BoM 3: My Laman and Lemuel Moment…or Year

During last week’s Come, Follow Me reading I was startled as I heard my own voice while listening to the audio of 1 Nephi 17. Laman and Lemuel are complaining to Nephi about all their trials and hardships:

[Our father] hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.

Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy. (1 Nephi 17:20-21, BoM)

“We have suffered” echoed in my mind as I remembered the worst inner dialogue I have ever used in my life–and it was on my mission. “I hate this. I hate being a missionary. I feel so miserable. Why am I suffering so much? I can’t wait for this to be over. I enjoyed my other travel experiences so much more. I would be so much happier if I were anywhere else.” If that’s not self-defeating, I don’t know what is. These words repeated over and over in mind for months. In all fairness, I think I was dealt a rough hand on my mission, but I could have and should have found healthier ways of working through my challenges, misery, pain, and bitterness. (Luckily God taught me much and my inner dialogue doesn’t reflect the type of missionary I turned out to be.)

Part of my problem was that I had started my mission feeling like a Nephi. I knew the scriptures, I loved the Gospel, I was excited to teach people, I had made good choices my whole life, I had an education, and on and on. But God needed to teach me some important lessons and, as a result of a unique personality combined with some very difficult circumstances, I took these lessons very hard––in fact they were devastating. I felt like God had broken me down to nothing so I clung desperately to the accomplishments and qualities I had once used to pad my identity.

One of the most challenging things God taught me was in revealing a series of lies I had told myself about my character. As He exposed those lies, I fought the truth, desperately afraid of what would happen to me. But then, as I surrendered to His “stretching and ‘higher’ ways,” He helped me accept who I really was (both the good and the bad) and begin building a new character better founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ (see Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance,” General Conference, April 2002.) For example, I had to accept that I was actually judgmental and self-righteous. As God built me back up, He taught me how to love people wherever they’re at and how to graciously acknowledge and admit my own weaknesses and shortcomings.

My “suffering in the wilderness” experience leaves me with sympathy for Laman and Lemuel. It is so easy to immediately label them as “the bad guys” in the narrative and every time I re-read the Book of Mormon I want to fall into that old pattern. But I am catching myself––I don’t want to judge them. I get why they were so upset! I left all my comforts, too, and wandered in the wilderness for a long time. Suffering is the worst! No one wants to suffer.

So, how do we solve the Laman and Lemuel dilemma? When we’re suffering in the wilderness, what do we do? For me, I’m going to change my inner dialogue and, instead of taking things so hard, I’m going to try and laugh more and be actively grateful for every blessing, the big and small. I’m going to submit more readily to God’s “stretching and higher ways” rather than cling to whatever it is God wants me to give up. Instead of being angry about what God is supposedly doing to me, I’m going to focus on what I can be doing to make life happier for others. Instead of rhapsodizing about the past, I’m going to look forward to the future and envision the happy, enjoyable times ahead. Instead of asking, why is this happening to me, I’m going to ask, what does God want me to learn from this experience? How is this experience going to change me in positive ways; how will it make me a better mother, wife, friend, disciple?

BoM 2: Supporting My Spouse in a Demanding Church Calling

Now I know of a surety…that the Lord…hath given [us] power whereby [we] could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded [us]. (1 Nephi 5:8, BoM)

Several years ago my husband was asked to serve as the leader of an inner-city branch. We loved our branch and the wonderful people we served and served with.

Soon after the stake set apart my husband, I had a dream one night. We were driving our Jeep in a foreign city that I recognized from my mission. My husband was behind the wheel and our one-year-old daughter was buckled safely in her car seat in back. In the dream I became increasingly worried about my husband’s driving. He was driving carelessly, looking at everything but the road and the traffic around us. We found ourselves approaching a set of traffic lights with multiple crossings of one-directional traffic. Just ahead and perpendicular to our line of traffic I could see a barrier and a harbor immediately beyond. My husband drove straight through the light, crossed traffic, and broke the barrier, plunging us into the water. I struggled to free myself from the seatbelt and, remembering our daughter, I turned to try and free her. My husband by this point had already freed himself and was swimming for the surface. My daughter and I could not get out.

I awoke, terrified, but not at a loss for the meaning of the dream. In waking hours I had begun to worry about the amount of time my husband was spending on his church calling and not on his school work or with our family. I expressed my concerns to my husband following the dream, relating its events and my interpretation. I was legitimately afraid for our family’s future.

Sariah expressed similar concerns to her husband, Lehi, about the safety of her children and health of her family. “[S]he…complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:2, BoM). They had taken a huge step into the unknown by obeying the Lord’s commandment to leave Jerusalem. They were also taking a huge risk sending their sons back to Jerusalem to obtain a sacred record from a dangerous man at the Lord’s command.

Lehi, ever confident in his calling and the instructions of the Lord, comforted Sariah the best he could, bearing his testimony of the goodness of God. When Nephi and his brothers returned to the family camp safe and with the brass plates in hand, Sariah exclaimed: “Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them” (1 Nephi 5:8, BoM).

I similarly learned an invaluable lesson about supporting my spouse in church service. Rather than let preoccupation with my dream feed my fears, I turned my attention to serving our branch with equal love and diligence. Rather than complain when my husband informed me he would be gone all day Sunday or had to step out unexpectedly on church business, I learned to say, “good luck, be safe; I will see you when I see you.” As I supported my husband in his responsibilities, I witnessed the same truth Sariah learned: the Lord protected, blessed, and prospered our family.

A few examples that taught me the goodness of God and demonstrated His willingness to bless when we serve Him and follow His commandments:

  • While driving between my parents’ home and my in-law’s at 6 months pregnant, with my one year old in the car, I was struck by a tractor trailer. Not only were we able to walk away from our totaled car merely shaken and without a single physical injury, the company paid us generously for our totaled vehicle and gave us extra money.
  • The minivan we purchased after the accident ran perfectly at over 250,000 miles for 3.5 years (until my husband was released…then it started falling apart).
  • We had two healthy children born while serving and they rarely got sick.
  • Despite the terrible quality of roads everywhere we drove on church service, we only ever had one flat tire on each of our cars in 4.5 years, and both flats manifested conveniently at our home.
  • I was handed multiple opportunities to hone my musical talents through music service which provided me with a creative outlet, increased my personal joy, and resulted in significant spiritual growth as well.
  • When a promised job fell through just before my husband graduated with his doctorate (and we had no back up plan), the Lord sent us a friend who recommended a totally different career path. My husband’s church service became some of the most impressive parts of his resume and he successfully got a (much better) job less than five months after our initial disappointment.

The wonderful thing about church service is that the whole family can participate, not just by being supportive in word. As I participated in our branch, serving in multiple callings at the same time, doing informal service, with my young children in tow, I witnessed first hand how God strengthened, protected, and blessed our family. I will forever preach to friends, family, and strangers that the Lord blesses and prospers individuals and families when they lose themselves in church service.

NT 19: Atonement and Harmony with God

Paul’s letter to the Romans may very well contain the highest concentration of my favorite scriptures. I love Paul’s imagery and his powerful testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Romans 5 offers a beautiful explanation of Christ’s role in the salvation of the human race. As always, my reading of these scriptures is grounded in revealed, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doctrine.

Paul’s teachings about Christ’s role in salvation rely on the foundational doctrine of the Fall which explains the necessity of a redeemer. The Fall describes Adam and Eve’s decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Their choice to disobey the commandment not to eat that fruit resulted in not just their dismissal from Eden but it brought upon mankind the conditions of physical death and spiritual death (separation from God through sin) (see v. 12). Paul describes sin as an ubiquitous condition of mortality: it is taken as granted that humans will sin (v. 19). A divinely ordained law establishes the shape of sin and, by so doing, necessitates consequences.

The consequences, however, are not insurmountable nor are they eternally damning if we follow Jesus Christ. His law requires the performance of specific ordinances and daily behavior in order to qualify for salvation. He will help us keep the law while providing forgiveness if we fall short of the law’s requirements. He justifies us according to our faith (v. 2) and repentance. One of Paul’s beautiful images relates to his conception of salvation as returning to harmony with God. Where mortality and sin put us into conflict and discord with God, Christ brings us back into harmony with God the Father by providing forgiveness of sins as well as resurrection (v. 1, 10). This is the crux of Christ’s Atonement, that He provides redemption from sin and death, the blessings of salvation which “abound unto many” “through our Lord by whom we have now received the atonement” (v. 15, 11). Christ puts as at-one with God.

Where sin is a given condition of mortality, pervasive, and sure to lead to spiritual death, we can find relief in Christ’s grace which does “much more abound” (v. 20). His grace is more ubiquitous than sin. Personal righteousness (i.e. performance of ordinances, keeping commandments, repentance) will insure that grace reigns “unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21).

NT 13: Finding the Faith-promoting Narrative

As I read the story of the Gentile woman in Matthew 15 last week I felt tempted to approach the scriptures from a feeling of indignation. But that did not seem like a productive effort. To read the Gentile woman’s experience in Matthew 15:21–28 as solely an example of victimization is to perpetuate the historical narrative about women and reaffirm women’s victimhood––all without providing any deeper, faith-promoting insight. To only focus on one side of the story is to miss the beauty of the exchange. To only see the woman as a victim is to miss the manifestation of a strong, inspiring character.

There is so much good to learn from this story! The Gentile woman demonstrates incredible determination in pursuing a miracle from Jesus, even after the disciples have tried to get rid of her. She shows amazing faith by pursuing healing at the hands of someone with whom she had no social, cultural, or religious intercourse. Her motherhood shines as she pushes against socio-cultural norms to save her daughter’s life. Her wit excels as she accepts the appellation “dog” without reaction and turns it back to Jesus to again request the miracle within the context of His analogy. And you know how the story ends…she gets her miracle.

Though stories about women are comparatively few in the scriptures, the Gentile woman stands out to me as a story of strength and resilience. Over the years, women of faith, wit, and goodness have blessed my life in countless ways. Maybe that’s the new narrative we can write, one of women uplifting others, women carrying others’ burdens, women strengthening each other, women blessing humanity.

Can you think of time when your life has been blessed by a woman?
Can you think of opportunities in which you might be able to bless humanity?

 

NT 11: A Centurion, A Servant, and Humility

Ever since reading the story of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13 last week I have reflected on it over and over again. The centurion’s initial request for help (in person, according to Matthew’s account) precedes what struck me initially as a statement of ego: “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Was it really necessary for him to tell Jesus how influential and powerful he is in his sphere? Certainly Jesus understood that the centurion occupied a higher social status. But on the heels of the centurion’s self-identification “Jesus…marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). What about the centurion’s statement expressed such great faith?

Upon rereading the passage I couldn’t help but equally marvel at what I discovered. First, the centurion seems to have been working out his expression of faith, describing that he believes Jesus can just speak and perform a miracle because that is how the centurion operates in his own life. He recognized in Jesus something of a peer, a powerful man whose order would be immediately obeyed, just like him in his own household. The centurion understood the mechanics of directive and obedience, and therefore could believe in the application of the system to his request for help.

Second, I began to recognize in the centurion’s statement a profound humility. The centurion, in describing how he is obeyed in his household, was expressing his willingness to abase himself and become like one of his servants, ready to obey Jesus’ command, do whatever Jesus instructed in order to save his servant.

If only we would voluntarily give up status and accomplishments, the trappings of social position with which we pad our identities, and place them at the feet of the Savior, as readily as the centurion. What miracles could God work in our lives if we in faith expressed our willingness to obey God’s directions with the alacrity of the centurion’s servants?

Last year when my husband didn’t get the job we had been anticipating for six years, we had no backup plan. My husband applied to other academic jobs and began following leads from friends. As the weeks dragged on with no immediate prospects, we began praying to know what commandment we could keep more perfectly in order to qualify for our desired miracle. We focused on spiritual improvement within our family, expressing our willingness in prayer to do whatever God required of us. Within three months my husband had received and accepted an offer for an amazing job.

This lesson came full circle for me this week as another New Testament reading led me to Psalm 55: “As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (v. 16-17, OT). When we can make such unequivocal statements as “the Lord shall save me” and “he shall hear my voice,” we express our firm belief that doing God’s will results in miracles. Just like the centurion we can acknowledge God’s power, cast aside illusions of personal greatness, willingly perform God’s instructions, and receive the miracles and blessings He waits to bestow.

Day 85: These Three

Ether 12:4-9 and Moroni 7:38-48

I have been waiting since October to write about faith, hope, and charity. They are one of my all-time favorite Gospel topics to ponder and talk about. I don’t think it’s an accident that of all the Jaredite writings he abridged, Moroni chose to summarize Ether’s teachings on faith, hope, and charity; and then use some of his precious time and energy to copy in a letter from his father on the same topic. We should pay close attention to these verses!

Moroni boils down the Gospel of Jesus Christ to these three foundational principles: faith, hope, and charity. They describe a process we must all go through, developing, first, faith in Jesus Christ. We start by believing that He is real, that He is God, that He came to earth, suffered, bled, and died on our behalf. We exercise faith in His ability to forgive sin by repenting. We exercise faith in Him when we keep His commandments. Moroni says that hope follows faith. Hope is a specific belief, hope “for a better world,” the belief that we will receive Christ’s promised gift of eternal life (Ether 12:4; Moroni 7:41). Building on the stepping stones of faith, then hope, we develop charity, “the pure love of Christ,” the love that compelled Him to sacrifice Himself for us (Moroni 7:47). Christ loved us enough to lay down His life. We need to love others enough to share the Gospel, serve, and help them on their path to eternal life.

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. (Moroni 7:48)

Faith, Hope, and Charity

 

Day 82: Where my treasure is

Ether 14:1

As I read in Ether 14 about the curse on the land, I remembered a related experience I had a few years ago. In Ether 14 the Jaredites have become so wicked that they are on a crash-course for total destruction. The “curse on the land,” as Ether and Moroni call it, resulted in material possessions disappearing: “if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place wither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it” (Ether 14:1).

Whether this means that people were stealing each other’s stuff or something else, I’m not sure. But a few years ago, when we first moved to our current state, things started disappearing from our car. It culminated (for me) in the theft of my iPod. It feels really trivial now and I’m a little embarrassed to admit, but I was really mad about it. For years. I used to listen to music every day on it. All my favorite music was there. I also had recordings of myself singing on my mission, recordings from a choir I sang with, favorite audiobooks. Suddenly I didn’t have any of it anymore. I had to accept that I would never get it back.

I take the history from Ether as a warning that the “curse” could come back. Certainly theft is a major problem in our society and it will probably only get worse. But the warning I really took to heart this time is to let go of material things. Jesus taught, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21, NT; 3 Nephi 13:21). I really treasured my iPod. The length of my bitterness (and anger at my husband for not locking the car) should have been a big red flag to me that my heart wasn’t in the right place.

I am trying to change my attitude toward material possessions and change my heart to treasure my family, my faith, and my God more than anything else in the world.