On being spiritually prepared

I gave a talk a couple Sundays ago. Here it is:

On being spiritually prepared
Several years ago, I went on a road trip with my family up the California coast—we followed breathtaking views of the ocean and drove through California fields till we came to Yosemite, where I saw the Sequoias for the first time in my life. I can do my best to describe them to you, but there is really no way to know their magnitude without seeing them in person. They are majestic towering red giants, some as tall as 311 feet with trunks big enough to drive a car through. Standing among them, I sensed their quiet greatness, and felt calm and at peace, and in awe of their beauty. An interesting fact about Sequoias is they can’t be destroyed easily. They can live for such a long time and don’t even need their heart. Even fires don’t kill them. We saw one that had been hollowed out by a fire—you can walk into the roots and look up to the sky. I was inspired by how resilient they are. They are strong, immovable, and able to withstand the elements and continue to grow even when purged by fire.
Today I want to give some ideas on how we can have spirits like the giant Sequoia. Preparing ourselves spiritually will fortify us in our lives both in times of peace and in times of difficulty. I thought about some of the potential metaphorical fires that can come into our lives: illness, depression, disappointment, doubt, divorce, fear, sin, loneliness, fatigue, estrangement, embitterment, death, unemployment, tragedy, temptation. The list could be even longer. In thinking about some of the personal challenges I have faced so far, I was able to narrow down three things that helped me most in being spiritually prepared to endure and to continue to grow.
The first thing we can do to be spiritually prepared is to draw close to Heavenly Father through scriptures and prayer. An important phase of my spiritual growth happened my freshman year of college when I got more consistent with the scriptures. I began to read the Book of Mormon each day, outside on BYU campus. It was autumn, and as many of you know, autumn in Utah is glorious! The trees were aflame in beautiful colors, the sunlight was golden and the heat of summer had started to fade. I felt this kind of spiritual filling of my soul as I read the Book of Mormon each day surrounded by nature and sunlight, and I felt peace and knew the truth of what I read, but I know it was a time when my testimony became deeper and I was becoming more spiritually prepared. I felt close to Heavenly Father. I can’t remember the specifics of what verses touched my heart, but I remember the setting and the feeling and the way that it impacted that semester of college. Perhaps you can think of times in your life when scripture reading really had an impact on you. I know that reading the scriptures consistently will bring the spirit into our hearts and that Heavenly Father will send us the witness we desire.
Along with my scripture reading, praying to Heavenly Father has helped me build a strong base. A few years later, my junior year at BYU, I had a bed that was raised on cinder blocks, so it made the bed about 4 feet tall so I could store things under it—however, I had to get a running start to get onto that bed, and it was not very often that I would kneel beside my very tall bed to pray. During that particular year I was looking for direction in my life. I was about to turn 21 and was considering a mission, but was also considering marriage. I was taking a different route in school than I had planned, and I wanted to know if I was making the right choices—I felt like it was a pretty big crossroads for me, and I was looking for His help. I knelt by my tall bed one night, and had an experience that I later wrote about in my journal, where I felt His arms wrapped around me as I prayed. In general, I forget to pray a lot– and sometimes I get to that point where I feel like no one gets what I feel and I am just on my own. But when I do pause to pray, I feel fortified—I remember that I am not alone and that He is always there for me. He helps me remember what I already know. That His arms are around me. The words to a song say it really beautifully:
these arms i cannot see
but they encircle me
in his embrace
safe from the cold
i was here all along
but my eyes were closed
and i see the light
it lies in me
and i’ll do whatever it takes
to make sure that’ll i’ll always stay
in his embrace
Praying and studying the scriptures consistently will make our spirits like the Sequoias—beautiful and strong and ever-reaching to God. Feasting on His words will nourish our souls. It will teach us principles and prepare us, and prayer will make us mighty and remind us that Heavenly Father is close by.
The second thing we can do to be spiritually prepared is to keep our covenants. Each of us has a spirit that is ever-growing. Keeping our covenants is a continual process—we renew our baptismal covenants by participating in the ordinance of the sacrament and we renew our temple covenants by returning to the temple to participate in ordinances there. By thoughtfully participating in these ordinances, we are able to be reminded of the specifics of what we promised and of what blessings God gives in return. Those rituals also keep our minds focused on the eternal perspective. For me, sometimes participating in these ordinances is just a matter of organizing my time: making sure I get myself and my family to church or making sure I get to the temple. Just physically being there is part of the logistics. And that is an important part of it. I know that repetition and consistency in hearing the words of the sacrament and hearing the covenants I’ve made over and over have had an impact in my life.
Another important part of covenant-keeping happens during our day-to-day life. We renew covenants with special ordinances, but we honor our covenants in the way we live: by being a representative of Christ, by obeying His commandments, and by upholding the promises we have made. Having patterns in daily life can help us keep covenants. Practicing all aspects of righteous living is part of our covenant keeping. And each little drop of effort that we put forth is important, even if no one sees it but us. It could be paying tithing, doing an act of service, sharing the gospel with a friend, forgiving someone, or any of the things that will make us more like the Savior and help us keep our covenants. To me, it’s like putting a drop of oil in my lamp. And just like that parable, we never know when we are going to need that oil.  I feel like I’ve added to my lamp gradually throughout my life, some times more so than others. There have been defining moments where difficult challenges came, some small, some that shook me to my very core. I think all of those tiny drops of oil were a huge blessing—tiny drops that were like pieces of my testimony, little acts of keeping my promises with God, and though I felt like I was groping through the darkness, there was something there to sustain me. I could light my lamp. This leads to the third thing that helps us be spiritually prepared.
The third thing we can do is utilize the atonement and feel the relief that only the Savior can give. I know that turning to the Savior in our darkest hours can give us strength. In our Sisters in Scriptures class we recently reviewed the suffering our Savior went through in the Atonement and crucifixion. We learned about the specifics of the pain, of the reality of blood coming from every pore. And it just reaffirmed to me the love that Jesus Christ has for us, being willing to face all the darkness and pain in the world so that we can feel light and free. He satisfied the demands of justice by paying for us. Understanding the atonement and allowing it to work in our lives will bring us peace and help make us spiritually prepared for anything that might come our way. It can give us the reassurance that we can overcome anything because we have the Savior to help us. He is the ultimate way to withstand the mighty winds, yea, the shafts in the whirlwind. We are promised that when the devil’s hail and mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
These three things (scriptures, covenant-keeping, and the atonement) will help us be spiritually prepared to undergo challenges that will undoubtedly come, andprepared to allow such challenges to mold us into the person Heavenly Father would have us become. Isn’t that the point of our life here? It is not to avoid challenges, but to be refined. We will never be completely ready to be purged by trials, but we can be prepared to meet challenges with faith and with conviction in our covenants with God. And I don’t think it’s always so cut and dry: that one day we’re going through a hard thing and another day we’re not. Some trials and temptations are ever-present. And what then? We return to these basics and make them our focus. (Continue reading scriptures and praying, continue keeping covenants and remembering Christ’s atonement.) When I was going through something hard, I was looking for specific answers for a long time. I wanted revelation to come, I wanted to know exactly what I should do. As I studied about revelation, I came across something from Elder Bednar that talked about two kinds of revelation: the kind that comes quickly like a light bulb turning on, and the kind that comes gradually like a sunrise slowly spreading across the sky. I was so disappointed to realize that in my case, I was going to have to wait for a sunrise. And for me, that just required more time, more time doing each of these three things a little at a time. But that journey has been part of my personal process for becoming a new and improved version of me. Continuing to focus on our spiritual selves will help us reach our end goal, whatever that might be. Drawing close to Heavenly Father through scriptures and prayer, keeping covenants, and employing the atonement will make us prepared for challenges, but they can also be what gets us through challenges.
We can prepare spiritually, so we will not lose faith, but also so that we will stand ready to be hewn into something even greater. I think this coincides with the quote by the prophet Joseph Smith:
“I am like a huge rough stone…and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force…thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almighty.”
To return to the metaphor of the giant Sequoias: they have a quiet greatness that we can emulate spiritually. Their resilience, their constancy, their ability to overcome can be inspiration for us as we are purged by experiences in our lifetime. Getting consistent in scripture study and prayer, along with keeping our covenants and remembering Christ’s atonement, will all help us along our path to being spiritually prepared. I have a testimony that this is true, and I know that your efforts to be spiritually prepared will be so worthwhile and that Christ will make up the difference.

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