“But if not:” a little extra oil

There was a talk a few years ago with the repeated line “but if not.” The talk encouraged Latter-day Saints to continue faithful even if the things they were hoping and praying for didn’t happen, or didn’t happen as they thought they should. (With the comforting footnote added that we are beautifully and abundantly provided for once we’re in heaven.)

This week, while talking with friends, we decided that we could also apply this same concept to hoping and praying about things in the Church as a whole.

For example:

We might watch a teacher and think they are just repeating what they’ve heard before, and we hope and pray for teachers to think and to study the scriptures more.

We might see a leader handling a situation badly (in our eyes), and hope and pray for leaders to use the handbook and the Spirit more.

We might listen to a conference talk, knowing that some will use its implications in ways that will be harmful to friends or family, and hope and pray for more careful attention.

In all these cases we may be right (or at least feel that we are right) to hope for change. “But if not” — if that change never happens — will we continue to be faithful? Will we continue to serve where called? Will we be charitable to others? Will we still sustain our leaders? Can we hold in tension our desire to see the improvements we think are necessary with our trust that God is still doing His work already?

I wonder if the parable of the ten virgins might be read this way. Note the difference between the foolish and wise virgins is just that the latter had extra oil “just in case.” They were all — those with extra oil and those without — at the right place. They were all there on time. They assumed they knew exactly when the bridegroom was coming. “But if not?” Well, then the wise ones had extra oil. Perhaps this parable is, in part, teaching us to be willing to accept and trust God’s plans, even when they are different than what we thought they would be.

May we be willing to hold these things in tension, and be there together whenever and however Christ’s work is made manifest.

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