One of my posts from last week was actually part of a draft for a talk I gave in church today. The topic was “We can do hard things!” Here are my more complete thoughts on that and on how Christ is essential to our ability to overcome.
Today I want to talk about the Land of Not Yet—a beautiful and dangerous place, a place with innumerable opportunities. Not Yet is full of every imaginable landscape, plant, animal and person.
Sometimes Not Yet appears to be a land of black and white. People there can choose to be kind or to be cruel, good or evil, humble or proud, and on and on. Sometimes it seems that people without scruples prosper the most.
In Not Yet, if someone asks her neighbor how she is doing, her neighbor may feel compelled to respond, OK, with a polite smile, hiding her private burdens. Not Yet isn’t so black and white after all. Everyone there understands that good and bad befalls each in his or her turn, and some receive more than their fair share of either.
The Land of Not Yet is the land of Hard Things, capital H, capital T.
The Land of Not Yet is full of the lost, the weary, the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the confused. The lonely, the burdened, the unsure. Not Yet is the land of the unfinished, the partial, the limited, the impermanent, the unfair. The unfulfilled hope, the dashed dream.
Still, many people there live with great happiness—happiness despite trouble, happiness in ignorance, and happiness because of wisdom. Many people lift their neighbors and share their substance with those who have less. Countless deeds of good happen every day. And yet, suffering in Not Yet continues. There is no end to the help that needs to be given.
You probably recognize this place. We all live in the Land of Not Yet. Not Yet Married. Not Yet Reunited with a Loved One. Not Yet Healed. Not Yet Fitting In.
Life in any form, strait, or circumstance is filled with innumerable blessings. Still, all things have not yet been fulfilled to us. Living in Not Yet can be painful, a daily walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
In Not Yet is another place, a place that is not necessarily geographical. A place that exists amid the trials. A place that offers respite, revelation, and restoration. A place that brings answers and sometimes even more powerfully, questions. This is a place many know: the Kingdom of God.
This place can be within a single heart or body:
“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
This place can be a friendship:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
This place can be a companionship:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, … where two or three are gathered together in my name, … behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you” (D&C 6:32).”
No matter the location, there is only one Ruler of this kingdom. Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. Being of the Kingdom of God does not mean that Not Yet has no influence over our lives. Because we know that Christ is the High Priest of good things to come and has performed the Atonement to Bring us Home, even in the Land of Not Yet we can experience the joy of the kingdom.
Knowing that we were sent to this land of imperfection and insecurity and incompleteness to learn, what does it mean to believe in a God of Not Yet? What are a few of the principles that can guide us through the darkness of Not Yet and allow us to overcome? These are all things we have the opportunity to learn, and some of the things I have had come to me and that I felt to share with you today. Some of you have already learned these things, are learning these things, or will learn these things.
God views us as able and capable of great things. Our capacities are great. We need never underestimate our potential, our ability to endure hard things, or our ability to grow, change, and learn. Yet, eventually, we learn the extent of our limitations. God not giving us more than we can bear does not mean we will not think or feel that we are being given more than we can bear. The hard things that we experience will stretch us beyond our current capacities. This is by design. We are stretching toward Godhood.
To do hard things, we need tools and resources, gospel and otherwise. I am one of the biggest proponents of self-development, as I am sure many of you are. The doctrine of eternal progression lends itself to cultivating a growth mindset. We are striving for perfection, for wholeness, and that is a process that will extend beyond our earthly existence. And yet, we can focus so much on the gospel’s perfecting aspect that we can easily fall into the trap of beating ourselves up for our humanness. Prayer, scripture study, and church attendance are vital spiritual food. And yet, it is not possible to pray our way out of every predicament. You would not tell a person with a broken arm to pray that it would be healed and then not take them to a hospital. Invisible wounds of the mind, spirit, and heart require dedicated professional attention and detailed personal work.
This is especially true of mental and emotional limitations, many of which are inherited through genetics or passed on through family patterns. The gospel and applying the Atonement are essential to being able to do the work. But sometimes we need to learn individual, real-world strategies to get our minds straight and manage our emotions.
There are many worthy tools out there, from medications, counseling, supplements, yoga, exercise, 12-step programs, journaling, service, etc. A guideline for finding them can be found in D&C 50:23-25:
“That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you.”
Sometimes through no fault of our own that darkness is within us, and it can be overcome.
I’ll give you a personal example. My hardest thing so far has been recovering from a brain injury that happened nearly 2.5 years ago. It damaged the way my brain processed emotions (a system which was already strained after years of dealing with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges). I lost control of my emotions, a common symptom of brain injury. I would easily become angry if my brain was too overwhelmed with stimuli, which it was all the time. I felt exquisite emotional pain and needed multiple interventions to help my brain heal and regain control of my emotions. I have needed to use the spirit of discernment as I have sought out practitioners and helpers.
Keep looking. Search high and low for answers. Expect miracles. Just as God says that if we seek him we shall find him, if we knock it shall be opened, we can expect the same for answers to our thorniest questions and most intractable problems. We are complex creatures asked to go through complex experiences to gain knowledge, wisdom, virtues, Christlike attributes and everything that will fit us for the kingdom. The help I needed to recover from my brain injury was not all in one place. I spent hundreds of hours reading articles and books on brain injuries and looking for & pursuing treatments.
The miracle was not that I was taken out of my circumstance or that I suddenly found the panacea that instantaneously healed me. In multiple priesthood blessings from multiple sources (sometimes from men I did not know well at all) I was told that I would be healed and return to my full capacities. And I was also blessed to find and pursue new avenues of treatment, which I did, by the grace of God. Line upon line, precept upon precept, day by day, I received piece after piece after piece that I needed to accomplish my healing task. My miracles were resources, healers, financial support, realizations. And yet, the day-to-day experience was extremely miserable.
This leads us to the truth that we are here to learn by experience and to be fashioned in the image of Christ. These are Joseph Smith’s lessons from Liberty Jail.
“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. . . . The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; Therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever. (D&C 122:7-9)
These experiences prepare us for our ministry. Empathy has an element of a cognitive function; it is the ability to imagine what someone else might be feeling or experiencing. And how much easier is it to imagine and understand what someone is going through when you have experienced it yourself? Your wounds become the places from which you can bind others’ wounds. Christ never lost the prints of the nails. He will always remember the price he paid for us. He will always bear that in living memory, and for us, I don’t think it will be any different, in this life. As much as I believe true and lasting and total healing IS possible in this life if God wills it and we have the faith to receive it, I also believe that we will retain at least the memory of those hard times so that those memories can become a source of wisdom from which we can administer Christ’s healing to others.
If I had not experienced what I did, I would not have known in my cells what the experience of having a brain injury is like. My perspective on invisible disabilities has been altered forever. I think we walk the road we help others walk. Because I have survived the worst of my depression and anxiety so far, I know that there can be another side, with the proper interventions and with time and the miraculous properties of healing that are in our body and spirits. I have learned that giving up is only ever temporary. As many times as I have fallen, I have always found a bottom, and I eventually didn’t go down there as often. We experience a little bit of what it was like for Christ to suffer in the depths.
The Atonement is our most powerful resource for overcoming pain. We can’t do this on our own. Philippians 4:13 is one of my favorite go-to verses that I, like many of you, recite as my mantra. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Pain is a fact of life and one of our greatest teachers. Our relationship to our pain is critical for our health in many dimensions. Much addiction comes from trying to avoid feeling pain, and to heal from pain we need to name it, feel it, and release it.
I have learned that one of the ways I manage my pain and keep being able to do the hard things that God requires of me is to give it to Christ. If I am feeling too much pain, I can say to God in my mind, I can’t deal with this pain. Please take it away. Then I visualize handing my pain over to Christ. And He takes it. My pain vanishes. This is a great gift. We do not need to suffer with our pain. With Christ’s help, we can keep pain from becoming our master. I know that Christ will take your pain, too, as many times as you need to surrender it.
We all reach points in our growth process where we will not be able to make it to the next level without a massive boost up. The enabling power of the Atonement gives us strength beyond our own.
If we are feeling destroyed, my conviction is that we are in the process of being torn down or rebuilt. President Uchtdorf addresses this in his April 2016 conference talk, wherein he speaks about the Frauenkirke that was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden and how it was rebuilt using some of the original bricks.
Stones from the destroyed church had been stored and cataloged and, when possible, were used in the reconstruction. Today you can see these fire-blackened stones pockmarking the outer walls. These “scars” are not only a reminder of the war history of this building but also a monument to hope—a magnificent symbol of man’s ability to create new life from ashes….
As I pondered the history of Dresden and marveled at the ingenuity and resolve of those who restored what had been so completely destroyed, I felt the sweet influence of the Holy Spirit. Surely, I thought, if man can take the ruins, rubble, and remains of a broken city and rebuild an awe-inspiring structure that rises toward the heavens, how much more capable is our Almighty Father to restore His children who have fallen, struggled, or become lost?
It matters not how completely ruined our lives may seem. It matters not how scarlet our sins, how deep our bitterness, how lonely, abandoned, or broken our hearts may be. Even those who are without hope, who live in despair, who have betrayed trust, surrendered their integrity, or turned away from God can be rebuilt. Save those rare sons of perdition, there is no life so shattered that it cannot be restored.
The joyous news of the gospel is this: because of the eternal plan of happiness provided by our loving Heavenly Father and through the infinite sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, we can not only be redeemed from our fallen state and restored to purity, but we can also transcend mortal imagination and become heirs of eternal life and partakers of God’s indescribable glory….
Is it possible that the Savior’s message was that God is fully aware of those who are lost—and that He will find them, that He will reach out to them, and that He will rescue them?
If that is so, what must the sheep do to qualify for this divine help?
Does the sheep need to know how to use a complicated sextant to calculate its coordinates? Does it need to be able to use a GPS to define its position? Does it have to have the expertise to create an app that will call for help? Does the sheep need endorsements by a sponsor before the Good Shepherd will come to the rescue?
No. Certainly not! The sheep is worthy of divine rescue simply because it is loved by the Good Shepherd.
To me, the parable of the lost sheep is one of the most hopeful passages in all of scripture.
Our Savior, the Good Shepherd, knows and loves us. He knows and loves you.
He knows when you are lost, and He knows where you are. He knows your grief. Your silent pleadings. Your fears. Your tears.
It matters not how you became lost—whether because of your own poor choices or because of circumstances beyond your control.
What matters is that you are His child. And He loves you. He loves His children.
Again, we may emerge from our Hard Things scarred, but those scars are badges of courage and places where the Atonement entered our lives more strongly.
We practice eternal perspective, and that perspective is one of mourning with, comforting the comfortless, lifting up the hands that hang down. Knowing that your experience is purposeful is not always comforting. Some of the experiences, regardless of their usefulness in fitting us for the kingdom and making us more like Christ, are truly awful requiring intensive healing from multiple angles. Our work as friends and neighbors becomes simply to minister.
Your brothers and sisters in the pew next to you are the walking wounded. They may be bleeding so profusely internally that they can barely stand to be here, or they can barely stand at all. We need to be prepared to offer emotional first aid in the form of the good word of God and be prepared to listen with compassion and nonjudgment.
President Eyring spoke about how to approach our brothers and sisters in his First Presidency Message this month:
“When I was a young man, I served in the Church as a counselor to a wise district president. He was constantly trying to teach me. I remember the advice he once gave to me: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 50 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life.”
My firm testimony is that Christ gives us the courage to live in Not Yet and the fact that He is Already and Always will one day be fulfilled. Christ gives us the medicine, both physical and spiritual, that we need. At any moment. Enabling. Smoothing. Lifting. Soothing. Binding up. Healing. Teaching. Repairing. Reminding. Renewing. Resurrecting. I know that the second I turn to him in my mind and heart, I feel peace. I know that even though I am Not Yet healed that Christ could touch me this instant and I would be made whole.
For you who live in the present pain of Not Yet, take heart. You are on a hero’s journey to learn the way of our True Hero, Jesus Christ. He is your advocate every day. Your angels surround you. Your worth is without price. Whatever your wrestle, no matter how deep, you will come out stronger. You will gain the knowledge you need to do your work on this earth and you will learn how better to help others in similar situations. You will increase in empathy and humility. You will return to Heavenly Father with coal-turned-diamond and a soul burnished bright.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Master, Lord, Savior, and Friend, Amen.