One of our cars is out of commission for a few days. The past couple of weeks it became harder and harder to drive. The culprit? A doo-dad in the steering column was disengaging that would cause the power steering to sporadically stop working. The pin itself is not a big deal, but the effects got to where it was a bit scary.
At low speeds, the power steering would just stop. For example, we would wait to turn at an intersection, and when we accelerated, it would become very difficult to turn the steering wheel. The problem didn’t resolve itself, and turning became increasingly harder. Sometimes it would require the strength of Dwayne Johnson to complete the turn. I’m not Dwayne Johnson, so it simply became a safety issue. Luckily nothing bad happened before we clued in that it was dangerous.
The inability to turn became a problem that put us in jeopardy.
The word “intransigent” is a pretty cool word. It isn’t used a lot, but it was a pleasant surprise when it showed up in the Hamilton soundtrack. (Yes, I had to look it up.)
Here is the definition: characterized by refusal to compromise or to abandon an often extreme position or attitude. Inflexible.
I can be intransigent at times. I also know some teenagers who are very skilled at intransigence. I usually see intransigence as merely stubbornness, but it can have a good side. Sometimes it is an honorable and important trait to not compromise when it comes to our beliefs and our convictions. Standing firm in the face of opposition is essential as we practice our faith. Sometimes stubbornness is merely strength, misapplied.
But intransigence – the unwillingness to change, or turn – can also be dangerous to us as we navigate through life. The ability to turn, or change direction, is an essential element of our faith.
One of my favorite scripture stories about intransigence in the scriptures is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. (Here is a link to a nice retelling of the whole story.) Here is the scriptural version with my intro:
The prophet Balaam was trying to do something the Lord did not want him to do, so He sent an angel to turn him out of the path he was on. The donkey saw the angel and tried to turn, but Balaam would resist, and beat the donkey. After a few rounds of this, the donkey had had enough…
“And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff.
And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and she said unto Balaam, What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times?
And Balaam said unto the ass, Because thou hast mocked me: I would there were a sword in mine hand, for now would I kill thee.
And the ass said unto Balaam, Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? was I ever won’t to do so unto thee? And he said, Nay.
Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat on his face.
And the angel of the Lord said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee, because thy way is perverse before me:
And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times: unless she had turned from me, surely now also I had slain thee, and saved her alive.
And Balaam said unto the angel of the Lord, I have sinned; for I knew not that thou stoodest in the way against me: now therefore, if it displease thee, I will get me back again.” Numbers 22:27-34
(I have never had a donkey chastise me, but I have argued with some…nevermind.)
Balaam’s intransigence got him in trouble with the Lord. He’s not the only one. I know there have been times in my life where my unwillingness to change, to turn, or to become more flexible has gotten me into trouble with Him as well.
Balaam and I are not alone. The prophet Mosiah taught, “For behold, the Lord hath said: I will not succor my people in the day of their transgression; but I will hedge up their ways that they prosper not; and their doings shall be as a stumbling block before them.” (Mosiah 7:29)
I find it interesting that the Lord states that he will “hedge up their ways,” which basically says He is willing to interfere and mess things up if we are not on the path He wants us to be on. (And sometimes we wonder why things aren’t working out the way WE want them to.)
General Conference can be a veritable “Intransigence Festival.” When the prophets speak or give direction, many voices are quick to decry what they are saying because they do not want to give up some particular believe, practice or path that they believe in. They can go about it quietly, or be vocal and try to bring others to their “side.”
Sometimes we forget that the purpose of the Gospel and the Church is to help us each to change. The very word “repent” brings connotations of turning. Elder Neil Anderson put it this way:
“When we sin, we turn away from God. When we repent, we turn back toward God. The invitation to repent is rarely a voice of chastisement but rather a loving appeal to turn around and to “re-turn” toward God.” (link)
If you think about it, being willing to change our minds about things should not be such a big deal, but to some of us, it is Mount Everest. I have known people who would knowingly go down fighting for what they know to be wrong, rather than have the courage to admit it, and make the change. Most anyone who has served a mission has heard the tragic rejection, “I believe what you are teaching is true, but I am not going to change religions.”
When we have staked out an untenable position, sometimes our pride steps in and tells us that we need to stay the course, or we will look weak. But there is no strength in being wrong.
Sometimes we find ourselves self-justifying with phrases like, “That’s just how I am, and I’m not gonna change,” or “I’ve always been like this,” or “I like it the way I’ve been doing it,” or “Yeah, I know what it says, but I’m gonna do it my way, anyway.” When we hear words like that coming out of our mouths, we’ve got a bit of Balaam in us, and a dose of humility might be in order.
No doubt that changing our minds can be tough. Changing our behavior can be even tougher. It requires strength and commitment, and, at times, courage.
Letting go of our intransigence before God is a spiritual battle. Telling God that “Okay, I’ll do it your way.” can be a difficult, yet liberating event in our lives.
“Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life to God will find he has eternal life.” (Ezra Taft Benson)
I know that my personal intransigence can, and has, gotten in the way of my spiritual progression. But I also know that God is patient, and He will send His Spirit to help me realize when I need to take a turn. I know that if I listen carefully to the still, small voice, I can avoid the thunder that might come next.
We all have strong beliefs about a lot of things. Some good, some not so good. We need to pay attention to Paul’s simple counsel:
“Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21)
Things in the Church are evolving quickly, and changes in attitudes, beliefs and practices are all required to keep up. Intransigence merely gets in the way of our progress when it opposes what the Lord has set out.
I’ll finish up with this passage form Elder Marvin J. Ashton, because he wraps it up bette than I possibly could:
“There is nothing so unchanging, so inevitable as change itself. The things we see, touch, and feel are always changing. Relationships between friends, husband and wife, father and son, brother and sister are all dynamic, changing relationships. There is a constant that allows us to use change for our own good, and that constant is the revealed eternal truths of our Heavenly Father.
We need not feel that we must forever be what we presently are. There is a tendency to think of change as the enemy. Many of us are suspect of change and will often fight and resist it before we have even discovered what the actual effects will be. When change is thought through carefully, it can produce the most rewarding and profound experiences in life. The changes we make must fit the Lord’s purposes and patterns.
As opportunity for change reaches into our lives, as it always will, we must ask, “Where do I need development? What do I want out of life? Where do I want to go? How can I get there?” Weighing alternatives very carefully is a much needed prerequisite as one plans changes. In God’s plan we are usually free to choose the changes we make in our lives and we are always free to choose how we will respond to the changes that come. We need not surrender our freedoms. But just as a compass is valuable to guide us out of the dense forest, so the gospel points the way as we walk the paths of life.” (link)