My last post got twice as many readers as a typical post of mine. It is not hard to imagine why. In that post, I say things that everyone else is saying, about how it is hard to be a woman in the Church. That refrain is echoed across the blogs, though often with a different tone. People read it because it said what they wanted to hear. That isn't true of this post. It is easy to identify problems. And problems get to people’s emotions, especially when they’re struggling with the same problem. But solutions are hard. They are uncomfortable. They often seem to cause problems. No one wants that.
But, while I know that far fewer people will read and like this post, I want to follow up my last with what lies beyond the pain of being a woman in the Church. There is another side of that valley of sorrow. On the other side lies a chance to build a great, tall mountain of discipleship that completely swamps all the things that make membership hard in the Church. It doesn't make them go away, of course. I still mourn sometimes. But it takes that pain and frustration and makes something great of it.
This session of Conference, the last of 1971, was a symphony. The talks all addressed slightly different things, but together they wove a great tapestry of discipleship. I couldn't pick just one without robbing some of the harmony. Obviously, going and reading them yourself is the best thing, but I'm going to play you only a small sample.
Hugh B. Brown: "And from the bottom of my heart I say to him and to you, as I think back over that trip through the Holy Land, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and I know it as I know that I live. God bless you, my brethren and sisters, and all of us, as we devote ourselves to his work, to one another, that we may follow the example of those who have spoken in this great conference."
The first step to building a mountain of power and faith is a testimony. I believe wholeheartedly that a testimony of surety, of knowledge is possible. I know that it is popular right now to say, “no one can really know.” But I find that meaningless. It can be applied to anything. No one can really know that God isn’t there for us. But knowledge isn’t about fact. It’s about action. Faith isn’t about being right, it’s about building a moral ground that makes decisions. And the moral ground of God the Father and His Son as taught through the Spirit in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is everything it says it is, when accessed through patience and love.
This step is essential to building a desire to serve God and His children. Without that charity, there is no real understanding of God, His work, or the gospel. Once you know the reality of God, you can build trust in Him, and His concern for your welfare. The desire to serve Him, and His imperfect children becomes overwhelming.
Joseph Anderson: "...The only way in which peace can come to the earth is through obedience to the restored teachings of Jesus Christ."
One of the hardest principles of discipleship is obedience. First is obedience to God. I’ve found the hard part isn’t wanting to serve God, it’s knowing how I’m supposed to serve. I’ve struggled long and hard trying to determine exactly what God’s plan for me is.
But the second, much harder step is obedience to His servants. So much effort and agony is wrung out over the fallibility or infallibility of the leadership of the Church. I can promise, the leaders of the Church are very, very fallible. I’ve been hurt deeply by the actions of leaders, from the counsel of bishops to the teachings of the prophets. But, having received a measure of God’s love, I’m able to be patient and obedient. Many may doubt me, but I can testify with my whole heart that as I have tried to humbly, meekly, and faithfully follow my leaders, I have been so inexplicably, unimaginably blessed. This doesn’t mean I follow blindly, or without speaking up. But when I speak up in love and humility, my leaders and I have both been blessed with knowledge, with power, and with the undeniable presence of God.
Keeping the CommandmentsBruce R. McConkie: "[To worship the Lord] is ten thousand times ten thousand things. It is keeping the commandments of God. It is living the whole law of the whole gospel. To worship the Lord is to be like Christ until we receive from him the blessed assurance: 'Ye shall be even as I am.'"
This follows the principle of obedience. Keeping the commandments is more than checking things off a list. It’s loving the commandments. It’s practicing them to the point that they become part of who we are. I am not perfect at keeping all the commandments in the sense of practicing them perfectly. But I love them. I yearn for them. I yearn for the blessings they bring me in my life. From the greatest: to love God and love my neighbor, to the simplest of keeping the Word of Wisdom, paying tithing, and going to Church. They are not always easy. But my heart belongs to the commandments of God.
I hadn’t thought of this before, but I’m not exactly sure how I got to this point. I just know that there have been times I’ve struggled to want to follow certain commandments. Almost all of them, at one time or another. But as I’ve bowed my head in submission to God and His servants, gradually, a switch was flipped to the point where I was hungry for them. As I’ve experienced that, I’ve been blessed with forgiveness of myself and my continual failure to keep them as I want to. I’ve been blessed with incredible love for my brothers and sisters. I’ve grown in compassion, in patience, and humility. It’s a beautiful thing.
UnityJoseph Fielding Smith: "The First Presidency of the Church is united as one, and it is my prayer that we may ever be one, even as Jesus said that he and the Father and the Holy Ghost are one. And this same oneness should prevail in every stake presidency, every bishopric, and every priesthood quorum presidency."
I’ve heard many people use the principle of unity to berate those who speak up. But one thing I’ve found is that unity—true, divine unity, is found by encouraging people to speak up. This is what those who accuse some members of the Church of following blindly can never really understand. It’s not blind following. It’s following through love and adoration. Leaders of the Church who know God and His ways never shut people up. They know that God’s way is to open the windows of the heart, air out frustration and loneliness, and fill us with light. Granted, fallibility means that many fall short. But I’ve found as I patiently speak up in humility, the Spirit inevitably follows, and that Spirit changes hearts.
Gordon B. Hinckley: "I came to know that when we try in faith to walk in obedience to the requests of the priesthood, the Lord opens the way, even when there appears to be no way."
I add my testimony to Elder Hinckley’s. Poetically, I learned this lesson decades after this talk was given when President Hinckley spoke. I was sitting in the Assembly Hall. I remember him talking about several points, but when he said that we don’t wear earrings, I was shocked. I had my ears pierced against my dad’s advice when I was thirteen because I wanted to wear smaller earrings. It was a personal victory for which I had paid. But when President Hinckley gave his talk, I remember thinking he meant all earrings.
I sat there, wearing my favorite pair, and fighting internally against what he had said. Finally, I decided the earrings weren’t as important as following the (seemingly silly, pointless, and WRONG) advice from the prophet. I took them out and held them in my hand, feeling kind of miserable, but kind of centered. I knew I had made the right decision. Less than three sentences after that, he said “one pair only,” and with relief I put them back in. But I’ve never forgotten my willingness to put personal reasons behind the counsel of the prophet. Especially with silly things that don’t seem to matter to anyone but me.
Thomas S. Monson: "'Son, someone surely does love you.' In that instant he stood cleansed by Christ. His friend said, 'I felt as if I had witnessed a miracle.'"
My mission president asked me in our first interview, “Sister [Rain], do you know what Heavenly Father feels about you?” That struck me to my core. I still haven’t really answered that. It is a very hard question for me, because I had always thought of God as disapproving of me and my choices. Sometimes He is less disappointed than other times, but there is always at least a vague sense I’m not measuring up. But there came a day when I finally found the courage to face that question. That experience is mine, and I can’t share it. But I know that Elder Monson is right. Sometimes, the responsibility for making people feel loved by God is ours. We must learn to forgive and open our arms, no less than the father of the prodigal son.
To Sum Up
I might be clear as mud, but this is the path I have taken, the choices I'm trying to make. People obsess over certain aspects of the gospel and the priesthood, because they are flashier. They are more like we expect power to look. But this is the path to true, divine power! I know it because I’m in the middle of experiencing it. The blessings of God are immeasurable, even in my life which is nothing like what I’d hoped. And while I sometimes need to mourn certain aspects of my life, I rejoice no less in His care.
I may never convince some people of what I have found, of what is there for anyone to find who wants it badly enough. But it is there. It is real. And it is glorious.