Neal Maxwell's "Wintry Doctrine"

by Elder Bruce C. Hafen
an excerpt from his
"The Story of a Disciple's Life:
Preparing the Biography of
Elder Neal A. Maxwell"

In the 1960s when he was a teacher and leader at the University of Utah, he used the word disciple essentially as a synonym for Church member.

In the early 1970s, when he was Commissioner of Education for the Church, he saw further that a disciple was a Church member who disengaged from the unclean things of the secular world.

A few years later, just after his call as a General Authority, his experience with two young fathers who had terminal cancer expanded his understanding, as he began seeing connections between discipleship and adversity. In a book he dedicated to these young men, he used a phrase that hauntingly anticipated the leukemia that would strike him nearly two decades later:
"The very act of choosing to be a disciple can bring to us a certain special suffering . . . . All who will can come to know [what Paul called] 'the fellowship of his suffering.'"
About three years after writing these words, Elder Maxwell was called to the Twelve. That call soon focused him intently on discipleship as a personal relationship with Jesus - a master-apprentice tutorial in which the disciple has the duty to become more like the master.

Now he began to see discipleship as a personal growth process designed to develop Christlike attributes. This let him see that suffering, when it is part of a divine tutorial, can be sanctifying - in the sense of developing the very virtues a particular disciple needs to learn.

During the late 1980s and into the 90s, he built on this foundation to focus both his personal discipline and his writing on such qualities as meekness and submissiveness - not only submitting to the commandments, but accepting whatever the Master may inflict on the apprentice to teach him how he, personally, may become more like the Master.

Then he sensed that, in his words,
"If we are serious about our discipleship, Jesus will eventually request each of us to do those very things which are most difficult for us to do."
This was what he came to call the "wintry doctrine."

At the funeral of a young father in 1996 he put it this way:
"There are in the gospel warm and cuddly doctrines, and then there are some that are just outright wintry doctrines. One of them, frankly, is that we cannot approach [real] consecration without passing through appropriate clinical experiences, [because we don't achieve consecration] in the abstract. Sometimes [therefore,] the best people have the worst experiences, because they are the most ready to learn."
Just a few months later, the dark shadows of leukemia entered Neal Maxwell's life. He immediately saw that his readiness to learn had qualified him for his own clinical experience in what he called the graduate curriculum in the school of discipleship. In his recent season of the wintry doctrine, Elder Maxwell says he has learned much about empathy. Now he is more able to know and feel what others are going through in their own wintry trials. This let him discover experientially what he had already sensed and taught about Christ's empathy for us - He understands and succors us in our sicknesses and afflictions because he has tasted such sorrow himself. Elder Maxwell calls this "earned empathy."

As I stretched to understand all of this enough to describe it, I realized that I can never really grasp it until I have been down a few more wintry roads myself. But I did see a fresh doctrinal link. The increased empathy Elder Maxwell had found looked more and more to me like what the scriptures call charity. He was coming to taste more fully the pure love that Christ has for other people. Then came what was for me the most significant doctrinal link - the connection between charity and affliction.

Perhaps those who seek apprenticeship with the Master of mankind must emulate his sacrificial experience to the fullest extent of their personal capacity. Only then can they taste His empathy and His charity. For only then are they like him enough to feel his love for others the way he feels it - to love, "as I have loved you." (John 13:34) That is a deeper, different love from "love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matt. 19:19)

Perhaps it isn't possible to have Christ's charity without submitting to some form of His affliction - not only through physical pain but in many other ways - because they are two sides of the same, single reality.

His love for all mankind is fully bound up in his exquisite pain. "How sore you know not . . . how hard to bear you know not" (D&C 19:15). Perhaps we cannot know his love without knowing his pain. If so, the personal suffering we confront in the sanctification process - "the fellowship of His suffering" - could move the pure love of Christ from a concept in one's head to a substance in one's heart. And once in the heart, charity will circulate all through the body, because it is being moved by "a new heart."

I pray that I, and each of us, may learn from the lives of people like Neal A. Maxwell how better to prepare ourselves to sacrifice and submit ourselves to whatever will help us know the Savior and become more like Him. May we not be surprised, and may we not shrink, when we discover, paradoxically, how dear a price we may need to pay to receive what is, finally, a gift from him - charity, the pure love of Christ.

(edited by David Van Alstyne)
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