He Shall Prepare a Way

one-way-sign-845356-wallpaperSometimes, we face up against a commandment or two and consistently find ourselves falling short. We might fail time and again to hold back angry words; we might cede once more to destructive pleasures; we might, for the sixth time this week, forget to say a prayer before leaving for the day. In the context of our private struggles, we might feel that the commandments only serve to point out our failures or to block our access to the hope of God’s light. We might begin to see the lists of shalts and shalt nots as lists of reasons why we we’ll never be good enough. I’m convinced, though, that this is the wrong way to look at those commandments that we struggle to keep.

Early in the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Lehi instructs his sons to retrieve a copy of the scriptural record before their family flees Jerusalem and its imminent destruction. Unfortunately, every strategy that the brothers use to acquire those scriptures from their wicked and dangerous owner falls short, and they fail over and over to live up to the commandment. Perhaps, then, the commandment to get the records started to feel only like a reminder of their consistent failures.

However, one of those sons, named Nephi, expressed a unique and compelling faith in their potential to succeed. Throughout the ordeal and despite repeated failures, he was guided by the hope that “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Nephi 3:7, emphasis added). For Nephi, then, the commandment wasn’t a way to rub in past failures—it was a way for the Lord to show him and his brothers what was possible.

With that in mind, I think that the Lord’s commandments are, in some way, aspirational, directing our focus to our potential for success. When the Lord tells us to love our neighbor, He does it to teach us that loving our neighbor is possible—even if it may seem difficult now. When He commands us to avoid addiction, it isn’t so that we can ostracize the addicted—it’s to show the addict that there is hope of freedom ahead. Because the Lord gives no commandment without first preparing the way, we can have total confidence that, when we keep trying, we will ultimately succeed. As the late Joseph B. Wirthlin taught, “You can be obedient. You can defeat Satan and overcome temptation…. The Lord does not expect anything of you that you cannot do.”

Truly, one of the functions of the commandments—even of the difficult ones—is to pull our gaze to a higher plane and to inspire us with our potential for success, potential that Almighty God sees in us. Even that encouraging news is enough to leave me feeling grateful, but the Lord, in His incomparable way, does far more than just promise success for our efforts to obey. He also promises to partner with us and to help us to succeed. That promise is recorded in the Book of Mormon: “[M]y grace is sufficient for all…that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Nephi knew the truth behind that promise, and he trusted that God would help Him to keep the difficult commandment that he had been given. In the end, Nephi did succeed in getting the sacred records from Laban. That success came because, as Bruce R. McConkie once taught, “Nephi made God his partner. If he failed to get the [records], it meant God had failed. And because God does not fail, it was incumbent upon Nephi to get the [records] or lay down his life in the attempt.” Nephi succeeded because he chose One who never fails to be his partner.

Thus, to those who despair because you feel that you are only falling short again and again despite your best efforts to improve—never give up! We wouldn’t have the commandments if God didn’t know already that we could learn to keep them. He has prepared a way for us to succeed—no matter how many times we may have failed before. He has also promised to help. Once we’ve made the Savior our partner and given our all to put our mistakes behind us, we will eventually rest in the peace of forgiveness, in the brilliant light of faith that comes from lasting obedience. Indeed, that commanding God who may have once seemed so stern and disappointed in days past won’t even bring up our old mistakes. He’ll just be happy to have us back. As the prophet Ezekiel so beautifully put it: “If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 33:15-16).

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The Shadow of Doubt

provo-temple-lds-766914-wallpaperWhile at college in Provo, Utah, I sometimes drove to the Latter-day Saint temple in the early morning. During the summer months, I loved to watch the sun rise over the quiet mountains, fringing the oaks and maples with gold and forcing me to squint through the windshield on my eastward drive to the temple. However, I always reached a point along my route where I crossed into the shadow of the mountains and into a part of town where the sun had not yet risen and where the dull, green trees shivered in the remaining malaise of the night before. Driving in the shade seemed to dampen my enthusiasm just a little, and it always amazed me that, in a matter of a few minutes, I could drive from a vision of a glorious sunrise to a disquieting place where the new day did not yet exist.

It might seem silly that I had any emotional reaction at all to driving through the morning shade, but I’ve started to recognize that my experiences on those morning drives parallel experiences that I’ve had with my faith. That is to say, I have experienced times when I stood, as it were, in the bright light of the rising sun, confident in my faith, in my God, and in myself—and I have also experienced times when I have found myself in shadow, confident in very little. Often in times of transition—placing myself in new situations, facing new challenges, or chasing new opportunities—the light that illuminated the way before me vanished, becoming abruptly and inexplicably absent. At times such as those, I have passed into the shadows of mountains, into the shadows of doubt, where it seemed that the once-bright light of faith could only have been a dream or a delusion.

Experience, though, has taught me that that darkness is never the final destination. Speaking to those who pass through the very real and sometimes terrifying shadows of life, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf declared, “God’s light is real. It is available to all!” He then went on to promise, “The very moment you begin to seek your Heavenly Father, in that moment, the hope of His light will begin to awaken, enliven, and ennoble your soul. The darkness may not dissipate all at once, but as surely as night always gives way to dawn, the light will come.” In other words, we may not always see the light that inspired our faith, but that doesn’t mean that the light is gone. Once we begin again to look for it and to trust in it, God’s light will illuminate our lives once more.

It would have been ridiculous for me to assume, once I had driven into the shadow of the mountains, that the sun had disappeared, that morning had changed its mind and decided not to come: the sun wasn’t gone. It was still there and still rising. The only thing that had changed was that I had moved. Even though I had gone east for a good reason, moving put me in a place where I could no longer see the sun or its light. Of course, I knew that the sun still existed, and I was never surprised to find that the it had risen the rest of the way by the time that I left the temple.

For some reason, though, it seems much easier to discount our personal faith and beliefs when life obscures their brilliance. When difficulties arise, it might not take very much for us to abandon our faith as something outmoded, imaginary, or useless—but I know that surrendering faith in any degree can be a dangerous, discouraging thing to do. I’ve found my faith to be an essential component of my happiness, and I know that God’s light is as constant as the sun’s. Sometimes, we move—even for very good reasons—to places where we cannot see His light, but that does not mean that it is gone. Just as the sun always finished rising over the Utah mountains, God’s light will always rise over the opposition we face in this life.

In the coming weeks, I hope to discuss different ways in which our faith can be challenged and to highlight ways in which we can always decide to trust in God’s light even when it isn’t readily visible. Regardless of our circumstances, no matter how tall the obscuring mountains or how dark the shadows of doubt, we can always choose faith. And we must choose faith because faith alone is the source of that hope which “maketh an anchor” to all our souls (Ether 12:4).