“Life in today’s world can be at times so complicated and the challenges so overwhelming as to be beyond our individual capacity to resolve them,” noted Elder Richard G. Scott.
We have some problems that we just can’t see our way through. We are reminded too often that our capacity is not sufficient to solve the dilemmas at hand.
Sometimes it is not only the problem that is hard; it is that my sense of inadequacy grows bigger before it. The problem is tough—and, to make matters worse, I can’t find the strength or capacity to solve it.
I have a hard thing, a difficult relationship, a financial stress, a health concern, a lack of opportunity to express my best gifts—and why can’t I find my way through? Why am I beating my head against the same brick wall and not finding the solution?
We ache to have more power to triumph over our circumstances. We yearn to be that better, more potent, version of ourselves that we can imagine so clearly in our minds eye.
We would love to solve our immediate distresses, but we also long for more power to deal with them.
There is a pang to the heart in thinking of all the things we would be and would do, if we only had the power.
As St. Augustine said, “For it is one thing to see the Land of Peace from a wooded ridge, and yet another to walk the road that leads to it.”
Still, we have to acknowledge that it is far easier to wish for this state of being and heavenly sensibilities than actually live like that. Why is it so easy to imagine that Land of Peace, and so hard to find our way?
We are like Paul who said, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15 NLV)
There is a saying in England printed on the ground at every train and subway stop. It says, “Mind the Gap” or sometimes “Please Mind the Gap.” That means that if there is a space between the train and the station, watch your step. Be careful. Don’t trip. The British handily said it instead, “Mind the Gap.”
That saying has stuck with me concerning the gap between the person I dream of being and feel within that I can be, and the difficulties and challenges that foil so many excellent plans. The gap I mind is between who I want to be and who I am. It is the also the gap between the problem I need to solve, and my solutions that don’t seem to be enough.
Welcome to Mortality
Welcome to mortality! This is a place designed to demonstrate to us our complete dependence on the Lord and our urgent need for His help. We may pretend, even with some prowess that we can do this alone, but at some point our act will run out and demonstrate how hollow it is.
We are insufficient. Why is this such a surprise?
Some things are impossible without heavenly help. Some addictions have clung to us. Some self-defeating habits have a strong hold. We wonder how to begin to be a person full of such love that we can lift another. We marvel at the light that some around us have infused into their very being. Can’t that be me?
We are constantly standing before a Red Sea with the ferocious Egyptian army charging toward us in chariots—and there is nothing we can personally do to part the Red Sea—whatever that Red Sea is for us. We feel that we are about to fall under the wheels of chariots.
It is tempting at those moments when we feel so stuck and fragile before life’s demands to give up, too tired for hope.
Then some discouraged part of us may answer, “Maybe it is all just too hard for you. Look how many opportunities you’ve already missed. Look how your days just repeat one another, your weaknesses feeling like bear meat that you chew and chew and can never manage to swallow.”
We know that “the natural man is an enemy to God,” and that we are asked to put “off the natural man and becometh a saint”[i]: But what becomes unfortunately clear as we take this mortal journey is that our strength and our insight and our ideas are just not sufficient to do that job.
Why We Need Grace
This is when it becomes clear how much we need the atonement, so that we can rely on “the merits and mercy” of the Lord and not just our own capacities.
Think of it. The atonement not only gives us the opportunity to be forgiven for sins. It not only offers us direction for our lives, lifting the confusion and darkness we would otherwise find ourselves in. No, it goes even a glorious step farther. The Lord says that he will actually support us with His strength. He will charge us full of strength, surge His power through our minds and hearts and muscle and will, a power that is so far beyond our own.
As Ezra Taft Benson said, “Men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in God will find he has eternal life.”
We don’t have to be left alone to face the complications and complexities of our life. We don’t have to function in blindness and darkness. The Lord’s atonement is our strength. It lends us His strength for the mighty issues He knows we will face—if we are obedient.
Elder David A. Bednar taught us how important the strengthening, enabling power of the atonement is. He pointed us to the Bible Dictionary”s description of the word ‘grace.’ It reads: “A word that occurs frequently in the New Testament, especially in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ (emphasis added).
“It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts” (emphasis added).
Elder Bednar points out that the prophets of the Book of Mormon have a clear understanding of this strength or enabling power that the atonement affords.
When Nephi is tied up in the desert by his angry brothers, they plan his destruction. He would be torn apart, shredded to death or poisoned by the beasts of the Arabian desert. This is no idle threat. It is the reality of a wilderness inhabited by Arabian leopards, desert hyenas, vipers and 8-inch scorpions to name a few.
Nephi asks, “O Lord, according to my faith, which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren, yea even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound.”[ii]
Elder Bednar said,“Do you know what I likely would have prayed for if I had been tied up by my brother? My prayer would have included a request for something bad to happen to my brothers and ended with the phrase ‘wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren” or in other words, ‘Please get me out of this mess now!’ It is especially interesting to me that Nephi did not pray, as I probably would have prayed, to have his circumstances changed. Rather he prayed for the strength to change his circumstances. And may I suggest that he prayed in this manner precisely because he knew and understood and had experienced the enabling power of the Atonement of the Savior.”
He continued, “I personally do not believe the bands with which Nephi was bound just magically fell from his hands and wrists. Rather, I suspect that he was blessed with both persistence and personal strength beyond his natural capacity, that he then ‘in the strength of the Lord’ (Mosiah 9:17) worked and twisted and tugged on the cords and ultimately and literally was enabled to break the bands.
“Brothers and sisters, the implication of this episode for each of us is quite straightforward. As you and I come to understand and employ the enabling power of the Atonement in our personal lives, we will pray and seek for strength to change our circumstances rather than praying for our circumstances to be changed. We will become agents who ‘act’ rather than objects that are “acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14).
Likewise we see this call for strength other times in the Book of Mormon. When Alma and Amulek are in prison, abused, ridiculed and smitten by the judges who have also just burned their new converts to death, Alma says this, “O Lord, give us strength according to our faith which is in Christ, even unto deliverance.”[iii]
When Alma, the elder, and his people were in heavy bondage under Amulon, they were forbidden even to pray, but their hearts did cry out in yearning to the Lord. He answered, “And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs.”[iv]
I have a friend whose husband lost his job and she said, “I must have done something really wrong that I don’t remember, because I think the Lord punishes me.” She misunderstands the conditions of mortality. It is a place that will indeed feel after us, finally demonstrating to us our limitations, our lack of capacity, give us the very conditions that finally call upon us to acknowledge that we are needy. We cannot do it without the Lord. This mortal experience is to get our attention and find out the extent to which his mighty arm is always extended to us.
He wants us to learn of His strength by relying on it.
My husband Scot tells this story. “I had a list of 74 things to accomplish in two weeks before we were going out of the country. They were difficult things that required lots of details and lots of people to cooperate—things like land sales and closing of properties and lots of technical issues to solve.
“It was more than any one person could handle in a matter of months let alone in such a short time. But I read something that Elder Scott said. It was “Trust in God and in His willingness to provide help when needed, no matter how challenging the circumstance.”
“I thought, of course, nothing is too difficult for the Lord. He can handle any challenge. I absolutely knew that—and I knew that I couldn’t. What were any of these details to Him that looked so impossible to me?
“I just said, ‘Heavenly Father, I need your help and I know that you can help me through this. You know business matters. You know technical matters. Help me get through this.
“I knew as I was checking off those last few items that a miracle had happened and that He had helped me through.”
We may not always see that strength in ways that are that clear, but our faith and patience are rewarded. Sometimes we only see it as we look back and realize that we were added upon when we needed it.
I have a plaque on my desk that says, “I can do hard things.” It is a reminder not to shrink just because the journey ahead looks steep. But I think I should change that plaque out instead for this scripture.
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”[v]