The gospel of Jesus Christ is one of optimism and hope. We hold onto the good news of the gospel and rightly so. After all, “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). However, we can also mistakenly avoid and even belittle the hard truths of progression in our determination to find this joy.
It’s rarely intentional. Our only goal is to inspire and motivate! Yet we often believe, whether we realize it or not, that if we just work hard enough our trials will end the way we want them to. Have you ever heard a phrase similar to this one?
“If you just pray more/harder/better (insert action here), then God will answer you (insert blessing here).”
When our situation worsens or heaven remains silent, we then feel like we’ve failed. If only we could be better, then our lives would be better.
While there is definitely power and blessings that come from living a righteous life, all of God’s children need to be prepared to submit fully to God’s proving. Seeking to understand and accept suffering and sacrifice is an essential beat of the disciple’s heart. Consider this quote from Joseph Smith:
“You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God. . . . God will feel after you, and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”
The request of God for Abraham to kill his only son is one of the most prominent scriptural examples of sacrifice. After waiting for many agonizing years to have a child, the willingness of Abraham to bind Isaac upon the altar and raise his knife is as heart-wrenching as it is admirable. Yet, I’ve often found it interesting that Abraham was not required to complete his sacrifice. An angel of the Lord appears and stops him from killing Isaac.
So, what do you do when the angel doesn’t appear in your life? What if God actually asks you to “kill” your symbolic Isaac?
For many of us, we experience shock and say in disbelief, “He really had me do it.” In the aftermath, loneliness and ostracism can creep in as we hear testimony after testimony, lesson after lesson promising deliverance and escape if we JUST do…so very many things.
It’s time from a shift in our thinking as we reexamine what happens when God asks for the hardest sacrifice. Here are three principles important to internalize on this journey.
It Can’t Be About the Outcome
Why do we do the things we do? This is one of the important questions at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do we obey out of fear? Perhaps we expect something in return for our good works. Or, we may simply be trying to do our best because it’s all we know how to do.
The answer to why we do the things we do in the gospel evolve and change over time, but I believe our deepest motivation for serving God should be love. When we love God and want to do his will as an expression of that love, we find the courage to face disappointing or even tragic outcomes. If our faith is built on wanting our lives to go a certain way, our faith will likely crumble. If our foundation is built upon a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, it can withstand the necessary trying of our souls.
A Christ-Like Progression
The greatest example of sacrifice is the ultimate atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His suffering is beyond comprehension. Christ asked if the bitter cup could be passed from him, just as we often do. Yet, he submitted his will and offers us eternal life. When we are asked to drink from the bitter cup, we can find strength in our progression to become more like Christ. By truly sacrificing we come a little closer to understanding who he is and how we can follow in his footsteps.
Thus, an agonizing sacrifice should not be seen as a punishment, a consequence, or a failure. Rather, it is an opportunity to know Christ.
This powerful statement from Elder Enzio F. Busche can help us find hope in our darkest times.
“When you are compelled to give up something or when things that are dear to you are withdrawn from you, know that this is your lesson to be learned right now. But know also that, as you are learning this lesson, God wants to give you something better.”
We should never try to lessen the magnitude of a sacrifice, but as we strive to maintain a perspective we can see beyond the pain of this moment. Not much can bring us comfort, especially when the “something better” we hope to gain does not come in this life. However, there’s strength and courage to be found as we move forward through the mire, hoping to reach a brighter day.