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.