Joseph was soul weary. He was tired of contention about religion and he was burdened by his own shortcomings. He was spiritually hungry. He responded to James’ invitation to seek wisdom and went into a grove to get some heavenly guidance for his life.
In a stand of trees near the Smith’s humble home, Joseph got the biggest surprise in the history of this world. He did not get what he expected—a subtle impression in answer to his spiritual questions. He did not simply get comfort and assurance to keep plodding along.
Nope. Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son made a personal visit and called young Joseph to be the answer to his own dilemma. He was to partner with Them in launching the most glorious of dispensations.
It took years for young Joseph to make sense of that experience. It was a lot to take in.
Joseph’s experience is a lesson for all of us. More than we ever imagined, God wants to partner with us in our lives. Though our experiences with Him may seem simpler or less grand than Joseph Smith’s First Vision, there are many evidences that God wants to participate in our lives as well as the lives of prophets and leaders.
For example, we often see the temple endowment as being about making covenants and completing ordinances. It is easy to miss the main point: God has done everything in the universe in order to get us back home with Him. He has provided a Savior so that we can be brought again into Father’s cherished presence. The point of the endowment is to get us back in His arms. That is the focus and conclusion of our temple worship.
Another evidence of God’s intent: At the time that Lehi was preaching in Jerusalem, the conventional wisdom under the Josian reforms was that God did not speak to humans. He had given His law and there was nothing more He needed to say. Lehi and Nephi discovered otherwise. Right in the opening chapter of first Nephi, God and His helpers show up repeatedly
And it came to pass as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much; and because of the things which he saw and heard he did quake and tremble exceedingly. (verse 6)
And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. (v. 8; see also 9-14)
And now I, Nephi, do not make a full account of the things which my father hath written, for he hath written many things which he saw in visions and in dreams; and he also hath written many things which he prophesied and spake unto his children, of which I shall not make a full account. (v. 16)
All of that heavenly light is in the very first chapter of the Book of Mormon! God is full of surprises. He wants to participate in our lives more than we ever imagined! He seems to be saying, “Come unto me and I will come unto you.”
As much as anything else, the Restoration teaches us that God wants to play an on-going, active role in our lives. What an invitation!
God’s participation in our lives will be different from His participation in Joseph Smith’s or Lehi’s lives. Yet, it can be just as real and just as vital for our well-being. Let me give some examples of what His participation in our lives and families might look like.
In our Individual Lives
Sometimes new ideas pop into my head. Sometimes I feel that burning that tells me God is endorsing an idea. Sometimes I feel a quiet assurance. At other times, I feel a quiet sense of goodness—a feeling that “God is in His heaven and all is right with the world.”
Frequently something will happen during the day that has the fingerprints of God all over it. I experience a tender mercy. Events play out in a way that bless me. A conversation with someone yields the exact insight I need for a problem I have been pondering. I end up in the right place at the right time to help someone in need.
At the end of the day, I try to make a record of those impressions and experiences that are woven through the doings of my day. That is a vital practice. Yet, even as I try to record them, I sense that I am missing some important times when He walked by my side. Can you imagine! He came to be with me through the day, and I have forgotten His participation by nightfall!
I am trying to do better. I am trying to carry an index card with me and scribble a note when even a subtle feeling of love, joy, peace, or gratitude intrudes on my ordinary mortal doings. When God shows up in my life, I intend to take note!
How can you better notice and acknowledge the ways that God shows up in your life? As we embrace and use the light He sends, “that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
In our Friendships and Marriages
How can you see God’s design for your life and your development through the people He sends into your path? If you are married, how can you see that design in your relationship with your eternal companion?
C. S. Lewis laid out the challenge for us:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship . . .. (The Weight of Glory)
Would our relationships be different if we saw every person as a sacred blessing? Would our marriages be better if we saw our own spouses—with all their imperfections—as possible gods and goddesses?
Research on marriage shows that, in happy marriages, partners see qualities in each other that no one else discerns. Researchers call them positive illusions. But maybe they aren’t illusions. Maybe when we are in touch with heaven, we see the eternal and divine reality in our spouses. We see as heaven sees.
Therefore, we can tell how close we are to heaven by how we feel about the people in our lives. When we find ourselves irritated by them, we know that we are neglecting the heavenly view. We can cry out for a change of 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 [petty judgments]” (Alma 36:18).
We can only see each other truly when we see as Jesus does. When we see as Jesus does—when He fills our minds and hearts—we are consumed with love. God wants to partner with us in helping us develop that mighty change of heart.
In Leadership and Parenting
In all leadership roles, it is natural—even universal—to exercise unrighteous dominion (D&C 121:39). This is true in managerial roles and it is true in parenting. We want things to run smoothly and we get angry with any intrusion on our agenda.
Once, while looking after grandchildren, we overheard a heated exchange between three grandsons. Each older boy was picking on the one just younger. I knew that the “natural parent” would storm in and tell the boys to stop picking on each other and acting like idiots. And by doing so, that parent would enlarge the pain and resentment at the heart of the original exchange.
Instead, I went to the two older boys individually and offered comfort for their injured feelings. I rubbed the balm of compassion and love on their injured souls. When each boy was feeling peaceful, I asked him what his brother might have been feeling. I coached them: “I wonder if he was feeling picked on and put down. I wonder if he feels inadequate next to you with your experience and abilities.” I was surprised. Each boy seemed genuinely surprised. They had never considered how a younger brother might feel inadequate–even though they themselves often did.
This coaching took time. Yet it felt like we were entering into the presence of God. It felt sacred.
Rather than seeing people for whom we have a stewardship as an inconvenience in our schedules, we can sense God inviting us to guide and nurture His children.
God is anxious to show up in our personal lives, our families, and our friendships. None of the examples in this article may feel as momentous as the First Vision, yet the more we draw the divine into our lives and relationships, the closer we come to Heaven. We will see God all around us. As we partner with God in life, marriage, and parenting, we will hear Him calling us by that welcome title, “friends.” And we, like Joseph, can partner with Him in the great work of building His kingdom.