Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beauty for ashes

Weeks ago as I was working my way through a seemingly endless dirt pile moving project, a phrase whose source I was at the time unsure of kept meandering through my dusty mind: "Beauty for ashes." Okay...? That means what, exactly?

The more I reflected on the idea, the more its power was revealed to me. "Beauty for ashes" is essentially at the heart of the life of a disciple of Christ. Turns out the words come from a prophecy given by Isaiah about the Savior's mortal mission.

My basic understanding of the idea can be summarized as follows: How we chose to respond to the hurt, the evil, the unkindness, or even the brutality of others is at the heart of our discipleship. Do we return beauty for ashes? This, I know, is hard doctrine. It's not coincidence that we are told by the Savior that in order to be perfect, we must first "love [our] enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matt. 5:44) Hard doctrine indeed. As I examine my day-to-day interactions, there are seemingly endless opportunities to offer "beauty for ashes" in my personal, family, work, and church life. Maybe I should just say everywhere, all the time.

Several years ago Elder Hafen wrote eloquently about this very idea. I hope all those I love will take a few minutes when they have the time to do so and savor his always-timely counsel. You'll be better for it.

More immediately, here is an excerpt from a talk I've referred to previously, Terry Warner's "Honest, Simple, Solid, True."

For me, it is the perfect summation of what it means to give "beauty for ashes," and most importantly, it hints at the limitless healing power that can come from such a Christ-like offering.

"I received a while ago a letter from a woman whose father had been emotionally neglectful and whose husband turned out to be much the same way. When she tried to talk about why he was distant, he said it was because she was always angry. This angered her more, and she told him she was only angry because of his lack of love, which made him more inclined to withdraw. They had got themselves encircled in the bands of death and the chains of hell. She went to the mountains alone, intent upon reading one of the contemporary self-help books.

She wrote later:
As the writer began describing the intense need we each have for love, I began to feel more and more deprived until I felt such a huge longing that I could barely breathe. I decided to write all of this down for my husband to read, and enumerate the many times I had felt emotionally deprived. I began to write furiously, to pour it all out onto the paper. The longer I wrote, the more I began to have a feeling come over me that what I was writing was false. The feeling continued growing until I could no longer squelch it, and I knew intuitively that the feeling was coming from God, that He was telling me that what I was writing was false. "How could it be false?" I asked angrily. "I lived it. I know it was there because I saw and felt it. How could it be false?" But the feeling became so powerful and overwhelming that I could no longer deny it or fight against it. So I tore up the pages I had written, threw myself down on my knees, and began to pray, saying, "If it is false, show me how it could be false." And then a voice spoke to my mind and said, "If you had come unto Me, it all would have been different."

I was astounded. I went to church. I read the scriptures often, I prayed pretty regularly, I tried to obey the commandments. "What do you mean, 'Come unto You?'" I wondered. And then into my mind flashed pictures of me wanting to do things my own way, of holding grudges, of
forgiving, of not loving as God had loved us. I had wanted my husband to "pay" for my emotional suffering. I had not let go of the past and had not loved God with all my heart. I loved my own willful self more.

I was aghast. I suddenly realized that I was responsible for my own suffering, for if I had really come unto Him, as I outwardly thought I had done, it all would have been different. As that horrible truth settled over me, I realized why the pages I had written of my suffering had been false. I had allowed it to happen by not truly coming unto God. That day I repented of not loving God, of not loving my husband, of blaming, of finding fault, of thinking that others were responsible for my misery.

I returned home but did not mention to my husband anything of what had transpired. But I gave up blaming, knowing that I was in large part responsible for the state of our relationship. And I tried to come unto God with full purpose of heart. I prayed more earnestly and listened to His Spirit. I read my scriptures and tried to come to know Him better. Two months passed, and one morning my husband awoke and turned to me in bed and said, "You know, we find fault too much with each other. I am never going to find fault with my wife again." I was flabbergasted, for he had never admitted he had done anything wrong in our relationship. He did stop finding fault, and he began to compliment me and show sweet kindness. It was as if an icy glass wall between us had melted away. Almost overnight our relationship became warm and sweet. Three years have passed, and still it continues warmer and happier. We care deeply about one another and share ideas and thoughts and feelings, something we had not done for the first 16 years of marriage.


  1. I'll definitely be reading those talks. What great stuff Scott. I loved it, so much to learn from. That woman's story was so powerful. Thanks.

  2. I treasure these talks. Although I have read them before, I am so grateful for your thoughtful and perfectly-timed thoughts.