Anyone who knows me would attest to the fact that my life is a mess. My schedule is a mess. My house is a mess. My health is a mess. My brain is often a mess. (For Christmas, my kids gave me a phone case that says, “My brain has too many tabs open.” Isn’t that awesome?) And yes, my computer is a mess, too.
There might be some mess that my children will remember as they reflect on their growing-up years, but I hope they will remember that, with very few exceptions, we did some sort of scriptures or spiritual thought and prayer together every day. I may be a mess in a lot of ways, but I take seriously the counsel to be “brilliant in the basics.”
Now that my children are teenagers and their lives and schedules are helter-skelter, family scripture study more often than not is one-on-one time with Mom. (I’m the night owl, so husband does morning shift and I do nights.)
And as they have gotten older, the dynamic of scripture study has organically shifted to me asking them to share, rather than me sharing something with them. It’s been simply amazing to hear their thoughts and to feel and see God working in their lives. God has worked in my life, through them.
This past week is an example. I had a very hard week with some difficult medical tests. My husband was out of town. I had some sort of problem with one of the tests, and ended up in the ER with serious pain. In the middle of this, though, God provided help through kind friends at just the right time. And I felt peace even in the face of the anxiety that comes with experiences like this.
On Saturday, in my one-on-one time with my 17-year-old son, I said the usual, “Do you have something to share?” That day he had given a devotional thought at our ward youth conference, and he chose to share that with me. The thought was simple yet profound (and I paraphrase):
“We can’t endure to the end [which is a concept from the youth theme this year in 2 Nephi 31:20], without having an eternal perspective. It’s simply not possible.”
When I started reading the General Conference talks for this week, I had originally planned to write about N. Eldon Tanner’s talk on not judging. But my son’s share lingered in my mind and when I saw similar messages in the talks, I felt that should be the message to focus on this week in my post.
Then-Elder Monson said:
“From the very beginning to the present time, a fundamental question remains to be answered by each who runs the race of life. Shall I falter or shall I finish? On the answer await the blessings of joy and happiness here in mortality and eternal life in the world to come.”
Elder Ashton’s approach was a little different, speaking more to how Latter-day Saints might look wrongly at means as ends, and thus miss the mark.
“I am concerned that many of us are confused in our life’s travels with destinations, arrivals, stops, calls, stations, and assignments. It appears to me that some of us may be lost today because we think we have arrived….
“Have you arrived when you go to the temple? Is temple marriage your destination? …Oftentimes there are real dangers in our lives when we allow lofty ideals and goals, such as temple marriage, to become an end instead of a means. All of our priorities must be properly placed within the framework of eternity if we are to avoid the stagnations of arriving.
“I humbly bear witness to you today that an honorably completed mission, a celestial marriage, a valued testimony, a position of major responsibility in the Church are not destinations in the lives of true Latter-day Saints. They can be important aids in eternal progression. They will not save you and me in the kingdom of God.”
Elder Ashton’s words caused me to pause and reflect on lessons I feel God has been teaching me as of late. I realize that I’ve gotten stuck in thinking about arrivals or destinations in other ways. I use the words “outcomes” vs. “process.”
For example, when I started the week last week, all I wanted was for the tests to go well. This reflects how I have often thought during my years with health issues. For the first several years of this struggle, the focus of my faith was simply to get better. I became disheartened and confused when that outcome did not happen. I thought I must be doing something wrong because I hadn’t arrived at a place of good health. I had similar thoughts and struggles when I was single for many years longer than I thought I would be. Was my faith not strong enough? I could cite other examples. It’s so easy to want outcomes.
Only in recent years, even recent weeks and days, have I come to realize with more clarity what the prophets teach: that God’s purposes in my life are not to prevent all pain or struggle. His primary purpose is to allow me opportunities to come to know and trust Him in the mess, and to truly become changed through faith on Jesus Christ. Changed from a being who is driven by fear and willfulness to a child who is willing to learn from life’s lessons.
As Elder Oaks taught (sharing words from a loved one): “Our…faith is in Jesus Christ, and is not dependent on outcomes.”
I am coming to realize that it really is no small thing to endure well in faith. But there is nothing sweeter than to feel glimpses of heaven, and to have the knowledge through tender mercies and quiet whisperings of the Spirit’s that testify that God really is in charge and can be trusted. To remember and trust eternal truths we once knew before this life really is why we are here on earth.
I end where I began: with my messy life. I do not seek to give excuses for my weakness and shortcomings, and yet I am grateful that God is showing me that He really means it when He says through His servants that “our direction is more important than our speed” (Elder Larry Lawrence, “What Lack I Yet?“). I am grateful to know that God isn’t looking for perfection in my life, but He is hoping I will look to Him for strength to endure in faith. He’s not looking for me to arrive; He just wants me to come — to come to Christ. He isn’t keeping score of all the times I fall; He just wants me to keep on trying, keep on working, keep on walking.
As Elder Monson taught, “… the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. …” (Eccl. 9:11.) This echoes what President Uchtdorf taught just last October: “We don’t acquire eternal life in a sprint—this is a race of endurance.”
I believe my messy mortal self will never stop wanting linear outcomes, quick fixes, easy answers, and concrete arrivals. I’m grateful for reminders like I had this week through life’s stuff, through the inspired insight from my son, and through these 1972 talks (and 2015 talks) that enduring through faith in the Savior is what I really want.