By reklaW edaW
Orem, Utah, USA
As I’ve reached a point in my life where I am the most happy and most active in the LDS Church as I’ve ever been, I’ve had to reflect curiously upon why I have been so blessed. The answer came unexpectedly, yet poignantly as I was recently reading the Ensign. I came across a quote by the 13th President of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson (1899–1994):
“When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power” (In Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,” Ensign, May 1998).
I paused reading for a moment, and read the quote again, and then a third time. Something struck me about President Benson’s candid words. I later shared the quote with my institute teacher, who has become a trusted advisor and friend. He was familiar with it, and he gave me a glue-in of the quote to put in my scriptures. We started to discuss the aspects of obedience in the gospel. As I was explaining to him how and why this quote had struck me so deeply, I came up with a unique analogy—something I tend do frequently and with particular ease.
I related to him my religious semi-activity of the past, as early as about 3 years ago. I explained that though I was obedient to the commandments of God and His latter-day Prophets—though I held tightly to the iron rod—it was not necessarily because I was eager to be doing so. Rather, the rod of iron was a heavy burden of sorts that I was dragging alongside of me in my grudging effort to follow God and reach celestial glory someday. Months prior to this fallen rod becoming my irritant, some of my particular trials and issues had become too heavy for me to stand, and I gave into the lustful beckoning of the adversary. Almost no sooner than I had strayed, I had a desire to return to the Church, and I immediately did so.
Still, I found myself a slave to unrighteous, carnal thoughts and desires; but I was making progress in leaving those things behind me. It was a long, slow road back to full activity and worthiness in the Church; after a year I had made considerable progress, but I still wasn’t quite there yet. My desires were righteous ones, and I wanted the gospel in my life, but I had strong feelings to rely on the arm of flesh, which I too often did. The iron rod that I clasped in my hands was not easy for me to hold. Following God and what I knew to be right became a heavy load under the already excessive weight of other significant life trials.
Soon it seemed the only way I could have the gospel completely in my life was to cling to that rod wearily as I paced myself along the path toward salvation, pulling the weighty iron bar behind me. Still, I was unwilling to purposefully let the rod go. I had experienced the despair of sin, and I knew that I didn’t want to feel it ever again. Yet I was unfulfilled in walking the seemingly barren path that led to a better life in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I trudged along through the partial darkness—a shadowy veil that I was creating for myself from feelings of unworthiness. Occasionally I did make a mistake, dropping the rod and giving in briefly to carnal desires. But I was able to speak to a Priesthood leader, seek forgiveness, repent, and get back on the straight and narrow; whereupon I would begin searching in the haze of twilight for that elusive rod. Upon finding it, I would pick up the long, heavy iron load and continue drudgingly on my way, hoping that some kind of salvation would soon come to relieve me of the weight which I carried.
I explained to my institute teacher just how differently I feel now about my journey toward exaltation and of that iron rod. Lehi’s vision of the tree of life is clear in my mind’s eye, and in retrospect I can visualize myself in the scene, seeing my experiences both as they were and as they are now. As I had always pictured it in Lehi’s dream, the rod is now suspended firmly in the air next to me—defying gravity, held by the invisible, yet real power of the word of God—and it is just within my reach, no longer hidden in the mists of darkness around me. I no longer feel that I am dragging my willingness to be obedient behind me with the strength of a weak testimony to bear me up. Instead the rod seems to take on a personality of its own, much like the personage of the Holy Ghost, and it wishes to draw near to me as I first wish to draw near to it. I trust that the rod of iron will properly lead me to the places that I righteously desire to be, as it is anchored in the Lord and His gospel.
As for my skittish testimony, I now feel that it is full and powerful, a sustaining blessing in my life, and I marvel because of it and glorify God for blessing me to obtain it. And with that testimony is given to me not the power of men, but power from of high; a divine force which is upheld by truth and justice, also together with the love and mercy of a supreme Father in Heaven.
It’s true, there are times when I will stumble; but I know that the rod will never again elude me—because I will never again stray far enough from the path to lose sight of its subtle glint, nor forget the seemingly-tangible memory of my hand grasping tightly and trustingly to it. I surprised myself (as I tend to do) with the significance of such an analogy, more so because it came from my own mind and yet it was I who learned the lesson. Once again, in a glorious manifestation of the Spirit, God’s goodness toward me was laid out before my eyes to behold, and I saw how I had indeed learned line upon line, precept upon precept by my own experiences. Even when I felt hopeless in the gospel, I was divinely blessed as I walked by faith—even when my faith seemed less than sufficient. Just as the Lord did when He gazed upon His own creative works, I too have set my eyes upon my work thus far “and [have seen] that it [is] good” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).
How many of us carry our willingness to be obedient—our diligence in following the commandments, or our belief in our own ability to live the gospel—behind us in the form of a fallen iron rod? Is that rod of iron of which Lehi spoke our one and only steadfast director in the darkness of temptation? Is our obedience to what God and the Prophets, both ancient and modern, have spoken to us an irritant in our lives when it should be our sustenance? I imagine I’m not the only one who ever felt that way. If you find yourself feeling the way I’ve described, I humbly admonish you to prayerfully ponder how the Lord can strengthen your testimony and help you to lift your fallen iron rod back to a level where you can anxiously and easily seek and utilize its guidance.
How easy it is to wander, even when walking the straight and narrow path. Just as Lehi beheld in vision, many can lose their way when the temptations and lies of the adversary blind us. But we do not have to be encompassed roundabout by utter darkness to lose our way. Satan, the father of all lies, is cunning in his attempts to lead us away from what we know to be right. Even in the mediocre light of dusk in which we sometimes live—walking in light and truth but dabbling in the shadows along the way—the mists of darkness can rise unexpectedly, and the devil’s deceitful whispers can peak our curiosities; He can encourage us to leave the correct path to pursue what we might find in that blackness, telling us that the path back to the rod will be easy to find again. We may subsequently seek after the great and spacious “buildings” that appeal most to us, or after the people who dwell therein. Slowly, Satan can lead us far from the firm grip of the iron rod—from the word of God.
We know that the laws and ordinances of the Gospel do not allow for taking a piece of the iron rod with us as we meander about aimlessly through sin, transgression, and inactivity. Nor can we walk the path back to our Heavenly Father as we carry the gospel message as a burden. The Lord’s intention from the very beginning was for us to be happy and have joy (2 Nephi 2:25). As I carried the “burden” that I thought the gospel was to me, I was nonetheless being obedient. Knowing this caused my plaguing thoughts of unworthiness and feelings of imperfection to flee from me. In time I realized that I was worthy of God’s Spirit and His love; I had the power of the Atonement at my disposal because of the infinite and eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ; and most importantly for me at the time, I understood that I had a sincere desire to love and obey God and the Savior and to rely on Their promises. How significant that is in following the commandments!
That desire—that faith—was the only seed I needed to plant, but for the longest time I didn’t understand that that was just what I had done. That seed had long since germinated, grown, and matured; my testimony was increasing, but I longed for more. All I wanted was to see the fruits of my labors—and by the grace of God, in His own time, the seed of faith that I had planted in gospel soil, finally blossomed and bore fruit—much fruit. Time and time again I have harvested the fruits of the Spirit and laid up those treasures in my heart (Alma 32:27-43). I can happily, and with some humble pride say that I am now on my own quest to be ever-obedient to the commandments of God, given through his ancient and Latter-day prophets. As President Benson promised, I have literally been given power from on high to faithfully endure my trials and adversity of this life; and it is that power, in the form of a strong, unshakeable testimony, which still bears me up today.
The words of a conference address by Elder Richard G. Scott come to mind as I ponder these unique experiences with which the Lord so blesses me. Said Elder Scott:
“Honestly evaluate your personal life. How strong is your own testimony? Is it truly a sustaining power in your life, or is it more a hope that what you have learned is true?… Your testimony will be fortified as you exercise faith in Jesus Christ, in His teachings, and in His limitless power…
“A powerful testimony distills from quiet moments of prayer and pondering… A strong testimony comes line upon line, precept upon precept. It requires faith, time, consistent obedience, and a willingness to sacrifice” (“The Power of a Strong Testimony,” Ensign, Nov 2001, emphasis added).
I am humbly grateful for these ever-consistent experiences in which my Heavenly Father so graciously sends to me His Spirit to acknowledge, confirm, and cement the testimony which I, through faith in Him, was able to achieve. I pray that we all will seek opportunities to gain or strengthen our testimonies through thoughtful study, prayerful pondering, and diligent seeking. I testify that in His own time and way, the Lord will answer.