23 April 2015

Strength through Submission

The following is a revised version of a post originally published on  “A Prayer of Faith”  6 July 2006.  It was inspired by Elder Henry B. Eyring’s talk “As a Child” delivered in the LDS General Conference of April 2006:

From the time I was a child, foreign languages fascinated me. Growing up, my father taught me some Esperanto and a few German phrases; and after dabbling in Latin and Spanish in high school, I decided to take on the challenge of Russian at Brigham Young University. Soon after beginning my study, I began to have an intense desire to visit Russia—to see for myself the land of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, which was then under the iron rule of Communism. This was back in the early 1960’s, when the Soviet Union under Khrushchev routinely issued dire threats to the free world, but welcomed the chance to earn dollars by conducting carefully chaperoned showcase tours for Americans.

I was thrilled when BYU announced that they would be participating for the first time in a Russian summer study program. I immediately applied, was accepted, and started saving money for the trip. I obtained a passport. My whole family sacrificed to help fund my study abroad experience, and I was elated at the opportunity to realize my dream.

Suddenly, only a few weeks before I was due to travel, I was shocked to hear that the Board of Trustees (at that time consisting of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) had cancelled BYU’s participation in the program. Although the Board gave no reason for the cancellation, we were told it was not saying that it was unsafe to go, nor that no BYU students should go to Russia. Faculty members would help any of us who so desired to apply for open places at the other universities participating in the program. I had to decide immediately whether to go, or to abandon my dream—at least temporarily.

After consulting with my parents, and being told it was up to me, I sought my answer in prayer. I definitely wanted to go to Russia, unless there was a very good reason not to. At first I prayed that I would know if the Board’s decision meant that there was definite danger in going to Russia–was nuclear war imminent?!? No answer.

After some struggle, I was finally able to sincerely tell Heavenly Father that more than going to Russia, more than anything else, I wanted to do His will. Even though this choice may not have been a life-changing one, I then experienced a moment similar to the one Elder Henry B. Eyring spoke of in his General Conference talk in April, 2006, “As a Child”:

“In that moment I felt as quiet inside as I had ever felt. And the message came, and I was sure who it was from. It was clear what I was to do. I received no promise of the outcome. There was only the assurance that I was a child who had been told what path led to whatever He wanted for me.”

The answer to me was simply, “Don’t go.” So I didn’t go to Russia that summer. Nothing earth-shaking happened in world affairs, and even after more than 50 years I don’t know all the reasons why I was prompted to cancel my trip.  What I am sure of is that my desire to know and submit to the Lord’s will in that case definitely helped me to seek and accept His will in many future decisions that truly were life-changing.

In his talk, Elder Eyring invites us to study and accept the doctrine and advice King Benjamin gave in his final sermon, with emphasis on how, “Our natures must be changed to become as a child to gain the strength we must have to be safe in the times of moral peril.” He concludes that the only way we can avoid shrinking in the presence of the Lord when we stand before him to be judged, is

“. . . if we find the way in this life to have our natures changed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That is the only way we can build on the sure foundation and so stand firm in righteousness during the storms of temptation.”

King Benjamin describes that change with a beautiful comparison, used by prophets for millennia, and by the Lord Himself. It is this: that we can, and we must, become as a child—a “little child.”
In a logical progression, Elder Eyring leads us through a description of the process of changing our natures. He clarifies that being “like a child” is not being “childish,” and includes his personal experience with prayer (as quoted above), additional scriptures from the New Testament and the Doctrine & Covenants, and his insights on how following what King Benjamin taught will lead us to greater faith in, and love for Our Savior, Jesus Christ. Faith will lead to repentance and keeping the commandments. As we follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost,

“our natures will change. We will become as a little child, obedient to God and more loving. That change, if we do all we must to keep it, will qualify us to enjoy the gifts which come through the Holy Ghost. Then we will be safe on the only sure rock.”

I love these words of counsel and testimony from Elder Eyring:

“With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can watch over ourselves. We can pray to recognize and reject the first thoughts of sin. We can pray to recognize a warning not to speak words which would hurt or tempt someone else. And we can, when we must, pray for the humility and faith to repent. . . . I bear you my witness that the Savior lives and that He is the sure foundation. I know that by acting on our faith in Him we can be cleansed and changed to become pure and strong, as a little child. . . . I know that we can choose the promised joy of eternal life, however perilous the times.”

Looking back on my experience as a college student, I can see how submitting to the Lord’s will in that relatively small thing, and experiencing the peace that resulted, has greatly helped me in my strivings to overcome my “natural man” tendencies, to receive the blessing of an open, loving heart, and to find peace in perilous times. I still struggle with the temptations of pride and selfishness, but I know that my confidence waxes stronger in the presence of God (D&C 121:45) as I humbly and gratefully seek to bring my will into accord with His.

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