Years ago I attended a family picnic where I was surprised to see an old family friend. He had been my Dad’s friend through High School and college, and had remained close to the family all the years since. He was by this time in his 80’s and quite frail. He had lived a noble life, had served as a Bishop and Stake President and was presently a Patriarch. I admired him a great deal. He seemed to glow with the Spirit.
I made an opportunity to talk to him and asked him a question I haven’t asked before or since. It was: “What is the most important thing you have learned in your life?” He thought about it for about a minute before replying, “Except for the idea that God lives and similar truths, the most important thing I ever learned is that Satan cannot imitate peace.”
I don’t think I understood the import of his answer then, but over the years I have pondered it many times.
The power of this pearl of great price is that Satan can imitate almost everything else. He can produce plausible counterfeits for happiness, elation, even joy. He can even invite feelings of devotion and can even (poorly) imitate gifts of the Spirit. But, knowing that he cannot imitate peace – and I do believe this is a true principle – gives mortals a power tool.
When we are in the struggle of mortality, when we are in doubt and in pain, we can reserve judgment, we can wait to make that life-altering decision, until we have obtained peace – then we can act knowing we have not been deceived because peace is fragile and will vanish in the presence of lies and uninspired decisions. These lesser things produce the “stupor of thought”, we have all experienced. It is instructive that the root word of stupor is stupid.
As an example, I was on assignment in one of the far-flung branches in Alaska and met an old acquaintance there. I had known her years before when we were both in the branch there. Her face was tired and her expression was of fatigue and sorrow. I asked her what was going on. She replied that she was trying to decide whether to divorce her husband or not. She explained some of her challenges then asked me what I thought she should do.
Instead of answering her question, I asked her when the last time was that she had felt at peace. She said it had been years. I asked her when she had last attended church, even though we were standing in church. She indicated it had been over a year. I asked her when she had last prayed, and last read the scriptures, and several other similar queries. You can guess her answers.
I told her that the decision to divorce was so weighty, and so potentially eternally altering for her, her husband and her children, that such a question should be answered with divine assistance. I asked her why she would make such a potentially destructive decision without divine help.
She indicated that she had been praying, but that she hadn’t received “the right answer”.
I suggested that she was probably receiving an answer, just not the one she wanted to hear.
She agreed that was a possibility, and asked what she should do.
I suggested that she search backward in her heart to the last time she felt peace in her life, then remember all the things she was doing back then, and start doing them once again. She agreed that the last time she felt peace she was attending church, having family prayers and many other things she had since stopped doing. I promised her that when she once again had peace in her life, that she would be able to hear and understand the Lord’s reply. It may not be the answer she wanted right now, but with peace in her heart she would know it was right, and it would bring her the most happiness, and most bless her children and family – and that her peace would continue no matter which way the Lord sent her.
It isn’t necessary to finish that story, because it is the story of every person alive. Some have the courage to postpone the dismantling of their lives, but most don’t. Some have the spiritual IQ to seek and obtain peace, but most don’t.
But, my old friend was right – it is among the most important things one can learn.