I was driving through a winding road in Landisville, PA on my way to the LDS Chapel early on a Sunday. The tall, beautiful, green trees were inches from the dark asphalt that was drying off from the night’s light showers. Rays of morning sunshine peeked through the leaves. I turned a few corners, passed a few houses, and saw a sign at one of the many churches along the way. It said “Relax. Let God be GOOD.” Now, those church marquis signs can’t necessarily be considered doctrine. After all, there was one near my apartment that said “Take your sin to the altar and drop it like it’s hot.” But, I trusted the five-word-sermon: “Relax. Let God be Good.”
Well, that’s what I thought it said. Upon double take, I realized it actually read “Relax. Let God be God.” Still good. However, the split-second mix-up was very impactful for me in the long run.
We are moving to Los Angeles on Saturday. To say that I’m nervous/excited/stressed/ready/not ready/busy/exhausted/stressed/excited/stressed…. Would be an understatement. Now more than I ever, I can use my split-second-mix-up-five-word-sermon: RELAX. Let God be Good.
I truly believe this is one of the most important things that we can remember in this life. God IS good. He is light. He is truth. He is good.
Or, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says in his address entitled “Laborers in the Vineyard,” “So be kind, and be grateful that God is kind.”
We know that the Savior taught most frequently through parables. The blessing of this, to me, comes from the fact that so much interpretation and inspiration can be squeezed from every story.
In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Christ details the story of a householder who starts early in the day hiring help to work in his vineyard. He hired a few people , and then returned every few hours hiring more as the urgency of the harvest increased. Then, in the eleventh hour, the householder returned a final time to enlist his last group of laborers. Only an hour after his last round of hires, the householder gathered all of his laborers to receive their wages and – much to their surprise – they all received the same amount.
At this point in the parable, many of you probably feel like I do. If I were in that situation, I would not be thrilled. I would certainly feel like I’d been slighted if I were working all day only to receive the same wage as the latecomer. But, no matter how many times I argued my mom on the injustices of bedtimes or candy limits or “why we MUST stay up past 9:00 to watch the newest Disney Channel Original Movie,” my version of “fair” against a parent’s version of “fair” just simply didn’t hold up. And in the case of the laborers in the vineyard, I would certainly feel justified in seeking sympathy over the unfairness of the situation.
However, Elder Holland gives light to this perspective.
“If there is any sympathy to be generated, it should at least initially be for the men not chosen who also had mouths to feed and backs to clothe. Luck never seemed to be with some of them. With each visit of the steward throughout the day, they always saw someone else chosen. But just at day’s close, the householder returns a surprising fifth time with a remarkable eleventh-hour offer! These last and most discouraged of laborers, hearing only that they will be treated fairly, accept work without even knowing the wage, knowing that anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days.”
There will be times in our lives when we feel heavy. We will go through things that will be gut-wrenching and just down-right awful. It is part of mortality. And, sometimes, we will feel that we labor all day long with sweat on our brow, only to see that our neighbors, colleagues, acquaintances seem happy to be in their respective situations, which can at times be frustrating. I have been in this position before. I have felt the grief that comes from envy.
Regarding envy, Elder Holland says this:
“Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is – downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”
Fortunately, there is One who has paid the price for our redemption – no matter the circumstance and especially no matter the circumstance of our fellow brothers and sisters. We are not being graded in this life on a curve – another’s performance in no way affects our ability to receive eternal life.
“The formula of faith is to hold on, work on, see it through, and let the distress of earlier hours –real or imagined—fall away in the abundance of the final reward.”
If nothing else, the story of the laborers in the vineyard embodies my precious little five word sermon. When, at the face of adversity and frustration, you find yourself bitter because of your own misfortune in comparison to the seeming fortune of others, I encourage you to remember those few, simple words: Relax! Let God be Good!
Now, there are a few ways to look at this. We can both take the opportunity to relax as we see God being good for others (and this is truly an important principle). Or, we can also step back and realize that God may have been good for us all along. Gaining this perspective in the midst of dark trials can save us.
A few years ago I found myself in one of these dark trials. At the time I felt like all I knew was stress and anxiety because of the situation playing out in my life. It was all out of my control, and I was just trying to hold on to the reins without getting bucked off. Perhaps many of you have felt this way at different times in your life.
Some nights, I would kneel down to pray and all I could think of to pray for in the peak my exhaustion was that I was grateful to have my own bed to sleep in that night. During this chapter of my life I returned many times to my comfort scripture, in Doctrine and Covenants 121 –
“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 shalt exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.”
I wondered when my small moment would come to an end. I’d allowed myself to feel that pain and suffering for a few months, but I realized one day how much I’d been strengthened by the Savior. Of course, hindsight was 20/20, and though I wasn’t completely out of the trial, I could see that I’d been buoyed up through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and, likely, through faithful prayers of those closest to me. It was at that time that I felt immense gratitude for the fact that I had not come to the householder as a laborer until late in the evening and was yet still receiving all of the joy and happiness that was offered to others who came earlier in the day. It was then that I was able to Relax, and let God be GOOD.
No matter how your pain has come, please know that you are not too far gone to receive the redeeming love of our God.
“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. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
I believe this so strongly. There are so many people near and dear to me that have found themselves in circumstances of grief because of their own poor choices. Surely at times they felt that they were beyond the reach of God’s love and forgiveness. But, we have a Savior! And He is filled with goodness and hope and love for us.
“He is despised and rejected of men. A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Surely, He hath born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. And with his stripes, we are healed.”
The sacrifice of the Savior of the World is the most amazing thing that we can turn to in times where we may feel we are too far gone from the Grace of God. Jesus Christ is the householder who, in our eleventh hour, comes and beckons to us and invites us to labor and receive all the blessings of eternal life.
The beautiful gift of the Atonement that Jesus Christ has given us is best understood within the context that He truly knows us individually. He may be like our brother who we see every day, or at this stage in our lives might be like an old friend we haven’t seen in quite some time, but when we are reunited there is safety and familiarity that comforts us to our core.
My favorite story that depicts this relationship comes from a work called “Bible Manners and Customs” by George M. Mackie. It says:
“By day and by night the shepherd is always with his sheep… This was necessary on account of the exposed nature of the land, and the presence of danger from wild animals and robbers. One of the most familiar and beautiful sights of the East is that of the shepherd leading his sheep to the pasture…. He depends upon the sheep to follow, and they in turn expect him never to leave them…
“…As he is always with them, and so deeply interested in them, the shepherd comes to know his sheep very intimately…. One day a missionary, meeting a shepherd on one of the wildest parts of the Lebanon, asked him various questions about his sheep, and among others if he counted them every night. On answering that he did not, he was asked how he knew if they were all there or not. His reply was, ‘Master, if you were to put a cloth over my eyes, and bring me any sheep and only let me put my hands on its face, I could tell in a moment if it was mine or not.’”
No matter our efforts throughout the day in a vineyard, no matter the circumstances that may have befallen us, no matter the doubts or questions or concerns we may have, the Savior knows us. He has paid the price for our sins, our shortcomings, and our sorrows. Jesus Christ drank the bitter cup so that you and I would not have to. And He did this all so that he could stand by our side, shoulder our burdens, and sweetly reassure us: Relax. Let God be Good.
I have said for a long time that even if this Church wasn’t the true Church and the Gospel wasn’t the true Gospel – which, don’t get me wrong, I believe it to be true with all that I am – but even if it wasn’t, this is the happiest way to live. There is more joy and more peace found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ than is comprehensible anywhere else. The Savior said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” He will not leave you comfortless.
To friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers: keep pushing forward in the strength of Christ. When you feel like you do not have the strength of your own, lean on the Savior. He is waiting there already to catch you. Let the space between where you are and where you want to be inspire you, not scare you. We are all on this journey together. Let Church and the temple be a hospital and a refuge for your weary souls. And for those that may not feel burdened now, I encourage you to offer your strength to those with hands that hang down.
Together, we are stronger. Together we can labor and rejoice when our brothers and sisters choose to join the fold and commit themselves to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is where they will receive their full reward of eternal life.