I have never done this and likely won’t do it again anytime soon. But.. this past Sunday Brian and I spoke in church for Mother’s Day. And, as we’re moving soon, was our last opportunity to speak to the congregation we’ve been attending. (I’ll tell you about the move in a post I’m just about to write.)
Back to why I’m sharing a talk in my blog.. Last November or so I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night with this talk in my head. And I had a very clear new interpretation of the parable of the ten virgins that unfolded itself in my mind. I’ve never experienced that before. I doubt I will again.
So – this being the last opportunity to speak, I took some extra time to sit down and study out the thoughts I had that night. I was kind of blown away by what unfolded. And it happened to be just perfect for Mother’s Day, too. The result is the talk that follows. I’m including lots of reference links because there was so much more I could have shared if time had allowed.
Many of your will recognize the parable of the ten virgins. (Matthew 25)
1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
It is a custom among the Jews for the bridegroom to come at night to the bride’s house, where her bridesmaids attended her. When the bridegroom’s approach was announced, the maidens went out with lamps to light his way to the house. The weddings usually began in the evening, with the lamps lit at dusk.
Now, it is of note that each of the virgins came to the wedding with a lamp and with oil. These lamps typically were fueled by olive oil which was inexpensive and readily available. Each came thinking she was prepared. But this parable tells us that, on this occasion, “The bridegroom tarried.”. Contrary to tradition, he came late. At midnight. (Matthew 25:5-6) When the call finally came, some of the bridesmaids found that because of the late hour, their oil was spent (Matthew 25:8) .
(About oil lamps and fuel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_lamp )
What was the difference between the wise and foolish virgins? The foolish virgins brought only the oil in their lamps. While the wise each brought a vessel with other oil. In other words, they came prepared for a wait.
The words of Isaiah could be applied to the wise virgins. “They shall not be ashamed that wait for me.” (Isaiah 49:23).
I want to talk with you about the principle of “waiting on the Lord”. I hope to answer a few questions: Why is waiting a part of Heavenly Father’s plan? How is “waiting on the Lord” different from just waiting? How can we prepare ourselves to wait on the Lord? And what promises are given to those who wait on Him?
Robert D. Hales taught:
The purpose of our life on earth is to grow, develop, and be strengthened through our own experiences. How do we do this? The scriptures give us an answer in one simple phrase: we “wait upon the Lord” https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/waiting-upon-the-lord-thy-will-be-done?lang=eng
When we moved into this ward, we were newlyweds. Brian had just graduated from college and started his career. And we were trying to have a baby.
Now you didn’t know that. We’d been trying for a couple of years, had started to work with doctors. It was just long enough that my feelings about it were pretty raw and I wasn’t ready to tell anyone about the struggle. But I was acutely aware of not yet having any children.
That trial was one of the hardest of my life. I became a bit obsessed with studying the relationship between faith and hope. Convinced that if I had more faith or more hope, that infertility would be easier. I especially loved Hebrews chapter 11 which cites many examples of miracles wrought by faith. I clung to verse 11 which reads:
Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
(I wondered at verse 39. “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise”)
I think the hardest part of that waiting for me was not understanding. I often wondered if the reason I still wasn’t a mother was that I was somehow lacking, unworthy, forgotten or rejected. I struggled with my first question often.
Why is waiting a part of Heavenly Father’s plan?
Waiting plays an important role in our growth in mortality. Most, if not all of us, will have reason at some time or in some way to wait on the Lord. Lehi’s family waited for the promised land. Noah waited for the rain to stop. The early pioneers waited to find Zion.
You likely find yourselves waiting, too. Maybe you’re waiting for motherhood like I was. Or for marriage. Maybe you’re waiting for a loved one to return to the gospel. Or for conflict in your marriage to resolve. Maybe you are waiting to endure a semester, or a difficult assignment, or potty training. Maybe you are waiting for healing or waiting through grief. Maybe you are waiting for direction on a difficult question. Or maybe you are just waiting, trying the best you can to endure to the end.
It is easy in periods of waiting to question why a loving Heavenly Father would seem to stay his hand, especially for those who righteously follow him.
President Dieter F Uchtdorf gave one answer:
I think God knows something we don’t—things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend! Our Father in Heaven is an eternal being whose experience, wisdom, and intelligence are infinitely greater than ours.Not only that, but He is also eternally loving, compassionate, and focused on one blessed goal: to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life.
Keeping in mind our Heavenly Father’s great love, consider another answer from Elder Robert D. Hales:
In my life I have learned that sometimes I do not receive an answer to a prayer because the Lord knows I am not ready. When He does answer, it is often “here a little and there a little” because that is all that I can bear or all I am willing to do.
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2011/10/waiting-upon-the-lord-thy-will-be-done?lang=eng (Please note I hesitate to include this quote as I don’t want to imply that not being ready is equivalent to not being worthy. Those are different things entirely.)
And don’t forget the answer given to Joseph Smith when his suffering and the suffering of the early Saints led him to proclaim “O God, where art thou?” To him, the Lord said:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; (D&C 121:7-8)
All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (D&C 122:7)
How is waiting on the Lord different from just waiting?
Robert D. Hales:
What does it mean to wait upon the Lord? In the scriptures, the word wait means to hope, to anticipate, and to trust.
It may sound contradictory to say, but unlike passive waiting, waiting on the Lord is defined by action. While the process is helped by attributes such as faith, patience, humility, meekness, and long-suffering, waiting on the Lord is a form of doing. It is trusting, seeking, obeying, praying, planting, nurturing, submitting, enduring. (see https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/henry-b-eyring_waiting-upon-lord/)
As you can tell, waiting upon the Lord is a skill to be developed. One developed through practice. To that end, the apostle Paul wrote:
But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;
And patience, experience; and experience, hope (Romans 5:3)
Waiting on the Lord is being ready to act the moment we are called. It is doing as directed in D&C 33:17:
17 Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom
How can we prepare ourselves to wait on the Lord?
It is apparent from from the parable of the ten virgins that it is possible to come prepared for waiting. We do this by metaphorically filling and carrying extra vessels of oil.
Consider this counsel given by our prophet, Russell M. Nelson, in our last general conference:
To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow.
We develop the ability to wait upon the Lord as we practice obedience, gratitude, prayer, and patience.
And then? We will eventually see that the heavens were not closed after all.
Elder Uchtdorf put it this way:
Part of our challenge is, I think, that we imagine that God has all of His blessings locked in a huge cloud up in heaven, refusing to give them to us unless we comply with some strict, paternalistic requirements he has set up. But the commandments aren’t like that at all. In reality, Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us.
What blessings come to those who wait on the Lord?
Consider these comforting words from a loving Father recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 98:
1 Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks;
2 Waiting patiently on the Lord, for your prayers have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, and are recorded with this seal and testament—the Lord hath sworn and decreed that they shall be granted.
3 Therefore, he giveth this promise unto you, with an immutable covenant that they shall be fulfilled; and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good, and to my name’s glory, saith the Lord.
Blessings are waiting. Answers are waiting. It may be that you will someday understand the purpose of your waiting. And when you do, you will see that the Lord was there showering you with blessings all along.
After 5 years of infertility, Brian and I received on the same day and in the same moment a clear answer that it was time for us to adopt. We immediately started the application and it was only 9 months later that we received a call telling us about Patrick.
All at once, it became clear that our prayers had, in fact, been heard. We hadn’t been forgotten. In fact, for years we had been very carefully and lovingly prepared for the very challenging task that lay ahead of us. Patrick had been born with a serious birth defect. He was given a 1-2 year chance of survival. He would need constant medical care to survive. And eventually he would need a transplant.
Intestinal transplant was such a new procedure at that time that, had Patrick been born 5 years earlier, his chances of survival would have been very small. Timing was everything for him and for us.
Of course, we traded in one period of waiting on the Lord for another as I became very familiar with the constant waiting that exists in the medical world. From waiting rooms to the transplant waiting list, it seemed my every moment became waiting. We waited 6 years for Patrick’s transplant, struggling with sudden illness, physical limitations, and the knowledge that at any moment he might be called home..
Finally one night at about 10 p.m., as we were turning out the light, the phone rang again. We were told organs were available and we needed to get to Nebraska. Right then. So we grabbed the bags we packed literally years before, called family together for a priesthood blessing, and we went. 24 hours later Patrick was in surgery receiving a new liver, intestine and pancreas.
The few months of recovery that followed were some of the most difficult and sacred of our lives. As we waited for healing, we relied heavily on habits of prayer, fasting, scripture study, and covenant keeping. I came to appreciate the blessings of the sacrament as it was brought to me week after week in his hospital room. Patrick and I held “primary” every Sunday, singing a few songs and telling stories from the lesson manual. We found respite in service to other patients. And we relied heavily on each other and on the Lord.
I have been witness to countless miracles. I have been the recipient of countless acts of service. I have been strengthened when I thought I could not handle another hour.
There is a promise found in the Book of Isaiah:
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]
This Mother’s Day, to any of you who find yourselves waiting, hurting, longing, or afraid.. I bear witness from my experience that this is a promise that the Lord will fulfill for you. Now. While you are waiting. Even if other blessings may still require waiting.
Let me share with you one more promise given voice by President Nelson:
When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.
When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you.
As you wait patiently upon the Lord, may you echo the words of the hymn:
Savior, may I learn to love thee,
Walk the path that thou hast shown,
Pause to help and lift another,
Finding strength beyond my own.
Savior, may I learn to love thee–
Lord, I would follow thee.
(Hymns: Lord I Would Follow Thee)
Through His grace, this is possible, as we come with our lamps trimmed and burning.