It surprises me that in my ward, I teach teenagers. It surprised me even more that, after coming into the classroom to hear her daughter teach, one mother told me, "you are just what these girls need."
I do not feel like I'm just what these girls need. I am not a good example of the efficacy of the things I was taught as a teenager. I waited for a temple wedding, only to have it fall down around my ears. I'm a single working mother with little hope and no expectation of marrying again, in small part because I will not marry outside the temple.
Based on my reading of scripture, both public and private, I have thoroughly failed to do what the Lord asked of me. There is little left. But I intend to do my best at what little there is. At least I'll die trying. I'm too German to give up in the face of failure.
There are two things I have been called to do which still may have some application to my life. I have been told to be a mother and to be a teacher. So when I listened to Paul H. Dunn's decades-old talk, (nearly fifty years old!) I knew what I needed to write about.
It was while serving my mission, struggling helplessly against the rules and strictures of that life, that I came to realize what I needed to become—not only as a missionary, but in my life. Missionary work, for me, has never been about conversion—at least, not about baptisms. I believe that becoming converted to God is essential for people to experience the joy in the Gospel, but I have always felt that the most important first step is for someone to come to know God, to feel safe with Him.
You can't be converted to something you don't know. I am His disciple, not because religion has taught me to be so, but because it has taught me to seek Him directly. My experiences with my Deity have given me no choice but to worship Him.
And so, I abandoned the numbers and counting. I dropped the measures of success and left them to those better suited to the competition. For me, missionary service became a need to learn how to see people as God sees them, to minister to them as He would, were He here.
Baptism is a essential part of that, but not until people are ready. And when they're ready, so long as you have taught them, they will know. You can't hoodwink people into eternity.
So I loved how Elder Dunn talks about his 78-year-old mentor. The very first thing this man did was show that he cared. He knew his students. Despite my best intentions, I am not good at this. I soak in what people choose to share, but I never ask questions. I taught myself at a young age not to pry, but I never realized that sometimes prying is the same thing as caring.
And there's another level to this. In many ways, I am a lost person, myself. I go to church every week, but I often feel like a ghost or a stranger, drifting through a world I'll never really belong to. So it was with an undue intensity I listened to Elder Dunn teach about teaching.
He mentioned how the Savior shared many parables addressing how to find lost things. Sheep, coins, children. I'm going to branch out on Elder Dunn's comparisons a bit.
Some people are lost sheep. Through no intention of their own, they have gotten distracted from the flock. Maybe they were chasing a juicy-seeming patch of vegetation, maybe they were chased away by other sheep, but one way or another, they wake up and realize they don't know where their family is. These are people who, if they look around and you are there, if they know what to do to come back, they will of their own volition and by spending mostly their own energy.
Others are like lost coins. They are valuable to God, but through carelessness or lack of attention, they have gotten lost. Maybe they are hurting, feeling neglected or uncared for, but for whatever reason they are powerless to bring themselves back. They need more than an open invitation to come back. They need to be found. Treasured. They need love and care and attention. They need active ministry.
Then there are the prodigal children. Those who leave by choice. They simply feel there is something better outside of the Church. They are happy with where they are. There is no way to bring them back until they decide the rewards for their decisions are not as great as the rewards in the gospel. To them, we can only say: "you are wanted. You are loved."
I don't share the Gospel or try to minister because I care about the numbers. I do it because I know that in the darkest times of my life, the principles that are taught in scripture and the covenants I have made in the Church were my lifeline. I don't want anyone to feel as lost as I have. And, if it is inevitable, I want them to know where they can turn to find their way back out.
I hope I can teach the teenagers in my class and my own children that our Church truly does teach the way to joy and happiness. There are so many problems. Only in the principles of the gospel have I found lasting solutions. I am lost myself, perhaps, but while I'm out here wandering around, I'm going to do my best to teach other people to seek the flock.
Maybe some day, I'll actually get good at it.