Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Little universes in the Savior's care

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session from the April 1976 Conference.
It was hard to decide which talk to write about this week because this session contained a talk I've always liked: Boyd K. Packer's "Spiritual Crocodiles." This talk is the classic Elder Packer talk in my mind, and in my head I can hear practically every word of it, spoken in his serious, gravelly voice. I think it was made into a seminary movie, or else he told the same story later, because I wasn't born yet to hear this particular talk when he gave it! And there were parts of it that were new to me. Such a great story: a crocodile big enough to bite a man in two, hidden in the puddle of an elephant track! It's so scary and memorable. And a great message with it.

But then I read Elder Maxwell's talk from the same session, and I felt like I HAD to write about it too. I have gone through various phases of feeling toward Elder Maxwell. When I was young, I knew that everyone in my family liked his talks, so I liked them too. I always noticed his alliteration and his quoteable turns of phrase, and I thought they were kind of cool and fun to listen for. But as I got older, I somehow started being kind of annoyed with his style. I would think, "Why doesn't he just say things straight out? Why does he have to make everything all flowery? It's too much!" I wondered if he was just trying to show off his skill with words. (I'm sorry I ever thought that, Elder Maxwell!) And then after that, I felt for awhile like he was just too deep for me to understand. He seemed so solemn as he went through his cancer, I felt intimidated by his suffering and his knowledge.

And now…I am rediscovering Elder Maxwell all over again. Who knows, maybe I'm finally ready to hear some of the things I didn't understand before. But the more I read of him, the more I find he is one of my absolute favorites—now not simply for his facility with words, but for the deeper insights those words convey. I'm finding that, far from showing off or trying to showcase a big vocabulary, his carefully put-together phrases actually show a remarkable economy. He finds efficient ways to say things that then become memorable for their very brevity and compactness. He captures vast concepts with very few words, but those words are so well-chosen, and his images so striking, that the concepts shine through more brightly the longer you consider them.

Anyway, for me, this talk titled "Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King" is the best talk on Jesus Christ I have ever read. I feel like I want to memorize it just so I can have these beautiful phrases on my tongue anytime I want them. And again, it's not just the superficial eloquence of the words, but the depth of the concepts that strikes me. Somehow Elder Maxwell manages to weave together bits and pieces of facts that I suppose I've always kind of known about the Savior, and bind them together into a picture of Christ that brings His goodness and His character into sharper focus than any portrait I've seen. Elder Maxwell's words show a love and gratitude toward Christ that I feel too, but by their very specificity and perceptiveness, his words lifted my gratitude to a new, higher place than I have been able to achieve on my own, and I wanted to echo every sentence with "Yes! Yes! That too! Though I hadn't even realized it before, I'm grateful for that too!"

Really, every word I write about this talk is wasting the time you could be reading it for yourself (which is why I've linked to it about twenty times now), since my clumsy descriptions can't capture the power I felt in the talk itself. Probably some of that power can only be conveyed by the Spirit working in your own heart! And I feel like I had a particular need for some of these insights. But just to give you a sampling, here are a few of the sections I loved most. They're even better in context!
[Jesus Christ] helped to prepare this planet for us and led—not pushed—us from our premortal post. I thank him for the untold things he did, across the ages of that first estate, to prepare perfectly for his unique role—while I was doing so very much less. I thank him, further, for not deserting those of us who are slow or stragglers. 
Me too!
…I testify that Jesus was, in fact, actually proffered the kingdoms of this world by Satan. I thank him for declining this specious offer since all eternity would have been shaken, for Jesus’ grip on himself was also mankind’s hold on the future.
…I testify that in eloquent example he partook voluntarily of the bitter cup in the awful, but for him avoidable, atonement; we must, therefore, drink from our tiny cups. I thank him for likewise not interceding on our behalf, even when we pray in faith and reasonable righteousness, for that which would not be right for us
Yes! Such a great thing to be thankful for, don't you think? Of COURSE I don't want God to give me something that won't be right for me. But I never even thought to be thankful for it before! Then there's this:
…I thank him for helping me, even forgiving me, when I fall short, when I testify of things known but which are beyond the border of my behavior, and for helping me to advance that border, bit by bit. His relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs.
This describes so perfectly the struggle to DO what I know I SHOULD do. Even when I manage to get my desires somewhat in line with God's will, I find so many things just beyond the "border of my behavior." And I feel so discouraged about it sometimes. But yes—that is one of the amazing things about the repentance Jesus Christ made possible—that that border DOES advance. Slowly, bit by bit, I find I can do more. It's miraculous! And it's only because of the Savior.

And maybe my favorite part:
I testify that [Christ] and the Father are serious about stretching our souls in this second estate. I thank him for truly teaching us about our personal possibilities and for divinely demonstrating directions—not just pointing. 
I testify that just as he has helped to carefully construct this second estate for all mankind, he also has helped to carefully construct each of our little universes of experience.
Jesus Christ has "carefully constructed" our little universes of experience! I love that so much! It's so hopeful! I know some people feel disturbed about the idea that God might be party to the most difficult or terrible experiences of their lives, and I can't comment on or explain to what extent he allows things to happen to us, versus intending them to happen, and so forth. I don't really WANT to get into that debate, but I will say: for ME, the idea that the Savior has constructed—carefully constructed—each little component of my "little universe," specifically for the purpose of "stretching my soul," is a wonderful doctrine. I rejoice in it. I have sometimes doubted it, but each time it is reaffirmed to me, I feel anew the beauty of it. God cares about my experiences! He shapes them! He is shaping me! And he has built my entire "little universe" under the wings of His love. I love the clarity with which Elder Maxwell teaches that concept. (And I gain confidence in the truth of it as I hear it taught by multiple witnesses—here is another one I've written about.)

I feel like this is one of those talks I could read over and over, and a different set of phrases will strike me and enlighten me every time. It makes me long for the sort of relationship with and insight into the Savior that Elder Maxwell so clearly possessed, and it makes me want to deepen and broaden my understanding of all I owe to Jesus Christ, so that I, too, can expand my gratitude to Him.

Other posts in this series:

2 comments:

  1. I loved this so much! (Obviously! Of course you would know I would without my even telling you!) I love what you said about Maxwell's phrases too. Such a good insight. These carefully chosen words of his that I DO remember because they roll off the tongue and express vast concepts ("cousin to certitude" "relationships of resumption" etc.). I find so often that he seemed to think often about (and KNOW so much more about -- and with such hopeful certainty) the things I do often ponder and wish to be true. It's very comforting. BUT! I will go find and bookmark that talk right away now! I'm so glad you shared it!

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    1. You're part of the reason I've had a resurgence of Maxwell-appreciation! You just kept sharing such great quotes with me! And he is nothing if not quoteable. But then, as we've been saying, he's more than JUST quoteable. :)

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