Some people have “Ensign Lives” which are made up of “Ensign Experiences”.
ensign experience (n)- one of the many varieties of spiritual phenomena wherein an act of faith is met with an immediate or nearly immediate physical or temporal blessing from God
Examples of Ensign Experiences: You randomly get a check in the mail after making the difficult decision to pay your tithing. You find your spouse as soon as you decide to devote your life first and foremost to God. You find an entire family ready to jump in the water because you decided to listen to the Spirit and knock on just one more door.
These make great ensign stories- they also make great talks and facebook posts.
I don’t have an Ensign Life. When I was a seminary teacher, I was frequently criticized by both my pupils and my superiors for not sharing enough personal stories. Well, sorry, I don’t have any of those uplifting, faith affirming stories that people love to feel secured by. I just don’t. Most of my suffering has been met with more suffering. In times of emotional and mental distress, the feeling of God’s distance, not his proximity, has been both prevalent and painful.
I’m not an Ensign Story.
I’ve been feeling pretty proud of myself lately for establishing a reasonably regular and meaningful scripture study habit. My lunch break at work was recently extended by 30 minutes, which gives me the perfect amount of time to retrieve my food, eat my food, and study my scriptures (and sometimes even socialize a bit). I really love being able to read at work. I’m a lot less distracted there than at home, it’s the middle of the day so I’m alert, and, most of all I LOVE it when people ask me what I’m reading. I have been having the most wonderful experiences with the Book of Mormon.
One day I read the account of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis. In summary, they were a group of Lamanites who delighted in bloodshed and all manner of iniquity who became converted to Jesus Christ and experienced his wondrous love and mercy. As part of their repentance and desire to become a changed people, they buried their weapons of war and covenanted to never, under any circumstances, take them up again.
This is all very beautiful and romantic, and as I read, I felt a sense of admiration for these souls as well as a love and gratitude for the Savior of us all.
But these new pacifistic converts are coming under attack. An army is coming to slay them. I thought to myself, “There’s no way God is going to let these people die. How could He? They are converted! They are showing so much faith! God saved Shadrach, Meshack, and Abendego from the fiery furnace. He tamed the lion in the Den with Daniel! He parted the Red Sea and delivered an entire nation! God will do something! He will strike the army dumb and lame, or cause a great wind to come and sweep them away, or send down a league of angels to fight the battle. These people are so good, so pure, so devout! These are the kinds of people who get saved!”
I have read this account several times before, and have pondered and discussed it’s implications on numerous occasions, but I, for some, perhaps divine, reason, saw it with new eyes- eyes that couldn’t see how God would actually let them die. This is the perfect set up for an Ensign Story.
I am guilty of looking at different areas of my life and thinking, “this is the perfect set up for an Ensign Story! I’m faithful, right God? I’m trying my best, right God? I’m faithful and I’m trying my best even when I don’t feel like it, right God? …right? …God?”
I look around and see what looks like God loving his faithful children. Sometimes, from these ignorant and prideful eyes, He seems to bless others with so much more than he blesses me with, even though I feel like I give so much more than they do. I’ve suffered and struggled and been faithful through it, so where is my reward? Where is my awesome compensation that I can use as proof of God’s existence from the pulpit in the next testimony meeting?
The Anti-Nephi-Lehis stand firm in their faith and fastened to their covenant to not take up arms against their enemies. As their enemies approach them, they peacefully go out to meet them. Lying prostrate on the ground before those who wish to kill them, they call on the name of the Lord!
Such humility! Such preparation for the hand of the Lord to perform a miracle on their behalf! This is when it’s supposed to happen! This is the punchline of the Ensign Story! But wait…
And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God. (Alma 22:24)
No angels. No wall of fire. No miracle. They devoted what was left of their short lives to God, and he allowed them to be slain while lying face-down on the dirt with his name on their lips.
At times I have felt like God has allowed me to be embarrassed, or depressed, or defeated, lying face-down in the dirt with his name on my lips.
Does God not love me? Does GOD NOT LOVE me? Sometimes I just don’t understand. Sometimes things are just not the way they are supposed to be.
The Anti-Nephi-Lehies may have not understood what was happening to them. They may have been confused. Maybe they even wondered about God’s allegiance to them in the face of their proven and complete allegiance to him.
But, brothers and sisters, let us keep reading. The Lamanites (their attackers) witness what is happening.
Now it came to pass that they threw down their weapons of war, and they would not take them again, for they were stung for for the murdered which they had committed; and they came down even as their brethren, relying on the mercies of those whose arms were lifted to slay them.
And it came to pass that the people of God were joined that day by more than the number who had been slain; and those had been slain were a righteous people; therefor we have no reason to doubt but what they were saved. (Alma 24:25-26)
A miracle did happen. Others, even their murderers, were brought to a knowledge of the Lord, and thus, were brought to salvation. This is not the miracle I was expecting. This is not the divine intervention I was anticipating.
And it’s in verse 27 that we fine the punchline to this non-Ensign story:
…thus we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of his people. (Alma 24:27)
I submit that this is always the punchline to the story of the faithful- God offers salvation, and works according to his own wisdom and his unspeakable love.
You may die a single man or a childless woman. You may always be poor or in physical pain. You may always struggle and you may always suffer. To be candid, this pains me to say. But I know that salvation can be found in even what seems to be the most dire of circumstances.
I’m not telling you to “have the eternal perspective” and exercise the “faith necessary” in order to imagine away the reality and pain of mortality. What I am telling you is that God is working for your salvation. You may not understand the means he is using, and you may go down to your grave not knowing. But through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, true salvation is available to all.
So let’s not be discouraged if you don’t have an Ensign Life. Don’t feel inferior if your testimony isn’t teeming with stories of obvious and immediate miracles. I know that the greatest miracle (and the only miracle that really matters) is the one found in the grace and love of the Lord Jesus Christ- which is ultimate salvation and redemption.