I had not strayed from the gospel because of disobedience or rebellion. But because of a serious medical condition, I came to know what it means to feel lost from the Lord’s flock.
After months of illness and hospitalization, I attended a fast and testimony meeting in late summer, feeling very alone. Watching individuals stand and testify of their love for the Lord, the gospel, leaders, and family, I desperately wanted to feel the same confidence, peace, and security in the gospel those around me obviously felt. But because of my physical condition, my spiritual senses were unresponsive.
Then a Brother Vance rose from his seat in the congregation. A large, strong, grandfatherly man who worked well with his hands, he related his thankfulness to the Lord for the growth of some lilac bushes that were most precious to his wife.
The bushes had grown so tall they blocked the sunlight to the Vances’ tiny home. Brother Vance told his wife he had to cut the bushes back to ground level and move the roots to a new location. She vigorously protested his decision, afraid the bushes would not survive. But he felt it was necessary.
He told of the painful but loving task of pruning the bushes, preparing the soil in the new location, and, finally, digging up the roots and planting them.
He described how every day he weeded, watered, and looked for signs of new life. The lack of new growth, he said, made him worried and concerned that he had destroyed his wife’s lovely bushes. The more he thought of his love for his eternal companion, the more feeling he developed for the roots he had nurtured in the earth.
Finally, early one morning, he was relieved to find green evidence that the roots were alive and growing. He brought his wife to see her lilacs and offered a prayer of thankfulness for the growing results of his work.
Brother Vance then explained the analogy by saying that many of us find times in life when we become weak and helpless. He said it is as if the Lord cuts us back and even moves us to unfamiliar or foreign soil because he has special plans for us.
If the Lord were to leave us with our original greenery and in old soil, we would not learn of our weaknesses and not have the opportunity to overcome them. When we must struggle to redevelop, we become stronger and more valuable to the Lord than if we had never been challenged.
When times of fear and pain come into our lives, his plans for us unfold as we fervently pray and study, and we find new power and purpose in our challenges. This is one way he shows us our weaknesses and makes “weak things become strong.” (Ether 12:27.)
The Spirit bore witness to me of the truthfulness of Brother Vance’s words, and this new insight gave me the strength to continue my efforts to return to both physical and spiritual strength.
Many months later, in a new ward, with my health restored, I was called to teach seminary. Because of my experience, I was now more able to study the gospel with zeal and share that newfound strength not only with the youth in the ward, but also with a few other sheep who were contemplating straying.
Now, whenever I feel the discomforts of a new beginning, I try to remember Brother Vance’s analogy about pruning with a purpose. It helps to see my trials in a broader perspective, and I find myself praying that I shall grow in a manner that will be pleasing to the Lord and to me.