(From a talk I gave January 12, 2014 in Miami Beach YSA)
For many years, I’ve played this game with friends who speak in sacrament. Basically, you give the person five words that they have to incorporate into their talk. For me, it helps to alleviate boredom, drive creativity and honestly, sometimes its just fun to watch your friends squirm as they have to use words like “fornication” or “Justin Bieber” over the pulpit. But today, I’ve learned a valuable lesson because Cristy has completely outdone herself with the words she selected for me.
I apologize in advance.
Malcolm asked me to speak today about goals. But I don’t want to talk about my goals of having a six-pack, or traveling to Qatar, or giving a very special someone in the branch a hickey. I don’t want do that, both because all of things are fairly unlikely and also because as I look back at the many goals I have set for myself throughout my life, I realize that more often than not, I’ve set the wrong goals. As much as goal setting is about self-betterment, I think often it also has the tendency to make us more self-centered.
Instead today, I want to talk about the goal our Heavenly Father has for each of us. He tells Moses, “… this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39). The fact that God thinks that out of me, He can create something like Himself is in many ways a more ambitious and outrageous goal than my dreams of dating Ricky Martin.
The distance between Goshen and Jericho, the path of Israel’s great exodus was only about 250 miles—just a little longer than the drive from Miami to Orlando. And yet it took the Children of Israel over 40 years. To me, the distance between who I am and who God is seems much further. Luckily for each of us, it doesn’t matter how far away we are, or where our path has taken us to this point. He is willing to help us. This isn’t a casual commitment for him, its more than a fiduciary duty or contractual obligation—it is quite simply, but very beautifully, His work and His glory.
He sits with us, eats with us, washes our feet, leads us across waters and deserts. He stays near us when we hate Him, when He can’t quite convince us that we don’t want our sins anyway. When we fall down, and even when we turn back. His plans for us don’t change. His goal for us — Eternal Life — is consistent. He has a plan B, and a plan C and a plan D for us. And lovingly watches us fail and fail and fail until we finally succeed.
Our Heavenly Father views us as beings of infinite worth, capable of becoming as He is — despite all evidence to the contrary. In an uneducated 14-year old boy, He saw the great Restorer. In fisherman and publicans, he saw the leaders of his kingdom on earth. In a young man with a stutter, he saw a Prince of Egypt. He saw that in them, despite our own shortcomings, what do you think he sees in you and in me?
When the plan was presented to us in Heaven — this plan of coming to earth to be tried and tested and to become more like God, Job recounts that we “shouted for joy”. We were actually excited about the opportunities and prospects here. I used to think that we were very naive — that we didn’t or couldn’t appreciate how difficult this life would be. But I’m not so sure about that. We knew both our Father and even ourselves better than we do now. The perspectives of our own potential, as well as his dedication to us, His children, reassured us enough to take this big step.
We’ve lost that perspective now and sometimes here it is difficult to see that ultimate goal past our temptations and weaknesses. We lose not only faith in who God is, but in who we are.
God, in his love, has given us many things that help us to regain our perspective and keep in mind the goal He has for us. Three things that I want to highlight are scriptures, prayer and each other.
Scriptures. The scriptures are full of imperfect people, just like us, that are led by God and changed. The scriptures are not the stories of great men, but the stories of how men become great. They deepen our faith that God knows what He is doing when He asks us to build a boat, or give up our last two mites, or come to a building in Hialeah with a host of unique smells.
Prayer. Through prayer, we have the opportunity to talk with our Heavenly Father and receive quiet assurances of His love and our own infinite worth. Prayer is difficult for me. I’m afraid of the absolute silence that often is the only response I receive. I’m also afraid that God will ask me, as He often does, to do something that takes me out of my comfort zone, or requires my time or a talent I don’t even have. But I’m coming to realize, that despite its risks, prayer is essential.
Each other. We have more opportunities than we can take advantage of in this life, to become more like our Savior and to serve His children. We have the opportunity to build a community here of “Saints”. To surround ourselves with people who believe in, and support us. A few years ago, I decided to run the New York marathon. I got off my coccyx, and trained for about nine months. The whole run through the five boroughs of the City is quite the experience and a fairly flat run, but at about mile 16, when you’re crossing the Queensboro Bridge from Queens into Manhattan, the bridge becomes rather steep. Just at that point, when you’re still about 1/4 of mile away, you can hear this roar of folks cheering for you and when you arrive in Manhattan, the crowds are about six rows deep. There are people from all walks of life, drag queens and nuns and homeless people and Hassidic Jews and thugs, cheering you on. And maybe for awhile, you had stopped believing in yourself and you lost sight of the ultimate goal. But there are people, complete strangers it would seem, that believe in you and encourage you on.
Life is long, and it is hard, and it is lonely. The “tree of life” is often clouded with mists of darkness. Sometimes God seems far away. Sometimes we’re asked to take a step into the dark, waiting for the light, and then to step forward again into yet more darkness. Often, he leads us to places that we do not to go: lonely paths through Gethsamane and to Golgotha.
But God knows what he is doing. And in his great love, he has given us each other.
I hope we find ways to regain our perspective, to trust God, to cheer each other on. “…that (we) may become the sons and daughters of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” is my hope and prayer for each of us. And I leave that with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.