UnBlog # 505
Years ago I began to be called to various priesthood leadership positions. The most astonishing thing I saw, and continue to see, was how many people were struggling desperately in some aspect of their lives. What amazed me wasn’t that some were struggling I hadn’t been aware of because they were active and putting on a brave public face. What amazed me was that every single ward member was struggling in some way. In a heartbeat my perception of my ward went from we’re mostly OK – to we are barely surviving.
Over many years that perception has not changed. It may sound pessimistic, but I don’t feel so. I find great hope in this process. Still, it is observable that we are all struggling in some way. Those who are not currently struggling, whether they realize it or not, are just between bouts. The bell will ring, and the battle will resume. Most people, including myself, struggle in silent, putting on a brave public face, while most of their war is fought on private battle fields.
We have a tendency to equate most struggle to having, or not having wealth, beauty and fame. We look at someone who appears to have “sufficient for their needs” and assume they’re the lucky ones. We look at those we think have very little, and assume they’re living a hard life. The truth, I believe, is that struggle is universal, and that wealth, beauty and fame are actually catalysts to struggle. (They cause struggle, rather than solve it.) These powerful worldly attributes more often erect walls to oppose growth than penetrate them. The world offers up irresistible temptations, creates arrogance and pride that separates us from the Spirit, draws people into our lives who love us for the wrong reasons, darkens our children’s minds, and sucks the Spirit from our lives far more efficiently than poverty, ugliness or obscurity. The most efficient lie we believe is this one, that the world alone offers joy and safety. A surprising commentary on wealth is that almost 100% of those who win large sums in a lottery find it destroyed their lives and ultimately wish they had not won it.
I used to wonder why older people cry at weddings. Now that I’m older, I can say with some insight that it isn’t because we know that marriage is going to end their struggles, and the bride is so beautiful – it is because those two little innocent young people have no idea what they’re in for. We know it is going to be harsh and deeply challenging, and a high percentage of them won’t endure. That’s why we cry. We feel empathy for the harsh journey they are so blissfully beginning.
This expanded perspective is also why we “wizened” people are not jealous of the young and the beautiful, because we were the young and the beautiful, and have since walked a steeply upward path away from those things to obtain the peace and spiritual safety we enjoy – and like war refugees, we prefer our lives on this side of young and beautiful, wealthy and famous.
There is only one price mortals pay for spiritual anchorage, for peace which surpasses the understanding of man, for standing upon a “sure foundation” during the storms, and a “sure knowledge” of eternal glory, which is the great prize, the hundred-million-dollar check, for winning the spiritual lottery of mortality. That price is two-fold. First, we paid part of it when we chose to enter mortality to allow the “mighty storm [to] beat upon you”. This is why we agreed to come to earth, to experience this degree of fiery opposition. Without it, we were powerless to progress, and we had to choose it. We weren’t sentenced to mortality – we chose it with a shout of joy – and thus made a down payment upon eternity.
Secondly, we must pay the price to figure out that we cannot succeed by our own strength and our own genius, force of will, our own wealth, beauty and personal charm. Mortality is designed specifically to beat that nonsense from our “young and beautiful” minds. When we finally have suffered enough of life to realize we cannot survive or succeed alone, then we are ready to take Jesus Christ as our sure foundation. When we cast our burdens on Him, and give up trying to “work out our own salvation” by our own works, intellect, and stubborn will; when we finally know our own nothingness, then Jesus Christ steps in and becomes our strength and deliverance, our hopes, our joy and our safety.
The trials don’t end at that moment, but the struggle can. We can cease to fear and worry and doubt because the mighty opposition of mortality has “no power over you”. We know in whom we trust, and we walk through the “mighty storm” without fear, only needing to know where each footfall belongs on the straight path He guides us along. There can be far less struggle because there is no uncertainty – and hence no fear, and no eternal danger. “Thy will be done” makes the dark, thundering horizon of no consequence, and gives us confidence each guided step is peace and safety, power and truth, life and light blossoming beneath our feet every moment of our lives.
“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 fail.” (Heleman 5:12)
© July 2012, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.