As Latter-day Saints we have a long, rich tradition of having a plan. We have a respectable and well-deserved reputation- a reputation for responding in times of need, for helping others, for being organized and for having not just a plan, but the Plan.
All of this planning tends to lead us to make very careful choices in our lives—we can almost create a checklist of the steps we will take, from the time we learn Jesus wants us for Sunbeam until we return with honor from our missions and set about finding our Eternal Companions. It’s really nice when all the pieces fall into place and the Plan works out in the ideal manner—I just haven’t met anyone yet for whom that’s the case. We can check all the boxes, we can do everything according to the plan, our desires can be righteous, and we forget that our faith is not a bartering chip with the Lord.
If faith is built upon the premise of exchanging anything with the Lord, it is not faith.
Just over a decade ago, I waded down into a warm, blue tiled font to the waiting hands of a family friend who recited the simple yet beautiful prayer and submersed me in the waters of baptism. My oldest son was a wiggly infant watching at the glass, and I made the decision to dedicate my life to this plan. I have little recollection of right before, other than a feeling of warmth, and I cannot for the life of me tell you what happened afterwards—but I imagine food was involved. What I do recall vividly is the feeling of rising up out of the warm water, anew. It was so fleeting, like a hummingbird’s pause, but it was a moment of singular perfection. The perfection lay not in me, but around me—bathing me, for the very briefest of moment, in what I can only call the light of heaven. I knew there would be no perfection for me in the mortal veil of flesh—not ever—but I was granted the barest glimpse of the potential; of what might be, for the grace of God.
In the years since that day, I have had two more children, and I have walked a path of sorrows I could never have imagined. Powerful lessons were painfully engraved on my soul, and one of the greatest of those lessons is to trust in the timing of the Lord. Hindsight is a luxurious gift, speaking with comfortable casualness from the safe vantage point of looking back, but the truth is, while we are in the trenches of our lives, remembering this lesson, trusting in the timing of the Lord, is one of the hardest tests of faith we can endure. I can only now see the wisdom of God guiding my footsteps, even as He could not and would not protect me from the agency of others.
Faith in the timing of the Lord requires graceful choices of us, often at some of the most difficult and painfully challenging moments of our lives. We must remember the glimpses of heaven we’ve been given, and rely on the reserves in our lamps during times we may feel the weakest and most besieged. It’s a herculean effort, and sometimes we break. But the Lord knows us, and knows what we need, even when we cannot see His hand.
One of my favorite scriptures, Mormon 9:27, says in part “…doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old and come unto the Lord with all your heart and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.”
These are not the words of a distant God. We are taught from the cradle that the Lord not only loves each of us, but that we are uniquely valued and known deeply and personally to God. We are not commanded to simply rely on the grace of another, or to borrow light or oil from anyone. Indeed we are cautioned against doing so over and over. We are given intelligence, agency and pondering minds so that we might study the words of our scriptures, hear our prophets, listen to those called and inspired, and work out what they personally mean to us. It’s up to each of us to apply what we learn through our pondering and prayers to our lives.
Agency is a mighty and powerful gift. As I move forward in faith and look back in awe, I am beginning to see, the tiniest glimmer, of the incredible wisdom of the Plan of Salvation. There is no doubt our own agency and the agency of others can bring agonizing pain and hollowing sorrow—but like glaciers, and sometimes just as slowly, depending on our hearts—that carving pain creates a collection place; and internal cache and reservoir for understanding compassion, reverence and love in ways nothing else could have contained. It is refining in it’s finest form.
We imagine we are such fragile creatures, and maybe at first we are. We want answers, hoping to see the end from the beginning. And yet, despite our flawed self-images and perceived fragility, it is only through testing and trial that we learn we are resilient, flexible, and strong like the sap-filled bought of spring. God knows this- even as we doubt and cling to our fears.
When we exercise faith in the timing of the Lord, when we give up tight control of micromanaging our life, when we release our fears of the unknowns, we make room for trust in God, and for the Spirit to flow more freely, unconstrained and untethered by our own expectations. We become open to hearing the Spirit in ways that are locked to us when our imagined happiness is tied to an arbitrary plan being precisely followed—or even more constraining or misguided—when we try and exercise unrighteous control over those we love.
There was a time in my life I felt abandoned by the Lord, when it appeared, in my limited understanding my prayers were not answered—I wanted things I knew from the Gospel were correct and righteous—and yet everywhere I turned, there was loss and pain. It’s easy to forget that even when we’re praying for righteous desires, we cannot ask God to deny the agency of others. This is a sure path to heartache.
When my prayers seemed to go unanswered, or met with indifference, or even a sound “no”, it was my ears that were stopped, not the hand of the Lord that was stayed. The Lord is with us all along, every step, every breath. It’s just sometimes we are so busy holding up the walls we have built, so sure that if we let go, our lives will blow apart, that we can’t—won’t—see His divine presence. There are times He lets good things go so that better things can be built.
We cry out, plead with the Lord, but we can be blind to or refuse to see the answers He gives, because we are too busy looking for the answers we want. Letting go, exercising that needed mustard-seed of faith in the Lord’s timing and not relying our own wishes can be tremendously scary—but that faith can yield growth and spiritual richness we cannot begin to comprehend if we insist of holding tight to the familiar and the safe and leaning on our own wisdom.
The Lord knows so much better what we need, and sometimes a heart, like a tiny seed buried in the earth, has to break open for the magnificent potential within to grow—to push out of darkness, where all seeds sprout, and force it’s way up, through a seeming miracle, towards the light of Christ.
In these moments when our casings or limitations break open, we are fully human. We embody the fallen, and in some small measure, we might finally, from the light coming through our own cracked shell, understand the grace offered by Christ descending beneath all things. How can we begin to ever comprehend this if we are not tried? How can we begin to ever comprehend this if we are not refined and broken open in the ways only the Lord understand we most need? The contents of our hearts are the fertile loam the Lord works with to stoke his refining fires.
Perhaps there are other ways, maybe kinder, maybe gentler, to learn these lessons. I do not know—my prideful heart was clearly required to break in order for the Lord to have something with which He could work. Certainly there is a different story for each of us written in the book of life, and the Lord tailors each of our lessons uniquely to the contours of our need. The single thing of which I am now certain is that our split, refined, broken hearts—by whatever means they are torn asunder—is required for the seeds within us to find the light.
The Lord has given us the greatest potential, and I daresay, has shown His own faith in us, to allow us the gift of choosing faith. We never have to—He will never make us, and we can fight and struggle and try to enforce our own control on life—but that’s not part of the Plan. It’s a testament to His own faith in His creation that he trusts us enough, loves us enough, to allow us this gift and all the potential it contains. It seems so simple—and yet, it’s the work of a lifetime.
Our job now, here on earth, is to trust Him in return.