Acting “As for Years”

Millennials can be nomads. Since I graduated high school, I have bounced around from activity to activity and location to location in increments ranging from six weeks to one year. Since 2014, I have worked in every time zone in the contiguous United States, and have had four different jobs. I’ve also changed wards, callings, and had many of my friends get married. In the midst of so many life changes, it can feel like uncertainty becomes the status quo. And when so much uncertainty is the status quo, it can be tempting to bide my time and wait until the next life change occurs to “really” start living my life.

For example, my third transfer of my mission was especially difficult for me. I was a relatively new missionary and was gung-ho about the work (admittedly, probably obnoxiously so). My companion and I had very different personalities, and prior to being paired with me he had been dealt a string of rough companions who hadn’t been particularly interested in missionary work. In addition, he had been struggling with some back problems that made tracting and other missionary activities more difficult.

At the time, I was frustrated with the situation, and with how much time I had spent not doing missionary work the way I thought it should be done. (I cataloged our whole area book by geographic area during one week). After about two weeks, I started to have thoughts creep in: “just hold out for another four weeks… you have been moved every transfer so far, and you’ll probably get transferred again.” After a couple days of this really negative thinking, I started to wonder, “what if I am stuck in this area for a long time? Maybe I’ll be with this companion for six months… or longer!” As I began to have all of these feelings, I came across a scripture that really struck me. It describes God’s counsel to early Mormons who had been driven from city to city, and across states. I’m sure many of them thought, “why should I build a house or till the field?…I’m probably going to be driven out soon anyway.” The scripture states,  

16 And I consecrate unto them this land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence;

17 And the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good. (D&C 51:16-17)

After reading that scripture, I realized that my attitude needed to change. I decided to treat the area and my companion as if I would be there for a long time. As I did that, my heart softened, and I was more compassionate and understanding of the challenges my companion was going through. As I saw my companion, and the area, through new eyes, I began to be a better friend to him, and I also tried to think of different ways my companion and I could improve the long-term trajectory of the work in that area. Consequently, the work in that area began to pick up, and we started teaching more people, and even had a miracle baptism right before I got transferred (which happened to be at the end of the transfer).

Similar thoughts can plague all aspects of our lives, whether it be jobs, classes, relationships, wards, spirituality, etc. It can be easy to ignore the many opportunities our circumstances in life can afford us if we are too busy assuming that we will not be “there” long enough to make a difference. I have wondered how my actions and perspective would have changed in some circumstances if I had more fully acted upon my endeavor “as for years.” Dennis Gaunt wrote, “When we ‘act upon this land as for years,’ we begin to recognize opportunities we may not have seen before. We may also see that some of these opportunities may never come our way again. Then we think, ‘As long as I’m here, I’m going to get involved, do the best I can, and choose to be happy. I’ll continue to hope for the future, but in the meantime, let me do some good here.’ It’s the difference between treading water and actually swimming.”

Dennis points out that “acting upon the land as for years” does not mean we cannot hope for a brighter future, and it doesn’t mean we do not work to improve our station in life. We can take a long-term view while still deciding to end a relationship, or to get a new job, or to move to a new city. Nonetheless, while we are in that relationship, job, city, etc. we should do everything we can to cultivate actions that would produce sustainable contentment, and to leave the situation better than we found it.

I conclude by sharing this analogy from Whitney L. Clayton:

A few years ago I saw an example of this principle in nature. We have a large pot filled with flowers on the walkway leading to our front door. The pot sits under a scrub oak tree. One fall a few acorns fell from the scrub oak tree into the pot. The next year the oak sprouts became visible by early summer, when I started to pull them out so the flowers in the pot could look their best. Just a leaf or two of each acorn’s new tiny scrub oak seedling had become visible. As I pulled the little seedlings from the pot, the roots kept coming and coming. The seedlings had long, skinny roots that were thrusting themselves ever deeper into the soil. The roots in the soil were much longer than the seedlings above the soil.

Likewise, we would be wise to sink our roots into the pot in which we are planted and not wait for a later time or a different place or a new pot. No matter how “little [our] season,” we should act upon this, our land, “as for years.” We sink our roots by getting involved, making friends, seeking opportunities for service, accepting and then magnifying callings, attending the temple, and joining in community efforts. Sending our roots deep will enrich our experience and bless others as well. We may be plucked up and moved to some new place when our friendships or jobs are just tiny seedlings, still with barely a leaf to be seen, but sinking our roots gives us experience and will “turn unto [us] for [our] good.” This is particularly applicable to those who are single, in graduate school, or know they will soon move and who may be tempted to hold back and let others do the heavy lifting of earnest Church work. It’s a mistake to put our baptismal covenants on hold that way. You may not think you will be in this particular pot for very long, and you probably won’t be, but your life will be richer and your opportunities enhanced if you treat this time and this place and this situation as your promised land.

Why not me?

In 1 Nephi 3:31, Laman and Lemuel ask Nephi, “How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even slay fifty; then why not us.” This inquiry is juxtaposed so aptly with the very next verse in 1 Nephi 4:1, in which Nephi tells his less-faithful brothers, “Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?” The exact same phrase then why not is used in both circumstances, but associated perspective and follow-on consequences of that attitude could not be more diametrically opposed.

Nephi has a clear opt-in strategy that is demonstrated throughout the rest of the first book of Nephi; whereas his brothers Laman and Lemuel demonstrate a clear opt-out strategy. In essence, when a challenge arises, Nephi’s older brothers immediately ask the question, “who are we to overcome this seemingly insurmountable challenge against all odds”; meanwhile, Nephi asks, “who am I not to?” with a confidence borne from trust that is well-founded on the rock of the integrity of gospel living. He then follows that positive introspection with decisive action that expands his skill set and makes him more capable to solve problems in the future. To summarize a few of these examples and juxtapositions found throughout the rest of the first book of Nephi:

    • Lehi, Nephi’s father, sees an incredible vision of the Savior and the future destruction of Jerusalem (in which its inhabitants are carried away captive into Babylon). Laman and Lemuel proceed to think about all the things that they are missing out on (1 Ne 2:11) and choose to dwell in ignorance (1 Ne 2:12). Meanwhile, Nephi decides to act instead of being acted upon, and he prays and the Lord visits him and softens his heart (1 Ne 2:16). This same pattern occurs again when Lehi has the vision of the tree of life in 1 Nephi 8, with Nephi seeing an even more detailed version of the dream in 1 Nephi 11-13. While Laman and Lemuel miss out on spiritual experiences and truths that would have been bestowed upon them with their desire and asking, they choose to take the easier route and live in ignorance.
    • Nephi breaks his bow (1 Ne 16:18). The first response of Nephi’s brothers is to murmur (1 Nephi 16:20). While Nephi’s brothers are complaining and thinking of their terrible state, Nephi moves to action, and builds a bow out of wood (1 Ne 16:23), and then later goes up into the mountain and finds food for his family.
    • The Lord tells Nephi to build a ship (1 Ne 17:8). Again, Nephi’s can-do attitude causes him to problem solve, and instead of asking the Lord to give him a ship, he thinks backward and recognizes the essential elements he would need to build a ship. Nephi is not troubled that he has no previous boat-building experience, but he trusts that God will provide a way for him to follow the direction he has been given (1 Ne 17:50). We see Nephi, yet again, say, “if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” Once again, Nephi is confronted with a problem he has never before faced, and his response is to think “who am I not to rise to this challenge?” His response in this experience is contrasted with the response of Nephi’s brothers, who don’t even try to think big enough to suppose that their talents are greater than their current state and, thus, they don’t even want to try (1 Ne 17:17-18).

In sum, how am I going to use the phrase “why not me?” in response to my circumstances? Will it drive me to accomplish things I have never before done, or will it drive me into a state of mediocrity–paralyzed by a fear of failure? The pattern that Nephi demonstrates in the first book of Nephi (and the contrast of his brothers) provides an interesting comparison, the consequences of which can be well documented throughout the rest of the Book of Mormon. My goal is to be more successful in my endeavors by attacking each challenge and trial with this attitude and belief.

My Testimony of Trials – Adult Session Stake Conference Talk

I was born to two amazing parents who taught me principles of the gospel from a very young age. Growing up, I always felt very blessed to be a part of my family and to have been given the opportunity to grow up with a fairly comfortable life. I remember feeling like everything was going right my senior year of high school: I was going to graduate at the top of my class, I had been accepted to my dream college, I was a good athlete, and I had the chance to serve in many different leadership positions in seminary and in our ward.

My ardent love for athletics had me very involved in numerous sports, including cross country, track and field, and basketball. During my senior year of high school, my race times were not improving as I hoped, so my coach suggested that I do blood tests for anemia, a fairly common ailment affecting distance runners speed and stamina. The tests came back negative, but doctors noticed that some of my other protein levels seemed unusually high. After almost weekly blood tests, a liver biopsy, and a multitude of doctors appointments, the doctors seemed stumped. Then, I remember coming home from school almost exactly 8 years ago and finding my mother in tears in our living room. Looking at me through her tears, she said that my most recent blood test had revealed that I likely had a rare form of muscular dystrophy.

In what was one of the hardest moments of my life, I ran downstairs to my room, closed the door and got on my knees to pray in a way that I had never prayed before. As I sobbed and offered up my soul to God that afternoon, I had a sacred experience that I can best describe as a warm hug that filled my entire soul when there had previously just been intense pain. In that moment, I felt “encircled about in the arms of His love” and gained a witness that He, my Savior, lives. I also came to understand that the Atonement of Christ was never meant to simply erase our sins. It was meant to transcend all of our weaknesses, to bring light in our darkest moments, and to bring hope when all seems lost.

I would be lying if I said that after that moment, everything has been easy. I have spent many nights wetting my pillow with my tears in despair. I believe that faith was always a natural gift of mine. Growing up, I always trusted that God had omnipotent power and that He could do all things, and I fully believe that at the moment when I knelt down and communed with God, I had the faith to be healed if that was his will at that time. However, the toughest test I have faced in my life is trying to develop, as Elder Bednar describes, the faith not to be healed. I learned that it is much easier to have faith when God’s will aligns with your personal desires. It is much harder to have faith and accept God’s will when it seems contrary to everything you desire and yearn for. Struggling through this process of accepting my unique challenge and trial has been difficult, but it has taught me many lessons.

I would like to briefly share with you two of the many lessons I have learned from this particular trial.

  1. Many of the toughest trials are not immediately apparent, so treat everyone with kindness. For several years, almost no one knew that I had this disease, and that I felt my legs slowly getting weaker. That I was no longer able to run like I loved to do or play basketball, which was a favorite pastime. On the outside, I think I probably looked like I had no trials, and yet there were days of incredible sadness and anger for me. Similarly, we never know when a friend, coworker, or ward member has just had a death in the family, or is experiencing depression, struggling with sin, family problems, or illness. So treat everyone with kindness–as if they are struggling with something–because they probably are. Just like we, at different points in our life, have all struggled with heartache, or frustration, or doubt.  
  2. Life is not fair, but it was never meant to be fair. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, We are all acquainted with other kinds of mortal opposition not caused by our personal sins, including illness, disability, and death. President Thomas S. Monson explained: “Some of you may at times have cried out in your suffering, wondering why our Heavenly Father would allow you to go through whatever trials you are facing.…“Our mortal life, however, was never meant to be easy or consistently pleasant. Our Heavenly Father… knows that we learn and grow and become refined through hard challenges, heartbreaking sorrows, and difficult choices. Each one of us experiences dark days when our loved ones pass away, painful times when our health is lost, feelings of being forsaken when those we love seem to have abandoned us. These and other trials present us with the real test of our ability to endure.

I testify that our trials can refine us like hot fire purifies drossy metal. I prayed every night for years to be like the sick and disabled Nephites in 3 Nephi 17, whom Christ healed one by one. I yearned with all my heart for that physical healing that I felt would make me whole again. Nevertheless, I have come to learn that in some ways, an even more incredible miracle is our Savior’s power to heal our broken hearts. I have felt Him heal my heart, and I know that He lives. I know that because of His atonement, we will all be brought to stand before Him and our Father in Heaven again someday, and I hope to kneel at His feet and, like those Nephites in ancient America, bathe His feet with my tears in gratitude for His tremendous sacrifice. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.