30 December 2010

The Division between Home and Family--A Warning

Originally posted on WatersofMormon.org, a group blog to which I contributed until it closed.

--originally posted May 10, 2009--

I gave the talk in the singles ward today. Normally I post my talks on my personal blog, but I decided to make an exception for today. Enjoy

As an English teaching major, one of my favorite things in life is learning to appreciate and use the power of language. I view words and vocabulary as vessels that serve the purpose of literally holding spirit, whose exchange is powerful and sacred. I spend my life combining them, exploring their depths and precise shapes in order to understand the full and honest meaning of the oil they’re meant to hold, and it’s a talent with which I’m glad to be blessed.

I came to a discovery of two words recently that have long impressed me with their depth and complexity. Their ornate and masterful craftsmanship comes from their universal and eternal nature. Thousands of years, countless cultures and their history, have contributed unique and heartfelt loveliness to these two words. The best that mankind has ever had to offer can be summed up in both of these words. I felt impressed to talk about one of them as my topic, but found it to be inseparably married to the second word.

The first word is Family. The second word is Home.

My family isn’t exactly what you would call functional, and I grew up never knowing the safety and security, the peace and love that so many in this Church take for granted. What brought me into the church was the powerful love of God that, because of the spirit, exists wherever there is truth. At long last, I had found a place for my tired, broken, harrowed spirit—the closest thing to a home I had ever had.

Home…

Because I had the church, I had an opportunity to explore that word for the first time. I could bask in the warm glow of that one word’s oil for hours, eagerly awaiting the next opportunity to go to Church and feel it again. Three hour meetings weren’t long enough to feed the hunger of my soul, the desire for more oil to fill this new word of mine. Time passed, and the day came when I finally had enough oil to keep my life well-lit after years of knowing only darkness.

But when my light grew bright enough, I could also see a new word that brought me sorrow every time I looked at it. Family; a word just as large and essential as Home, but I had let it become a very sad and dirty word by how much I had neglected it. I would peer into its dry depths and think to myself, “How am I supposed to fill this and make this better all by myself? I can’t do this. How am I supposed to live with that disappointment?” And so my division between Home and Family was set into place.

Brothers and sisters, I tell you this story because this mistake can happen to ANYONE. I’ll even venture to say that it can happen to those of you in this room who least expect it, and my heart goes out to any of you that struggle to live by the light of one vessel where we were designed to have two. It’s a pain and grief unlike any other, and we have been warned to be watchful and prudent in all that we do to keep the bond between home and family strong enough to protect us from that pain.

In Moses, we read of the first mortal family of Adam and Eve—their respective, yet equally important responsibilities that required them to depend upon each other in order to start their family and create a home. In Moses 5, verses 1 and 2 we see the model of unity the Lord intends for his children.

"And it came to pass that after I, the Lord God, had driven them out, that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him. And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth."

Let me emphasize; only by working together can families be established in righteousness, thereby creating a home that enjoys the fullest happiness Heavenly Father can bestow. Just as families do not exist with one person doing all the work, a home cannot be built through one person’s labors. Even the Lord does nothing alone.

I’ll admit now that I spent years feeling frustrated at the division of my situation because I was so focused on my own hurt, I fell for a division that never should have existed in the first place. Only after turning to the wisdom and council of the prophets did I understand my mistake. Elder Russell M. Nelson teaches that:
“In God’s eternal plan, salvation is an individual matter; exaltation is a family matter.” In my mind, this used to be a really depressing thought because I found it hard to imagine that my family would ever accept the gospel, even though I have every reason to believe in and hope for such a blessing. I tried to throw myself into the Church, telling myself that being surrounded by that Spirit and the people who brought it there would always be enough.

The only thing wrong with that idea is that it isn’t true. The First Presidency issued a letter in February of 1999 with a statement that read:
“The home is the basis of a righteous life, and no other instrumentality can take its place or fulfill its essential functions in carrying forward this God-given responsibility.”

From my experience, I testify that this includes the Church itself. The Church is not a hiding place from life and its problems—at least, not permanently. Especially when it comes to families, we have a responsibility to seek for the healing powers of the Spirit to deal with our challenges, then get back to work serving and building our family relationships—always having Home as our objective.

That can be hard to see when we’re in more of a position like Abraham’s—fleeing from evil, traveling, maybe even wandering, from place to place looking for somewhere to call home in the mean time. When you focus on the fact that his father tried to kill him, his situation sounds miserable. Consider also the fact that he had to face the commandment to kill his son Isaac, and this story looks about as unfair as it gets.

President John Taylor once counseled,
“It is necessary that we pass through certain ordeals, and that we be tried. But why is it that we should be tried? There is just the same necessity for it now that there was in former times. I heard the Prophet Joseph say, in speaking to the Twelve on one occasion: ‘You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.’ Some people have wondered why so many of the Twelve fell away. God tries people according to the position they occupy.”

So what is needed in times of adversity, especially when Satan’s target is our family, is a change of perspective. We see in John Taylor’s statement the idea that God will try the Priesthood according to the positions they occupy, but we are also tried according to the position within the family that we hold. Elder Nelson also teaches that:

“The final responsibility to prepare for salvation and exaltation rests upon each person, accountable for individual agency, acting in one’s own family, bearing another sacred title of mother, father, daughter, son, grandmother, or grandfather.”

Until recently, I didn’t realize that my position as a daughter within my particular family was so important as to be considered sacred. When I look at it properly, it makes sense that Satan would make the building of a strong, united, loving family so difficult to do, especially when he has had control over them for so long.

And now that I’m in a position to see better, I not only see that Heavenly Father loves His children, but I know what that means, and I know what it looks like when He bestows His peace, His love, upon families and homes.

It looks like Abraham’s trust in taking what family he has left, fleeing from Haran, and believing that eternity would be their covering as they dwelled in the tents that became their homes until they reached the Promised Land.

It’s the image immediately after Christ’s ascension in Acts 1, where the apostles AND Christ’s mortal family are praying together—symbolically and literally united; just like Christ would have wanted.

The scriptures are full of what might be labeled today as non-traditional families, families that go through changes of all kinds, and I’m sure that there are those in this room who can appreciate that because they’ve seen their share. But it can be so crippling to allow yourself to feel alienated or inadequate if your family isn’t perfect. We can do nothing alone, and if our families have a lot to work on, it isn’t our fault, and we can’t fix it by ourselves. Heavenly Father will be displeased if you exhaust yourself physically and spiritually, to the point of near apostasy, if you try to go through these challenges alone.

Also understand that sometimes, part of our responsibility to our families and to the Lord will be to leave our families for a season. Even if you are the only source of spiritual strength to them, know that the Lord loves all of His children, and He will take care of them. As it says in Luke 9:

"And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

If you endure the season of planting, always seeking the timetable and the will of the Lord in all things, your family will be gathered around you once again at the harvest. I’ve seen it in my own life, and I know that “the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”

If it wasn’t for all that I’ve been through with my family, for the sake of one day having a home with them, I never would have had the love and appreciation that I do for them right now. Knowing that, I’d willing do it a thousand times over because for the first time, there is oil in both of my lamps. Seeing the happiness that those drops have brought, I promise you that no other investment can provide such great returns.

Fill your vessels drop by loyal, obedient drop, and I testify that you will have the light of home and family to be with you once again. This Mother’s Day, I pray we all will remember what is most important in life. Our mothers have created families that can last forever. May we always support them with our every effort, no matter what our circumstances—always using what we’ve learned because of those circumstances to do so. In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.

22 December 2010

Because I Have Been Given Much

As I was waking up early this morning, I was thinking about Heavenly Father's relationship with me.

I thought about the endless expanses of eternity--from the largest to the very smallest. I thought about the billions of people who currently live on this earth. I thought about the intricate identities they all possess--beyond any beauty my mind can fathom.

How remarkable is human life.

I thought of the infinite complexities which make up my own life, my identity. Stillness allowed me to see myself for who I really am, and all I could do was marvel at the amazing detail which has gone into my birth. I was born because Heavenly Father wanted me to live, and have joy. He wants to love me not only for who I am striving to become, but exactly as I am right now. 

In the privacy of the morning before sunrise, I felt the amazing assurance that my life has purpose and meaning. It has mass and takes up space. I exist because I am needed. I exist to love, and to be loved. And in those realizations, I remembered again the answer to a question I once held tightly to my chest with a kind of desperation.

Why does God love me?

To me, the answer was a mystery. Dear friends and leaders tried to help me understand: Because you are His daughter... Because you are a good person... Because you love Him... Because you are important to Him... Because He has to...

In the process of trying to find an answer I could live with and understand, I had a conversation with a friend.  He caused me to consider what kind of life I would live if I knew for certain I would never get to heaven. I thought about it for some time, then realized that I wouldn't change anything about the way I live. I would still live a life pleasing to God, and return to Him the glory and praise He is due. I would live to honor Him, even if I could not return to live in His presence. I would do my best to live joyfully and happily according to the manner of happiness because it has already brought me such great joy. A lifetime of that peace is enough of a reward for the good I would try to do in living the way God wants me to live.

I don't know why, but it was only then that I understood the answer to my own question.

To be loved by God--there is no greater gift He can give us. And that gift is one He has already given completely to all of His children. Being obedient doesn't make God love me more--no more than anyone's disobedience makes God love them less. Obedience is important because it creates peace and clarity for me from my vantage point. The commandments of God make it so I can see Him, hear Him, and understand Him. It brings me to a place internally where I can love myself for who I am, and the goodness in my own heart.

Keeping all the rules--it's not about control, and never was. It's not about showing up, performing some labor, and collecting my share of God's blessings, like a wage. I express my love for the Lord through obedience because Christ has said that's what He desires. (John 14:15)

I can give Him that gift completely independent of the prosperity or peril I experience. But if it wasn't for the commandments of God, I'd be so tangled up in my own desires, my own selfishness, my own way, I would never be able to see and understand what God sees or know what God knows.

It would remain as a mystery, an unwrapped gift, to me.

In a season that emphasizes gifts as an expression of love, may we always remember the gift we received with life itself--the love of God in its incomparable magnificence. When we ponder on the essence of life, knowing and feeling the all-encompassing blessing love is in our lives, may we never forget that "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Merry Christmas to you and yours, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen

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