Christmas is a season to be jolly, right? Looking around me, though, I see lots of people who are feeling anything but cheerful. Times are tough. With financial meltdowns, wars, terrorism, and corruption filling up our newscasts, it’s easy to see why the future seems a little, well, rickety. I know many people who’ve been going through the holiday motions with a vague sense of foreboding trailing them around, like a Grinchy Christmas shadow. I know a handful of others who’ve launched into full-blown panic mode, forwarding emails full of dire prognostications, raising hands in Sunday school to bemoan the imminent collapse of society as we know it.
I’m not afraid the world is going to end tomorrow. But last week at the grocery store, I impulsively bought a gigantic case of baked beans. Protein, you know.
It’s easy to get caught up in the worry and the fear. Strangely, for some of us, anxiety makes us feel better (if only temporarily). But after reading another hysterical Chicken-Little-Sky-is-Falling Facebook post (and–okay–the guy who posted it is an old friend from high school and he’s a bit of a wing nut), I found I’d given myself a nice holiday stomach ache, and in a moment of rare inspiration, I decided to turn to the Ensign. See if the leaders of our church had anything to say about the United States becoming a third world nation by 2012.
I pulled out the conference issue and looked up “preparation” in the handy topical reference guide in the beginning of the magazine. There was one talk cited. The talk was the first talk given after Pres. Monson’s welcome, “Let Him Do It with Simplicity” by L. Tom Perry. Here is how the talk opened:
Those of us who have been around a while—and Elder Wirthlin and I have been around for a long time—have recognized certain patterns in life’s test. There are cycles of good and bad times, ups and downs, periods of joy and sadness, and times of plenty as well as scarcity. When our lives turn in an unanticipated and undesirable direction, sometimes we experience stress and anxiety. One of the challenges of this mortal experience is to not allow the stresses and strains of life to get the better of us—to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic. Perhaps when difficulties and challenges strike, we should have these hopeful words of Robert Browning etched in our minds: “The best is yet to be” (“Rabbi Ben Ezra,” in Charles W. Eliot, ed., The Harvard Classics, 50 vols. [1909–10], 42:1103). We can’t predict all the struggles and storms in life, not even the ones just around the next corner, but as persons of faith and hope, we know beyond the shadow of any doubt that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and the best is yet to come.
“The best is yet to come” might very well refer to our eternal reward. But you know what? A part of me (the real part, the part that’s most in tune, the part that isn’t ruled by fear) believes the best is yet to come as it pertains to my life here on Earth. This same part of me thinks this is what Elder Perry meant as well. After all, what is hope, if not the courageous expectation of good things? The anticipation of joy?
Elder Perry goes on to talk about how simplifying our lives will help us to be happier. He doesn’t say a single thing about food storage. As a matter of fact, there’s even a heading entitled “The first requirement is food” (and I expected to read about food storage there) but instead he goes on to talk about the importance of eating healthily and obeying the Word of Wisdom.
Although there are five talks listed in the topical reference guide under adversity, most of these talks focus on personal trial and not world-wide calamity. (One of my favorites is “You Know Enough” by Neil L. Anderson, speaking to those who are experiencing crises of faith, and contains one of my favorite lines of conference: “Faith is not only a feeling; it is a decision. [You will] need to choose faith.” And Elder Wirthlin’s fabulous talk, “Come What May, and Love It.”) And what I came away with after pondering the talks I reread is this: everything is going to be okay. Bad things might happen (and bad things might always happen, any day of our lives) and still, in the end, everything is going to be okay.
So how does this relate to my reaction to all the dire prognostication going on out there? I’m making a conscious choice not to take it too seriously. And let me be clear: food storage and personal preparedness is important. I am not trying to diminish its importance. But I also believe that God is compassionate and so are his servants, and if a global cataclysm was coming and they knew of it, don’t you think this last conference would have contained at least a little more in terms of temporal preparedness?
When I mentioned this to my husband he said, “Yeah, but there will be lots of people who believe that they’ve been telling us for years and years now to be prepared and if people haven’t been listening, then too bad, so sad.” But that attitude strikes me as completely out of step with the way the gospel and the church really operates. There are plenty of new converts, or members who have only recently repented and recommitted themselves to the church, or young families just getting started, or people like me, who have been faithful lifelong members but who have just recently started to “get it” as far as personal preparedness is concerned. Our Heavenly Father and the leaders of this church don’t love those who fall into these categories any less.
I am reminded of the parable of the workers, where the Lord pays the same wage to the workers who have been working since daybreak as he does to the workers who had been “standing idle” all day and only worked for an hour. Those who have been laboring all day are understandably ticked. Here it is, from Matthew 20:
11 And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, 12 Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. 13 But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? 14 Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
This parable might be a tough one for the hard workers among us–those who’ve been super prepared since 1982, storing, rotating, grinding the wheat–and it’s human nature to think that we each ought to be rewarded for working longer and harder than the other guy. But the God I believe in does not play gotcha with his children, nor does he play favorites. And since I believe this to be true, I simply cannot believe that his servants would be sitting on some secret, terrible revelation and just waiting to see who’ll slip up. And since I believe this about the leaders of my church, I have to take President Uchtdorf at his word when he says:
Because God has been faithful and kept His promises in the past, we can hope with confidence that God will keep His promises to us in the present and in the future. In times of distress, we can hold tightly to the hope that things will “work together for our good” as we follow the counsel of God’s prophets. This type of hope in God, His goodness, and His power refreshes us with courage during difficult challenges and gives strength to those who feel threatened by enclosing walls of fear, doubt, and despair.
And what was the counsel of our prophets this last conference? Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Enjoy life. Be good to those around you. Have faith. Work hard. Count your blessings. Don’t despair. And I don’t believe that our leaders were simply spouting platitudes and patting us on the head. They were telling us what we’re supposed to do. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes living a hope-filled life is a heck of a lot harder than buying a bunch of beans at a case lot sale.
I am not saying that we have no reason to be concerned about the future. I’m not saying we don’t need to be prepared. Our prophets have spoken about personal preparedness and we should heed them. But I am certain–absolutely certain–that the messages coming from our leaders during this difficult time are NOT ones of doom, but are instead messages of hope. What they are asking us to do, in fact, is be hopeful.
Choosing not to be afraid doesn’t mean that we’re blind, or not paying attention, or clueless. I’ve had to learn for myself during other challenging times that engaging in anxiety is not a way to prove that I’m being responsible or smart. It’s been hard for me to give up my anxiety in the past . . . because what if all my worries were right and I’d stopped worrying? People would think I was being irresponsible and blind! Oh, the horror! But you know what? I’ve decided it’s better not to trade my peace of mind right now–today–for the off chance that others might judge me as a blind Pollyanna tomorrow.
This is why hope is such a difficult spiritual commandment. Harder, even, than faith, and essential step on the path toward charity. You have to risk looking stupid to live a hope-filled life, and there’s nothing I hate more than looking stupid.
Oh, except crippling worry and doubt and fear.
So buy your beans. Check your 72 hour kits. Then take a deep breath, say a prayer, and give yourself the gift of trusting in the future, in all its brightness.