As a youth I loved to hear the sermons and stories of Elder Hugh B. Brown. He has long since passed on, but one particular story that he told has stayed with me these many years. Perhaps I remember it because it has had relevance to me in my life.
He told of purchasing a rundown farm in Canada many years ago. As he went about cleaning up and repairing his property, he came across a currant bush that had grown over six feet high and was yielding no berries, so he pruned it back drastically, leaving only small stumps. Then he saw a drop like a tear on the top of each of these little stumps, as if the currant bush were crying, and thought he heard it say:
“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. …And now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me… How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”
Elder Brown replied, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down.”
Years later Elder Brown was a field officer in the Canadian Army serving in England. When a superior officer became a battle casualty, Elder Brown was in line to be promoted to general, and he was summoned to London. But even though he was fully qualified for the promotion, it was denied him because of his religion. The commanding officer said in essence, “You deserve the promotion, but I cannot give it to you.”
What Elder Brown had spent ten years hoping, praying, and preparing for slipped through his fingers in that moment because of blatant discrimination. Continuing his story, Elder Brown remembered: “I got on the train and started back… with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul.… When I got to my tent… I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, ‘How could you do this to me, God? I have done everything I could do to measure up. There is nothing that I could have done—that I should have done—that I haven’t done. How could you do this to me?’ I was as bitter as gall.
“And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, ‘I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to be.’ The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness….
“…And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to [God] and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.’” God knew what Hugh B. Brown was to become and what was needed for that to happen, and He redirected his course to prepare him to become a world religious leader, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Retold by D. Todd Christofferson, Ensign Magazine, May 2011, pp.98-99)
After four years as principal of a small rural high school, a local minister invited the whole community to view a film that disparaged my religious affiliation. Shortly thereafter I was notified by the school board that my contract would not be renewed. No reasons were provided. At first I was shocked and disappointed. The students were performing well on standardized tests, our athletic teams were winning, our band was one of the best in the area and the students were excelling in other UIL and vocational activities. I thought student and faculty morale was high. My demands to know why fell on deaf ears. But I knew why.
I was given the first job for which I applied. I moved from the small rural school to a large suburban school with a substantial increase in salary, benefits and opportunity for personal and professional growth. I have never looked back. As an administrator it fell my lot to occasionally have to dismiss others for cause. It was never a pleasant thing to have to do. However, I have followed the lives of those I have had to let go, and I can say with some certainty that not one was worse off for having had to move on. But at the time, it could be devastating.
I know that I am still a work in progress. I just hope that when the Gardener continues to do his work on me that I will have the patience and the courage to handle it well. It is also important to realize that when a person in a position to correct another fails to do so, he is thinking of himself. Reproof should be timely, with sharpness or clarity “and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy. (D&C 121:43)
Dallin H. Oaks said that “The Final Judgment is not an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgement of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.”