It’s been a discouraging week. They aren’t always, in fact seldom are no matter what happens, but this one was. Today as I worked in the ash-filled air, heavy with a melancholy and a mourning that has left me thinking about all that is lost when the land burns, I thought about weeding onions.
The story of Henry Eyring, a great scientist and teacher and father of a modern apostle, eighty years old and dragging himself down a row of onions, kept running through my mind. It motivates me during low times to improve my attitude.
He was suffering from bone cancer but it was his duty to see to the ward’s turn at weeding the field, so he assigned himself. He couldn’t kneel, so he pulled himself on his stomach, chatting merrily with others in the rows beside him. At the end of the day one of the farm managers was distraught that he had spent his day on that row: they had sprayed those weeds and they would die in a few days anyway, so his time had been completely wasted. His son asked him how he could be so positive after investing such pain-filled hours in something senseless.
He replied, “Hal, I wasn’t there for the weeds.”
His son tells the story in an address that is filled with thoughts that strangely erase the pain of recent days. He talks about waiting upon the Lord. He talks about calling down the powers of heaven when we are inadequate and failing. He talks about the path of duty.
You and I struggle to bring down the powers of heaven. Oh, you may not think about it much, but sometimes you do. You go along on your own and then, suddenly, that’s not enough. Something dramatic may happen, like having a friend or family member who needs a blessing. Or perhaps something dramatic doesn’t happen; you realize that you’ve been teaching your class or visiting the people who have been assigned to your care with no visible effect. That may make you doubt yourself or the person who called you or even whether you have the power to reach God.
He says he’s not worried about us losing our testimony, because we’ve had spiritual experiences, and for some, marvelous ones. He’s worried about what Pres. Heber J. Grant worried about:
There is but one path of safety to the Latter-day Saints, and that is the path of duty. It is not testimony, it is not marvelous manifestations, it is not knowing that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, . . . it is not actually knowing that the Savior is the Redeemer, and that Joseph Smith was His prophet, that will save you and me, but it is the keeping of the commandments of God, the living the life of a Latter-day Saint.
I’ve found this too. My belief in the doctrines of the gospel has been strengthened more by living them than by studying them.
He shares when he was asked to chair a committee on higher education in the church and how he was encouraged by a blessing, but after months of work felt like an utter failure. He sought the counsel of Pres. Harold B. Lee, who shared a similar experience when he was asked to search out a direction for the church in supporting servicemen during conflict. They worked for months and still no plan emerged. Then Pres. Lee said:
Hal, when we had done all we knew how to do, when we had our backs to the wall, then God gave us the revelation. Hal, if you want to get revelation, do your homework.
The key to all this “studying it out” is patience. Alma gave good advice to his son:
Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.
Never weary of good works. He continues:
The good works that really matter require the help of heaven. And the help of heaven requires working past the point of fatigue so far that only the meek and lowly will keep going long enough.
The Lord doesn’t put us through this test just to give us a grade; he does it because the process will change us. …
If we are going to do our duty, we are going to need the powers of heaven. And if we are going to be given access to the powers of heaven, we are going to have to learn to wait upon the Lord.
Remembering the reason we’re here – to serve as we’re called, to stay in the path of duty, to grow to be trustworthy so that the Lord can call upon us to serve his children where he needs us to go – makes our row of onions much more than a patch of weeds, much more than the simple and sometimes apparently pointless work we do.
Now, you’ll be in an onion patch much of your life. So will I. It will be hard to see the powers of heaven magnifying us or our efforts. It may even be hard to see our work being of any value at all. And sometimes our work won’t go well.
But you didn’t come for the weeds. You came for the Savior. And if you pray, and if you choose to be clean, and if you choose to follow God’s servants, you will be able to work and wait long enough to bring down the powers of heaven.
In my kitchen years ago I had a scripture painted around the top of the wall. It was my reminder that everything that happened there – the hundreds of meals cooked, the endless cleaning of little people, the hub of our life that a kitchen often is – was energized by this principle of waiting. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. [Isaiah 40:31]
I promise you that if you will be patient and diligent, you will have a blessing come to you that you will know that you are doing what the Lord would have you do. And you can be blessed to remember that while you are in that onion patch, you are not there for the weeds. That will be important sometimes when the weeds don’t come out easily. You can feel the approval of God.
Neither onions nor weeds are forever, so I guess while I’m here, I’ll weed. Perhaps a bit more merrily now.