We have lived in Kansas for just about one year. In that time, we have experienced several tornado watches, and a handful of tornado warnings. The first time I heard the tornado warning sirens go off, I was surprised at my panic. How could we have come to live in a place that has tornadoes?! We’re crazy! I learned, though, over time, and through experience, that tornadoes are only truly dangerous when:
- Shelters are inadequate,
- People don’t get to a shelter when they’re told to get to a shelter, and
- People have not prepared beforehand.
There’s going to be an exception to that somewhere, but this is how, from my own observation, people successfully survive tornadoes. In fact, back in 2008, a huge tornado ripped through the neighborhood in which we now live.
The house next to ours was completely destroyed, as were several other homes nearby. One house was ripped in half –it looked like a doll’s house from the back. Another house collapsed right down the middle.
Many trees were ripped up, and there was enough external damage to the roof of the house we now own that the owners had to replace the whole roof (good news for us! Not so good for them). It was astonishing how the tornado would leave some houses unscathed and others pounded to toothpicks. There was no pattern.
But the part I love best about this story is that nobody in the city was killed, and very few were seriously injured. Everyone got to the shelters (safe rooms, basement bathrooms, etc.) and everyone survived. People knew what to look for, listen for, and obeyed when the sirens went off and the media coverage told everyone to take immediate cover.
They were also prepared for the aftermath, when water, electricity, plumbing, etc. had to be repaired. Neighbors were outside helping each other clear debris, assessing damage, and helping the city with the clean-up. Houses were repaired and rebuilt. Neighbors grew closer together through the shared near-death-and-damage experience.
Since this is absolutely a metaphor waiting to happen, I like think of it in a gospel application.
Life sends us tornadoes. I like to think of them as just part of mortality –no rhyme, no reason, no discernible (to us) pattern –they simply exist in a fallen world. Bad stuff happens to good people. You could be the most righteous person in the world, and you will still face hard things like everybody else.
These tornadoes come, and sometimes they come out of nowhere! Especially things like death, illness, and financial loss. In fact Elder Neil A. Anderson actually spoke about spiritual whirlwinds at length (you can read his talk, here).
I believe we can survive these mortal-life tornadoes in the same way people survive literal tornadoes. We just need to follow the same steps.
First, we need adequate shelters.
What does an adequate shelter look like? For physical tornadoes, shelters need to be below ground if at all possible. It’s really hard for the wind of a twister to rip through something that it can’t reach. If underground isn’t possible, going somewhere that is attached permanently to the ground helps –like bathrooms. What about adequate spiritual shelters? What do they look like?
Spiritual shelters are built carefully and I believe they are found within the power and blessings of covenants.
Covenants are an incredible place of safety. I’ve always found it interesting that when we choose to make a covenant with Heavenly Father, we are the ones who are blessed. Even the smallest effort yields spiritual support. Think about the pattern that is set up with the baptismal covenant –we choose to follow Jesus Christ, take His name upon us and keep His commandments. In return, we are given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which will guide us, protect us, teach us, and help us.
Elder Robert D. Hales said,
“…when we understand our baptismal covenant and the gift of the Holy Ghost, it will change our lives and will establish our total allegiance to the kingdom of God. When temptations come our way, if we will listen, the Holy Ghost will remind us that we have promised to remember our Savior and obey the commandments of God.”
The Holy Ghost is, in essence, helping build that shelter to protect us from temptation, sin, and danger. We are given this gift simply by making a covenant! Within that covenant, we can find protection from the world.
I also like to think about the covenants we make in the Temple. Any time we make a covenant, we are promising to do something that is actually for our very own benefit. That is not the reason why we make the covenant, but it is an inescapable result. We obey, God blesses us.
The obedience itself blesses us. Access to the Holy Ghost blesses us. Knowledge we receive blesses us. It’s a never-ending cycle of God’s true love for us as His children, and it’s remarkable! Covenants are strong, safe, carefully placed shelters, and they protect us.
President Russell M. Nelson said,
One of the most important concepts of revealed religion is that of a sacred covenant. In legal language, a covenant generally denotes an agreement between two or more parties. But in a religious context, a covenant is much more significant. It is a sacred promise with God. He fixes the terms. Each person may choose to accept those terms. If one accepts the terms of the covenant and obeys God’s law, he or she receives the blessings associated with the covenant. We know that “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.””
Listen to the Experts
Second, we need to get to the shelter when we’re told to get to the shelter! When the weather stations see that storms have the potential to create tornadoes, they issue warnings through radio, TV, cell phones, etc. and news stations prepare to let people know if and when they should take shelter.
When a funnel touches down on the ground within our county, the sirens go off –those sirens are an indication that we need to get into our shelters and continue to listen to the radio and/or TV so we will know where the tornadoes have been spotted and where they are going. Because tornadoes can change direction in an instant, listening to the experts and to those who can see the tornadoes on the ground is essential for protecting our families. To ignore these warnings is to invite possible harm.
Who are the spiritual professionals and experts? Who should we listen to and what warnings should we heed?
I believe those experts are prophets and the Holy Ghost.
First, prophets are the watchmen and women in the tower. They are the ones who can literally see what needs to be done in order to be safe from the storms that come our way. And then they warn us! They let us know what we need to know; they let us know what we need to do.
President Russell M. Nelson taught us to keep the Sabbath day holy.
President Ezra Taft Benson counseled us to read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony of it’s truthfulness.
President Thomas S. Monson explained the importance of the Word of Wisdom.
Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson asked women to rise up and stand for truth.
President Gordon B. Hinckley shared with us the importance of families and understanding how the family is an eternal unit.
These few examples show how prophets have warned us about those things that can spiritually harm us. They are like the news anchors and radio broadcasts. They are telling us the storms are coming, they see where they are, and they let us know what to watch for, ourselves.
Second, the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest experts (I would say one of the three greatest)! Having made covenants, we have the privilege to have the consistent guidance from the Holy Ghost. Through His influence, we receive personal revelation, confirmation of prophetic counsel, guidance, and warnings. Sometimes, the presence of the Holy Ghost can be happening while the storms are raging around us, too. In this way, the Spirit anchors us and protects us from spiritual harm.
For example, often, when facing deep mourning over the loss of a loved one, people have experienced great spiritual support. Even in the face of the greatest sorrow, they feel a peace that can only be explained as the presence of the Holy Ghost, lifting them up and protecting their spirit.
I remember when my brother-in-law died from suicide. Less than a week after it had happened, I had felt weeks had passed. Inside of the mourning, however, was the intense feeling of love between all of his loved ones. There was this peace that permeated the grief –not always strong, not always recognizable, but it was there.
Another example is when the Holy Ghost gently prompts us to change direction in our lives. Sometimes it’s obvious, like making a choice on which college to attend, but other times, it’s more difficult, like when we feel prompted to change friends, have another child, move across the country, or repent for sins we’ve been avoiding.
I remember when the answer to our prayer was to move back to Utah from where we were living in California. I had been hoping the answer was to move to Boston! It was difficult for me to accept this answer. But shortly after we arrived back in Utah, we attended the temple with our old (new) ward. The Spirit overcame me, and I knew we were exactly where we needed to be.
Third, we need to be prepared beforehand.
How do we prepare? For physical tornadoes, we prepare by first creating a shelter. We choose something safe, strong, and easy to get to. Then we fill that shelter with the essentials, such as water, food, blankets, flashlights, radio, a first-aid kit, a 72 hour kit (or three or seven!), and anything else that would be helpful to have in the event of a tornado taking down the house or building.
It’s also important to be aware of what might be coming –checking weather reports, for example. It’s difficult, in the moment, to gather everything together before taking cover. Sometimes there’s time. Sometimes there’s not.
So, how do we prepare beforehand, spiritually? What can we do to prepare ourselves for the spiritual tornadoes that come our way?
We need a strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the most essential thing that can fortify us against the challenges that will come, but if we can create, in our hearts, that “sure foundation,” then we will be open to making covenants (creating our shelters) and listening to prophets and the Holy Ghost (heeding the experts!). In this way, we will be prepared to meet those tornadoes that can, if we aren’t careful, destroy our spirits.
So, how do we develop a testimony of the gospel and of Jesus Christ? The answers are the ones we’ve been learning about since we were small children. They never really change, although our understanding of them quite often changes. They are simply our “Sunday School Answers,” and include:
- Reading the scriptures
- Attending church
- Obeying the word of wisdom
- Paying tithing
- Listening to prophets and obeying their counsel
- Understanding and applying the Atonement of Jesus Christ
By no means is this a complete list. It is comprehensive, yes, and most Mormons know this list and do their very best to internalize what it teaches, but there are many more things we could add (like family prayer, accepting a calling, etc.). Each effort we make to build our testimonies of the gospel of Jesus Christ creates a beautiful foundation “whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12)
I teach the 6 and 7 year old primary children in our ward. I was reminded recently that even though I am teaching those children very basic parts of the gospel, they are things I am continuing to learn about even as an adult. In fact, there’s a reason why we learn and re-learn the same doctrines and tenets throughout our mortal lives.
We learn line upon line, and each layer reveals more knowledge, more depth, and more commitment to our Savior. It’s imperative that we learn all we can and to keep learning all we can, even about the things we think we already know everything about. When we do, we add to our testimonies; we are able to prepare for troubles that come our way.
Physical tornadoes can be scary, but they can be weathered through the right kind of preparation. Spiritual tornadoes are no different! We can weather the storms that come our way if we keep our covenants, heed prophets and the Holy Ghost, and build strong testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
Cheryl S. Savage has one incredible husband and seven sensational kids. Since earning her bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies at BYU many years ago, she spends her time raising the kids, teaching piano lessons, voraciously reading, traveling, romanticizing, writing, and learning. She and her husband have moved their family from coast to coast, but currently reside in Kansas.