Epictetus said “God has given us the faculties by which we are able to bear what comes to pass without being crushed or depressed thereby. Why then do we sit and moan and groan, blind to the giver, making no acknowledgment to Him, but giving ourselves to complaints?” Why indeed? Because life is so seldom what we expected, or what we think we want. I’m currently faced with the realities of a health malady that will take months or even years to overcome.
A quote by Thomas A’Kempis speaks to my concerns: “Why art thou troubled because things do not succeed with thee according to thy desire? Who is there who hath all things according to his will? Neither I, nor thou, nor any man upon earth.”
Proceeding with What Is Possible
Art Berg broke his neck in an automobile accident and became a paraplegic in his early twenties. He could have given up and spent the rest of his life in bed. Instead, he lived by faith and told me, “I try to focus all my energies on what I can still do.” He did what was still possible, and astounded people when he kept pushing the envelope. He married and he and his wife, Dallas, adopted children. He taught early morning seminary and spoke at youth conferences and wrote inspirational books. He loved wheelchair racing and set a world record in 1993 by completing an ultramarathon of 325 miles between Salt Lake City and St. George in Utah. He became a professional speaker and his theme was “The Impossible Just Takes a Little Longer.” He had a van especially outfitted so he could drive, and he flew all over the country unaccompanied to give motivational speeches. The Baltimore Ravens were so motivated by Art’s speech that they gave him an honorary 2001 Super Bowl ring. His death last year was a blow to thousands he had influenced for good. I believe that God’s purposes were not thwarted by all the obstacles and difficulties Art faced–but instead they were fulfilled.
I’m reminded of the grains of sand that motivate oysters to create smooth, protective coatings that encase the sand and provide relief. I believe we can create beautiful pearls of character development and service when we seek the Lord guidance in our responses to personal trials and challenges and let him define what is possible. In the book One Day at a Time, we read, “To adapt ourselves with a quiet mind to what is possible and attainable, therein lies happiness.” (p. 358)
Can the Folly of Man Thwart God’s Purposes?
We’re all familiar with the story of the lost 116 manuscript pages when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. Many evil men sought to frustrate that work. But an all-knowing God made provision for their actions centuries before they were carried out. The Book of Mormon came forth to bless the earth in its appointed time in spite of all that men or devils could do to stop it. In D&C 76:3 we read, “His purposes fail not, neither are there any who can stay his hand.”
In Anne Perry’s novel, Tathea, we read, “Did you not say His purpose cannot be thwarted?” Drusus frowned. “That was what you said, wasn’t it? how could he be God if mere human folly could spoil his plan?” . . . He was right and she could see glimpses of a far greater pattern even as she sat, rain-soaked in the firelight. She could not see the whole, not even the hour ahead, but looking at the past with a greater wisdom, she found a new perception of how what had seemed to be darkness was light, what had seemed loss was a different kind of gain.” (p. 387)
I need to remember that my job is to do what I can, to do what is possible in my own stewardship–not to worry about the impossibilities of controlling outcomes or other people’s responses. My job is to suit up for the Lord’s team and do His will instead of trying to talk the Lord into being on my team and do my will. My task is to recognize God at the helm and trust His purpose in all things. I do not have to judge how things turn out or counsel God that the world should be different than it is, or counsel others with my questionable wisdom.
I love verse 30 in Alma 36: “For I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” Most of us get plenty of life experiences to remind us that while we will not be spared trials, troubles, and afflictions we are promised that we will be supported in them.
Sometimes I get depressed and complain for a while before I remember His promises. Sometimes, when I do remember, His support is so amazing it lifts me up out of the afflictions so that the joy of spiritual assurance eclipses the pain of the trial. Isn’t that what trust in the Lord is all about? When we truly trust, we know that “all things work together for good” so we are spared gnashing our teeth, judging the current situation as terrible. We are spared kicking against the pricks and judging God and His plan. When we turn our energies to finding and doing His will rather than trying to talk Him into doing ours, a great weight is lifted. We feel God’s love and support and know all will be well. No, we recognize that all is well–just as the Pioneers sang in “Come Come Ye Saints.” All is well because God’s purposes are unfolding and it is not the purposes of God that are thwarted, but of men. So as long as we align ourselves with Him we can be certain that in the long term right will prevail.
One of my favorite scriptures summarizing the promises for remembering these principles is “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless woe, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12) Years ago I wrote the following poem about that scripture:
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I once perched confidently
On the seeming significance of man’s ideas . . .
Billions of words, all grains of sand.
Life’s angry waves pounded, sand shifted,
I fell, drenched, despairing.
I rebuilt upon the Rock.
Now standing finally firm, I view a calmer sea.
My former desperate Martha caring, tide-swept.
One thing left to care about:
His boundless, never-failing love.
Whenever I am discouraged, I try to change my focus, remember the Savior and say, “My soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and rock of my salvation.” (1 Nephi 4:30)
In a world so full of evil and chaos, it is easy to feel outnumbered and overwhelmed by the powers of the adversary that seem to thwart our efforts on every hand. We may feel like the servant of Elisha as he fearfully observed the great host of horses and chariots come by night to encompass the city about. The servant said to Elisha, “Alas, my master! How shall we do? And he answered, Fear not; for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” (2Kinds 6: 15-17)
The Lord’s purpose in the trials of our lives is well spoken by Hannah Whitall Smith who refers to this scripture story of Elisha and the young servant: “Earthly cares are . . God’s chariots, sent to take the soul to its high places of triumph . . . When our eyes are thus opened, we shall see in all the events of life, whether great or small, whether joyful or sad, a chariot’ for our souls. . . . Say, Lord, open my eyes that I may see not the visible enemy, but thy unseen chariots of deliverance.'”
May we be given many opportunities to open our eyes to the Lord’s purposes, feel his never-failing love, and see his chariots of deliverance.