Turn joy, pain into parables
Our fourteen-year-old friend Hannah began her recent sacrament meeting talk about the Holy Ghost with a personal story:
"A few months ago my family and I went to Wet 'n' Wild water park. We were in the wave pool, and if you have ever been there before, you know that there are two corners with signs that say 'strong swimmers only!' When a wave comes, there's a little vortex, and you can get sucked into a whirlpool. I was caught in it once when I was younger and got hurt, and I've been scared of it ever since.
"But when I saw my older brother Jordan in one of the corners, I wanted to give it another try. He told me that I'd have fun, and gave me a few pointers of the 'if this happens do this' variety.
"As I was preparing myself for the next wave, I told Jordan that I didn't want him to leave me, and gave him a whole list of things he should do to keep me safe."
"He said that I would be fine and should just relax. So when the wave came I held my breath, ready for whatever was coming. But just at that moment, Jordan pulled away from me and went under the water.
"I thought he was doing it to tease me and thought, 'This is not funny, no one is laughing.' I was mad at him, and after the wave passed and he came up for air, I swam over to him and asked why he had left me when I specifically asked him not to. How could he leave me when I needed him so much?
"Jordan ignored my complaint and asked if I had gone under the water at any time during the wave. That was when I realized that my head had not gone under water once.
"It seems that when Jordan had pulled away from me right before the wave came, he had gone under water and held me up while we spun around in the whirlpool. In all the turbulence, I hadn't felt his hands holding me up. He gave me a better ride than I expected, a better ride than I had asked for, a better ride than I even imagined possible.
"I thought I knew what I wanted and thought I knew the best way to get it. But instead of doing what I told him to do, he did what he needed to do to give me even better results than I had even thought of."
"We don't always know the best way for our lives. The Lord knows what we want and how we need to get there. Just because He does not follow our plan does not mean that He has abandoned us. He sees the big picture and knows what will be best for us."
In her talk, Hannah went on to refer to scriptures and quote General Authorities, and it was a powerful sermon. But I'm afraid that after this story, I got a little side-tracked.
You see, Hannah comes from a parable-finding family. She was doing something that I have seen her parents do: step back from the memory of events that caused joy or consternation or sorrow and find bigger meanings in them.
When Jesus was teaching, he had a point in mind and then made up a parable that would explain it clearly and memorably.
It's quite a different process to find parables in the events of your own life. As Shakespeare's character Duke Senior said in As You Like It, act 2, scene 1:
"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I would not change it."
This is the process of turning adversity into wisdom; converting pain into parable.
Some people deliberately misunderstand the process Shakespeare describes. John Burroughs once said, "Nature teaches more than she preaches. There are no sermons in stones. It is easier to get a spark out of a stone than a moral."
But this is mere witticism. Of course the sermon doesn't come from the stone, anymore than Hannah's talk came from the whirlpool!
Sometimes we think that the only experiences from our life that are worth talking about are "spiritual experiences." And so if angels decline to appear to us on a regular basis, we think we have nothing to share.
Hannah was not saying that God sent her this experience. Quite the contrary -- this was something that simply happened as a part of her life with her older brother Jordan.
Only afterward did Hannah realize that Jordan's treatment of her was like the way the Holy Ghost responds to our wishes and prayers. The experience itself was not spiritual, but the lesson that she drew from it was.
You find the sermon by noticing your life -- by stepping back from it and observing it and thinking about it. Then possible meanings come to mind; then you can use your own life events as a means of helping other people learn.
Hannah's parents have taught their children, by example, to find these lessons in their lives. Wisdom doesn't have to come as a miracle. You only have to look for it.
Hannah ended her talk with another story:
"A few weeks ago my family and I went to Carowinds [an amusement park near Charlotte, North Carolina]. We had been waiting in a line for about forty-five minutes for a ride that was supposed to be the best of the day.
"It was about noon and I was hungry. When we were about halfway through our wait, I started feeling a little sick. I just thought that it was my nerves acting up.
"The line inched forward, but I didn't want to move. I just wanted to sit down and feel better. I leaned over the rail just to stop my head from spinning, and closed my eyes to try to focus my mind.
"My brother asked if I was okay and told me that I had to go on this ride. I agreed -- there was no way I was missing this ride. I had already waited a long while, and nothing was going to stop me. My mom also encouraged me, saying that I was fine and that I could do it. I would get over my nerves and have a great time.
"Then I heard my dad say to my mom, 'Honey, look at her!'
"The next thing I remember is opening my eyes and seeing all these people looking at me. I noticed that I was going the opposite way of everyone else. I could not feel the ground and realized that I was being carried. I started to feel a little embarrassed and self-conscious.
"Then I heard my father's voice whisper in my ear, 'You're fine. I've got you. It's going to be okay.' Then I closed my eyes again in relief and laid my head on his shoulder.
"After we got to the end of the line, he set me down and got me some food. That food was so good. It wasn't like I had really even tasted it with my tongue but my body was so eager to get more. It turns out that I hadn't eaten for about eighteen hours. We had woken up early that morning so that we could have as much time as possible at the park, and food had not seemed as important as grabbing a few more minutes of sleep.
"I later thought about what had happened and I thought about the peace and comfort that had come to me when I heard my father's voice. No matter what I had done, or the foolish decisions I had made, he still carried me out and got me food.
"We hear our Heavenly Father's voice through the Holy Ghost, and the peace and relief His voice brings is just as real, and even more sustaining than the food my father provided."
Thank you, Hannah, for a powerful sermon drawn from your real life.
Blessed are the parents who teach their children to experience their own lives this way.
Copyright © 2008 by Orson Scott Card
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