One of my favorite Lorenzo Snow quotes goes as follows:
I saw the … imperfections in [Joseph Smith] … I thanked God that He would put upon a man who had those imperfections the power and authority He placed upon him … for I knew that I myself had weakness, and I thought there was a chance for me … I thanked God that I saw these imperfections.”
It was with that perspective on weaknesses in mind that I thought about George Albert Smith.
Now the basic facts about George Albert Smith are simple. He was born on April 4, 1870, in Salt Lake City. His father, John Henry Smith, and grandfather, George A. Smith, had both been counselors to Church Presidents. While employed in the Federal Land Office for Utah, he was called at the age of 33 to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1903.
George Albert Smith had to work the day his calling was announced in general conference and he had not been warned of it in advance, so the first he heard of it was from well wishers dropping by to see him at the office between conference sessions.
He had fragile health and impaired eyesight. His father, an apostle, thought that the work load of being called as an apostle would be George Albert Smith's death in a matter of a few short years.
However, instead of dying, George Albert Smith served as an apostle for more than forty years and he became President of the Church on May 21, 1945.
George Albert Smith was the one who organized the Church's massive welfare assistance to Europe following World War II shortly after his call to be President of the Church. After six years as President of the Church, George Albert Smith died in Salt Lake City on his eighty-first birthday, April 4, 1951.
A longer summary of his life brings up the fact that a very significant part of his life was wrapped up in his disability issues. He suffered from lupus (an autoimmune disease) and was disabled to the point of being bedridden, from 1909 to 1912.
I would like to talk about what we can learn from his disabilities.
George Albert Smith had disability issues, severe ones, in spite of being an exemplary man from an exemplary family. His disability had nothing to do with his personal righteousness or that of his family. Most of us can not expect to have a father and a grandfather who were apostles or to be called as an apostle.
If George Albert Smith could have disabilities, having them probably had little to do with some failing in faith on his behalf or of that of his family. We should not look at the physical problems others have as signs of a lack of personal righteousness or criticize ourselves for the weaknesses we have.
We know from his writings and from those of others that George Albert Smith's first response to physical disability was to try to just work through it. The work load on the members of the quorum of the twelve was very great and he felt that he would be letting his brethren down if he did not respond to his physical problems by just working harder.
However, when he tried to just "work through" things, when he tried to face his disability by just working harder, all he succeeded in doing was working himself into the ground and making things worse. We know from the letters that were saved that his father and others advised him in person and in writing to take a different approach, but that from 1903 to about 1909 when he finally collapsed, he just tried to work harder.
The lesson learned from that experience is disability is not overcome by denial or by ignoring the symptoms. It was not just a matter of having more faith, of trying harder of doubling down and working even more. That was not the solution to his problems. Instead, he had to finally give in to the physical limits he faced.
From surviving letters, we know that before his disability lifted, George Albert Smith's father and others had expected him to die before he was 40. The expectation that they had was that regardless of faith or personal effort, many disabilities were things that only death could be expected to free one from. We should not expect people who have disabilities to be freed from them.
In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 that when he prayed to God to relieve him of his physical disability, God spoke to him and told him no.
As verse 8 reads: Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. Then, in vs. 9 Paul records God's answer: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul was not healed, even though he could pray and God gave him verbal answers.
George Albert Smith, in his disability and in spite of his health problems remained committed to caring and ministering to others, in kindness. There is nothing about disability that prevents people from being Christlike or following Christ. The spirit of Charity welcomes everyone.
As 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13 reads:
5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
George Albert Smith's experiences strengthened his belief in his personal creed he had established before his calling. That creed reads:
· I would be a friend to the friendless and find joy in ministering to the needs of the poor.
· I would visit the sick and afflicted and inspire in them a desire for faith to be healed.
· I would teach the truth to the understanding and blessing of all mankind.
· I would seek out the erring one and try to win him back to a righteous and happy life.
· I would not seek to force people to live up to my ideals, but rather love them into doing the thing that is right.
· I would live by the masses and help to solve their problems that their earth life may be happy.
· I would avoid the publicity of high positions and discourage the flattery of thoughtless friends.
· I would not knowingly wound the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.
· I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the success of all the children of my Heavenly Father.
· I would not be an enemy to any living soul.
In spite of disability, he had a loving and full life. There is value in all life, including the lives of those with disabilities. whether physical, emotional, mental or otherwise.
In thinking on the weaknesses of George Albert Smith and the way he faced them, I think that if we approached disability more with those points in mind, we would be more Christlike and more Christian. To have Charity, as Moroni says (7:47) but acharity is the pure blove of Christ, and it endureth cforever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
While George Albert Smith had physical disabilities, each of us has weaknesses that keep us spiritually from kindness, from charity and from expressing the love of Christ. But by reflecting on how George Albert Smith lived his life and overcame physical disability, not allowing it to define or destroy him, we can learn to face our weaknesses and draw closer to God, so that it may be well with us.
This is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.