A friend shared a story with me yesterday about his favorite uncle that left me both amused and thoughtful. The uncle is a dyed-in-the-wool man of faith; a stake president, solid testimony, the kind of guy to whom the concept of disobedience would never occur. I know the type: A friend and mentor of mine, currently the president of one of the MTCs, fits this description. I’m envious and in awe of such men, for their unpolluted spirits and natural surety of providential collaboration.
Some years ago, the uncle had just finished reading the account of Lehi’s dream, and Nephi’s subsequent personal witness of it. It started him thinking– he wanted to see what they saw. He wanted the vision, too. So he started fasting and praying, approaching the Lord in humble admonition to receive this incredible blessing. For three months he persisted, fasting, praying, knowing if he continued, the Lord would acknowledge his faith. Finally, one night as he knelt in prayer, a voice came to him and said, “All right, I’ll show it to you. But are you prepared for the responsibility that accompanies this knowledge?” My friend’s uncle stopped cold. The gravity of the offer suddenly took on a whole new dimension. He finally answered, “No.”
In a sense, my friend’s uncle’s prayers were answered. The Lord acknowledged there was a vision and He agreed to share it. It was the realization of what accountability came with such celestial familiarity that changed his mind. Frankly, I think he chose wisely, and I believe the Lord expected it, too. To me, it wasn’t a lack of faith; it was more that the uncle recognized the lack of necessity at that stage of his spiritual evolution. Did the choice stunt his progress? Hardly. He isn’t Lehi or Nephi or Joseph Smith; he wasn’t foreordained with the mantle that they had. In such a situation, I would have opted out, too. But then, I’m a coward.
The uncle’s story reminds me of something I witnessed a few years ago (I may have shared this story before; if so, I apologize). I was teaching temple prep to a young couple. The wife was a convert who was approaching her 1-year mark a a member. The husband had been until-recently inactive, and was actively pursuing a career as a rock musician, with long hair and tattoos. Week after week, they came to all the classes, attentive, full of questions and comments. When it came time to invite them to make an appointment with the bishop for their recommend interviews, they responded that they weren’t ready. The wife then frankly explained that they believed everything that was taught was true, and they knew they needed to go to the temple to live together forever and return to Father’s presence. But they weren’t ready to assume the responsibility that went with the covenants. I was simultaneously incredulous of their decision and appreciative of their insight.
Not that I’m comparing the uncle with the couple. In the couple’s case, it was the unwillingness to respond to an invitation. The uncle, on the other hand, made a righteous request on his own that the Lord was willing to grant because of his faith, but first gently implied (in my opinion) that it wasn’t essential.
It’s like my 14-year-old daughter’s new-found passion for learning to drive. Last Saturday I suggested we go to the church parking lot in our little Matrix (which she’s slated to inherit), where we started her education. At first, she got familiar with the controls and pedals. Then she put the car in Drive and, with her foot resting lightly on the brake pedal, she coasted up and down the lot, getting a feel for the wheel as she turned the corners. After a while, I let her touch the gas as she went, starting out nervously but soon getting familiar and more comfortable with the added power and responsibility. I was delighted with how well she progressed, and later that day she took her mom for a ride with her new-found knowledge. Since then, she’s been asking repeatedly to go driving again so she can learn more. Will I continue to teach her? Absolutely. Does that mean if she proves to be suitably adept, I’m taking her out on the road? Absolutely not. Not just because it’s illegal (although that’s a solid enough reason right there), but because the road brings with it so many other elements that could hurt her. As she continues her education, she’s preparing herself for when she is ready, and that’s enough for now. As it is for my friend’s uncle.
Anyway, that’s my take. I may be way off course.