(Talk given in Calgary 4th ward , 2010 07 11 )
A famous mathematician (John Allen Paulos) once said, “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is.” For those of us who find comfort in being in control of our lives, that is a frightening thought, yet we all know that life is a journey full of ups and downs and all of us will experience times of uncertainty throughout our lives. The nature of mortality is such that we have been given limited knowledge, we are unable to know future outcomes with certainty, and we have been given the freedom to choose how we will think and behave. Living within these parameters often creates in us a feeling of emotional limbo when we consider the possibility that something we fear, may or may not happen. When faced with the decision of how to proceed, the fear of making a wrong choice can sometimes paralyze us. Whatever the uncertainty, it usually brings up feelings of anxiety, worry, self-doubt, despair, and can often feel totally overwhelming.
As difficult as it is to deal with uncertainty, it is an important component of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us. As Elder Richard G. Scott has said, “ A fundamental purpose of earth life is personal growth and attainment, consequently, there must be times of trial and quandary to provide opportunity for that development. [Our Heavenly Father’s] plan of happiness was conceived so that we will have challenges, even difficulties, where decisions of great importance must be made so that we can grow, develop and succeed in this mortal probation.” The famous mathematician finished his statement about uncertainty by saying that,” knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.” Therefore, I think it is wise not to think of uncertainty as a problem to be solved; but as a reality to be lived through. We need to make peace with the process of life.
Uncertainty can arise in a variety of situations. Sometimes we feel uncertain about a particular course of action to take, such as when we have to face a decision about what type of employment or schooling to pursue or where to live. Sometimes we are forced into a state of uncertainty when a member of our family becomes stricken with an illness or becomes disabled through a serious accident that was no fault of their own, and we don’t know what the future will bring. Parents often feel uncertainty over their children, particularly if the course they are pursuing is not a happy one. Any time we suffer a loss or when there is a big change or transition in our lives, it is usually accompanied by feelings of uncertainty. Sometimes, due to circumstances beyond our control, the life that we planned for ourselves gets derailed and we are forced to forge a new life. A young father who loses his wife to cancer, a young couple who are unable to conceive children, a single woman who longs for an eternal companion, an unwelcome divorce. These are times and situations when it can feel like life has control of us more than we have control over our own lives.
Other kinds of uncertainty in our lives may be centered in the very things we think and believe. Early in our lives, most of us think very simply in terms of black and white and things just seem to make sense. However, sometimes, as we gain a little experience, we realize that a new dimension of gray can exist in the world. Elder Bruce C. Hafen describes this as a “growing awareness that there is a kind of gap between the real and ideal, between what is and what ought to be…. [This happens] when we sense that some things about ourselves or the circumstances we witness are not all we wish they were, we become aware of the distance between the real and the ideal.” This can cause frustrations to arise.
Some examples of this might be when an important righteous prayer seemingly goes too long unanswered. A new convert who enters the waters of baptism with visions of the church as heaven on earth becomes disillusioned when he becomes conscious of the imperfections of other Church members, or even a bishop or a stake president. One may also begin to become aware and confront controversial topics, such as the role of women in the church or differing political philosophies among Church members.
Elder Hafen said that “Experiences such as these can produce confusion and uncertainty and one may yearn with nostalgia for simpler, easier times, when things seemed not only more clear but more under our control. There may be the beginnings of skepticism, of criticism, and unwillingness to respond to authority or to invitations to reach for ideals that seem beyond our grasp.”
The mists of darkness in Lehi’s dream provide fitting symbolism for the times of uncertainty we experience in life, yet the iron rod also shows us that there are gospel truths that we can grasp onto to help us on our journey. The question is, then, how do we, as simple but ever-so complicated human beings, live and move and grow in this uncertain world? I would like to suggest four gospel principles that can serve as our iron rod and help us through our times of uncertainty. While these four principles are distinct, they are also very much interconnected. They are: patience, faith, hope and charity.
In Elder Uchtdorf’s priesthood address at our last General Conference, he taught that patience is the ability to put our desires on hold for a time. He explained that human beings seem to always want what we want, and we want it now and that the very idea of waiting can be unpleasant and at times bitter. ” It would do us well to remember that life is a process, that growth does not come without a time of struggle, and that there are many things that we can do during our times of uncertainty to help us learn what we are here to learn. Patience is a purifying process that refines understanding, deepens happiness, focuses action, and offers hope for peace. Patience requires us to accept that things may not happen in the way that we might have hoped or as quickly as we would like, which can free us from suffering and keep us from worrying about things we have no control over.”
Elder Uchtdorf said that one thing patience is not, is passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. “Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can – working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!” Hope is an important part of that process.
I came across this simple but fitting definition of hope which says “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.”
The prophet Ether exhorted, “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” When going through a time of uncertainty, there is often a larger purpose that we do not understand. It is at those times that we have a choice; we can either live in hope or in despair.
Elder Uchtdorf teaches us that “despair drains from us all that is vibrant and joyful and leaves behind the empty remnants of what life was meant to be. Despair kills ambition, advances sickness, pollutes the soul, and deadens the heart. Despair can seem like a staircase that leads only and forever downward. Hope, on the other hand, is like the beam of sunlight rising up and above the horizon of our present circumstances. It pierces the darkness with a brilliant dawn. It encourages and inspires us to place our trust in the loving care of an eternal Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way for those who seek for eternal truth in a world of relativism, confusion and of fear.” Elder Neal A Maxwell taught that “none of us can afford to be without that needed hope and love in the treks through our Sinais of circumstance.” And that “Each time a hope is fulfilled, it creates confidence and leads to greater hope.”
Hope is the way to peace. In times of uncertainty, we can hold tightly to the hope that we have a loving, powerful Heavenly Father who designed a world where things will “work together for [our] good”. This type of hope refreshes us with courage during difficult challenges and gives us strength when we feel threatened by fear, doubt, and despair.
The next principle, faith, is closely intertwined with hope. Elder Uchtdorf stated that “the things we hope for lead us to faith.“ Elder, M Russell Ballard, on the other hand, taught, that, “As we put our faith and trust to work, hope is born. Hope grows out of faith and gives meaning and purpose to all that we do. It can even give us the peaceful assurance we need to live happily….[in an uncertain world]. But faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—real faith, whole-souled and unshakable—is a power to be reckoned with in the universe. It can be a causative force through which miracles are wrought. Or it can be a source of inner strength through which we find peace, comfort, and the courage to cope.”
As the end of the Savior’s mortal ministry drew near, He offered this reassuring hope to His beloved disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
In the book of Mormon, Moroni asked the question, “and What is it we shall hope for?” He answered the question himself by saying “ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal.” Elder Ballard urges us to, “Please turn to [The Savior] if you are discouraged and struggling for direction in your life. Armed with the shield of faith, we can overcome many of our daily challenges and overpower our greatest weaknesses and fears, knowing that come what may, we will be all right.”
The last principle that can help us through times of uncertainty is charity.
Elder Dallin H Oaks, explained that in this life “We are challenged to move through a process of conversion toward that status and condition called eternal life. This is achieved not just by doing what is right, but by doing it for the right reason—for the pure love of Christ. The Apostle Paul illustrated this in his famous teaching about the importance of charity (see 1 Cor. 13). The reason charity never fails and the reason charity is greater than even the most significant acts of goodness he cited, is that charity, “the pure love of Christ” (Moro. 7:47), is not an act but a condition or state of being. ……Charity is something one becomes.”
At times of uncertainty, it is important to avoid falling into the dark hole of self-pity and despair, which can canker our souls. Elder Uchtdorf points out that the scriptures say that there must be “an opposition in all things.” “So it is with faith, hope, and charity. Doubt, despair, and failure to care for our fellowmen lead us into temptation, which can cause us to forfeit choice and precious blessings.” It is during our times greatest trial that we can truly understand the meaning of charity.
Elder Robert C. Oaks of the seventy pointed out an interesting insight into the relationship between charity and patience as taught in the Book of Mormon.
“Mormon, after pointing out that if a man “have not charity he is nothing; wherefore he must needs have charity,” goes on to name the 13 elements of charity, or the pure love of Christ. Interestingly, 4 of the 13 elements of this must-have virtue relate to patience (see Moroni 7:44–45). First, “charity suffereth long.” That is what patience is all about. Charity “is not easily provoked” is another aspect of this quality, as is charity “beareth all things.” And finally, charity “endureth all things” is certainly an expression of patience (Moroni 7:45). From these defining elements it is evident that without patience gracing our soul, we would be seriously lacking with respect to a Christlike character.”
“Most of us experience some measure of what the scriptures call “the furnace of affliction” (Isa. 48:10; 1 Ne. 20:10). Some are submerged in service to a disadvantaged family member. Others suffer the death of a loved one or the loss or postponement of a righteous goal like marriage or childbearing. Still others struggle with personal impairments or with feelings of rejection, inadequacy, or depression. Through the justice and mercy of a loving Father in Heaven, the refinement and sanctification possible through such experiences can help us achieve what God desires us to become.” (Elder Dallin H Oaks)
On a bit of a different note: Because we do not all experience life in the same way, we sometimes do not understand the unique challenges that others are facing. It is important for us to be kind, patient and charitable with those who may be experiencing uncertainty in their lives, for whatever reason. Sometimes there is a tendency to inadvertently be a bit judgmental of others when they don’t live up to our expectations. This can be particularly true in our church culture, where we tend to place quite a bit of emphasis on having certainty, and often leaves those who have questions or uncertainty feeling that something is wrong with them, or that they don’t belong, which can lead to even more despair and discouragement.
Also, there are also those who suffer from more severe forms of grief, depression or other problems for whom living by these principles will not be enough. For those who suffer in this way, medication and/or counseling by a professional may also be necessary, and is in no way an indication of lack of righteousness or faith.
Brothers and sisters, I believe that as we take the time to understand the unique challenges each one of us face, we will become more loving and charitable and kind towards each other. Let us learn to love each other the way our Father in Heaven loves each of us.
It is my prayer that when we face times of uncertainty, we will look to our Father in Heaven and his son Jesus Christ with patience, hope, and faith and charity and that we will find peace and comfort in knowing that all these things shall work together for our good.