**Disclaimer: I didn't properly cite my sources (my past English teachers would be horrified), but the talk I mentioned multiple times can be found here...and I'm aware there are a frightful amount of run-on sentences**
I was surprised when the call came to speak on the principle taught in the Savior’s words, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done,” because I've actually thought about this particular scripture a great deal over the last few years and it is a source of comfort.
Robb and I planned on starting our family after I finished college (I didn't think I could handle morning sickness and nursing clinicals), but that wasn't in Heavenly Father’s plan for us. In the next year I had two miscarriages both at six weeks and the experience was really hard on me. After the first, I felt depressed. I told all of our siblings and our parents about the pregnancy and it was difficult to tell them things had changed, but I was still hopeful. Miscarriages are pretty common, after all. After the second, I was devastated. I feared we would never have children of our own and I started to wonder if my faith was the reason our prayers and fasting weren’t working. Prophets of old could move mountains when it was the Lord’s will that they be pushed aside, but what do you do when you don’t know if your mountain, even if it’s for a good and noble cause, is meant to be moved? Not all prayers will be answered the way we expect and I think the greatest thing I learned through my experience, besides a powerful reaffirmation that my Savior loves me, is that it is possible to submit your will to the Father while still praying for that blessing you feel in need of.
I've looked back on this experience frequently since the birth of our son, Colby, and I've wondered how I could have handled things better because I’m almost certain this isn't the only trial Robb and I will face and then I heard an amazing talk by Elder Bednar entitled, That We Might “Not Shrink” and all these thoughts and feelings I had were suddenly clear. He begins by relating an experience he had when Elder Maxwell came to deliver a devotional to the BYU-Idaho campus. While visiting together, Elder Bednar asked what lessons Elder Maxwell had learned from fighting leukemia, his response, “Dave,” he said, “I have learned that not shrinking is more important than surviving.”
In his talk, “Applying the Atoning Blood of Christ,” Elder Maxwell elaborates that thought, “As we confront our own … trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we ‘might not … shrink’—meaning to retreat or to recoil. Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus”.
I love this idea, of not shrinking, and it doesn't just apply to trials. If you turn to 1 Nephi 4:10 it reads “And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.” Sometimes following the will of the Lord requires us to take an action we inwardly “shrink” from. I appreciate Nephi’s honesty in writing this and take comfort that even such a great man as he was struggled at times to submit his will to the Lord’s. But He overcame his moment of weakness, obeyed, and it was a turning point in his life. He went from a stalwart youth and became the man who saw the Tree of Life and calmed a storm with prayer.
Elder Bednar told of the story of a newly married couple, John and Heather, who learned three weeks after their sealing that John had bone cancer which had metastasized or moved into his lungs. He relates his experience with them as follows:
“Two days following the operation, I visited John and Heather in the hospital. We talked about the first time I met John in the mission field, about their marriage, about the cancer, and about the eternally important lessons we learn through the trials of mortality. As we concluded our time together, John asked if I would give him a priesthood blessing. I responded that I gladly would give such a blessing, but I first needed to ask some questions.”
“I then posed questions I had not planned to ask and had never previously considered: “[John,] do you have the faith not to be healed? If it is the will of our Heavenly Father that you are transferred by death in your youth to the spirit world to continue your ministry, do you have the faith to submit to His will and not be healed?”
“I frankly was surprised by the questions I felt prompted to ask this particular couple. Frequently in the scriptures, the Savior or His servants exercised the spiritual gift of healing and perceived that an individual had the faith to be healed. But as John and Heather and I counseled together and wrestled with these questions, we increasingly understood that if God’s will were for this good young man to be healed, then that blessing could only be received if this valiant couple first had the faith not to be healed. In other words, John and Heather needed to overcome, through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, the “natural man” tendency in all of us to demand impatiently and insist incessantly on the blessings we want and believe we deserve.”
Submitting our will to the Father is an opportunity for our faith to grow in a way that seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. Through the power of prayer and the reassurances of the Spirit we learn to trust all things are possible in the Lord. Whether the miracle will be the strength to endure or the blessing we seek, it is His decision and will ultimately be for our good. Elder Orson F. Whitney said, “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire”
As always, our Savior is the perfect example of submitting to the will of the Father. “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” During my trial, when this scripture came to mean so much to me, I realized for the first time that Christ was surprised by how hard the Atonement was. In Mark we read that he “began to be sore amazed and very heavy” as he experienced the emotional, mental, and physical anguish for us. Even our Savior, with all His power and wisdom, was unprepared for what he had to go through and wanted the suffering to end.
In Jesus the Christ James E. Talmage wrote, “Though in the dark tribulation of that fearful hour He had pleaded that the bitter cup be removed from His lips, the request, however oft repeated was always conditional; the accomplishment of the Father's will was never lost sight of as the object of the Son's supreme desire."
Submitting your will doesn't mean you can't still hope and pray things will turn out a certain way, it means you will accept whatever Heavenly Father has in store for you and your life. Elder Bednar said, “Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains—if moving mountains accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, or lame—if such healing accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even with strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.”
As you seek to make your will one with the Father your prayers will change. You will be led to ask for courage, strength, increased faith, and comfort and you will be blessed with those things you stand in need of to overcome trials and your burdens will be made light. I have felt the peace that only comes from turning our heartaches and pain over to the Lord and I testify that it is available to all who seek it.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.