It has been almost a year since two of my daughters and I were nearly killed in a gruesome car accident. Since that time, I have paid a great deal of attention to our recovery from significant emotional and physical injuries, but perhaps given far too little thought to our spiritual recovery. I know that my body came out of the accident worse for wear, and I likely will never be quite “right” on that front again. The same is true of my emotional state: I probably will continue to be the worst front-seat passenger in the world for a long time.
Spiritually, however, I think I have come from this experience considerably stronger, more resolute in my commitment to my faith and more obedient in my conduct. Somehow, despite all of the hardships resulting from the accident–and there have been many–I believe that the person that was pulled out of the wreckage is a better person than the one that got into the car that morning. I’m far from perfect, but many of the temptations that easily threw me off course a year ago have little or no attraction for me today. On the other hand, the day-to-day obligations of discipleship have become far more attractive.
Recently I’ve made a more concerted effort to understand why. Did my most persistent weakness of character just fly out the windshield, or is there something else going on?
I think I began to understand better what has happened with me over the last year as I have focused less on the accident itself. Yes, it is a miracle that we survived that experience. But monumental miracles rarely are sufficient to make lasting transformations is our lives. The scriptures are replete with examples of people who have experienced amazing spiritual manifestations, but later (sometimes immediately) fall back into disbelief. For every Paul, there are a hundred Pharaohs. Lasting spiritual growth most often comes not from turning staves into serpents, but from incremental increases of faith.
That realization helped me to look at the bigger picture: Not what happened a year ago, but what has happened during the past year. From that perspective, I’ve been able to see not one dramatic miracle, but a thousand smaller encounters with the divine, each of which has left me a little better than the last. It was the caring passer-by who gave me a voice to hold onto while I panicked, and who held my daughter to keep her warm during her rescue. It was the caring friend sitting quietly by my bed for hours in the hospital. It was the steady parade of acts of generosity and kindness that eased pain and brought needed comfort. It was the healing of scarred relationships. It was the administration of priesthood blessings. It was hearing my girls laugh again, seeing their smiles, and watching them dance. It was the manifestation of strength in my wife, who held us all together. It was the daily dose of miracles which testified that we were not forgotten of God, but instead blessed by ministering angels from both sides of the veil.
Every time we encounter divinity, each time we feel the calming warmth of the light of Christ in our lives and acknowledge both what it is and where it came from, our faith grows a bit. We try a little harder, do a little better, and as a result feel the Holy Ghost making a change in us. Enabled and empowered by the grace of Christ, we become a slightly new creature, one that is more sensitive and responsive to whisperings of the Spirit. Such experiences make us a bit more noble, and we hold on to them until the next one comes along.
Recognizing and remembering these moments becomes an essential aspect of spiritual growth, because such brushes with divinity occur alongside the daily onslaught of ugliness that attends mortality. Staring into the dark alleys of our lives renders us incrementally more bitter, resentful, and unhappy. It can stifle our spiritual progression and smother hope with despair. I have had plenty of unpleasant moments in the past year that I could recount as well. If I had spent too long mourning over every ache, every flashback, every frustration and unpaid bill, I would have ended this year pointed in a dramatically different direction than where I find myself now. But when I look for the hand of God, I see that it has been there continually for my family, and that’s the picture I’ve chosen to keep in my head.
I cannot express how grateful I am for each little miracle that has made such a difference for me in the last year, and for the wonderful people by whom those miracles were performed. If the landscape of my heart has been changed at all in the last year, I believe that it was not the result of the earthquake, but rather the aftershocks.