A couple of years ago, I had an experience that taught me a huge lesson about faith. Before that time, I'd always been a little confused -- I knew that we were supposed to have faith, and not just faith. Faith IN something -- namely, faith in Jesus Christ. Faith that He is our Savior, that everything He does is to help us return to him and to have eternal happiness. Faith in God our Father, that we are His children, that He wants good and happy things for us just as much (more) than we do for our own children. Faith that He hears and answer our prayers, that He will guide and lead us if we ask and listen and follow. Faith that, as it says in Proverbs, His ways are higher than our ways -- essentially that He sees the bigger picture and knows what's best for us, and why certain things are allowed, and what we must face to grow and become who we hoped to become when we chose to come to this earth and face this test.
I also knew that we were supposed to pray, as it says in James 1: 6, ". . . in faith, nothing wavering. For he that waivereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed."
But, I didn't understand this correctly. I thought this meant that when we prayed for something we wanted, we had to somehow muster complete and total confidence that it would be so -- that if I waivered for one second in my certainty that He would grant my request, I would not be granted an answer to my prayers. Where this got me into trouble was here: I knew that we were also supposed to pray, as Christ taught us, "Thy will be done . . ." If I knew something was certainly the will of God, then fine, that was all good and well. I could pray with perfect faith, but what of when I didn't know His will -- which, truly, is most of the time? When I am praying to get quickly over and illness, or for someone to be healed, or for someone struggling with infertility to be allowed to have a child, or for someone to get past a particular trial -- I don't know, for certain what the Lord's will is in the matter. Because of this, I wasn't sure how, exactly, I was supposed to pray with unwavering perfect faith when I made requests.
When Mike and I moved to WA, we purchased a house. The housing market had been exploding up there. We had no idea how many years we'd be there, and we were afraid if we didn't act quickly, the going rate for a home might leap up again. We had a decent down payment and were able to find a good home fairly quickly. Three years later -- and much earlier than we'd guessed we'd be moving back home -- we were moving back home and needed to sell our house. The problem? That rapidly rising market we'd purchased our home in had crashed (as it did in so many places). Our neighborhood was particularly hard hit and, with something like 70% of the homes for sale in our area being foreclosures, the going rate for homes had plummeted even further.
At this point, from looking at homes similar to ours, I felt certain that we had a chance (slight though it was) of selling our house at a price that would allow us to break even (meaning just lose our entire down payment). We'd have to be lucky -- things were at a point where a few homes still managed to sell for a reasonable price (from a sellers perspective), and we'd have to be able to sell it on our own (realtor fees would do us in). Still, I felt that my hopes weren't overly optimistic -- they were possible. And, with this in mind, I went to the Lord and prayed with all of my heart that things could work out as I'd outlined -- that He would lead the right buyer quickly to our home. Mike was less hopeful. We were in a hurry to sale before leaving by the end of summer and he thought that we needed to ask lower and likely use a realtor to really move it quickly. Still, I'd felt confident my prayers had been heard and I convinced Mike to let us try my way for two weeks. I prayed like crazy during those two weeks. I particularly recall praying about it during one of my runs (maybe that sounds strange, but I think and pray quite a lot when I am out running). As I prayed, I knew "nothing wavering" that my prayers were being heard. I can remember the very spot on the trail -- right where it crossed a small section of road before going behind a stretch of houses -- that it hit me. THIS was what praying with perfect unwavering faith was. It wasn't knowing you'd get what you wanted. It was trusting 100% that He was there -- that He heard. And with that unwavering faith, it was easy to say, "not my will but thine be done." I knew the Lord heard my prayers. I knew I was acting in faith and hope that those prayers would be answered . . . and because I knew that, I could trust His will in the matter. He was aware. He was guiding me and if, after all my prayers and faith, it wasn't to be -- well then, I could trust that He had some other plans.
I continued hopeful and, on the last day of my two weeks, I got up early to make sure every speck of the house was clean and "show worthy." I was absolutely certain, that if it was His will, it would happen that day. I'd like to say it did -- that at 10:00 pm someone knocked on our door ready to buy the place. But it didn't. In fact, when our house did sell (several weeks later with a realtor's help), we lost not only our down payment but had to take out an extremely significant loan to get out of our house -- a loan we will be paying for several years to come. This was frustrating and difficult -- particularly since we'd always tried to avoid debt beyond house and car payments. But I truly felt alright. In fact I felt more sure of the Lord's awareness for and love for me than I had in a very long time. I felt that He was pleased with me for my faith and that somehow, this would work towards my good; that He would honor the trust I'd put in Him -- that He always honors the trust we put in Him. It was scary and I'm sure I shed a few tears for simply not knowing how things would play out. It was frightening to be moving into my parents' basement indefinitely, to not know when we'd get into a house again, to not know where my kids would go to school, etc. But I did feel peace, and I felt that I finally truly understood what it meant to pray with total faith while still trusting in His will and time frame. Even with out knowing that in six month's time we would be blessed to find an incredible deal on an amazing home, and even still, not knowing if getting us here was the reason for that situation having turned out as it did, I did learn that I can pray with total faith -- even when I don't know His will. I can know that if it is His will, He has the power and the graciousness to grant me the thing I am praying for, and, if it is not His will, I can know assuredly that He is teaching me what I need to reach my full potential in this life, or, He is leading me to something altogether better.
Tonight I was reading a link to someones blog when they mentioned a talk given by Elder Dennis E. Simmons several years ago in General Conference. Even though it had been nearly six years since the talk, just hearing the title brought it right back to me because it had stood out so much at the time I'd originally heard it and been one I had truly loved. It was titled, "But If Not . . ." During the talk, he told the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego who were going to be burned alive if they did not worship the golden image that king Nebuchadnezzar had commanded them to. Here was what Elder Simmons said next in his talk:
The three young men quickly and confidently responded, “If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.”. . . But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” That is a statement of true faith.
They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped.
They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.
Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him.
I love this talk so much. I love that they said: Yes. He can and will deliver us, but, if He doesn't, we'll go to a horrible fiery death before we stop trusting in Him. I love the idea of, and want to be the kind of person who could, as boldly as Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego say, "My Lord can deliver me from this . . . But if not . . . I will stand firm and true to Him."
He then went on to quote from one of my all time favorite chapters of scripture -- Hebrews 11 where it lists all of these amazing things that have been accomplished through faith: The Red Sea was crossed, the walls of Jericho fell, kingdoms were subdued, people escaped death by the sword and claimed great and amazing blessings, etc. And, that is pretty great when our faith secures us those types of experiences, but then the tone of the chapter changes and it mentions other things -- things people were able to endure through their faith: “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, … bonds and imprisonment:
“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about … being destitute, afflicted, tormented; …
“God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect.”
Here is a link to the full talk if any of you want to read it. It's pretty great: "But If Not . . ."
I haven't had many trials in my life -- and sometimes this scares me in an "Oh no! How much longer 'til my luck runs out" sort of way, but I am so grateful for the things I have learned about faith and hope I can truly have the kind of faith required to constantly rely on the Lord -- even when things go far far from how I hoped they would.