It Is Wonderful

In the wake of my announcing my decision to go on a mission I have received an overwhelming outpouring of love, support and general good wishes. It’s been really lovely to feel such a sense of caring from surprising and unexpected sources.

And as I’ve been feeling all this love I’ve been thinking about how it’s all really just an approximation of the love of the Savior. Unfortunately it is all too easy to forget the mercy, love and devotion of the Savior. But I’m trying to remember the greater love which no man hath than this – that He should care for me enough to die for me! 

I stand all amazed and confused and I marvel and tremble that He died for me, such as I am. Not just an earnest though imperfect soul, but one so rebellious and proud as mine. He has extended his great love unto me…sufficient to redeem, to justify, and to own my salvation, and as such He owns my loyalty, my will and my heart in the best possible way.

The Speed of the Right

I was watching one of my favorite movies the other night – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – wherein a main character  expresses his belief that, “Everything will be alright in the end…so if it is not alright, it is not yet the end.” Similar sayings are thrown out all the time at church, “Faith in God includes faith in His timing,” or “This too shall pass.”

As I am not naturally inclined towards faith or optimism, when i hear quotes like this I often think, “Yeah, well there’s a nice little saying that’s impossible to argue with.”

The Faithful Optimist: Oh you have problems? Oh you’re not getting answers? Oh praying and reading your scriptures and going to church aren’t providing the blessings you’ve always been told they would? Well…endure to the end! You just have to wait.

The Realistic (Pessimistic) Person with Problems: I have waited and I keep trying, I just haven’t seen or felt any indication that God exists, let alone felt God’s support in my life.

The Faithful Optimist: God’s timing sometimes requires a lot of waiting…you know the saying, “They never said it would be easy, they only said it would be worth it.”

Discussion over. Realistic (Pessimistic) Persons with Problems can never win this argument! The only way a conclusion can be drawn about what is good, right and true is if the answer or result the Faithful Optimist expects comes. If it doesn’t, then the conclusion is that more waiting is required. If you already claim to know what answer or result will come, if you don’t believe there is even the possibility that problems won’t be resolved or answers won’t come, then really at heart you’re already a Faithful Optimist, not a Realistic (Pessimistic) Person with Problems.

So I wonder if there are Persistent People Who Wait, the Realistic (Pessimistic) Persons with Problems who aren’t overtaken by their problems and pessimism but keep patience and hope alive….if these people exist and if they wait, and wait, and wait….all the way to their deathbeds and then finally think, “All this time I thought I was just waiting but now I’m out of time. Apparently everything I was ever told wasn’t true. Belief in God’s timing and waiting and enduring was really just blind faith and ignorant optimism. Things don’t work out, God doesn’t exist!”

And when I carry out that train of thought to that extreme I suppose there could even be a whole lot of Really Persistent People Who Wait, along with the Faithful Optimists, who maintain hope and belief right up till they die, only to stay very dead and never realize their dreams of eternal life.

Well…so what? Were those people worse off because they believed things would work out? I don’t think so. Maybe it could be argued that their’s is just a case of simple people living in the bliss of ignorance – but is bliss so bad? Especially compared with an alternative like “life sucks and then you die?”

I have recently joined the ranks of the Faithful Optimists (well, am in the process of slowly learning how these people think) and as irritating as I find it, I really can’t see any downside to this philosophy. I believe things will work out, that hard things accrue to my benefit. This belief helps motivate me to keep trying and to seek the Lord’s help. It is what allows me to appreciate progress that is made and believe continued progress and positive days are ahead. Really it gives me hope.

Even on the days where I wonder, where I discount the positive and the good, where I start comparing the years of misery to more recent, mere months of contentment, I can’t help but recognize the rationality of hope and optimism.

Be that prayer again repeated,
Ne’er despairing, though defeated
Pains, nor toils, nor trials heeding, 
And in heav’n’s good time succeeding.
God Speed the right. God speed the right. 

 

Spirit of Digression

I’ve had a great couple weeks, full of mostly good things and a nice break from my everyday routines. But despite all the positives I’ve definitely noticed a slip in my spiritual momentum, which I attribute to being somewhat overcome by the spirit of digression.

I have a lot of thinking time built into my regular life, time I haven’t necessarily had to set aside but which just exists and is available to me without much effort on my part. I use it to think about things I like and find interesting, which, as of late, have been largely spiritual in nature. Over the last few weeks my built-in thinking time essentially disappeared and my efforts to carve out time or dedicate mental energy to anything spiritual were half-hearted and mostly unsuccessful. When I did manage to carve out time, I spent it on social media or email. A few times I planned to do some thinking before bed but after long days, I would climb in bed and start to drift off – not a state conducive to good thinking.

Generally I didn’t miss my thinking time while I was with family or friends or off enjoying beautiful scenery or doing other things I love. But in retrospect I have been missing the moments of peace and rest, that call me from a world of care

Studying, pondering, praying….I’ve never been great at those things nor have I ever really enjoyed them so I always thought this phrase from Alma 32 was only applicable to the overly-churchy (those who talk a big game) or the next-level spirits (those who might as well just be twinkled right now because we all know where they’re going to end up), and I never expect to be a part of either group. But the surprising absence of spiritual nourishment I’ve felt over the last few weeks truly has helped me recognize the way all the studying, pondering, praying, etc. is delicious to me.

I believe in the benefits of dedicating time to spiritual pursuits and have seen how they truly enlarge my soul and enlighten my understanding.

A = Faith

In my first logic class at BYU I learned about a basic argument form called modus ponens (MP):
1) If A, then B
2) A
Therefore, B

This week I’ve been thinking about lots of B’s…principles I don’t understand, decisions that are intimidating with possibilities and consequences I can’t quite see my way to. But then I keep coming back to my A: Hard things, especially hard things undertaken in faith and obedience, give me experience and will be for my good.

Why do I do the B’s? Why should I do them? Do I believe in the B’s? Well I know I believe in A. Confusion, doubt, risk, humility, obedience, pain, sacrifice – they all accrue to my benefit, even if it takes a long time to gain the perspective necessary to recognize that benefit.

Not everything about the gospel follows simply and logically from A, but A gives me confidence that just about any B will work out in the end. If I leave the B’s to the Lord and focus on my faith in Him, A is enough.

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on

I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene – one step enough for me.

.

Choosing without seeing the path

I am trying to figure out the whole “answers to prayers” thing. Not the type of answers involving help or comfort in difficult situations, but more along the lines of guidance or direction when making big decisions.

It’s not been something I have worried too much about previously – I think that generally it doesn’t matter too much (in the grand, eternal scheme of things) what I choose. Even with the seemingly big decisions I’ve made up to this point, I’m not sure there was a “right” or “wrong” decision, though it’s completely possible that one choice was part of a more direct path to progress and happiness, while the other was more circuitous with a lot of unnecessary unpleasantness along the way. But, at least so far, the biggish decisions I’ve made have worked out alright in the end. I don’t look back at any of them and wish I’d made a different choice because I wouldn’t have learned what I’ve learned and wouldn’t be where I am now.

However….

I recognize that there are some decisions which are significant enough that the decision-maker would require, or at least really, really, really appreciate some affirmation of the direction in which they are leaning. Sometimes, when two roads diverge in a yellow wood, or anywhere else, if you’re really going to take the one less traveled by, or if you couldn’t care less which road is most traveled, but you think the road you choose will make all the difference, you want some reassurance that all that difference will be the positive sort.

As part of the decision-making process I have thoughts come into my head, sometimes as a result of connections to other thoughts, sometimes without any clear trigger. In my spiritual immaturity, I have yet to figure out how to distinguish my own thoughts from those which might be the result of the guidance of the spirit and inspiration from God.

I’ve been taught that things which are a good cometh of God. Maybe my “good” ideas, whatever they may be, aren’t just a result of my own cleverness and problem-solving skills, but they actually are a result of guidance and inspiration. That’s great for situations where the “good” choice can be fairly easily identified. But what about good, better, or best options? What if both roads could lead to continual goodness and love and service?

When all the thoughts and options bouncing around in one’s head are good ones, to some degree, that’s when it seems really difficult to figure out what guidance is being provided. There’s always a wonder – was that thought just mine or was that significant somehow? Did I just impose this feeling on that thought because it’s what I want to feel? Am I trying to convince myself that I’m making the right decision for the right reasons when really I just want to make it for selfish or stupid reasons? Does it matter what the reasons are if the result is a good one? But what if both results, to do or not to do, are good ones? Was hearing that comment from that person just now simply a coincidence? Is this thing just on my mind and now I hear about it everywhere? Am I creating a self-fulfilling prophecy so that I have external validation of something I want?

If I were to hear all this, as an external observer, I would roll my eyes at the indecisiveness – just pick one! Everything works out in the end. But I know that there are some decisions where waiting till things work out in the end just doesn’t seem good enough, or might even seem fairly terrifying. A lot of crappy stuff can happen before one arrives at the “end” where things work out.

Of course I know that if, when faced with a difficult decision, the best option was always clear, the degree to which free will plays a role would be greatly diminished.

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is giv’n:
That God will force no man to heav’n.

He’ll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Agency in the face of opposition or confusion is required or there would be no good or bad choices to benefit or suffer from. And then there’s that faith thing again…acting on hope for things (inspiration, guidance, and direction included) which are not seen. I had thought the big, big decisions typically came as a result of a little motivation-via-revelation, but maybe even the big decisions, those that seem so big even taking one step without at least some degree of inspiration feels like taking a truly blind, flying leap across a giant chasm…maybe those decisions just require chasm-size faith.

I loved to choose and see my path; but now…Lead thou me on!

Poetry and Piety

The closest I get to being a true appreciator of poetry is when I read, or more often, listen to the words of hymns. So, when I came across this sentence the other day (part of an essay called A Defence of Poetry, by Percy Shelley), I immediately thought of how it applies to hymns:

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. 

When Shelley mentions the veil, he is probably not referring to the veil between this life and the next, but for me it’s an apt description of the way hymns help me to connect with the spirit, something I think of as being somewhat other-worldly. Lifting the veil isn’t just about seeing the world with new eyes, but it’s about opening or widening the connection I feel between me and the Lord.

At first the phrase “makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar” seemed wrong. I thought of poetry (hymns) as helps in connecting with ideas or feelings on a deeper level, increasing familiarity. But I think familiar here refers to regular, everyday, background “objects” which have lost any real sense of meaning because they seem so commonplace. The principles I have internalized and the beliefs I have come to as a result of singing/listening to hymns were not new to me, but they were made unfamiliar, extraordinary, and meaningful.

I love what John Wesley (founder of Methodism) said in the preface to a hymnal he and his brother Charles (a prolific hymn writer) put together:

I’ve taken Wesley’s advice in returning to the hymns over and over again as a source of spiritual strength. Through years of spiritual torpor and ambivalence I never stopped loving this music and I’m grateful for the role hymns play in my life as poetic vehicles delivering the spirit, confirming faith and increasing my love for God and man.

Feelin’ the Love

Lately as I have been driving to work in the morning I’ve have had unexpected and lovely surges of positivity, and these surges will recur throughout the day. I have come to describe these surges as “feelin’ the love”. Sometimes it almost seems like a drug-induced trance, “Sure, cut me off on the freeway little blond girl, I’m feelin’ the love.” Or “Hey creepy Tinder guy, you’re inherently valuable as a human being, and it won’t be me, but you’ll find someone.” But mostly I feel incredibly loved myself, I feel incredibly grateful for everything that I have, and for all the people I know – friends, family and others, I realize how much I love those people, and I want to share that love in some fashion.

In my mind I relate these “feelin’ the love” moments to charity, traditionally defined as the pure love of Christ, though the use of the word “of” leaves that definition open to three possible interpretations:

1) The pure love of Christ for us, as demonstrated throughout His life and ultimately through the Atonement. Greater love hath no man than this...

2) Our pure love of Christ. We are told that developing this love is the first great commandment, and that we should always have this love in our hearts. This love dispels contention, causes us to hate evil, motivates us to keep the commandments and walk in his ways. Untold blessings are promised to them that love Him.

3) The pure love of Christ for others, extended through and emulated by us. We are essentially delivery mechanisms for this love as we try to instil our own approximation of that pure love for those around us. We are asked to follow Christ’s example, to walk the path that He has shown and go about doing good: to love our neighbors and our enemiesto be patient and kind to visit the afflicted and succor those in need

I am grateful that I am feeling the soul-warming love of Christ (in each of its forms) all around me with more and more frequency.

A Quiet Hour

After being out of town for a few nights, having minimal sleep, and slogging back home at 1:30am, I slept in and missed my 9am Ward. (I haven’t ever actually made it to my 9am Ward, but at least this week I had planned to make it.) The aforementioned factors, as well as some others had me feeling a little irritable and frustrated going into the 1pm Ward I attended, but I wanted to be there anyway because I was hoping for three things: to stop feeling tense and frustrated, to take the sacrament and erase the past week from my mind and heart, and to sing the patriotic hymns with a group of people rather than alone in my car.

Previously what I call the “formulaic approach” to all things gospel-related had not been one that worked for me, so I’m not sure that I really expected the tenor of my day to change dramatically as a result of going to church. And it didn’t. The things that were bothering me have continued to bother me throughout the day, I am still tired, and there was only one patriotic song on the program of the Ward I attended. (Seriously, on July 5th what Ward sings Choose the Right as the closing hymn?!)

But what I did feel was an hour-long break from the things that had been bothering me. I felt the spirit overtake other feelings as I took the sacrament. I recognized sentiments and similar experiences shared by others in their testimonies. And while it’s no Star-Spangled Banner, I did feel a sense of unity with the congregation while singing Choose the Right.

To me, the church’s current push around making the sabbath and the sacrament more meaningful seemed like an odd thing to focus on, but that’s probably because I hadn’t gleaned much meaning from either myself. Today I felt a little bit of the sweetness of the sacred day of rest in having an hour where no mortal care seized my breast. Going into the coming week I do feel like I’ve hit ‘refresh’ and had a renewal of my love and faith. I am grateful that I have a day, or at least an hour each week which is made for me to have these experiences.

For the Least and the Greatest

I’ve been listening to A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief and appreciating how it is packed with great principles centered around the Savior – healing of wounds, selfless sacrifice, the Atonement, bread of life/living waters, a life of service, etc. But today I specifically read the scriptures referenced at the bottom of the hymn – Mosiah 2:17 and Matthew 25:31-40. I’m sure you can recite the verse in Mosiah, but maybe (like me) you aren’t as familiar with Matthew 25.

This specific section of verses is where the Savior gives the parable of the sheep and the goats. The message is much the same as in Mosiah, but as I was reading it today I had a light bulb moment. When I’d thought of serving man as the same as serving God, I think I thought of it mostly in terms of equality and value in all people. Or maybe as instruction that we get just as much credit for helping those around us as we’d get if the Savior stood in front of us needing our help. And that’s a great principle. We should be willing and quick to help anyone, and not be respecters of persons.

But today I read it in a different way. The Savior tells the sheep that they are blessed because they visited, fed, clothed, and took Him in – they are confused and He responds that when they did any of that for anyone, they did it to/for Him. Today the thought came to me that Christ literally meant they provided that comfort and aid for Him when they were serving others. We read that the Savior has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows so, when we help alleviate the suffering of others, we literally alleviate or prevent some of those griefs and sorrows. His load is the sum of all the loads felt by all the people who ever lived on earth, and we can reduce that load through our love and service. I love the directness of this! I’ve always believed in the value of service, and somewhat connected it to serving God in that any good we do pleases God. But I love the idea that we can literally lift some small, small part of Christ’s burden, literally serve Him and serve God by helping our fellow men.

As a side note, something I’m less excited about but which still struck me today was the end of Matthew 25. The Savior turns to address the goats and condemns them, but not for the sins you typically see associated with condemnation in the scriptures. They are condemned for not visiting the sick, not feeding the hungry, etc. And then he says, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” I think it’s interesting that we don’t hear this verse much in comparison to the one given to the sheep. Possibly because this one sets a much higher standard. Sins of omission are so much subtler and harder to catch than those of commission. We always have excuses for sins of omission – I don’t have time to visit that person, or that person doesn’t really need or want my help.

And as evidenced by the goats in the parables, not helping others is sinful and it’s almost doubly bad because not only do we not alleviate some of Christ’s burden, we add our own need for forgiveness and increase the volume of pain Christ experienced through the Atonement.

Anyway, that might be kind of a downer way to end. I’m focusing on the sheep – I believe in the power of service!

Deep Waters

Continuing my hymn-oriented gospel studying….I was reading through How Firm a Foundation yesterday and about some of the history behind it. The song is structured so that the first verse sets up the foundation on which we should build (God’s word) and then the subsequent verses all come from various promises in the bible (third verse – Isaiah 41:10, seventh verse – Hebrews 13:5, etc.). But the one that I spent the most time on was verse four*:

Opposition in all things, the value of trials being greater than that of goldthe refiners fire, glorying in tribulation…I’ve heard all of these phrases over and over of course, but I’m not terribly good at remembering that all these things will give me experience and be for my good in the middle of “these things”. Most people aren’t of course.

The perspective I am gaining on the past, however, is allowing me to appreciate the value of problems that have passed. I was talking with my aunt a few days ago and we both mentioned some of the darkest periods of our lives and how, despite the utter misery we felt, neither of us would go back and change what happened. It is a little bit crazy not to want to avoid life-derailing despair, but for my part I can’t seem to be okay with losing everything I felt and learned.

It’s pretty easy to feel that way when the good experiences seem to be in the present and future and the worst experiences in the past, but I believe that  “to this day has the God of my fathers delivered me out of them all, and will deliver me from henceforth.

I wouldn’t consider my experience with Depression sacred or spiritual in any sense as my attempts to find a religious lifeline resulted in anger, frustration, and a feelings of being forgotten or unworthy or even valueless. I can’t really identify what pieces of the experience allowed me to arrive where I am now, but because of it I believe the promise of the fourth verse. I’m grateful for the sanctification I’ve received from my deepest distress.

*Verse four is added as one of those supplemental verses at the bottom of hymns that we never actually sing, despite the fact that most hymns include four verses as the “regulars”, and it’s a shame. This is one of the many changes I would like to propose for the next edition of the hymn book.