"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
July 10, 2013
Taking Nourishment
by Marian Stoddard

The Institute director in Seattle, speaking to the year's graduates, told of the year he ran a marathon in Central Washington even though he had an old illness flare up. (See last column, "Running Our Race".) He had trained, prepared, planned, and anticipated the day only to have the symptoms of his old foe start to set in the night before.

The race was something that mattered to him, and he prayed to be able to run, and succeed. Managing to finish, he had hoped to win; he was forced to drop back to a walk in the last stretch, almost passing out every time he tried to pick up speed again. He was in the lead and would have come in first if he had been well. He wondered why his prayers were answered "almost." What he was meant to learn from this?

The answer that came to him in time was, "You can't win today's race on yesterday's nourishment."

You can't just get strong once and then coast. He had this experience in order to take in that life lesson. It was the illness that made his body fail to take in the physical nourishment that he was conscientiously providing. It wasn't his fault. He did accomplish his goal of running; he could have been collapsed in the hospital instead, so he knew that he had had help, but not the exact help he had hoped for.

I realized that in pondering the applications of his statement, talking about prayer and scripture study, I was taking Church activity as a given, and so I hope it would be. I think that any of us with a testimony knows that.

Coming to our meetings, taking the sacrament every week, those are our foundation. The personal efforts, ongoing, of our own prayer and time spent in reading and pondering the scriptures are nourishment that we need so that we don't faint in the tough stretches of our course, and nobody else will know, on some outside scorecard, if you neglect them.

But there are two other important things we might take for granted that nourish us: service in the Kingdom and fellowship with the Saints. They deserve time and thought also.

Marathons, grueling, challenging, sometimes exhilarating, are scheduled events. Runners register for them well in advance. The tricky thing about mortal life is that most of our grueling stretches are not scheduled or even anticipated. Even those that we know are coming, such as the death of a loved one with a terminal illness, will contain pain and challenges that we cannot be entirely prepared for.

Service in the kingdom? That feeds our souls. It's not something to toss aside. It might be easy to feel like you can't possibly do one more thing, or that you are in no way capable of doing this particular thing, when called. "When I have things under a little bit more control in my life, or when I finish school, or when (fill in the blank), then I might be able. Not now." However, the Lord, with more perfect sight than ours, may see things differently. Is He trying to add to our burdens? No.

What do we need to make it through the hard points? We need divine help, and the keys of a calling to serve can do two things -- bless us with the promise of help and draw us out of ourselves in prayer. If I have an assignment or a responsibility I want to be able to do what my Heavenly Father wants me to with this. I want to know what's important in His plan, so I haveto seek that direction to know what His purpose is.

The Holy Ghost, answering, opens light into more spaces than just the limits of our questions, if we let him. The keys of a calling are a means to teach and bring strength to us, and it's amazing to learn that we can do what was "too much to deal with," and better, by accepting what the Lord asks us to add to it, because He adds help. (Why are we so often amazed at that equation?)

Fellowship with the Saints is meat and drink as well. Sharing the experiences of the Spirit by offering up memory and insight, whether one-on-one or in a group, or experiencing them with each other deepens those experiences. We have a friend who works sturdily in a wearying job. He says often that church is his therapy, and he needs it to make it through his week. Coming to church, staying active in service and being with his fellow Saints are things that reinforce his faith, relieve his stresses, and keep him smiling.

It's very difficult to soldier through the sudden wrenching times, or the long endurance periods, by ourselves, even with all the faith in the world. Our marathons don't need to be run alone. We always have the promise of the help and presence of our Heavenly Father, but we also need human empathy, a squeeze and a smile, someone who cares, and we can find it with those who share our eternal perspective.

We can be blessed and lifted by offering that care, not just by being given it. Service and fellowship are intertwined. The best way to find or give comfort, affirmation, and loving support is by knowing and being known already when we hit a rough patch.

Pres. Hinckley said that every new member needs three things -- a friend, a responsibility, and nourishing with the good word of God. Every not-so-new or no-longer-new member needs the same things: fellowship, the opportunity to serve, and the teachings of truth. Some things we outgrow, but not these things.

All of the ways we find spiritual nourishment are ways that we are able to receive the guiding and filling power of the Holy Ghost. Do we think often enough of it as power? Not just help, or direction, but power. Power to strengthen, power to heal, power to comprehend, and power to be filled with a portion, just a taste, of the glory of our Father in Heaven. That will nourish us indeed.

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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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