I just finished a book, the story of which I know will stay with me for a long time--I hope forever. It's not a new book--or a new story for that matter. It's the "Fire of the Covenant - A Novel of the Willie & Martin Handcart Companies", by Gerald Lund. Using journals and historical records, the author places a few fictional characters amongst the stories of the real people to help tell the story of actual events. It is moving, disturbing, inspiring, and uplifting all at once. Don't worry, this post is not going to be a book review. I do HIGHLY recommend this book, but that's not what I wanted to write about here.
A thought occurred to me as I read about the horrendous, truly heart-breaking experiences and difficulties these early LDS immigrants endured. Beyond the obedience to the call of a prophet, beyond their desire for refuge, safety and peace. At first I questioned--WHY? Why did they forsake EVERYTHING--their homes, possessions, wealth, native countries, languages, health, protection and their very lives in many cases. Why were they willing to do it?
The author called it the "Fire of the Covenant", in reference to an explanation given by Brigham Young about the covenant we have all made to further the work of the Lord, which is to build up the Kingdom of God on earth. In those days as the Gathering of Israel commenced it required a literal gathering to a physical place. There was not the global communications and ease of travel that we enjoy today.
So, there is the answer. They were willing because it was what the Lord required of His people. He, in His wisdom and omniscience, required them to forsake all and begin anew amongst their fellow Saints. We can be assured that whenever the Lord requires sacrifice, great or small, His promised blessings far outweigh the cost. He is more than just, more than fair; for His mercy is perfect and generosity boundless.
In the case of the early Saints, those whose sacrifice included their lives, I'm sure have earned a great reward in Heaven. And those who survived, who made it to "the Valley" as they affectionately referred to it, they were blessed to see an end to persecution, to bigotry and violence. They were free to worship amongst friends and live peaceably as brethren and sisters, children of God. They could safely teach their children the Creator's Great Plan of Happiness and see them put it into practice in their daily lives. This was Zion.
After pondering these things,the thought that occurred to me was self-centered in nature.
I have not been asked to suffer for my faith. God has not required that I forsake all--some, yes, but by no means all. I think I can speak for most of us in the US, when I say He has blessed us temporally--we live in comfort, rarely know serious physical discomfort that cannot be remedied fairly quickly or easily. We are not called on to leave our homes, lands, possessions and endure physical trials that push us to our limits and beyond. What then, will He require of us that we may earn a place next to these great early Saints in Heaven? How is it that we may find our Zion? Is it in the daily struggles to endure a wicked world that we plod along? It this where we show our willingness? by not murmuring? by maintaining a grateful heart? by showing kindness when none is earned or returned?
Are our toilings, struggles, and never-ending hills to climb emotional and spiritual, rather than physical? Are we to endure and stave off the frost bite of evil influences that surround us, threatening to destroy bits of us piece by piece? Are the howling winds of deception threatening to chill our spirits to a willfull death? Are we burdened with handcarts full of sorrow for the horrors we see, fear we must live with daily for our children and others and temporal worries? Are we to trudge through the heavy snows of injustice, hate and anger until our feet fail? Are we to hunger for goodness, kindness, & wholesomeness until our strength is gone? Is this what the Lord is requiring?
I keep waiting to be called upon to do something BIG. You know, something monumental that will once and for all allow me to earn my place with the early saints and other great disciples of Christ or perish in the effort. That day may come. I certainly believe that hard times are ahead of us.
But the realization that I had tonight was that Zion is not to be found for me in one bold act of sacrifice. It is the daily struggle of life in a wicked, wicked world that wears me down, saps my energy and chinks away at my spiritual armor. And yet, for each of us in these days, Zion is not a destination, not a place. Our Zion is in the Gospel itself.
We can find rest and refuge. In the scriptures. In our homes. In our families. In our wards. In our callings. In service. In our temples. In prayer.
We do struggle on, day by day. But we also have places of safety to which we can go. Places of peace. Places of rest. The Lord in His infinite wisdom has seen fit to bring Zion to us, because He knows we can't survive without it.
I believe that, if given the choice, the early Saints would not have been willing to trade places with us in these last days of the evil of the world. I believe that they would rather have suffered again as they did, than to send their children out into the world we do each day. I believe they would be terrified to live and raise children in our reality.
That said, it says something about us that the Lord let us come at this time. I believe it means He knows we can make it. But the stakes are higher than ever. To succumb to the elements in our day means spiritual death. There will be no reward for this. So, with everything to lose and yet, "everything the Father hath" to gain--we must press forward. Day by day. Hour by hour. Supporting and caring for each other. With courage. With faith. With conviction. And grab hold of Zion at every opportunity.
"...Fresh courage take,
Our God will never us forsake
and then we'll have this tale to tell,
all is well. All is well!"