lovingly received me even though my impetuous act revealed that I didn’t really get it yet. This was my Savior and my Redeemer! This was the One who had borne all my griefs, my sorrows, and my sins! This was he who was crucified so that I might live! This was the One who had trod the winepress alone! This was my God and my King!
And yet I didn’t fall before him.
Like the group in Lehi’s dream that had fallen away, I had reached up to partake of the fruit. The gospel hadn’t yet penetrated my soul. Not really. I didn’t yet understand that it was all a gift: the path, the rod, the tree, the fruit—all had been placed before me by him! In fact, he was himself the gift. He, himself, is the path, or “the way.” He, himself, is the rod, or “the word.” He, himself, is the Tree of Life. He, himself, is the first fruits or “the love of God.” Every saving element in Lehi’s dream is a representation of Christ himself, each element capturing a facet of his saving offering to me and to us.
And yet I didn’t fall.
I pray to God that when one day I have the blessing of that sacred meeting, I will know his divinity and my nothingness enough that I will be able to do nothing but crumble in gratitude before him. Then, when he lifts me, I will know. I will finally understand all that my pride has kept me from. Any need to love myself or to approve of myself or to think well of myself will finally and fully be melted away by the realization that he loves me despite all I have done and been. My smallness will be swallowed up by his wholeness, my self-concern consumed by his selfless love.
And behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
Now when the Pharisee . . . saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
And Jesus . . . said unto [him], Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my
feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she has loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
This woman knew who Jesus was, and she knew who she was relative to him. She wept and bowed and fell at his feet. Others mocked, but it mattered not. Still she fell down and partook of the fruit of happiness.
“Knowest thou the meaning of the tree?” the angel asked Nephi when he was shown what his father had seen. In answer, Nephi was granted a vision where he “saw many fall down at [the] feet [of the Son of God] and worship him.” Who can understand? Up is down and down is up, so long as we are down before the Lord. The fall that brought hardship and heartache into the world is overcome within us as we choose voluntarily to fall again—this time before Christ.
So long as we insist on reaching up, our hearts and souls will never be lifted. If, on the other hand, we fall humbly and repentantly before him, we will never be down. This is the divine and surprising truth that unlocks for us the happiness that can seem so elusive.
Happiness, like heaven, may seem above us, but it turns out that we find both of them by falling.