She recounted one miracle after another. Several miracles of friends raised up to guide her spiritual journey. Uncounted “coincidences” that hooked her up with the Lord and His Church. Even opportunities to testify to struggling members and non-members using truths unearthed in her years of exploration in the Church. Miracles littered the landscape of her life. There was no denying that God was ministering personally and almost constantly to her.
Yet she resisted any suggestion that the Lord had ordained her for joy. “Joy is for others. Not for me.” She resisted the possibility that there might be anything but a hard life and terrestrial glory in store for her. “I could never make it.”
For each of us, God stands ready to part the Red Sea. Yet all we can think of is tired feet and endless tracts of wilderness. God invites us to warm ourselves at the burning bush. Yet the prospect of those sacred moments is eclipsed by the chilly nights we spent alone.
The natural mind is an enemy to God.
Not only do the disappointment and pain of daily struggles occupy more of our mental space than the miracles, those disappointments and pains may become the lens through which we view all the events of our lives. The miracles are reduced to a faint memory without personal meaning. The previous joys are merely a reminder that we have come down from the mountain to a valley of dull despair.
I think of the friend who had been married for more than 30 years with many remarkable children. His family has blessed countless people. He is a man with deep insight into the gospel of Jesus Christ. He hit a rough place in his life. Unemployment. Uncertainty about the future. Discouragement with life. Contention at home. One day he told me that his wife was being unusually selfish and unhelpful lately. (The fact that he was discouraged and prickly may have been a significant part of the story.) He ruminated: “In fact, it seems that she has been selfish for years. In fact…” he thought back over the years “I’m not sure I ever loved her.”
Yikes! Today’s troubles not only burden the present but can cause us to rewrite our entire history. A temporary bout with adversity or unhappiness can cause us to recast our whole life story with despair as its theme. The load of joys and miracles is erased from the book of life and replaced with a smudge. “Human beings are inevitably the arsonists of their own happiness” (Robinson, S.E., 1992, Believing Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, p. 116).
I wonder if our covenants with God are supposed to bind not only our actions but also our thoughts to His holy purposes. When I made sacred covenants, I promised not only to serve fellow travelers but also to interpret all of my experiences through the lens of faith. I committed to see God along with His purposes and goodness in all things.
For example, when I was sealed to Nancy, I covenanted not only to take out the household trash to the curb for her but also to haul any unkind trash related to her from my mind. I made a sacred covenant to see and emphasize all that is good about my beloved partner.
This very moment there are seven pictures of Nancy on my desk. They range from when she was one year old sitting with her brother Acel to a family pose in the Great Salt Lake to the picture of her and me on the swing in the backyard with grandson Shad. Part of the burden of faith is to choose to see, remember, and cherish the sacred moments God has granted us.
When we make covenants with God, we promise to give Him more than a little time and our spare change. We promise Him everything including our hearts—all our heart, might, mind, and strength. Rather than focusing upon darkness, the events and purposes of our lives are to be seen through the illumination of faith. Instead of building up our doubts, we must choose to cling to the bursts of truth the Spirit has provided us along the way. Our mortal assessments of others are to be filtered of ruminations and recriminations and replaced with heavenly perspective. Our view of others is informed “by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:42).
There is nothing that will enlarge our souls quite like that pure knowledge: truths and insights from God that fill us with divine light and cause us to reframe the view we have of our life, our purpose, and people we encounter along our paths.
So I collect picture frames and I fill them with joy and hope and meaning and celebration. We can all frame our patriarchal blessings and hang them in our hearts. We frame a picture of the struggling child and focus on his finest moments. We frame a memory of a sacred experience and guide our lives by its truth.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds (Hebrews 12:1–3).
Good counsel. We can languish in the valley of doubt or we can ascend the mountain of certitude for our rendezvous with God. We can fill our minds with the perplexities of mortality or guide our lives by recollected truths. Our jumble of mortal experiences can be understood with the template of fretting or the lens of faith. Either process will yield a coherent story. One interpretation burdens us; the other blesses. The choice is ours.
There are many ways of seeing our lives, as tragedies of failed character, as a collection of disappointments and challenges, or a waste of ordinary days. There are many ways to write each story.
We can write our lives’ stories with discontent as the theme and fill them with unfulfilled hopes and pain. . Or we can write our stories with God as the hero and growth as the theme. After reading such a book, we ask ourselves, “How could it have been any better?” And He whispers: “It couldn’t have. I blessed you and ministered to your growth though all your experiences.”
Each day as we make sense of our lives we add to the story line. We let in more light or we groan in the darkness. Some of us cling to the miserable but safely familiar plot line. Some of us open our minds to see His purposes.
The single most important factor in finding meaning in our lives may be faith. “Let the kaleidoscope of life’s circumstances be shaken, again and again, and the true believer in Christ will still see, ‘with the eye of faith,’ divine design, purpose, and pattern in his life” (Neal A. Maxwell, “Notwithstanding My Weakness”, p. 122).
Nested in a familiar chapter is a stunning insight by the brilliant philosopher, Alma:
O then, is not this real? I say unto you, Yea, because it is light; and whatsoever is light, is good, because it is discernible, therefore ye must know that it is good (Alma 32:35).
Only the Light is real.
Recommendation: Wally’s popular book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, is now available in Deseret Book stores (as well as on amazon.com). One reviewer wrote: “The best book on marriage that I’ve ever read. I love reading a little every day to maintain an eternal perspective and remind me of the things I really want to maintain in my marriage.” Get a copy of the book for you or someone you love.
This is a revised version of an article previously published on Meridian Magazine.