[Alternate Titles: God Is a Master Novelist, Part Four; If God Takes the Pen Out of Your Hands, Let Him]
“Decisions determine your destiny,” President Monson has been reminding us for decades. Agency is the most profound aspect of our existence, the defining trait of humanity that separates us from beasts, that makes us kin to the gods. The Lord tells us to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will.” We are meant to be authors in our own right, writers of our own book of life with the pen of our choices. As children of a god, we write our own stories and create our own worlds.
“Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power,” the prophet Joseph enjoins us.
Indeed, an empowering doctrine, our agency. We are agents: things to act, not to be acted upon.
But of course, we are only beginning creative writers. We mess up, and frequently. And sometimes there’s already writing on the page, and we only have the option of filling in a few blanks, lacking control over the whole story itself. With that fact of powerlessness in mind, Brother Joseph continues his enjoinment from before: “and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed” (D&C 123:17).
In other words, when you’ve done all you can do, let God take the pen.
But even when we turn things over to God, recognizing that there are certain, indeed many, things that affect us yet lie outside of our power to choose for ourselves—such as getting a certain job or receiving personal revelation or finding an eternal companion—there are other activities we can engage in that show our humility, prove our faith and display how much we’re willing to commit to obtain those blessings. Fasting, more in-depth scripture study, utter humility in our pleading with Him, fulfilling our callings and going to the temple as frequently and fervently as we can… We are always capable of acting, of showing God the true depth of our faith in Him, and in doing everything we can, even if it’s not directly related to the desired blessing.
Yet sometimes we do all of those things, and still the blessings do not come. What then?
I recently had this very experience. A week and a half ago, I was awaiting a certain email that would theoretically bear a potentially life-changing message. I wasn’t absolutely sure it was going to come, but I had been waiting and working a long, LONG time for it, and the timing just seemed perfect. On the last day it could have possibly come, I went to the temple, fasting, and took one name all the way though the temple from baptism to endowment. Afterwards, I came out and checked my email.
Nothing. Without going into specifics, I can tell you it was disappointment on an existential level.
The only things you can really do after that kind of disappointment are outright rebel or quietly submit. The thought of rebellion just made everything around it worse, and I realized the Lord had been quietly hinting at the disappointment in the days leading up to this one, so though I didn’t get the blessing I sought, I still had a measure of peace. And as I went to write down some thoughts that came to me inside the temple, I received this personal revelation:
Trying to force a blessing by trying to be spiritual and [going to the] temple? Well, as agents who are free to act and who should be actively engaged of our own volition, we should try to write our own stories as much as possible. But if something’s out of our control, and blessings don’t seem to be coming as quickly or immediately as we want them to, or according to our appointed time, we shouldn’t get too frustrated or exhausted. It’s actually a sign of trust that God shows in us, that we’ll be able to handle it.
[As well,] God is essentially telling us, “Don’t worry, Neal, I’ve got this. I’ll take care of it in my own time and the ending that I’m writing to your story is greater than you can imagine, and better than you have in mind because you deserve more than you think you do. Be patient, wait for my signal, wait for me to show my arm, and be ready to act when it finally comes. And it will, at the best possible and possibly last moment. I’m proving your faith, and if you hold out, the blessings will be all the greater because of the faith and devotion you showed in so much uncertainty.”
As you can probably tell, this blog post arose from this very incident. Because I believe God has in mind a similar message for all of us. There are blessings awaiting that we perhaps cannot even fathom—and that is why God keeps them from us. We just wouldn’t be able to properly appreciate them until the moment is ripe and fully earned.
A quote from Thomas Paine (heard in the Person of Interest Season 3 finale) came to mind at the same time: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value.” God was stretching me so the blessings He has in mind—if I prove faithful and of good cheer, that is—can have even greater meaning to me when they do finally come.
So what Joseph Smith said is really true. We can write all we want, but there will come a time when there are no more blank spaces on the page to fill, for those parts of the story belong to others to write—including God. And if our words are written in faith, with pure intentions and humble submission to the Master Novelist, He will take those righteous desires into account and the according blessings will be added exponentially to what they already might have been. Prayers and fasting are never wasted, even when they don’t appear to have an effect on the situation. They still have potential to add to the blessings others receive—after all, Henry Eugene Dickinson, who that morning had not even been baptized, was within a few hours a bearer of the Melchizedek Priesthood and endowed in the temple—and to the blessings we receive later on.
We take on opposition and endure it well not always so the opposition does not win out, but often so God has even greater reason to bless us when the time on our celestial clock is finally right. We therefore must respect the storytelling skills of our Heavenly Father while cheerfully doing all things that lie in our power. And then we can stand still, and wait for the glorious ending the Master Novelist has in mind to be revealed.