An Unspoken Struggle: Things As They Really Are

“Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.” (Jacob 4:13)

One of the biggest hurdles in working through our weaknesses is overcoming disabling and destructive thought patterns, especially when working with those who struggle with sexual-related issues. It’s embarrassing, frustrating and private. Unfortunately, almost all embrace thoughts and emotions they believe are appropriate in these struggles but are actually preventing them from progressing and finding hope and joy in the moment. These thoughts and emotions sway from pessimism to optimism. But neither are helpful in healing, self-mastery and embracing the atonement.

Optimism can be as dangerous and destructive as pessimism; it can prevent spiritual growth and self-mastery. Optimism and pessimism are two emotional sides of the same coin. There doesn't appear to be any doctrinal basis for optimism in the gospel. The Lord never chastised Job for complaining or needing to be more happy in his trial, or Joseph Smith for complaining there were too many churches. But you might say, “Job’s proving and Joseph Smith restoring the Gospel were a part of God's plan. Like Laman and Lemuel, we are rebelling and sinning against God.”

I assure you most, if not all those I see, are no Laman and Lemuel. The moment we sin or transgress, we see ourselves as Laman and Lemuel, and the moment we repent we are Nephi. This is the dichotomy we unfairly place ourselves into and is harmful to our progression. Those who approach sin and self-mastery with optimism and pessimism are slowly losing hope. Our weaknesses don't make us like Laman and Lemuel; our lack of desire to love and trust God and refuse the atonement make us more like Laman and Lemuel. This idea was captured perfectly in a meme I found recently:

I understand this can slide easily into a topic of semantics. You might be recalling talks over the years that you've heard or read encouraging optimism. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk in General Conference in 2001, "Words of the Prophet: The Spirit of Optimism." More recently, T. Jeffrey Wilks of the Marriott School of Management at BYU gave a devotional "Optimism and Joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Both messages are spot on and insightful. I am confident that you can think of many other messages that encourage optimism. 

However, what I have found is that these talks use the words "optimism" and "positive thinking" interchangeably with hope and happiness. Technically, this is not what optimism means and is not how most interpret its meaning. 

The Webster dictionary defines optimism as "an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome."

I believe that this is the definition used by most people and those with whom I have worked. It is the inclination to expect the most favorable outcome as opposed to seeing things as they really are, the "positive" approach to life. 

What if Joseph Smith was an optimist? How different do you think his prayer would have been? "Father there are so many churches; it's confusing but thank you for blessing us with so many options to worship thee." He would have missed out on the First Vision experience, lessons of eternity, and the building up of an individual courageous enough to lead the Restored Church into a new dispensation.

Where in scripture does it tell us to be optimistic? It doesn't. But rather, the scriptures teach us to see things as they really are: "Wherefore, it [the spirit] speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be." The scriptures also teach us to take our concerns — even complaints — to the Lord.

In an often misread scripture, Sariah provided an excellent lesson in the need to complain:

"For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father." (1 Nephi 5:2-3)

I have attended many meetings where individuals interpret Sariah's murmuring and complaining as an issue with her faith and use it as a cautionary tale. However, I see Sariah's actions as an example of faith, authenticity and seeing things as they really are.

Camille Fronk Olsen, professor of ancient scripture, offers additional insight to Sariah's experience:

"I suggest a different explanation. To establish Lehi and his family in a new land where they would inspire and instruct later generations to come unto Christ, God needed more than a father and a son (as successor) to possess a testimony tried in the fire of affliction. God also needed a matriarch, weathered by her own trials of faith and armed with her own unwavering witness, to stand steadfast with her prophet-husband.

When her sons failed to return, Sariah feared, giving evidence that her present faith, though admirably strong, was not yet strong enough to continue the difficult journey, let alone to establish a God-fearing family in a new land. The content of 1 Nephi 5 is therefore especially significant because it shows how crucial a mother's preparation is to the Lord. God desired not only that the family possess the brass plates for the journey, but also that both the mother and the father have unshakable faith before they continued.

... Sariah's reunion with her sons was additionally charged with the spiritual witness and stronger faith she received as a result of her trial. At that moment Sariah gained a deeper testimony than she had previously known. Notice the power and assurance in Sariah as she bore witness to her reunited family: "Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 5:8)" —Camille Fronk, Desert Epiphany: Sariah and the Women in 1 Nephi

Sariah is a wonderful example of how voicing concern or complaint can strength faith and even be a form of expressing faith.

Consider Joseph Smith's complaint and concern while locked away in Liberty Jail:

"O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?" (D&C 121: 1-2)

What followed was a powerful and calming revelation that would not have occurred if his fears and concerns were glazed over with optimism. Like Sariah's complaining, he expresses faith in a loving Father in Heaven who answers prayers. To some degree, each prayer we offer is a complaint to God and should be. It is important to offer gratitude and recognize His hand in our lives. But it is equally important to see things as they are, recognize our weakness and, well, complain. Complain with hope and faith in the atonement.

Those who struggle with sin, especially sexual issues, often take a pessimistic or optimistic approach to healing. When they give into their weakness, they often shame themselves, which is not sorrow but guilt and negative self-talk and thinking. For some reason, they feel the ease and power of the atonement are not enough. Also, they fear that if there is not enough self-punishment and shame, they will repeat the undesired behavior, a form of scaring themselves out of the behavior. Others, on the other hand, will over-compensate and take on an optimistic or positive thinking approach. The pain, shame and embarrassment are too much to deal with, and feelings that they are not worthy of the atonement are too overwhelming. Therefore, to avoid or cope with that pain, they put on a smile and repeat gospel positive phrases such as, "I know God loves me," "If I fast and pray more, I will overcome this," and "All I need is more faith," or some other form of positive gospel affirmation. These are those whom we sometimes see as dedicated example Saints who seem to never have a negative thought and all the right answers.

One such client came into session each week and after briefly sharing their status immediately engaged in positive gospel self-talk. "I know I failed this week because I didn't read 30 mins each day. If I increase my scripture studies, I will not repeat the sin." They were very literally not seeing things as they really were. They jumped immediately into supposed solutions to their failure. They thought that if they dwelt on it too long or "complained," they would be lacking faith in the process. But what they are doing is denying themselves insights specific to their needs and self-mastery. What eventually happens is that the gospel positive self-talk runs out. Doubt takes over and faith is diminished. No matter how much they pray, read and do good works, they repeat the undesired behavior. As a result, they question their faith and experience a spiritual fatigue. Many give up after years of repeated visits to their bishop and prayers of repentance. They begin to no longer believe that the Lord doesn't give temptations and struggles greater then we can bear (1 Corn 10:13), or if it were true, it must be they are too sinful to be blessed.

Hogwash! It's because we glossed over the atonement with pessimism and optimism. It's not always about more prayer or scriptures but rather a need to see things as they really are. Although our struggles are in no way easy, it is easier to focus on more scriptures, more prayer, and more faith. If Sariah or Joseph Smith glossed over with optimism, would they have expressed their hard concerns and complaints? Would they have learned and been prepared to bring forth greater faith and revelation by laying their fears on the altar?

Even with those who have struggled with their sins for 40 years, I have seen almost immediate success when we begin to voice their complaint to the Lord. It's scary to be accepting of your weaknesses and discuss them with the lord.

But as Kathryn Kirk as pointed out in her struggles, the gospel is a place of healing, not hiding.

I have even heard many say, "Before I see the bishop or a therapist, I want to work through this to a certain point." Sometimes, we in the faith put too much emphasis on our own works and not enough on trusting the atonement. You no longer have to be afraid of your struggles, but embrace them and see them as they really are without guilt or shame. Eliminating shame and seeing things as they really are is essential to self-mastery and to making your weaknesses strong before the Lord.

When we can stop treating our undesired behaviors with optimism or pessimism and face them with courage, we can bravely lay them on the altar to have our weaknesses made strong. Let's replace the optimism, gospel self-talk and pessimism with hope! I love the words of Pope Francis in making this very same point:

“I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude,” the pope says. “I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans. Think instead of the first riddle of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot,’” the pope suggests.

At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope: “In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost./ It rises and opens its wings/ on the infinite black humanity./ The whole world invokes it/ and the whole world implores it./ But the ghost disappears with the dawn/ to be reborn in the heart./ And every night it is born/ and every day it dies!” These are verses that reveal the desire for a hope. Yet here that hope is an iridescent ghost that disappears with the dawn.

“See,” says Pope Francis, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.” —Pope Francis, A Big Heart Open to God

It is tempting to run from our undesired behaviors, to hide them, or to — in some form of karma — do more good to prevent the bad. Recognize your weaknesses courageously, learn from them, and make them strong.

The Apostle Peter: A Story Of Unshakable Obedience And Faith, Not Failure

“Some time ago a newspaper in a distant town carried an Easter Sunday religion editorial by a minister who stated that the presiding authority of the early-day church fell because of self-confidence, indecision, evil companions, failure to pray, lack of humility, and fear of man. He than concluded:

Let us as people, especially those who are Christians and claim to abide by the Word of God, not make the same mistakes and fall as Peter fell. (Rev. Dorsey E. Dent, “A Message for This Week.”)

As I read this, I had some strange emotions. I was shocked, then I was chilled, then my blood changed its temperature and began to boil. I felt I was attacked viciously, for Peter was my brother, my colleague, my example, my prophet, and God’s anointed. I whispered to myself, 'That is not true. He is maligning my brother.'” —Elder Spencer W. Kimball

There is no problem with the story of Peter. The way we traditionally read the story of the Apostle Peter might be an incorrect narrative of his character and misrepresentation of the scriptural account. For all the great our beloved Peter did, we often focus on the story of his “fall” and how quickly he repented and became the “Rock” upon which the church was built. It is a miraculous story: the power of the Atonement, a story of how even the best of us can fall away — even deny the very Lord who has given us life. But yet, even with such denials and sins brought on in times of fear and loneliness, pain, or lapses in faith, the poignant power of the atonement reaches beyond our despair and can redeem. Not only does it restore us to what we once were, but it propels us to greatness and unshakable faith. President Gordon B. Hinckley's heartfelt description of the Apostle Peter is as follows:

“My heart goes out to Peter. So many of us are so much like him. We pledge our loyalty; we affirm our determination to be of good courage; we declare, sometimes even publicly, that come what may we will do the right thing, that we will stand for the right cause, that we will be true to ourselves and to others.

“Then the pressures begin to build. Sometimes these are social pressures. Sometimes they are personal appetites. Sometimes they are false ambitions. There is a weakening of the will. There is a softening of discipline. There is capitulation. And then there is remorse, followed by self-accusation and bitter tears of regret …

“If there be those throughout the Church who by word or act have denied the faith, I pray that you may draw comfort and resolution from the example of Peter, who, though he had walked daily with Jesus, in an hour of extremity momentarily denied the Lord and also the testimony which he carried in his own heart. But he rose above this and became a mighty defender and a powerful advocate. So, too, there is a way for any person to turn about and add his or her strength and faith to the strength and faith of others in building the kingdom of God.” (“And Peter Went Out and Wept Bitterly,” Ensign, Mar. 1995, 2–4, 6)

This is the narrative you hear in connection with the tragic and great events of Peter's life in occasional conference talks, sacrament meetings, Sunday School lessons and family home evenings throughout The Church. This version of the Apostle Peter's story is also taught in our current manuals (Lesson 26 of the New Testament Sunday School Manual).

The doctrine is true, but the story might not be. Although this doctrine is pure and correct — the atonement is miraculous, infinite and able to make you into something greater then you now are — it may NOT be the lesson learned from the life of Peter. In no way am I suggesting our leaders have led us astray; the principles of the atonement they teach are most certainly true. I do wonder, however, if the use of the Apostle Peter is an accurate example of this lesson. It doesn't make sense and isn't consistent with his character.

Source: LDS Media

As an early-morning Seminary teacher and now as a Sunday School teacher, I saw how easy it was for the youth to default to the “primary answers” when studying the scriptures but failed to take Nephi’s admonition:

“And I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah; for I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” (1 Nephi 19:23)

Therefore, to help them “liken all scriptures” to themselves, I challenged them to ask a simple question about everything they read: “What does that really mean?” It would go something like this.

Jennifer, will you read John 18:10-12?

Yes, of course Brother Burgess.

10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?

12 Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him,

Class, what do we learn from Peter and Christ's response in this story? Yes, Cameron.

Peter was faithful to Christ and Christ forgives everyone. (the Primary answer, not wrong, just not likening the scriptures to ourselves.)

Great answer Cameron, BUT, what does that really mean to you, to us? Kevin, yes, what do you think it really means?

Well, I know if I was Peter I would be excited to protect a man I admired and loved, especially if it was the Savior. I would want to show him how much I trust him and would be willing to defend him. I can’t imagine what Peter felt about the Savior. But last week I found out that someone at school was bullying my little sister, and I wanted to find that person and beat them up. My sister gets on my nerves at times, but I would do anything to protect her.

Wonderful answer Kevin, I believe that helps us understand a little better what Peter's love and respect for the Savior was like. Additionally, even with that great love Peter had for the Savior, what lesson does the Lord teach Peter that will help us with how we show love to those like your sister and her bully?

As for the “denial” story of Peter, I can’t help but ask, “What does that really mean?” What if I were Peter, sworn absolute loyalty to Christ, loved him, admired him, cared profoundly for him, would willing give my life for him? Peter wasn't empty in his words. His actions were evidence of his desires, faith and love. Why would he rebel from his established character and do exactly the opposite of what he did just moments previous. Fear? A moment of weakness? There is no evidence of such, no indication, no patterns to suggest the slightest fear or wavering faith.

In 1971, then Elder Spencer W. Kimball examined his fellow apostle's traditional story and felt it didn't make any sense. Therefore, he likened it to himself and provided a much different perspective and this interesting observation:

"Much of the criticism of Simon Peter is centered in his denial of his acquaintance with the Master. This has been labeled “cowardice.” Are we sure of his motive in that recorded denial? He had already given up his occupation and placed all worldly goods on the altar for the cause. If we admit that he was cowardly and denied the Lord through timidity, we can still find a great lesson. Has anyone more completely overcome mortal selfishness and weakness? Has anyone repented more sincerely? Peter has been accused of being harsh, indiscreet, impetuous, and fearful. If all these were true, then we still ask, Has any man ever more completely triumphed over his weaknesses?...

If Peter was frightened in the court when he denied his association with the Lord, how brave he was hours earlier when he drew his sword against an overpowering enemy, the night mob. Later defying the people and state and church officials, he boldly charged, “Him [the Christ] … ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts 2:23.) To the astounded populace at the healing of the cripple at the Gate Beautiful, he exclaimed, “Ye men of Israel … the God of our fathers, hath glorified his Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied him in the presence of Pilate … ye denied the Holy One … And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:12–15.) (Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971], pp. 1–8.)

Elder Kimball considers the possibility that stress, confusion or even lack of understanding were factors:

Could it have been confusion and frustration that caused Peter’s denial? Could there still have been some lack of understanding concerning the total unfolding of the plan? Being a leader, Peter was a special target of the adversary. As the Lord said:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:

But I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not. (Luke 22:31–32.)

Peter was under fire; all the hosts of hell were against him. The die had been cast for the Savior’s crucifixion. If Satan could destroy Simon now, what a victory he would score. Here was the greatest of all living men. Lucifer wanted to confuse him, frustrate him, limit his prestige, and totally destroy him. However, this was not to be, for he was chosen for and ordained to a high purpose in heaven, as was Abraham.

Peter followed the Savior to his trial and sat in the outer court. What else could he do? He knew that many times the Savior himself had escaped from the crowd by slipping out of their clutches. Would he again do so? (Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971], pp. 1–8.)

A denial would be uncharacteristic of Peter and incongruent with the record we have of him. He was faithful in all he did and desired to never leave his Savior's side. An examination of his interactions with the Lord shows nothing amiss:

  • Peter meets Jesus through his brother Andrew who was a follower of John the Baptist. (John 1:40-41)

  • Peter willingly leaves his career and livelihood as a fisherman to follow Jesus (Matthew 4:18, Mark 1:16-18)

  • Peter has Jesus heal his sick mother-in-law. (Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39)

  • Peter demonstrates great faith in Jesus when casting his net to the other side of his boat after an unfruitful night of fishing. (Luke 5:4-7)

  • Jesus knows the heart and character of Simon and changes his name to Peter (from the Greek word petros, meaning rock or stone). (Mark 3:16, Luke 6:14, John 1:42)

  • Peter becomes one of the witnesses to a miracle Jesus performed, raising a little girl back from the dead. (Matthew 9:23-26, Mark 5:37-43, Luke 8:51-55)

  • Peter's desire and faith to become like Jesus is demonstrated when he sees Jesus walking on water. He is the only Apostle who asks Jesus to command him to walk to Him. Peter's inability to completely do so should not be viewed as a failure, but rather how great our Lord is and how Peter's faith was greater than any other's in that boat to even try to do as Jesus was doing. (Matthew 14:28-29, John 6:19-20)

  • Peter makes a pronouncement about the deity of Jesus. (Matthew 16:16, John 6:68-69)

  • Jesus tell Peter why he is the rock and that the Church would be built on him. (This couldn't possibly be a man who would deny Christ.) (Matthew 16:18)

  • After Jesus proclaims that He will be killed and then rise on the third day, out of love and concern, Peter "rebukes him" and forbids it. But Jesus sternly informs Peter it must happen, and it is the adversary's desire He not complete his mission. (Matthew 16:21-23, Mark 8:31-33)

  • Peter, along with James and John, witnesses the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah on a mountain. (Matthew 17:1-3, Mark 9:2-3, Luke 9:29-32)

  • When Jesus is arrested by the betrayal of Judas Iscariot, Peter takes his sword out and cuts off the ear of a servant. (Matthew 26:51, Mark 14:47, Luke 22:50, John 18:10)

But what about Jesus's prediction that Peter would deny Him three times before a rooster crowed? (Matthew 26:34, Mark 14:30, Luke 22:34, John 13:38) And what about Peter telling Jesus that he would never deny Him? (Matthew 26:35, Mark 14:31)

In reference to Peter's interchange with Christ and his denial, John F. Hall (FairMormon Bio), Professor of Classics, Comparative Studies at BYU, says the following in his book "New Testament Witnesses of Christ: Peter, John, James and Paul":

"Close examination of the original Greek of John's account (John 13:38) reveals that the phrase "till thou hast denied me thrice" is structured around the verb αρνηση, a second person singular future verb form. Virtually the same verb άπαρνηση, in the same second person singular future indicative form, appears in Matthew (26:34) Mark (14:30), and Luke (22:34). Although the tense is future, and may accurately be construed as indicating a prediction or prophecy of Peter's future behavior, it is possible that such a rendering is not at all the meaning of Christ's statement. In Greek, a future tense verb in the second person can also be construed to express a command, just as if it were an imperative form of the verb. The usage is given the grammatical term of the "jussive future." It occurs not infrequently in both classical and koine Greek.

Accordingly, if the future in these passages is interpreted as a jussive future, then Christ would seem actually to be giving Peter a command to deny knowing Him, and Peter's protestation would seem to reflect his dissatisfaction about such an instruction. This rendering appears very much in keeping with Peter's natural courage ..." (Pg. 65-66)

John F. Hall then make this insight in the context of this information:

"Restraint would test Peter's faith so much more, for he was being refused permission to expose himself to the tribulations that Christ must undertake alone." (Pg. 66)

What a wonderful and harmonious interpretation of the Apostle Peter's story, equally powerful and profound as the traditional version but probably a more accurate view of Peter's character. Once again, in the words of President Kimball,

"What was he to do? Could he do more? What would have been the result had he admitted his connection? Would he have lived to preside over the church? Peter had seen the Savior escape from crowds many times and hide from assassins. Is it conceivable that Peter also saw advisable advantage to the cause in his denial? Had Peter come to fully realize the hidden meaning in the oft-repeated phrase “Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4), and did he now understand that “now is the Son of man glorified” (John 13:31)?" (Speeches of the Year [Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1971], pp. 1–8.)

So, what should you do the next time you hear the traditional version of the story of the Apostle Peter? Just listen and ask in quiet reflection: "But what does that really mean?" And allow the Spirit to guide your understanding as you liken the lesson to your own life.

Spirit Guided Life

If there was one thing I could teach my children, it would be to listen and discern the Spirit within their lives, how to embrace that perfect teacher without fear, hesitation or resistance but with excitement, clarity and confidence. It’s one thing to teach them obedience, another to meaningfully understand the lessons of obedience. Commandments would be understood in power, and when commandments are not understood, faith would be embraced and trust in Father increased. They would be able to apply life lessons to all situations, identify falsehoods, recognize wisdom, and not fear the unknown.

Oh, how much time is spent on repeatably teaching what it means to be obedient in the home, at church, at school and at work, what it means to be loving in our relationships and human interactions. Although the teaching of obedience is essential in our spiritual growth, I wonder if we miss precious moments to enable our children and loved ones to learn through trial and error. Because we are in a rush or too busy in the moment, we demand obedience and for them to comply, as opposed to establishing a pattern of spiritual insight and learning.

If you have have a teenage son who is overly distracted, frustrated, tired and unable to focus on his homework. In the hope to teach obedience, responsibility and to just finish that assignment, you become the broken record of parenthood, which only seems to aggravate both child and parent without much success. This can even leading both to resentment hard feelings towards each other and feelings of failure. The Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Allow them to fail. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of the more difficult things to teach them.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)

In these difficult moments, we struggle with the thoughts and perceptions within ourselves of what it means to be a good father or mother. We may be concerned that our child's successes and failures are an indicator of our ability to parent or our own worthiness. Or we may be driven by the overwhelming feeling of teaching our child the lessons of being responsible at all cost. But I wonder if taking ourselves out of the equation might be the best and most effective approach of all. I learned this powerful lesson on my mission many times and many times again since then.

One of the mistakes I made in my mission was believing I had all the answers and that it was my responsibility to convert individuals. I loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and had a profound testimony of its teachings. It was an absolute joy and passion of mine to bring every investigator all that I had learned, teaching them into conversion. I had every answer and knew how best to present the gospel message to them. It was my calling and my responsibility. Of course I knew it was the Spirit that converted individuals. Nonetheless, I also believed my ability as a missionary reflected on my ability to bring individuals to the gospel. Fortunately the Savior’s atoning sacrifice covered me in this naïve and incorrect belief, and through that mercy I was taught a principle I was never to forget.

We were teaching a part-member family. Jeff, the husband and father was the only nonmember in the family. For years, missionaries had visited and taught him the lessons. Jeff was a good man with a heart of gold. By the time I met him, he had had the lessons so many times I am confident he could have taught us every lesson. Nonetheless, it was my duty to convert Jeff. I would teach him the discussion in a way that no other missionary had before. Needless to say, by the end of our discussions no commitment for baptism was made. I struggled with my companion in fasting and prayer. We retaught and retaught and retaught principles and concepts WE believed he needed to hear. Nothing.

Teaching the gospel to Jeff, I regret to admit, was getting frustrating to me. But we had one last brilliant idea. My companion and I had become familiar with a wonderful lecture series on Joseph Smith the Prophet by Truman G. Madsen. 

Surely no one could listen to this great scholar and not be converted. We brought these recordings to Jeff and used them in the structure of our lessons. One night, during a lecture we felt was moving and powerful, Jeff appeared distracted and uninterested. This was unlike Jeff. He was always interested and engaged. I believe he even asked for a break in the lessons. This was difficult for me, and I questioned my ability to bring him the gospel message.

It was at least a month later that Jeff invited us back, but not for a lesson. When we arrived, he and the family announced thet he was going to be baptized. He explained that earlier that week he escaped to the bathroom from the hustle and noise of the morning when his family was getting ready for work and school. There he felt a need to pray. As he prayed, the Spirit filled his heart and mind and taught him what he needed and, he knew it was time to be baptized. I was both thrilled and humbled. At that moment, he was telling me of his spiritual experience and I was realizing my prayers and fasts were being answered. But not in the way I was expecting.

My prayers and fasts were to find ways that I could convert Jeff. In that moment, it was clear I had nothing to do with his conversion. In fact, I might have been getting in the way of the spiritual lessons that needed to be taught to Jeff. My fear, my sense of responsibility as a missionary and the way I was measuring success were distracting from the spiritual lesson. Sometimes the most responsible thing to do is get out of the way. Jeff's conversion was deep and between the Lord and him. He has been a faithful member ever since and currently serves as a bishop in Arizona.

“The Prophet further directed Brigham Young as follows:Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it.

They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good, bring forth righteousness and build up the kingdom of God.” (23 February 1847, Manuscript History of Brigham Young: 1846–1847, ed. Elden J. Watson (Salt Lake City: Elden Jay Watson, 1971), 529)

I wonder how often we get in the way of the spiritual lessons that our children need to learn. As a parent, it’s my duty to teach my children how to be successful. But it is equally important that after we have adequately instructed them to provide them an opportunity to struggle and even fail. It is better that their own experiences in their moments of failure be their guide then repetitive parental reminder. Additionally, there is great power in our children discovering that they can succeed on their own. Both in the failure and success we can lovingly remind them and provide an example of how to seek out the answers with the Spirit.

Seeking answers is a process and can even be time consuming. But like Jeff, I have learned the value of stepping out of the hustle and noise to seek peace and guidance from the Spirit. Additionally, instead of fasting and praying about how you can teach your children better, fast to find and recognize opportunities for your children to learn from the Spirit.