"We went west willingly because we had to" — Brigham Young
As my eyes rested on these words, I felt a keen sense of understanding even though our life's experience at this time does not even come close to the sacrifice shared by those who gave everything, even their life, following the voice of the Lord through his chosen prophet. The voice commanded the pioneers to cross the continent to establish faith — as an organization as well as faith of their own through the process. This faith enabled them to endure their trials, and even to joyfully accept the loss of their possessions, knowing that they could obtain a more “enduring substance” (Hebrews 10:34).
Changing the course of a life because you feel prompted takes on a complete new meaning when this change involves leaving behind a profession, a home, a country, possessions, comfort — and, more importantly, family and friends. As our family embarks on our own journey of faith while going through a similar process, these feelings ring true to my soul.
A few months ago, both my dear wife and I felt prompted to follow a simple voice we heard in our hearts to move back to France after living here in the U.S. for the first 10 years of our marriage. The hand of the Lord led us here in the first place, and we thought this would be our lifelong destination. But through unexpected recent promptings, we have been led on a path we never would have yet considered — taking our four little children, a few suitcases and boxes — and go back to the country of my birth.
Doesn't this sentence from our wonderful leader Brigham Young feel like bringing two opposites together? Doing something "willingly" because yet we "have to"? If it is something we are willingly doing, shouldn't it be something that we actually fully want to do rather than feel we have to do?
As I have struggled with this decision to accept the prompting because of the sacrifice it truly requires, the world's very enticing wisdom kept coming back to me as if we had completely lost our mind. Who in the world would leave a comfortable place to find themselves without a job, no home and so little to hang on to across the world? Who in the world would trust such feelings? Especially when they don't make any sense.
What I have discovered to a greater extent than ever is that for those like me who believe that God does live, that he is truly our father and that he is intimately aware of our needs and mindful of our true desires at heart, these words are not so opposite. In my earnest desire to make sense of anything I could, one thing finally did make sense. God knows me and my family, and knows where and how we could make the greater contribution at this time in our life. Who am I to question his wisdom and plan of happiness for us? If my earnest hope in this mortal life is to learn to become like him, then part of the process is to learn to align my will to his even when it is not so convenient.
I have followed promptings many times in my life and in so many different ways — but this time somehow feels different. This time there is something about this next life assignment that makes it even more heart-wrenching. While I have not yet discovered why it is so different, I have truly had opportunities to be stripped of any "relying on my own strength" and been exposed to understanding a new meaning of "trusting in the Lord."
As we embark on this process and continuously feel tossed and turned, as if we are to be refined for a purpose that is beyond our understanding, I have come to realize a few things about trusting in the Lord that have widened my perspective and enlightened my soul.
First, God truly loves his children and will be involved in our lives especially if we are seeking to do his will. We've all heard the phrase: "Be careful what you wish for." By asking the Lord to guide us and bless us, we truly don't realize that the next challenge presented to us might be the very answer to our request.
Isn't life completely meaningless and stripped of its heart if we are not willing to embrace it? Isn't faith — the essential part of one's only gift to give back to the Lord and the main spiritual life-sustaining organ that leads to action — dead at the very moment we choose not to accept his love and the plan within which we will be able to feel of that love and taste of true happiness? If we do believe that he loves and knows us, then we must learn to trust that he knows the way and will make it manifest unto those that seek him. We must also submit our will to accept that plan.
Second, there are different levels of faith. In this life, we grow to discover one experience after another. Until you are to give it all to the Lord in order to follow his plan, you don't really know what all means. Perhaps it might be a good exercise to ask ourselves: When is the last time I followed a prompting that required sacrifice and how willing was I to make that sacrifice? Have I learned to give to the Lord unconditionally, and what does this word mean to me in comparison to what it means to him? In pursuit of being one of his disciples and truly becoming like him, where does my heart stand in comparison to that newly obtained understanding?
Third, "things" in this life can rob you of understanding that plan and inhibit you from following promptings. While possessions can be perceived as a blessing — and often times, they really are — if not careful, one can be lulled into thinking that whatever the Lord might ask cannot be real because it feels so impossible to leave what "I" have worked so hard to obtain. Possessions can anchor us into a state of being and living that can actually reduce our revelation span. We can get into thinking that revelation can only come within the walls we have unknowingly created. Any promptings outside of these walls are not possible. Do we think that if the Lord has a plan for us, the plan is only going to be within our defined boundaries?
Finally, trusting the Lord is more than saying we know he lives and that he is real. Think about it this way: If your family members were your most prized possession in this life, would you be able to put their well-being in the hands of anyone but yours'? If God requires you to do something that meant not knowing how you will provide for them, would you truly be able to move forward knowing that he will provide? Regardless of your circumstances and what might be required of you at this time, do you truly believe that he loves and knows them better than you do and that he won't abandon them — that he will provide a way to support them, you included? While you might say in your mind, "Of course, I trust him," would you really be able to completely let go — and just trust and see?
I often hear the words: "I don't think I could ever do something like that." Well, the truth is you would if you chose to — chose to let go of what might be anchoring you back and chose to follow his will. The truth is, we all make these types of decisions but oftentimes the decision is made by making no decision. No decision is a decision. It robs us of an opportunity but it truly is a decision. No one truly makes any progress if decisions are not made.
The lesson I take from this so far at the onset of this journey is the following: How often do we feel prompted to do things? When was the last time you or I have been prompted to take a step in the darkness regardless of what that step looked like? If it appears to be constant in our life even though we might not understand or yet see the why behind those promptings we receive, then I believe we are well on our way to becoming like Heavenly Father, because we take full advantage of his revelation, which is a key principle in partaking of the Atonement.
If we are left to wonder, or perhaps are looking for more purpose in what we do, then we might want to consider turning to the Lord for more guidance. If we sense this little unsettled feeling that there might be something else for us to consider, though we might be living a life that appears to be a life of our dreams, then perhaps "things" or "something else" might have become a spiritual blinder. That blinder might be preventing us from seeing, feeling or, even worse, acting on those promptings.
I don't know where life's path is leading us as a family, but this I do know — while it is most often scary, heart-wrenching, completely humbling, discomforting, incredibly hard and seemingly impossible, we are willingly doing this because of what we know. Courage then takes on a complete new meaning.
Nothing of great value comes without sacrifice. No refinement comes without going through the actual refining process. No testimony grows without testing, and no faith exists without first walking into the dark. If we truly believe in all these things, then what choice do we have but to move forward with faith? How could we expect to be led again throughout this life if we do not listen? What kind of love do we truly have for our Father if we can't trust his guidance or think that we know better but than to listen to him? And so we go on grateful for the opportunity, and "willingly because we have to."
Life is meant to be lived and not simply endured. We partake of the Atonement of Christ by yielding to the enticings of the spirit, and thus find true lasting happiness in this life and the beautiful life to come. I recognize that strength can be drawn from the experiences of others. So I humbly ask, what lessons have you discovered through the latest changing process in your life?
Our family will be moving to France at the end of January and are looking forward to discovering what the Lord has in store for us.