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.

21 Comments

  1. Maryanne

    December 18, 2008

    Thank you. Just… thank you.

  2. Michelle Glauser

    December 18, 2008

    Are people unhappy because they don’t have money? I don’t know . . . possibly stressed, anyway.

  3. Bruce Hopkins

    December 18, 2008

    For those who can’t afford to buy a year’s supply of dehydrated foods, regular grocery-store-bought food will store just fine FAR longer than the “Use By” dates on the cans.

    See http://www.internet-grocer.net/how-long.htm

    It’s an eye opener!

  4. Annette

    December 18, 2008

    I hadn’t thought about hope as a commandment before. It’s a tough one, but one worth working toward.

  5. jendoop

    December 18, 2008

    AMEN!

  6. Trina

    December 18, 2008

    Spot on! Thank you!

  7. Sharlee

    December 18, 2008

    This is beautiful, Angela. Thanks for posting it.

  8. Amanda

    December 18, 2008

    I love this post. I completely agree that those moments of joy that we hope for will come within this life, as well as the next. Maybe simply in the fact that we know that kind of joy exists.

    Hope is one of my favorite concepts. Currently I am studying education in third-world countries. At times, it seems to be a lost cause. Governments are corrupt, help isn’t always wanted, and no matter what we do to try and help, there’s always something that we are doing wrong. Education doesn’t feed starving children.

    But hope changes me. It means that my dreams of being able to improve the lives of those around me isn’t silly. Just because we’re in the last days doesn’t mean we should give up fighting for what’s right. Because we should always hope for that righteous joy that comes from little victories. And hope is what gets us through those days when we lose.

  9. Emily M.

    December 18, 2008

    Thank you, Angela. I think I will remember this post and pull it out often, when I need to be reminded to be hopeful.

    I am still working on preparedness. But I am getting better, and I want to do it with hope and trust, not in a spirit of fear.

  10. Sue

    December 18, 2008

    Thank you, I love this. Spending your life anticipating the worst is a sure recipe for unhappiness. Prepare for what you can, but expect happiness, and you will find it.

  11. Kerri

    December 18, 2008

    Lovely, Angela. Thank you.

  12. Justine

    December 18, 2008

    This is the time for all of us to get better at hope. And why not!? It’s just so much more fulfilling to live a happy, content, and peaceful life than one full of fretting and worry. Stuff is going to happen to us whether or not we’re worrying about it or not, so I say let’s keep smiling!

    This was wonderful to read, thanks Angela.

  13. Angela

    December 18, 2008

    *This is way too long. Sorry. I’m much too long-winded to be a good bloggger.*

    To those of you who’ve commented on hope, I’ve also thought that the scripture “Adam fell that man might be, and men are that they might have joy” was not so much a description—here’s life, have fun!—but a commandment. Men are (and women are) that they can figure out how to live a joy-filled life, despite all the tough stuff.

    Bruce, thanks for the link. And Amanda, the world needs more people like you.

    Michelle, I think people are nervous primarily because the economy seems so precarious right now. Retirement savings invested in the stock market are dwindling, homes are losing value, thousands of people are losing jobs. Add to that the undercurrent of tension that I think has been with us since 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have a recipe for anxiety in the US.

    There are others who’ve been upset and/or afraid since the election. Although I don’t count myself among these people, I can also empathize and understand how political shifts tend to make people feel unsteady.

    I was reading Stephen Robinson’s Following Christ the other day (fortuitously) and he makes the point of the dangers of extremism (political, intellectual, etc.) better than I could, so I’ll treat you to another quote:

    “Right now [and remember, this book was published in 1995–wasn’t everything supposedly hunky dory in 1995?? Anyway] there are many other voices, ‘alternate voices,’ vying for the attention of the Saints. There are social voices, intellectual voices, political voices, and yet other voices. For example, I have a friend who is now going through a difficult time. He is politically very intense. He is worried particularly about a ‘new world order’ and also about the end of the world. He sees Satanic conspiracies all around him, in world events, in the schools, in government, in society, and he can’t understand why the Church isn’t as intense and as concerned as he is about these threats. He spends a great deal of time trying to ‘warn’ members of the Church whom he believes to be asleep, and he privately wonders if the Church leadership aren’t also asleep. Basically, his thinking runs like this: ‘My church and my politics are telling me two different things, and I know my politics are true, so there must be something wrong with the Church.’ He won’t consider the other logical possibility: that the church might be true and his politics in need of adjustment. Nor does he recognize the incipient apostasy, the reversal of priorities and loyalty evident in this thinking. . . . Tragically, his politics have become the idol to which all else in his life must bow–even his commitment to the Church and his covenant with God.”

    And to be clear, I think the above paragraph could apply to people of all political stripes.

    So yes, there’s a lot going on that can make a person feel afraid. But it’s my goal to be a “person of faith and hope,” as Elder Perry describes.

  14. Courtney S.

    December 18, 2008

    Terrific post. I’m going to sneak some of your lovely ideas into my next RS lesson. This site is a blessing in my life. My favorite scripture has always been Adam fell … and now to think about it as a commandment is intensely interesting.

    Are people really feeling dire because of Obama’s election? I hadn’t got that out here in Tennessee. Strange. And since our ward is already quite challenged economically, we haven’t seen that much of a shift in the financial health of our members.

    Pushing forward.

  15. wendy

    December 18, 2008

    Thank you for all of this, Angela. Wonderful post!

    Courtney S., yes, some people seem to be thinking Obama in charge is the beginning of the end. He has been very villified in some circles, and I’ve been surprised by how intense some ofthe negative reactions have been.

  16. Rebecca

    December 19, 2008

    Thanks for the post!! If you want a great resource to help you get prepared, check out http://www.shelfreliance.com. Also, code save15 will save you 15% at checkout!

  17. Ginna

    December 19, 2008

    Thanks Angela, this is something I really needed to hear right now–completely unrelated to the economy or the public problems we’re having. You filled a very personal need for me and I really appreciate it. Bless you.

  18. Sage

    December 21, 2008

    Don’t you just love our church! When I was feeling like the end was coming and the world was getting horribly wicked (after 9-11 & the time Janet Jackson performed at the Superbowl), I remember how listening to conference and feeling my hope and optimism renewed. Thanks for this beautiful post. Maybe I should give Br. Robinson’s book to my friend!

  19. m&m

    December 21, 2008

    Thanks, Angela. Hope is one of the Christlike attributes I am really working on. I appreciate your thoughts.

  20. The Normal Mormon Husband

    January 3, 2009

    Great post. I would like to have the following quote etched on my tombstone:

    “This is why hope is such a difficult spiritual commandment…You have to risk looking stupid to live a hope-filled life, and there’s nothing I hate more than looking stupid.”

    Count me among the stupid as well.

  21. winnie

    May 16, 2009

    I have always been taught with Faith and Hope Charity Never Failth in life in the gosple,we should not fear ,the future if we are prepared by the way we have been taught in life for life’s experience is for our good .Also if we have faith nothing is impossible if we have eyes to see with and our hearts are open to hear the good works of the Lord .He will always be our constant guide in our life if we listen to his counsole and we shell never fear life challanges as its says in the Holy Scripture’s Watch and Pray and let the Holy Spirit guide , your way in all you do and say you will be prepared and protected by other who try to tell you other wise. Then by this ye shell know the turth of all things in life and have greater Faith and Hope in our life each day goes by.So go on having faith in the Lord and he will never lead you a stray in life .I enjoyed reading all your comment’s here . It’s great to read what other church member’s feel out there in life across the boarder.Im writing from Canada,Ontaio .I’m a mother of 6 and I live by hope Faith and prayer each day of my life and its the only thing that gets me through and my trying to keep my sanity as my guidend my faith in our Savior Jesus Christ.

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