It’s fascinating how two people are able to look at the exact same thing and yet see something completely different.
Take this famous optical illusion, for instance. Some viewers may see a young woman and others an old woman. And once you see one image, it is not always easy to get your mind to switch back to the other image.
Something similar happened to certain members of the Church in the summer and fall of 1831. At a Church conference, the Prophet Joseph Smith called pairs of missionaries to go to Independence Missouri. The Lord declared that this was “the land which I will consecrate unto my People.”
These missionaries imagined that when they arrived they would find a thriving Church and that they would be able to help prepare for the second coming of the Savior.
But when they got there, they suddenly faced disappointment and uncertainty. Their Zion was a desolate place without any refinements. The Church was tiny and undeveloped. And the settlers were suspicious of them.
Even before they arrived some missionaries like Ezra Booth had become disenchanted. He began to see negative things all around him. He was upset that Joseph Smith rode to Missouri quickly in a wagon while he had to walk. He was disappointed that the meetings didn’t provide the spiritual manifestations he expected.
The Church members in Missouri attended a dedicatory service to set the northeast cornerstone of the temple that Joseph prophesied would be built. Some members experienced a spiritual feast at the event. Reynolds Cahoon exclaimed that his “mortal eyes beheld grate and marv[e]lous things, such as my eyes once never even contemplated of seeing in this world.” But others such as Ezra Booth were disappointed. He called the events “a curiosity,” but said that it was “not worth going to Missouri to see.”
Booth returned to Ohio and soon after left the Church and became a staunch critic. Cahoon remained faithful and made the trek to Utah.
What caused Booth’s disaffection and what allowed members such as Cahoon to stay faithful through the same disappointments and trials?
I think a lot has to do with perspective. At some point, Ezra Booth’s perspective changed and he began to see the old lady with all of her faults and imperfections rather than the young lady with all of her beauty and potential. And once that switch was flipped in his mind, it became easier and easier to see new experiences in the more negative light. He became doubtful that the Lord’s hand was in the Church. The Lord described the thought process of those like Ezra Booth in this way, “They say in their hearts this is not the work of the Lord for his promises are not fulfilled.”
This is a common problem in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. Critics love to draw attention to all kinds of flaws and imperfections. Any one of these issue by themselves would not be enough to topple faith. But the goal is to push for a shift in perspective. In particular, critics love to undermine faith that God speaks to his Prophet or to us individually. If they can get us to say in our hearts that this is not the work of the Lord, then our faith is vulnerable and can be easily overcome.
Over the past few years, we have had many experiences where we can either see the young lady or the old woman; where we can either experience marvelous things or a mere curiosity.
One example was during the April 2000 General Conference when the members of the Church participated in the Hosanna Shout. For those who were spiritually attuned and prepared, this was a marvelous experience. For others this was a source of derision. Another example was when President Nelson called for worldwide fasts for the Coronavirus pandemic. It would be easy to mock and say that the virus did not go away and that in fact it intensified. But it is also possible to look at the same events with an eye of faith and to be grateful for the inspired vaccines that scientists were able to develop in record time.
But how can we continue to see the proverbial young lady even after we have brushed up against disappointment or discouragement?
In D&C 59 which was received at this time, the Lord offers a pattern that will help us.
First, we approach with an eye single to God’s glory.
Second, we see commandments and direction from God as blessings from above rather than burdens
Third, we strive to love God with our heart, might, mind, and strength, and we serve him
Fourth, we thank God in all things and for all things
Fifth, we offer a broken heart and a contrite spirit
Sixth, we gather together with our fellow believers to keep ourselves unspotted from the world.
Seventh, we keep the sabbath day holy
Eighth, we act with thanksgiving and cheerful hearts
Ninth, we see God’s hand in all things
Tenth, we strive to do the works of righteousness.
As we do these things, we will experience “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.” We will see the glory of God and recognize his hand in all things. We will avoid disappointment and discouragement when we face setbacks and trials. And we will keep the proper perspective throughout it all.