Many years ago, I read the book, “A Little Princess”, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Within it, there is a passage that touched my heart then and continues to touch my heart today. The scene takes place as Sara’s father, Captain Crewe, is leaving her at a boarding school, to be taken care of by Miss Minchin, so that he may travel and increase his fortune. It reads:
Then he went with Sara into her little sitting room and they bade each other good-bye. Sara sat on his knee and held the lapels of his coat in her small hands and looked long and hard at his face.
“Are you learning me by heart, little Sara?” he said, stroking her hair.
“No,” she answered. “I know you by heart. You are inside my heart.” And they put their arms round each other and kissed as if they would never let go.
As I ponder the words of Sara as she tells her father goodbye, I am drawn to a vision of what it may have been like on the day I left my Father’s side to come to earth. Did He sit me upon his knee and express his love before He sent me off to be taken care of by my earthly parents? Was it difficult for Him to watch me go, knowing that my mortal journey would not be an easy one? Did I know Him by heart because He was already inside my heart?
I have heard it said that we first learn about God, who He is and how He feels about us, through our earthly father. His plan was to reveal His nature to each of us through the love of our dads. When I first heard this, I was skeptical. My father was nothing like the Heavenly Father I have been taught about. And yet, as I thought about this theory, I realized that the things I believed about the nature of God the Father were very much like the personality traits of my earthly dad. For me, this meant that He was strict, impatient, unpredictable, angry, exacting and hard to please, with expectations of perfection. I believed that He loved me, but His approval was based solely upon my performance, and frankly, I could never measure up. Although I had been taught about a God who was loving and kind, tender and compassionate, when I thought about my relationship with Him, those were not the images that were conjured up in my mind.
Recently, a series of events have caused me to re-evaluate the image I have always had of my Heavenly Father. I have been forced to contemplate what He truly expects and how He really feels about me. Through this process, I have searched the scriptures to try to understand His plan for me. Slowly, my vision of who my Heavenly Father is has begun to change. Most significantly, I’ve come to realize that it is not perfection that He requires, but rather, it is purity of heart. You see, He knows that as I strive to be pure, as I align my will with His, as I live my life with Him at the forefront of my mind, I will, as did little Sara, come to know Him by heart because He will be inside my heart.
This past week has been difficult. Feelings of anger and frustration have been welling up inside me as I continue to deal with the trials that life has presented. I have struggled with accomplishing everything on my plate and have felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities. Today, as I was attempting to complete the tasks set before me, I was reminded of the Book of Mormon prophet, Jacob, and the many declarations of praise He made toward God:
O the wisdom of God, His mercy and grace! (2 Nephi 9:8)
O how great the goodness of our God! (2 Nephi 9: 10)
O how great the plan of our God! (2 Nephi 9:13)
O the greatness and the justice of our God! (2 Nephi 9:17)
O how great the holiness of our God! (2 Nephi 9:20)
I have read these phrases many times, but as I studied them this past week, they have been a reminder of the love my Heavenly Father has for me. He is wise. He is great. He is good. He is holy. But He is also kind and tender and compassionate. He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent and because of these attributes, He created the perfect plan for me to become like Him. It is His perfect plan that provides me with gift of choice. It is His perfect plan that allows me to face trials and challenges, from which I often emerge stronger. It is His perfect plan that grants me the right to make mistakes. And it is His perfect plan that provided a Savior to make up the difference whenever I fall short. Because of His perfect plan, I can have peace, even when life feels overwhelmingly difficult.
Today, I have a better understanding of the nature of God than I once did. I no longer believe Him to be strict, impatient, unpredictable, angry, exacting and hard to please. Instead, I know that part of His perfect plan was for me to be perfectly imperfect, and that is perfectly OK. My imperfections need not overwhelm me or make me feel inadequate. My Heavenly Father loves me. I am His child. Of these things, I have no doubt. I need not fear Him. Instead, I can exclaim, as did Jacob, “O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for [my] escape…” (2 Nephi 9:10)