In 2015 I collected a stack of church-themed books that I, because I am that cat who seems to be living all nine lives at once, have not had a chance to delve into yet. The stack found its way to the back of my library shelves, and happening upon it kind of made my Christmas. I feel like the cup really is running over.
I’m starting out slow, with a pretty book of beautiful pictures and simple scriptures. The first scripture is found in Matthew 7: 7-8:
Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh recieveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
It’s a well-known verse and I think that it may have even been the very first one that I memorised as a child. My mother had a small bookmark in her scriptures- the image of the Saviour knocking at a door. Or waiting at a door. I could never be sure. I’ve thought about this scripture for a few months now actually; it’s always been dancing there at the front of my mind as 2015 rumbled on, and more and more of my friends and family- my people- asked, “what if I ask and it isn’t given? What if I’m seeking and I’m not finding? Why does it feel as though every door is closed and I’m alone?”
I can’t pretend to have an answer for them, and I can’t believe that I’m in any way more secure or accomplished than they are for not deliberating over those hard feelings. I’ve watched hearts break and spirits dampen. I’ve seen frustration and pain and sorrow in new ways. My respect and love only grows for these friends as they account for themselves and make decisions on how to be happy.
Last month I prayed as I prepared to teach a Relief Society lesson on spiritual self-reliance. The lesson was to be given on the heels of a question-answer style of meeting that had been held the week before. I felt impressed to ponder the nature of the Saviour’s doctrine of seeking– in the Doctrine and Covenants I read the following:
Behold you have not understood: you have supposed that I would give it unto you when you gave no thought save it was to ask me. But behold I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right… you shall feel that it is right.
Do we consider the nature of knocking, searching and seeking to also include forming our own solutions and answers? What does the “door opening” or the light bulb moment really look like: a bolt of lightning from above, ta-da!, or the humble proposition- usually trial-and-error-based – from right here on the ground?
You cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation… It is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things the same is a slothful and not a wise servant…
As I prepared, I felt the importance of agency in our Heavenly Parents’ plan. Their design is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. The just method of carrying out this goal, is to let man choose for himself rather than to hand him his needs and his answers on a silver platter- this was the rejected plan. In reading these words in D&C I was reminded that
A) It is not the design of my Heavenly Parents to simply give or feed me answers or blessings, free of accountability or hard work.
B) It is not the design of my Heavenly Parents that I know all that they know right now, here in their plan, this side of the veil. Simply put: mortal Hollie is not entitled to the understanding of the Gods, that I am not yet prepared for.
C) All that is asked of me here is to search and to study. I am never required to accomplish or conclude anything. For this reason, a Saviour was given.
D) God is infinite, and His time is not our time. When scripture tells us that our work in searching will be given the reward of an answer, God does not need to specify when in His plan this will happen.
In our Relief Society lesson we pulled out a story from the New Testament (John 6). Jesus went about performing miracles- healing the sick, teaching, serving. His followers grew and grew, marvelling at His miracles, His simple and profound teaching. They followed because He was a good man, and He went about doing good. Finally Jesus gets to the point- He tells them exactly why He is there, what his presence and his purpose meant in His Father’s plan. He was there to be a redeemer, and His sacrifice would change everything. The Law of Moses would be fulfilled, as was prophesied, and the world would acknowledge that sacrifice in a new and simple way. This was the biggest, most radical thing this man had ever taught. It was strange. It was mind-blowing. It concerned the single most important factor in any aspect of life in that corner of the world, whether or not you were Jewish. The Law of Moses affected people spiritually, economically, politically. Their whole lives revolved around it.
The reaction of this large crowd of disciples was murmuring: “This is an hard saying. Who can hear it?” – Who in their right mind can swallow what this man has to say? It’s confusing! It’s impossible! It’s new to us! Like the crowds that turned away from the Saviour in the pre-mortal life, so another crowd turned away from Jesus near Galilee.
From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.
Jesus then turns to His apostles. To Peter He asks, what about you?
Will ye also go away?
What I love about Peter, as I’ve written before, is that he represents everything I think God hoped a mortal, righteous disciple would be. His answer was not “Lord, I understand all that you have taught- I know it, I have a testimony of it, I have zero qualms with it, let’s do this.” Instead he replies,
Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”
He simply replies with the only thing he does know- that he knows that Jesus is who He claims to be- Peter knows He is the son of God. He doesn’t understand the details and the hows and whys of what he has taught. He only knows that nowhere out there could he find more truth. He decides to stay. He decides to execute what he is there to learn, as a mortal this side of the veil: faith.
The decision to stay, to keep knocking, searching, acting in faith where there often is not tangible fact and reason to cling to, is a difficult decision. M. Russell Ballard said recently, “It is no light thing to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” It’s hard work. It’s often painful work. It’s challenging to accept, in a world where we are quickly understanding how entitled we are to so much politically and economically and socially, that we are yet God’s children, and that this is a season for learning and for faith rather than a season for answers and powers that have been designed for another time. What will we do with faith? Where will we go for truth- for peace, for refuge? Will we also go away?
*** This has been a difficult thing for me to write about in a place that I know that my loved ones could read. Those who have exhausted themselves searching, who have done all that they could do and have consequently, for hundreds of reasons or even just a few reasons decided to leave. My heart bursts with love and pride for them for their courage in seeking. Wherever each of us is in our spiritual journey, pro-activity and conscientiousness is nothing to be sneered at, whatever it looks like. Whatever our beliefs are in the end, I believe this is the nature of godliness itself: to hunt and to learn and to just do the best that we can.