Strange title for today’s post, but it’s true. In 1984, as a young graduate student, I was busy preparing a paper for a cool conference in Lisbon, Portugal on “laser doppler anemometry” (LDA) – a technique in which laser light is used to map out the velocity of dust particles in flowing gas or liquid to reveal the flow characteristics of a system. I had a lot of data in the simulated pulverized coal gasification system I was studying and had to solve a few thorny problems in the work. I was so excited about the opportunity to attend a major international LDA conference (Lisbon!) – if I could get my paper in on time. I was racing toward a deadline with about two or three days to go, when my ward asked me if I could spend a few hours the next morning to help with a service project at the Provo Temple. I thought about that prayerfully and deciced, painfully, that I really was needed and had a duty to go, but was worried about the impact of the sacrifice, for time was of the essence and I had much to do to wrap up the paper. But I went.
While at the Temple, it was actually refreshing to get away from my obsession with that paper and all the number crunching. But I hoped it would turn out OK, and took a moment to pray for help to get it done right. While sitting there in a session, I thought of my paper from a different angle, and began mentally reviewing one of the key equations I had been using — and then it hit me. In deriving a form of that equation for my needs, I had introduced a subtle but serious math error. Right there in my paper, and right there in the program I had written to extract information about the noise in the laser data. AARGH! But it was something that could be fixed rapidly, and I could rerun the data, and redo a graph, and have everything fixed in time, and I did, just barely, but successfully. Whew!
I believe that if I had not gone to the Temple, I would have plowed ahead with what I had and submitted a paper with a major error – an error that affected some important conclusions. The error would have gone unnoticed until the middle of my presentation, when one of the exports familiar with the issue of noise calculations would have asked why I was using an incorrect equation? And then asked if that equation was what was used in my analysis? And then undoubtedly had me tarred and feathered, Portugese style (something with hot olive oil, I suppose).
Much of my life has been like that (not the tarring and feathering, but the unexpected blessings from the Lord). The answer to my unquestionable incompetence sometimes (not always) seems to be doing my duty, making sacrifices for the right things, and letting the Lord help me fix my problems in ways that transcend my feeble skills. (Proofreading also helps.) Maybe part of it is that when I’m trying to do what’s right, my worldly failures don’t seem so painful, but I think there’s more to it than that.
In living the Gospel, what strikes us as a painful sacrifice is often an opportunity to grow and sometimes even to be overtly blessed. Don’t count on it – it’s not an exchange, not something we earn, not a deal we cut with the Lord. It’s always grace, according to His will. Sometimes when we are thrown into the fire, we really burn. Other times we are miraculously delivered. But the right thing is do always choose Him, sacrifice when He calls for it, and trust that He will help us, regardless of the apparent cost we must bear to do what is right.