Not so many years ago, life’s challenges had left me wounded, filled with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. Often I lay awake at night, wondering how God could love someone so damaged as I felt myself to be. I prayed desperately to know His love, to gain a sense of worth, and to understand how to lay my burden at Christ’s feet.
One night, after I finally drifted into sleep, I dreamed a parable. I stood at the beginning of a long, winding path. In my hand was a hollow reed stem, green and supple and unblemished, which I had been given to carry with me on my journey. In my heart I vowed to protect the reed and preserve its pristine condition.
I soon found it a challenge to keep my vow. The path was rough and filled with painful hardships. In places it was hard to follow, and I sometimes lost my way. I struggled to maintain my faith and allow the Lord to direct my feet, but I fell repeatedly and made many mistakes. I often found myself on frightening trails before making my way back to the correct path.
Though the reed remained unbroken in my mindful hands, each affliction and every transgression left it punctured and torn. The reed was badly damaged by the time I completed my wanderings.
When I came at last to the end of the path, I found myself on a hill overlooking a broad, tranquil meadow. Vividly-hued flowers nodded in a soothing breeze that rippled through tall grasses. I knew that here I would find absolute peace and healing.
There was one more trial to pass, however, before I could enter this sanctuary. At the crown of the hill stood a music-stand on which rested several pages of sheet music. The purpose of the reed suddenly became clear. In order to pass into the meadow, the music of my life first had to be played upon this slender instrument.
I was overcome by shame as I gazed down on the battered stalk in my hand. It had become hardened and scarred along the way. What horrible sounds would issue from such a misshapen whistle?
In the years since this experience, I have found comfort in the reality of a loving Savior who suffered each pang and felt each wound that left its mark on me.
I am indeed as battered and scarred as the reed in my dream, yet in the hands of Jesus Christ I can become an instrument of greater service. A lifetime untouched by temptations and trials and the possibility of failure would be of little use to our Heavenly Father. Through faith and repentance, these difficult experiences refine our spirits and bring depth to our character. They make us capable of greater love, compassion, and, yes, even joy.
Each of us can access the Atonement and participate in God’s plan of happiness, no matter the nature of our afflictions. The Apostle Paul explained this concept with inspired clarity. Regarding his own afflictions, he offered a beautiful testimony: “And [the Lord] said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
How grateful I am to understand at last! It is true that we are imperfect in our shortcomings, and yet our flaws are the very tools He uses to make us perfect in Christ. If in faith we will place our lives into the Shepherd’s skillful hands, He will make of our weakness and adversity a song of joy for all who hear.