I just realized today that I'm passing through the valley of the shadow of death, also known as the three month mark of my mission.
Because I was trained to go to serve a proselyting mission in Brazil and I ended up at a Visitor's Center on Temple Square, there's a large gap between what I was trained to do and what I'm actually doing every day. I try very hard to be receptive to the guidance and the changes so I can adapt to all the things I didn't expect. It's a lot to take in, and sometimes I struggle with the constant correction. I know this isn't unique to me--it's a huge part of what it means to be a missionary. Receiving correction well from the Lord is a huge part of the refining process that every missionary experiences throughout his or her mission.
I was feeling particularly discouraged last night, so I decided to deal with how I was feeling this morning in my personal study. I didn't quite know where to start, but a scripture one of my companions shared from Proverbs 3 came to mind. That's how I found this counsel:
11 My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction:
12 For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
I was happy to receive that guidance, but I still craved the comfort of the Spirit--to see what I was still missing in my understanding so I could feel close to Him again.
I felt like I needed to read the Book of Mormon, and I opened to where I had left off last time. I opened to Alma 29, which is a chapter where Alma was struggling with the same desires I was feeling. Many people in the Church--including missionaries--see the first two verses...
1 O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!
2 Yea, I would declare unto every soul, as with the voice of thunder, repentance and the plan of redemption, that they should repent and come unto our God, that there might not be more sorrow upon all the face of the earth.
...but they don't see the realization he makes afterwards:
3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me.
I've been struggling to understand what my role is here. I was trained to actively proselyte, which is what I expected to do. But being in a Visitor's Center, my role is one to extend invitations for others to meet with missionaries, but also to buildgood relationships with members of other faiths and to promote a good image of the Church. I've really struggled to know how I can show other faiths the same respect they show us by visiting us in Temple Square, but still fulfilling my responsibility as a missionary to share what I know to be the truth.
Alma answers that question in verse 4 when he says:
4 I ought not to harrow up in my desires the firm decree of a just God, for I know that he granteth unto men according to their desire, whether it be unto death or unto life; yea, I know that he allotteth unto men, yea, decreeth unto them decrees which are unalterable, according to their wills, whether they be unto salvation or unto destruction.
The Lord does not force people to come to him. He will give faith, knowledge, peace, and strength to those who want a relationship with him. For those who do not actively seek to build that relationship with Him, or to build one further, He does not force that upon them. Ultimately, He respects their choices and gives them exactly what they ask for--what He extends to them is always in harmony with the decisions they make to come closer or pull away from Him.
Alma went through this, and I love the conclusion he comes to of why he decided to serve a mission, even though he knew he couldn't convince people, nor was it his job to do so. He says:
12 Yea, I have always remembered the captivity of my fathers; and that same God who delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians did deliver them out of bondage.
13 Yea, and that same God did establish his church among them; yea, and that same God hath called me by a holy calling, to preach the word unto this people, and hath given me much success, in the which my joy is full.
That's why I decided to serve a mission--because even the chance to help someone who wants my help reminds me of everything I've been through. I remember how it felt to walk into a Church building and feel as if I was coming home for the first time in my life. I remember how it felt to have my prayers answered. I remember how it felt to see my life changing, to see a power so much greater than I was come into my life. I remember feeling God's love for me, and knowing that He is my Father, and the first time I realized He had loved me all of my life.
Realizing that I have a relationship with the same God that delivered Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt--that I can rely on Him for help, comfort, and guidance--it brings such peace to my heart and soul. I love Him so much more than I ever could have had I never served this mission because I see more clearly how He works and how much He cares about every single person He brings to this Square.
Correction does bring wisdom, and wisdom helps us to see through the eyes of God. For now, while I'm new, those glances are only brief glimpses. But I know that as I grow, it will change. I love Him for that. I love the Book of Mormon and how it blesses my life. I love the Prophet Joseph Smith and the sacrifices he made to restore the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth again. I love my Savior and His atoning sacrifice. I love my Father in Heaven, and I know that every good thing that happens to us is because of His love for us all.
I am, as ever, your humble servant and never-deviating friend,