H. Wallace Goddard, “Surrender in order to Conquer” Meridian Magazine
H. Wallace Goddard is a son, a husband, a dad, and a grandpa. He works as a Family Life Specialist for the University of Arkansas Extension Service in Little Rock and has written several books and programs including The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life (Bookcraft) and Principles of Parenting (Alabama Cooperative Extension System). He claims to be living proof that a person who makes lots of mistakes can still be blessed with joy beyond any deserving.
Surrender in Order to Conquer
Life is filled with paradoxes. For example, the last will be first. The humble will be exalted. Our natural ways make us enemies to our Creator. We must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. By submitting we become strong. The servant of all will become the Master of all. By giving we receive. We must die in order to live eternally.
There is a contradiction that has been of particular interest to me lately. We are repeatedly enjoined to become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19, c.f. Alma 7:23, Alma 13:28).
Further, the Master of all Creation was also its most submissive citizen. “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise” (John 5:19, also John 5:30, 8:28).
In contrast to the commandment to submit, is the commandment to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (D&C 58:27-8). How do we reconcile total submission to God with “being agents unto themselves”?
Submission does not come easily for me. I have considered it cause for rejoicing as I have learned to submit my rather independent will to God in some areas of my life. So, sitting in a high council meeting feeling as misplaced as a smoldering cigarette at a bishopric meeting, I have been tempted to resign my post. But I know in my soul that that is not how we do business in the kingdom. “In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter?day Saints, one takes the place to which one is duly called, which place one neither seeks nor declines” (J. Reuben Clark).
I see clearly that I neither call myself nor release myself. God offers no guarantees that we will enjoy each minute of our callings. He does not even guarantee that all our callings will perfectly utilize our gifts and preferences. After all, He is more committed to our growth than He is in need of our contribution. So He directs our lives according to His absolute resolve to enlarge us and perfect us.
So I continue to serve on the high council. As I serve, God shows me ways to be useful. I offer my gifts and perspectives to the council. I gladly testify of Divine Goodness in the units of the Little Rock Stake. I try to enjoy meetings. But you can be sure that I will rejoice if I ever get to teach Gospel Essentials again!
Submission vs. Proactivity
I have wondered if one way to reconcile submission with proactivity is to suggest that we submit our purposes entirely to God while using our agency to determine the processes for bringing about His perfect purposes. In other words, He determines the ends and we choose the means.
Nephi may be an example of that principle. He did not know how God would hook him and his brothers up with the brass plates. For the first attempt, Laman went and reasoned with Laban. He was chased off. Then the little band offered the family wealth in exchange for the plates. Laban took the wealth and dispatched the brothers. Even after two failures, Nephi was not deterred. He still did not know God’s plan for getting the records but he was determined to keep trying. He snuck into town at night for the third attempt. He “was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). It must take a lot of faith to head back into town without a plan. Nephi pushed forward. God put Laban in his hands.
While Nephi used every stratagem that came to his mind, ultimately it was God who delivered Laban into his hands. Maybe that is true for us also. We qualify for God’s blessings as we put our creativity and style in the service of God’s work.
Another interesting example is the brother of Jared whom the Lord instructed to build a barge that would transport his people to the new world. The Lord gave very clear instructions about the general objective. He even gave specific instructions on certain subjects—such as general design of the barges and their ventilation—where our shipbuilder could not succeed without expert help. But God allowed the brother of Jared to make recommendation for lighting the craft: “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23) asked the Lord.
Aligned With God’s Will
With both Nephi and the brother of Jared, God gave clear purposes and some specific processes, but allowed His servant to find some methods. “And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28, emphasis added). If our purposes are aligned with God’s will, i.e., if we are determined to “do good,” He grants us freedom to find a method.
Would God have allowed the brother of Jared to use glow-in-the-dark pomegranates or a burning bush? Perhaps. Maybe God inspired the choice of 16 clear stones for symbolic purposes. It appears in the record that it was purely the brother of Jared’s choice.
It seems that when we have no desire but to do God’s will, we are sometimes granted freedom to find the means for accomplishing His purposes. It is intriguing to imagine what elements of Jesus’ remarkable ministry represent the unique style of His sweet soul. Even though He followed His Father’s example perfectly, His choice of which acts to emulate must somehow represent the great goodness of His inestimable Character!
So, when we prove our devotion to God’s purpose, He grants us more freedom to choose the means to accomplish those purposes. There is another way of looking at this. Maybe it is a matter of spiritual maturity. As we demonstrate our commitment to His purposes, He delegates more and more of His responsibility and power to us. Can you imagine The Creator of Heaven and Earth saying to us, “I would like you to take charge of this part of my vineyard.”?!
That is what He does when he gives a deacon the power to pass the sacrament or a woman stewardship over a newborn or a bishop responsibility for a ward. But there is a feeling that comes as one starts to feel the power. I thought I saw that great power when I heard President Biliter, a beloved counselor in our stake presidency, tell about the joy he experiences any time he has an opportunity to give a blessing. “The thrill is being able to be a part of the miracle—even if only in the capacity of messenger. We get to intercede in behalf of a brother or sister and call down the blessings of heaven. That is the miracle of the priesthood process. I am in awe that Heavenly Father allows us to be instruments in that process.” Giving blessings in the name of the Lord provides a unique opportunity for partnership with God. Perhaps we provide the style and God directs the substance.
Somehow this all connects to the principle of consecration. When we turn everything we have over to the kingdom, the Kingdom becomes ours. As we turn our lives over to Him, He turns His power over to us! What wonderful examples of heavenly generosity!
I must admit that I still do not have a tidy answer for reconciling total submission to God with being agents unto ourselves. But I know that when I have no desire but to do His will, He opens the way for me to be uniquely myself and yet uniquely His. May we surrender all that we have and all that we are to God and thereby “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths” (D&C 132:19).