Saturday, May 7, 2011

Broken Bows

This last week while working on my computer I gave an incorrect command to my voice recognition software and it didn't like it. Maybe it was the tone of my voice; I really don't know but it seems to be extremely sensitive and easily offended. A brief message appeared on my monitor saying "You have made a fatal mistake. You have permanently damaged your user profile and can no longer use it." That message was like a dagger in my heart. At the same time that dreadful message appeared, the computer itself began to act weird and as I write this I am waiting for my son in law Nathan, to come into my office and bail me out. Do you believe in evil spirits? I I feel sometimes that my computer is possessed by some malignant power.

I'm happy to report I was not even tempted to use the "D…" word but at the same time I am very unhappy with myself because I became very frustrated and unhappy and began to wonder what horrible thing I had done to deserve this adversity in my life. I had a gospel doctrine lesson I needed to prepare, was running out of time, and I also had other self-imposed projects and deadlines I felt I needed to complete in a timely manner. I was totally stymied and unable to do what I wanted to do because of a dumb computer and overly sensitive voice recognition software.

Thankfully I remembered a lesson I had learned many years ago from the Book of Mormon regarding "Broken Bows" which enabled me to put my malfunctioning computer in proper perspective and even laugh at myself.

Of course, I am referring to Nephi's account of what happened to him and his family while they were traveling in the wilderness. After he broke his bow and his brother's bows were rendered useless to the extent that no animals could be slain for food, Nephi records:
"And it came to pass that Laman and Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael did begin to murmur exceedingly, because of their sufferings and afflictions in the wilderness; and also my father began to murmur against the Lord his God; yea, and they were all exceedingly sorrowful, even that they did murmur against the Lord." [1 Nephi 16:20 – Emphasis added]

Even righteous Lehi, a prophet of God, let a broken bow make him "exceedingly sorrowful" and obscure his vision for a time as he murmured against the Lord. Only Nephi was able to keep things in perspective and ultimately through his faith and works prevail over the broken bow.

Shortly after my injury if any of my equipment failed which it always seemed to do at the most inopportune times – the ramp in the modified van would fail, the van itself would develop problems that made it impossible to drive, the ventilator or the batteries on the wheelchair it was attached to would quit working, and then the wheelchair itself would do crazy things and make it impossible for me to sit in it and drive, thereby robbing me of what little independence I possessed. When these things would happen my heart would begin to palpitate, I would have an anxiety attack and just be plain miserable. I would become "exceedingly sorrowful," and almost be tempted to "murmur against the Lord." It seemed so unfair.

From Lehi's family's experience I came to understand that most negative things in life that come our way are really just "Broken Bows", are really not that important after all, and ultimately can probably be fixed or replaced. Even severe illnesses of a potential terminal nature – things that can't be repaired or replaced – are simply "Broken Bows," when viewed in the context of eternity.

Years ago I taught seminary at a reform will school in Ogden, Utah. As seminary teachers we developed the following philosophical statement -- "The way out is the way through" -- to encourage the disturbed teenagers we worked with to meet their problems head-on, work through them, and having done so to experience the freedom they desired but didn't know how to achieve. As with many of us, their tendency was to avoid working through their problems, murmuring because of them, and trying to run from them -- a sure way to bring misery, sorrow, and frustration into their lives.

Little did I realize at the time that I would have to apply this same philosophy to my own life in a major way. I discovered it was much easier to teach than to do. During the past years since my accident and subsequent paralysis, I truly have had to work my way through the problem of paralysis in order for my spirit to be free and not held captive by my mobility impaired body. First of all I had to come to grips with the fact that my injury was what the medical world called a "complete" injury. My spinal cord had actually been severed and the neurosurgeons gave us no hope that I would ever get anything back. I just couldn't accept that and for several years I tried all kinds of things to somehow heal my spinal cord. Nothing worked of course and I was very miserable as I tried to run away from the truth and regarding my situation. My family, friends, and I prayed that a healing miracle would take place and that my spinal cord would be made whole so that I could walk and breathe on my own. In retrospect we should have been praying, "Please bless Jack with greater faith and strengthen him spiritually so that his burden of paralysis can be made light and easy to bear and that "he will be able to submit with cheerfulness and patience to all the will of the Lord." [Mosiah 24:15]

The day I was able to say to myself "Jack, you are going to be a quadriplegic and living on life support today, tomorrow, and every other day for the rest of your life." That was a breakthrough day for me as I came to realize that I must do everything in my power to develop all of the talents, abilities, and capacities I still had. When I began to do that and increased the fervency of my prayers the Lord did strengthen me spiritually and life has been very good and I can truthfully say "It's Good to Be Alive!"

I really do believe that most problems and challenges we face in life are really only broken bows. Like Nephi, we must not sit and murmur and weep and wring our hands in despair and frustration, but work 's through our challenges and problems with an attitude of faith and hope, discovering that "the only way out is the way through".

I think it's important that we understand what kind of hope I am talking about. Elder Maxwell once gave this beautiful definition: "Real hope is much more than wishful musing. It stiffens, not slackens, the spiritual spine. It is composed, not giddy, eager, without being naive, and pleasantly steady without being smug. Hope is realistic anticipation taking the form of determination-a determination not merely to survive but to "endure … well" to the end." (Ensign, November 1994, p. 35)

I have a small porcelain statue of Nephi on a shelf just above my computer monitor. I look at it many times each day and it seems to give me strength and courage. There Nephi stands; his bow and arrows strapped to his back, his left hand on his hip and the Liahona in his right hand. He is gazing at the horizon with a look of confidence on his countenance. I feel motivated to go forward with my life as I contemplate Nephi and his great attitude of gratitude toward God, as well as his attitude of faith and hope. It was demonstrated not only in the broken bow incident but constantly throughout his life as recorded in the Book of Mormon. One of my favorite incidents is as the family is crossing the ocean; Laman and Lemuel bound Nephi and only loosed him as the ship was in danger of sinking. Nephi's response to what had happened is so typical of him: "... they came unto me, and loosed the bands which were upon my wrists, and behold they had swollen exceedingly; and also mine ankles were much swollen, and great was the soreness thereof. Nevertheless, I did look unto my God, and I did praise him all the day long; and I did not murmur against the Lord because of mine afflictions." (1 Nephi 18:15-16 – emphasis added)
I have discovered that an attitude of gratitude, along with faith and hope and trying to see the bright side of life like Nephi, is so essential in helping us to deal with life's problems.

We all have been blessed with our own unique broken bows of one kind or another. Our broken bows will never get the best of us or obscure our vision of eternity if we will but believe and implement the Lord's counsel: "Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good, if you walk up rightly and remember the covenant...." [Doctrine & Covenants 90:24].