There Will Be No General Warning By The Prophet Before The Prophesied Ca...
“Begin to Be Enlightened”
By Neal A. Maxwell
As we look about us we perceive that unfortunately some Church members are in the “broad” way; most are scattered all along the straight and narrow path. The enlightened are moving forward steadily toward becoming men and women of Christ (see 3 Nephi 27:27; Helaman 3:29-30). Others are moving, but only irregularly. Some are dawdling. Still others are milling round the exits and entrances. A few have turned back or been turned aside.
Rather than describe members “geographically,” however, let us view their variety “attitudinally.”
Some members, undecided about taking on serious discipleship, continue with the “multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). It is ironical that this wearing indecisiveness produces its own form of fatigue. Moreover, those who fret and stew over whether or not to be “enlisted till the conflict is o’er” (Hymns, no. 250) are already losing the battle.
If we enlist and take the Savior’s yoke upon us we “shall find rest unto [our] souls” (Matthew 11:29). If we are only part-time soldiers, though, partially yoked, we experience quite the opposite: frustration, irritation, and the absence of His full grace and spiritual rest. In that case weaknesses persist and satisfactions are intermittent. The less involved members resemble cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s proud garritroopers of World War II — those who were too far forward to wear ties, but too far back to get shot, yet regarded themselves as real soldiers in the midst of the fray! Actually the partially yoked experience little spiritual satisfaction, because they are burdened by carrying the awful weight of the natural man — without any of the joys that come from progressing toward becoming “the man of Christ.” They have scarcely “[begun] to be enlightened” (Alma 32:34). The meek and fully yoked, on the other hand, find God’s reassuring grace and see their weakness yielding to strength (see Ether 12:27).
Strange as it seems, a few of the partially yoked, undeservedly wearing the colors of the kingdom, are just close enough to the prescribed path and process to be able to observe in others some of the visible costs of discipleship. Sobered by that observation, they want victory without battle and expect campaign ribbons merely for watching; but there is no witness until after the trial of their faith (see Ether 12:6).
These same Church members know just enough about the doctrines to converse superficially on them, but their scant knowledge about the deep doctrines is inadequate for deep discipleship (see 1 Corinthians 2:10). Thus uninformed about the deep doctrines, they make no deep change in their lives. They lack the faith to “give place” (Alma 32:27) consistently for real discipleship. Such members move out a few hundred yards from the entrance to the straight and narrow path and repose on the first little rise, thinking, “Well, this is all there is to it”; and they end up living far below their possibilities. While not as distant as those King Benjamin described “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13) — these people are not drawing closer either.
Others are moving but, having pursued the wrong azimuth, find themselves caught in various cul-de-sacs. In order to resume the journey they must back up in full view of other climbers. These are among the moments when some find out whether they are “ashamed” of the gospel of Jesus Christ, including its grand principle of repentance.
Numerous valiant and faithful individuals are keeping their covenants and steadily developing the cardinal qualities of character necessary to become men and women of Christ. These enlightened ones meet adversity and overcome it; these have that special peace that overcomes even amid adversity. They also sustain the Brethren while knowing that the Brethren too are mortals. Such faithful know by the power of the Holy Ghost that Jesus is the Christ and that He was crucified for the sins of the world, enabling still others to believe on their words, which is sufficient for now (see D&C 46:13, 14).
The almost valiant resemble the valiant, except that they show considerably less consecration and measurably more murmuring. They are less settled spiritually and are more distracted by the world. They progress, but do so episodically rather than steadily and pause on plateaus.
A few in the Church are needlessly laden with programmed hyperactivity. They unwisely and unnecessarily exceed their strength and means, running faster than they are able (see D&C 10:4; Mosiah 4:27). Their fatiguing, Martha-like anxiety should yield more often to a Mary-like sense of proportion about what matters most; then the good part will not be taken from them (see Luke 10:41-42).
Much more burdening than that avoidable fatigue, however, is the burden of personal frailties. Almost all of us as members fail to lighten our load for the long and arduous journey of discipleship. We fail to put off the childish things — not the tinker toys, but the temper tantrums; not training pants, but pride. We remain unnecessarily burdened by things which clearly should and can be jettisoned. No wonder some are weary and faint in their minds (see Hebrews 12:3).
Some members maintain only cultural ties to the Church. Often these people have had valiant parents but they themselves live off the fruits of discipleship banked by those parents and grandparents. They make no fresh, spiritual investments; they have neither new earnings nor an inheritance to pass along to their own posterity.
Then there are the dissenters who leave the Church, either formally or informally, but who cannot leave it alone. Usually anxious to please worldly galleries, they are critical or at least condescending towards the Brethren. They not only seek to steady the ark but also on occasion give it a hard shove! Often having been taught the same true doctrines as the faithful, they have nevertheless moved in the direction of dissent (see Alma 47:36). They have minds hardened by pride (see Daniel 5:20).
For these, would that the wisdom of King Benjamin were more operational! “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend” (Mosiah 4:9).
So it is that the challenges of becoming spiritually enlightened confront a varied constituency even in the Church. In addition, Church members live in a cultural context which, in itself, reflects varied views about the Christian faith. The seeming repetitiousness of life, for example, is seen by some in the world as its lack of purposefulness. Others translate their personal failures and frustrations into a conclusion that life reflects a total absence of meaning. Still others regard as proof of His nonexistence God’s failure to perform according to their terms; the irony here being that they insist on God’s compliance with their demands for proof, even though they are out of compliance with Him. Some want to be free to choose, but to have God ever poised to rescue them. They want to call on God in their extremities, but don’t want Him to interfere with their sensualities. They demand an undemanding God. Others want moral agency for humanity, but without the possibility of human misery. They desire permissiveness without the consequences of permissiveness.
No wonder we have so many words of counsel from the Savior and His prophets about the danger of our being “choked with the cares . . . and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14).
The scriptures note candidly that we can look around us and see “the ungodly. . . prosper in the world” (Psalm 73:12). Some conclude “it is vain to serve God” (Malachi 3:14). Truly, as Jesus said, “the world loves its own” and maintains its own system of rewards (see John 15:19). Scriptures counsel us, however, “that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment” (Job 20:5).
Nevertheless the conditioning of the world is fierce and unremitting. Its conventional wisdom and prevailing patterns of life-style are saturatingly portrayed in music, film, literature, and so forth. To compound the problem, there really are vexing “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days” (D&C 89:4). This conspiracy plays to the cupidity and sensuality of the natural man, making it easier for some people to succumb by having their hearts “set . . . upon the things of this world” (D&C 121:35).
All this takes its toll. Nevertheless disciples can still live in the world but not be of it (see John 17:14). This means that our hearts must not become “overcharged with . . . the cares of this life” (Luke 21:34), blurring our vision:
But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (Ephesians 4:18).
No wonder that to some “the light of the glorious gospel” does not seem to shine brightly. Even the Light of the world shined in the darkness and the darkness comprehended Him not (see John 1:5).In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).
Those enlightened ones who become the children of light are thenceforth not to be aligned with those of the world who are “alienated from the life of God.” We are to put off the old man and put on the new man, the man of Christ. As we do this, we will “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving.” (See Ephesians 4:17-32.) It is these latter experiences that so many mortals seldom have, and thus in their deprivation they become hardened.
Even while we move along the prescribed path, success itself is dangerous unless it is managed by meekness. For instance, when with divine help we participate in giving crucial aid, perhaps causing the small equivalent of a little gushing of living water from the barren rocks, we, like Moses, need to be careful about causality by avoiding what might be called the pronoun problem (see Numbers 20:10).
Our outward involvement in spiritual things can also be illusive. One can be present at sacrament meeting but not really worship; the physical body can be there, while the mind and heart are elsewhere. One can accept a calling but still not magnify it, ending up by simply serving time. One can pay fast offerings unaccompanied by any personal service to needy neighbors or to the poor. We can open our checkbooks in the same way as some open their scriptures — more in mechanical than spiritual compliance.
In church we can join in singing the hymns while being without a song in our hearts. We can take the sacrament with hand and mouth yet not be taken in mind, at least sometimes, to Gethsemane and Calvary. We can play artful doctrinal ping-pong in various Church classes but with minds and hearts that are less stretched than the ping-pong net.
Even more serious, a person can even go through the temple without letting it pass through him!
The superficial, public observance of Church callings and duties does not transform private lives. Since they are seemingly doing everything, however, the untransformed wonder why they do not have more spiritual satisfaction.
Even the faithful need to ponder their progress along the way. They may well consider these questions:
If we were more willing to bear a larger yoke, how much more might we then learn of Him? (Matthew 11:29.)If we halted less often to circle our wagons wearily or defensively, what more would God show and tell us about the far horizons in His “one eternal round”? (D&C 3:2.)
If we were more brave, where might we be sent to the rescue — not only of one soul, but of a whole, beleaguered battalion? (D&C 18:16.)
If we could give up the pride-drenched portions of our self-image, how much might God accelerate our preparations for that far, far better world that the meek shall inherit? (D&C 121:37; Luke 9:62; Philippians 3:13-14.)If we would further strip ourselves of our jealousies and fears, what mountains of misunderstanding might we then move (D&C 67:10)?
When we fall short, as we all do, God nevertheless encourages us, saying that His gifts are for those who keep his commandments “and him that seeketh so to do”(D&C 46:9).
For those athirst for the living waters, searching the holy scriptures will cause those books to release their nourishing juices and will invigorate us for the long journey of discipleship. Since we are instructed, “continue in patience until ye are perfected” (D&C 67:13), such continuing nourishment is vital.
Though merciful, God has set strict and clear conditions for our returning to His presence. One of these conditions is that we are to become enlightened as little children — in the best spiritual sense of the word. There is a difference between childishness and meek, perceptive childlikeness. In childishness there is a profound possessiveness: “That’s my toy!” There is open striving to be favored and ascendant: “That’s my place!” Unchecked, these and other tendencies — unabated in the child — soon harden into the natural man, who is “an enemy to God” (Mosiah 3:19). The natural man is actually at cross purposes with God’s plans. The natural man really has different ends, seeks different outcomes, marches to different drummers. If unrepentant, such become “carnal and devilish, and the devil has power over them” (Mosiah 16:3).
Even though the natural man is his enemy, however, God loves man:
The challenge is to “put off the natural man,” and “come off conqueror” (Mosiah 3:19; D&C 10:5).He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation. (2 Nephi 26:24.)
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart. (Psalm 95:7-8.)
A prominent feature of the natural man is selfishness — the inordinate and excessive concern with self. Prophets frequently warn about the dangers of this sin. The distance between constant self-pleasing and self-worship is shorter than we think. Stubborn selfishness is actually rebellion against God, because, warned Samuel, “stubbornness is as. . . idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23).
Selfishness is much more than an ordinary problem, because it activates all the cardinal sins. It is the detonator in the breaking of the Ten Commandments.
By focusing on himself a person finds it naturally easier to bear false witness if it serves his purpose. It is easier to ignore his parents instead of honoring them. It is easier to steal, because what he wants prevails. It is easier to covet, since the selfish conclude that nothing should be denied them.
It is easier for the selfish person to commit sexual sins, because to please himself is the name of that deadly game in which others are often cruelly used. He easily neglects the Sabbath day, since one day soon becomes just like another. For the selfish it is easier to lie, because the truth is conveniently subordinated.
The selfish individual thus seeks to please not God but himself. He will even break a covenant in order to satisfy an appetite.
Selfishness has little time to regard seriously the sufferings of others, hence the love of many waxes cold (see Moses 6:27; Matthew 24:12; D&C 45:27).
Long ago it was prophesied that the last days would be rampant with selfishness and the other cardinal sins, just as in the days of Noah (see Matthew 24:37-39; 2 Timothy 3:1-5). Society in the days of Noah, scriptures advise, was “corrupt before God” and “filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11-12; Moses 8:28). Corruption and violence — does that sound familiar? Both of these awful conditions crest today because of surging individual selfishness. When thus engulfed, no wonder men’s hearts in our day will fail them because of fear (see Luke 21:26; D&C 45:26). Even the faithful can expect a few fibrillations.
Some selfishness exists even in good people. Jane Austen’s character Elizabeth mused, “I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle” (Pride and Prejudice (New York: Airmont Books, 1962], p. 58). The selfish individual has a passion for the vertical pronoun J. It is interesting that the vertical pronoun Jdoes not have knees to bend, while the first letter in the pronoun we does.
Selfishness, in its preoccupation with self, withholds from others deserved and needed praise, thereby causing a deprivation instead of giving a commendation.
We see in ourselves other familiar forms of selfishness: accepting or claiming undeserved credit; puffing deserved credit; being glad when others go wrong; resenting the genuine successes of others; preferring public vindication to private reconciliation; and taking “advantage of one because of his words” (2 Nephi 28:8). Such a person views all things selfishly — “What are their implications for me?” This is much like the traffic delay caused by the mattress on the highway. When each frustrated motorist finally got around the mattress none stopped to remove it, because now there was nothing in it for him.
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “Mankind [is] naturally selfish, ambitious, and striving to excel one above another” (The Words of Joseph Smith, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Religious Studies Center, 1980], p. 201). Saul, swollen with selfishness, may be taken as an example. The Lord reminded him about an earlier time “when thou wast little in thine own sight” (1 Samuel 15:17).
Selfishness is often expressed in stubbornness of mind. Having a “mind hardened in pride” (Daniel 5:20) often afflicts the brightest, who could also be the best. “One thing” the brightest often lack: meekness! Instead of having “a willing mind” which seeks to emulate the “mind of Christ,” a mind hardened in pride is impervious to counsel and often seeks ascendancy (1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Corinthians 2:16; D&C 64:34). Jesus, who was and is “more intelligent than they all” (Abraham 3:19), is also more meek than they all.
Jesus put everything on the altar without fanfare or bargaining. Both before and after His astonishing atonement He declared, “Glory be to the Father” (D&C 19:19; Moses 4:2). Jesus, though stunningly brilliant, allowed His will to be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7; see also John 6:38). Those with pride-hardened minds are simply unable to do this.
Stubborn selfishness leads otherwise good people to fight over herds, patches of sand, and strippings of milk. All this results from what the Lord calls coveting “the drop,” while neglecting the “more weighty matters” (D&C 117:8). Myopic selfishness magnifies a mess of pottage and makes thirty pieces of silver look like a treasure trove. In our intense acquisitiveness we forget Him who once said, “What is property unto me?” (D&C 117:4.)
Such is the scope of putting off the burdensome natural man (see Mosiah 3:19), who is naturally selfish. So much of our fatigue in fact comes from carrying that needless load. This heaviness of the natural man prevents us from doing our Christian calisthenics; so we end up too swollen with selfishness to pass through the narrow needle’s eye.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote of the need to “shed my Martha-like anxiety about many things, . . . shedding pride, . . . shedding hypocrisy in human relationships. What a rest that will be! The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting.” (Gift from the Sea (New York: Vintage Books, 1978], p. 32.)
Unchecked selfishness thus stubbornly blocks the way for developing all of the divine qualities: love, mercy, patience, long-suffering, kindness, graciousness, goodness, and gentleness. Any tender sprouts from these virtues are sheared off by sharp selfishness. In contrast, there is not a single gospel covenant the keeping of which does not shear off selfishness from us!
But what a battle for some of us! We are all afflicted in different degrees. The question is, How goes the battle? Is our selfishness being put off — even if only gradually? Or is the natural man like the man who came to dinner? Divine tutoring is given largely in order to help us shed our selfishness, “for what son [or daughter] is [there] whom the father chasteneth not?” (Hebrews 12:7.)
Restoration scriptures tell us much about how we can really be forgiven through the atonement of Christ, by means of which, finally, “mercy. . . overpowereth justice” (Alma 34:15). We can have real and justified hope for the future — enough hope to develop the faith necessary to both put off the natural man and to strive to become more saintly.
Furthermore, because the centerpiece of the Atonement is already in place, we know that everything else in God’s plan will likewise finally succeed. God is surely able to do His own work (see 2 Nephi 27:20-21). In His plans for the human family, long ago God made ample provision for all mortal mistakes. His purposes will all triumph, and will do so without abrogating man’s moral agency. Moreover, all His purposes will come to pass in their time (see D&C 64:32).
Without these and other spiritual perspectives, it is instructive to see how differently we behave. Take away an acknowledgment of divine design and then watch the selfish scurrying to redesign political and economic systems to make life pain-free and pleasure-filled. (Misguided governments mean to live, even if they live beyond their means, thereby mortgaging future generations.)
Take away regard for the divinity in our neighbor, and note the decline in our regard for his property.
Take away basic moral standards, and observe how quickly tolerance changes into permissiveness.
Take away the sacred sense of belonging to a family or community, and notice how quickly citizens cease to care for big cities.
Take away regard for the seventh commandment, and behold the current celebration of sex, the secular religion, with its own liturgy of lust and supporting music. Its theology focuses on self. Its hereafter is now. Its chief ritual is sensation — though the irony is that it finally desensitizes its obsessed adherents, who become “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19; Moroni 9:20). Thus, in all its various expressions, selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion.
Each spasm of selfishness narrows the universe that much more by shutting down our awareness of others and by making us more and more alone. We then desperately seek sensations precisely in order to verify that one really exists. A variation occurs when we are full of self-pity over affectional deprivation and we end up in serious transgression.
Surging selfishness presents us with a sobering scene as the natural man acts out his wants. Many assert their needs — but where have we lodged the corresponding obligations? So many have become demanders, but where are all the providers? There are many more people with things to say than there are listeners. There are more neglected and aging parents than there are attentive sons and daughters — though, numerically, clearly it should not be so.
Just as Jesus warned that some evil spirits would not come out except by “prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21), so the natural man does not come off without difficulty, either.
As regards this personal battle, the Lord has urged us to so live that we will “come off conqueror” (D&C 10:5). But we cannot come off conqueror except we first “put off” the selfish, natural man.
The natural man is truly God’s enemy, because the natural man will keep God’s precious children from true and everlasting happiness. Our full happiness requires our becoming the man or woman of Christ.
The meek men and women of Christ are quick to praise but are also able to restrain themselves. They understand that on occasion the biting of the tongue can be as important as the gift of tongues.
The man and woman of Christ are easily entreated, but the selfish person is not. Christ never brushed aside those in need because He had bigger things to do. Furthermore, the men and women of Christ are constant, being the same in private as in public. We cannot keep two sets of books while heaven has but one. The men and women of Christ magnify their callings without magnifying themselves. Whereas the natural man says “Worship me” and “Give me thy power,” the men and women of Christ seek to exercise power by long-suffering and by unfeigned love (see Moses 1:12; 4:3; D&C 121:41).
Whereas the natural man vents his anger, the men and women of Christ are “not easily provoked” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Whereas the natural man is filled with greed, the men and women of Christ “seeketh not [their] own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Whereas the natural man seldom denies himself worldly pleasures, the men and women of Christ seek to bridle all their passions (see Alma 38:12).
Whereas the natural man covets praise and riches, the men and women of Christ know that such things are but the “drop” (D&C 117:8). Human history’s happiest irony will be that the covenant-keeping, unselfish individuals will finally receive “all that [the] Father hath”! (D&C 84:38.)
One of the last, subtle strongholds of selfishness is the natural feeling that we “own” ourselves. Of course, we are free to choose and are personally accountable. Yes, we have individuality. But those who have chosen to “come unto Christ” soon realize that they do not “own” themselves. Instead, they belong to Him! We are to become consecrated along with our gifts, our appointed days, and our very selves. Hence there is a stark difference between stubbornly “owning” oneself and submissively belonging to God. Clinging to the old self is a mark not of independence but of indulgence.
The Prophet Joseph promised that when selfishness is annihilated, we “may comprehend all things, present, past, and future” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, comp. Dean C. Jesse [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984), p. 485).
Even now, however, in gospel glimpses we can see things “as they really are” (Jacob 4:13).
Indeed, the gospel brings glorious illumination as to our possibilities. Scales fall from our eyes with the shedding of selfishness. Then we begin to see our luminous and true identity. Given the sobering and almost intimidating size of the challenge, what else is there to help us?
The significant words directed by the Lord through the Apostle Paul tell us why Christ established the Church with its foundation of apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). The Church was established “for the perfecting of the saints,” the very process of our becoming men and women of Christ. The Church is established “for the work of the ministry” and for the “edifying of the body of Christ,” the members of the Church. This was necessary too in order for us to have a “unity of the faith” and also “of the knowledge of the son of God.” In addition we are urged to strive to progress “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13.)
Without the Church and its Apostles and prophets we could, in fact, be severely “tossed to and fro,” being “carried about with every wind of doctrine.” We could be manipulated “by the sleight of men” and their conspiracies and cunning craftiness (Ephesians 4:14).
True Christianity thus requires real authority, real verity, real orthodoxy, and real unity! Then let the storms and the winds come, including the various “winds of doctrine.”
Conventional wisdom already advises humanity that, if they want to, individuals can have sexual relations outside of legal heterosexual marriage; they can have freedom without responsibility; they have entitlements without work. Conventional wisdom likewise declares we cannot know that which is to come (see Jacob 7:7). Therefore, it concludes, seek present pleasure and avoid present pain.
The scriptures frequently decry yielding to the persuasions of men; also, fearing men more than God (D&C 3:7; 5:21). The presence of prophets and Apostles encourages and helps the flock to resist this temptation.
While the Church has been established in our time never to be disestablished, all the risks are still there for individual Church members. The life-styles and teachings of the world can still overcome those individuals who allow themselves to be tossed “to and fro,” who are unanchored in the teachings of Jesus and will not receive direction from His Apostles and prophets.
The unity we are to achieve must be that special unity that reflects the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). We are not, said Paul, to be children in understanding, but rather to be men (see 1 Corinthians 14:20). Indeed, men of Christ!
After describing the significance and essential features of the Church, Paul urged its members to go forward, “speaking the truth in love,” urging them to “grow up into him in all things, . . . even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
The Apostles and prophets were not to preside over a debating society or some loose intellectual confederacy, but rather over a kingdom. They are to see to it that there is a unity in the Church that is edifying. The “edifying” of the Church includes giving encouragement, supplying needed correction, and providing the ordinances and the covenants, including those of the holy temple. To edify means to instruct, benefit, or uplift — to uplift morally and spiritually, to give important moral guidance.
The Church strives to help members “come to the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man” (JST, Ephesians 4:13), which is the theme of this volume.
What we should really feel threatened by is not that spiritual change but such things as our failure to use our many opportunities for service, being overcome by the world, being passively engaged in good causes, and breaking our covenants. So often, when seemingly threatened, we tend to move all our guns to the starboard, where there is actually no real assault, leaving unguarded the port side, where the barbarians clamber aboard unhindered.
Daily life casts up many examples of our common need to develop the uncommon virtues. A person can overreact to incursions into his “territory” — his status, property, role, and so on; can feel unappreciated, not understood, left out, unlistened to; can feel beset, overwhelmed, weary; can feel pain — physical and emotional. Moreover, these are not always merely feelings; sometimes they are harsh realities. Roles are threatened and altered; property is stolen or altered; people are ignored; and pain is certainly part of the human experience.
But being broken economically, though devastating, is not as serious as broken covenants. Alteration or even loss of a professional role does not obliterate one’s role as a child of God. Being overlooked or being left out of a local “inner circle” does not alter the reality of our belonging to God eternally.
Why is it all so hard? Because we live in the here and now, and because the world is, in fact, “too much with us.” The rewards of eternity seem remote when compared to being snubbed just a moment ago or being passed over for a promotion last week. Furthermore, when we fail by some mortal measure we worry, especially since such measures seem to be the only ones visibly operative. So why shouldn’t we notice? Indeed, how can we fail to notice?
Yet the scriptures give reassuring examples of those who noticed but who exercised eternal perspective amid mortal pressures. For instance, Adam and Eve taught and shared “all things” with their children (Moses 5:12). These wonderful parents must have experienced deep disappointment over Cain and his posterity as the centuries passed. Happy as Adam doubtless was at the time of the gathering of his and Eve’s righteous posterity at Adam-ondi-Ahman, many of their descendants were not there (D&C 107:53). As parents, Adam and Eve had taught well, but they had been unlistened to by Cain and others of their children, whose posterity along with ours are “free to choose” (2 Nephi 2:27).
In the midst of all of his afflictions in what was a veritable deluge of suffering, submissive Job refused to rail against God or to “charge God foolishly” (Job 1:22). Though he suffered loss of health, wealth, loved ones, and more, combined with his being mocked for his faith, Job clung to the eternal verities, such as the reality of the resurrection. He did not pretend to understand the why of it all. Like perplexed Nephi (see 1 Nephi 11:17), he did not know the meaning of all things but he knew that God loved him!
If we understand eternal verities, then we can at least put the mortal perplexities and complexities in their perspective. Though we will still experience these perplexities and complexities in unabated force, the strong but supple framework of faith will help to absorb them.
Life’s tactical choices actually present the opportunity to exercise our moral agency. Such constitute the calisthenics of choice. The chief impediment, however, is our lack of full spiritual alignment. For instance, we have our hand to the plow, but we are looking back. We have turned away from evil, but we have not yet turned fully to God. We proceed with implementation, but do so only with hesitation — as when a decision involves how much time we are willing to spend nurturing a neighbor in need and our decision may be to delay or to nurture only occasionally.
Will we really feast on the word of God or merely nibble? If a person’s particular struggle is to become more patient, will his efforts tend to be episodic, displaying hesitation rather than consecration?
Lives like these are essentially good lives — decent, free of serious transgression — but are still not “valiant in the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:79). Do we remember, “one thing thou lackest” (Mark 10:21)? The Master has said “Come, follow me.” Jesus’ arm of mercy is extended all the day long (Jacob 5:47; 6:5; Mosiah 29:20). He waits for us with open arms (Mormon 6:17). He has set the pattern, given the example, and shown us the straightness and narrowness of the way, including how “by strict obedience” he prevailed and overcame the world. It can be no different for us.
Many marvelous things have been given to us! To quote King Benjamin, the task is “now if ye believe. . . these things see that ye do them” (Mosiah 4:10). To that end, summational statements by the prophets are quite direct and simple. “Continue in the way which is narrow. . . . What can I say more?” (Jacob 6:11-12.) “Ye know the things that ye must do” (3 Nephi 27:21). “The Holy Ghost . . . will show unto you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5).
So it is and so it will be with one who is enlightened enough to strive to become a man or woman of Christ.
Neal A. Maxwell, Men and Women of Christ, Ch. 1,“Begin to Be Enlightened”