“Patience” by Neal A. Maxwell

My attention has been drawn to an interesting talk by Neal A. Maxwell on the subject of patience, which can be found here. There’s a lot of substance to this talk, but what really caught my attention was this paragraph here:

When the veil which encloses us is no more, time will also be no more (D&C 84:100). Even now, time is clearly not our natural dimension. Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves impatiently wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. We can do neither, of course. Whereas the bird is at home in the air, we are clearly not at home in time—because we belong to eternity. Time, as much as any one thing, whispers to us that we are strangers here. If time were natural to us, why is it that we have so many clocks and wear wristwatches?

The Book of Mormon describes how God himself is not bound by time (Alma 40:8: “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men”), but Elder Maxwell here talks about time is ultimately not an environment we are entirely comfortable with either, which struck me as a truly profound thought. There’s much more in this talk, however, so I thoroughly recommend reading all of it. Some other snippets that caught my eye:

The patient person assumes that what others have to say is worth listening to. A patient person is not so chronically eager to put forth his or her own ideas. In true humility, we do some waiting upon others. We value them for what they say and what they have to contribute. Patience and humility are special friends.

Further, the patient person can better understand how there are circumstances when, if our hearts are set too much upon the things of this world, they must be broken—but for our sakes, and not merely as a demonstration of divine power. But it takes real patience in such circumstances to wait for the later vindication of our trust in the Lord.

Patience is always involved in the spiritual chemistry of the soul, not only when we try to turn the trials and tribulations—the carbon dioxide, as it were—into joy and growth, but also when we use it to build upon the seemingly ordinary experiences to bring about happy and spiritual outcomes.

Patience is, therefore, clearly not fatalistic, shoulder-shrugging resignation. It is the acceptance of a divine rhythm to life; it is obedience prolonged. Patience stoutly resists pulling up the daisies to see how the roots are doing. Patience is never condescending or exclusive—it is never glad when others are left out. Patience never preens itself; it prefers keeping the window of the soul open.

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1 Nephi 21

Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for naught and in vain; surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.

And now, saith the Lord—that formed me from the womb that I should be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him—though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.

1 Nephi 21:4-5

Thinking about the actual lives of many of the prophets, it would have been easy for many of them to feel a sense of failure. Israel was still worshipping idols when Elijah passed the mantle to Elisha. Mormon and Moroni saw the destruction of their entire people, while the fruit of their labours would not be read for another 14 centuries, while Isaiah himself died during the reign of King Manasseh, who led Judah further into idolatry than any before him and who – according to tradition – had Isaiah sawn in half (which is referred to in Hebrews 11:37).

Failures… from a mortal perspective that cannot see any further than the metaphorical end of our nose. From an eternal perspective, we have the transmission of sealing powers, the writing and preservation of sacred scripture and visions of the eternities that have and will benefit countless in future generations. So it is with us. It’s very easy – I tangle with this feeling quite a lot – to look upon some facet of life or some task and think we have failed. But we do not know all things; we don’t know what might happen in the next year, let alone in generations to come. I guess what we/I need to do is to “work with my God”, leave our judgment with him, exercise some predictive humility and trust in his strength.

1 Nephi 3

And we cast lots—who of us should go in unto the house of Laban. And it came to pass that the lot fell upon Laman; and Laman went in unto the house of Laban, and he talked with him as he sat in his house.

And he desired of Laban the records which were engraven upon the plates of brass, which contained the genealogy of my father.

And behold, it came to pass that Laban was angry, and thrust him out from his presence; and he would not that he should have the records. Wherefore, he said unto him: Behold thou art a robber, and I will slay thee.

But Laman fled out of his presence, and told the things which Laban had done, unto us. And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.

1 Nephi 3:11-14 (my emphasis)

Casting lots is portrayed as an acceptable way of determining decision and even ascertaining the divine will in the scriptures (perhaps most notably in determining Judas replacement in Acts 1:26, but it can be found from the Old Testament to the Doctrine and Covenants). So we might find it surprising here, but it isn’t really.

What it got me think of, however, is that while from our perspective it certainly seems no coincidence that the lot fell upon Laman, and that Laman’s failure (and Nephi’s with the loss of their property in vv.22-26) are but the prelude to what happens in chapter four, from their perspective it may have been very disheartening. They’d made the attempt, and perhaps felt they’d secured divine guidance on the matter (and we’d probably concur), so why on earth had they failed? How could it have gone wrong? Thus all of them – including Nephi – “began to be exceedingly sorrowful”. It was difficult to see from their perspective that they might well have been rightly guided, but that this earlier failure might fit into God’s plan.

“All is not lost”

MY son, patience and humility in adversities are more pleasing to Me, than much comfort and devotion when things go well.
Why are thou so grieved for every little matter spoken against thee?
Although it had been much more, thou oughtest not to have been moved.
But now let it pass; it is not the first that hath nor is it any thing new; neither shall it be the last, if thou live long.
Thou art courageous enough, so long as nothing adverse befalleth thee.
Thou canst give good counsel also, and canst strengthen others with thy words; but when any tribulation suddenly comes to thy door, thou failest in counsel and in strength.
Observe then thy great frailty, of which thou too often hast experience in small occurrences.
It is nothwithstanding intended for thy good, when these and such like trials happen to thee.

2. Put it out of thy heart the best thou canst, and if tribulation have touched thee, yet let it not cast thee down, nor long perplex thee.
Bear it at least patiently, if thou canst not joyfully. Although thou be unwilling to hear it, and conceivest indignation thereat, yet restrain thyself, and suffer no inordinate word to pass out of thy mouth, whereby Christ’s little ones may be offended.
The storm which is now raised shall quickly be appeased, and inward grief shall be sweetened by the return of Grace.
I yet live, saith the Lord, and am ready to help thee, and to give thee more than ordinary consolation, if thou put thy trust in Me, and call devoutly upon Me.

3. Be more patient of soul, and gird thyself to greater endurance.
All is not lost, although thou do feel thyself very often afflicted or grievously tempted.
Thou art a man, and not God; thou art flesh, not an Angel.
How canst thou look to continue alway in the same state of virtue, when an Angel in Heaven hath fallen, as also the first man in Paradise?
I am He who lift up the mourners to safety and soundness, and those that know their own weakness I advance to My own Divine [Nature].

4. O LORD, blessed be Thy Word, more sweet unto my mouth than honey and the honeycomb.
What should I do in these so great tribulations and straits, unless Thou didst comfort me with Thy holy discourses?
What matter is it, how much or what I suffer, so as I may at length attain to the port of salvation?
Grant me a good end, grant me a happy passage out of this world.
Be mindful of me, O my God, and direct me in the right way of Thy kingdom. Amen.

– Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Chapter LVII: “That a Man should not be too much Dejected, even when he falleth into some Defects”