A while back, I had an interesting experience at work. I teach a university-level graphic design class to 50 non-art students, and this particular week was the start of a new semester. The beginning is always overwhelming for students. Art is usually not their thing, and this class is TOUGH. There is a lot of technology involved, and it is fast-paced. Typically half my students are international, ESL students. Frankly, there is a lot to be overwhelmed about.
I remember feeling that way as a student, like my professors expected impossible things. As if I was being set up to fail. As if my circumstances and the load were intended to be more than I could take. In fact, I’ve often felt this way – as a new missionary, as a parent, as a citizen scratching out a life on the easily corrupted edge of human history. So I have a lot of empathy for my students at the start of each semester.
As I went through the Come Follow Me readings during this week, I kept my students in the back of my mind. What could I tell them? And then in the last verse of the last chapter, I got my answer: “go forth unto this people, and declare the words which I have spoken, unto the ends of the earth.” (3 Nephi 11:41)
The key phrase that stood out to me was “unto the ends of the Earth.” Think about it. Did the Nephites even know where the ends of the Earth were? (The answer is no.) And here the Savior appears before them, and immediately asks them to do something that is scientifically impossible for them given their current ability and understanding.
And yet, (this is the amazing thing) did they do it? Yes! They did!
Their carefully recorded declarations of the Savior’s words have been translated and distributed around the globe, even, “unto the ends of the Earth.”
And as I’ve pondered this I’ve realized that church history is full of impossible things. Joseph Smith, who could barely write a coherent letter, was given the task of translating hundreds of pages of ancient text in a dead language. Enoch, who wasn’t good at speaking, was called to be the spokesman for God. Paul, who had stoned believers, was called to be a disciple of Christ. The brother of Jared was expected to find a way to light a submarine journey across the sea. The teen-aged Nephi was told to get the golden plates from a violent and well-defended enemy. Sarah, who had not had any children before the age of 90, was expected to mother descendants as numerous as the sands of the sea. And you and I? We are asked to build ETERNAL families and the kingdom of God upon the Earth.
I could go on.
Why is it that God so often gives us tasks so far beyond our ability to accomplish? I suppose it’s because these tasks are not beyond our ability with His help. And, back to my poor students, what kind of teacher only asks students to do tasks they already know they can accomplish on their own? We don’t learn anything without first bravely stepping out into the dark.
I think we humble inhabitants of planet Earth are in great danger of underestimating our own potential and selling our mortal lives short. We set our sights on trifles, like wealth, or fame, or power, without any clear idea of what we could accomplish with our Heavenly Father as our partner. We see the priesthood more like an amusement park ride, with a predetermined, well-worn start and end, instead of a vehicle able to carry us through all terrains, circumstances, times, and all spaces. So our loving Heavenly Father does whatever He can to pull up our sights – to coax us out of the feeble realm of what we can accomplish all alone into the brilliant universe of what we can do with His power in our reach. And that means encouraging us to seek impossible things.
I think our all-knowing, all-powerful heavenly Parents do a lot of waiting for us. This mortal experience is not about them flexing their phenomenal power to save us from our ridiculous weakness and ignorance. They could save us. They know how. But this is supposed to be OUR chance to flex. Therefore, they wait. They didn’t meet Moses halfway up the mount. They didn’t intervene before things got out of hand at the Red Sea. They wait for us to do 100% of what we are capable of on our own. They stand by ready to guide us, the ultimate co-pilots, as we pick up the keys and turn over the engine, employing the priesthood power to drive the universe towards its ultimate fate.
And when we’re sitting there in the driver’s seat, it may seem like an impossible thing we’re doing. But this is the power of God we’re learning to use. For us, there are no impossible things.