This morning I had the pleasure of attending a Stake Conference broadcast for the 96 stakes in Arizona. The speakers were Elder Foster, Sister McConkie, Elder Christofferson, and President Uchtdorf – so yes, I thought it was great.
Elder Bradley Foster of the Seventy told a story that I have known and loved for as long as I can recall, but I have never heard it used in a church context. It is a parable from the Chinese Taoist faith. Here is a version similar to the one told this morning.
The story goes that one day the farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbor hears of his bad news and comes over to commiserate. “I hear that you lost your horse. That is bad news and bad luck.”
“Well, who knows?” said the farmer, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
Well, the next day the farmer’s horse returns to his stable, but it has brought along a drove of wild horses it has befriended and who make themselves at home.
The neighbor across the way can’t believe what he hears about his friend. He decides to come over and congratulate him.
“This is such good news,” he says.
“Well, who knows,” said the farmer, “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
The next day the farmer’s son decided to ride one of the new wild horses, to break it in. As luck would have it, the son was thrown from the horse and broke his leg.
Of course, upon hearing this sad news, their neighbor came over to offer condolences. “This is such sad thing,” he said. “Your son has broken his leg. This is bad news.”
“Well, who knows,” said the farmer. “Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t.”
There were more well wishes and commiseration from his neighbor. The farmer offers this Taoist wisdom, “Who knows what is good and bad?”
On the following day soldiers came by commandeering an army. They took sons from most of the surrounding farms, but because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he could not go and was spared.
I have some pretty terrific kids. Most of them are now what we like to call “adults.” As adults, they find themselves in that time of transition where many crucial decisions are made, and directions determined. For example: Finding an EC, choosing a career, choosing education/post-graduate studies, where to live, etc. I remember those years as being filled with inexplicable joys, and crushing defeats – often on the same day.
Sometimes we get to make those types of decisions, sometimes we don’t. Often, the choice we would like to make is not offered to us, and we look at it as “bad news.” Other times, we get exactly what we want, and celebrate it as “good news.” Often, we make those declarations a bit too hastily.
One of the benefits of getting older is the gift of being able to look back at your life and experiences and evaluate them. Surprisingly, the “good” and the “bad” events that were so easily identifiable in my younger days are not necessarily so clear cut now. Some of the tragedies that were so consuming, so difficult, and seemingly so unfair, are now looked at with a little softer view. Without those tests, would I be where I am today, would I be who I am today? Was I being groomed, formed, strengthened?
Some events that merited great celebration in my younger years can seem different upon reflection. Did I really spend that much time to accomplish that? Was it really a blessing that I got that job I wanted so badly? Was it what God wanted for me – or was it what I wanted for me?
I’m not talking about regret – I’m talking about perspective. We have so little of it. I imagine when I am safely dead, and I can look back on this test of mortality, I will be able to more clearly see which events truly were “good” or “bad” for me, and how they impacted my lives.
Until then, I need rely on the Holy Ghost for discernment, and try to refrain from getting too worked up over things that happen to me – good or bad – because I can’t always tell which are which.