Spiritual Preparedness–the Whats and Whys
By Darla Isackson
Preparedness has been a prime topic of counsel for years–and a good thing to ponder as we begin a new year. In 1998 President Hinckley admonished “that the time has come to get our houses in order . . . There is a portent of stormy weather ahead to which we had better give heed” (Ensign, November 1998, p.53). Since then, events such as 9-11, natural disasters, and “wars and rumors of wars,” and have driven home his message. Even government agencies have encouraged food storage and issued a plea for citizens to prepare the equivalent of a “72-hour-kit.”
All Things Are Spiritual
While my focus in this series of articles will be spiritual preparedness, I am mindful that “all things unto [the Lord] are spiritual” (D&C 29:34). To spend time and money on food storage is an exercise in faith–a spiritual activity. In a recent Meridian article on preparedness, Geoffrey Biddulph reminded us of the necessity of physical preparedness, a need summarized in a 2002 letter from the First Presidency: “Priesthood and Relief Society leaders should teach the importance of home storage and securing a financial reserve . . . Church members can begin their home storage by storing the basic foods that would be required to keep them alive if they did not have anything else to eat. Depending on where members live, those basics might include water, wheat or other grains, legumes, salt, honey or sugar, powdered milk, and cooking oil. When members have stored enough of these essentials to meet the needs of their family for one year, they may decide to add other items that they are accustomed to using day to day.” To follow this counsel in short order is not impossible for most of us, though it may require significant sacrifice. My family has found that in our area the cost for such a basic supply ranges from about $200 -$300 per person.
Any of us who have not flexed our spiritual muscles to heed the words of the prophets may want to re-read Spencer W. Kimball’s talk on preparedness. After talking about the frequent encouragement the Brethren have given to families to have on hand a year’s supply, he concluded, “we say it over and over and over and repeat over and over the scripture of the Lord where He says, ‘Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?'” (“Family Preparedness,” Ensign, May 1976, p.124)
Preparation that Feeds the Soul
I love the story of the young man who was so well prepared he could “sleep while the wind blows”–a good example of implementation of the scripture “If Ye are prepared, ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30). However, I may have a year’s supply of food and other necessities and still be caught up in fear. Only spiritual preparation can feed my soul with hope, trust, peace, and wisdom.
Studying the scriptures on spiritual preparation, I find things I must DO and things I must BE. The whole fifth chapter of Alma gives an excellent checklist. For instance, Alma 5:28, 29 tells me I must be stripped of pride and envy. Colleen Harrison said, “It is self-sufficiency (Pride) that keeps us from listening to the counsel to get physically or spiritual prepared. We may say ‘Who me? I’m not going to need to do that. Nothing that bad is ever going to happen to me. If it does, I’ll deal with it when it happens–I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’ Without preparing ahead, there IS no bridge when you come to cross!” Moroni 10:21 stresses the importance of faith, hope and charity. Colleen says, “Charity is the greatest preparation of all–the actual bulls-eye of the truth about preparedness. Charity is the pure love of Christ that connects us to Him and gives us revelation of how to love as He loves. There is no other way. . .”
In D&C 1: 12 I we read, “Prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh.” By reversing what is said in verse 14 about those who are not prepared, I learn that to be prepared I must: hear the voice of the Lord and his servants–give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles; I must hold to the ordinances and keep the everlasting covenant; I must seek the Lord to establish His righteousness, rather than walk in my own way, following the world. D&C 85:3 tells me I must pay my tithing: “that he may tithe his people, to prepare them against the day of vengeance and burning” and Malachi 4: 5-6 reminds me of the importance of turning my heart to my children and my ancestors.
The list begins to sound daunting. How can I do it all, and more importantly, how can I BE all I need to BE in order to be spiritually prepared? Only the Savior can give me the power to make such changes. How can I access His power?
The Key: Taking the Holy Spirit for My Guide
The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1 perfectly connects preparedness with spirituality. Colleen said that the spirituality referred to is “real and practiced, trusted and lived sufficiently that being led by the Spirit is a familiar and beloved daily experience.” I have heard from several Church leaders that all ten virgins are members of the church. I don’t want to be one of the foolish! D&C 45:56-57 clearly defines the characteristics of the five wise virgins: “And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and HAVE TAKEN THE HOLY SPIRIT FOR THEIR GUIDE, and have not been deceived–verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.” (emphasis mine)
Only if I take the Holy Spirit as my guide can I hope to avoid deception, be wise, discern and receive truth, and be guided in my quest to fill all the requirements for preparedness I’ve listed above. The Spirit gives light, the Spirit witnesses of truth and teaches the words of Christ (and so keeps me from being deceived). Only if I take the Holy Spirit as guide will I be counted among the five wise virgins, lamps full of oil, flame burning brightly, prepared to meet the Bridegroom.
Squarely Confronting the Question of Faith
My motivation to put this quest as absolute priority came from an unlikely source–the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous. A few years ago I was brought to a study of A. A. literature through a son’s temporary foray into the drug world. My interest burned bright as I found the amazing applicability of the Twelve-Step program to my own life (largely through Colleen Harrison’s superb book He Did Deliver Me from Bondage). I have found in the real-life stories of reformed alcoholics vivid examples of a mighty change of heart. Without exception, those who follow the program and succeed in transcending their addiction do so because they come to realize that their very survival depends on the decision to turn their lives over to a Higher Power–on reaching out to Him, relying on Him, inviting His Spirit into their lives moment by moment. Here’s how they summarize:
“Crushed by a self-imposed crisis that we could not postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything, or he was nothing. Arrived at this point, we were squarely confronted with the question of faith. We couldn’t duck the issue” (Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered form Alcoholism, p. 53).
My Spiritual Life Depends on It
How many times in my comfortable life, have I chosen to “duck the issue”? How much of my life has been ruled by self-will? Alcoholics who attend A.A. learn that their addiction is triggered by unchecked anger, resentment, pride, and other negative emotions. They learn that if they do not consistently take the Spirit as their guide in order to dissolve, transcend and conquer these negative emotions, they will continue to turn to liquor and will die of alcoholism.
Here is the amazing tie-in. I have learned that the bottom line principle for my spiritual preparedness is identical to the principle upon which their physical survival rests. If I do not take the Spirit as my guide on a moment by moment basis–I will die spiritually. I will not be stripped of pride and envy; I will not have a heart full of charity. I will not have the strength to fulfill the other requirements. I will not abide the evil day. I will be hewn down and cast into the fire.
I Must Quit Trying to Run the Show
How do I prepare my heart so I’m open for the Spirit’s guidance? First, I must learn, just as an alcoholic must learn, that a life run on self-will will surely fail. Operating from self-will I am always on a collision course with something or somebody, even though my motives are good. I have to stop being like an actor who wants to run the whole show. I can see myself so clearly in past years: Like the example given in the A. A. book (Ibid pp 60-61), I, too was forever trying to rearrange the lights and the scenery, and usurping the part of Director by presuming I knew how the rest of the players should play their roles. I was quite convinced that if others in my family would only do things my way, the show would be great and my life would be wonderful. What usually happened? The show did not come off well at all. When I tried even harder to direct things, exerting all my efforts, the play got lousy reviews and eventually got shut down. I became self-pitying, convinced that others were more to blame than I.
Let’s examine the dynamics: In the very act of trying to convince others to do life “my way” (the “right” way) I saw myself as virtuous–kind and self-sacrificing, only wanting good for others. But was I not self-seeking even then? Was I not a victim of the Korihor-type delusion that I could surely wrest satisfaction and happiness out of mortal life if I only managed well? In Alma 30:17 Korihor teaches that “Every man fared in this life according to the management of the creature; therefore every man prospered according to his genius, and that every man conquered according to his strength.” Whenever I have attempted to “manage” myself, my family, my life without constant reliance on the Spirit, the rest of the “players” in my show become resistant, even resentful of my “direction” and I become a producer of confusion, rather than harmony.
I’ve learned that the very root cause of most negative emotions is trying to manage well enough to get what I want instead of surrendering to what God wants (which is to let every one of his children learn from their own mistakes). If I have feelings of anger, resentment, or bitterness–it’s usually because others are not reading off MY script. I’m trying to rewrite God’s play–and am upset because others don’t prefer my version. I know of no better way to lose the Spirit.
The A.A. literature suggests than whenever a person thinks they could “create a Utopia if the rest of the world would just behave, they are being selfish and self-centered.” They conclude that, “Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! Only God makes that possible. . . . We had to have God’s help. This is the how and why of it. First of all, we had to quit playing God. It didn’t work. Next, we decided that hereafter in this drama of life, God was going to be our Director. He is the Principal, we are His agents. He is the Father, and we are His children. Most good ideas are simple, and this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.” (Ibid, p. 62)
How Do I take the Spirit as Guide? Learning the Process
Taking the Holy Spirit as my Guide is the new and triumphant arch through which I too may pass to freedom. Only by doing so can I be spiritual prepared. I have found it a lifelong process, rather than a sudden change, however–a process that requires far more of surrender than white-knuckled will power. And knowing what I need to do doesn’t mean I know HOW to do it. Part Two, which I have named Spiritual Preparedness by Applying the Precepts of the Book of Mormon, will introduce the book He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, by Colleen Harrison, which will be serialized by Meridian in the next few months.