25 November 2010

On Peace and Pain

What happens when your happiness no longer relies on external circumstances? When no amount of personal discomfort or inconvenience can detract you from what you know you have to do? What happens when crisis and trial have gotten to the point where they seem hollow to you, and the trust that you live by is no longer a question?

I've just had the experience of being driven through a snowstorm, and finding it beautiful and peaceful. The image of red sins of scarlet being turned white like snow has never seemed more real to me as it did when visibility was nonexistent, and we were surrounded in whiteness.

I realized my life is a lot like this right now. I have a million things to do, places to go, I'm not the driver, I'm not making good time according to the timetable I'm only vaguely aware of, and yet I'm perfectly content to be at peace with everything exactly the way it is because I've realized I'm doing everything that I can to play an active role in it. I don't always have to be the driver or the leader in everything. I don't always have to have all the answers or fix every problem, or even be capable of fixing every problem I have.

Why? Because I'm not the only one working on it. I never will be. I trust it'll get worked out somehow. If there's anything I need to do, I trust myself to figure it out. If I don't figure it out, I trust God to bring me that clarity. He's done it before, and I trust Him to do it again. I've been through enough storms, decisions, turmoil, despair, and hardships of enough kinds that it just doesn't make much sense to me anymore to get worked up, frustrated, or to do anything other than to handle the situation appropriately and to live peacefully, no matter what happens.

I guess that's an involved way of saying that I'm happy despite the apparent circumstances and problems in my life. I'm content with my allotment and portion of both my blessings and trials. I'm surrounded by good and loving people, and I don't want for anything. Well, maybe my mission call. But I'm working through that steadily, and I know that no matter how long it takes me, I will eventually arrive at that destination.

Is struggle a necessary part of our earthly experience? To work through something patiently--to be content with my efforts and their results, to be content that God will be in and throughout everything I will ever face, guiding me as long as it takes. I see no reason for struggle in that. In fact, I'm coming to the theory that if I am struggling, it's probably because I'm doing something wrong. My perception is either incomplete, or I've made the wrong choice, or I'm choosing to be frustrated when it isn't necessary--but I simply don't see why peace can't exist in every circumstance there is--why the peace I feel right now should be reserved only for times of ease.

In Matthew 11, we read:

29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

I admit, there was a time when I didn't believe this. In the midst of trials which were not few in number, or weak in intensity, I've had occasions to wonder if difficulties would ever cease, if that promise was true for everyone except me. I've wondered, like many other Christians, what I had ever done that was so wrong that I deserved to suffer so bitterly, and whether that ease would not come simply because I didn't deserve it anymore.

But now I'm beginning to understand that my suffering is a reaction that will continue for as long as I choose it. Despair and suffering have no necessary connection to the troubles of my life--only in how I decide I will react to them. While there is a place in every life for grief, and even pain, there is also a place for the only healing that is the lasting balm for that anguish.

I think learning to be at peace despite pain and struggle is at the very heart of Christianity, and to navigate that contradiction is one of the most important things I can learn in this life. I think the ability to recognize and embrace it is an invitation to come to know the mind and heart of the Prince of Peace--for surely He was never without struggle. But I also believe that crucial to being the Only Begotten Son, He was always at peace--at peace with the Father, at peace with His plan, and at peace with His role in it.

No one who wasn't could have said, facing the infinite and eternal sacrifice of the Atonement "O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done." (Matthew 26: 42)

He paid a great price to know the totality of human experience--the pain and the peace of our lives. To see that the real peace of life is our confidence in God and in ourselves, instead of in bountiful circumstances requiring no effort--it's a lesson worth taking with me.

I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior and Redeemer of the world, and of my life. I know He loves me, and in every way is mindful of what I face every day--of the choices I make and of the ways in which I'm progressing. He's a wonderful teacher and a kind friend. He has endured with me through every hardship, and it's because of Him that I am now at peace. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

21 November 2010

Grateful for Good Men

There was an older Polynesian man performing baptisms in the Provo temple this past evening. He had such a loving spirit, you could feel of the deep regard he has for every person that he meets. As he helped me into the font, I overheard him answer one of the temple workers who asked him if they could use him a little while longer, or if he had to leave.

His words were so quiet and gentle, even I could have missed them standing beside him.

"I can stay. I belong to the temple."

I pray that I will never forget those words for as long as I live.

The light was bright in his eyes as he wrapped pruned hands around my wrist, and lowered me into the water.

I look forward to the day when I can thank him for the wisdom he has shared with me.

17 November 2010

The Gospel in My Life

Studying the scriptures through Preach My Gospel has been one of the most powerful transformations to my testimony I have ever experienced. I love Preach My Gospel, and I love the changes it has brought to me. I never realized that all the "dailies" and all the commandments we keep are functions of the gospel, and that the gospel is what brings Christ into our lives.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the message of salvation we, as members of the Church, are under covenant to share with the world. That message includes 5 fundamentals:
  1. Faith in Jesus Christ as the resurrected Lord, the only one who has/will ever atone for all of the sins of mankind
  2. Repentance to be reconciled with Jesus Christ for all of the sins we have ever personally committed
  3. Baptism under restored priesthood authority, as existed in Christ's church anciently
  4. Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, a confirming ordinance of that same authority
  5. Enduring to the End--to become continually converted to Jesus Christ by remaining true to the gospel

That's it. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those five things are the root of true conversion. And, as I recently learned, that gospel is not just a preliminary set of steps for new members to go through. Once the first four are finished, a person does not stay permanently at step five, in a vague state of generally doing what we know we should.

No, the gospel is a repeating cycle. To endure to the end means to repeat the cycle continually. The Sacrament becomes the symbolic representation of baptism and confirmation after someone has already been baptized and confirmed. The commandments we follow are then supposed to work together as functions of that gospel, to bless our lives for good and help us grow spiritually.

I attended this talk by Elder Ballard on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I came into it hoping to gain much-needed insight on time management.




Afterwards, I realized that if I would strive to make a schedule that is based on the gospel itself, I would feel the Holy Ghost's influence more abundantly in my life. So I sat down and categorized how all the things I have to do fit into the gospel itself.

For example, I was reminded that scripture study is inseparably tied to faith in Jesus Christ. It has been my experience that faith in Jesus Christ is almost impossible to maintain unless you consistently read the scriptures--especially the Book of Mormon. Personally, that's also where I chose to classify my studies and college classes because in order for them to be worth my time and money, they need to be building my faith in Jesus Christ. I've found that when I put forth the effort to find Christ in even my most secular subjects, He makes it possible for me to understand many lessons that only He can teach me.

Repentance, for me, is largely grounded in prayer. Once I understood that a crucial part of my prayers needed to be daily repentance, it became a lot easier for me to remember to pray every day, and for my prayers to be more than 30 seconds long. When prayers are a constant vehicle for repentance, they become the conversational prayers I have heard so many teachers strongly recommend, but never instruct anyone on how to begin. For someone who is trying to have more conversational prayers with the Lord, I would recommend starting with adding repentance to them each and every day.

Baptism by immersion was an interesting one. I associated that with temple worship because I'm still in the baptism-by-proxy phase of my temple experience. But this could also apply to the Sacrament, and thereby Church attendance. Because baptisms performed outside the temple are almost identical to the ones performed inside, the jump from the first to the second is not hard to make. But how often do we think of Church meetings as being a place to be immersed in the goodness of God? That's what Zion and the Church are supposed to be like--and whether they are or not depends entirely on what we personally put into them, i.e. all of ourselves. If we continually plop ourselves down in a chair and expect to be spiritually fed without putting any effort into it, we will continue to be disappointed when that feeling of immersion does not come.

The one that jumped out to me the strongest, however, was receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands. This made me think of the priesthood, and the question I had to ask myself was "How can I get the priesthood to be more of an active force in my life?" The answer that came to me immediately was the Relief Society, and thereby Visiting Teaching. (If you're curious as to how I made that jump, read this and this.) FHE also came to mind, which actually surprised me way more than Relief Society and Visiting Teaching did. I never thought of FHE as being a means of having the priesthood in my life. As I continued to ponder, I realized that service opportunities fit well under this one because the Holy Ghost inspires people to serve. The laying on of hands in itself is a giving act--one we are commanded to extend to anyone who will receive it.

I have a white board I use to do my planning and time management, and I decided to color code each of the four principles with its own color. I plan to continue doing so as I implement this plan, in order to track the gospel's presence in my life. Once I can build the habits of following through with my plans, and assessing my performance, I can more easily identify how to add things to my life when I feel I need extra help in an area. By being a careful steward over the gospel's influence in my life, I can fortify myself against temptation and the attempts of the adversary to lead me astray.



From this I have learned that the gospel of Jesus Christ is not a catch-all phrase to describe every good thing. The gospel is how every good thing--every commandment, every truth, every principle--is tied to Jesus Christ. When we see those connections as they really are, and keep them unimpeded in our lives, we magnify the ability of God to bless us and endow us with great faith and power. We become more true to what we know, disciples of Jesus Christ. Our light is more able to shine because it is more easily magnified through our righteous actions, and I know that as I strive to lay that gospel foundation in my life, that gospel will lay a foundation in me for greater things to come.

I testify of this in the holy name of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, whose gospel this is. Even so, Amen.

12 November 2010

Planning Ahead

A few days ago, I woke up to discover that all the leaves had fallen off of the walnut tree in our front yard. Summer is my favorite season, so seeing all the leaves on the ground is sometimes quite sad for me. It's a sign that I have a long time to wait before Summer comes again.

The leaves on this tree had turned yellow before they fell to the ground. They covered the yard in golden autumn, and they seemed to glow in contrast to the overcast sky.

It was beautiful.

Maybe it's because I'm in the desert now, but I truly appreciated how beautiful trees are for the first time in my life.

I have often thought about my children and how I would teach them about the Second Coming of Christ, how I could possibly be wise and confident enough to teach them what I know in my heart to be true.

But as I sat, staring at my yard, I realized I could already picture it.

Raking leaves into a huge pile, laughing together as we jump in them over and over again, then looking at my little ones in that day and asking them a question.

"How do you know the leaves on this tree are going to grow back?"

I'm anticipating the looks of confusion, the mom-are-you-dense? look.

"Mom, why wouldn't they? They always grow back."

"Yes, but how do you know?"

"We've seen it before."

And that's where I'd point out that we can say the same thing about Jesus Christ because of the scriptures. The Bible and the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Their combined purpose is to help us have faith that Christ will come again--evidenced by all the times He's come before.

We learn from the experiences of others in order to see His hand in our own lives. We rely on memories from our own lives when the winter sets in. We trust He will come to us again because He has come before.

I'm currently working my way through Helaman, and I always seem to feel discouraged when I get to that part of the Book of Mormon after reading about generations of war and bloodshed. Christ's entrance feels like it takes forever to happen. But He comes in the scriptures, just as He comes in real life.

And I don't find it so hard to believe that the only reason I can look out my bedroom window and see all of that--in a bunch of leaves in the middle of Provo, Utah--is because He wants me to know He cares.

I know He's real. I know He's coming back, and I plan to live on that hope for as long as it takes. No matter what I'm asked to do, no matter how hard it gets, no matter what's ahead of us as a Church, or me as a person. Even if it's trying to be patient--to wait well when time moves so painfully slow. I don't care. I'll learn to be patient, and I will wait for Him.

Why? Because He's worth waiting for.

And I say that in His name, even Jesus Christ. Amen.

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