|If faith is like an eye (Alma 32:40), then it’s a way of seeing, not a way of getting by without seeing at all.|
By Jeffrey Thayne
We often talk about faith as the absence of sight. For example, we are taught that “if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen,” and “faith is things which are hoped for and not seen.” We often visualize faith as taking a step into the unknown, or trusting that which we cannot see. This conception of faith is partly true. However, for a moment, I would like to explore faith as a way of seeing, not just the absence of sight. It is sight enlivened by the power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
My First Conversation with My Mission President
One of the first conversations I had with my mission president after I arrived in the South Dakota Rapid City Mission had a profound impact on me. I went something like this:
President Osguthorpe: “You may have heard, before you came out here (and we know this because most of our new missionaries have been told this), that this is an extremely difficult mission. You may have heard that the people in North Dakota and South Dakota are hard-hearted, have already made up their minds, and that few, if any, are willing to consider joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You may have heard that some missionaries go home without baptizing anyone, and that you’ll tract all day, every day, with little to no success.”
Me: “Sure, I’ve heard something like that. Is it true?”
President Osguthorpe: “Absolutely not. The field is white and already to harvest, and you’ll be baptizing many people while here, rest assured. The rumors only exist because our mission used to think that was the way things were. We don’t think that anymore, because we have proven it false. Every missionary in this mission is going to baptize at least one person every month.”
Because of this conversation, I began my mission with the expectation that the people in South Dakota were ready and willing to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and my expectations were met in surprising ways.
|A children’s picture book with a helpful message.|
During a zone conference early in my mission, Sister Osguthorpe read us a story. It was a book titled “The Spyglass,” by Richard Paul Evans. It told the story of a decrepit, decaying kingdom inhabited by a sad, discouraged people. Their buildings were in disrepair, their fields were not providing adequate food, and many “would oftentimes go to bed hungry.” There was no music, play, or cheer in the entire kingdom. The economy had all but collapsed, and everyone, including the king, lived in poverty. The king saw himself as a poor king of a poor kingdom, and “was greatly ashamed” of his country.
One day, the king’s castle received a surprise visit from an old traveler who asked for lodging. As the traveler approached the king, he said, “You do not look like a king.”
The king replied, “I am the king of a poor kingdom. Our farms do not grow, our buildings are falling down, and my people weary me day and night with their complaints. We were once a great kingdom, but all that has changed.”
The traveler asked astutely, “Why do you not change back?”
This question surprised the king. It felt as if the traveler was placing responsibility for the kingdom’s persistent state of decay on the shoulders of him and his people. I imagine he may have thought, “It isn’t our fault the economy has failed. It isn’t our fault our crops won’t grow,” etc. The king told the traveler that although they had tried to change, they had always failed, due to circumstances seemingly beyond their control. “We lack all knowledge of what once made this kingdom great,” the kind said.
The traveler kindly replied, “You lack but one thing,” and kindly offered to show the king what that one thing was. The man pulled a spyglass from his pocket and invited the king to look through it. As the king looked through the spyglass, he saw “great farms and gardens, magnificent castles and cathedrals,” and “fields of grain stretching stretching as far as the eye could see.” The traveler informed the king, “It is your own kingdom you see. Change requires work. But one must first see before doing. You have seen what might be. Now go and make it so.”
The king set out across his kingdom and began to share his newfound vision with his discouraged people. He invited person after person to look at his or her surroundings through the magic lens of the mysterious spyglass. As each person looked through the spyglass, each saw his or her surroundings transformed in a remarkable way. A farmer saw through his spyglass fields of grain ready to be harvested. A friar saw his cathedral repaired, and even more beautiful than it had been originally. “By the grace of God,” he said, “I have seen a vision.” Citizens saw their gardens weeded and full of food, and their children playing gleefully in the grass. Each time, the king would say, “You have seen what might be. Now make it so.”
Over the next year, the kingdom was transformed. It became one of the richest, happiest kingdoms in all the land. It was full of magnificent gardens, great cathedrals, laughing children. The people were well fed and prone to write music. When the traveler returned for the spyglass, the king wanted to keep it.
“You no longer need the spyglass,” the traveler said. “You can see without it. The spyglass only showed you what could be if you believed, for it was only faith that you and your people lacked. Faith is the beginning of all journeys. It is by faith that the seed is planted. It is by faith that the foundation is dug. It is by faith that each book is penned and each song written. Only by faith can we see that which is not, but can be.”
The Mission Transformed
This was, essentially, the story of the South Dakota Rapid City Mission. When President and Sister Osguthorpe arrived in the mission, it was in a dismal state. Missionaries were discouraged, few were baptizing, and the members were generally antagonistic to missionary work. However, President and Sister Osguthorpe had faith. They traveled the mission and shared with the missionaries and the members their vision of what could be. They told stories of missionaries baptizing every month, of members fellowshipping converts, of missionaries too busy teaching member-referred investigators to tract. They shared a vision of the South Dakota Rapid City Mission filled with missionaries who were exactly obedient and who followed the instructions in Preach My Gospel to the letter. They shared a vision of North and South Dakota experiencing the same thing that the Nephites did in the forty-ninth year of the reign of the judges:
In this same year there was exceedingly great prosperity in the church, insomuch that there were thousands who did ajoin themselves unto the church and were baptized unto repentance. And so great was the prosperity of the church, and so many the blessings which were poured out upon the people, that even the high priests and the teachers were themselves astonished beyond measure. And … the work of the Lord did prosper unto the baptizing and uniting to the church of God, many souls, yea, even tens of thousands.
The Osguthorpes shared a vision of all of this done with love and faith. This was more than just a “positive mental attitude.” It was faith grounded in their experience and knowledge of the atonement of Jesus Christ—and how Christ can transform even the hardest of hearts and redeem even the most entrenched of communities. They then said, “You have seen what might be. Now go and make it so.”
Through the transforming power of Jesus Christ, the mission transformed. Disobedience, after a while, was all but unheard of. Preach My Gospel and the scriptures became our guide. And baptisms far more than doubled. And the promise my mission president made to me as I entered the mission was fulfilled: the people in North Dakota and South Dakota were prepared to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. All we needed was the faith to share it—faith in Jesus Christ and His grace.
Everywhere we look, we can see things that are in perpetual disrepair, both in the church or in the world. I believe, however, that most of what we lack is the faith to see what could be. Let’s look at three examples.
1. In Sunday School, we most often see teachers struggling to present a hastily prepared lesson to an ill-prepared class. Members rarely attend Sunday School having studied the scriptural passages that will be discussed. They often attend, sit quietly, zone out, and then leave without ever having contributed to or learned something from the lesson. A few years ago, Elder Holland participated in a worldwide church training meeting directed towards teachers. He talked about deer who were fed straw and then died of malnutrition because although their stomachs were full, they weren’t nourished. I see this happening quite frequently in Sunday School. We’ve all seen it, and although there are many exceptions, I suspect that most would call this an average experience in Sunday School.
Let’s take a hypothetical look through the magic spyglass. What do we see? Let me tell you what I see. I see the majority of members spending at least a portion of their daily scripture study reading through the chapters that will be discussed in Sunday School that week. I see them writing down questions, thoughts, and comments about the readings. I see them coming to Sunday School knowing the material inside and out and asking questions that they’ve thought about throughout the week. I see the teachers no longer having to give one-hour talks in the front of the room, but being more like discussion facilitators. I can see each and every member attending with an excitement and energy for what will be learned and discussed, fueled by their own study and questions. I see each member leaving Sunday School thoroughly edified, refreshed, and spiritually fed. Is this not within our power? Let’s go and make it so. Nearly each and every one of us attend Sunday School each week. We can start with ourselves, and others will either see and follow our example or respond to our loving invitation to do the same.
2. We see home teaching, when done, done in a perfunctory way. Priesthood holders will often visit, share a brief message (which is often just reading a few quotes from an Ensign article), and then leave—without giving thought to the family at all between visits. Sadly, I’ve been that kind of home teacher before. Also, families that are less-active are rarely home taught (perhaps because priesthood holders don’t feel quite as welcome—visibly active families are often much more inviting).
Let’s take a hypothetical look through the magic spyglass. What do we see? Let me tell you what I see. I see home teachers who take their responsibility to the families they home teach seriously. Rather than giving the same lesson to each family, I see them considering each family separately and praying that they will prepare a lesson tailored to each family’s needs. I see them extending commitments to the families they home teach and following up on those commitments throughout the month. I see them becoming close friends with the families they home teach. I see less active families receiving the same care and attention as the most active members. Is this not within our power? Each priesthood holder is a home teacher. Let’s go and make it so. I not only see this as a possibility, but I see it as an actuality. My home teacher texted me this morning to follow up on a commitment he extended to me two weeks ago. I felt loved and cared about.
3. In school, we see students striving to get good grades and to graduate, but often without giving thought to how much they are actually learning. We see students asking, “Is this going to be on the test?” They ask this because they only wish to remember and study that which is required for them to pass the class with a good grade. If a professor cancels a class, students cheer. Rather than looking for the professor that invites students to learn the most, students look for professors that will require the least from their students.
Let’s take a hypothetical look through the magic spyglass. What do we see? Let me tell you what I see. I see students who want to learn and who see grades as an burden incidental to their learning. Rather than asking, “Is this going to be on the test?” I see them asking, “Where can I learn more about this?” I see students who value their time at the university as an opportunity to feast upon knowledge, rather than a chore to complete before receiving a diploma. I see professors excited to come to class, because they know that their students are excited to hear what they have to say. I see professors knowing that students have read the material beforehand and knowing that they can therefore teach new and original material that adds to what the students have read, rather than simply rehearsing what the students have read. Is this not within our power? Let’s go and make it so.
Seeing each of these three things actually happen would be a miracle. However, as the Prophet Mormon said, “Have miracles ceased? Behold I say unto you, Nay” (Moroni 7:29). Mormon continues, “And Christ hath said: If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me. … for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; … wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief” (Moroni 7:33, 37). According to Moroni, “It was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth. Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites” (Ether 12:13-15). If Jesus Christ can transform hearts and redeem entire nations, then if we have faith in His redemptive power, He can perform miracles in our own lives and within our own sphere of influence.
I would like to invite each person who reads this to consider, “What could things be like if I/we but had faith?” Then go and make it happen. I suspect that if we do this, we’ll see miracles in our own lives and within our own sphere of influence. Things we never thought could happen will happen. Perhaps it will be that one will begin to have daily meals with his family, as he envisions with an eye of faith. Perhaps it will be that one will begin to be organized and disciplined, as she envisions with an eye of faith. Perhaps one will purge an excess of idleness and entertainment from his life, as he envisions with and eye of faith. Faith in Jesus Christ invites HIm to change our hearts in a fundamental way.
Moroni tells us that “there were many whose faith was so exceedingly strong, [they] truly saw with their eyes the things which they had beheld with an eye of faith, and they were glad.” We too can see with our own two eyes the things which we only now see with an eye of faith. This is further evidence that faith is not just the absence of sight, it is a way of seeing. With it, we can make miracles happen.
About Jeffrey Thayne
Jeffrey Thayne is a graduate student at Brigham Young University, and is studying psychology. He is writing his masters thesis on the relationship between moral agency and ethical obligation. He is also fascinated by philosophy, science, the history of law, and educational psychology. He has a lifelong ambition to be a teacher, and hopes to start his own school someday. He has a strong testimony of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. He considers himself a classical liberal, and currently lives in Elk Ridge, Utah.
Jeffrey blogs at ldsphilosopher.com