Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Lifetime of Preparation for Eternity

My kids have been expressing a desire to go on what they called an “all day hike,” for a long time.  My kids are seven, six, four, and two years old.  They have some experience on 2 mile hikes with some significant elevation change, and they still believe that they like hiking, so I decided to go all in.  I planned a 4.2 mile loop trek through Cougar Mountain Regional Park on trails that I had never traveled before.   I packed lunch, water, and snacks for the journey, made sure that everyone had appropriate shoes, hats, and sunscreen, loaded four kids, five backpacks, and one dog into the car, and headed for the mountain.  If you are thinking that I am totally crazy, I agree with you.  I had a couple of moments of panic when I pictured myself trying to carry/drag all four kids, or even two of them over the two miles home from the most distant point on the trail, and I even wondered once or twice whether they were all going to sit down and refuse to walk another step, and if that was an emergency worthy of a helicopter rescue.  I felt myself starting to get very anxious when I saw them finishing the last of their snacks as we came close to the end of the trek, but I didn’t quite know how close to the end we were.  It was a gorgeous day, though, and the path was shaded almost all of the time.  The huckleberries and salmon berries were ripe, Sammy was delighted to find dozens of slugs, and, except for the unavoidable bickering over who got to hold the best walking stick, and the occasional cry of anguish when the trail seemed to go on forever, everyone got along.  It took us five and a half hours from start to finish, which may not seem like a major achievement to some of you, but for four year old Benjamin, who walked every step of the way, it was probably the hardest thing he has ever done in his life.  As I watched him take his last weary steps at the end of the trail looking beyond exhausted, it occurred to me that this hike, for my children, was very comparable to our journey through this mortal life. The trail seemed interminable. Short legs stumbled and fell countless times, but, with personal preparation, a map, a guide, and a good attitude, we conquered the mountain.   

When the ancient apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God, he included “the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6:15)
Preparation to be disciples of Jesus Christ does not end with the covenant of baptism.  It does not end with making temple covenants. If we stop preparing for eternity as soon as we have made sacred covenants, it is as though we packed everything we would need for our journey, started along the way, and then spent the rest of the walk wondering why we are hungry, but never reaching into our packs to get food.  Or it can be compared to studying the map in advance, but never checking again when you come to an intersection, and just hoping that you remember the path from your first look as you climb on for hour after hour.   Heavenly Father’s work and his glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:39) This means that the preparation of the gospel of peace goes on continually throughout our whole lives.   
Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the 70 gave a talk in April 2015 general conference in which he related his experience of being called on a mission with his wife.  The call was unexpected, so he had a lot of work to do to get his affairs in order before he could leave.  His professional associates were upset, and asked him when he had made the decision to go on a mission, and why they were learning about it at such a late date.  He said, “I made this decision as a 19-year-old boy, when I made sacred covenants with God in the temple to follow the Savior. I’ve built my entire life on those covenants, and I fully intend to keep them now.” He had spent his entire life preparing to serve wherever he was called, so, when the call came, he did not hesitate to put everything else in his life aside to serve the Lord.  
It is the daily preparation of scripture study, prayer, seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and choosing the right that arm us for the challenges of each day, and prepare us for every call to serve.  Preparation is as necessary for me now as it has ever been.   

I think that the person in the scriptures who I relate most closely with lately is Jonah.  If you remember Jonah, he was in a situation a little bit like Elder Pearson.  He received a call to go on a mission.  However, Jonah had not adequately prepared himself to accept his holy calling, and, instead, attempted to run away from his responsibility.  It took a very dramatic experience to remind him of his duty.  In the end, Jonah remembered his covenants. Jonah 2: 7,9: “When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee, into thine holy temple.  But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord.”
Jonah had to learn that we prepare continually, not to make the trail less steep, or to make the mountain less high, but to have the strength and the tools to help us continue to our journey’s end.  

The guide and the map: Staying close to the savior
As I observed my kids on their mountain hike, I noticed something interesting.  At the beginning of the hike they were very excited about reading signs and comparing their steps to their progress on the map.  At the end of the journey, they were tempted to wander down any old trail, frequently saying, “Maybe this is a shortcut!” before I called their attention back to the map, which showed that we were already on the most direct route home.  I think this is a pitfall we face in our lives as well.  Enduring to the end can sometimes seem to be weary work.  I have had close friends and family members deviate from the true course to happiness, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ, because they were looking for a shortcut, or an easier way.  There is a simple way to avoid deviating from the correct path: hold tightly to your map by consulting the scriptures often, and stay close to your guide. I was an imperfect guide for my children, since I had never been on this path before.  Fortunately for all of us, we have a perfect guide in Jesus Christ.
A sister in our ward once said, as a comment in a Sunday school lesson, “While He does love us where we are, we miss out on so much if we don’t walk with Him.” I might also add that the path becomes more difficult and dangerous when we try to follow blind guides.  
In last April’s General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson gave a talk entitled “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives.”  In that talk, he counseled members of the church, and people everywhere, to study the life and teachings of Jesus Christ in an effort to know Him, and appreciate His mission on the earth.  
He said, “The more we know about the Savior’s ministry and mission—the more we understand His doctrine and what He did for us—the more we know that He can provide the power that we need for our lives.”    
In an effort to heed this inspired counsel, our family has been working on memorizing “The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.”  One of the great blessings of my life is the opportunity to rediscover the gospel through the eyes of my children.  When Eloise, who is six, had an assignment to give a talk on baptism in primary, she was excited to remember a line that she had memorized that related to the assigned topic, and to incorporate it into her talk.  Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is relevant to every topic of the gospel, and every aspect of our lives.  Elder Nelson went on to say:
“As we invest time in learning about the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, we are drawn to participate in another key element to accessing His power: we choose to have faith in Him and follow Him.  True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world. They are undaunted, devoted, and courageous.”
As we work to follow Jesus Christ and develop his attributes, we will be filled with charity, or the pure love of Christ. 1 Cor. 13:1-3 “Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” Developing charity is gaining the ability to see others as our Savior sees them, and to feel His love at all times, and for all people.  As we practice looking through the lens of charity, we learn to be more like Christ.  As we learn to be more like Him, we prepare ourselves to return to Him, and to become as He is.    
1 John 3:2  "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is."
My personal challenge is always seeing my children through eyes of charity.  In my heart I know that they are beloved children of our Heavenly Father, but when they have to be taught the same lesson again and again and again, or someone is having their fourth meltdown of the day, or I am being ignored, or I am washing ink off of walls, the house looks like it exploded, we are late for an appointment, someone is screaming because they can only find one shoe, and THEN a two year old decides to help himself to a cup of milk, dumping an entire gallon of milk across the kitchen floor in the process, my inclination is to react with frustration, impatience, and anger.  Some days I feel like I am the caretaker of a pack of rabid wolves, and my inclination is simply to flee.  I am acutely aware of my personal limitations.  In parenting, I reach most of them every single day.  It is easy to justify my frustration and annoyance as reasonable responses to a housefull of irrational creatures.  How hard it must be for Heavenly Father to be perfectly just and merciful when he is continually being petitioned or even ignored by a world full of irrational, self absorbed creatures.  I know that my work as a parent puts me in a partnership with Jesus Christ, and increases my responsibility to develop His attributes and be His ambassador.   
In October 2015, Elder Dale G. Renlund gave his first talk as an apostle on the topic of charity.  He said, “I now realize that in the Church, to effectively serve others we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes. Only then can we begin to comprehend the true worth of a soul. Only then can we sense the love that Heavenly Father has for all of His children. Only then can we sense the Savior’s caring concern for them. We cannot completely fulfill our covenant obligation to mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort unless we see them through God’s eyes.”
As we direct our lives nearer to our perfect guide, we become more like Him. We feel the influence of the Holy Ghost testifying of Him and teaching us His ways.  Our path becomes safer, clearer, and brighter as we draw nearer to the Savior.  

Sometimes the journey seems very long.  I don’t know if my children knew what they were asking for when they asked to go on an all day hike.  They may have been anticipating hills, but without experiencing hills like these before, they did not know how tired their legs would feel, or how discouraged they might become.  They didn’t know how heavy their small packs would feel on their shoulders, or how much they would hope for the sight of the final bridge that they knew we had to cross before we could truly rest.  They didn’t know that their resting moments along the trail would be plagued by mosquitoes, or how much one discouraged, tired child could dishearten the entire group.   We do not know what lies ahead of us in mortality in terms of challenges, struggles, obstacles, crises of faith, and pitfalls.  This is endlessly frustrating to me.  I like to be able to brace myself for difficulties, or prepare for opportunities. I want to have all of my questions answered all at once, but this is not Heavenly Father’s way.  We put on the preparation of the gospel of peace, arm ourselves with meaningful prayer, scripture study, temple attendance, Sabbath worship, service, and right choices, and we will be prepared.  2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”  
I love the words to the hymn “Lead Kindly Light.”  As I struggle with my fears and weak faith, I often hear these words in my head:  

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;

Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!
I feel very blessed to remember President Gordon B. Hinckley when he was the president of the church.  He always radiated love and joy.  President Hinckley said, in his matter of fact way,  “Love the work.  Don’t do it grudgingly.  Smile about it. Be happy in doing your duty.  Shape up and say your prayers.  Everything will be all right.”

We may not know what trials and difficulties lie ahead, but we also don’t know what gifts and blessings are before us.  We don’t know how strong we are until our strength is tested.  
Seven year old Jared may not have realized before our hike how much power he has to cheer up the entire family by playing a game of “pick up rocks” to take a tired two year old Sammy’s mind off the trail.  He learned to make the long path seem shorter by focusing on lifting the burdens of his little siblings.  Eloise was always the first one ready to shoulder her pack and get back on the trail after a break.  She stayed at the rear of the group, shepherding her brothers before her, and making sure no one fell behind.  B kept the silly jokes coming, even when he looked like he would fall asleep walking (which he pretended to do more than once to make the rest of us laugh).  Sammy, although he was incapable of actually walking all of the distance, found a second wind after a short ride on my back over the steepest sections of trail, and sprinted ahead of the group for the last a mile and a half, slipping dozens of times on the loose gravel, but always yelling, “I’m okay! Come on, guys!” as he bounded back to his feet.   As long as we do our daily acts of preparation,  keep our eyes on our unfailing guide, focus outward on the needs of others, and do it joyfully, as President Hinckley said, “Everything will be all right.”  
Doctrine and Covenants 121:8 promises: “And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”

With the companionship of the Holy Ghost, we can endure life well, close to our Savior, and becoming like Him.  The road does not become shorter, less rocky, or less perilous.  We may not see much of what lies ahead for us, but we will know where to look for guidance and safety, and Jesus Christ will never let us down.  

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