Growing Pains

--originally published on Waters of Mormon on March 4, 2009--

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.” Alma 32: 41

What does it mean to be God?

If I were a wiser person, I would read chapter 32 of Alma every day of my life because of what it teaches me about the answer to that question. The chapter connects so beautifully with the Tree of Knowledge from Lehi’s vision, something I did not realize until I thought about chapter 32 in the same terms as Christ—what He was, is, and will be—and I realized that this chapter teaches me about what I was, who I am, and what I will ultimately become if I will continue to be nourished by His living water.

In comparison to everything that Heavenly Father is, I am just a tiny seed in the ground of His kingdom. I thought about that yesterday as I was thinking about my past, and in my frustration wandered around campus until I finally found myself laying supine underneath of a tree by the Carillon Tower. Staring up through the branches and boughs to the tiniest, reaching twigs at the top of the tree, I thought about how long that tree must have taken to grow.

I thought about Abraham and how his posterity divides and splits like the limbs of a tree, how inconceivable is the collective number and strength of those who came before me, who support me and feed me from the roots from which all who seek the truth gather strength.

I thought about those delicate twigs reaching for the same heaven as I am, with fingers that have taken generations to reach their height. I remembered where I started, feeling the swellings of a seed in my breast before I ever knew it had been planted, trying to put what I was feeling into words and failing at it most of the time. I remembered the pain of growing quickly—not that I would have had it any other way. I remembered my delight as I saw the seed beginning to sprout, and the changes that came to my life that told me this seed was not only good, but so was the heart’s ground in which it was planted—something that had never occurred to me before, and still barely registers to me now.

I pondered the kind of tree I would be someday, the thought stretching beyond the furthest reaches of my understanding—into heaven and out of sight. I wondered about what awaits me, how to become like the kind of trees I have sat beneath throughout my life—their spines bending around unseen opposition so they do not break, opening their arms to the sky to embrace rain and snow and whatever else comes their way with their weakest limbs forward.

Exposed in winter to a coal gray sky full of uncertainty and meaning in these days—I see in the trees all around me the kind of person I want to be until I can reach for something greater.

One of my favorite verses in Alma 32 is verse 35 where it asks a question that I have asked people about the way I see the world and the God I adore: “O then, is not this real?” It is a question I have been asking for a long time, and I have learned from the frustration that has followed so many times that I should only trust the spirit to speak to my confusion. People tell me they struggle with the idea of religion and God sometimes because it all just seems so irrational to them, and they tell me that everything about God is so complicated because it relies upon things you cannot see.

At some point I lost the ability to relate to that kind of thinking because the Lord is the only thing I understand anymore, and I see His hand everywhere. Granted, I have to be a little bizarre sometimes to get my eyes to see; wandering around on and off campus until I find myself in some place I have never been before, staring up into a tree just before I was going to give up the search for truth that day—only to be rescued from myself moments before I would have told myself “all is lost.” But like a waiting parent, He was there—always first comes the gentle reminder to be patient, that He does hear me, that He will speak only when I am listening, but also that I am His child and He would never leave me alone to face this world—not for long, anyway.

He has made it perfectly clear, through the softest peace of trees—not to mention the beautiful truth in all of His creations—that being God means never being the one who walks away.

Our Savior Jesus Christ will return to us, in all of the glorious radiance of the sun—and more!—and those who walked away from His extended hand will certainly wish they had not.

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