My dear brothers and sisters, today I would speak to you about patience.
When given this assignment, I felt to say, as Albert Einstein purportedly replied when asked to speak at Swarthmore College in 1938: “Thank you very much, but I have nothing to say.”
It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with the topic! I know what patience is. It’s just that I’ve assiduously avoided practicing patience practically all of my adult life!
As a youth, I wondered how “patience” was even considered a virtue. Don’t we live in a day when everything is “fast” and seemingly getting “faster”? Fast food. Fast cars. Faster and faster computers. Who would want anything to go slower? Or be delayed?
My idea that “perhaps patience isn’t so great a virtue” was reinforced by the prophet of the Lord during my youth. President Spencer W. Kimball’s mottos “Do it!” and “Lengthen your stride! Quicken your pace!” didn’t exactly inspire standing around and waiting for things to happen. They demanded action!
I thus spent my youth zealously putting my “shoulder to the wheel” and “push[ing] along”. With all my emotions, spirit, thoughts and body – with all my heart, might, mind and strength! – I strived to live the gospel of Jesus Christ. I thought “Surely the gospel is true. And surely the Lord God will bless me!”
Like Abraham, I wanted to dwell in a city “which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). I desired righteousness, peace and the knowledge of God. I sought the blessings of the fathers. I sought the happiness of Heaven. (Abraham 1:2) I had my “head in the clouds”, as it were.
But, back on earth, I wanted to enjoy the companionship of a lovely wife, the comfort of a simple home, and the joy of beautiful, healthy children.
Like Abraham, I grew up in a family torn by strife and the worship of false gods. Like Moses, when I came of age, I turned my back on the world, “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt”. For I, too, “had respect unto the recompence of the reward” (Hebrews 11:25-26).
Why did it surprise me then when the promised blessings didn’t materialize immediately? I suspected as much. My patriarchal blessing had foretold:
“You will be blessed with vision in finding a mate who will be compatible to you, whereby you can go to the Holy Temple to be sealed for time and eternity, and where also you later will be able to have your own family to raise in the Church.”
That word “later” deeply troubled me. I knew the Lord was a stickler for details. The word “later” implied “not now”. It suggested “waiting”. It even implied “maybe not in this life.”
Having my own righteous family, of both wife and children, was my heart’s desire. I was so bothered by this possible impending “delay” that I went back to the patriarch a few years later and sought “clarification”. I asked for a second blessing, a “father’s blessing” (inasmuch as my own father wasn’t a member of the Church). Patriarch E. Earl Hall laid his hands on my head and, after pronouncing many wonderful things, brought forth these words:
“You will have the privilege of having your own personal family of children. Bring them into this world to teach them and guide and direct them.”
Unequivocally, there it was! I would have my own children. I would bring them into this world. I would have my heart’s desire!
But when? There was still the little matter of that word “later”. How much later? I didn’t dare to ask! I didn’t want to know! (I was afraid of what I might learn!) I saw what happened to Abraham! A hundred years of waiting! I noticed what happened to Moses! Forty years in the desert! (And, even then, he wasn’t permitted to enter the Promised Land. Still, we shouldn’t lament his fate. God had an even greater work for him to do.)
The Lord appeared unto Abraham in a vision and promised him that he would have a son and, through him, countless posterity of children: “[H]e that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir,” God promised. “And He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Genesis 15:4-5).
This was Abraham’s patriarchal blessing. He “believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). But that doesn’t mean that everything was “sweetness and light” or “smooth sailing” for Abraham and his family from then on. The scriptures describe Abraham’s subsequent “nightmare”: how “an horror of great darkness” fell upon Abraham, and he discerned that his posterity would serve in a strange land, in captivity for 400 years, until they would be delivered (Genesis 15:12-14).
Abraham certainly saw “the big picture”. He had faith in God. He had faith in God’s plan. He knew everything would work out fine. He knew he would find his “city”, filled with his posterity. He just didn’t know exactly how he was going to get there!
There was still this one “little problem”: Abraham and Sarah were childless.
Abraham waited patiently for the Lord’s promises to be fulfilled. I say “patiently”, because Abraham didn’t just “sit around”! As they say, he got busy! Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed the subject of “patience” in his most recent General Conference Priesthood Session address:
“[P]atience [is] far more than simply waiting for something to happen—patience require[s] actively working toward worthwhile goals and not getting discouraged when results [don’t] appear instantly or without effort.
There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!”
When things didn’t happen in the expected fashion and Abraham and Sarah remained childless, after turning 86 years old, Abraham relented and, according to the custom of his day, took Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, and conceived with her a son, Ishmael.
Abraham thought he was doing God’s will. He thought he was fulfilling the Lord’s plan for happiness. Abraham wasn’t just waiting around! He had a job to do! He had promises to fulfill! And he was getting it done!
Or so he thought.
When God appeared to Abraham again, 13 years later, He reaffirmed His promises to do great things for Abraham: “[T]hou shalt be a father of many nations…I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee” (Genesis 17:4, 6). Abraham imagined that these blessings would be fulfilled, as Abraham had worked them out, with Ishmael, through Hagar.
But the Lord had another blessing in mind. He planned to bless his daughter, Sarah, too: “I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her” (Genesis 17:16).
Abraham could hardly believe it. He “fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear? And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Genesis 17:17-18).
But the Lord is nothing if not a God of power. He would fulfill His promises, in His way, in His time, by His power, even if it so be by miracles. “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” He challenged Abraham (Genesis 18:14).
Sarah did conceive and bore a son, Isaac, and so the word of the Lord was fulfilled.
But in order for that to happen, Abraham had to give up – figuratively and literally – his own plan for happiness…at least the way he proposed to bring it about. Abraham had to give up Hagar…and Ishmael.
This deeply grieved Abraham (Genesis 21:11). He had spent a lifetime waiting for, and 13 years nurturing, a dream that was not to be.
The Lord had other plans for Abraham. So Abraham – sorrowfully, tortuously, but ever faithfully – obeyed.
Through his attenuated afflictions, Abraham gained essential experience. The agonizing loss and delay he suffered taught him that the Lord is, indeed, faithful in fulfilling all His promises, no matter how unlikely (to our point of view). Promises delayed are never promises denied, when the Lord is concerned, so long as we remain faithful. His agonizing deferment, patiently (if imperfectly) endured, gave Abraham hope, even faith, in a later hour, when he was called upon to offer Isaac, also, as a sacrifice. Abraham knew, by his own experience, that if God miraculously could raise up Isaac once, he could raise him up again, even from death.
I bear witness, of my own experience, that God can raise up again the life shattered by loss and sorrow. He can fulfill His promises – He will fulfill them, no matter how unlikely – if we but remain faithful. If we are patient, anxiously engaged in doing all we can to fulfill the Lord’s promises, despite our weaknesses, despite setbacks and hardships and failures, the Lord will make up the difference. He will redeem us from our sins. He will deliver us from our sorrows and sufferings. He will restore our souls.
I now know, by sad experience, that God could not bless me by granting me what I wanted then, when I wanted it most, because He had another plan in store for someone else. He had another soul to save. He had another life to bless. He had a daughter to fill with joy: my wife, who was destined to be the mother of my children, a mother of many nations. I now know, what I only partly understood many years ago, when the Lord first revealed it to me, that I have covenanted with this woman, before the world was formed, to make this happen.
And I have lived to see the day when I would “go to the Holy Temple to be sealed for time and eternity, and where also [I] later [would] be able to have [my] own family to raise in the Church.”
Only through suffering, through the deferment of my desires, could this be so.
Thus it was with Abraham and Sarah. So it is with William and Andrea.
The ways of the Lord are, oft times, inscrutable and difficult to fathom. But His purposes are plain. He seeks our eternal welfare and everlasting happiness. All who come unto Him – who continue to come unto Him – He will save. Of this I am certain.
For some, the way seems hopeless, the malady too malicious, the foe too formidable. Even the power of the priesthood sometimes seems incapable of answering our prayers.
The scriptures tell of a man who had a “crazy” son, a “lunatic”, who was “sore vexed”, continually falling down and hurting himself, sometimes almost fatally. The man implored Jesus on his son’s behalf, saying:
“16...I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
18 And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.
20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
21 Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.”
Sometimes we cannot hope to be delivered from our trials and afflictions, or even from our enemies, to have our wishes granted and our dreams fulfilled, until we go without. Fasting from what we want now is sometimes the only way to achieve what we want later.
There are those here today who want something very badly. What they want is, perhaps, a righteous desire. They do not seek to “consume it upon [their] lusts” as James warned against (James 4:3). And, if they do, they seek to have that lust removed from them, as a “devil”, to be cast out.
But sometimes “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting”. In other words, only by continually turning to God and by doing without, by patiently enduring, may we overcome. “Submit yourselves therefore to God,” James admonished. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It may take a while! But the devil is nothing if not impatient! He will eventually give up! We just need to outlast him!
Sometimes, because we are mortal, frail and failing, we give in to temptation. We fast and fast and fast and fast and fast some more…and then we break our fast, when we ought to continue fasting! God’s plan encompasses such missteps, even as He compensated for Abraham’s. He made of Ishmael a great nation! (Genesis 21:13) Even when we stumble, if we stumble in the Lord’s errand, we stumble forward, not looking back!
While we shouldn’t “continue in sin, that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1), God has indeed given us grace through the merits of His perfect Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ blood fully atones for our mistakes upon condition of our complete repentance. If we continue to resist the adversary, our Savior, the Lord of Hosts, will continue to fight our battles not only with us...but sometimes even for us. He suffered, bled and died in a way that none of us would want to, so that we wouldn’t have to.
I bear witness that Jesus is the Savior of the world. He is True Light that enlightens the world and leads all men out of darkness.
Fortunately for Swarthmore College, Einstein later reported that he now had “something to say”. He accepted the invitation. And so did I.
I am grateful for the revelations of the Lord, given to me in my weakness, allowing me to know as I have known, to feel as I have felt, and to do as I have done. I deliver this message: that there is always hope, and eventual happiness, peace and eternal salvation for all who wait patiently upon the Lord (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
*Delivered in Sacrament Meeting, April 25, 2010
*Delivered in Sacrament Meeting, April 25, 2010