Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Choosing Hope

Talk given in Sacrament Meeting in Anaconda 9/23/12

We weren’t assigned a particular topic when we were asked to speak, which usually frustrates me because it can feel like having to settle on a topic doubles the workload, but this time an idea came to me quickly, and after listening to the talk last week about being of good cheer in a world of troubles, and the Sunday School lesson on the difficulties faced by both the Nephites and Lamanites during the time of Gadianton and his gangs, and watching the course of world events the last few weeks, I felt that my topic had been confirmed.  That topic is choosing hope.

Even if we should know better, I think that too often, too many of us behave as though hope is some external force over which we have little control. Either its there or its not, but that has little to do with us.  In truth, being hopeful—much like being faithful or being charitable—is a choice that we make.  The world will go through periods or great wickedness, our individual lives will go through times of terrible trial and tribulation, but because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His Gospel, there is always hope.  We need only to seek it out.   Corrie tenBoom, a victim of WWII concentration camps, once said, “When a train goes into a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off.  You sit still and trust the engineer.”

With that thought in mind, I’d like to address three primary types of circumstances that can be an obstacle to choosing hope.  The first is personal trials and the wickedness and instability of the world around us.  The past few weeks, any time you open an internet browser or turn on a TV, it is nearly impossible to avoid images of US embassies under attack, and angry people rioting in the streets, as innocent people are injured and killed.  It is easy to find all around the world examples of wicked people oppressing their brothers and sisters for the sake of their own vanity or power—just as Lucifer did--and there is no shortage of those who revile against good and persecute those who strive to live and share truth.

It often seems like the world is getting worse, and in fact that may be the case. In the scriptures, we find that the prophets saw that in the last dispensation things get uglier and more evil pretty steadily until the end.  We read of wars and rumors of wars, which we see today everywhere.  We read of famines and pestilences, and we see photos of starving and diseased children.  We read of secret combinations and corruption in high places, and one need only spend about 10 minutes on the internet to find all sorts of rumors and theories about such wickedness all over the world.  It would be easy to see all this and conclude that there is no hope for the future. 

But in the Book of Mormon, we read about similar times.  There were secret combinations which committed murders openly, stirred the people up to war against each other; there were many who persecuted the righteous and would not hear the truth.  But there were also those who spoke up and declared the word of God with passion and conviction—those were they who had faith to hope.  They knew that all this worldly misery culminated, just as it will in our dispensation, with the coming of the Lord.  If we can look forward with hope, we remember that the world will be cleansed, that no good act and no testimony are ever wasted and we will see the Savior with our own eyes.  Satan will be bound, and all things that torment us will be washed away. 

In the meantime, we act on hope by being obedient to the prophet so that we are prepared—we get our food storage and our 72 hour kits ready so that we are not afraid of the things we can’t control, and we get out of and stay out of debt so that we have the means to prepare, and so that others, who may not have our best interest at heart, do not have control over our lives.  And most importantly, we build hope through charity, the pure love of Christ.  To be kind, to be thoughtful, to be generous and self-sacrificing, is to build hope for ourselves and for others.  We both demonstrate and increase hope by focusing not on the bad we cannot control, but on the good that we can do.  As we do good, we will also be more readily able to recognize good in those around us, thus increasing our hope.  For all its wickedness, the world is still full of good and decent people.  We cannot let them be lost in the tumult and chaos of worldly trouble because we lack the hope and faith to speak up for the truth.  One of the best evidences of hope is a missionary spirit.

Charity is also the best antidote to the despair that can sneak up on us in times of personal trial.  Whether its illness, financial trouble, the loss of a loved one and the grief that follows, physical challenges, or any of the hosts of other trials that find us in life, sometimes our burdens simply seem too heavy, and unending.  If we are focused on serving others, and helping to shoulder their load, somehow ours feels lighter.  That’s because when two hearts come together in genuine charity, the Savior is there in their midst, carrying the burdens of all.  Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  When the Savior went through the ultimate trial of the Atonement, bearing our burdens, suffering alone in Gesthamane when all of his closest friends had either betrayed him or fallen asleep,  Luke writes that “being in agony, he prayed more  earnestly . . .“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me”, he said.  The Savior knows better than anyone the weight of pain and sorrow, and what it feels like to want any other way out.  But he continued, “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”  He said this not in defeated resignation, but in hopeful obedience.  He said it with a trust in a loving Father that he knew was there, trusting that if he could press on through the pain with a love for his brethren, as his father had asked, that it would lead to brighter things ahead.  And its important for us to remember that his father, though requiring this sacrifice of his child, did not leave him comfortless: he sent an angel from heaven to strengthen him.  He has promised to do the same for us in our darkest hours of need.  And because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can always call upon one who has felt all things for comfort and guidance.  As he told his apostles, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you.”  When troubles and trials weigh you down, follow Elder Holland’s counsel: “Don’t give up.  Don’t you quit.  You keep walking.  You keep trying.  There is help and happiness ahead. . .You keep your chin up.  It will be alright in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”  In other words, be hopeful.

One of the most significant challenges to choosing hope in mortality are the “prodigal sons” in our lives—whether it is a wandering child, a wayward sibling, a faltering parent or some other loved one that has wandered far from the fold of God.  We see the darkened nature of their countenances, the lost look in their eyes, see their deafness to the Spirit and feel that there is little hope of reclaiming them.  But no matter how far beyond our reach they may seem, they are not beyond the reach of the Lord.  He has ways of touching the hardest of hearts that we can never guess at in advance.  Often he is conspiring for the good of these wandering children—His children—in ways that we cannot yet see.  We must show our faith by continuing to hope for them, and we do that by praying for them, fasting for them and serving them. 

We must strive to not allow ourselves to manifest our anxiety over their welfare as anger.  It is difficult for the most spiritually attuned among us to feel that someone loves us when they are angry—how much more important must it be then, to make sure our love is clearly manifest to the hard-hearted or spiritually weakened?  We are sometimes required to speak boldly, but anger and boldness are not the same thing.  As Paul told the Romans, “through patience and the comfort of the scriptures, [we] might have hope”.  We ought to go to the scriptures often to be reminded of the depth of Lord’s mercy—to read of the Plan of Salvation and remember how many opportunities the Lord extends to us for repentance, and how powerful and encompassing His Atonement is.  No matter how egregious the sins, no matter how deep the hole that that wandering soul has dug, unless the Lord himself declares them beyond reach, we have the duty to choose hope for them.  In the scriptures, we have the marvelous example of Nephi, who responded to his wayward, and often mendacious, brothers with patience, forgiveness, and service.  He shows us clearly how we ought to deal with the wayward souls in our lives, even if they are less than kind to us in return.

And lastly I’d like to address the biggest obstacle of all to hope: our own failings and sins, which separate us from the light and love of Christ.  It is all too easy to make bad choices.  Hope and joy are eternal and constant, they never go away, we simply lose sight of them.  Those mists of darkness start pressing down on us and we let first one hand and then the other slip off the iron rod.  Before we know it, and not entirely sure how it happened, we find ourselves wandering off in strange paths, groping desperately in the dark, unable to see the rod and starting to doubt its even there anymore--starting to think that perhaps the memories of ever grasping it are an illusion, becoming more and more certain that we can never find our way back, if there's even a "back" to find our way to.   And sometimes we can't do it on our own.  We've wandered too far away to reach the rod ourselves, too far out of sight to find it on our own.  So He sends us help, someone to be His arms.  Ones who love us, ones who may be terribly flawed themselves, perhaps sometimes impatient or inexperienced, or just not who or what we’d prefer, but  ones whose hands still firmly grasp the rod.  They stretch out a hand to take us and help guide us back, to witness to us that the rod, with all its hope and joy, is still there,  and to hold onto us until we are ready to grasp it again ourselves.  So we must take the hand that is offered to us, because a call to repentance is an act of love.  Men are that they might have joy.  We cannot have joy if we don’t have hope.  In times when you feel the road of repentance is too hard to walk, remember these words from Elder Holland:  “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made, or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love.  It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite love of Christ’s Atonement shines.” 

Because of the Savior’s love for us, there is always hope for each of us and each of those that we love.  Moroni asked, “And what is it that ye shall hope for?  Behold, I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the Atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.  Wherefore, if a man have faith he must needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.”  Faith feeds hope and hope feeds faith.

One of my very favorite scripture in in the 6th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord instructs: “Fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. . .Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.”  No matter what we face in this world, we have the strength and protection of the King of Heaven and Earth.  We can have hope in all things, because we know, for all the chaos and evil in the world, which is the winning team.  As long as we strive to be faithful and obedient to the Lord and the covenants we have made with him, we will come off conquerors through Christ who loves us.  If we endure it well, he will exalt us on high.  What better reason for hope could there possibly be than that?

The Lord bore the weight of our sins and felt the pains of our bodies and spirits so that he could comfort us temporally and save and exalt us eternally.  In knowing that, we ought to be able, as Nephi said, to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men”.  Hope is born of divine love.  We don’t need to be among those whose hearts will fail them in the last days, because the Lord has told us, “Be of a good courage and I will strengthen your hearts, all ye that hope in the Lord.”

I bear you my testimony that the Lord’s love for us is deep and unconditional, and his Atonement and attendant mercy are of greater depth than we can understand.  I don’t know how the Lord did what he did, but I do know that because He did what he did, I can always look forward with hope, look forward to those little rays of light  from day to day growing brighter and brighter until that perfect day when everything is illuminated and I am able to look upon his face and hear his voice.

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