It had been a rough few days. I was sleep-deprived and stressed and emotionally worn out. I considered just staying in bed and reading because I’d had a really bad night, but I had already committed to take a disabled friend to the store. (I had actually rescheduled with her because things had been so crazy; we were supposed to go the day before.)
She had scoured the whole store for one particular item, with no success. Because she can’t walk very fast, we decided to just go ahead and get in the checkout line and ask an employee to help her fetch her pesto sauce. Once I found out where it was, though, I offered to run and go get it while she unloaded her cart.
As I went to the back of the store, I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a woman holding one of the items I had been unable to find, a brand of peanut butter my kids really like that can’t be found anywhere else. Surprised and delighted, I asked where the woman had found the peanut butter, picked some up, found the product my friend needed, and went back to check out.
It may sound silly, but I knew God was in this little peanut butter miracle. It’s just peanut butter, some might be tempted to say. Eleven years ago, I might have been tempted to think that, too. But Elder David A. Bednar’s 2005 talk, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord” — his first talk as an ordained apostle — helped me understand that when something seems like a coincidence, it’s a signal that God is at work.
In his talk, Elder Bednar used the tool of repetition (a teaching tool of the Lord Himself) to help us understand that timing is the key to identifying tender mercies. He started first by talking about the life-changing day he was sustained as an apostle and how his favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel,” was sung right before he got up to speak.** Elder Bednar recounted that the Spirit brought a scripture about tender mercies to mind, letting him know that God was there to comfort and reassure him at a critical time. He said:
Some may count this experience as simply a nice coincidence, but I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them.
Note how deliberate Elder Bednar is about repeating this message later in his talk, after sharing more tender mercy stories:
[T]he Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence…. [I]t is often the Lord’s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings….
I repeat again, the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence…. [F]requently, the Lord’s timing helps us to recognize them.
Before this talk, I used to wonder and worry and wrestle and waffle. “How can I know God is really there? How can I know He is aware of me? What if I get it wrong? What if I miss what He wants to say?” I would often fall on the side of doubt, especially self-doubt. The more I practice trusting tender mercies, the less doubts and fears can linger for long.
Don’t get me wrong. Life is full of plenty of struggle, and I’ve experienced a lot of “no” or “wait” or “not yet” or “let go” answers to prayers. Tender mercies to me often aren’t so much about getting direct answers to prayers, but rather about God letting me know He’s there to help me through this mortal journey. Tender mercies often come at unexpected times, and often are woven into mundane moments (like grocery shopping). Because I this, I like to call them “delightful surprises.” I feel a little bit like a child at Christmas every time He pierces the veil with His tender mercies.
I may not always get what I (think) I want, but through tender mercies, God gives me what I need — which is His love, His grace, a chance to sense His awareness of me and His interest and involvement in the details of my life.
**Interestingly enough, in the April 1989 session where Elder Holland was called to the First Quorum of the Seventy in 1989, I was in the choir. It was a BYU choir, and Elder Holland was, at the time, the president of BYU. I recall him sharing that it was no small thing to have a BYU choir singing a favorite hymn, “Redeemer of Israel” on that significant day in his life. I love how Elder Bednar lets us know that it’s not just Church leaders who can have tender mercies in their lives, though. They are truly available for all of us.
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I believe sharing tender mercy stories is one way we can strengthen each other in our faith journeys. Do you have a tender mercy story you would like to share?