Have you ever walked past your neighbor’s yard and – staring at that old rusted beater in their driveway for the umpteenth time – thought, “How long has that thing been sitting there?”
Well. Neither have I, really. But each time I see an object so caked with rust I wouldn’t trust it at a stone’s throw from a grasshopper it reminds me of a simple truth: Everything in this life and on this earth is in a constant state of deterioration and without similarly constant care and upkeep it will eventually disintegrate into nothingness.
When I see rusted stuff just lying around in streets, back yards and the local stream beds I pause for a moment to wonder about their history. What brought them to that point of elemental deterioration? How could human beings abandon once useful and valuable – perhaps even treasured – objects to such a disastrously unstable and unusably corroded state?
Regardless of whether I ever learn the answers to those questions, one thing strikes me as true in all rusted circumstances: Although we can be (sometimes painfully) aware of the rust which is resultant of long term neglect, it is mostly impossible to recognize when or how the corrosion process began.
We don’t just wake up one morning and suddenly something is caked with rust. No. It starts with simple things. The moisture in the air. Dropping it into the bucket of mop water. A torrential downpour. The next morning everything could look just fine. Wipe it off – tsak- you’re done. Good as new. But that might not be completely accurate. The truth is that even these simple events can start a chemical process unseen and unknown to us which will in the long term destroy the object which was exposed. Even if this happens only once, as soon as the process begins, it has begun and just because we cannot see the effects now doesn’t mean that down the road we won’t.
It’s the same with our faith. Our present state of belief and trust in God is rarely the result of yesterday’s events, but instead is the culmination of a lifetime of decision making and interacting with the world around us. The long term effects of each of today’s decisions and interactions is frequently not realized until the long term turns into today. (duh!) This is why it is so important to make sure we are doing the daily things we know will help prevent rust from entering into our lives.
It turns out that rust is the result of the oxidation process of iron. Wikipedia provides a more than adequate explanation of the process in their rust article. Rust is what we get when oxygen, usually in water, comes in contact with iron, which can be found everywhere from building materials to automobile frames. All it takes is a little bit of water coming in contact with the metal to ignite a chemical process which begins deteriorating it. That tiny spot of chipped paint on the trunk of my car is testament to that. Two unavoidable rainstorms over just four months and it’s already rusting!
As I consider the rust on my car, the exposed rebar in the complex down the road and a horseshoe dropped in a bucket of water by a four year old I can identify four types of circumstances which can cause rust: Natural, accidental, negligent and deliberate. I know you’re probably thinking, “But you only gave three examples!” Indeed I did. But I figure that last one can easily cover two of them. (That and I can’t actually think of an example of someone deliberately trying to rust something.)
Let’s actually start right there at deliberate. Now, anyone who has ever worked with a four year old (perhaps a two or three year old works better) knows sometimes all it takes is for their parent to say not to do something and that four year old is going to do exactly what they were told not to do. Like not dropping a horseshoe into that bucket of water. The only thing that kid knows is mom said not to, so he’s gonna do it. And that deliberate act of rebellion can cause all kinds of problems to that horseshoe and any horse who tries to wear it.
And what of my car? Well that’s just negligence through and through. I “didn’t have time” to take it in when the incident happened and I have become all too complacent with that excuse for the last few months. And thus by my own negligence I have allowed my nice shiny car to rust as I knew it would if I did nothing to repair the damage.
If we revisit our horseshoe example, four year olds can also be quite prone to accidents. And so a simple chore like cleaning out the stables can easily turn into accidentally knocking a horseshoe off the wall. That is, if you consider a water fight with your brother while doing chores a plausible justification for an accident.
And then there’s the rebar situation. The rebar was surrounded by concrete once, protected as it were from the elements. Not so, unfortunately. And so years of exposure to nature allowed for enough particles of water to seep into and through the concrete to the metal inside (turns out concrete is really quite porous), causing unavoidable corrosion and damaging not only the rebar, but the concrete all around it.
With these circumstances in mind I can find similar events in my life as it regards my faith. Perhaps I forgot to pray one morning when I woke up. Perhaps I deliberately chose not to. Suddenly I’m mad at God and I decide that means I won’t speak with Him. (Interestingly enough that doesn’t really seem to work out all that well for earthly relationships, so why would it work with Him?)
And what of my scripture study? Did I let my scriptures slide cause I’m on vacation? Maybe my schedule one morning was so tight that despite my best intentions I just couldn’t sit and read them? Or maybe school is too taxing and I just don’t have the time? Whether accidentally or deliberately begun, eventually time rolls by and we have neglected feeding our souls long enough that we don’t or perhaps can’t even recognize how much rust we’ve let develop. In fact, almost all negligence starts off from deliberate decisions or accidental acts which we just let perpetuate.
And then there’s that guy (or gal) we sit next to at work who is so foul mouthed and lewd it would make a sailor blush! (That’s just a phrase I heard once. I don’t actually know any sailors to know if it’s true.) Or maybe it’s a supervisor who doesn’t seem to be able to recognize the humanity of the people he is supervising which wells up in us feelings of anger and negativity that poison our soul and disrupts the peace the Spirit of God brings to our lives? In either case we have no control over these natural unavoidable circumstances or their effects in our lives.
Or do we? Regardless of how the rusting elements are brought into our lives we have had plenty of instruction on how to avoid the long term outcomes we don’t want and instead make decisions which will produce the results we do. The Lord has taught us just where to turn to have the corrosion in our lives stopped and those parts of us which it has deteriorated renewed and replenished:
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
“And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.” (Ether 12:26-28)
Because it is us who decides how we respond to the corrosive elements in our lives, we are the only ones responsible for the rust in our lives and how bad it gets. We choose how we respond to the natural effects of life. We choose whether or not we remove life’s corrosive elements or allow them to continue influencing us. We choose what preventative measures we employ (if at all) to keep rust from forming. And most importantly we choose whether we come to the Savior Jesus Christ to be cleansed and renewed, indeed returned to a state of sanctification before Him.
The only power in heaven or on earth that can stop the corrosive effects of life’s influences and our personal choices is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. By coming to Him and partaking of His grace in that we allow Him to use His Atonement in our behalf to cleanse, perfect and lift us up we can become clean from the rust we allow to develop in our lives and be restored to new creatures in His sight regardless of whether that rust came deliberately, accidentally, negligently or naturally.