The Strait and Narrow Path
Thank you for coming to devotional today. I am grateful for the opportunity to share a message with you. I pray that the Spirit will speak to you as you listen, and that you will feel uplifted and inspired in a way unique to your needs.
Every Monday night at BYU–Idaho, we met with students on campus for a Home Evening Q&A. At first, I felt that I was in no way qualified to answer their questions. But as President Clark continued to hand me the microphone throughout the years, I found more confidence, and realized that I had the answers to many of their questions.
Students would often ask, “How did you get to be where you are today?” But what they really wanted to know was, “How do I know if I am in the right major? How will I know where to go for graduate school? Will I meet my eternal companion here? Do we wait until after graduating to get married? When should we begin having children? Life choices. They wanted to know how to make wise life choices.
Today I will refer to three of my very favorite verses of scripture. They are helpful in making life choices. They guide, encourage, and give me hope. And they provide an anchor that steadies me when I am making life choices.
These verses are found in 2 Nephi 31:18-20:
And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
In these verses we learn that:
Qualifying for eternal life is a journey along a covenant path whose gates can only be entered through repentance, and through baptism by water and the Spirit.
Reaching this path doesn’t mean we are done. We must continue to hold to the word of Christ with unshaken faith in Him.
In order to not lose our way, we have to keep moving forward—pressing forward—with steadfastness in Christ and feasting upon His words.
When Elder Clark and I joined together to walk the “strait and narrow path,” we faced some life choices that needed to be made right away; but we didn’t start out knowing every choice we would face. We did not sit down at the start of our commitment to each other and say, “We’re going to raise our children in Boston and there will be seven of them, and we’ll stay there for 34 years. Then we’ll serve at BYU–Idaho for ten years and then—actually we’ll never really want to leave school, so we’ll continue working in education for the rest of our lives!”
Nope! We started out with a general idea that teaching at the university level sounded good, so we said to each other, “We will think about this during undergraduate school in Boston. We will be active in our ward there, and accept callings to serve, and then we’ll see what the Lord wants us to do.” That was our plan.
In making our life decisions—including when to have children, where to go to graduate school, staying in Boston, leaving Boston for Rexburg, leaving Rexburg for Salt Lake City, and many other decisions we faced—seeking to know the will of the Lord, for us, was paramount.
And so, that is how we came to be here. Other than making the choice to always follow the Spirit, we had no idea at your age what the specifics of our plan would be; but we knew the Lord did. We knew that He loved us, and that staying faithful to our covenants, serving Him, and following the guidance of the Spirit in every decision we made would keep us on the “strait and narrow path.”
Two things we have learned about doing what the Lord wants us to do are:
He never says, “Just as long as you follow me, doing what I direct you to do, everything will be smooth.”
We can never say, “Oh, we must have made the wrong decision,” just because life gets hard.
Trials are part of our journey.
Our Savior Jesus Christ did exactly what the Father required of Him. It wasn’t easy, but it was possible. And because the Savior did all that the Father required, He makes it possible for us to do what the Father requires of us.
Pressing forward, having a perfect brightness of hope in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us, having a love of God and of all men, feasting on His word, and seeking inspiration from the Spirit in the midst of our trials and decision-making are what the wonderful counsel from these verses of scripture is all about.
I want to share from our experience in working through trials.
Something Kim and I encounter together is my struggle with depression. Every test and trial we experience is complicated by the fact that I can easily get discouraged, fearful, and negative.
I cried so much as a child that my family gave me the nickname, “Blue Sue.” My mother said I would outgrow it, so I worked hard to be good—saying my prayers and trying to laugh more than I cried. I grew up and went to BYU, not having conquered it completely.
Early in my freshman year, I attended a meeting where a speaker said, “Always be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there.” This phrase hit me like a bolt of lightning. The moment I heard it, I knew that the Lord (who knows my path) had meant for me to hear it. I knew I needed that kind of discipline, and that if I followed that counsel, I could make it through hard things and survive at college. So, on hard days when it was a struggle, I was coaxed out of bed by those words and walked to campus to their cadence, “Always be, where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there.” That advice has stayed with me to this day!
After I graduated from BYU, the Spirit said to me, “Don’t leave Provo yet,” so I got a job on campus that fall, and that is when I met Kim Clark.
We each had followed guidance from the Spirit so that we were prepared to meet, and together, the Spirit guided us about when to get married and when to move to Boston.
Moving was a frightening experience for me. I grew up in Waterflow, New Mexico) so felt like a fish out of fresh water thrown into the salty waters of Boston Harbor. I cried some, but we laughed a lot, too.
We were happy and we were in love! I found a great job close to our apartment, which was also within walking distance of our chapel and Harvard Square, where Kim went to school. We were very blessed. But sometimes it was hard for me to feel it.
Depression wasn’t talked about much back in the early 70’s. But now it’s clear that I was experiencing occasional episodes of depression. We found ways to work through them. My husband is a SAINT! He was so patient and loving, bringing light into my life when it seemed dark. He really helped to see me through that adjustment.
Bringing our beautiful children into our home filled our lives with joy! They were each wonderful gifts from the Lord, and as we loved them, our love for each other grew! Was there stress connected to childbearing? Yes. But we had good practice in getting through hard things, and we pressed forward!.
My last pregnancy produced children number six and seven (Yes, twins!) I carried them through a long, hot, humid summer to their September due date and delivered two eight-pound baby girls! The excitement of having two who were both really sweet babies was a gift from Heaven for the whole family!!
A particularly rough patch came a couple of years later when Kim was called to be the bishop of an urban ward that we didn’t attend. He was gone all day on Sundays. If ward schedules didn’t overlap, I could sometimes leave the children in charge of each other at home and drive half an hour to spend part of Sunday with him, but it rarely worked out.
It was a very busy time for him. He was out-of-town for one or two nights almost every week for research projects and consulting, and he also spent at least one night a week at the ward building for his Church assignment. It was hard on us at home and hard on him. Very often I would ask him, “Why would the stake president call you to be the bishop of that ward? And why now?
He would take me tenderly in his arms, and very gently tell me, “I don’t know why the Lord has called us to do this now, but I do know that if we do it, we will be blessed.” It was a good reminder that:
“…ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save. Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ…”
We were true to our covenants at baptism and re-committed with the Lord every Sunday through partaking of the Sacrament. We were serving the Lord and working to keep our family on the “strait and narrow path,” but we were not done!
About that time, I read an article in a magazine about depression. It described some of my struggles! I started looking for more information and began to wonder if my symptoms could be depression.
The only conversations in my circles about depression were in comparing “baby blues” experiences. As child-bearing women, my friends and I were aware of many levels of severity in the “blues” following childbirth. One of my friends was diagnosed with post-partum depression by her doctor and was sent to get professional help.
I knew my issues were not that severe, however, I did begin to wonder if I should seek help.
During one sleepless night, when I was feeling quite down, I began worrying that if I sought help, I might be hospitalized. Was that what I needed?
I went to Heavenly Father to get some guidance. Should I look for help, or could I get better on my own? I wrote a list of all the reasons I thought I needed help, and read the list to Heavenly Father in prayer, asking to know what I should do! I improved my list to include the challenges we were facing as a family, which added pressure to my life, and prayed harder and longer. But I just didn’t feel that I was being heard. I cried and prayed for a long time that night. I needed to do something—I needed to act! Maybe it was just that I needed to leave the house and drive around for a while to calm down, but I did not want to do even do that without an okay from Heavenly Father that it would help.
No promptings or answers came! I stood up, gathered up my lists, and started up the stairs to try again to sleep. I had climbed no more than three or four steps when I heard in my mind the words, “Help someone else.” They came very powerfully! I stopped and shook my head. “Where did that come from?” I knew that in my current frame of mind I could not have generated that thought myself, so it must have come from the Lord. As I returned to bed, I was perplexed, and maybe even a little angry. How could I help someone else in the condition I was in, with all that I already had to deal with?
Not long after that night, the Lord sent me on an errand. There was a new family in our ward, and one morning I had a distinct impression that I needed to call the mother. So, I called her to remind her about the Relief Society event taking place that morning. She said she couldn’t make it because she had been dealing with sick and sleepless children, and she just couldn’t pull things together in time. I asked if I could help her with anything after the Relief Society activity. She said no, so I asked if I could stop by for a short visit and she said, “Oh, I would love that!”
When she opened the door that morning she was in tears, and greeted me with these words, “Thank you so much for coming! I prayed hard last night for help, not knowing how I could face another night with my sick child. But the Lord said to me, “Don’t worry, Sue Clark will call in the morning.’”
When I heard that, I knew the Lord had sent me on His errand. He needed me to help this family.
In our visit, I learned about the difficult challenge facing them. It was not only just moving-in and adjusting to a new job. They were also facing the prospect of losing their 4 ½ year-old son to a condition that doctors had said would take his life within the year. How could she face that alone?
Our family got involved with helping them and we adopted them into our lives! Helping them with their challenges, which were much more difficult than ours, was just what we needed. I was able to mend, and so did our whole family.
This was the answer to my prayer! In stepping outside our own circle of struggles to serve them, we were blessed, and so were they. And in helping this young mother to find professional help to get medication for her stress-related depression, I was able to find the courage to get help for myself.
And so, my dear brothers and sisters, on the “strait and narrow path,” we are not yet done! The Lord has called us to endure well the trials of our lives. We may sometimes wonder. “Why me?” but a better question to ask Heavenly Father is, “What do you want me to learn from this?”
This is our constant goal, to press forward with faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith is not in the outcomes we want. Our faith is in Him. We “press forward…having a perfect brightness of hope.” That hope is in Jesus Christ. We fix our eyes of faith on Him and we have hope in Him—and that hope is bright, even though we may sometimes only see a small glimmer.
I read now a quote from our oldest son. I asked him for insight while writing this talk. He has struggled with bipolar disorder since his late teens, He said:
“Mom, my basic thought is [from] Ether 12. The Lord gives us weaknesses to help us remember to rely on Him—it doesn’t really matter what your weakness is or how “bad” it is—everyone who suffers can find deliverance in the Savior. Depression is hard because it involves your mind and blocks off intellectual avenues to relief, but even then, you can feel the Spirit. In fact, it’s only [through] the Spirit that you can do it. And the Lord, in his mercy, allows our minds that little sliver of clarity where we can hear a blessing or a kind word or read a scripture that touches our heart and helps us keep going. You have to have something to hope for to keep moving, to believe that there is a better and brighter day coming.
Mom, because of your struggles with depression, it’s so clear that one of the purposes of that experience is so that you could be my mom! And now I can be Parker’s dad! It’s hard, but depression is treatable…the Lord blesses us with medications, counselors, spiritual healing and His atonement. In my worst times is when I’m most acutely aware of how much I need Jesus Christ, and for that I am thankful…weaknesses are blessings!”
I am grateful for his wonderful perspective. Bryce, his son Parker, and I seek all the medical help we can find. But in addition, we press forward with more love in our hearts for our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. We minister with love in our hearts, and our love for all mankind grows. As we trust Him and go on His errands, He heals us and blesses us, and this is our promise:
“Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
There it is. We just keep going. Keep trying. Keep loving and serving, moving forward—pressing forward—guided by the word of the Lord through feasting every day on His words, especially in the Book of Mormon, no matter what comes.
As we pray to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ every day, and go on His errands, we continue our walk on the “strait and narrow path,” through relying on the Spirit in all things.
I close with this promise from Elder Ronald A. Rasband. He said:
“If we pay attention to the promptings that come to us, we will grow in the spirit of revelation and receive more and more Spirit-driven insight and direction.”
I know that this is true.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.