For two to four months out of the year a great wind from the north-east pushes dust and sand from the Sahara Desert down to the West African coast. The countries there sit in a cloud of debris until the cleansing rainy season dispels the thick fog. They are months spent in darkness, the sun shielded by an orange haze. People stay indoors if they can, and when they leave the safety of their homes they wrap scarves around their mouths to stop the dust from catching in their throats.
One particular year that I was living there, this Harmattan season, as it is called, was particularly bad. For a few weeks, you could barely see two metres in front of you. It was like being in London on the foggiest of mornings. Or in a Celine Dion music video in the early nineties.
On one such day my family and our friends decided to convoy in our cars to the beach, where we hoped the air would be a little thinner. We pulled out of our driveways one after the other and pulled out onto the road. It wasn’t long before we lost sight of the car in front. We were suddenly alone. Dad pulled out our GPS system, but it was brand new and he was unfamiliar with it, so he discarded it and determined to go it alone: it was pretty much a straight shot, and he had driven to the beach hundreds of times! If he reduced his speed and used his fog lights, we were sure to arrive at our destination as planned.
The thirty minutes it should have taken us to arrive turned into forty. Fifty. Sixty. Ninety minutes later we finally found the ocean- but we quickly realised we had strayed fifty miles down the coast from our desired destination, where our friends had arrived safely. Ten villages stood in our way to getting back to where they were!
My mother (who had been napping) quickly reprimanded my father- he knew the risks of our journey! He knew the conditions we would be driving in! He knew his new GPS toy was complicated- he should have studied the manual! He should have prepared better, or at the very least, he should have called our friends along the journey for help. He joked that even if he’d gotten so lost along the way, eventually the clearing rains would come and he’d finally know where he was.
I was reminded of this disastrous journey during conference last week, where a predominant theme of the counsel from our leaders was navigating our way in an increasingly tumultuous world. Von D. Keetch of the Seventy, observed that “‘we see through a glass, darkly’ with such a limited perspective that we often cannot comprehend the great dangers hidden below the surface.” The thick Harmattan fog of our day is generated by the adversary, who as President Monson recalled “walketh about [as a roaring lion] seeking whom he may devour.” As if that weren’t terrifying enough, he continued, “The adversary knows us, and he knows the temptations which will be difficult for us to ignore.” … “[He] and his hosts are relentlessly seeking for a chink in our armour, a lapse in our faithfulness.” The Harmattan fog we each face is tailor-made for our own personal destruction.
President Monson warned, “There are so many kinds of voices in the world. We are surrounded by persuasive voices, beguiling voices, belittling voices, sophisticated voices, and confusing voices… these are loud voices.” In our religion we often recall the pathway of discipleship: we know so much about it that it’s burned into our brains, much like the journey to the beach was burned into my dad’s brain. We know it’s a straight and a narrow path. We suppose that it’s an uphill path, and we know that there’s even a rod of iron accompanying the path, there for us to hold on to when mists gather and voices shout.
Well, my Dad thought he was driving on a straight road! It was relatively familiar to him! 2 Nephi 31:19 reads, “And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten onto this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him” Nephi says, Brother McKee- you will not get to the beach because you’ve made it to the right road right now; you’ll get to the beach if you stay on the right road. Much like my mother, Nephi might have chastised my Dad for not utilising the equipment he had been given: his GPS system. I gleaned from General Conference last week that this GPS represented two vital components of discipleship: God’s commandments and the Holy Ghost.
Elder Keetch said, “He who comprehends all things knows exactly where those dangers lie. He gives us divine direction, through his commands and loving guidance, so that we may avoid the dangers- so that we may set a course in our lives that is protected from spiritual predators and the gaping jaws of sin.”
President Monson reminded us of the words of the hymn, “Keep the commandments, in this there is safety; in this there is peace.” As Lucifer and his angels are relentless in their fight for our souls, President Monson counsels us to be “relentless in our determination and efforts to achieve our goal[s].”
When we are baptised, we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost, with the promise that as long as we remain worthy, He could be a constant companion to us. Do we think of this daily? Is He a friend we invite to remain with us in all of our activities? Do we consult with Him on matters big and small? Or do we invite Him around sparingly. Do we turn on our GPS only when we are lost?
Our prophet counselled, “Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice which testifies of truth.” Elder Larry R Lawrence added, “As we travel along that straight and narrow path, the spirit continually challenges us to be better and to climb higher… [He] makes an ideal traveling companion.” The more time you spend hanging out with your friend the Holy Ghost; the more time you spend tinkering around with your fancy GPS system, the better you’ll be able to understand, interpret and act upon the counsel He gives you. You will be safer; your path will be illuminated. Though the adversary tailor-makes his vile attempts on your soul, the Holy Ghost will tailor-make your understanding of the commandments. Your conversion to the gospel, your growth as a choice disciple of Christ will be led by his still small voice. President Monson encouraged us, “The greatest happiness in this life will come as we follow God’s commandments and obey His laws. The work of righteousness shall be peace and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.”
Sometimes being a disciple of Christ is hard work. Sometimes you can barely see two metres in front of you. Though the odds seems stacked against us, remember whose side we stand on. Remember who is our advocate with the Father. We are those noble and great ones who chose to follow the Saviour in our pre-mortal lives! Sons and daughters, heirs of Deity. We can act like it! As much as we are asked to have faith in our Heavenly Parents, remember that they have placed their faith and their Godhood in us! Sister Neill F. Marriott said, “As covenant Israel we don’t just try and try on our own to change. If we earnestly appeal to God [so, if we are doing what we can, if we are working with our companion the spirit to understand and to keep the commandments], He takes us as we are- and makes us more than we ever imagined.” In other words, the cleansing rains will always come. I testify that our Saviour volunteered for that role: to lift us where we fall, to light the path, to shepherd us to safety.