It’s a few days after Christmas. Turkey has been eaten – twice. Christmas music is still mixed with normal music, but only rarely. Family and friends have all returned to their homes glad for the time with loved ones and grateful for a few days away from everyday life. Children of all ages count and admire the new treasures received under the Christmas tree and make plans for how, when, and with whom they are going to use them. We are ready to face another year riding on the magical, warm feelings of love and wonder that accompany the Christmas holiday.
But maybe not for everyone. Often is the case when a child (or a no longer child) leaves this holiday disappointed by the gifts they received. Either they didn’t get the ones they wanted or perhaps something was missing from their wish list. Maybe friends and family simply couldn’t afford the gifts they asked for and did their best to get what they could, but in the end it wasn’t quite right. Unless the receiver has learned to receive any gift with grace this experience can lead to hurt feelings for everyone as the receiver rejects the gifts they didn’t really want.
The idea that many of us don’t get exactly what we ask for as gifts has been running through my mind recently and has led me to consider Heavenly Father and His gifts to us. As I consider His role as a Father I have been struck by the following thought:
How often does God give us exactly what we ask for? How often do we give Him a laundry list – or perhaps better described a wish list – of all the gifts we want to receive from Him, and how often does He give us exactly what we ask for in a pretty little box wrapped in beautiful paper and tied off with a bow?
As soon as this question entered my mind the answer flooded my thoughts: Not often. In fact, rarely. Very very rarely.
I know the promise of the Savior that our Father in Heaven “will give good gifts to them that ask him,” (see Matthew 7:11) but I can’t begin to recount the number of requests I have made in my prayers which went unfulfilled or which Heavenly Father more or less said no to. And I can’t begin to tell you how difficult some of those circumstances were for me to go through. Some were excruciating. Most I am grateful for right now, and I am sure by the end of my life I will be grateful for every answer ever given me by my Father in Heaven.
The reality that Heavenly Father doesn’t just grant us our wish lists makes it difficult for many to accept the reality and existence of a God and they reject having faith in God and the blessings of the gospel “because they [understand] not the dealings of the Lord.” (see Mosiah 10:14)
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to reject the existence of God and a belief in Him simply because He didn’t give us exactly what we asked Him for in our prayers. In fact, if we consider God’s role as a father a little deeper the mystery behind why He doesn’t always give us exactly what we ask for becomes a little less shrouded and we can be a little wiser about our faith in Heavenly Father than Laman and Lemuel were (see 1 Nephi 15:7-9).
The role of a parent is not to give a child everything they ever ask for. This leads to a self centered sense of entitlement that stunts the growth and maturity of the child. Instead, the role of a parent is to give a child the things he or she needs for their growth and development into mature adults who function at high levels, can contribute in meaningful ways to the world around them, and can in turn raise new children with greater love and wisdom than their parents did. When you look at things this way it puts many of God’s dealings with mankind into a better perspective.
Let’s consider a few examples from the scriptures when the Lord did not simply grant someone their wish list:
In Isaiah 58 we have a record of the Lord’s response to Israel’s fasting:
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?Isaiah 58:3-7
Ancient Israel had a wish list they were fasting for. It included strife, debate, and armed conflict motivated by unrighteous desires. Because the people were not fasting correctly, and because their wish list included many things that by nature of who He is the Lord could not and would not give them the answer was, “No. I’m not going to grant that to you. Try fasting for something I am willing to give.” Why? Because the Lord is trying to help them mature to a better way of being and a higher sense and purpose for fasting. He has a better idea of what they can be and He is trying to help them see it and become it.
The longer I am a parent the more I appreciate this response – and the more I understand that God really is a father. He is a perfect, all wise, and all knowing Father. He knows what is best for us. He knows what He wants us to be and to become, and He will grant those things to us that will help us become that when we ask and when we qualify for them (see Abound With Blessings by Dale G Renlund, April 2019 General Conference).
It’s easy for us, sometimes, to think, “I’m righteous so God will give me whatever I ask Him for.” And while it’s fairly easy to come to that conclusion from reading the scriptures it is also incorrect – for “God is no respecter of persons,” and He will say no to whomever He will so long as it is for their own good and progression – especially when it has an impact on the progression of more of His children than just one.
Probably the most important and most significant “No” in all the history of mankind was given to Jesus Christ Himself – God’s Only Begotten Son “in whom He [was] well pleased.” (see Matthew 3:17) During His suffering in Gethsemane Jesus prayed:
Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.
And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.Luke 22:42-44
Not only was Heavenly Father’s answer to His Beloved Son’s request, “No,” but the pain Jesus experienced intensified over time as He continued to plea that it stop. Jesus was God’s Beloved Son and even He was denied His request because our Heavenly Father knew it was better for Jesus – and for all of His children – for Him to suffer the pain and anguish He was experiencing. It was so crucial because without this suffering Jesus never would have been able to be our Redeemer. It was required to empower Him to be able to lift us all. And so Heavenly Father’s answer – His gift to the Savior and to all of us – was, “No. I cannot take this cup from you.”
Which brings me to the last and most significantly rejected gift of all time. This gift is the whole reason we have a Christmas to celebrate at all: the gift of Jesus Christ Himself. Of Him it is written:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.Isaiah 7:14
Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.
He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.Isaiah 53:1-5
Jesus Christ is “[t]he stone that the builders rejected.” (see Luke 20:17-18) He was the promised Savior, but His salvation was not the kind that was desired or requested and so He was rejected.
At the time of Jesus’ birth the Jews were asking for a political leader who would free them from their bondage to the Romans. They wanted to be a free people and this is what they asked God for. But instead of political freedom God gave them the gift of spiritual freedom through redemption from sin and transgression. He gave them the gift they asked for – a Savior – just not in the way they wanted and so they rejected the gift (although it may be worth noting that without that rejection the gift would never have been completed, so maybe it’s a bit of a catch 22, but still the gift was rejected).
We can’t always expect God to give us everything we ask Him for and certainly not exactly as we think it should be given. His “ways are higher than [our] ways,” (see Isaiah 55:8-9) and as a Father it is His responsibility and duty to give us those things which will ensure our growth and safe return to Him. And that is what we can expect from Him – because He loves us.
I am grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who is wise and loving enough to give us what we need for our growth rather than just giving us our personal whims. I am grateful that He loved us enough to send the Jews a Savior, but not the kind they were expecting, and to tell that Beloved Son, “No,” when it mattered most.
So when you evaluate the gifts you received on Christmas day and decide whether you got what you wanted or not, remember to value the gift – and the giver of the gift – which may have been undesired or which you may feel like you want to reject. It may just be the blessing God wants to give you for your personal growth and return to Him.