30 December 2013

Weeping and joy in the School of Mortality

Talk given by Les Powrie, Panorama Ward, Cape Town South Africa, 29 December 2013.

I gave a talk in sacrament meeting yesterday. I started off telling about the painting that I did of the ship in stormy seas. 
I pointed out that one of the stormy seas in my life is that I cannot undo the fact that I painted the masts in front of the sails instead of behind the sails. 

That always bugs me - but it is a mistake that I made and it is there for all to see. But more importantly, it is a reminder that a calm sea never produced a good captain. I reflected on how we sent our children out to school where we knew that things would not always be pleasant. There were lessons to be learned and these were essential. But there would be unpleasant things about being at school - many rough seas - stress, panic, exams, trials, proving, testing, peer pressure, unreasonable people, unpleasant discipline, punishments both fair and unfair, hormone issues, and so forth. We had a bigger long term view that you might have had - we dreamed of an outcome where our children would become educated, able to achieve some greatness, develop talents, achieve greater potential, even do better than their parents (because that is progress), and become responsible adults. I am sure that most of the time those were not uppermost in the minds of our children. 

Heavenly Father introduced his first two children into a school as well and left them there to learn their lessons. The first lesson that they needed to learn was to recognise the knowledge of good and evil. He gave them a beautiful garden with abundant fruits, flowers, animals and all to please the eye and to gladden the heart, to name them, to tend them and take care of them. But they were told that while they could eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden, they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day they ate thereof they would surely die. We don’t know how many days or months or years they enjoyed garden before they did partake of the fruit, but they, in their innocent states, were beguiled by Satan. They needed to have a knowledge of good and evil in order to become like their Father in Heaven, and the only way that they could have that was to transgress and partake of the fruit of the tree and thus gain knowledge – even wisdom. He had this outcome in mind, but they could not comprehend the outcome, especially when first placed in the garden. His view of the outcome was, and is for us, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, and for us to have joy now and in the eternities. We read some important principles in this regard in 2 Nephi 2: 14-29.

I shared a journal entry that I wrote some weeks ago: Did we have knowledge of good and evil before we received mortal bodies? I was listening to elder Bednar's April 2013 talk WE BELIEVE IN BEING CHASTE (https://www.lds.org/ensign/2013/05/we-believe-in-being-chaste?lang=eng) and how 'Simply stated, there are lessons we must learn and experiences we must have, as the scriptures describe, “according to the flesh”'.
I was wondering if Satan has knowledge of good and evil, or if he only knows about it? Is it just like book-learning or theory to him, but with no practical experience it is actually not knowledge to him, so he is not like the Gods, knowing good and evil? I never thought about that before. I often think how he seems to be really dim continually trying to thwart God’s plan, but maybe he actually does lack a lot of savvy! Imagine millennia of fighting a war in which you remain ignorant of the central issue!

Similarly, we instruct our children – ‘do not put your hand on the stove’, not to make life miserable for them, but so that they do not injure themselves. They need to have some experience that helps them to realise that there is great benefit to learning from their parent’s instructions and injunctions. So, we might heat the stove so that it is very uncomfortable to touch, but not hot enough to cause injury, and then let them learn from touching that so that. Otherwise they might touch the stove when we are not looking at a time that it is hot enough to cause really serious injury. We also instruct them to not walk on a hot road in bare feet, but did not fully appreciate the wisdom until we had experienced the consequences. 

Similarly, Adam and Eve would not have learned to distinguish good from evil if they were constantly diverted from partaking of the tree, constantly reminded to not partake, or if the tree were kept out of their reach. That would remain ‘book learning’ or theory and the lesson never really become learned. They had to learn the lesson that obedience is essential, and that we need to choose good (and eternal life) rather than evil (or eternal damnation).

So, in our school of mortality, exams last for hours but the graduation and qualification remain forever. In Psalm 30:5 we read that weeping may endure for the night but joy cometh in the morning. Elder Holland gave a talk in 1999 in which he talked about Jesus Christ as the high priest of good things to come. He said “Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better. Moroni spoke of it in the Book of Mormon as “hope for a better world.” For emotional health and spiritual stamina, everyone needs to be able to look forward to some respite, to something pleasant and renewing and hopeful, whether that blessing be near at hand or still some distance ahead. It is enough just to know we can get there, that however measured or far away, there is the promise of “good things to come.””. In Hebrews 5:6-10 we read that even Christ, though he were a son, yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered.

I shared examples from an article in the December 2013 New EraWhen Good Things Happen to Others and Bad Things Happen to You’. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught, “Envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”1 I related two examples from the article about tough lessons, but the benefits that come from them. One about a girl in the school tennis team, but where the rules changed in her senior year where she had to try out again for the team and was not automatically included. She worked really hard to prepare for the trials but she did not make the team.
“I felt like my heart was breaking. I’d worked for an entire year to make my goals a reality. I was also embarrassed. I was angry. Why didn’t my coach give me a fair chance? Why didn’t Heavenly Father help him choose not to cut me from the team?

“Struggling to overcome the hurt led me to think about the sorrows of the Savior. He spent His entire ministry in the service of His neighbors, yet He was despised by many of these same people (see Isaiah 53:3–5). Although He was the only person who did not need forgiveness, He willingly suffered the anguish of all sin. With His stripes to rescue me from death, how could I resent the small injustices in life? The miracle of the Atonement beckoned to me, urging me to seek the merciful Son.”
Then there was a missionary in Malaysia who was biking home with his companion one night when a truck rising on the wrong side of the road struck him. Jeremy broke multiple bones, his aorta was torn, his lung collapsed, his brain swelled, and he contracted pneumonia. In short, he should have died.
But time after time, little miracles occurred and he not only survived but also continued to heal. Even so, the recovery was long and painful. “And there will be trials for the rest of my life,” Jeremy says. It would have been easy for Jeremy to wonder why something like that could happen to him, especially when he was serving a mission. But turning to the Savior taught him many things.
“Because of what I learned, I can bear witness that our Savior suffered for all of our trials. As we humbly and faithfully endure our trials, we can be filled with a new spiritual strength—the strength that we will need to endure to the end, the strength that we will need to obtain our exaltation.”
There was the brother who sat listening to members criticising the leaders who sent the Willie and Handcart companies off to face a severe winter. After some time he stood and said:
“I was in that company and my wife was in it. . . . We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? . . . [We] came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. . . . I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.”
The desired outcome for us is to sit with the noble and great ones in the eternal realms. But, would one feel comfortable sitting with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Nephi, Joseph Smith, members of the Martin or Willie Handcart companies, and others as peers if we got there easily whilst they endured great tribulation in the courses that they travelled? 

Our learning experiences taking many different forms. I shared something shared by elder Loren C. Dunn in 1974. He said of his father: 
‘While we were growing up in a small community, my father saw the need for my brother and me to learn the principle of work. As a result, he put us to work on a small farm on the edge of town where he had been raised. He ran the local newspaper, so he could not spend much time with us except early in the morning and in the evening. That was quite a responsibility for two young teenagers, and sometimes we made mistakes. Our small farm was surrounded by other farms, and one of the farmers went in to see my father one day to tell him the things he thought we were doing wrong. My father listened to him carefully and then said, “Jim, you don’t understand. You see, I’m raising boys and not cows.” After my father’s death, Jim told us his story. How grateful I was for a father who decided to raise boys, and not cows. In spite of the mistakes, we learned how to work on that little farm, and I guess, although they didn’t say it in so many words, we always knew we were more important to Mother and Father than the cows or, for that matter, anything else.’ 
Some lessons are learned at our mother’s knee, like Joseph Fielding Smith shared “I was trained at my mother’s knee to love the Prophet Joseph Smith and to love my Redeemer.’ - and how he taught his son in a gentle but powerful way.
“Reyn confided that he had had a cigarette in his mouth only once in his life, and then for only a fleeting moment. It occurred when he was a student at the Roosevelt Junior High School in Salt Lake City. [The school’s] entrance was on a quiet side street that had very little vehicular traffic. On this day, Reyn had just walked out of the front entrance of the school with a friend who smoked who urged him, as he had often done, to ‘just try one.’ On this occasion, the friend succeeded. Reyn took one of the cigarettes and lit up. A few puffs later, who should pull up at the curb in his car but Reyn’s father. Rolling down the window, Elder Smith said to his astounded son, ‘Reynolds, I want to talk to you tonight after dinner’ and drove off. Reyn reported, ‘When my father called me Reynolds, I knew he meant business.’ Elder Smith let Reyn stew in his guilt the rest of the afternoon and during the evening meal, when he had surprisingly little to say. Afterward, seated uncomfortably in his father’s study, … Reynolds faced judgment. What he received was merely a kindly, loving lecture about the evils of ‘that filthy habit’ and a reminder of who he was and how his conduct reflected on the whole family. It ended with the request that Reyn promise he would never again put a cigarette in his mouth. Reyn took the pledge. ‘It never happened again,’ he said. Through all the intervening years, including a stint in the United States Navy during World War II where smoking was endemic, he honored the commitment made to his father.”
We need to learn to consider our blessings – to ponder them in our hearts, to count the blessings to help to recognise the joys in between the weeping. In my experience the times of calm seas are far greater than the times of rough seas. But the real learning comes during those shorter times with rough seas.
I was given a video for Christmas ‘The secrets of Jonathan Sperry’. This is not an LDS movie, but great for teaching about missionary work. One of the things that Jonathan teaches to a twelve-year old boy who thinks that the Bible is full of restrictions is that the commandments are good. He says ‘Do you want someone to steal from you?’ to which the boy says he does not want that, so Jonathan says that then the commandment tol not steal is kind of a good thing. Similarly, do you want someone lying to you? So ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness is kind of a good thing’.
So - in the outcomes that Heavenly Father wants for us in this school of mortality, just as we send our children out into the schools of the world, so we are here in this school to learn. We want mortal success for our children, Heavenly Father wants us to have immortality and eternal life. The tests are brief in time, and even more brief when measured against eternity. May we have ourselves built on the sure foundation of Christ as we read in Helaman5:12 
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 wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. 
Then, when the stormy seas pound and beat about us we can stand firm. May we remember that 'man is, that he might have joy' (2 Nephi 2:26)

May we become great captains because of the experiences that we have on our stormy seas in this school of mortality, and may we enjoy mostly calm seas!

PS. I can make the painting look good in digital form, but not on the original painting.

I also thought of a saying on a calendar that Judy gave to me when I was a youth. 'Men, like rivers, become crooked when they follow the path of least resistance'. I reckon this fits well in this topic.