Boyd Matheson: As uncertainty increases, search for the affirming voice — ‘I prepared you so’

With the physical and financial suffering caused by the historic coronavirus pandemic, which has affected millions worldwide, many are wondering if they are ready to deal with such difficulty, challenge and change. Individuals, families and even the Church of Jesus Christ have had to adapt, adjust and endure.

Yesterday’s preparation can provide today’s calm while also fostering tomorrow’s confidence. Yet, the current uncertainty has many of us in a defensive crouch waiting for a booming “I told you so” moment. That is simply not the Lord’s way of teaching and nurturing His children.

Looking back and wondering “what if?” or engaging in a little mental game of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” does little and helps less. Neither does the passive-aggressive, go-to phrase for parents, teachers, bosses and even spouses: “I told you so.” This phrase is short-sighted, backward-facing and detrimentally demeaning.

Our Heavenly Father never looks down on us, even with our many mistakes, to condemn us with a confidence-crushing taunt of “I told you so.” He sees us in our true character, as His children, and knows that He has provided a redeeming Savior and prepared us for better days and spiritual development to come.

The prophets and apostles down through the ages have had ample opportunity to throw down a few “I told you so” lines. Ever looking ahead and never needing to be proven right, prophets simply continue to help the people of the world come unto Christ.

Video: President Nelson reminds all how to find joy and peace regardless of what is happening

I can never imagine President Russell M. Nelson saying, “I told you so.” It isn’t in his nature or his pattern of nurturing. The current crisis conditions around the world could certainly cause a leader to validate their own wisdom and foresight. The prophet isn’t concerned about being right — he is obsessed with helping each of us to be ready.

For the past several months, as global conditions have deteriorated and uncertainty increased, I have heard the echo of voices of prophets and apostles — past and present. In particular, I have regularly heard in my mind the gentle, firm and affirming voice of President Nelson say, “I prepared you so … .”

Personal revelation

In one of his first messages to the Church after being sustained as prophet, President Nelson pled with us, “Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses — yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will ‘grow into the principle of revelation.’ ”

President Russell M. Nelson the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits with his councilors President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor, (left) and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor (right) at a press conference in Salt Lake City Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.
President Russell M. Nelson the 17th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sits with his councilors President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor, (left) and President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor (right) at a press conference in Salt Lake City Utah on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Then he concluded, “I urge you to stretch beyond your current spiritual ability to receive personal revelation, for the Lord has promised that ‘if thou shalt [seek], thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge.’ My beloved brothers and sisters, I plead with you to increase your spiritual capacity to receive revelation.”

During these difficult days, I can hear President Nelson say, “I prepared you so… you can receive your own revelation in the midst of the storm.”

The holy temple

On March 25, the Church announced that all temples worldwide would be closed due to the coronavirus. For decades, we have been taught by prophets and apostles that our homes must be temples and holy places of refuge from the chaos of the world.

It is interesting to note that in the dedicatory prayer for the Salt Lake Temple in 1893, President Wilford Woodruff perhaps saw the difficult state of the world we live in here in 2020 and the need for us to look to the temple.

He prayed, “Heavenly Father, when Thy people shall not have the opportunity of entering this holy house to offer their supplications unto Thee, and they are oppressed and in trouble, surrounded by difficulties or assailed by temptation and shall turn their faces towards this Thy holy house and ask Thee for deliverance, for help, for Thy power to be extended in their behalf, we beseech Thee, to look down from Thy holy habitation in mercy and tender compassion upon them, and listen to their cries.”

The Angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands with its trumpet missing after an earthquake in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
The Angel Moroni statue atop the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands with its trumpet missing after an earthquake in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

For a season we will not have the opportunity to enter the holy temples, but we need not fear. Temple preparation is being done in the home as is family history research, and we have been trained to “stand in holy places” beginning at home.

I can hear the voice of Wilford Woodruff say, “I prepared you so… you can bring the blessings of the temple, the power of the priesthood and the spirit of Elijah into your homes.”

Missionary work and preparation

The Church has also closed all missionary training centers to help flatten the spread of the virus as responsible international citizens. Rather than wringing our hands, we can listen to an apostle, Elder David A. Bednar, who in order to say, “I prepared you so …,” declared this in April 2019 general conference:

“The ultimate missionary training center is in our homes; secondary missionary training centers are located in Provo, Manila, Mexico City, and in other locations.” 

Sister missionaries smile after meeting with President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 20, 2018.
Sister missionaries smile after meeting with President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Lima, Peru, on Oct. 20, 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

He further declared the inspired preparation concluding, “Our most instructive Sunday School classes should be our individual and family study in our places of residence; helpful but secondary Sunday School classes are held in our meetinghouses.”

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf told missionaries to take heart as the Lord is in charge and has prepared them to serve in many different ways. He reminded all that elders and sisters were called to serve as missionaries and assigned to labor in different locations. Regardless of how, for how long, or where, we all are called to labor in the Lord’s vineyard.

I can hear the voice of Elder Bednar say, “I prepared you so… missionary training would continue.” And I can hear Elder Uchtdorf say, “I prepared you so… you could preach and teach and share my gospel in a multitude of ways.”

Home-centered

Some members thought adjustments to Sunday church meetings meant two-hour Church. Elder Quentin L. Cook looked beyond the horizon, as prophets and apostles do, to share a vision of a dynamic home-centered, Church-supported worship.

Elder Cook counseled: “These efforts, together with those announced during the last two years, are not isolated changes. Each of the adjustments is an integral part of an interlocking pattern to bless the Saints and prepare them to meet God.”

Bishop Darren L. Harline and his wife, Cherilyn Harline, and their six children observe the Sabbath in their home in San Clemente, California, on March 15, 2020, after the Church suspended all meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop Darren L. Harline and his wife, Cherilyn Harline, and their six children observe the Sabbath in their home in San Clemente, California, on March 15, 2020, after the Church suspended all meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Photo by Alan Gibby

I can hear Elder Cook confidently encourage, “I prepared you so… that when home-centered church was the only church meeting available you could gather in His name and be blessed by His grace.”

Ministering

As the program of home teaching transformed into ministering in a higher, holier way, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that serving in the Savior’s way meant “we have a heaven-sent opportunity as an entire Church to demonstrate pure religion undefiled before God; to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light, and to comfort those that stand in need of comfort, to minister to the widows and the fatherless, the married and the single, the strong and the distraught, the downtrodden and the robust, the happy and the sad.”

A pair of Relief Society sisters organize floral arrangements to be distributed to people in need through the Families Assistance Ministries in Orange County, California.
A pair of Relief Society sisters organize floral arrangements to be distributed to people in need through the Families Assistance Ministries in Orange County, California. Credit: Courtesy Barbara Bell

He knew that in a coming day it would be more needed and necessary than ever before for those who professed to be Latter-day Saints to be the Lord’s hands in lifting those that suffer, “motivated only by the pure love of Christ to do so.”

I can hear Elder Holland remind us, “I prepared you so… none of our Heavenly Father’s lambs will be lost or lonely.”

Temporal preparation

The prophet could say, “I told you so” regarding saving money for a rainy day, preparing food storage and getting our temporal houses in order. Instead President Nelson encourages, “I prepared you so… in a time of economic upheaval you, your family and The Church of Jesus Christ could provide aid and assistance to those that are suffering.”

Hearing the word of the Lord

Many members have been disappointed that general conference this April will not include an opportunity to gather in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Others have lamented that Church leaders are currently not able to travel to stake conferences and be with the Saints.

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson wave to attendees after the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
President Russell M. Nelson and his wife Sister Wendy Nelson wave to attendees after the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

General conference will focus on the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the restoration. It will be like no other conference in the history of the Church in many ways. President Nelson has invited each of us to prepare for a transformational experience. Through technology and the means of today’s media, inspired, inspiring and powerful messages will be sent around the globe. The entire world will be connected in a unique and electrifying way.

Doctrine and Covenants 84:62 says: “Therefore, go ye into all the world; and unto whatsoever place ye cannot go ye shall send, that the testimony may go from you into all the world.”

For a season, prophets and apostles will not be able to travel as they have in the recent past, and general conference will be different. But where they cannot go, apostles and prophets will send God’s word abroad through many means.

I can hear the voice of the Lord say, “I have prepared you so… that My word and My Spirit can be sent throughout the world to every nation, kindred, tongue and people.”

One of President Nelson’s friends, Rev. Theresa Dear, coined the phrase, “Inadequate, unprepared but ready.” Many of us feel that in midst of this global crisis we qualify in the first two — inadequate and unprepared.

However, with prophets and apostles among us we really are ready for whatever test or trial comes our way. Whether we face the effects of a global pandemic, local tragedy or individual suffering, we are ready because Heavenly Father’s anointed servants — along with the Savior they serve — have ‘marked the path, led the way and every point defined.’

Despite our faults, follies and inability to follow counsel, prophets and apostles will not unleash flurries of condemning, “I told you so…” statements. Instead they will encouragingly say and compassionately invite with a personalized, “I prepared you so…” you can have peace in this time of trial while you continue to pursue the covenant path on your journey to discipleship.

—Boyd Matheson is the opinion editor and head of strategic reach at the Deseret News