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Flashes of Light

The title "Flashes of Light" overlaid on the image of a river.

When life presents itself as an incessant gray wall, watch for flickering assurances of God’s love for us.


By Steven J. Lund (BA ’80, JD ’83) in the Winter 2023 issue

Top photo by Oleg_Slobodeniuk/Getty

While serving as an area seventy, I was once presiding over an adult session of a stake conference. During a question-and-answer session, a large man in blue coveralls stood up in the middle of the chapel and asked challengingly, “Have you seen God?”

There was an uneasy shuffle in the room. His question was inappropriate on so many levels. I thought, “Really, Korihor? In coveralls?”

My first impulse was to skirt the question and move on, but I felt the stirrings of the Spirit prompting me to consider: What does it mean to be an “especial” witness (D&C 107:25)? I took a breath, and a memory suddenly flooded into my mind. So I proceeded to share an experience of which I had never before spoken:

Once, on a business trip, I landed in predawn darkness at an airport in Asia and wearily found a car and driver. The trip would take a couple of hours, so I used my overcoat as a cushion and positioned myself in the left corner of the back seat, planning to sleep for a while. But my attention became riveted on the moonlit landscape of that exotic place, with its mysterious wooded hills and shadowy open expanses.

As the morning sky gradually lightened, I saw evidence of an estuary on the left and an approaching bridge. As we drove onto the bridge, I was disappointed to find that the view was blocked on both sides by tall concrete-slab walls that apparently had been erected to contain the traffic noises of the expressway. I absently stared at the wall opposite me, wondering what was beyond as I whirred by it at high speed.

As we left the bridge and the barricade ended, I glanced back at the vista that I had not been able to see and noted that it was just as I had imagined: a large body of water with a forested far edge and a few boats coming and going.

I found myself leaning forward to see farther behind us to confirm that, through the morning fog, a large sailboat was approaching the seaway under the far end of the bridge. Suddenly my jet-lag-muddled brain snapped into a moment of clarity as I wondered, “How did I know to look for that sailboat?” I could not have known it was there, but somehow I did. Somehow, I had been looking for it.

In fact, I realized, none of what I saw in the fully revealed vista had surprised me. I seemed to know where to find the wooded outline of the far shore, the barges, and the building on the distant rise. But how?

It dawned on me that the slabs of the massive concrete wall on the bridge had small gaps between them of a fraction of an inch. As we had sped across the bridge, my eyes had been fixed upon the blur of gray concrete punctuated by minute flashes of bright light from the morning sun through those narrow slits—slits too small for me to detect anything but bright flickers and flashes. Yet somewhere in my mind, undetected information had been transmitted in those bursts of light that was apparently compiled and subliminally stitched together into a latent vision of what lay beyond. I knew what was there before I knew that I knew. And I would have missed the marvel of it all if I had not turned back to look.

Back at stake conference, I finished telling this story, as much to myself as to anyone, and realized that the fellow was still standing with an arm looped through his front suspenders.

“Does that help?” I asked. 

He shrugged absently and sat down, probably not completely satisfied. 

But I was filled with wonder. The Spirit had just answered my own long-standing prayer about my ministry and about my witness. I knew more than I knew I knew. 

As we drive through life’s journey, there will be flashes of light! The Lord promised Isaiah, “I will make darkness light before them” (Isa. 42:16). Think about this. Life often presents itself as an incessant gray wall stretching off into nowhere, but here and there, if you watch for them, flickering assurances of God’s love for us will become evident. 

These experiences of accumulating knowledge through flashes of intelligence are similes of my own spiritual life—and probably of yours. My testimony—the “reason of the hope that is in [me]” (1 Peter 3:15)—is a composite panorama of countless bursts of light through an otherwise impenetrable earthly veil. 

Military Blessings

After my mission to the Netherlands, I was preparing to return to BYU and spent a day with my temple-worker grandparents at the Oakland California Temple, seeking guidance about my future course of study and career. While sitting in a quiet ordinance room, a thought proclaimed to my mind that I should join the military. 

That impression could not have evoked a stronger allergic response in my soul. Two years earlier as a freshman at BYU, I had nervously watched the Vietnam War draft lottery play out on the dorm television and was relieved that my birthday did not pop up until the 346th draw. I would not be drafted. Had I been born a few hours later, my number would have been 10, and I would have been on my way to war. “Clearly,” I had reasoned, “the Lord doesn’t want me to be a soldier.” 

But now I was sitting in the temple, trying to dismiss this impression as a random thought—but I had been a missionary, and I had come to know what inspiration felt like. 

So, soon enough, after basic combat training, I found myself stationed first in Fort Stewart, Georgia, followed a year later by orders to Frankfurt, Germany. All the while I was bewildered and a little tortured. 

My testimony . . . is a composite panorama of countless bursts of light through an otherwise impenetrable earthly veil. 

Church was my refuge. I longed for Sundays and for young single adult family home evenings. Those gatherings were the bright spots in which I could recharge and be reminded of who I was. 

One Monday in Frankfurt, I got hung up at work and arrived at the church just after the carpool of our group of young single adults had driven away to a distant apartment across town. For me, this was a disaster. The streets of Frankfurt are designed like a spider web that has been through a fire. I remembered nothing of the route to the apartment—I knew only that it was many miles of tangled streets away. 

I drove home a sad, dejected soldier. I remember folding my arms, intent on grumbling to the heavens a little, and something of a map flashed in my head: a well-lit sequence of streets started at the church and traveled down Eckenheimer Landstraße, through a number of intersections, around a traffic circle, left, right, left, over a bridge, more turns, and onto a broad-bending street in front of an apartment building. 

I was incredulous. There was not a chance I could drive to that place. But I returned to the church to make a faithless try and followed the route that had been flashed through my mind. After driving perhaps 20 minutes (and making about 40 uncertain decisions), I turned onto a broad street alongside an apartment building that filled the entire length of the long, bending city block. I was stunned to see that I was pulling up to what might be the right building. 

Now I had a new problem. There were several narrow tunnels through the building into small parking areas behind that accessed stairwells to the four floors of apartments above. 

A city street in Frankfurt.
Street photo by Olena Babak/Getty; map photo by Maxger/Getty

“Impossible,” I thought. “I don’t know if any of those is the right drive-through, and besides, there are hundreds of apartments.” But it seemed to be a miracle that I had gotten this far, so I slowly drove past several drive-throughs and blindly turned into one. 

Standing at the base of a dark, cold, four-story building, I thought, “Even if this is the correct stairwell in the correct building, they could be anywhere on any floor.” I started climbing the stairs with little hope of a hint. Ultimately I stopped on the third floor. This way or that? I guessed that way. Was the door on the left or right side of the hall? I walked past 8 or 10 doors, my feeble faith vaporizing by the moment. I thought, “I may not even be in the right building. Does my faith require me to just start knocking on random doors?” I stopped to contemplate that question and heard singing: The Spirit of God like a fire was burning!¹ 

I opened the door as the most astonished 23-year-old in the Church. Heavenly Father had sent a shaft of light that replaced my bewilderment with wonder. Later that night I couldn’t even find my way home without a guide. 

Eventually I returned to BYU, still confused about how it could have made sense for me to drop out of school for three long years. Subsequently, many reasons have become clear. 

After returning to school, I started dating a young woman I had met in Frankfurt, a woman from Tooele, Utah, whose father had taken a job in Germany—a woman so far beyond me in every way that I could never have gotten her attention in Utah if I had not known her first in Germany, where she had been in a state of diminished capacity as a fellow stranger in a strange land. And so it came to pass that against all odds she agreed to marry me. 

I have learned that the Lord sometimes withholds blessings from us to eventually deliver undeniably discernible miracles. I would serve one hundred army enlistments for that one stunning miracle that formed our family. 

Soon, at BYU, I was serving in the bishopric of a singles ward and became friends with the ward finance clerk, who had just returned from a mission in France. He finished his finance degree at the same time I finished law school, and he invited me to help him build a company. Thirty-five years later, that company touches millions of people in 50 countries. I marvel that but for that burst of light in the temple years before, I would have come and gone from BYU and never met him. 

The list of blessings flying from that still, small spark of inspiration in the temple years before goes on and on. They are consequences of a string of unpredictable heavenly interventions that have burst through the veil as flashes of light through what has at times felt like a drab, never-ending gray wall. 

Relief for a Boy

An image of a couch with a brain diagram overlaid. A quote across the top reads, "They say I'm supposed to go in the kitchen and sit up on the couch."
Couch photo by Gladiathor/Getty; brain photo by CSA Images/Getty

Years later our 9-year-old son, Tanner, came home from a touch-football game with a pain that turned out to be cancer. He bravely endured three years of aggressive treatment, two bone-marrow transplants, and at one point, 10 weeks on a ventilator hovering between life and death in a medically induced coma. When he was 12, after about a year of remission, the cancer recurred with a vengeance and went into his bones and head. 

One night he awakened in the middle of the night with severe head pain. We tried to comfort him, but to no effect. 

Suddenly with an incredulous look on his face, he said, “They say I’m supposed to go in the kitchen and sit up on the couch.” 

“What do you mean? Who?” 

No response. Then, a little impatiently, “I’m just supposed to go sit up.” 

He spoke with such unusual certainty that we helped him make his way into the kitchen, where he sat on a couch, pulled a blanket around his shoulders, and slept peacefully the rest of the night. 

The next morning he was admitted to Primary Children’s Hospital for what would be his last time. I told an oncologist of this exchange in the night. The doctor reasoned that Tanner’s head pain had likely been caused by inflammation blocking a tube that drains cerebrospinal fluid away from the brain. The only way to get the pain to stop, he said, is to take the pressure off this area by sitting the patient up so things can equalize. 

This made sense, but what were the chances that 12-year-old Tanner could figure that out? And who were they

A Miracle Diagnosis

Kalleen and I were called as mission leaders over the Georgia Atlanta Mission. Miracles flashed through our mission with such regularity that we came to think of it as having a front-row seat to the greatest show on earth in which the powers of heaven were wielded by heavenly agents with black name tags as they gathered Israel home. Kalleen called missionary service a “miracle-a-day program.” 

A photo of a hospital bed with a an emergency room sign printed on top. A quote overhead reads, "I opened my mouth to say [one thing] and heard myself say instead words that had never passed through my mind: 'Elder, it is appendicitis. Go to the hospital. Go now.'"
Hospital room photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia/Unsplash; sign photo by: Robert Linder/Unsplash

She had the formal assignment of overseeing healthcare for our missionaries. If one of them got sick, they would call her. It is hard to diagnose problems over the phone, even if you have had medical training. Kalleen’s medical knowledge was basically from on-the-job training as a mom raising a family—but also from the practiced experience of discerning flashes of heavenly light. 

Just a few weeks into our mission, she got a call from a missionary who had called a couple of times before with one issue or another. On this particular morning he complained that his stomach had been hurting, so she decided to ask a senior missionary couple that lived near him to go over and take a look, just in case. She later told me, “I opened my mouth to say that and heard myself say instead words that had never passed through my mind: ‘Elder, it is appendicitis. Go to the hospital. Go now.’” 

In the ER the doctors found nothing wrong and concluded that he must have overeaten—which was entirely plausible; he was a missionary. They ordered him home. But our elder told the doctor, “No, Sister Lund told me I have appendicitis.” 

The doctor thought that “Sister Lund” must be a nun somewhere in the hospital. He said, “Then let’s run another test.” 

Finally the problem revealed itself, prompting an immediate appendectomy, which the surgeon told us barely saved his life. “Five minutes later and we may have lost him.” 

You might think Kalleen made a lucky guess, but she will tell you that she was only a bystander as the Lord kept His promise to His missionary: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, . . . and mine angels [shall be] round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88). 

In the kingdom of God, such stories of faith abound. But miracles rarely announce themselves. To see them, we might have to turn back and look.

Wisdom for a Law Student

A young woman once asked me: How was she supposed to succeed in her first semester of law school and be a new Relief Society president too? 

I started to say, “Good luck with that,” but, following an impression, I asked, “Who called you to do this impossible thing?” 

“Heavenly Father.” 

“Why?” 

“Why did He call me? I suppose because I am just home from a mission and know how to work. Because He knew I would say yes. Because I can accomplish things, even under stress.” 

I told her, “All, no doubt, true. But there is another reason”—which was a presumptuous thing for me to say since I did not yet know the reason.

But I said, “He may have called you to save you from law school. They are changing your mind down there, mostly in good ways. But while they are causing you to be able to defend every side of every argument, Relief Society will be reminding you that eternal truths are immutable. 

“Law school teaches you that passion for your profession is critical to success. Relief Society service teaches you that the world is too much with us and that real joy is centered in Him. 

“Law school will teach you to love ideas and to respect brilliant shapers of thought and theory. Relief Society will remind you that some ideas are better than others and that the philosophies of men pale alongside the ennobling intelligence dispensed through prophets.” 

I saw that she was taking notes through misty eyes, weeping and nodding. Maybe I had simply guessed her needs and responded with words that had never before formed in my mind, but you would have to be me to understand why that explanation simply doesn’t add up. 

The Loving God Just Beyond the Veil

Sometimes we can become diverted from the majesty of the gospel because hard things happen. Church doctrines and practices—and, for that matter, our life’s challenges—don’t always come with explanatory footnotes. But if we will be faithful observers of the workings of the Spirit in our lives, we can come to even better respect the miracles that illuminate the tapestries of our testimonies and find courage to move forward in enlightened faith. 

Our experiences with the Spirit may seem best measured in micro-lumens rather than lightning bursts, but, especially in our darkest hours, the Spirit can amplify them to clearly light our way along the covenant path. 

To keep us connected to the central truth of mortality, the Lord proffers us a renewal of covenant almost every week. The sacrament prayers are not poems we recite nor anthems we rehearse. They are ordinances. They are words spoken to Heavenly Father by holders of keys over the very ministering of angels, bearers of the priesthood who implore the heavens that, then and there, the power of the Atonement may cleanse and purify and sanctify lives. Every week miracles happen as young boys stand in the stead of the Savior and present us with the emblems of His Atonement, inviting us to be cleansed of our pain and sorrow and mistakes and sins. 

Some sacrament trays on a green background with text that reads "The soft, salvific flashes of light that warm our souls in sacrament meetings constitute a miracle more profound than even . . . the divine hurling of the stars and the planets into their ordered rotations."
Photo © by Intellectual Reserve, inc

The soft, salvific flashes of healing light that warm our souls in sacrament meetings constitute a miracle more profound than even the parting of the Red Sea, a soldier being guided to sanctuary, an angel commandeering a telephone to save a missionary, a holy whisper leading a child from pain, or even the divine hurling of the stars and the planets into their ordered rotations. All evidence a pattern of the veil leaking light as the Savior relentlessly pierces it to bless His own.


A man in a suit smiles while wearing glasses.

Steven J. Lund, Young Men general president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivered this devotional address on Sept. 20, 2022, at Brigham Young University. Find the full text, audio, and video at speeches.byu.edu

NOTES

  1. The Spirit of God,” Hymns, 2002, no. 2.