Elder James E. Evanson North America Central Area Seventy
A few years ago, my family went kayaking on a beautiful lake in Waterton National Park in Southern Alberta. It was a chilly May weekend, so we dressed warm and went off to enjoy an afternoon on the water. We chose a favorite spot along the rocky beach and paddled out into the calm waters. As I was kayaking, I noticed a creek emptying into the lake. The heavy spring run-off provided a constant stream of rapid waters rushing into Waterton Lake. I thought it would be fun to maneuver my kayak into the rapids and have those waters push me out into the lake.
I paddled to the inlet and was about to bring the bow of my kayak into the rapid stream. Unfortunately the turbulent waters quickly swamped my boat causing it to sink and drag me out to the deeper waters of the lake. I had only one choice, to abandon ship! I was fully clothed and the water quickly soaked my clothing. I began to sink into the icy depths of the lake. I frantically began to swim back to shore but the combination of turbulent water and my water-soaked cloths made it very difficult to swim. I began to panic as I saw my family on the shore yelling towards me but unable to help me in my predicament. I learned three important lessons that day.
First, I learned to stay out of turbulent waters. It was my foolish choice to paddle into danger. I should have stayed in the safety of the calm waters near the shore. Often we are drawn to turbulence. There are so many voices beckoning us to leave the safety of the restored truth and seek for more controversial ideas. Often these more intellectually inviting but very contentious 'rivers of thought' lead to a personal crisis of faith as we are swept away from the simple truths of the gospel. Lehi’s dream tells of groups of people who followed the path, held to the rod and partook of the fruit of the tree but quickly became “ashamed, because of the those that were scoffing at them [from the great and spacious building] and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (1 Nephi 8: 24-28). In October 2014 General Conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard quoted President Brigham Young as saying: “We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labours very hard. ‘I am not going to stay here,’ says one; ‘I don’t believe this is the “Ship Zion.”’ ‘But we are in the midst of the ocean.’ ‘I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.’ Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the ‘Old Ship Zion,’ let us stay in it.” As with those who stay on the path and stay in the Old Ship Zion, I learned to stay in the peace of the gospel and be safe.
Second, I learned how important a firm foundation is to us. As I was trying desperately to swim back to shore and feeling weighed down by my heavy clothing, I finally was able to touch the ground. What a relief as I was then able to simply walk back to safety. The Saviour taught us the parable of the foolish and wise men. The wise man built his house upon a rock and the gates of hell did not “prevail against [him]” but the foolish man built his home on a “sandy foundation, and the gates of hell [stood] open to receive such when the floods [came]” (3 Nephi 11: 39-40). We need our feet on a firm foundation so we are not swept away when the turbulent floods of this world crash down upon us. That foundation is found in the sacred truths and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Every Sunday we have an opportunity to participate in one of these ordinances that keeps us on His rock and foundation. As we partake of the sacred emblems of our Saviour’s sacrifice, we are promised to have His Spirit to be with us. This wonderful ordinance protects us from the “overflowing scourge” of the last days and gives us the strength to “stand in holy places and…not be moved…For they that are wise, have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide” (Doctrine & Covenants 45:31-32, 57). Just as I found my footing on the bottom of the lake and was able to be safely brought home, the gospel provides the sure foundation for us to return to our heavenly home above.
The last thing that I learned was the importance of a life preserver. When Father’s Day came around a month later, I unwrapped a gift from my family – a bright yellow life jacket! In today’s world of doubts and confusion, it is so important to have a life preserver. I love the example of Peter. When he was bid to walk on the water towards the Saviour, he had the great faith to start 'but when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him…” (Matthew 14:30-31). When Peter felt the doubts and confusion begin to swallow him up, he did not just give up and stop believing, instead he reached up and toward the true Life Preserver, his Saviour, Jesus Christ. I appreciate President Uchtdorf’s call to each of us in the October 2013 General Conference: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When we find ourselves in deep, turbulent waters, I hope we reach up and towards our Saviour and never give up hope.
We often think that the Saviour was chastising Peter for his “little faith” (Matthew 14:31). I hope that you and I can have that amount of faith. That little faith was sufficient for Peter to step out of the boat and walk on the water towards Jesus Christ. Let’s have a “little faith” and stay in the calm waters of the restored gospel and when we do have turbulence in our lives, let’s reach up to the Saviour and never give up hope. As we do so, we will walk on a firm foundation that leads us and our families back to the safe shores of eternal life.