With apologies to Elder Neal A. Maxwell for daring to modify and enlarge something he once said, I too suggest that “one’s life … cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free.” It simply will not work “to glide naively through life,” saying as we sip another glass of lemonade, “Lord, give me all thy choicest virtues, but be certain not to give me grief, nor sorrow, nor pain, nor opposition. Please do not let anyone dislike me or betray me, and above all, do not ever let me feel forsaken by Thee or those I love. In fact, Lord, be careful to keep me from all the experiences that made Thee divine. And then, when the rough sledding by everyone else is over, please let me come and dwell with Thee, where I can boast about how similar our strengths and our characters are as I float along on my cloud of comfortable Christianity.”12 My beloved brothers and sisters, Christianity is comforting, but it is often not comfortable. The path to holiness and happiness here and hereafter is a long and sometimes rocky one. It takes time and tenacity to walk it. But, of course, the reward for doing so is monumental. This truth is taught clearly and persuasively in the 32nd chapter of Alma in the Book of Mormon. There this great high priest teaches that if the word of God is planted in our hearts as a mere seed, and if we care enough to water, weed, nourish, and encourage it, it will in the future bear fruit “which is most precious, … sweet above all that is sweet,” the consuming of which leads to a condition of no more thirst and no more hunger.13 Many lessons are taught in this remarkable chapter, but central to them all is the axiom that the seed has to be nourished and we must wait for it to mature; we “[look] forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof.”14 Our harvest, Alma says, comes “by and by.”15 Little wonder that he concludes his remarkable instruction by repeating three times a call for diligence and patience in nurturing the word of God in our hearts, “waiting,” as he says, with “long-suffering … for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.”
Do we see the sacrament as our Passover, remembrance of out safety and deliverance and redemption? With so much at stake, this ordinance commemorating our escape from the angel of darkness should be taken more seriously than it sometimes is. It should be a powerful, reverent, reflective moment. It should encourage spiritual feelings and impressions.
What a thrilling time it is to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! When I think about recent developments in the Lord’s kingdom, it seems obvious that God is taking us on a soul-stirring journey with hills and vales and vistas so stunning we can scarcely imagine them until we climb a little higher and there they are before us… In the past year alone, we’ve bid farewell to a beloved prophet and lovingly sustained a new one. We’ve taken a new approach to Relief Society and Melchizedek Priesthood quorum meetings, with greater emphasis on counseling together to accomplish the Lord’s work. In that same spirit, we’ve seen the Lord bring high priests and elders together in one quorum and witnessed a seismic shift in the way priesthood holders and sisters minister to God’s children. If that’s not enough to take your breath away, consider the First Presidency’s recent announcement about new resources to support personal and family scripture study, with corresponding changes to Primary and Sunday School materials—to say nothing of ongoing advancements in the areas of missionary work, family history research, and temple work. And surely there is more to come.
So, I ask, “If so many of our 1820 hopes could begin to be fulfilled with a flash of divine light to a mere boy kneeling in a patch of trees in upstate New York, why should we not hope that righteous desires and Christlike yearnings can still be marvelously, miraculously answered by the God of all hope?” We all need to believe that what we desire in righteousness can someday, someway, somehow yet be ours.
Indeed, if we finally lose hope, we lose our last sustaining possession. It was over the very gate of hell that Dante wrote a warning to all those traveling through his Divina Commedia: “Abandon all hope,” he said, “ye who enter here.”16 Truly when hope is gone, what we have left is the flame of the inferno raging on every side.
In this bicentennial year, when we look back to see all we have been given and rejoice in the realization of so many hopes fulfilled, I echo the sentiment of a beautiful young returned sister missionary who said to us in Johannesburg just a few months ago, “[We] did not come this far only to come this far.”18
So while we work and wait together for the answers to some of our prayers, I offer you my apostolic promise that they are heard and they are answered, though perhaps not at the time or in the way we wanted. But they are always answered at the time and in the way an omniscient and eternally compassionate parent should answer them. My beloved brothers and sisters, please understand that He who never sleeps nor slumbers2 cares for the happiness and ultimate exaltation of His children above all else that a divine being has to do. He is pure love, gloriously personified, and Merciful Father is His name.
COVID and cancer, doubt and dismay, financial trouble and family trials. When will these burdens be lifted? The answer is “by and by.”17 And whether that be a short period or a long one is not always ours to say, but by the grace of God, the blessings will come to those who hold fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ. That issue was settled in a very private garden and on a very public hill in Jerusalem long ago.
“Well, if this is the case,” you might say, “shouldn’t His love and mercy simply part our personal Red Seas and allow us to walk through our troubles on dry ground? Shouldn’t He send 21st-century seagulls winging in from somewhere to gobble up all of our pesky 21st-century crickets?” The answer to such questions is “Yes, God can provide miracles instantaneously, but sooner or later we learn that the times and seasons of our mortal journey are His and His alone to direct.” He administers that calendar to every one of us individually. For every infirm man healed instantly as he waits to enter the Pool of Bethesda,3 someone else will spend 40 years in the desert waiting to enter the promised land.4 For every Nephi and Lehi divinely protected by an encircling flame of fire for their faith,5 we have an Abinadi burned at a stake of flaming fire for his.6 And we remember that the same Elijah who in an instant called down fire from heaven to bear witness against the priests of Baal7 is the same Elijah who endured a period when there was no rain for years and who, for a time, was fed only by the skimpy sustenance that could be carried in a raven’s claw.8 By my estimation, that can’t have been anything we would call a “happy meal.” The point? The point is that faith means trusting God in good times and bad, even if that includes some suffering until we see His arm revealed in our behalf.9 That can be difficult in our modern world when many have come to believe that the highest good in life is to avoid all suffering, that no one should ever anguish over anything.10 But that belief will never lead us to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
The Great Depression we now face has less to do with the external loss of our savings and more to do with the internal loss of our self-confidence, with real deficits of faith and hope and charity all around us. But the instruments we need to create a brighter day and grow an economy of genuine goodness in society are abundantly provided for in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford—and this world cannot afford—our failure to put these gospel concepts and fortifying covenants to full use personally and publicly.