I was blessed to serve as a bishop of a BYU married student ward for a time. I loved the vibrant young people in that ward! Most members of the ward were under intense pressure–full-time students, part-time jobs, and trying to find time for their young families. They always felt like they were falling behind.
I remember a familiar pattern in temple recommend interviews with those stressed young people. Before we began the official questions, I typically asked them how they were getting along with their Heavenly Father. Almost always they sighed. “Well, I know He loves me. And I love Him. But I know He is disappointed with me. I don’t find time to study the scriptures and ponder the way I used to.” They looked downcast.
Satan loves lies. And maybe his favorite lie is that we are spiritual failures and Heavenly Father is disappointed with us. We are neglecting the God who gives us life. And, for good measure, we throw in a few sins and failings. In shame, we avoid God’s stare. Satan knows that we don’t see heaven when we’re downcast.
When I met with ward members, I wanted to challenge their view of God. “Let’s do an assessment. You’re going to school full time to prepare yourself for a life of helping others and caring for your family. And you are working hard at a job to support your family right now. You struggle to find time for your spouse. You don’t get enough sleep. You badly want time for your Heavenly Father, but you feel quite overwhelmed and just can’t study the scriptures the way you did as a missionary. Is that right?”
They shrugged and nodded. So, I offered a different view.
“Heavenly Father loves you more than anyone in the universe. He loves you with all His heart. He is cheering for you as you struggle to get everything done.” Pause. “And He misses you. He wants to talk with you and be with you. But He knows that you’re under pressure. He knows how hard you’re working to get everything done. Do you think you could sing a hymn as you drive to campus? Do you think you would listen to a conference talk or podcast as you work your custodial job? Do you think you could tell Him what’s happening in your life as you walk to class? He is not asking that you create a block of time like when you were a missionary. But He yearns to stay in touch with you. Could you find new ways to stay in touch with Him while doing all the things you’re doing right now?”
Usually, I saw hope in their faces. Yes. They would find time to reconnect with Heavenly Father.
A good friend told me a story about a lesson in her Relief Society where they discussed things that distance them from Christ. The standard answers were offered: distractions, being too busy, pride, putting other things first, being lazy. Then one sister bravely offered: “Sometimes I just don’t pray because I feel like I’m not doing as well as I should be. I know what I’m supposed to be doing but I’m not doing it. Sometimes I feel like He wouldn’t want to talk to me because I haven’t put Him first.” Many heads nodded. The problem is a common one.
Maybe Satan’s favorite lie is that Father is disappointed with us because we are spiritual slackers. Pretty soon we try to dodge Him and even avoid thinking about Him so we don’t feel guilty. We push Him out of our lives.
God doesn’t make us feel guilty. Satan sends guilt; God sends invitations. In fact, God’s favorite truth is that we are written on His heart and He rejoices to spend time with us. He understands our challenges and is glad to sing hymns with us in the car or walk with us to class chatting about our doings. He wants to spend time with us even when we are distracted or painfully human. Even when it’s been a while since we connected with Him, we are as welcome as the prodigal son returning home. “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Today’s college students did not invent the overloaded life. Nephi felt very overwhelmed with the demands on his life. And Nephi dealt with the same kind of shame that we moderns experience. Consider his great psalm (2 Nephi 4).
Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord,
in showing me his great and marvelous works,
my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am!
Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh;
my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations
and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice,
my heart groaneth because of my sins;
(2 Nephi 4:17-19)
This is not any ordinary sinner; this is Nephi! He feels like a spiritual failure. Maybe he wasn’t going to classes and working a custodial job, but he was building a ship and hunting game and breaking up family fights. And just like you and me, he felt that he was a spiritual failure.
How do we get out of the spiritual doldrums? How do we move from spiritual lethargy to whole-souled rejoicing? Notice the eight words Nephi said next that changed everything
“Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.”
(2 Nephi 4:19)
Instead of continuing to dwell on his own spiritual failings, Nephi turned to the One who heals us. He knew in whom he trusted.
The rest of the chapter is pure rejoicing. For example:
My God hath been my support;
he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness;
and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day,
and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
When we focus less on what’s wrong with us and more on what’s right with Jesus, everything changes. And the very same principle works for those who are stanch sinners. Consider Alma the younger. He went about destroying the Church. He had been among the vilest of sinners. He had led many of God’s children away to destruction.
Seeing his destitute state, Alma threw himself fully on the grace of Jesus:
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought,
I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God,
have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness,
and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
I think Alma was saying to God in his awful realization: “Destroy me if you must. Save me if you can. But I cannot bear this pain one more second.”
When Alma emptied himself of himself, God flooded in. The man whose soul was racked with inexpressible horror at the thought of coming into the presence of God (Alma 36:14), suddenly felt very differently: “Yea, methought I saw, even as our father Lehi saw, God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels, in the attitude of singing and praising their God; yea, and my soul did long to be there” (Alma 36:22). The pains of a damned soul were replaced by a soul filled with joy. “There can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (Alma 36:22).
That is transformation.
Unlike Alma, Nephi was already pondering the scriptures. He was making real spiritual effort—but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until he turned his focus from what was wrong with himself to what was right with God that he found joy.
Alma was not even studying the scriptures. His transformation came because he reflected on what his father had taught “concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.” He turned his whole focus to Jesus.
This is not to say that studying the scriptures does not matter. The scriptures are vital. They are love letters from heaven. But the scriptures are only so many words until we use them to see God. It is not the scriptures but the Author who saves us. It is not the words but the Word that sanctifies us.
So, what must we do to qualify for His influence in our lives? We turn to Him with full purpose of heart. We empty ourselves of ourselves and fill ourselves with Him. This is humility.
We often misunderstand humility. Society thinks of humility as timidity and weakness. God defines it as the willingness to recognize the source of power.
Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, (2 Nephi 2:8)
His is the only name under heaven whereby we can be saved. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Sometimes we imagine that our failings can thwart God’s blessings or change the amount of love He has for us. It is true that we can refuse to accept His gifts or choose not to accept His love. But, like Nephi or Alma, when we turn to Him with yearning, the heavens are opened to us. Truth and goodness flow into our lives.
What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints. D&C 121:33
What a promise! God is determined to pour knowledge upon us!
As Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught, “To those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, it is clear that the Father and the Son are giving away the secrets of the universe!”
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: (Matthew 7:7)
God really wants to connect with us and bless us. Satan wants to prevent that connection. His favorite tool to discourage those who are earnest may be shame. Because our efforts are imperfect and because we make so many mistakes, we are tempted to believe that Father does not want to connect with us. That is a lie.
God wants to bless us. As Brother Tad Callister observed: “All of God’s faculties, all of his inclinations are poised and bent on blessing at the slightest provocation. Oh, how God loves to be merciful and bless his children! Perhaps that is his greatest joy. It is the inherent quality that drives him with tireless vigilance to save his children” (p. 313, 2000 Infinite Atonement. Deseret Book).
And what is the provocation that will draw His blessings? It is simply calling on Him. There will be times in our lives when we have focused and systematic study. Yet even when we are in our own personal wilderness, Father wants to stay in touch with us. He wants to be a part of our lives. He wants us to call on His name and recognize our dependence on Him. He will take us as we are. He isn’t frustrated with us. There won’t ever be a time He doesn’t want to see us, listen to us, lift us, and embrace us.
In the next article, I will talk about effective ways to call on Him.
Invitation to Gratitude!
This season consider a holiday gift that will help you build the spirit of gratitude in your family and among the people you love. God’s Trophies is a heartwarming children’s tale about Rupert learning gratitude for all of God’s creations. Rupert’s whimsical adventure also teaches children that they are each God’s most beloved creation. Wonderful illustrations accompany the joyful story. This book would make an excellent holiday gift for any special people in your life. For the holiday season, I am offering five copies of God’s Trophies—a $65 value—for $25 with free shipping in the US.
To get this special offer, go to: https://ldsgreats.com/products/five-copies-of-gods-trophies-by-wally-goddard-picture-book