I’ve never written a book review before (which is funny because I’ve asked a lot of people to review mine). But lately I’ve been re-reading one particular book that’s had me absolutely itching to review it. Or at least just rave about it. I honestly think it’s one of the most insightful and powerful LDS books out there right now. I know that’s a pretty big claim, but the author writes about a principle that literally changed my entire life. It’s THAT huge. It’s one of those books where, as I’m reading, I keep wanting to stop and shout “YES!” and outline sentence after sentence in bright red pen. The book is Falling To Heaven by James L. Ferrell, author of the bestselling, The Peacegiver.
The crazy thing is, the principle he writes about is kind of hard to wrap our brain around at first. In fact, Brother Ferrell says we tend to “reflexively resist it,” as it seems “strange to us, or mistaken, or difficult to understand or implement” (12). It’s the answer to the question, “Where and how can I find happiness?” We all know how the world would answer that question. We’re told again and again that happiness comes by living our dreams, by building our self-esteem, and by believing we can do anything we set our mind to. Yet it seems like no matter how hard we try, true happiness often remains illusive and fleeting, like what our heart is hungering for lies just beyond our reach.
Well, Brother Ferrell believes (and I wholeheartedly agree) that there’s a reason for that disconnect. He says “the heart of the gospel reveals a most surprising path to happiness. The path is always right before us, but it begins in the one place our burdened or complacent hearts are keeping us from looking. Happiness, like heaven, may seem above us, but it turns out we don’t obtain either of them by climbing" (xii). Then, after building a solid foundation from scripture, he makes this profound and paradigm-shifting point that lies at the heart of his entire message: “If we are feeling down and lacking hope, it turns out that we can’t find the happiness or hope we are seeking by trying to increase either our happiness or hope. . . . We don’t ascend upward by trying to lift ourselves upward. . . .The lifting of our souls is achieved indirectly . . . as a result of a different quest—the quest not to find ourselves, but to find Him” (30). Put simply, happiness is only available through the Lord Jesus Christ.
But here’s the rub: as we come to Christ, He isn't going to make us happy by patting our heads and pumping us up and making us feel better about ourselves. No, our goal instead is to come to Him in a state of total humility and brokenness so He can heal us, cleanse us, and purify us from the inside out. Only then can He introduce us to a “joy which none receiveth save it be the truly penitent and humble seeker of happiness” (Alma 27:18).
Here's how Brother Ferrell puts it: “[H]appiness apparently lies not in our trying to feel better about ourselves but rather through our allowing the Lord to help us see truths that at first might make us feel worse. In these lowest moments—the moments when we give up resisting what we haven’t wanted to see—we are finally immersed in the joy we have always sought but have never found, a joy that comes not because we have lifted our hearts but because we have finally allowed them to break” (xi).
I feel so passionate about this message because I’ve experienced this very reality for myself. It’s mind-blowing to me that for years, I had it completely backwards. All the things I chased to find happiness were the very things that kept me from finding it. But once I turned my life over to the Lord and let Him walk me through the path of repentance, a happiness began to shine in my heart that continues to surpass anything I’ve ever experienced. I truly believe it’s just like Brother Ferrell says—that “this happiness has never been ‘just’ beyond our grasp at all, but a million light years beyond it. It exists only in His grasp” (170). It’s one of the most beautiful secrets waiting to be discovered as we humbly and openly submit ourselves to Jesus Christ.
On a side note, this concept ties in perfectly with something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I’m currently serving in Young Women for the fourth time, which means I’ve spent the last several years pondering what the teenage girls of this Church need most in order to thrive and flourish. And I’m afraid we often think that what they need most is to be validated. Told they’re awesome. Lavished with all kinds of flowery words about their worth and value and unending potential.
While I understand the intent behind such rhetoric, one key question won't quit tugging at my heart: If all we ever do is pump up the Young Women and tell them how awesome and capable and amazing they are, how will they ever understand their need for Christ? If we continually compliment and praise and flatter the girls, how will that help them turn in brokenness to their Savior? It may give them a warm fuzzy feeling for a little while, but in the dark of the night when they’re battling the ravages of sin or fear or loneliness or abuse, they’ll need much more than flowery rhetoric. They’ll need a Savior. And a very personal one at that. So I believe as leaders, we need to spend our every breath teaching the Young Women not just that they need Jesus Christ, but how they can connect with Him by coming to Him in total humility, submission, and brokenness.
I know that idea will make some of us squirm a little bit. I know we want to be fun leaders who make the girls laugh and fill them with smiles and sunshine and positive pep talks. But the truth is, they need the grace of Christ more than anything else in the entire world. And they need us to teach them why they need Him, and how He can fill them with more happiness than they’ve ever imagined. I believe it’s a message that will change their (and our) lives forever, if only we’ll have the courage to embrace it, internalize it, and share it with all who will listen. With that said, I think I'll just conclude with the incredibly powerful words of Brother Ferrell: