The First and Great Promise
By H. Wallace Goddard & Barbara Keil
“How did you come to trust God?” my friend asked over the phone. The question was poignant because the good woman who asked had never been given a good reason to trust anyone. Her parents took her to awful movies that were disturbing to a child. They encouraged, and at times required, her to join them in drugs and immorality from childhood throughout adolescence. Her brothers assaulted her while her parents ignored her pleas. In adulthood, her husband never loved her. It would be easy for her to conclude that she was unlovable and life was unbearable.
But she did not. She faithfully sought God and whole-heartedly loved her children. She had been a devoted Protestant before starting a dialogue with a Latter-day Saint. Now she is a member of the Church. She loves God and serves Him faithfully-but still struggles to trust Him. It is hard for her to believe that He will take care of her and her family.
I was not sure that my answer would honor her special challenges. I grew up in an earnest LDS home with long traditions of faithfulness and goodness. Would my solutions address her challenges? I did not know. But I knew that the words that sprung to my lips in answer to her question filled me with the kind of joy that fills a soul and leaks out the eyes.
“I couldn’t help but trust Him when I found how much He loved me. I knew-and know-that I do not deserve that love. But I am everlastingly grateful for it.”
How is it done?
“How did you discover His love?” she asked.
I laughed. “While serving as a bishop, I regularly felt God’s overwhelming love for His broken, troubled, and confused children. He was especially clear about His love for those who were buried under a mountain of sin and confusion. After being a messenger for that love for a couple of years, I finally had to stop resisting His love for me. I had to acknowledge that He also loved me in spite of my abundant fallenness, self-defeating humanness, and silly pettiness.”
I admit it. When I think about His mysterious love for me, I still weep. I simply am amazed, and dumbfounded. I know that I was a pest to my siblings and a frustration to my parents. I know that I am often gloomy with my wife, Nancy. Yet God, the greatest of all, the most desirable company in the universe, seems to like me. He assures us in sacred places that He wants us home again with Him. He does not want to send us off to some heavenly institution where we can have joy and stay out from under His feet. He wants to encircle us in the arms of His love. He wants us close.
She sighed. “I was taught of-and still tend to think of-a God who cares about my holiness but not my happiness. As I investigated the Church and learned about a God who loves us so compassionately, I often wondered if such sweet doctrine was really self-deception. I found it hard to believe, hard to trust.”
“Yep. That’s the trademark of Truth: It’s too good to be true! That is just as we should expect. Any program developed by Someone who knows everything, has all power, and loves perfectly will regularly surprise us-even shock us! That is one of the surest signs that we have discovered Truth.”
The gift of His love
Emmy Werner has studied a group of high-risk kids in Hawaii for decades. She focused on those kids who were virtually guaranteed failure for a variety of reasons. The odds were stacked against them. Yet about a third of them flourished; they overcame the odds. Werner (1992) said of these resilient youngsters that “all had at least one person in their lives who accepted them unconditionally, regardless of temperamental idiosyncrasies, physical attractiveness, or intelligence” (p. 205). In other words, the key to growing up to be healthy humans is that someone loves us unconditionally. Someone must be crazy about us.
Many people in this world never feel loved, as our friend’s experience verifies. Are they doomed to the stagnant and foul sewers of life? I think the answer is no. God has provided a powerful remedy: The gift of His love. (I also believe that showing love to others heals our own souls. Isn’t it remarkable that loving God and His children-the two central commands-are the keys to our development!)
Related to God’s love, here is the recent counsel of two of the Lord’s Apostles:
“Think of the purest, most all-consuming love you can imagine. Now multiply that love by an infinite amount-that is the measure of God’s love for you. …Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely. . . . He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Ensign, Nov 2009, 21-24).
“I testify this morning of God’s limitless love for his children, of his unquenchable desire to help us heal our wounds, individually and collectively. . . . God is not dead, and he is not an absentee landlord. God is not uncaring, or capricious, or cantankerous. Above all, he is not some sort of divine referee trying to tag us off third base. The first and great commandment on earth is for us to love God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength because surely the first and great promise in heaven is that he will always love us that way.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Look to God and Live’,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 13, emphasis added)
What amazing declarations! Regardless of our earth histories, we all have someone who is crazy about us. Each one of us has Someone-a Father in Heaven-who loves us with His whole heart, might, mind and strength.
Building a relationship of trust
How do we gain trust in the love He offers us?
First, we can look for and acknowledge markers of His love: the tender mercies, answered prayers, feelings of comfort or joy, moments when we sense His presence, experiences of guidance and direction, etc. We are wise to record and revisit these revelations.
Then we can make ourselves available to His love. We can study what helps us connect with Him. We can do those things that bring us closer to Him.
As we begin to allow His love to permeate us, we respond by offering our hearts, might, mind, and strength to Him in return.
Even as our resolve to follow Him increases, we will continue to fall short. But rather than see occasions of repentance as humiliating admissions of remarkable stupidity that threaten His ability to continue loving us, we should view them as regular reminders of our dependence on Him.
Our continual need to humble ourselves and repent of failings does not separate us from His love. Rather it is an opportunity to celebrate that His loving redemptiveness is larger than our weakness. Indeed, nothing can “separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
I don’t know if my answer was meaningful and useful for my friend. I do know that the insight caused me to rejoice. I felt, yet again, the power and relentlessness of His love.
Whether we grew up in a faith-filled home or suffered a mixed-up childhood, His love reaches to us in every circumstance. It fills our souls. And it draws us toward Home.
If you are interested in books, programs, retreats, or cruises by Brother Goddard, visit his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Dr-Wally/178676491370
1999-2009 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.