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Thomas B. Marsh is one of my favorite people in the Doctrine and Covenants. Perhaps this is because my great grandma told us that we were his descendants (that might just be a family legend), or perhaps it’s simply because I love a lot of things about his story of repentance and forgiveness.
At this point in time, Thomas is the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and believes it is his duty to oversee missions abroad. He is living in Missouri while many of the other apostles are living in Kirtland. He has heard about some of the apostasy that is occurring in Kirtland, and he has also heard that Parley P. Pratt is planning a foreign mission without speaking to him first. Thomas wrote to Parley and told him to wait; Thomas wanted to have a meeting on July 24 with the apostles to try and work out their problems as well as plan missions abroad. He then left Missouri to head towards Kirtland for this meeting he planned. When he arrived in Kirtland, he learned that Joseph had sent two of the apostles on missions already, and he was upset about this. Despite his frustration over not being consulted, he still actively worked to help the Twelve get their act together. He sought revelation from Joseph at this troubling time.
There are many ways we can relate to Thomas, his weaknesses and troubles and concerns. Perhaps we’re not trying to restore peace among the Twelve, but the world has lost enough peace that we’re probably trying to restore it somewhere. Perhaps we’re not in charge of calling foreign missions, but perhaps we are worried about being passed over or feeling superfluous. Perhaps we feel ignored by a priesthood leader.
How did the Lord respond to Thomas? How can we apply it to our own lives?
Not well pleased
The Lord gave the following.
Doctrine and Covenants 112:2 Verily I say unto you, there have been some few things in thine heart and with thee with which I, the Lord, was not well pleased.
There are a few things in which the Lord is not well pleased. We do not know Marsh’s heart like the Lord does and so we do not know exactly what things the Lord is speaking of. We can make a few guesses (though we need to remember that they are just assumptions). Perhaps the Lord is speaking about his anger towards Joseph for calling two apostles on foreign missions without consulting him.
It’s interesting because despite the fact that Joseph was well within his rights to do so, that is not something that often happens in our day. We often delegate responsibilities and let people fulfill their callings. As one example, a bishop calls a Relief Society president. Oftentimes, the bishop can make suggestions about who her counselors should be. However, the way we do things nowadays is by allowing the Relief Society president to choose (usually). We want every person to have an opportunity to grow and receive revelation. We want everyone to grow into their full potential as servants of the Lord and having agency within our callings is a big part of that.
As I say that, I also acknowledge that Joseph did nothing wrong. Especially if the Lord directed him to send those missionaries immediately. The Lord also tends to be practical and if Thomas wasn’t there, He was going to use Joseph to handle it.
Now Thomas was upset about it. Perhaps he was upset because he was worried about being superfluous. Perhaps he was worried that the work would move on without him. Perhaps he really liked the idea of “being in charge” and didn’t want anyone encroaching on his territory. Once again, we don’t know exactly what the Lord was unhappy with when it comes to Thomas’ heart. I only choose to make assumptions so that we can examine our own lives and feelings and better become what the Lord would have us become.
So Thomas might have had a couple of negative emotions that were affecting him, namely ambition or fear.
In the Lord’s work, there is no room for ambition. You don’t aspire to callings and leadership; It’s unwise for a myriad of reasons. Having an ambition to become a leader in the church means that you’re taking the Lord’s will and power out of the equation. It is no longer about who the Lord desires to call and lead along according to His wisdom; it has become about us believing we’re the right person for the job. Allowing ourselves to linger in our own desires and ambition is dangerous to our spiritual health because it leaves room for us to criticize our brothers and sisters in their callings. If we think we were the “right person,” we will probably also believe that others are “doing it wrong.” Those kinds of feelings never help anyone. Allowing ourselves to linger in our own desires can also lead to making decisions on our own without the Lord. The Lord knows best, and we can’t afford to squeeze Him out of the equation to satisfy our own desire for status, control, or praise.
The other dangerous thing is what this ambition can turn into. Ambition, in the beginning, can be rather easy to root out. However, if we let it sit for a bit, it can quickly become tied into many aspects of who we are. It affects how we sustain our friends at church. It affects how we view mistakes made by leaders. It affects us so much that we no longer qualify for Zion. If we let ambition become a part of who we are spiritually, we will pollute Zion and cut ourselves off from the blessings of the Lord. If Thomas had allowed for his anger to get in the way of fulfilling his calling as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, nothing would have changed except for Thomas leaving and missing out on the blessings of Zion.
In the Lord’s work, there is also no room for fear. Satan might try to tell us that we are incapable of fulfilling a calling or he might try to scare us into believing that people are moving forward without us. Fear tends to get a kinder response from people in comparison to ambition. For example, it’s easier to swallow the idea that someone was scared of getting left out in comparison to swallowing the idea that someone thinks they are entitled to a calling through personal merit. However, despite the discrepancies in reactions to fear versus ambition, fear can have connotations that are just as negative and poisonous as ambition. Fear can lead to some of the same choices ambition does, and those choices can place us in spiritual danger.
The Lord did not hesitate to warn Thomas of the danger that his heart could place him in if he didn’t correct his desires. We should be extremely grateful that the Lord is blunt and helps us avoid these traps. We, like Thomas, need to root out these feelings of jealousy or ambition or fear. So how do we do that? Let’s look at what the Lord says next.
Though the Lord wasn’t pleased about everything in Thomas’ heart, He did give a qualifier, and that qualifier is so important. It helps us understand how we root out these tiny feelings that can turn into big problems.
Doctrine and Covenants 112:3 Nevertheless, inasmuch as thou hast abased thyself thou shalt be exalted; therefore, all thy sins are forgiven thee.
The institute manual teaches that Thomas stepped past his frustrations and anger in order to try and help the Twelve (who happened to be falling apart at the time). If he was still angry at Joseph, it didn’t stop him from going to Joseph and seeking out revelation from God. He abased himself. He turned to the Lord, and he also recognized that Joseph was a prophet.
I remember a recent experience with my own frustrations; they’re not exactly the same frustrations that Thomas had but the answer from the Lord was similar.
I was listening to a talk being given in church. She was a great speaker, and she was also a seminary teacher. I was super jealous. She was adorable and engaging, and most of the time, I feel like I’m a hot mess. I found myself comparing our speaking approaches and trying to see whether I measured up. At first, I tried really hard to just distract myself so I wouldn’t think about it. After failing at that for a while, I decided I should probably try another approach. There was obviously a piece of me that was either striving for recognition or was insecure about Heavenly Father’s plan for me. I knew that these feelings could poison me and my ability to teach if I dwelled on them. I also knew that trying to distract myself was ineffective and so I faced it head on. I opened up my journal so I really could focus on what needed to change. I told Heavenly Father about my feelings and reactions and how I didn’t like them. I asked Him to help me change my nature as I worked to do better than I was doing. As I wrote, I felt like Heavenly Father agreed with me. Those are weaknesses of mine, and they always have been weaknesses of mine. He didn’t hesitate to acknowledge that, and that is a good thing even if it’s uncomfortable. He also agreed that they were weaknesses that could hurt me and others if I didn’t keep a hold on them. However, as I wrote and felt a little depressed over it, He also opened my eyes and helped me see that I was humble enough to recognize it as a weakness and to ask for help.
Heavenly Father isn’t going to underestimate the power of weaknesses and how they can negatively affect us. He didn’t do that with my own weaknesses, and He didn’t do that with Thomas either. He tells us how it is because He needs us to know about our weaknesses so that our weaknesses don’t poison us. We shouldn’t be afraid of Heavenly Father acknowledging them and asking for us to do better; we don’t have to be embarrassed or squirm about it because it was always part of the plan.
Recognizing and accepting our weaknesses can enable us to make the right choices despite our feelings. If Thomas had been angry enough at Joseph, it would have cut Thomas off from the revelation he received through Joseph. Thomas must have been humble enough because he sought Joseph out for direction. It was that humility that led Thomas to be acceptable to the Lord; it was also his humility that enabled him to receive revelation. Weaknesses are necessary to growth and so the Lord allows them to remain; weaknesses do not keep us from being acceptable to God.
Continuing on the path of recognizing our weaknesses eventually changes our nature so that we become spontaneously charitable and forgiving and understanding. Some day, as I continue to work to be better, I will no longer feel spouts of jealousy. I won’t feel tempted to compare myself.
In the same verse we read above, the Lord tells us that the more we abase ourselves, the more we will be exalted. He didn’t say, “Get over your weaknesses so you can be exalted.” He asks us to humble ourselves so that we can see our weaknesses and work through them and ask the Lord for help. As we humble ourselves, we can access the Lord’s direction and power. Over time (over lots and lots and lots of time), we eventually become like our Savior, and those weaknesses will no longer affect us. That is where the exaltation comes from: abasing ourselves before the Lord.