His Grace is Sufficient
For the past four years as a storyteller finding my way, I've kept my storytelling side and my own spiritual side separate, afraid of what might happen if they mingle. But, I'm realizing that if I try to separate who I am from the stories I tell, then the stories I tell won't matter. I am my stories. So, I wanted to take this space to share some thoughts I've had the opportunity to gather together and line up this week, when I was asked to take some time and speak to my congregation yesterday. It was a blessing to put it together, and I feel like it is a blessing that might help others. So, I pass it on here. (Get comfy. . . )
Last summer Daman and I had the opportunity to work with the Adventure for Youth program through BYU. We spent two weeks in toasty Moab and it was incredible. We went white water rafting, mountain biking, rock climbing, rappelling, and canyoneering. We led the youth in devotionals and helped them make connections between these adventures and the eternal truths of the gospel: obedience on the rapids and trust on the rapelling rock. I tried things that terrified me and Daman impressed all the teenage boys by doing most things better than they could. I’d never been to Moab before and I was stunned by its beauty. We camped about 45 minutes outside of town, in the middle of red rock nowhere, at the base of these stunning cliffs, swept by the wind. We had a small city of tents set up for us and all the participants and over the weekend between the two sessions a wind storm blew into our campsite and did some rearranging. Tents were all over the place, mangled and torn and far from where they were supposed to be. As I experienced that wind, it gave me new appreciation for the evolution of those rocks, shaped by that very same wind. I looked at those rocks and realized that, in some tiny but definite way, they had just changed. They were different. And they were going to keep changing.
One of the places we visited in Moab was Twin Bridges. It is like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, a breathtaking display of naturally formed arches and bridges. As I looked over the expanse of beauty I had the thought that the valley I was enjoying looked nothing like it did when God designed it. It didn’t have swirls or tunnels or bridges. It hadn’t been blown into the stunning arches. When God created those rocks, they were nowhere near what they would become. And yet, we know that when He created them, He looked at them and declared them “good.” He knew they were far from what they could be, what they would be, but he was happy with them. He loved them. He loved them where they were, as they were, knowing that they weren’t going to stay there. And I realized, that if God could love rocks like that, then surely He could love me like that.
What does that love look like? What does it mean to love something where it is, even if it is so far from where you know it can be, where it might be, where it will be? I believe that love looks like the first time you hold your newborn baby. You don’t love them because of anything they’ve done, accomplished, or created. They are completely helpless, perhaps a little wrinkled and funny looking, and certainly not offering you much of anything in terms of affection or conversation. You love them at that moment, utterly and completely, because they are yours. We sometimes drift a little from that pure love as we grow and develop, but God never does. We are always, to Him, that newborn baby--mostly helpless, perhaps a little wrinkly or misshapen, distant, aloof, rebellious at times, and yet He holds us, loving us, because we are utterly and completely His. We always have been and we always will be. And that love lets him see us as we are and love us, even as we are so far from where He knows we can be. It is miraculous. It is His Grace. If we let it, that Grace will change us.
Perhaps the greatest manifestation of that Grace is the gift of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Elder Dieter Uchtdorf spoke of this great gift, “I have tried to understand the Savior’s Atonement with my finite mind, and the only explanation I can come up with is this: God loves us deeply, perfectly, and everlastingly. I cannot even begin to estimate “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height … [of] the love of Christ.”7
A powerful expression of that love is what the scriptures often call the grace of God—the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings of “truth and light, until [we are] glorified in truth and [know] all things.”
Grace is about change. But, I believe we sometimes get caught up in an overwhelming desire to change, improve, and measure up, that we don’t love where we are as we change. I think if we can love ourselves where we are, knowing we won’t be staying there, then we have found Grace.
Let’s return to that newborn baby. You adore them. They are perfect. Daman and I just sat around and watched Isaac for hours when he was born. Every little spastic wave of the arm and grunt was adorable. We don’t do that as much anymore. That would be weird. But, it was just so amazing to be parents, to love something that deeply that really offered you nothing in return. But babies grow up, they start to learn, grow, and explore. Eventually, they want to copy what you do. They want to get up and walk around. And they fall down, over and over and over again.
What do we do there? Do we laugh at them, maybe a little, but only because it is adorable and funny. Do we punish them? Do we mock them? Do we point at our five year old child and say, “Look at them, look at how well they are walking! What is wrong with you?” Do we tell them to just give up and give our attention to something that is a little more worthwhile? No. We stand there with open arms, day after day, inviting them to try again. We believe in them., because we know that falling is simply a part of the process of walking. So, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
I look at my stumbles and see failure. God looks at my stumbles and sees progress. I look at my weaknesses and see impossibility. God looks at them and sees nothing but possibility. I like the way God looks at things. I want to look at things through His eyes more. I believe that Grace isn’t just a gift that God gives us, it is a gift He hopes we can give ourselves. As Elder Uchtdorf captured, “It is a most wondrous thing, this grace of God. Yet it is often misunderstood.” So, let’s try to understand it.
Elder Uchtdorf talks of two ways the Grace of God saves us. It “unlocks the gates of heaven” and “open the windows of heaven.” We often, I believe, feel like the heavens are closed to us, both right now in revelation and someday when we will try to get in. We feel like we don’t measure up in this life so how can we hope for entry into the glory we desire in the next. We are like a baby, looking at the five year old, certain that we will never be able to walk like that. But God, He isn’t looking at the five year old, He has His eyes and His Grace on me. The five year old, they are looking at the ten year old thinking, “I will never be able to catch a ball like that.” But God isn’t looking at the ten year old, He’s playing catch with the five year old that keeps dropping the ball. And He loves Him. We compare. God doesn’t. His Grace is sufficient for me and I am the only one on the path to my salvation.
I enjoy using my phone for my scripture study. It marks my journey through the scriptures. One verse might have three different dates on it, and it is fascinating to me to read what different verses have meant to me at different moments in my life. The scriptures stay the same, but we are always changing. I also enjoy tagging the scriptures with topics that are meaningful to me, creating my own personal Topical Guide, if you will. I have 70 scriptures tagged with the label, “Grace.” The only tag that has more scriptures pinned to it is “Parenting.” Clearly, the two go hand in hand! I would like to share with you some of what I have learned about Grace from the scriptures.
1 Nephi 10:6 teaches us: “Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer.” We, all of us, are lost. We are all trying to learn to walk. We are all helpless without the strong arms of a Heavenly Father to lift us up and set us right. Anything good we create in our lives comes from the “enabling power of Jesus Christ.”
That “enabling power of Jesus Christ” is what lifts us from what we can do on our own, which isn’t much, to what God knows we can do together---which is everything, including exaltation. But, we simply are unable to do that on our own. Elder James Talmage wrote in Jesus the Christ, “The mortal probation is provided as an opportunity for advancement; but so great are the difficulties and the dangers, so strong is the influence of evil in the world, and so weak is man in resistance thereto, that without the aid of a power above that of humanity no soul would find its way back to God from whom it came. The need of a Redeemer lies in the inability of man to raise himself from the temporal to the spiritual plane, from the lower kingdom to the higher.”
Our family loves The National Geographic Channel. Nature is fascinating. We watched one episode about survival in the savannah. There was a herd of gazelle and a new baby had just been born. The mama gazelle tried to clean it off as quickly as possible so the nearby cheetahs wouldn’t smell it, but she wasn’t fast enough. The cheetahs came in for the hunt. The mom knew that if she stayed by the baby, the cheetah would know exactly where it was and it would be lost. So, she had to walk away from the gazelle to graze and hope the cheetah wouldn’t find the baby. Cheetahs hunt by sight more than smell, so they were stalking, waiting for the baby to move. Somehow, the baby knew it had to stay completely and absolutely still. It knew not to call out or move. We were all watching, breathlessly, terrified for this little gazelle, telling the cheetah, “Just move on! Give up! There is no baby gazelle here!” The cheetah didn’t hear us. Flies were swarming the new baby and yet it just sat there, immobile, doing exactly what it needed to survive. The cheetahs prowled closer and closer. It was a very tense moment. But, suddenly, something else stirred, and the cheetahs were off. We all cheered as the mama gazelle was able to return to her baby and get her on her feet. And we marveled that the baby just knew what to do. That would never work with humans. Human babies, as any of us that have ever sat with a human baby in Sacrament meeting or any other space where we need them to be quiet, have no natural sense of survival. Baby giraffes stand up immediately after being born and start following their mothers. They have to in order to survive. Human babies are completely defenseless. If we are at the top of the food chain, I wonder why God created us to be such a helpless species at birth. It is, I believe, to teach us about Grace. The animal kingdom doesn’t need God’s Grace for exaltation, we do. And perhaps, in caring for each other, we can see how Grace works.
If we can see a child struggling to get the spoon to her mouth and love her and cheer her on in the messy process, then we can begin to understand how God does the same for us. If we can watch a little boy, determined to be independent, put on all clothes backward and place the shoes on the wrong feet and smile as we take a picture before helping him switch shoes to avoid pain, then we can begin to grasp how God does the same for us. We are all floundering. We fall, we stumble, we have terrible aim, and we get things all out of order and mixed up. That is simply humanity. But, if we are trying to feast on the word of God, we are moving in the right direction. And if we are trying to put on the armor of God, however clumsily, then God does not abandon us, He simply straightens our shield and tells us to put our shoes on the right feet and try again. If He, being perfect, can show that Grace to us, can we show it to ourselves and to each other? Instead of calling ourselves failures in frustration, can we declare, “O how great the goodness of God, who prepareth a way for (my) escape. . . O how great the plan of our God! . . O the greatness of the mercy of our God!”(2 Nephi 9) When we feel discouraged because where we are feels so very far from where we want to be, can we think of the rocks and trust that the wind isn’t finished shaping them and God isn’t finished shaping us, and He is at peace with that? Eternity is a very long time, and I believe God is with us for the long game. Often, when I feel discouraged with my own progression I remember those canyons in Moab and I think to myself, “Those rocks aren’t really finished yet. And neither am I.”
Last night we were able to spend an evening with Elder Bednar. It was a broadcast for seminary teachers, but it felt like he was in the room with us. He spoke candidly about the process of revelation and led a discussion with seminary and institute teachers in the room with him. It was edifying and powerful. One of the observations he made was the sadness he felt in meeting thousands of members of the church around the world that are worried they will never be good enough, that they just won’t make it. He mentioned a sister that came up to him, saying that she was trying to do everything right, but just wasn’t having the powerful experiences she saw others having, what was wrong with her? His answer, “You are normal. That is normal.” He repeated that phrase a few more times, “You are normal. This is normal.” It is normal to struggle. It is normal to doubt. It is normal to have slow and steady growth, not monumental soul shifting experiences. It is normal to sin and it is blessedly normal to repent. Can’t we imagine ourselves saying that to a toddler, “It’s normal! It’s normal to fall. It’s normal! Don’t give up!” Can we say that to ourselves?
In the aftermath of the destruction in the American continent when Christ was crucified in Jerusalem, there was light. Christ came. He healed, he taught, he established the church. Then he left. But there were still broken roads and ruined buildings. There was work to be done, “And the Lord did prosper them exceedingly in the land; yea, insomuch that they did build cities again where there had been cities burned.” That is what Christ does. He gives us strength to build again, even if we were the ones that tore it down in the first place. That is Grace. That is the power of Jesus Christ.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good.” We are good, not because of what we will become someday, but because of what we are now. We are good because we are God’s. We are flawed, falling, stumbling, and afraid. And we are normal. God’s grace is sufficient for us. We are sufficient for Him. “For us the blood of Christ was shed; For us on Calvary's cross he bled,And thus dispelled the awful gloom, That else were this creation's doom.” (“While of the Emblems We Partake”) The gap between us is large and we have a very long way to go, but He simply asks that we keep going and if we fall, we fall forward. I am grateful for the Grace that my Heavenly Father extends to me and I am grateful that He is helping me learn how to extend it to myself as the winds blow and I become what He knows I can become.