Tests and Training Wheels

A lot of discussion exists in the world, and especially within the LDS Church about personal revelation, and receiving direction from God. And rightly so, I think, since I believe that God is our loving Heavenly Father, who also happens to be omniscient and omnipresent, and definitely understands things way better than I do! I believe that He cares about me and the things that I am going through, because I, like you, am one of His precious children. I believe that He is happy to guide me and give me counsel when I seek it. And I love that. I would be seriously lost without that relationship. However, as I have been getting a little older and trying to figure out the whole “adulthood” thing, I’ve started to realize some fascinating subtleties in my prized relationship with deity. 

For one thing, I have discovered that, much like my relationship with my earthy parents, my choices (however insightful or however dumb) do not affect the love that is extended toward me. There are no “favorite” children in the eyes of our Father. I am loved perfectly and wholly and completely, even during times when I thought that rocky, self-destructive path looked so enticing…and eventually learned otherwise. Now, it’s not something that I understand, but it is something that I know to be true.

“…however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Laborers in the Vineyard”)

While God’s love may be unconditional, there is one aspect of our relationship with Him that I feel is very conditional. That treasured aspect is trust. We see this evidenced in the New Testament when Christ shared the parable of the talents:

And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed:

And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine.

His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

In similar ways, our Lord has entrusted to us certain gifts or opportunities or responsibilities, and we are accountable for how we choose to use (or not use) them. To those who manage their stewardship wisely, more will be entrusted. To those who prove unable or unwilling, they will be relieved of that responsibility. Now, we can’t possibly think that this consequence is some kind of punishment! In fact, it is merciful, as Christ has warned us, “For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation” (D&C 82:3). Though we, in our human pride and competitive nature, sometimes attempt to bite off more than we can chew, the Lord never issues to us more than we are able to handle. Every trial, every task He places before us is carefully calculated to match our capacity, stretch us, and help us grow.

I don’t want to get into risk aversion here, or the economics of that great parable in Matthew, but I do want to just briefly mention that oftentimes, if we are to accomplish what the Lord needs us to accomplish, we need to take a little leap of faith. We have to be willing to expose ourselves to vulnerability and the unknown, putting our trust in Christ’s unmatched power (see Ether 12:6). It’s HARD, I know. That is the scariest and most empowering thing. Each time we succeed, we become that much more capable for the future.

Not all opportunities for learning and divine growth come in this same way, however. Not all are “tests” that we are subjected to. We have also been invited to take control of our own spiritual progression:

“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

“For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”

(D&C 58:26-28)

These sorts of situations are what I like to refer to as “spiritual training wheels.” Just like how we as children hope to someday be able to ride a bike, we now, as spiritual infants, hope to someday become like our Father in Heaven, and live the kind of life that He lives. Every decision we make is a step on the path that can lead us to that goal. And just like riding a bike, it is a learning PROCESS. We don’t get to use training wheels forever, we are not spiritually instructed in every decision.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

[A person may have] a strong desire to be led by the Spirit of the Lord but … unwisely extends that desire to the point of wanting to be led in all things. A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. Personal decision making is one of the sources of the growth we are meant to experience in mortality. Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. For example, this is likely to occur in those numerous circumstances in which the choices are trivial or either choice is acceptable.

I believe that as we experience a change of heart through our obedience to the Gospel, we require less instruction and direction because the Lord trusts us to make correct decisions. He can see in us what we may not be able to see within ourselves: our progress in becoming like the Savior, who himself said, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” and “I do always those things that please him” (John 6:38, John 8:29). As we continue living the Gospel faithfully, we may not notice, but we will lose our spiritual “training wheels”, and will look back one day and realize there’s no one running behind us holding onto the back of our seat. Eventually, we will be able to ride our bikes unassisted, or in a spiritual sense, be fully prepared to inherit Eternal Life. We will live our lives in accordance with the Lord’s will, because that will be OUR will, our nature, and our Celestial future. 🙂

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