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"A far, far harder task"
A love note from the front lines
Today’s Bright & Morning Star is a bit different than what I’ve shared with you before. Rather than sending something I’ve written, I instead wanted to share a story with you from one of the most powerful messages I’ve ever read on the subject of the purposes of adversity.
This was written by Brother Carlfred Broderick, a well-known marriage and family therapist who died in 1999. It was published in his book My Parents Married on a Dare and Other Favorite Essays on Life the year before he passed away. The title of his message is The Uses of Adversity. Although it is a rather lengthy article, I hope you will read all of it.
The story he shares comes from his experience giving a priesthood blessing to a woman while serving as her pastoral leader. Having served in a similar position, I had several experiences similar to Brother Broderick’s. Before placing my hands on the head of someone requesting a blessing, I sometimes made unfair judgements about the reasons they were in pain or trouble. In the same way that Brother Broderick was rebuked, I was taught that I was in fact in the presence of a spiritual giant and had no right to judge them but instead was told to love, console, and comfort them. Here is his story:
Often the Lord has taught me through blessings; as I've had my hands on someone's head, he's taught me things I did not know and sometimes didn't want to know. The first one was a case of a sister whom I'd known for years and who, in my judgment, had made some very poor life choices. She had married a handsome, charming young man who initially wasn't a member of the Church but joined the Church for her. She waited a year to marry him and then went to the temple. It was the last time he ever went to the temple. I knew he was a flake from the beginning. Out of my wisdom, it didn't surprise me that he soon returned to many of his prechurch habits—most of the transgressions in the book that you can think of and some that I might not have.
There was great pain for this woman. A good, good woman, she kept in the Church; she kept in the kingdom; she suffered enormous pain because her husband went back to gambling and drinking and other things that were unhappy and unwholesome. But, the greater pain came when her children, having these two models before them, began to follow him. He would say things like, "Well, you can go to church with your mother and sit through three hours of you know what, or you can come to the racetrack with me, and we'll have good stuff to eat and drink and have a great time." It was a tough choice, and very often the children chose to go with him. They gradually seemed to adopt his lifestyle, values, and attitude toward the Church and toward sacred things. Although she never wavered from her own faith and faithfulness and her commitment to her Heavenly Father, her family was slipping away from her.
As she asked me for a blessing to sustain her in what to do with this awful situation in which she found herself, my thoughts were, "Didn't you ask for this? You married a guy who really didn't have any depth to him and raised your kids too permissively. You should have fought harder to keep them in church rather than letting them run off to racetracks." I had all those judgments in my head. I laid my hands on her head, and the Lord told her of his love and his tender concern for her. He acknowledged that he had given her (and that she had volunteered for) a far, far harder task than he would like. (And, as he put in my mind, a harder task than I had had. I have eight good kids, the last of whom just went to the temple. All would have been good if they had been orphans.) She, however, had signed up for hard children, for children who had rebellious spirits but who were valuable; for a hard husband who had a rebellious spirit but who was valuable. The Lord alluded to events in her life that I hadn't known about, but which she confirmed afterwards: twice Heavenly Father had given her the choice between life and death, whether to come home and be relieved of her responsibilities, which weren't going very well, or whether to stay to see if she could work them through. Twice on death's bed she had sent the messenger away and gone back to that hard task. She stayed with it.
I repented. I realized I was in the presence of one of the Lord's great noble spirits, who had chosen not a safe place behind the lines pushing out the ordnance to the people in the front lines as I was doing, but somebody who chose to live out in the trenches where the Lord's work was being done, where there was risk, where you could be hurt, where you could lose, where you could be destroyed by your love. That's the way she had chosen to labor. Then I thought, "I am unworthy to lay my hands on her head; if our sexes were reversed, she should have had her hands on mine."
Now she is doing well; one of her sons finally went on a mission. He had a bishop who took hold of him and shook him and got him to go. He went to one of those missions where people line up to be baptized when you get off the plane. He had a wonderful mission; they all but made an icon of him. He had miracles under his hands. He came back hotter than a firecracker for missions. He wouldn't leave alone his younger brother, who was planning on playing football in college instead of going on a mission, until he also went on a mission. The younger boy looked up to his brother; nobody could have turned that second kid around except his older brother. The younger went on a harder mission. He happened to have a language skill that he developed, and he turned out to be the best one at the language. He caught fire; he had spiritual experiences, and he came back red hot.
Those two boys started working with their sisters, who are harder cases; they haven't come all the way around yet. One of them looks better. One of them married a nonmember, and her husband did a terrible thing—he met the missionaries and joined the Church and started putting pressure on his wife to become active. She said, "I married you because you were out of the Church." I don't know—even Dad may repent, who knows? You know, she may yet win them all.
I know that she risked her life for service. In a blessing the Lord said to her, "When you're in my employ, the wages are from me, not from those you serve."
There are many lessons here. You no doubt found some relevant to you. I would simply say this, in the spirit of a love letter from me to you, that I know you were not sent here to fail. The trials you are now going through are not punishment or a sign of divine disfavor. Instead…instead…you are glorious. Jesus has promised you can’t fall beyond His reach. I’m sorry for your pain. And it will get better.
Your friend Scott
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