Life Rocks! How Firm Is Your Foundation? (Paperback)
The Deseret Bookshelf version is enhanced with video.
Yes, life is a great adventure, but it's also a great challenge. And the weather forecast for the latter days is grim: hail, mighty winds, and shafts in the whirlwind.
Question: Where are you going to build your foundation? Answer: Life Rocks.
In these pages, you'll learn where to build your life so that, in tough times or easy times, rain or shine, you can stand up and shout, “Life Rocks!”
About the Author
John Bytheway is an instructor at the Brigham Young University Salt Lake Center. He served his mission in the Philippines and earned a master’s degree in Religious Education at BYU. He has published dozens of books and audio programs and lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, Kimberly, and their six children.
Life Rock One!
I challenge you to build your lives on a foundation of truth and righteousness. It is the only foundation that will stand the pressures of this life and endure through the eternities.
—Elder L. Tom Perry, “The Priesthood of Aaron,” 94.
Who is God, and who am I?
Knowing about God, believing in God, and believing that He loves you and wants your happiness is a powerful foundation stone on which to build your life and plan your future. Most of the world believes in God. So do we. But we are blessed to know a little more about God than much of the world does. And why is that? Because of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Prophet Joseph Smith remarked, “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes, you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 324). That’s exactly what he experienced in the First Vision. And what was the first word he heard from God? Remarkably, his own name, “Joseph.”
God knew Joseph’s name, and God knows yours. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith learned that God was a “personal God,” or, in other words, that He is our Creator, our Father, and that He is interested in us personally. Young Joseph didn’t just hear some words and see some things on that spring morning of 1820—he felt things, too. Describing the First Vision, he said, “My soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice. . . .” (as quoted by Dean C. Jessee, “Joseph Smith Jr.,” 26). More than just having a nice feeling, or merely feeling comfortable, Joseph said he was “filled with love.”
We may suppose that if we were to come in to the presence of God, He would call us by name, and we, like Joseph, would not only hear wonderful things but feel overwhelming love.
Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend.
Some people believe that God loves them right up until the time they have a problem, a challenge, or a setback. Then they ask, “If God loves me, then why do these things happen?”
Answer: because God loves you. Some problems come because of our own bad choices, some come because of the poor choices of others, and some are just part of living in a fallen world. A loving God doesn’t remove all your problems, however. Instead, He stands by you, encourages you, and helps you through them.
I remember watching my oldest boy climbing on a jungle gym when he was just three years old, trying his hardest to meet his goal of getting to the top. He was struggling to get good footholds, and he kept slipping. I had to stop myself several times from just picking him up and putting him on top. But the smarter part of me kept saying, “Let him figure it out, let him struggle a bit . . . he can do it himself.”
“He can do it, honey!”
In the same way, I believe our Father in Heaven wants us to reach our goals as well, but it would rob us of growth and satisfaction if He just “lifted us up and put us on top.” We’re not thinking straight if we say we want to be like Jesus but we don’t want to go through anything Jesus went through! Elder Neal A. Maxwell stated:
How can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, “Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then, let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!” (“‘Lest Ye Be Wearied,’” 88)
Our Father in Heaven is our first “Life Rock” because the better our understanding of God, the better we’ll be able to handle our trials. May I say that again? The better our understanding of God, the better we’ll be able to handle our trials. Some teens mistakenly conclude, when they encounter a major problem, “I guess God really doesn’t love me. If He loved me, this would be easier.”
But perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe the Lord loves you too much to let your life be easy. If your life were easy, you wouldn’t grow a bit, you wouldn’t learn a thing, you wouldn’t become strong and courageous and experienced. If everything happened exactly the way you wanted, you’d become a weakling, and you’d never know what you were made of. Elder Paul V. Johnson taught:
Sometimes we want to have growth without challenges and to develop strength without any struggle. But growth cannot come by taking the easy way. We clearly understand that an athlete who resists rigorous training will never become a world-class athlete. We must be careful that we don’t resent the very things that help us put on our divine nature.
Not one of the trials and tribulations we face is beyond our limits, because we have access to help from the Lord. (“More Than Conquerors,” 79–80)
When the winds of adversity come, remember one thing—kites fly the very highest against the wind. Kites don’t fly in spite of opposition, kites fly high because of opposition. In fact, they couldn’t fly without opposition. When a kite string breaks, the kite falls. Similarly, adversity is what gives you a chance to soar.
Adversity Comes in All Sizes
How can our belief in God, our first “Life Rock,” help us through our trials? Some trials are little, but they’re still difficult:
I didn’t make the team.
I didn’t get asked to the dance.
My math class is so hard.
I don’t like my face.
Knowing who we are, and who God is, can help us through all of these difficulties. Knowing that God is always there, and that He always loves us, is like having a warm blanket that He’s placed around our shoulders when times are difficult.
But what about when the problems are really challenging or nearly impossible to face? What if we have trials like major health problems, parents divorcing, or the death of a loved one?
How about this one—being abducted at gunpoint in the middle of the night by an evil, crazy man and being taken from your home and family for nine months? That’s not fiction. That’s what happened in 2002 to Elizabeth Smart, a fourteen-year-old Latter-day Saint young woman. I read the book by her parents called Bringing Elizabeth Home, and I was amazed and touched by the faith of her family. They never gave up on Elizabeth, and they never gave up on God.
Elizabeth’s father, Ed Smart, built his life on a firm foundation. He relied on his belief in God and the comforting words of John 16:33: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Brother Smart expressed how the love of God was a “Life Rock” during the unthinkably difficult period when Elizabeth was missing and they didn’t know if she was alive or dead. He wrote:
God has always sent messages to His disciples to “be of good cheer.” Those words were meant to encourage me to live. Elizabeth was His daughter before she was mine. He loved her many times more than I could even comprehend. So, if she was with Him, “be of good cheer.” If she were to come back to me, “be of good cheer.” Either way, “be of good cheer.” It suddenly made so much sense. I had to start living again, because the alternative was unacceptable. I had to trust in the Lord, believe, and be faithful. After that epiphany, life got a little easier. (Bringing Elizabeth Home, 84)
Clearly, it was Brother Smart’s belief in God that helped him survive those months while they were still searching for Elizabeth. The Smart family could have chosen not to believe in God during their ordeal, or they could have become embittered and angry at God. They could have sunk lower and lower into the darkness by asking, “Why us? Why her? Why now? Why didn’t God stop all of this? Why doesn’t He love us?” Instead, they kept their faith and they kept going, as difficult as it was.
After nine terrible months, Elizabeth was found. When the entire family was finally reunited, they spontaneously knelt down in the middle of the Sandy City police station and had a family prayer! They thanked God for the miracle of bringing them all back together. Elizabeth wrote her own letter to the world—to all those who had been hoping and praying for her return. Amazingly, she began, “I am the luckiest girl in the world.”
Excuse me? How could she say that? She’d been abducted, abused, and robbed of nine months of her life! Lucky? But Elizabeth, even as a teenager, had built her life on God, and she didn’t want to rebuild her life on bitterness and revenge. Because of her godly foundation, and with God’s grace or “enabling power,” she was able to focus on being restored to her family and thus could call herself “the luckiest girl in the world.”
Some people say that religion or belief in God is a crutch. No, it’s not a crutch—it’s a sword. It’s the “sword of the spirit” of which Paul spoke in (Ephesians 6). It’s power to get through life. Yes, we have to lean on that sword sometimes—everyone experiences adversity—but it’s far from being a crutch. Our belief in God is the greatest source of strength in the universe.
My family moved at the beginning of my seventh-grade year, and I remember noticing a pretty girl named Barbara in one of my classes. She was always smiling, always nice. But I wondered about her background because she walked with a noticeable limp. I discovered later that one day, while walking on the sidewalk, she had been hit by a car that had jumped the curb, damaging her leg so badly that after nine months in the hospital, the doctors finally determined that her leg would have to be amputated.
Can you imagine what that would be like? Barbara wrote about her thoughts during that time:
I came to the conclusion that I would probably not be one to be married. Don’t get me wrong, I liked boys. A lot. Many of my close friends were boys, and they were always good to me. I just knew that no man would choose a wife like me.
I’ve kept in touch with Barbara over the years (she just happens to live in my mother’s ward), and I’m happy to report that she married a great returned missionary and has five children. But at the time when her accident happened, she needed to rely on her Life Rocks and her loved ones to help her through:
My family, friends, Young Women leaders, and ward members were so great in their helping rebuild me and my life. My friends retaught me many things over the next several years, like how to ride a bike, play tennis, and just to laugh again. These young women and our Young Women leaders probably had the biggest impact on my getting back into life again. Life was good for me and it was because of them and their selfless sacrifice in my behalf. I am forever indebted to these great women. (From unpublished address in author’s possession; used by permission)
Barbara, like Elizabeth, had built her young life on a firm foundation, and she chose to cling to God during this trial. Barbara’s positive reaction to her trials helped everyone who knew her, including me. When Barbara was only fourteen years old, she wrote her own story, and it appeared in the New Era. Read it for yourself!
Elizabeth and Barbara both understood their identity: They knew who they were, and they knew who God was, and that knowledge became foundational to support them in the trials they faced.
Preventing Spiritual Identity Theft—Life Rock, Not LifeLock
These days, dishonest people often try to steal someone else’s identity by signing up for credit cards or a Social Security number in that person’s name. Identity theft has become a real problem in the computer age because personal information is exchanged on a massive scale throughout cyberspace.
However, I believe that Satan was the first to commit identity theft many thousands of years ago. Satan is desperate to confuse the relationship between ourselves and God. In fact, when Moses saw God in the burning bush, three times Moses was told who he was—a son of God. “Thou art my son,” the Lord told him, to make sure Moses understood his identity (Moses 1:4). After the vision was over, Moses was weak and fell to the earth. Then Satan came along and tried to steal Moses’ identity: The first words from Satan were an attempted identity theft: “Moses, son of man, worship me” (Moses 1:12; emphasis added).
Earlier in the chapter, the Lord had repeatedly told Moses he was a “son of God,” but Satan told Moses he was merely a “son of man.” Satan wanted to confuse Moses about his identity, just as he will try to confuse all of God’s children. Fortunately, Moses remembered what God had told him, and Moses’ response to Satan is classic: “Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13).
Moses confronted temptation by remembering who God was and who he was in relation to God. Moses prevailed by using Life Rock One. So did the Smart family, so did my friend Barbara, and so will you!
Chances are good that you will not experience trials as severe as those we’ve just discussed. However, if God is the rock to build upon during difficult times, then He is also the rock to build upon when things are relatively easy. Some of us are forced to our knees during our trials, and some of us have spent a lot of time on our knees anyway, so it’s not an unfamiliar posture.
Wherever you are, and whatever you’re going through, the time to build on the rock is now. Your story is still being written. You have blessings and challenges ahead that you can’t possibly anticipate. The best strategy is to build on the rock long before the storm comes, not wait until the wind begins to howl and then hunt for safer ground.
Some people, it seems, have to hit rock bottom before they realize life’s most important truths. We are blessed to know life’s foundational truths right now, before the big crisis comes. In other words, build on the rock before you hit rock bottom!
Life Rock One
God is real.
God loves us with a perfect love.
God doesn’t prevent all our problems, but He helps us through them.
When adversity comes, and it will, we can respond like Nephi, “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17).
by Customer - reviewed on January 23, 2013
With teenagers fighting in a world with such shifting values, I found this book to be so helpful and insightful. My kids absolutely loved it. My daughter read it in two days. Thanks!