"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 18, 2013
Pick a Hero
by Marian Stoddard

I was assigned to speak in sacrament meeting in June on the topic of how we live prepared for the last days. How do we make ourselves ready; how do we keep steadfast when everything around us seems to threaten our peace and safety?

There are many scriptures describing the conditions and perils of our day — many talks giving us counsel. What came immediately to mind was the statement that in those days “men’s hearts shall fail them,” and men will look for peace and not be able to find it.

Think that it’s never been darker and more difficult than it is today? You’re absolutely right. Think it’s as bad as it can be? Unfortunately, not yet.

A couple of things came to mind immediately, but I wondered and prayed about what I should say. The answer came to me in the middle of the night — three words: pick a hero.

If the promises of the words of scripture seem too distant or abstract to keep a grip on, right this desperate frantic minute, hang on to the true story of a real, breathing, human being who wrestled, feared, persevered, and made it through.

It’s one of the purposes of having revelation put on record. The scriptures are given to us to teach principles and doctrine, but they are also given to offer us the stories of individuals whose lives were tutored and transformed, and how it happened.

Pick a hero — someone worthy, tested, and victorious. Their stories are laid out before us so that we too can learn, and so that we too can overcome.

I’ve been thinking about that again this week. I used the examples of Joseph Smith and Moroni in my talk. (Here is my record of that talk, in my blog. http://eyeonsparrows.blogspot.com/2013/06/holding-on.html) Those two stories are powerful.

But I’ve had another story on my mind this week, the story of Alma the Elder. A priest in King Noah’s court in the land of Nephi, Alma was the only one whose heart was pricked by Abinadi’s testimony. He alone stood up to the group and pleaded for Abinadi’s life. He responded to truth and rejected the pattern of unrighteousness.

That only made him another object of wrath, and he was ordered thrown out and the king’s servants were ordered to follow him and kill him — out of the public eye. But they didn’t find him, and as he stayed in hiding he wrote down everything that the prophet Abinadi had said. Then he went about quietly, carefully, to spread those teachings and bear witness of the power of the Atonement.

In Mosiah 18 he gives one of the most beautiful delineations of what it means to be the Lord’s people:

8.... and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.

Alma and the people he gathered around him found a safe, lovely place to live, far enough away from King Noah that they thought they would have peace. Wouldn’t that be the fitting reward for his faith and integrity?

No such luck. The army of the Lamanites found them and took possession of their new lands and put them under subjugation; then, to add insult to injury, gave them to the malicious oversight of the wicked runaway priests of the wicked court — those who had a personal grudge.

Alma did not react with bitterness or despair. He and his people turned to God with prayer and they received help: the Lord gave them added strength to bear their burdens, telling them that they would be delivered — but not yet.

When we have those kind of answers, isn’t it a temptation to argue with them? If my life is acceptable before you, can’t I be rescued now? But Alma waited and prepared, and continued to call upon God with both faith and patience. Patience can be the sticking point, but faith isn’t deep enough until patience joins it.

They had no means at hand to effect their escape, so their taskmasters were overcome with a deep sleep and they hurried away, outdistancing their pursuers and led to Zarahemla, where their people had originally come from.

There was great joy. Alma was brought to the company of the Saints, if you will, and two groups were bound together. All was well. He helped organize the Church there, married and raised a perfect family, and everything went smoothly — well, not so much.

We don’t know if Alma had other children, but we know he had one who broke his heart. We know him as Alma the Younger. We know he was best buds with the four sons of King Mosiah, and we know that in spite of all the testimony, legacy of experience, and love of both fathers, they were unbelievers and active, persuasive dissenters.

How much more compelling can a narrative of deliverance be, than young Alma had from his father? But he rejected, even scorned, that testimony.

Alma had stood forth against the crowd, against the powerful, in his integrity. He was not swayed by the prevailing attitudes of his peers in King Noah’s court. He had followed the witness that the Holy Ghost had given him, and brought it to others. He had been delivered out of the most difficult circumstances, which he did not deserve, in faith and he had lived in service. All of which makes him a hero worthy of emulation, but the way he responded to his son’s rebellious choices may have been his most important example.

He didn’t give up and say, after all this, what more can I do? He didn’t let his heart fail. According to the angel who stood in the way of these young men heading out to do more harm, the prayers of the people, and the particular prayers of Alma the Elder, were constant and faith-filled that these wayward sons would be brought to a knowledge of the truth. (See Mosiah 27:14)

The angel declared to them that he was there because of their faith, to answer those prayers. They were now up against one clear witness of the truth and given one clear choice. They chose to turn around.

Alma never lost hope, he never lost his faith. He understood that he could not force his son to do what was right, or to accept anyone else’s testimony. He had enough faith in his son’s heart to believe that he could be reached. When his son was struck down in his confrontation with his actions, Alma gathered all the leadership of the Church to join him in fasting, for two days and nights. One of the most powerful miracles of redemption followed.

The darkness and strife of the world would lead us to despair. Only the Lord’s light can overcome it. He promises that it will come.

For he is our peace, Paul wrote the Ephesians (Eph. 2:14) There is no other. When it’s hard to hang on, pick a hero, who persevered and overcame, and take heart; for your Father in Heaven will protect and lead you too.


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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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