My Fast Solution to the Drought

Dear Will:

If you drive east on Katella Avenue toward Orange Park Acres and the canyons beyond, you come to large dip in the road where it crosses the recharge basin for Santiago Creek. I’ve always assumed that scoop in the road to be a sort of flood control precaution—you know, should the creek swell and overwhelm the surrounding cavity.

As if. The water level in the basin has been so low for so long that the thought of flooding would be laughable if the situation weren’t so sad. Because of that near-empty hollow, I have come to dread that eastbound drive toward my home. It has become an almost-daily reminder of the prolonged drought which prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a State of Emergency in January. How bad is it? They say that this drought (four years old and counting) is the worst in over 100 years. Snow packs are disappearing. Lakes and reservoirs are shrinking. Farms are lying fallow. The drought even has its own website. And its own logo.

State of California Drought Portal Logo

And now that the governor has imposed restrictions on how often and how long we can run our sprinklers, my lawn, along with countless others, has begun what promises to be a slow, brown death.

I suppose it’s only fair. They say that not watering my lawn is the single best way for me to contribute to the conservation effort; so OK, I’ll do my part. But as I look out on the thirsty landscape and ponder the seeming impossibility of reversing years of irresponsible environmental practices and unchecked modern living, I can’t help but hope for some Divine Intervention—that God, in His infinite mercy, will bless us far beyond our merit and call down steady, prolonged rains upon our parched and withering state.

But how in the world could we actually make that petition? Elijah ended a drought single-handedly, but then again, it was a drought of his own making (see 1 Kings 17 and 18)—plus he had the benefit of the sealing power. I lack both the power and the panache of that guy. What could I or any of us do to call down the powers of heaven from our relatively powerless and obscure positions?

The short answer: I’m not sure. But I do have one idea worth trying. Isaiah taught that if we observe a true fast, setting aside our own physical needs to share with those less fortunate, the blessings are numerous—including this one: “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:11).

I realize, of course, that in his typically metaphorical prose, Isaiah was likely not referring to a literal drought. But why not? We are not far from the day in which the dry land will begin to have a desiccating impact on our souls as well. What’s more, I can’t think of a more worthy appeal to make during a prayerful fast, especially as we allow that period of physical deprivation to cause our hearts to go out to those around us who suffer from want. In fact, Isaiah says that one of the other blessings of a heartfelt fast is this: “Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:9).

So here’s my plan: Beginning next Sunday (June 7), and on the first Sunday of every month hereafter, I intend to put Isaiah to the test. I will abstain from food and water for 24 hours. I will contribute what I might have spent on food that day (and then some) as an offering to assist the needy. And between now and then, I will plead to God for rain—and lots of it. I’m not so arrogant as to think that my humble prayers will be sufficient to solve a four-year drought, but if I could get you—and many others like you—to join me in this effort, who knows?  I think it’s certainly worth a try.

So what do you say? Are you with me?


Fill Your Cruse with Oil

Dear Will:

How have you been? Here at our house we have been mostly busy and frazzled—business as usual, I’m afraid. I have this deep belief that we would all be better off if we found a way to heed Henry David Thoreau’s advice: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” Of course, Henry had to go live like a hermit in the woods to pull that off. With neither the woods nor the means at my disposal, I remain content to simply read Walden and continue feeling frazzled. (By the way: If you’ve never read it, you ought to. It’s a true classic.)

Speaking of classics, I was sharing a Bible story with my children the other day and thought of you. We were talking about Elijah, one of the great characters of the scriptures. He first appears in First Kings, chapter 17, wherein he picks a pretty good fight with King Ahab. Right off, Elijah draws his line in the sand: “As the Lord God of Israel liveth,” he says, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1). Then he sneaks off to live by a brook and be fed by ravens (how cool is that?).

The truly noteworthy part, however, is what comes next. The Lord sends Elijah to the town of Zeraphath, where he is to find a widow woman to take care of him. As you may recall, the unexpected twist of the story comes when Elijah finds the woman and asks for something to eat. She responds this way: “I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die” (1 Kings 17:12).

Now comes the tricky part—the test of the woman’s faith. Says Elijah: “Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son (1 Kings 17:13). Notice that Elijah didn’t say, “Could you make me one while you’re at it?” On the contrary, he asked the woman to feed him first before preparing the meal for herself and her son. Here’s why: “For thus saith the Lord,” declared Elijah, “The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat for many days. And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:14-16).

The lesson of this story is simple, yet profound. The widow and all her house were blessed far beyond her simple act of faith, simply because she was willing to heed the counsel of the Prophet. Imagine how her story would have been different had she given a different, seemingly reasonable response such as this: “I’m sorry, but my child’s needs come first; you’ll have to ask someone else.” Read the concluding verses of the chapter and you’ll find out to what degree the woman was actually taking care of her child by showing faith in the Prophet’s counsel.

The main reason I bring all this up (besides the fact that it’s a great story) is that the Church’s semi-annual General Conference is coming up next week and I wanted to remind you of it. On Saturday, March 31, and Sunday, April 1, you can sit in the comfort of your own home and hear the counsel of a living Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley. Sessions are typically broadcast on cable with sessions at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. each day. Even if you have other stuff you have to do around the house, I encourage you to turn on the Conference and let it play in the background. It will bring a marvelous spirit into your home.

It will also give you a chance to listen to a Prophet of God and exercise your faith by heeding his word. Given the widow’s experience, it’s an almost irresistible opportunity. I know that it will be a blessing to our family, and I am looking forward to the chance. I hope you’ll take advantage of it too.

Best wishes to you and yours.