Sparks. Over and over again just sparks. I sat on my makeshift camping chair (a large, fallen branch) for two hours striking “flint” (a rock I found in the woods) with my steel buffalo striker, rubbing my knuckles raw, and nothing.
I sighed and leaned against the tree behind me. Three months prior I had signed up for a wilderness survival class, and that night I was supposed to prove my ability to survive alone in the woods. What kind of survivalist can’t start a fire with flint and steel?
But the inadequacy I felt extended beyond my worries about passing my survival class. Many times in the past year I felt the same as I did when I was sitting on that log and striking two rocks, like no matter how much and how hard I tried I wouldn’t become the person I was supposed to be. At times, I felt that my life lacked the warmth and light of an inner burning fire. Some days, I felt like I was sitting alone in the dark just casting sparks.
My experience with sparks in the wilderness that night came back to mind a few weeks later when I read this scripture from the Book of Mormon:
"Behold all ye that kindle fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks, walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks which ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand—ye shall lie down in sorrow" (2 Nephi 7:5).
The meaning of the verse suddenly became clearer to me. I knew that feeling of compassing myself with sparks all too well—the flash of hope you get when out of the darkness you see a brief flicker of light, and striking harder and harder and getting spark after spark with no spark catching and no real warmth being created.
All the “walking in our own light” of our self-made successes is temporary. The successes are just sparks—they light our life for a moment but leave as quickly as they come. They don’t catch.
But there is hope.
After a couple hours of striking that rock in my survival class, my wilderness survival guide emerged from the woods. He brought me and every other student charred cloth, knowing full well the difficulty of starting a fire without it. The sparks from my striker finally had something to catch on, and when one spark landed perfectly on the charcoal material, the small nest of sticks and plant fiber I had made lit up. At last I had a fire.
My lone sparks couldn’t compare to the brightly burning fire I ended up with, just as my daily attempts to build lasting peace and success on my own are futile without the brightness of the gospel and the help of the Savior. We ignite our souls with this light when, as Elder Gerrit W. Gong puts it, “we desire and seek it, when we are patient and obedient to God’s commandments, when we are open to God’s grace, healing, and covenants” (Gerrit W. Gong, “Our Campfire of Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2018).
Our attempts to “do it all”—be accomplished, happy, thriving, perfect— by ourselves, following the sparks of our own successes, are not enough to build a lasting fire of warmth and light. More importantly, we need something on which our actions can catch and ignite and be lasting, just as I needed charred cloth for my fire to begin.
Ironically, charred cloth can only be made by using another fire to char the fabric in the first place. Likewise, we must rely on someone else’s previous fire to give us material that can make our own. That person for us is Jesus Christ. Without Christ, our actions are just a flicker of light. With Christ, our lives can be a brilliant, glowing fire that extends into the eternities. He has made that original fire through His Atonement, and He has prepared for us the material to make our own. Without Christ, nothing in this life can truly catch fire and sustain us. He is the foundation upon which we build lasting success and meaning in our lives.
As David A. Bednar reminds us:
“All opportunities and blessings of eternal consequence originate in, are possible and have purpose because of, and endure through the Lord Jesus Christ. As Alma testified: ‘There is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world’” (David A. Bednar, “Gather Together in One All Things in Christ,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2018).