I climbed out of my AWD Safari minivan that I treat more like a Jeep than a family van, walked around to the passenger side and opened the door for Nel, my poodle/golden retriever cross. She excitedly bailed from the vehicle and began running around smelling everything. She loves hiking in the mountains as much as I do. Two minutes earlier I had barreled passed a packed pickup full of surprised 20+ year olds who were not experienced enough to navigate the snow covered tracks up a steep icy section of the road before cresting into the parking lot above Parrish canyon. I was apparently the only car that made it into the lot this morning because it was absolutely empty and quiet.
My intent on this particular morning was to give Nel a deserved run to the top of Lost Gold Mine Gulch while I took the time to talk with Heavenly Father about where I stood and what He thought of me because of my inability to keep all the commandments as well as I thought I should. I didn’t know it yet but on this hike I would have an experience that would bring me peace and a renewed determination to not give up.
From the parking lot we climbed the steep trail to the east until we reached the Bonneville Shore Line Trail and turned North, then East into Parrish canyon and down to the foot bridge crossing Parrish creek. The sun was warm on our skin but the air was a cool 25 degrees. Nel was busy checking the smells of everyone who had passed that way since we had been here last. On a whim I decided to hike up the canyon, past the bridge, to the Fremont Indian rock art panel. As we hiked I began to ponder weightier things.
Why could I not be better, more obedient? From my teens till now I had experienced more than my share of amazing and faith promoting experiences; dreams, personal revelation and other gifts of the Spirit. But regardless of those experiences and my testimony of a Heavenly Father and His plan, I struggled with keeping all of His commandments all the time. I felt time and again deep in my heart that God must be so disappointed in me. Yet through the years I was doggedly determined to never give up even if my reward in Heaven might be less than I hoped and desired. And through those same years I continued to be surprised and amazed as my Heavenly Father ceaselessly poured out one after another blessing and returned answers to my prayers despite my deeply felt failures. I never gave up and I continually plead with my Heavenly Father that somehow I might gain the strength to overcome and make Him proud of me.
As I trudged on up the snowy trail I contemplated the prophet Nephi’s lament as I had done more than once in the past; “… my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me. Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me. And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them. O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy? Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation. O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin? May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road! O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy. O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm. Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.“ (2Ne 4:16-35).
Today on this beautiful sunny day, I slipped into the same routine of berating myself, pleading for strength and recommitting for the unknownth time. At the age of 55, after spending the greater part of my life teaching others of God’s Plan of Happiness, my understanding of God’s plan and Christ’s atonement was still incomplete, but that was about to change.
The canyon was beautiful! The stream as it cascaded down the canyon had turned into an icy sculpture that in its beauty only God could create. Frozen into breath taking suspended waterfalls, white and glistening even as it appeared to tumble over and around rocks and bolders, the sound of racing water could be heard like fairy chimes tinkling beneath it all. Nel raced ahead darting and sniffing at every animal track and bush, and then ran pell-mell back again to see what was keeping me. I on the other hand barely took it in as I sank deep in though and began to dabble in self pity. Why was obedience so impossible?
Over the years of my life, through studying, trial and error I have come to the realization that there is real power in vocal prayer. Opening my mouth as I speak with God helps to unlock the Heavens and I hear His voice more clearly. Is it because it sharpens my focus, or demonstrates my faith, or slows my thoughts enough that the spirit has room to interject? I opened my mouth and began pouring out my feelings, as if I were speaking to a friend. Speaking with God and hearing his voice as The Doctrine and Covenants, section 8 states “… in my heart and in my mind …” is not new to me. I know God hears and answers prayers. As I began expressing my worn out and often repeated feelings of inadequacy and my inability to keep the commandments, a thought came powerfully to my mind and I felt it in my heart. Part of the process of my vocal prayer is to speak out loud the inspiration I receive. It would sound like I am having a conversation with myself. What I heard was “Roy, STOP! Listen and learn of Me. You can’t, you won’t, you never will. No mortal can live a perfect life. Not the prophets, not your priesthood leaders, not any of your associates and not you. Mortals are not capable to work out their salvation on their own. I prepared the way before the world was. You have heard it in the temple ceremony and seen it in the scriptures but you are not listening! Only my son Jesus Christ has lived a perfect life. This was arranged by Me, according to My plan! All that is required of you is an understanding of the doctrine of Christ, a desire to live it, having a hope and faith in Christ’s atonement, and striving and repenting always.”
By this time in our hike we had reached the rock art wall, navigated the stream above it and began ascending out of the canyon. We were pushing a small group of 10-15 deer ahead of us and I became temporarily distracted. Nel wanted to chase so I gave her permission and off she went bounding and sniffing where they had pushed their way through the brush and scrub oak. The deer were 100 yards ahead of us and when they realized that she was trying to catch up to them they picked up the pace and put another 100 yards between us to the top of the next rise. I called Nel back down the mountain and we began working our way through the scrub oak and around the face of the mountain to the north.
My mind returned to what I had just been taught. The feelings and thoughts had been so distinct and now the spirit continued to testify of what had just been taught to me as I played it over in my mind. I had been living the majority of the plan, but I had been partially blinded by unbelief. (Unbelief is an incorrect understanding of a principle of the gospel.) My unbelief was that I thought I shouldn’t stumble and struggle or that I could somehow overcome by myself. I was not trusting in the atonement being able to save me from my sins. It had never connected that I would never be able to be perfect in this life but that I could rely on my Savior to accept my imperfect striving and entirely make up the difference I could not do.
Turning back toward the parking lot the sun was warm on my face. The snow was melting in patches but there was no mud because the soil was soaking up the moisture. Antelope Island standing in the middle of the Great Salt Lake made a beautiful picture. A Bald Eagle soared on the wind currents. Oh what a beautiful morning! What a difference I felt from the self doubt I had felt less than an hour ago. I was filled with peace! I wanted to shout my Saviors praise! I walked on somewhat oblivious to the beauty around me as I was wrapped in the happiness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How full of grace and merciful and love was my Heavenly Father. I had come with a question of the value of my efforts and He had responded with an amazingly sweet and comforting assurance.
We arrived back at the van. I opened the passenger door and put a towel on the seat for Nel to jump up on. She stood, on the seat with the window open and sampled all the different smells as we drove home. I had just learned something new! Now what was I going to do with it? I intend to move forward exercising faith by having confidence in the atonement and allow my Savior to make up the difference for me even when I falter. I will never give up striving for obedience even though I will never be perfect. I will be willing to forgive myself. I will document this experience to the best of my faulty remembrance and ability and share it with those I love, just in case one of them might have self doubts I have had. I will continue to seek opportunities to pray vocally and ponder the mysteries of God until they are no longer mysteries to me and I can kneel at the feet of my Savior. I know He died and lives for us. I know Heavenly Father loves each of His children and has prepared a way that all of us who desire, have hope and faith in Christ, and seek Him can rest in His love and can experience, as quickly as we are willing, all the blessings of the gospel. I am living proof if you will accept me in my weakness.