In this life, each one of us is asked to attempt the impossible: to walk the lonely road to salvation as Christ did and to become perfect as He is. I look at that road, the ‘strait and narrow’ path ahead of me, and I certainly don’t see the tree that Lehi spoke of.
Nephi told us it would be this way though: that the path that leads to the love of God would be enveloped with mists of darkness, even “exceedingly great mists of darkness.” Often the only thing we can see is a rod of cold iron, inflexible and rigid. My heart tells me it leads to a place I am sure I do not want to go: it promises to lead to a tree with exceedingly beautiful fruit, but makes no pretense that I will not be led directly up to the altar on Moriah and deep into my own personal Gethsemane. It leads a lonely journey--often in complete darkness and silence. There are no angels to beckon nor a light to guide. And its not just other’s scoffing that tempts me to let go, but my own heart that tells me to take a different path.
As if the journey wouldn’t be difficult enough though, He asks even more outrageous things of us along the way: love those that despise you, turn the other cheek, be reconciled to thy brother, bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, give more than we can spare.
God truly intends for us to be tremendously different than we currently are. He asks so much of us (more than we can possibly give) because, as David O. McKay taught, the richest rewards come only to the strenuous strugglers: to each of us who are us asked to do so much that we have no option but to fail, and fail, and fail until we finally succeed.
We are not alone in that failure. Its abundant in the scriptures. We often think of the scriptures as a roadmap to success--the history of heroes--but to us what seems so triumphant may have felt to them very different. Lehi sailed across an ocean, but in the end was able to save less than half his family. Abinadi had the courage to testify boldly in the court of a wicked king, but died without a single convert. Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery and across the Red Sea, but was not able to step foot in the promised land. Nor was Abraham. Israel, the chosen of the Lord, spent much of history conquered by their enemies. Isaiah, Micah and Nahum were able to speak the word of the Lord, but did so to a declining nation that rejected their words. Alma and Amulek converted many, only to see them burned for their faith. The Church Christ Himself set up crumbled within a century. Joseph Smith brought forth what was to become “the most correct of any book on earth” but only after losing 116 pages through disobedience. The pioneers who crossed the plains did so only after numerous failed attempts establishing their Zion.
Of course they didn’t fail though--and maybe we, too, are more successful than we think. Maybe the small steps we take toward Him, the small sacrifices we offer Him, the meager service we give His children are not as failed as we imagine but, like the widow’s mite accepted, not because they are enough, but because they are all we have to offer. Maybe our failures--like theirs of old--are actually triumphs in the eyes of the Lord. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes: “this Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty.”
Elder Zeballos reassures us that ‘God will not require more than the best we can give.” But in the same breath tells us that “He can not accept less than that because that would not be just.” Make no mistake: God will break our hearts, He will bend our knees, He will ask us to give more than we are prepared to, more than we want to and more than we should have to.
And why not? The Savior attempted the impossible in saving us: He gave His all when there was no assurance that it would be enough. Even a perfect atonement cannot save a single soul if they are too proud to accept it. He sacrificed everything and offers everything to us. To us who so easily “esteem it as naught”. I imagine, that just like us, He didn’t quite realize just how much Heavenly Father’s will demanded of Him. It was probably a lot harder than He expected. When He needed God the most, His Father turned away. C.S. Lewis writes that on the cross, Christ “found that the Being He called Father was horribly and infinitely different from what He had supposed.” His Atonement required a lifetime of obedience and an ultimate, final and complete sacrifice. Should we not too, at times, be called to suffer--alone and unbearably--with the doors of Heaven slammed before us?
Saving us individually is just as impossible a task. Each of us (or at least me!) is so quick to do evil, and slow to do good. The natural man within us is so rebellious, so ungrateful and so forgetful. We avoid suffering and pain at every cost and often His merciful hands that reach out to us, reach out in vain. And yet He is there--He has a plan B, and a plan C and plan D to save us.
Elder Zeballos teaches us, as Jesus Christ did through His perfect example and commandment to follow--to serve “with all our heart, with all our might, with all our mind, and with all our strength--that is to say, with all our being… That we will do the best we can in our roles as… children, brothers and sisters; in our callings; in sharing the gospel; in rescuing those who have drifted; in working for the salvation of our ancestors; in our work; and in our daily lives.”
I’m grateful--or rather, sometimes grateful-- for the impossible things that God has asked me to attempt. Even though I fail (even though I can’t even imagine what success would look like) in trying, I find myself becoming a lot more like Him than I would otherwise.
I bear my testimony of the Savior and of His commandments. Of a loving God who asks so much of us because there is a great need to become like Him. Many broken people need someone who can love as the Savior did, lift as He did, give as He gave. And the only way to become like that is to become as He is. “The Son of God suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” (George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, First Series) That our impossible tasks might make us like Him.
I’m grateful for what I have learned in this ward. My first day in Seattle, eight years ago, I got stung on the head by a bee, got lost on the Burke-Gillman and went to sleep hungry because I couldn’t find a place to eat dinner, but here I stand seven years later feeling like I am leaving Zion. In this building, I received both the new member discussions, my first calling and the Melchizedek priesthood. In Lander Hall just down the way, I got my first priesthood blessing. I have made countless friends here, who have at many times and in many different ways have shown me the love of God and acted, to me, as ‘Saviors on Mount Zion.’ In the last few years I have learned so much of who God is and what He expects of me.
I think the most important thing I have learned, and I’ve learned it in a very personal way is this:
... It is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up 'our own' when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is 'nothing better' now to be had.I know that God loves me, because even when I do not love or desire Him, He does not abandon me. I’m grateful He has always surrounded me by people who love me, and grateful for the love I received while in this ward. I trust that as each of us attempt the impossible, He will help us. May we honor Him and each other by doing the best that we possibly can.