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Reflect on your life. Almost certainly you have had times of intense joy and purposefulness. Your life felt rich and meaningful. You were grateful for the gift of life.
Other times your life probably felt like a mess. Lots of mistakes. Failed hopes. It may even have felt like a ramshackle junkyard at times.
I was musing one day recently, wishing I could keep my joy, growth, and purposeful living while editing out the messes. I want to be good, loving, and wise yet I have made so many mistakes! I was groaning with frustration when it struck me. Maybe the whole point of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give us life with both good and bad experiences that will teach us. But we don’t have to be condemned by our mistakes. We can use the atonement of Jesus Christ to remove the stains, injuries, failings, and flaws.
Maybe that is the whole point of the plan. God wants us to learn from the messy processes of life without being condemned by our failings.
Of course, He is not someone who forces either lessons or cleansings on us. We must want them. We must draw them to us. He provides a clear formula.
1. We must choose Him as our mentor and sanctifier.
Life is not designed to be an amusement park or tour bus ride in which we ride comfortably along being amazed by the sights. Nope.
Life is more like a pioneer trek—without all the support vehicles that are common for reenactments today. We climb hills. We scratch mosquito bites. We paddle across rivers. We fight hunger. We occasionally encounter a part of the journey that brings us to our knees. Along the way we try to help each other. This is a fitting metaphor for mortality.
The first challenge for the pioneers was making a commitment to face the challenges along the way. The journey of faith is similar. Some refuse to begin because of fear. Some complain every step of the way. Some turn back when challenges appear. But commitment to continue the journey despite challenges is the first step. This is the heart of faith.
We often acknowledge that many miracles helped the pioneers make their journey. The same can be true of our faith journey. In fact, “faith in every footstep” may apply just as well to each of our mortal journeys as it did to the pioneer journey.
Faith also requires that we give Him the benefit of the doubt. For example, when an aspect of life turns out badly, rather than blame Him, I assume that He has a purpose. Maybe He wants me to grow. Maybe He wants me to approach the problem differently. Maybe the time is not right. Maybe the results I seek will come later.
It is tempting to regularly evaluate God’s performance. Did He properly reward my efforts? Did He give me the help I prayed for?
Imagine a child’s perspective on the care we provide them. We arrange flu shots, push vegetables, limit desserts, and otherwise annoy our children. Yet, if we are earnest parents, we do all of it with an eye to blessing them.
Heavenly Father, likewise, acts in our best interest. And we, like children, are often annoyed or disappointed. The difference is that He is perfect in love and wisdom. “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Nephi 26:24). The question is not whether He can turn everything in our lives into a blessing. The question is whether we will trust Him.
Some may see faith as a weak suspicion that there might be a God and once in a while, He does good things. My view of faith is different from that. I see faith as the stubborn resolve to see God’s goodness in everything that happens. Everything.
When I completely trust God, then my job is very focused: to be grateful. “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness, shall be made glorious” (D&C 78:19).
You undoubtedly have challenges and disappointments in your life. Do you trust Him? Are you finding ways to be grateful for every gift He sends you?
2. We must let Him repair our brokenness. We must repent regularly and gladly.
Hugh Nibley gave us a fresh perspective on repentance: “Who is righteous? Anyone who is repenting. No matter how bad he has been, if he is repenting he is a righteous man. There is hope for him. And no matter how good he has been all his life, if he is not repenting, he is a wicked man. The difference is which way you are facing. The man on the top of the stairs facing down if much worse off than the man on the bottom step who is facing up. The direction we are facing, that is repentance; and that is what determines whether we are good or bad.” (Approaching Zion, pg. 301-302)
Repentance is learning; it is the process by which we extract ennobling lessons from messy experience.
How did we respond when caught in misdeeds as children? Did we deny, blame, excuse, run and hide?
I tried to hide my mistakes or talk my way out of them. Hiding from God and rationalizing do not help me grow and connect with God.
What do you do now when you bump into your failures? Shrug? Justify? Compare? Repent?
How can we repent? Sometimes I imagine Jesus backing up a dump truck to our house at the end of the day. He knocks on the door and invites me to give him any junk in my life—any resentments, any misdeeds, any trash. My job is to surrender them gladly—and to make any repairs and restitution that I can.
We should repent often and gladly. We can also repent ritually. I see partaking of the sacrament as a renewing ordinance.
Sister Neill F. Marriott observed:
During the sacrament, which I call the heart of the Sabbath, I have found that after I pray for forgiveness of sins, it is instructive for me to ask Heavenly Father, “Father, is there more?” When we are yielded and still, our minds can be directed to something more we may need to change—something that is limiting our capacity to receive spiritual guidance or even healing and help. (“Yielding Our Hearts to God,” Ensign, Nov. 2015, 31.)
The sacrament is a time to have a repenting and renewing conversation with Jesus. What do you think about and feel during the sacrament? How can you use covenant time to change your life?
3. We can pay close attention to the Holy Ghost.
I believe that messages from the Spirit are customized help and guidance for our lives. We should cherish them. Yet, I am amazed how often I have a new idea or some other twinge of the Spirit during the day and, by nightfall, I have forgotten the heavenly message. I am trying to find ways to change this.
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift. D&C 84:33
I keep a small journal in which I write ideas and experiences that came with that freshness that is characteristic of messages from God.
The next step is pondering what we should do to act upon those ideas and experiences.
What are you doing to notice and record impressions from the Holy Ghost? How are you applying the lessons and promptings you receive from the Holy Ghost?
We fallen humans make lots of mistakes. We fall short of our aspirations and God’s standards. But, through the atonement of Jesus Christ, our fallenness can be transformed into holiness. To access that atonement, we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent regularly and gladly, and we follow the counsel of His Spirit.
This is the season for gratitude! I would like to help you build that spirit in your family and among the people you love. I am offering five copies of my children’s book, God’s Trophies, for $25, free shipping in the US. This is a $65 value! The book features a wonderfully illustrated, joyful story that helps children to learn about gratitude for all of God’s creations and teaches them that they are each God’s most beloved creation. The book would make an excellent holiday gift for any special people in your life!
To get this special offer, go to: https://ldsgreats.com/products/five-copies-of-gods-trophies-by-wally-goddard-picture-book
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful edits to this article.