Everyone has them. Yesterday afternoon I found myself sitting on the corner of my bed staring into the darkness, trying to feel something, anything. I let warm tears course down my cheeks as I finally surrendered to the lostness that has been creeping after me for a very long time, waiting for an easy moment. I don’t let myself do that often because bi-polar tendencies ensure that that can last far longer than is healthy. But after playing Pollyanna as long as one can, sometimes one is left with the dark room and the dark vapor of hopelessness.
One of my favorite books, To Him That Believeth, quotes a day like that as told by a woman who lived and worked a hundred years ago. Rather than tell my story, I’m going to tell hers, because it is so moving to me and always pushes the hopelessness just far enough away to let me breathe and get my bearings. The whole talk in which she told this story is contained in her papers at the University of Utah, but you can read it here. Her words are so very inspirational for someone whose LDS faith is the center of her life. Perhaps it will resonate with you as it has with me.
Rebecca Bean was called in 1914 with her husband to serve what would become a 24-year mission living on the Joseph Smith farm in Palmyra, New York. She and her husband had been married less than a year. She was 23 years old. They had a constant flow of visitors and it was their responsibility to settle into a place deeply hostile to Mormons, keep up the farm, and care for anyone who came to visit. Following the link above will tell you much more of their fascinating story, but this is the part I read when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.
And now I would like to conclude my talk by telling you about the most wonderful experience that I had during those 24 years we lived at the Joseph Smith farm. It was a hot, humid summer day and we had had many visitors that day. It had been especially hard for me. I had a baby just one year old that I had carried around on my hip most of the day while I was doing my work. It was so warm and everything seemed to be going wrong. After giving all our visitors lunch and fixing our supper, night finally came. I put my children to bed and then sat down for a nice evening. Elder Talmage was there and some missionaries and we had a wonderful evening talking together. After talking for a while I took them upstairs and showed them where to sleep. Then I went down and thought, “Well, I will pick up a few things and make it easier for myself in the morning.
But I was so weary and so tired that I was crying as I went about straightening things up a little. Everybody was in bed and asleep but me. I looked at the clock and it was eleven o’clock. I can remember so well saying to myself, “I had better call it a day.” I went to our room and Willard was sound asleep and our baby also. It was peaceful and quiet. I got myself ready for bed and I was still crying a little. I said my prayers and got into bed and was crying softly on my pillow. And then I had this dream or vision, I don’t know which.
It was another day. It had been a wonderful morning. I had prepared breakfast for my visitors, and my children were happily playing. I had done my work and cared for my baby and he was contented and happy. Then I prepared lunch and we were all seated around the table, my little baby in his high chair. And then there was a knock at the front door and I got up to answer it. I opened the door and there stood a very handsome young man. I just took it for granted that he was just another new missionary that had come to see us. I said, “You are here just in time for lunch. Come with me.”
As we walked through the little hall into the dining room I noticed he laid some pamphlets down on a small table. We walked into the dining room and I introduced him around, and then I said, “Now you sit right down here next to Elder Talmage and I will set a plate for you.” And I thought it surprising, he being a stranger, that he and Elder Talmage seemed so happy to see each other and they talked about such wonderful things while we were eating. The spirit during the meal was wonderful and everyone seemed so happy to be together. After the meal was over, Elder Talmage said to the missionaries, “Now let’s go outside and just linger here and enjoy the spirit of this sacred place because we will soon have to leave.” I put my baby to bed and the older ones went out to play so that I was alone with this young man.
He thanked me for having him for lunch and told me how much it meant for him to be there and that he thought that my children were so sweet and well trained. I felt very happy when he said that and then we walked into the hall together. He said, “I have far to go, so I must be on my way.” Then I turned from him just a moment to pick up and give to him his pamphlets that he had laid on the table. When I turned to face him it was the Savior who stood before me and He was in his glory. I cannot describe the love and sweetness that shined from his face and in His eyes. Lovingly he laid his hands on my shoulders and looked down into my face with the kindest countenance I have ever seen, and this is what he said to me. “Sister Bean, this day hasn’t been too hard for you, has it?” And I said, “Oh no, I have been so happy in my work and everything has gone so well.” Then he said, “I promise you that if you will go about your work as you have done it this day you will be equal to it. Oh remember, remember that these missionaries represent me on this earth and all you do unto them you do unto me.” As we walked through the hall and out onto the porch I remember I was crying. He turned and repeated the same thing again saying, “These missionaries represent me on earth and all that you do unto them you do unto me.” Then he started to move upwards. The roof of the porch was no obstruction for him to go through nor for me to see through. He went upward and upward and I wondered how I could see him so far away. And then all at once he disappeared and I found myself crying softly on my pillow like I was when I went to bed.
I bear humble testimony to you that never again was there any frustration in my soul. Never again did too many missionaries come that I couldn’t find beds for them or enough food to give them. The great love that I always had for missionaries became even greater after what the Savior said to me. How I wish that every missionary who goes out into the world could know that His love and His guidance is only a prayer away. They teach of His Gospel and how much we mean to Him.
All those years that we lived there I felt the love and influence of the Prophet Joseph Smith as did all my family and the love and influence of the Savior. I believe that if I live well enough in this life then I will meet the Prophet Joseph in the next, and that he will know me and I will know him. There will be a friendship between us that few earthly friends know. I live alone now, but I am never lonely. My days are the sunset of my life and they they are sweet and peaceful, filled with golden memories.
Over the past two days I’ve listened to people talk about hard days. Someone who has had quite a few this past few months made three important points about them: they build character and strength, soften us around the edges, and grow people together. It’s true. As I listened, I realized that you cannot look someone in the eyes who is going through hard days and tell them it will all work out if you haven’t endured through the “working out” yourself. We are meant to have the street cred to look people in the eyes and say those words, just as Jesus Christ himself descended below all things so that he could look us in the eyes and say, “I know.” God wants everyone to have someone who can look at them with that quiet truth.
Someone else talked about a man lying at the pool of Bethesda, who was doing all he could to find healing and who had the proper attitude to be healed, but even with all his efforts to solve his problem, he was not enough. Jesus Christ found him, of all those souls there, and asked him if he really wanted it. He did, and he was. And then there was Peter, who is one of my heroes. He saw the example of his master walking on water and he wanted to as well, and he did, and he failed, and he was helped. Today I realized that his failure was as important as his success, because, just as the man at Bethesda, we have to hold two opposite ideals in our mind simultaneously before we make a quantum leap: we must know the miracle is possible, but we must also know that we are not enough to create it on our own. We must discover both of those things – we can’t skip either.
Someone else talked about sitting at the side of the well (Isaiah’s well: “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”) and staring into that black hole and knowing what is there but lacking the strength to pull that rope up. It’s hard work sometimes to pull on that rope of grace a bucket of faith filled with living water, and we have to just sit there. Sometimes someone can help us, and sometimes they can’t or won’t, so we wait. The hard day passes, but we don’t move away from the well. We know where the water is.
And finally someone said that our weaknesses are like a graven image of ourselves that we refuse to substitute for God’s image. We are face to face with them and we shrink from doing what we can because we know that we are insufficient. We need to get over it and get on with it. What if Peter had never tendered a foot onto the water, what if John had shrunk from writing the Revelation because his Greek was poor, what if we do not do what we are commissioned to do? Of course we are insufficient. That’s one of the two great principles. Faith is pressing on, when we are discouraged, when we are not enough, when we are broken, knowing it will work out.
To quote Julie Beck, who was quoted today: “You are doing better than you think you are, and you can do better than you think you can.”
In my own reading, I heard last night the words of Isaiah as quoted to the Nephites in America after Christ’s ascension in Jerusalem. “Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the fire of coals and bringeth forth an instrument for his work.” If we really plan to be an instrument, we should expect a little fire and a little folding of the steel.
Tomorrow the healing may come, after discovering that we are not enough, after trying something impossible, He may step in. After sitting at the well for a bit someone may pull the rope up or we may grow strong enough to ourselves, or we may discover that it was all a graven image and just do our imperfect best and let it be enough. After it is over, we are a useful instrument with some street cred.
Hard days happen. Press on. You will be equal to the task, and so will I.