Last week I wrote about a couple of flattering “mantras” that are currently very popular that, by themselves, don’t really hold up to any kind of religious scrutiny. This week, I would like to write about one that does. (Conveniently, it comes from the parts of the D&C that we are studying this week for Come Follow Me.)
As Joseph Smith waited for months to be freed from his horrible conditions in Liberty Jail, he received and wrote what have now become sections 121, 122 and 123. Everybody knows 121. (Top 5 list of chapters of all scripture, IMHO) This glorious snippet is found in the very last verse, of the very last letter that he wrote to the saints from his dungeon at Liberty.
“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God; and for his arm to be revealed.” Section 123:17
There it is. Let it sink in, improve your life and help you retain your sanity.
What? You would like me to delve deeper? If you insist…
First of all, no, I am not referring to the part about doing things cheerfully. Great advice. It would yield great blessings, and I wish I were better at it. That is something I am working on, and actually feeling some progress. The part that I think makes all the difference is this:
“…let us cheerfully do all THINGS THAT LIE IN OUR POWER and then may we stand still, with utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God; and for his arm to be revealed.”
That is the big secret – to spend our time, effort, and emotion on things that we can actually impact – things we can fix, change, or do – and let go of the things we can’t.
Remember, this was written by a prophet who was locked up in a jail, while the people he loved were outside being beaten, raped, and hunted. And Joseph was absolutely powerless to do anything about it. Powerless.
How much of the collective stress and heartache in your life is caused by things you can’t control? Me? I can’t even read the news without getting irritated by something that is going on that I have no control over. People around me frequently exercise their God-given agency in ways that are harmful to me and my family – and I am powerless to do anything to prevent it.
Reinhold Niebuhr got it right about eighty years after Joseph did, His poem was scrunched down until it became known as the “Serenity Prayer.” Millions of Alcoholics Anonymous members use it as a mantra in their recovery.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
It is a great mantra, but I prefer the one the Prophet Joseph sent to the suffering saints, as he had it first, included the outrageous request that we do it cheerfully, and acknowledges that God will eventually sort things out. There are enough things in my life to worry about that I do have power to affect, that time and energy wasted worrying about the things that are out of my reach becomes self-sabatoging.
In his beautiful talk about mental health in the most recent General Conference, Elder Erich W. Kopischke touched on this same scripture, saying, “For all who are personally affected by mental illness, hold fast to your covenants, even if you might not feel God’s love at this time. Do whatever lies in your power and then “stand still … to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”
He did leave out a snippet that I feel deserves being highlighted: “…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God; and for his arm to be revealed.”
Know what that is? Faith. Utmost assurance is faith. We must have faith that if we do all that is in our power, God will take care of the rest.
That is the kind of faith we reach for when we are sitting in hospital waiting rooms, or on our knees wondering what will become of a wayward child, or when we have questions we just can’t find answers to – as we wait for God’s “arm to be revealed.” Whether it be a work problem, a family crisis, a crisis of faith, or anything that causes us to feel powerless, we can choose to be still and wait on the Lord. That is a seemingly difficult choice to make, but it can be emotionally liberating.
The ultimate example of this concept is the very Atonement of Jesus Christ. We can do everything in our power, but ultimately, we are absolutely, completely, powerless to reach salvation. All we can do – and all we need to do – is what lies within our power, then stand still to see the salvation of God. We are enough – in Christ.
“Hang on just a second there, Mr. Brad: What about the things that lie outside of our power?” Good question! It’s not like they cease to exist simply because we cease to focus on them. They are still out there, haunting us, impacting our lives, altering our lives. I think that idea deserves its own post. I’ll take a stab at that next week and delve into the difference between acceptance and apathy.
So for now, learn the mantra, love the mantra, live the mantra:
“…let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God; and for his arm to be revealed.”