In one day I heard two very different stories. First, a sister in law wrote of ending her day with precious gratitude that a runaway stroller with her baby inside had been providentially protected. Then, I saw an update from a college friend saying that she had gone in that morning to get her twenty month old baby out of his crib only to find that he had passed away during the night. That left me with an aching sadness and a few questions. Why was one protected and one taken? Both of these women are remarkable mothers who dote on their children. No one would argue that one mother deserved her child more than the other. But still, last night one mother tucked in all of her children, while the other tucked in only three. My heart breaks, but how is my faith holding up?
The only thing I can figure is that it is not what happens to us, but what is happening in us. We are not here to go through a checklist of really hard things until we all match up with the appropriate number of trials, goals, and accomplishments. God isn't about trying to make everything fair. He is about trying to make us like Him. And on that day, two mothers had very different paths in how to get There. One ended her day with a profound gratitude for the hand of heaven she felt protecting her family. The other began it with a searing pain that could only be contained with faith, prayer, and love. The next day, I imagine they both were one step closer to the women God knows they can be. I certainly was, just by knowing them.
Faith is a sticky thing. We cannot see, but we must trust. We ache with fear, but strive to believe. And why? Why do we believe? Why do we press forward amidst doubt, discouragement, debt, or despair? I believe that it is not only because what we believe about God, but what we believe about ourselves. We signed up for this mortal experience because we wanted to become something better. We wanted to become like our loving Father in Heaven. And it just isn't possible without some harrowing experiences that test our wings, our souls, and our faith. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, "Jesus’ challenge shows that the conversion He required for those who would enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matt. 18:3) was far more than just being converted to testify to the truthfulness of the gospel. To testify is to know and to declare. The gospel challenges us to be “converted,” which requires us to do and to become." We must do and become if we truly desire to return to the presence of God and feel comfortable there. But that doing and becoming is intensely personal and the Lord is the Master Tailor. He customizes burdens to our shoulders and then strengthens our backs to bear them up. We cannot look at others and wonder, "Why them? Why me? Why not them? Why not me?" Or at least we cannot do that and expect to find enlightenment in the process. We are not God. We cannot know. But we can trust.
And what does all that trusting do for us? It shapes us. Take C.S. Lewis' words on prayer: "I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God- it changes me." So it is with faith. My faith does not strengthen God's reality. He is not a fairy that grows weaker every time someone shouts to the heavens that they do not believe. I believe in God. I believe that He is. But that belief does not create God. . . it creates me.
Above all, I believe that God is love. A love I cannot comprehend. A love profound enough to send His Only Begotten Son to be sacrificed for the rest of his children, many of whom will spurn the gift with pride and disdain. A love pure enough to forgive again and again and again. A love wise enough to save one and take another, knowing which mother needs what to become what she needs to be. I can trust that kind of love. I hope.
I have all of my children. I have my husband. I have a body that moves and eyes that see. I do not know how I would respond if any of these things were taken. Still, I am being shaped in ways the Lord knows I need shaping. Death is not the only sorrow that takes its toll on our faith. For every Godlike attribute we cultivate, there is a growing experience that must come first. And everyone's list is completely different. We can try to compare lists, or we can thank the Lord for our own and trust that it was written with love and wisdom.
In one day I read about two very different days. Two mothers and two children. One God in Heaven carefully guiding them and all those who love them to become what they should be. The Lord's work and glory is to help us Become. Become women of faith, men of fortitude, and disciples of love. The path is bumpy, but the promises are sure. One day, one soul, one breath at a time, we trust, press forward, believe. . . and become.