His Hand Is Stretched Out Still

Dear Will:

It was near dawn. The men, many of them fishermen by trade, had sailed through the night in an effort to cross the Sea of Galilee. Nevertheless, after many hours, still they had not reached Gennesaret because a powerful wind was working against them. Sleep-deprived and muscle-weary, no doubt they were exhausted by the ordeal, their nerves frazzled as they battled fatigue and fear and frustration. And still the waves rose, the wind blew, and their ship remained far from the distant shore.

If it’s true that it’s always darkest just before the dawn, then perhaps at that early morning hour they had begun to give up hope. Perhaps they felt—with good reason—that they had done all they could and yet all was for naught. Perhaps they felt as if they had been forsaken, left on their own to struggle against the forces of nature, to save their lives if they could or to resign themselves to the inevitable destruction that seemed to loom nearby.

And then, as if enough weren’t already enough, they gazed into the stormy distance and saw some sort of apparition—a phantasm, perhaps—approaching on the waves. It was very frightening—so frightening, we’re told, that they cried aloud.

Somehow, in the midst of the chaos and the panic, at this moment of ultimate desperation, a voice rose above the din. “Be of good cheer,” they heard. “It is I; be not afraid.”

It was a voice they knew. It was the voice of Jesus, their teacher, their mentor, their friend. With renewed hope surging in his breast, one of the fishermen answered back. “Lord,” cried Simon, “if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” When Jesus bade him come, Simon threw first one leg, then the other, over the side of the boat and walked upon the water toward his Lord. And still the wind blew. Still the waves climbed and fell.

We do not know how many miraculous steps Simon took that night. We do not know how far he ventured beyond the rail of that storm-tossed ship. But we do know that he walked toward Jesus, and that at some point he began to consider the difficulty of what he had undertaken, and that when he saw the effects of that boisterous wind—as the waves crashed all around him—it was, at last, too much. Giving in to fear, Simon began to sink, and he called out once again: ”Lord, save me.”

“And immediately,” we read, “Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:22-33).

Who among us has not felt at some point that his life was like a boat on a storm-tossed sea? Who among us has not felt overwhelmed, pushed to the point of emotional or physical exhaustion? Who hasn’t felt at one time or another that she simply could take no more? Who hasn’t felt to cry out, “Lord, save me”?

Of course, the promise of this story is not that the winds won’t blow. It isn’t that the waves will not rise up against us nor that the journey will be made easy. The promise is that when we move toward Him He will move toward us. The promise is that if we feel ourselves starting to sink, He will reach out His hand and lift us up again.

It is not without effort, mind you. “Take my yoke upon you,” He says (Matthew 11:29). “Draw near unto me and [then] I will draw near unto you,” He promises (D&C 88:63). “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” He urges, and then, indeed, “all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33)

“Come unto me,” says Jesus, “all ye that labour, [all ye that] are heavy laden”—you and you and you and me—all of us—“and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This brings to mind something I witnessed recently while hiking. A man and woman were climbing a steep trail together. The man was out in front, and after stepping up onto a rock he turned and—in a moment of old-fashioned chivalry—he extended his hand to help the woman up. But the woman would have none of it. In a moment of new-fashioned liberation, perhaps, she bounded on past as if her companion weren’t even there.

That’s right. She totally left him hanging.

I loved it. But as I watched that scene play out, it brought to mind a phrase often repeated by Isaiah in reference to our Lord and Savior: “His hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25, etc.). As I wandered the hills that day, I began to consider how often the Lord has extended His hand toward me and I have failed to grasp it.

How often have I have faced obstacles and chosen simply to power through them on my own? How often have I chosen to do things my way in contradiction to the inspired guidance of a loving Father? How often have I allowed pride and stubbornness to separate me from the Divine? And yet, no doubt, His hand was stretched out still.

How often do we disregard the commandments or think we know better than the prophets of God? How often do we make ourselves miserable, allowing ourselves to be dragged down to the gulf of misery and endless wo (Helaman 5:12)—and yet His hand is stretched out still?

How often? And yet—no matter how often—we cannot disqualify ourselves from this promise. We cannot put ourselves beyond His reach. In fact, no matter how foolish our choices may have been, no matter how far we may have drifted—He will be waiting there for us, and His hand will be stretched out still.

Even if we have been richly blessed and have chosen nonetheless to walk away, and even if in our wanderings we seem to have wasted our divine inheritance on riotous living, when we come unto ourselves and look, at last, toward Christ, we will see that His hand, as ever, is stretched out still (see Luke 15:11-24).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has stated: “However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012).

When Jesus took on a mortal body—when He condescended to become like us—he suffered sicknesses and pains, afflictions and temptations, infirmities of every kind so that He would know, in that moment of despair, how to succor us commensurate with our suffering (Alma 7:11-12). That is, He came to understand and know what it is you feel when you lose your job or when the baby is sick or when you said that awful thing you never, ever should have said. He knows what it’s like when your husband dies or when your son is having a crisis of faith. He knows the ache that comes from feeling unloved or unnoticed, friendless even among the friendly. He knows all about your sleepless worry when the purse is empty and the end of the month is still two weeks away. He knows your disappointments, your frustrations, your hopelessness and your doubts. And above all, He knows the emptiness you feel when you commit that sin—again—that you swore you would never again commit, or when you find yourself bound by addiction or bad habits or spiritual weakness of any kind, weighed down by present-day consequences of bad choices made many years ago.

He descended below them all (D&C 122:8)—suffered them all—that we might not suffer (D&C 19:16). It is for that very reason that He said: “Come unto me,” for that very reason that He promised rest and relief to the heavy laden. It is for that very reason that His hand is stretched out still.

As we welcome in this Easter week, may we reflect on the promise of that outstretched hand—a promise He can keep today because of what He suffered for us nearly 2000 years ago. May we find ourselves, as Simon and Mary and Enos and countless others, calling out to Him in our moments of need. May we show our thanks for His sacrifice by accepting His love and taking His name upon us and keeping His commandments.

And may we always remember what took place on that first Good Friday—the very best Friday of all—when His hands were stretched out across that sacrificial beam. His hands were stretched out then . . . that they might be stretched out now. And to this day, His hands are stretched out still.

PW

No Matter What

Dear Will:

My son is mad at me. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last, but he’s finally old enough (nearly 18) that he is confident in wielding his agency against me. And I’m not enjoying it.

I’ll spare you the gory details. But the essence of the disagreement that provoked his anger went something like this:

Luke: “I’m going to Australia with my girlfriend and her family. It will cost $2,000 or so. I will raise that money myself between now and July and it won’t cost you a dime. I just need your consent.”

Me: “No.”

Luke: “This should be my decision, not yours. When are you going to let me make decisions for myself?”

Me: “When you move out and pay your own way. Until then, you’re not spending $2000 you don’t have to vacation with your girlfriend.”

At this point you can assume that we continued to repeat these same thoughts over and over for several days and that he grew angrier and angrier the more intransigent I became. Finally he presented the following bit of desperate extortion: “If you don’t let me go, I will cease all activity with the Church. Immediately. Starting right now.”

And he has made good on that threat.

As you might imagine, I watch Luke’s rebellion with a mixture of sadness and bemusement. For instance, I wonder how this plays itself out. Does Luke put on a show for a few weeks and then come inching back into the fold, or does he dig in his heals, never to return? Will he retain a semblance of faith, expressed elsewhere and/or in different ways? Or will he drift into a state of agnosticism or indifference? And in all of this, what role, if any, should I take? And what’s my next move?

Now as one who for whatever reason has also chosen to disassociate yourself with the Church, perhaps you recognize a little of yourself in all of this. Or perhaps you merely see Luke as the rational one in the family. On the other hand, maybe you see him making a familiar mistake that’s hard to reverse. (In fact, I would be very interested in knowing your honest perspective on all of this. If you’re willing, drop me a note and let me know.)

Meanwhile, I take little comfort in the fact that throughout the scriptures there are stories of faithful men whose sons for one reason or another rebelled. However, I do take especial interest in the story of the Prodigal Son. In that parable, Jesus tells of a young man who asks his wealthy father for an early inheritance. Flush with cash, the youth “[wastes] his substance with riotous living.” Before long, he finds himself working for a pig farmer and coveting the pig’s food.

When he finally hits bottom, the young man decides to return to his father, beg his forgiveness, and ask to become one of his servants. The surprise (to him) comes during the journey home. Jesus says: “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” Note that the son didn’t have to come all the way back. He merely had to head back in the right direction and his father came running to meet him.

So I guess that’s my task: Not to wait for Luke to come back to me, but rather to watch for signs that he is beginning to turn around. When he does, I must show him an outpouring of love. Whether he returns to church is almost immaterial. The important thing is letting him know that, no matter what, I will and do always love him. Now the question is: Can I pull it off?

PW