"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 9, 2013
Instant Imaging
by Marian Stoddard

My roommate in my second year of college was a simple person, in the best sense of the word. There were six of us, living in an on-campus apartment. My ‘immediate’ roommate, as the six of us were paired off into three bedrooms, was the only active member in her family, and she had had to deal with some very real challenges. Her only sibling was a brother diagnosed with a serious mental illness, and her parents’ marriage was empty; they lived under the same roof, but as separate and emotionally distant residents.

Unlike my large, fully active family, she had had to go to church alone and figure out her own course. Her coping method and troubleshooting approach was simple: prayer. She was pure, direct, humble, and trusting in her approach to her Heavenly Father. She was a quiet person, and I did not know her really well before that year. Asking her if she would like to go in with me into this apartment -- it was a coveted spot, and we all had to request each other and be requested in turn by the one girl who was returning -- turned out to be a wonderful choice. I wish I knew where she was now.

As we became close friends through the year, one thing frequently made me wonder. When Pat prayed, how did she get such detailed answers? Counsel she had gained before, which brought her to where she was at school, and carried her through her family problems. Guidance for the questions I was an eyewitness to. How did she know so much from her seekings?

I had a testimony of the restored gospel, and I knew that my prayers were answered. The first question I earnestly prayed over, realizing that I could not see, for myself, all the results of my choice, was where I should go to school. The answer I received was clear and dumbfounding: “If you go to [my first choice] you will marry the wrong man.” What? Me, the wallflower, who didn’t have a single date until the summer after graduation? I didn’t understand, but I was obediently at the University of Utah (where I met my husband three weeks later -- though it took time to realize that he was that answer).

So that was once that I had had a clear answer at a very specific level. Otherwise, I had nudges, promptings, feelings that drew me in a certain direction and proved to be for a reason. I did experience that guidance. I trusted it and was grateful. But Pat seemed to receive long paragraphs while I felt like I had jots and notes. I had to conclude that she had learned how to listen, and her example made me strive to be a better spiritual listener.

I later came upon an analogy, through a new technology now obsolete.

In the days before all the world went digital, there were cameras that worked on physical film, developed by chemical processes. No one would have imagined any other kind. There were two basic types, the kind where you took the requisite number of exposures and then dropped it off at a store (unless you had your own darkroom), and then there were Polariod Instant Cameras, which gave you immediate pictures, one at a time. The ones I was familiar with (we didn’t have one, but friends did) took pictures in black and white, with film packs that loaded and then, when you took your picture, you pulled one square out of the camera. The film had a plastic cover which could not be disturbed until you counted the proper amount of time, then carefully peeled off the top layer, leaving an actual picture, right then and there, in your hand. Cool! With no negative, that one copy was it, but you didn’t have to wait for it.

Then, a brand new camera debuted. The Polaroid SX-70 took color pictures, and when you pulled the sheet out of the camera, it didn’t have a timed cover to remove; it was one layer, and you could sit and look at it develop. It was amazing, to gaze intently and see the first hints of color and shape form, then the image, blurry but discernible, and then watch it coming into clear focus until the process was complete, with the passage of several minutes. Right before your very eyes, as they said.

I mused to myself that this was a lot like listening for our answers when we seek our Father in Heaven. The first time someone was showing off his new SX-70 in our group, at a church activity, we all gathered around, craning our necks to see as the picture took shape. We certainly weren’t going to look at the piece of film first pulled out of the camera, say in disappointment that nothing was really there, and go off somewhere else.

No, we oohed and aahed over a developing process that was completely new to us. We knew we had to continue to watch, or we had to return to see the final result; it wasn’t going to be complete in the snap of our fingers.

So why do we rush off so fast in our prayers? We often wrap up our concerns in a nice bundle—or grab them up every which way in a panic-- and deposit them on the divine doorstep without sticking around to see if we can come in. He will open that door for us when we are ready. Maybe we run down our automatic lists and call it good, and wonder why we feel restless and still anxious.

I imagine my Father in Heaven offering me an answer, ready to help me---and I understand the first bit, or the beginning of the picture he’s forming for me, say, “Got it!” and hurry off, leaving him calling after me, “Wait—I wasn’t finished yet!” I have come back after messing up the works as I acted on incomplete information, and, more humbly, taken the time to listen and ask the follow-ups in order to fully understand. Sometimes I need to let the issues rest in my mind for a while, letting the development of the image (my comprehension, the things that connect) come to its full clarity.

As my sophomore roommate had learned early, seeking brings the promise that we will find, without fail, but it’s a much more involved verb than just requesting. It’s searching, a more intense intent, and suggests a persevering effort, including the work of listening. It might turn out that there’s a lot your Father would like to tell you.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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