It's the whole justice and mercy paradox all over again in a way, isn't it? I love the idea of stories. I try to live with the philosophy that I am always in the middle of a story, that the end hasn't happened. This is especially nice when the story is not pleasant, to know that the story doesn't end with illness or unemployment or being single forever. It's the middle of the story and I don't know how it ends yet.
But God does. In fact, that's the reason God gave us laws. Not only does He know how the story will end, but He knows what the best possible ending is. And He knows how to achieve that. He knows that obeying the laws will mean nights of heartache, periods of feeling lonely or cast off or unaccepted. He knows that so many of us will twist in our minds what the laws actually mean, and cause ourselves unnecessary pain. But He knows the joy and freedom that can come from a life lived in accordance with His laws.
A couple years ago, I had a series of conversations about the hard things that the Lord asks of us with a good friend. The thing that struck me the most was that this friend couldn't seem to get past the part about "that's so hard." I wasn't able to put my finger on it exactly at the time, but a little later, as I sat in my room, my eyes fell on a small plaque I have on my bookcase. It's small and simple, and I believe every one of my siblings has an identical plaque. It simply says "I can do hard things." The quote is attributed, in this case, to a woman who knew very personally about hard things- my mother, Brenda. I know man other people have said this, but it was her motto for years and years as she lost more and more mobility and independence. But what struck me at this moment was that it wasn't "this is hard. I am going to sit here and wallow in the hardness." It was, "yes, this is hard. But that is not enough reason for me to stop, quit trying, or give up."
Our stories, our experiences, are wonderful things. They are in a very real sense what gives us our humanity, our sense of self, our depth, and our strength. There is something quiet and powerful about getting down in the trenches of life, of realizing how much muck and filth and just plain crud there is in the world, of looking at it all and in the end being able to say, "my stories are hard. But I still choose the law. I do not excuse myself from it."
Because in the end, if God chose to let us off the hook and not give us the law, He would be an extremely uncompassionate God. He would be like a doctor who sees a patient with a smoking addition, and recognizing how hard it is to quit smoking, gives him additional packs, because it's too hard to quit, and who wants to go through the anguish of withdrawals? He would be like a parent who sees how much his child dislikes schoolwork and does all their homework for them, only to turn them loose in college set up to fail. Because God can see all the stories, He can see the ultimate story- He knows how the story ends,and He knows what the best ending is. It's for the smoker to quit and enjoy a long, healthy life, free of lung cancer and emphysema. It's for the student to learn how to study and be disciplined, so they have a much better chance of being a productive, responsible adult. It's for me to live the Word of Wisdom and the law of chastity so I can honor my body and God's creation, and be able to feel close to Him. And ultimately, it's for me to keep on with the law, stumbling and tripping and making all kinds of mistakes, taking the sacrament every week with the pure joy of knowing that I am making amends and healing my self-inflicted wounds, and to trip and stumble and plod- and sometimes run in glorious bursts- back to Him.
And you know what? I think that is when the real story actually begins.