18 June 2007

Sustaining Faith

I present you with the talk I gave yesterday on Sustaining Faith. After I troll around the internet, get some more reading done, and finish all of the poems I've been thinking about and working on, I shall make another post.

Until then...

Kim Allgood and his wife, Linda, entered my life at a time when I was returning to a crossroads, the place where crucial and irreversible changes are made. At the time, I was confident that joining the Church was what I needed to do, and had no doubts. Because of my confidence, and my faith in the witness I had already received on the truth of this church, I viewed my pre-baptism lessons as a formality, a way to pass the summer until the date of my baptism. Make no mistake; I do not regret my decision. I do wonder, however, if I underestimated the value of those lessons, and the truth they contained. I recall that, to close one of my lessons, Brother Allgood said, “And all we need to do is endure to the end.” At the time, I didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean. As far as I was concerned, my life was only going to get better once I stepped out of that baptismal font at the end of August. But within days, I quickly learned that Enduring to the End is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and continue to do; which brings me to my topic: Sustaining Faith.

Sustaining my faith has been challenging and exhausting at times. Like so many converts before me, my faith was tested when I was forced to make decisions I never wanted to make, to answer questions I never wanted asked of me. Imagine what you would do if commanded to:

1. Choose between your family and your future in the Church
2. Choose between your friends as you know them for the people they really are.
3. Choose between the habits and knowledge you have always trusted for a new way of life.
4. Choose God over EVERYthing else.

Many of us do not need to imagine such choices. We’ve faced these trials and more; we’ve said our prayers for the easy answers that we know will never come. We’ve grappled with ourselves over the counsel we’ve received; grieved because of what our Father’s counsel has meant for us. But it is my prayer that we meet this adversity with humble hearts and trusting spirits as we return to him in honest faith, saying, “Thy will be done.” I pray that we all know that Our Father has NEVER, and will never abandon us. Even when His plan, His way seems unfair, we must always remember that He has our millions of possibilities in mind as he tries to lead us to the path back to Him. “Enduring to the End” is something we will never have to do alone. Remembering our bond with our Heavenly parents and our Savior is essential to our lives as Latter-day Saints. Without a testimony of this undeniable truth, there is no faith to sustain. If you find yourself in such a place spiritually that you cannot testify of your place within the loving arms of our Savior, it is my suggestion that you start here. I promise you that your search will not be an empty one.

Faith in this Church is like a puzzle. Heavenly Father and Christ are the central pieces. Once this piece is in place, I know from personal experience that the others will follow in their own time. We cannot expect these pieces to be given to us all at once, or in our time. Even if we decide to be proactive, to pursue the truth of this gospel fervently; to expect ourselves to come to a perfect understanding of all things is unrealistic. How often have our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others been a source of discomfort to us? Understanding is a precious unification of knowledge and experience that will bless us if we strive for it. If we’re going to Endure to the End, we can only do it through understanding. Brother John Bytheway said it best when he recommended that we come to a place spiritually where we may have questions about the Church, but we have no doubts about fundamental gospel truths. Sustaining faith is when we eliminate doubt, and spend our energy answering our questions. Then we’ll be able to find and assemble the rest of the pieces of our testimony puzzle. For me, the pieces are:

1. Testimony of the Scriptures (The Bible and the Book of Mormon)
2. Belief in Joseph Smith’s First Vision, and his teachings and revelations as a Prophet of God.
3. Belief that we, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have a modern-day Prophet, our beloved Gordon B. Hinckley, who is at the head of this church by the will and authority of God.
4. A knowledge of the Temple, its place in our lives and in the plan of salvation

I’ve come to appreciate how much like a puzzle the Church really is. All of the pieces must come together. Without any one of the pieces, the entire testimony falls apart. Do not assume for a second that the Adversary doesn’t know how testimonies are assembled. He has slowly DISassembled enough of them to know which pieces we struggle with, and how to coerce us to pull the pieces out ourselves, one by one; which is the only way he will ever have power over us. To fight his influence, we must be searching for and piecing together our testimony, and standing against anything that would impede us, even when it hurts. Even when it’s difficult. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when we may feel like we’d rather do ANYTHING else. We must stand, Brothers and Sisters, for the truth that has shaped our lives as Latter-day Saints. How do we do that? A few suggestions:

Become skilled with the tools within the standard answer.
The standard answer is what we, in Sister Mlodoch’s class, have labeled the conclusion that we reach for enough of our lessons that we’ve shortened the response to “Standard Answer.” The tools of the standard answer, as I like to call them, are:

1. Prayer
2. Fasting
3. Tithing
4. Reading the Scriptures
5. Sharing your testimony
6. Coming to Church

Each tool serves its own purpose for the person wielding it. A screwdriver is a hammer in the hands of anyone other than me, I’m sure. The tools within the standard answer serve different purposes depending on the person wielding them as well. Prayer, for me, is a source of peace. But when I need to break a bad habit, I fast. Tithing and sharing my testimony increase my appreciation and gratitude for the blessings I’ve been given, but sharing my testimony also helps me to use the talents I’ve been given to share the gospel. Reading the scriptures is what I do when I have a crisis of questions about my life and my place in it. Each tool serves a different purpose for me, and some of them aren’t interchangeable. For me, trying to break a bad habit with prayer alone, instead of fasting, is like showing up with a Phillips when you need a Flathead.

Learning when to use what tool is an important aspect of sustaining faith because these are the tools our Heavenly Father has given us to draw closer to Him, and to keep His Spirit. People try to get around using these tools because they work by a force that, if it came up in Physics, I would have gotten a better grade. That force is Faith. With these tools, you’re using a hammer to strike a nail you can’t see with your eyes. You’re trying to power a drill with a different kind of battery. It takes a lot of practice, and much trial and error before you figure out how to make it work for yourself. But the longer you wait to begin, the longer you keep yourself from our Father in Heaven and His Spirit.

Coming to Church is a tool in its own way, because it’s by coming to Church that we learn ways to use the other tools. But more importantly, coming to Church, taking the Sacrament; they are the means by which we complete an essential task that was illustrated perfectly by a lesson that Sister Wheeler gave to our Young Women’s class a few Sundays ago. She placed a chair in front of us, and asked for a volunteer. I finally sat down, and she pulled out a bright yellow rope and began to tie me to the chair. The rope was sin, Brothers and Sisters, and with each additional layer, it was harder and harder for me to move. Soon, I couldn’t have moved even if I had wanted to. We come to Church because it’s hard, if possible at all, to get out of a chair by yourself when you’re tied to it; especially when bound by the strongest ropes of iniquity. By coming to Church, we are able to take the Sacrament, receive blessings from the Brethren, and use our spiritual tools to help our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters, to be released from their chairs; that they may be able to stand in holier places, to stand for truth and righteousness again.

I fear that sometimes we may become trapped, like I sometimes am, by the idea that I must get through my trials alone; that there is some inherent weakness in asking for help, by relying on anyone else’s tools but my own. However, we do ourselves a great disservice by feeding ourselves such self-centered thoughts. We deny ourselves the freedom that Our Father is trying to bless us with through the hands of others. We hinder our own spiritual growth by removing from our character the Christ-like quality of Humility. Christ taught us to love one another, which is why complete self-sufficiency, although celebrated in our culture, is not how we ought to be. Attuning ourselves to the Spirit in order to serve others, and through them, Our God. Obeying the commandments we’ve been given, and enduring to the end so that we might leave the world in better condition than when we inherited it. Now THAT’S something worth celebrating.

How will we know if we’re becoming attuned to the Spirit?

Keep a Journal–Journals are a powerful means of attuning yourself with the Spirit. I have found that some of my most meaningful council that I’ve received from the Spirit has come when I was writing with my journal. A journal is a place to gather ongoing and personalized revelations, which then serves as spiritual food storage for tough times ahead that are sure to come. And like food storage, they can also aid your posterity, if stored and preserved with the future in mind. A journal is also a wonderful tool for self-improvement. It allows you to put your thoughts, goals, and essentially to put yourself on paper. Then, you’ll be able to judge what you see for yourself, make changes where you see fit, and monitor your progress as you seek to establish and maintain your faith.

We’ve discussed HOW to endure to the end, but I also want to reiterate on WHY we sustain our faith. First of all, to endure to the end is a covenant we made at our baptism. We promised to be faithful to Him in word and deed, and we will be held accountable for our actions if we decide to disregard that promise. Secondly, we sustain our faith because, to do so effectively, we must have personal goals that provide an End for which to endure. Our goals are individual, allowing us to decide for ourselves what we will make of the precious time on Earth that our Father has given us. But we must be careful, because our goals (or lack thereof) determine the quality of our time, which can be either a blessing or a curse.

My mother has only given me one piece of advice in the seventeen years I’ve been living with her. “Life is what you make it,” is the simple statement she offered me at a particularly chaotic period in my life. That simple statement altered the way I perceived my place within my existence from then on. I realized I had the power and the responsibility to change the direction and the destination of my life, to take a past full of anguish and disappointment and construct something remarkable, and worthy of dignity. And as I sustain my faith, I leave the darkest time of my life further and further behind me, and I’m willing to promise that you can achieve the same thing. It all depends on your goals, and how much you dedicate yourself to achieving them.

Setting goals effectively, therefore, is one of the most important skills for a worthy Saint to develop. In order to be of any use to us, our goals must require something specific and tangible, so that we will know when we come closer to completion, or deviate from our course. We should be on the lookout for examples of what we’d like to achieve with our lives. Examples are all around us: people we admire, people in the scriptures, family members, friends, neighbors, ancestors, leaders in the Church. My goals are often based on what I find in books. The most complete image I’ve ever seen of how I envision my future is from The Grapes of Wrath. I’d like to share it with you to illustrate another point. The following passage is a description of Ma Joad, the mother in John Steinbeck’s novel about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression:

“Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with childbearing and work. She wore a loose Mother Hubbard of gray cloth in which there had once been colored flowers, but the color was washed out now, so that the small flowered pattern was only a little lighter gray than the background. The dress came down to her ankles, and her strong, broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor. Her thin, steel-gray hair was gathered in a sparse wispy knot at the back of her head. Strong, freckled arms were bare to the elbow, and her hands were chubby and delicate, like those of a plump little girl. She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.”

Within this goal are several smaller goals that are all qualities of a Christ-like character. By developing Ma Joad’s characteristics of patience, kindness, charity, humility, discipline, courage, and loyalty, I will achieve my goal of becoming the kind of mother I’ve always wanted to be, and becoming more like my Savior, which is the larger goal of all of our lives. We have a divine responsibility to be worthy of a celestial inheritance. By becoming more like our Brother and Savior, we will be prepared for when we must make use of what we learned in these days of preparation. Our righteous living will be a blessing to us and is WORTH THE TRIALS THAT WE FACE IN ORDER TO BE RIGHTEOUS.

The goals we make together as a Church on sustaining faith are just as important as the goals we make for ourselves. Our Church has endured the countless trials it has faced for over a century because of the Saints’ willingness to work together. Last week, Brother Angerbauer challenged all of us to imagine and see the circumstances where we could boldly share our faith with our friends and neighbors. I want to add to that image by asking all of us to imagine our congregation where the people who are already here have no doubts about the truth of this Church. I know for a fact that there are those among us that do more than question the truth at times. They doubt quietly to themselves about the gospel, allowing their doubts to fester because they don’t know how to ask for help, or have tried to ask for help so many time already, they are weary from the strain and disappointment that comes when the questions go unanswered, and continue to fester.

I challenge all of us, Brothers and Sisters, to remember that we are BROTHERS and SISTERS in Christ. We were not put on this Earth to give up on each other. We are here to learn and to grow, and to help others grow as well. We sustain each other in our callings with the uplifted hand. Let us always be willing to sustain one another OUTSIDE of our callings, to be sources of truth at ALL times. Let us strive to be guides for others who may be losing their way, to the already lost, and even to those trying desperately to return to the fold. Why? Because we’re a family, and that is what families do.

I want to close by sharing my testimony that I know this Church is true. I know that Heavenly Father is a loving Father that endowed us with our precious agency; the greatest asset in overcoming Satan’s influence. I know that our Father in Heaven has provided us with tools that will bless our lives if we dedicate ourselves to learning how to use them. I know, without a doubt in my mind, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and that because of his First Vision, we have this Church today. I know that Gordon B. Hinckley is a modern-day Prophet, and if we heed his inspired council, we will be better Saints for it. I know that the temple is the sacred house where we do provide a real and important service to the Saints who came before us, and need us to give them their second chance.

Even in time of my personal struggle, during my crises of questions, my foundation in the gospel has been firm, and I no longer have to question if I’m going to make it through the next one. I no longer feel as if I’m living on a day-to-day basis with something missing from my life. My life is complete now because of the gospel, and I refuse to have it any other way, and I pray that all of you have the same resolve. Know that you are special people in my life, and I appreciate everything you have done for me, and I leave these thoughts and my best wishes with you in the name of our Beloved Jesus Christ. AMEN

1 comment:

  1. Excellent talk. I wish I could have heard it.

    I "Sustained" it.

    Among the many ideas that caught my attention, I particularly liked this:

    "For me, trying to break a bad habit with prayer alone, instead of fasting, is like showing up with a Phillips when you need a Flathead."

    ReplyDelete

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