In my last post on this topic I focussed on the first half of this statement, and looked at how the navel reminds us of the time we spent before birth, attached to our mothers through the umbilical cord. For nine months our mothers provided us with blood, nutrients, resistance to disease, and all that we needed to grow and develop to the point of being able to survive as new babies, as we began our mortal journeys.
Similarly, our spiritual selves need Christ to provide us with spiritual nutrients, strength to resist spiritual illness, and all that we need to grow and develop spiritually.
Our navels therefore serve as both reminders of our earthly mothers, their toil and sacrifice in enabling our arrival in mortality; and also of Christ, and His sacrifice to help us travel through mortality and arrive back with our heavenly parents.
In this post I’d like to briefly discuss the second part of the scriptural phrase, “…marrow to thy bones”.
At birth, our umbilical cords are cut, and we are physically no longer able to automatically draw on nutrients from our mothers’ bodies to sustain us. There are numerous ways in which mothers can and do continue to physically sustain their new-born babies which can teach us many lessons about how Christ supports us, but for the purposes of this post the important point is that the additional support available from the mother won’t automatically happen – there may be motherly instincts, but it is not inevitable they will be followed, and sadly too often we see in the world examples where babies and small children have not been loved and nurtured by their parents as they should.
But our bodies, by birth, have already built within them the capacity to develop resistance to disease, and take nutrients around our bodies. And this capacity comes from our bones – in the marrow.
Our marrow is responsible for producing both red and white blood cells, and together these cells take over many of the functions of the umbilical cord discussed in my first post on this subject. Our red blood cells collect oxygen from our lungs, and carry it around our body, where they use the new oxygen to replace carbon dioxide waste. They then take the waste back to the lungs where it is released from the body. Our white blood cells produced in the marrow are responsible for fighting infections. Interestingly, these cells “learn” over time, and as they face infections they become much more effective at fighting them – in effect they become stronger.
As we apply this principle to our spiritual lives, we see the Saviour not only giving us all of the nourishment we need, and fighting our battles for us when we learn to rely fully on Him (as the umbilical cord does before our birth); but in doing so He also enables us to become stronger ourselves (as the marrow in our bones does). Elder Jeffrey R Holland has said,
“…the soul that comes unto Christ, who knows His voice and strives to do as He did, finds a strength…beyond [his] own” (Broken Things to Mend, April 2006 General Conference).
We can never become fully independent of our Redeemer in this life, but certainly He wants our strength and capacities to grow and develop through our years, and part of His work is to help us achieve that.
I have, for a long time, felt that this is the real meaning behind our famous LDS verse of scripture in the book of Ether,
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weaknesses that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)
Why does the Lord give us weaknesses? He says it is so that we have opportunity to humble ourselves, and by humbling ourselves we realise that we need to rely on the Saviour and to come unto Him – we receive “health in our navels”. In doing so, the grace of Christ can be further applied in our lives, and over process of time we gain additional strength, ultimately becoming sanctified – we receive “marrow to our bones”.
The apostle Paul also taught this to the Corinthians when he said,
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this things I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength in made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:7-9)
I love the fact that it is the symbolism of blood that is used throughout this analogy. It is the blood of the mother that sustains the unborn child; but once born it is the blood that comes from the marrow that is strengthened to enable it to sustain the child and then adult as it grows. Likewise it is the blood of Christ that sustains us. It is His blood that gives us His grace, both to sustain us now, and also to help us become the righteous beings we should become, “For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified.” (Moses 6:60)
A baby takes nine months to grow inside its mother, during which time it relies wholly on its mother to sustain its life and to provide it with the nutrients needed to grow; for each part of its body to develop into what it should. It is only when this process is complete that the baby is then born and begins the process of learning to act on its own. Similarly, we only truly become free when we learn that we must rely wholly on Him who is mighty to save, even Jesus Christ. He will provide, through His grace, all of the nutrients that we need; He will help us grow and develop our talents and our natures, to become what they should be, ultimately to become sanctified.
Elder David A Bednar has taught that the spiritual rebirth that is necessary for each of us can only be effected through the Atonement. He explained,
“The Lord’s authorised servants repeatedly teach that one of the principal purposes of our mortal existence is to be spiritually changed and transformed through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.” (Ye Must be Born Again, April 2007 General Conference)
We see this process from health in the navel through to marrow in the bones beautifully demonstrated with the converted Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. At the very start of their conversion process Ammon, as a symbol of Christ, single-handedly defeats the Lamanite robbers, keeping both servants and sheep safe (see Alma 17). The servants are afraid and so stand back and let Ammon fight their battle. The servants know that they are powerless against the evil of the robbers, but they are nonetheless kept safe by Ammon. These servants have the protection of “health in the navel”, but have not yet developed any marrow to their spiritual bones.
Only a generation later, however, the sons of these same servants marched forth. Not only were these young men not afraid, but we are told they were, “…exceedingly valiant for courage.” In the face of, at times, overwhelming enemy forces they were, “firm and undaunted”. Throughout their battles not a single one of these young men died. How was this possible? Because they had learned to, “…put their trust in God continually.” While these young men recognised that they would always need to receive the “health in the navel”, they had developed spiritual strength such that they also had “marrow to their bones”. (See Alma chapters 56-57)
Such is the power of spiritual development that is available to all of us if we truly and fully trust in the Lord, and heed His counsel – a power that comes because of the Atonement.