Elder Hales’s humble address given in the October, 2011 General Conference, clearly ill, as he has been for many years now, was delivered in soft tones, but hit me with the force of a spiritual freight train. (“Waiting Upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done,” Elder Robert D. Hales, Ensign, November, 2011, p. 71.)
Since the time I received my Patriarchal Blessing when I was twenty years old, I have (sometimes with more success than others) endeavored to understand the Lord’s desires for me. I have thought in very specific terms: what is this mission I am to do? What did Father in Heaven and I agree upon in the pre-mortal realms that I would do here in mortal life? When will He reveal this to me?
I am sixty-four years old, in poor health, and feel my time is growing short. Always feeling inadequate, I have done the best that I could, raising my family while stricken with mental illness, and then, once that burden was released, spending most of the hours in the day writing, attempting in my own way to lead “lost ones” to the fountain of living waters. Why am I not more powerful, more talented, more successful in this task?
Questions such as these plague my thoughts, and have done for years. Recently I was very surprised to receive the personal assurance that I had already done what I had agreed to do and what the Lord required of me. His concern for me, at this time in my life, is to care for my body which has been much afflicted over the course of my life. The truth of this inspired message was in the fact that it did surprise me very much. I was ready to continue to drive my exhausted body, pulling my handcart, relying on faith to preserve me. But this was not required of me.
The Lord knows me better than I know myself. I, though willing to embark on another project, went home from the temple that day, laid down for a nap, and slept, virtually without ceasing from Tuesday afternoon to the next Monday morning! My body was far more worn out than I realized. The Lord’s concern for me had been justified. Seeking medical care, in a very short space of time, I found that I had two potentially serious illnesses that needed immediate attention. Freed of that desperate feeling that I must do more, and more, and more, I am now attending to them.
My Lord’s knowledge of me is thorough and complete. I am told that He knew me well in the pre-existence. Whatever the future may bring, His will for me now is not to be engaged in “manic marketing” of my books, but to simply “be still” and leave all that to Him. He wants me to heal. If I “wait upon the Lord,” as Elder Hales has counseled us, all will be well. I need not worry. His ends will be achieved.
From Elder Hales talk, I take several points, culled masterfully from the scriptures for our benefit, in which he defines “waiting upon the Lord.” They are:
- Planting the seed of faith and nourishing it with “great diligence and patience.” (Alma 22:41)
- Praying over this seed the way the Savior did: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” (Matthew 6;10, Luke 1:12)
- Pondering in our hearts and “receiv[ing the Holy Ghost] so that we will know “all things that [we should do].” (2 Nephi 32:5)
- Discovering that “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3) and learning to “continue in patience until [we] are perfected. ” (Doctrine in Covenants 68:13).
- Stand fast” (Alma 45:17)
- “Press forward” in faith “having a perfect brightness of hope.” (2 Nephi 31:20)
- “Relying alone upon the merits of Christ.” (Moroni 6:4)
- And we “are immovable in keeping the commandments” (Alma 1:25)
- “With [His] grace assisting [us, saying]: Thy will be done, O Lord and not ours.” (Doctrine and Covenants 109:44)
- Knowing that we will “one day rest from all our afflictions.” (Alma 34:41)
- And we “cast not away”. . . our confidence” (Hebrews 10:45)
- That “all things wherewith [we] have been afflicted shall work together for [our] good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:3)
This is a comprehensive, and obviously lovingly compiled list that Elder Hales has given us. Should we follow it, it will tutor us in all the divine virtues: faith, patience, humility, meekness, long-suffering, keeping the commandments, and enduring to the end. In following this counsel, we will come to know the Lord intimately in our afflictions.
Could it be that our greatest purpose in life lies in learning to “wait upon the Lord,” to exercise our personal agency to completely submit our will to His? Is it in this way that we qualify to have the Lord’s grace work in our behalf? Is this how we follow the path to exaltation?
King Benjamin declared it to be so in his address to his people: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off thenatural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
When we look at the Book of Mormon, we ask so many times, “Why did the Nephites turn from righteousness to wickedness in such a short time; whereas the Lamanite, once converted never fell away?” The answer, as we all know is pride. They went the way of their riches and worldly learning. They lost this dynamic which Elder Hales has explained. They did not live by faith, so they lost the entire concept of “Thy will be done.”
This is the Last Dispensation, never to be taken from the earth. Because of this, we know that not all the “Nephites” will turn wicked, but some will learn these steps for themselves, and never forget the great, eternal blessing of submission.
I have concluded that I must live my life in the pattern outlined by Elder Hales if I am going to complete the course that I know Heavenly Father has laid out for me in this race called eternal life. I am submitting, though it is a hard lesson for me. I must concede that (though I could, through His grace, if the Lord willed it), it is not my mission to move mountains or convert all those haughty spirits in the “great and spacious building.”
As we are living according to the creed specified by Elder Hales, waiting upon the Lord, we will experience miracles through the grace of God. In my years of writing, I have experienced many remarkable things. I recall sometime in my youth hearing the Prophet David O. McKay say that we know the Spirit is working in our lives when we receive pure intelligence concerning something we previously did not know. Usually, this happens when we are endeavoring to live line upon line, precept upon precept, and we come to a place where grace imparts an understanding of some principle we did not have previously, that is necessary for completion of our task or journey.
One of the great joys of being a writer is the coming of these thoughts into my head.
As I was writing my latest novel, The Only Way to Paradise, I was telling the story of a woman who felt like she had lost herself in an identity that wasn’t her true self. She blamed herself for the “acting out” of her teenagers and the departure of her husband. She is in Florence when she goes to visit the sculpture of David rendered so miraculously by Michelangelo. Many people, including my character MacKenzie, consider the David to be the greatest work of all time. It has become to MacKenzie to be an evidence that there must be a God who guided Michelangelo, who was basically as untutored in the art of sculpting as Joseph Smith was in the knowledge of reformed Egyptian. Michelangelo’s greatness may lie in part in the willingness he had to “wait upon the Lord” to teach him.
While my MacKenzie is considering the wonder of this great miracle, the Lord speaks to her through the David in words I swear I did not write, but merely transposed: Be gentle with yourself. You are not meant to know everything. That is what life is for. Learning day by day. I started as a block of marble. The chisel was slow and painstaking, but it ultimately did its work. Let the chisel work in your life. You will find MacKenzie again. And maybe you will find God. (page 30)
With those words, the Lord handed me the theme of MacKenzie’s journey. I realized that He was speaking to me, too. G.G. Quit trying to wrest the chisel away from me. Your vision is limited. I am the master, not you. If you trust me with the chisel, your submission and my skill will create a masterpiece you cannot even envision.
As stated previously in this space, my literary hero is Tolstoy. He, a man of genius, arrived at this truth, as well. A renowned literary critic, John Gardner said,”Leo Tolstoy knew about the universe of despair and endured perhaps a similar spiritual crisis [to Sartre], a crisis certainly profound and all-transforming. He came out of it not with a theory that every man should make up his own rules, asserting value for all men for all time, but with a theory of submission, a theory which equally emphasized freedom but argued that what a man ought to do with his freedom is be quiet, look and listen, try to feel out in his heart and bones what God requires of him —as Levin does in Anna Karenina, or Pierre in War and Peace.” (Gardner, John, On Moral Fiction, Basic Books: New York, pp. 15-16 emphasis added)
So we begin to learn a little bit about submission to the Lord, and he reveals our missions to us “line upon line,” if we are attentive to Him in the happenings in our everyday lives. This culminates in the unique understanding we have as a people that even Christ, the perfect man, had to submit to the Father in performing his atonement for us. Elder Hales’s takes us through, step by step, the preparation Christ had to make and then endure in Christ’s preparation for rendering the Atonement. (“Waiting Upon the Lord: Thy Will Be Done”, Ensign, November, 2011,p. 31)
His submission began in the pre-mortal life when he vowed to perform this great redeeming act, saying “Thy will be done and the glory be thine forever.”(Moses 4:2) Everything the Savior did, was what He had seen the Father do. And even He had, perhaps, hours at the end of His life when He continued to submit, though His Father’s spirit had withdrawn from him: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46). But submission at that very hour of desertion, was the crux of the Atonement, where he willingly sacrificed His will in total obedience to His Father. Without that final act of submission, we would be condemned to Hell by our own willfulness and choices.
In closing, I would like to draw these two principles into one: Our agency and the concept of submission. After suffering for twenty-five years with mental illness, I finally gave up on all other methods of trying to be cured, and following Elder Holland’s counsel to become yoked with my Savior (“for He knows the way out and He knows the way up. He knows the way because He is the way.” “Broken Things to Mend,” Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, May, 2006) and submit my will utterly to His. Once I did this, a doctor was inspired, and within a week I had received the medicine to control my disorder.
I therefore, have a personal witness that the Lord will honor our agency as long as we wish Him to. But it is only by submitting that agency to His will that we do the most important work of our lives: “This is eternal lives—to know the only wise and true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. (Doctrine and Covenants 132:24)
Very simply put, this is the resolution of our dichotomy: We come here to prove by our own experience, exercising our own agency, that we choose eternal life by choosing to follow Jesus Christ, no mater what.
G.G. Vandagriff has been writing this column (with a little time off for bad health) since 1999. Since 1993 she has published twelve books, which you can browse on her website reading exerpts on http://ggvandagriff.com/book-excerpts. You can subscribe to her blog, as well.