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We went to court on January 20th, where a son and his wife finalized the adoption of their first child. The new parents expressed beautiful feelings about the miracle of this event and about the hand of God and His involvement in making it all possible. He is gracious and he does hear our appeals. Isaiah wrote:
“He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, he will answer thee. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers: And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:19-21).
This new mother’s sweet affirmation of gratitude caused me to reflect again on the way in which the Lord works with His children. I thought of those long years of prayer for these people to have children, and for another daughter and her husband who were childless. We were unable to see what He was preparing to do for them.
Isaiah asked, “To whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). I am compelled to confess that it was not revealed to me. Not at all. In fact, I suspect that most of us have a pretty hard time understanding what the Lord is doing before He is done. He said, “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation” (Doctrine and Covenants 58:3). And how would we ever know when He was done? The Savior speaking of himself in the 3rd person, said, “Great is his wisdom, marvelous are his ways, and the extent of his doings none can find out” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:2).
From our limited and self-centered perspective, we look at this new grandson and see the blessing he is to our family. But who knows “indeed, who could ever know” the extent of His doings and how many other lives the Lord has blessed and will bless with this adoption?
We pray for the favors we know we need with one eye on our clock and one on the calendar, and wonder why it takes so long for the Lord to give us what we want. We wonder why He isn’t doing anything…but of course He is. His invisible arms are at work, and even though His timetable and ours are discordant, even contradictory, He is on the job. “His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:3).
Habakkuk may have said it even better: “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). Isn’t Habakkuk saying that the Lord is in His office and on the job? And doesn’t his language sound a lot like Psalm 46:10 and D&C 101:16: “Be still, and know that I am God…”
Impatience must be an offense to God. How could mortals, whose “eyes cannot see afar off” (Moses 6:27) dare to demand that He deal with our problems as readily as we would if we were all-powerful? Elder Maxwell said:
“Indeed, when we are unduly impatient with an omniscient God’s timing, we really are suggesting that we know what is best. Strange, isn’t it—we who wear wristwatches seek to counsel Him who oversees cosmic clocks and calendars” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 63).
Impatience is a repudiation of God’s omniscience.
We are all subject to the timing of our Heavenly Father and sometimes that timing has the purpose of a divine tutorial. He is not simply trying to help us to be good. He is trying to help us to want to be good, and that is a different thing. He wants us to come back and live in heaven, but more than that, He wants us to be heavenly. We look forward to Celestial glory, but need to understand that unless we are Celestial people, the glory of that kingdom will not warm us, it will scald us.
And so, if our prayers continue unanswered through weeks or months or years, it is not because God is busy or indifferent, nor is it because He is conducting a scientific experiment to test our perseverance. It might be happening because we need to learn some things that we can learn faster with troubles than with triumphs. Desire and willingness are wonderful but they are not enough.
How could we ever know what He is trying to accomplish? Marlin K. Jensen said something about this:
“Discerning the “overruling, almighty hand” of God . . . is not always easy. Only He knows the end from the beginning and has all things present before him. If He can make provision for a needed second set of plates hundreds of years before Martin Harris’s misfortune, who but the most spiritual knows at any given moment where He may be taking us? My own feeling is that it might be well for us to remember that although God’s children are very important to the accomplishment of his purposes, we often are not unlike the young children at an amusement park who drive those little centrally controlled race cars that travel a circular course on a metal rail with their wheels several inches off the ground. The young, excited drivers furiously pump the gas pedals and spin the steering wheels, fully believing they are having some influence, but the cars go at a speed and in a direction that are largely determined by park management!” (Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the Twentieth Century [29th Annual Sperry Symposium] pp. 2,3).
I had a thought about this one Saturday. I was watching a DVD of my presentation about the martyrdom of Joseph Smith to 1600 missionaries at the MTC. I had assumed the character of Willard Richards to tell the story in a first-person, dramatic format. The AV department at the MTC made a DVD of the presentation and gave me a copy. As I watched it, my mind slipped away from the show to a reflection on my acting skills and to a consideration of the impact of my presentation on the lives and testimonies of those messengers of the atonement and the restoration.
My thoughts drifted back to the beginning of the summer after 6th grade when Mom called me into the living room and offered me a choice. She said something like this: “You are not going to waste this whole summer.” She pointed out two want-ads in the local paper; one for lessons in French and the other for lessons in Creative Dramatics, and told me to choose. The thought of studying a foreign language congealed my blood. I chose drama and took weekly lessons for over three years. I participated in Summer Workshop Theater at Utah State University while I was still in High School. I had parts and responsibilities in the school plays and musicals at Logan High. I attended USU on drama scholarship. I have taken part in community theater since I lived in Snowflake, Arizona.
Saturday night it suddenly seemed clear to me that those events were, in part at least, divinely directed preparations for my experiences in bearing testimony as Willard Richards of the prophet Joseph Smith, which I have done more than two thousand times now.
But how could I have seen the arm of the Lord in those drama lessons when I was 13? His subtle, powerful motives are almost always invisible and impossible to detect. Even Joseph Smith wanted to know where God was and how long He was going to wait before He acted. “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:1).
In the courtroom with our new grandson, more than any time in my life, I began to understand that God is continuously and intimately involved with us. Remember that even sparrows and hairs do not fall to the ground unnoticed.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
Luke 12:6 says it in an even better way:
“Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?” (Luke 12:6).
“Fear ye not therefore.” If God will not forget the sparrows, He will certainly know when some of His children are worthy and praying and waiting. How could He not? But patience is probably a prerequisite in the curriculum of mortality. Perhaps that is a part of the lesson of this parable:
“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily” (Luke 18:1-8).
The purpose of this parable is not to teach the nature of God, but to show us that we ought not to give up, to faint, when the Father does not respond to our needs on our schedule. He will bless (or avenge) His elect “speedily” when the time is right, “though he bear long with them.”
I hope all of us will have a great faith that He is at work in our lives and that His arm is stretched forth in our behalf, even though we often are unaware. He is preparing us for “the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.”