If we at times wonder if our own agendum for life deliver to us challenges that seem unique, it would be worth our remembering that, when we feel rejected, we are members of the church of him who was most rejected by his very own with no cause for rejection. If at times we feel manipulated, we are disciples of him whom the establishment of his day sought to manipulate. If we at times feel unappreciated, we are worshipers of him who gave to us the Atonement–that marvelous, selfless act, the central act of all human history–unappreciated, at least fully, even among those who gathered about his feet while the very process of the Atonement was underway. If we sometimes feel misunderstood by those about us, even those we minister to, so did he, much more deeply and pervasively than we. And if we love and there is no reciprocity for our love, we worship him who taught us and showed us love that is unconditional, for we must love even when there is no reciprocity.
Most of our suffering, brothers and sisters, actually comes because of our sins and not because of our nobility. Isn’t it marvelous that Jesus Christ, who did not have to endure that kind of suffering because he was sin-free, nevertheless took upon himself the sins of all of us and experienced an agony so exquisite we cannot comprehend it? I don’t know how many people have lived on the earth for sure, but demographers say between 30 and 67 billion. If you were to collect the agony for your own sins and I for mine, and multiply it by that number, we can only shudder at what the sensitive, divine soul of Jesus must have experienced in taking upon himself the awful arithmetic of the sins of all of us–an act which he did selflessly and voluntarily. If it is also true (in some way we don’t understand) that the cavity which suffering carves into our souls will one day also be the receptacle of joy, how infinitely greater Jesus’ capacity for joy, when he said, after his resurrection, “Behold, my joy is full.” How very, very full, indeed, his joy must have been!
I should like, therefore, to speak to you on the premise that it is a part of discipleship for us to be prepared for the kind of rigors that Jesus always leveled his disciples. He said, “My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom” (D&C 136:31). That is hard doctrine. Peter made it even more rigorous. Peter didn’t want us to take any credit upon ourselves for the suffering we endure because of our own mistakes. He was willing to see us take credit for the suffering we endure because of discipleship, but not because of our own stupidity or our own sin (1 Peter 2:20). Then Moroni reminded us, “For ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith” (Ether 12:6). That’s the rigorous path of discipleship, brothers and sisters, about which I wish to speak at least in this one dimension tonight, giving you some examples, if I may.
If God chooses to teach us the things we most need to learn because he loves us, and if he seeks to tame our souls and gentle us in the way we most need to be tamed and most need to be gentled, it follows that he will customize the challenges he gives us and individualize them so that we will be prepared for life in a better world by his refusal to take us out of this world, even though we are not of it. In the eternal ecology of things we must pray, therefore, not that things be taken from us, but that God’s will be accomplished through us. What, therefore, may seem now to be mere unconnected pieces of tile will someday, when we look back, take form and pattern, and we will realize that God was making a mosaic. For there is in each of our lives this kind of divine design, this pattern, this purpose that is in the process of becoming, which is continually before the Lord but which for us, looking forward, is sometimes perplexing.
Neal A. Maxwell
Later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Maxwell was an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when this fireside address was given at Brigham Young University on 1 September 1974.