“And they [the vessels] were built after a manner that they were exceeding tight, even that they would hold water like unto a dish; and the sides thereof were tight like unto a dish; and the ends thereof were peaked; and the top thereof was tight like unto a dish; and the length thereof was the length of a tree and the door thereof, when it was shut, was tight like unto a dish” (Ether 2:17).
In our home, our language shifts a little each time we are reading these passages in Ether. We find ourselves referring to something being “hard like unto a rock,” “strong like unto an ox,” “long like unto eternity,” “light like unto a feather,” and “deep like unto an ocean.”
Something I listened to this past week gave me an entirely new perspective on the concept of “tight like unto a dish”. It was a talk by S. Michael Wilcox from a BYU Education Week talk, “When My Prayers Feel Unanswered.”
I was drawn to this talk as a result of the many times I have heard others say – and wondered myself – “Why don’t I feel like I get answers to my prayers?” He shares a touching story about his childhood prayers that weren’t “answered” until he was a father.
I remember that one of my simplest and most fervent prayers occurred just after I resumed activity in the Church after my oldest child was nearing the age of 8. I remembered being taught that I had a responsibility to assure my child was baptized when he was 8 years old, and I knew I was responsible for being an example to my children. I hadn’t attended church for several years and I felt that returning to activity in the church, especially with a non-member husband, would be a challenge. My simple prayer consisted of just two words: “Help me.” Then it expanded to three words: “Help me understand.”
That prayer sent me on a journey of learning that eventually brought me strength and understanding. The following decades were filled with life lessons and insights that gradually strengthened my faith as I became ready to live what I was learning. Not just to “know what I needed to know,” but to apply that knowledge into action. Gaining my own testimony was truly “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” It was similar to the concept that until you are capable of understanding basic math, there is no foundation for you to understand algebra, geometry, or calculus.
This talk helps me to realize that God nurtures us and strengthens us between our prayer asking for His help and the point at which we have grown enough to be able to understand when He answers our prayer. Being “tight like unto a dish” is a process that can span years. Each day adds new growth, kind of like when you plant a seed — the first thing that appears is a seedling. Then comes strengthening of the roots and stems, then comes the blossom, and eventually comes the fruit. The fruit represents the answer to prayer.
Sometimes the answer to prayer is “No.” Sometimes the answer is “You don’t need to know that right now.” I’ve found that I can be studying a particular concept in the scriptures and conference talks and it feels like knowledge is being poured into my mind that I feel I’m not ready for yet — so I slam the book shut. Gaining further light and knowledge is a simple phrase that has many dimensions of growth attached to it. It is not the Lord’s purpose to overwhelm us with knowledge we haven’t yet built a foundation to receive.
There is much time and effort required to create a “vessel” that is capable of withstanding the storms of life — a vessel that is “tight like unto a dish.” I think and learn best when I can see a life lesson in the form of a metaphor, or through symbolism. I’ve learned a lot about what the Lord understands regarding my limitations and capabilities by watching the work my husband does in his metal shop. He is a master craftsman with over 50 years of experience being a metal worker. He designs and fabricates complex tools and does structural repairs for heavy equipment. In his craft, he understands the properties of metal and heat and the limitations of stress that a weld can withstand. He understands what makes metal warp as it is welded and how to prevent that from happening. He knows that heat and quenching will harden the metal. He knows what will weaken it and cause a failure in the integrity of the metal. The important part is that he understands what he can safely fabricate and what will not work well for the customer’s purpose. He understands his limitations, the metal’s limitations, and the kinds of structural supports it requires in order to have the strength to handle the stress of the load that will be placed upon it. He’s in the business of building firm foundations and strong structures. If working metal is magic, he is the wizard.
Heavenly Father’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. He knows exactly how to nourish and strengthen us based on our willingness to seek his help and guidance. He knows there are certain qualities of spirit that are only realized in the furnace of affliction. He knows when we need rest and encouragement. He knows when we are strong enough to once again climb the mountain so that we are able to continue on our journey with renewed faith, hope, and purpose. He provided us with the plan of salvation that was specifically designed to fulfill that purpose.
I delighted in reading a book my brother referred to me. It encouraged me that God knows how to exalt His children. The book description on Deseret Book’s website reads:
“Many Latter-day Saints worry whether they’re capable of reaching the celestial kingdom. Are these anxieties born of a sense of unworthiness, or is it that we just don’t think we can “do it all?” Author Alonzo L. Gaskill believes that such pessimism results from misunderstanding God’s great plan of happiness and what it is that the Lord actually requires of us. In this hope-filled book, he reviews the teachings of the scriptures and modern prophets to instill in readers a greater sense of God’s unfailing love and mercy and of His power and desire to exalt His children. Exaltation may be not only possible but probable!” (Odds Are, You’re Going to be Exalted: Evidence that the Plan of Salvation Work by Alonzo L. Gaskill)
God knows how to build His children “tight like unto a dish” so that we can withstand the storms of life and be willing to learn how to follow His direction so we can travel through the events we are in currently, particularly regarding the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic of 2020 and beyond.
People may wonder why the prophet isn’t constantly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TV telling us what to do. Yet in reality, he (and the prophets and apostles before him!) have been telling us for many years to be prepared in every needful thing. Become self-reliant in your personal finances, your educational opportunities, starting and growing your own business, getting out of debt, keeping the Sabbath day holy, learning to study in your homes, reading the Book of Mormon every day, paying your tithes and offerings, doing your family history, attending the temple, ministering to those around you, healing your family relationships, repenting of your weaknesses… The list goes on and on.
Each of these activities is like a caulking compound sealing the cracks and holes in our personal “vessel.” Being sealed in the temple for time and all eternity serves the same purpose: to prepare us for the storms that life will bring to us. Being refined in the furnace of affliction is the tutorial for putting on the whole armor of God; for gaining the spiritual and emotional resilience to withstand the events that lay before us heralding the return of the Savior.
The Lord never compels obedience. We have the gift of moral agency so we can choose how we want to live our lives. The scriptures tell us, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This doesn’t say that the years between training and being old will be a consistent adherence to the “way he should go.” There can be years after a child leaves home when they choose to do their own “research” about how life works. That research can take them through some very tumultuous storms. Life has a way of teaching us valuable lessons when we are willing to learn. For those who resist the lessons, there are additional lessons. When we feel we are drowning in an ocean of pain, it’s an invitation to reevaluate where the leaks are in our dish.
I often reflect on a simple concept: “You are the chooser in your life. Create the day you walk into or you’ll be walking into a day created by someone else.” Each of us can make a daily choice to live principles that are in harmony with the nature of happiness. Be tight like unto a dish!
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.