Many years ago, while traveling for the Church Educational System (CES), I had an interesting experience in the highlands of Guatemala. We stopped at a turnout at the top of one of the mountain passes to take photos of the spectacular scenery. As we were doing so, we saw a father and a young boy approaching. The father carried a huge load of firewood, using a leather headband instead of ropes. Called a mecapal (meh-CAW-pal) in Spanish, this headband had two woven cords extending back past his ears that were fastened to ropes that held the sack in place. He was bent forward so that the weight of the wood was distributed across his shoulders and back.
It was such a wonderful example of the native culture that we offered to pay him if he would allow us to photograph him. He was quite pleased to be so honored by these gringos and their cameras. He moved over to where the mountain dropped off, and posed with his son. It was a delightful shot, and we all started snapping away. Then one of my colleagues said something about the light not being quite right on his face. He spoke Spanish, so he called out, “Señor, can you please lift your head a little higher?” The man complied immediately, then gave a low cry and stumbled backward, nearly falling before he caught himself. Down came his head again, and the load was stabilized.
“He can’t lift his head,” said our local CES coordinator. “He has to keep his head down to keep the load balanced.”
We apologized for nearly sending the poor man tumbling down the mountain, took some more pictures, and paid him generously.
About a month later, I was reading in the book of Mosiah about the accounts of Limhi and his people and of Alma and his people. Both groups had been captured and put into terrible bondage by the Lamanites, who “put heavy burdens upon their backs, and did drive them as they would a dumb ass” (Mosiah 21:3). That reminded me of the father and son in Guatemala. Did the mecapal or some similar device go that far back in time, I wondered.
As I read on, something else struck me with great force.
And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God... .
And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs. (Mosiah 24:10, 13–14)
Instantly, the image of that father raising his head and nearly stumbling backward off the mountain came to my mind. When someone is carrying a burden like that, you don’t ask them to lift up their head. It will throw them off balance, perhaps even make them fall down. I saw a great lesson in that. To look up to God when life presses in with crushing, relentless pressure may seem counterintuitive—especially if one feels abandoned by God in the first place—but that is exactly what hope asks of us. And the promise is, if we do, our burdens can be removed or lightened, or we can be strengthened so we can bear them successfully.
Hope is the antidote for despair. It may not solve the problem, or immediately remove the burden, but it can buoy us up and give us the strength and courage we need to go on. It was hope that overcame despair in the lives of Elizabeth Horrocks Jackson and Nellie Pucell and so many others who have faced tremendous burdens. They lifted up their heads and looked to God, and in doing so found greater strength, greater help, greater endurance.
In this book we are going to talk about hope. We are going to try to answer some basic questions:
• What is hope?
• How does it work with faith and charity?
• Why is hope so important to our spiritual progress?
• How do we gain, strengthen, and maintain hope, especially in times of despair?
• What are the promises in which we can trust in order to foster hope?
Considering the times in which we now live, finding answers to these questions seems especially relevant.