Some years ago, while sitting in a high priest group meeting in our southern California ward, I noticed the ward Primary president’s face peering through the small window of the door leading into the room. She looked around until her eyes focused in my direction, and her finger motioned to come. Couldn’t be me. None of our children were in Primary. I glanced at those sitting around me to see if one of those was whom she wanted, then back at her. Nope, she was staring at me and mouthed, “You!”
I shrugged and went to the door. On the other side, she was tightly holding the hand of my six-year-old grandson, Justin, who was visiting our ward that day. “We can’t do a thing with this boy!” she lamented. “You’re going to have to take him!” There was no discussion. Justin’s hand was placed in mine, and the Primary president marched off.
I walked Justin to the lobby, and we sat on one of the sofas. For a moment, I just looked at him. I loved his face–not what you’d call angelic for sure, but boy all the way. And there was no surprise that he had misbehaved in Primary. He had a “history.” Finally, I spoke. “Just-ee, why do you do those things?”
His answer was ground-dirt-honest. “Grandpa, my spirit wants to do the right thing, but my body won’t let it!” I turned my head so he couldn’t see my smile.
A few minutes later he was up and ambling about; drawn to the open door of the chapel like a moth to a candle. I watched him sidle up to it and shook my head at him. That’s all it took. He darted into the empty chapel and ran up the aisle to the stand. I knew what he was going to do. I knew Justin! I was to the door in a second, but Justin was already to the stand. As he ran to the podium and the microphone, I said in a chapel-modified shout, “Justin. No!”
On his tiptoes, he reached up and pulled the mike down to his mouth. Then after taking a deep breath, he bellowed into the microphone, “I LOVE YOU GRANDPA!” His words reverberated off the chapel walls and down through the halls of the building.
What’re you going to do?
How many times since then have I thought about what he said: “My spirit wants to do the right thing, but my body won’t let it!” I think he spoke for all of us. Certainly, for me. And the great battle in this telestial tour of ours, I believe, is to learn to subject our bodies to the will of our spirits.
“Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually.” (Ether 3:2, emphasis added). We have been enshrouded by Telestial stuff here in our mortal tour and must figure out how to control it; to not let it control us (See 2 Nephi 2:26). What makes the task even more formidable is that for each of us, our individual mortal paths are affected—even defined—by the body and mind and circumstances our spirits have been placed in. No two paths are the same.
In a subsequent talk with Justin, when he was older and discouraged with his uncooperative body and mind, I shared with him this analogy. Our bodies are like a ship; our minds like the computer that runs the ship; and, our spirits like the captain of the ship. When we see a sleek, beautiful ship seemingly without a dent in its hull or blister on its paint, and with motors humming and its computer allowing for no deviation in its course, we are likely to assume the captain is just as perfect. Conversely, when we see a banged-up vessel with a hard-chugging motor that sounds to be on its last legs, and its computer wreaking havoc with its direction, we may brand the captain an incompetent.
In fact, our judgment of the captain per the vessel and computer he is saddled with, may be far off the mark. It is entirely possible that the skipper of the vessel none of us would want to be in, may be extraordinary. And with what he must work with, he may be one of the few able to even get it to run, let alone make it reasonably productive. On the other hand, the captain of the ideal ship, may be incapable of handling anything that doesn’t automatically run itself.
Moral? Don’t judge a captain by his ship. And, don’t judge a spirit by the body and mind it inhabits. Leave that to our Heavenly Father who knows each one of us intimately.
For years, I served as a chaplain in the Orange County jails. There isn’t much I haven’t seen. One thing I learned. Every man and woman I worked with were sons and daughters of God who loves them. Each had divine potential, but each was challenged physically or mentally or emotionally in some problematic way. Their ship and/or their computer were banged up. And I sensed that, for many, their spirits were doing the very best they could with what they had to work with.
Thank goodness our mortal state is temporary. No matter what shape our ship and computer may be in, we just need to do the best we can with what we have. The grace of Jesus Christ will take it from there.