In these latter days when scripture is being fulfilled, we are enduring the fragmentation and failure of many of the systems and institutions we have come to rely on. Some may say that it is out of place to talk about abundance. However, this promise given by Christ in the meridian of time was meant for us just as it was meant for the early Saints. An abundant life does not have to be materially abundant. Our Savior did not suffer excruciating agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary so that we could possess that particular form of abundance. But, on the other hand, does this scripture refer only to eternal life in worlds to come? From my own experience, I can bear strong witness that there is a magnificent portion of His abundance that we can embrace in this life.
In order to truly understand our Redeemer’s above-stated mission in John, I believe we must go back to the beginning of this earth, shortly after its creation. Let’s study Adam and Eve’s experience with the Savior, where there lies an important prototype for our lives.
One day, it occurred to me during meditation what an enormous void must have been created in our first parents’ lives when they were cast out of the Garden. Surely, their prior existence had been the prototype of a life of great abundance. They had lived in the presence of the Father and the Son, and all of their most beautiful creations. With Eve by his side, Adam had been Lord of this Earth and everything in it. And how could anything possibly replace the easy discourse and direct love of their Creator and their Father in Heaven?
I realized as never before, how they endeavored the rest of their lives to regain that intimacy and companionship again. They understood much better than we do the divine void in their lives that resulted from being cast out of the Father’s presence. We know that they worked hard to obey every commandment, learning line upon line, then having their faith and obedience tested by Satan who was always there. And, they were victorious. Adam is called a “perfect” man, and I believe that Eve became a perfect woman. We know that they eventually passed the sometimes brutal test of mortality and were worthy of the bestowal of power and knowledge that they would need to live with their heavenly parents once again. Through the restoration of the Gospel, this power and knowledge has been passed down to us, endowed upon us in the temple.
While pondering on our pre-existence, I can picture living within the circle of our Father’s arms. He knew us more intimately than a loving earthly father knows a child, for He is omniscient. He knows each of our personalities, our weaknesses, our strengths. We each have a purpose here on earth, endowed upon us by Him who knows us best. Past, present, and future are as one to him. Do we miss that celestial caring on some level, as Adam and Eve did?
Through Joseph Smith’s modern-day revelation, we know that even in this life, with the veil lowered between our conscious minds and our pre-existence, we still possess the Light of Christ (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6-7). Just think! A slice of the love and light that forged the universe is there inside of each of us. That light can provide a little spark of memory of what it was like to live in the warmth of God’s presence. Have you ever felt it? I’m certain you have.
On one sacred occasion, in the Dallas Temple, I was completely and unexpectedly flooded with that love to the point where I had to sob, because it was so great, I couldn’t contain it inside me. The experience lasted hours, and I could not be brought to leave the temple. I know now that it was in preparation for trials to come, so I could have that taste of what was waiting for me in the hereafter to give me strength and courage.
Love is the one thing that all humans hunger for, so when we recognize this slice of love, we yearn to feel it all the time, in greater abundance. It is the answer to all the hard questions that humanity has asked since the beginning. We are naturally drawn to people who possess an abundance of love. We feel it from the Brethren at Conference, from friends who hold us when we cry, and if we are lucky, from family members who love us no matter what. Sometimes filled with uncertainty and faced with failures, each of us longs to be loved for who we really are with the warm, nurturing, unconditional love of a perfect Father. Because of this natural yearning for a deeper, richer, fuller love, it is but a step to the supposition that we, like Adam and Eve, harbor a divine void within us, where our relationship with our Father and Elder Brother used to be. Regardless of how much or how little love we receive from mortal sources, it cannot fill the place where immortal and eternal love once dwelt.
Yes, we are away at school. Yes, we have a hope of a future reunion. But as wonderful as those promises are, we cannot sit down beside our Heavenly Father and see into His face and hear His voice tell us of His love for us.
However, it is possible for us to have more of that love in our lives than we commonly do. Think: when do you magnify and enlarge this warmth, or Light of Christ within you? Can this void be filled? Think about the times when you have given of yourself willingly. When you have served gladly and well. When you have sacrificed. Picture yourself, kneeling humbly in prayer, or sitting quietly pouring your heart out in the Celestial Room. What did it feel like when you have been at your most Christlike? When you were full of the divine gift of charity? Didn’t it fill you with a delicious wholeness, almost like you were home from a long and successful journey?
Little children seem to have a gift of loving unconditionally, which is one of the reasons we are so drawn to them. I remember cuddling my grandson on the morning he was born, knowing he was a gift fresh from God. I did not want to let him go. The story of this same child, then three years old, comforting his father when that tall and strong man was grieving over the death of his grandfather brought me to tears. I could only imagine what his father felt when he was presented with Jack’s soft, blue “comfort” blanket. A small child’s love filled so many hearts that day.
Missionaries also learn this. As they are obedient and receive guidance from the Spirit, they participate in the miracle of conversion, working in divine closeness with the Holy Ghost in bringing miracles into the lives of those they teach. Each of them will tell you that they are magnified far beyond their own abilities.
For all worthy missionaries, this time of their lives is one of total consecration, and one they often yearn to experience again during the rest of their lives.
We recently spoke to the missionary who taught and baptized my husband nearly forty years ago. That experience has remained a highlight in his very eventful life. He is now a State Senator with a very large family of children and grandchildren. But, looking back on David’s conversion together, we were so thankful that Elder Van Tassel was a humble and obedient missionary. It was wonderful for him to hear that the sophisticated young man in designer suits that he had converted all those years ago has since humbled himself and served as a bishop twice, a member of a stake presidency, and in many high councils. “Our missionary” was likewise blessed to hear of our children—three more members of the Kingdom who had served missions and were raising children of their own. Think of all the souls this one missionary had brought to Christ, as he walked closely with the Spirit, through his selfless sacrifice of two years of his life! In this way, he had been Christlike.
One of the most miraculous ways we can feel the love of God, is by performing a work that is very close to his own: becoming Savior’s on Mt. Zion. After my experience in the Dallas temple, referred to above, I threw myself wholeheartedly into the work of identifying and doing the temple ordinances for my deceased ancestors and those of my husband. I have said before, if you want to feel miracles in this life, simply commence this work. And if you want the veil to be thin, so that you can feel love coming from family members you never knew, go to the temple to do this work. It is so vital that there is almost nothing more important we can do for our Savior’s plan in this life. His Spirit will be our constant companion while we are researching and solving puzzles on our family tree. Those people from the past are real. Their love stories created us. Many of them are depending upon us for their eternal lives. Can you think of a more Christlike work?
Mothers can also be blessed to feel this divine love for their newborns. Their lives are changed dramatically the moment that helpless child comes to them from the arms of their Heavenly Father. The idea that they are co-creators with their God is staggering.
Especially during the first year of their infant’s life, concerned mothers learn to put this child’s needs, safety, and nurturing before their own. The self-centered lives they may have lived only a day or two before delivery disappear as they look into the eyes of their baby. They would and do give their lives for that tiny child. Such mothers radiate charity which makes up for their exhaustion!
As I watched my daughter holding Jack to her, less than twenty-four hours after his delivery, I could see that that love had come to her in a rush she was completely unprepared for.
In happy families, this type of charity continues through a child’s life and is taught in the home. My husband’s parents were tremendous examples of charity and pure love although they were far from wealthy. They served many humanitarian missions to help those who had less than they did. My father-in-law always worked at the local food pantry, did charity service in the community, and would even weed and plant flowers on the grounds of the assisted-living center where he lived, without being asked to help or receiving any pay. He died while shoveling the church sidewalk, concerned that someone might fall going into Bible Study. My mother-in-law, now in her eighties, is a lay preacher for many churches in her community, leads several Bible study groups, and supported my sons on their missions with frequent letters and boxes of homemade cookies. She also works as an aide at the local hospital, and visits all those in the hospital and in her retirement home who are ill and in need of a friend. Though their means have never been great, they served the unfortunate and needy all their lives. I know they prepared my husband, through their charity, to recognize the restored church of Jesus Christ.
My home was different. I grew up lonely, with a dark well of wrenching sadness that I couldn’t fill or understand. Until I learned for myself the truth of the gospel during my college years, I was a lost soul living in what is sometimes called the “existential void.” I choose to call it the divine void. Philosophers have been trying to understand it since the beginning of recorded thought. In a secular society, the desire to fill that void which is endemic to mortality leads people to many different coping mechanisms. Many good people do succeed in filling it with love and service to their fellow men. But others use alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behavior to try to fill their emptiness. Of course, these reactions only enslave. They are the adversary’s counterfeit “fillers.” Addicts can never get enough.
With that in mind, surely, it is one of life’s great ironies that the more we give, the more we are filled. And with what are we filled? Could it be the Living Water that makes us thirst no more? The love of Jesus Christ that never fails or is exhausted? Is this the true abundance of which He speaks in John? Yes, I believe it is.
The void that was once filled with divine and limitless love can be refilled only from the same source. During this mortal separation from our Heavenly Parents and our Savior, we commence and continue feeling divine love by magnifying our own mortal ability to love through partaking of His well of Living Water daily, consecrating our lives to His service.