Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recreating a Testimony, Recreating Oneself

Once upon a time, I was completely sure of my testimony in God. My eyes were on the celestial goal, I knew where I was going. I knew how to get there. My life wasn't easy. I battled with various temptations and sins, but I believed that if I just worked hard enough, tried hard enough, it would be enough.
"Now and then I confess you cross my mind.
Now and then I guess I have a little too much time.
I've changed my way of thinking.
I've tried hard to separate
what came too soon
from what came too late."
But I ended up throwing all my effort behind a series of ventures that not only failed to move me closer to my goal, but threw me backwards. They crumbled my beliefs in myself, made me realize that I was nothing. Literally nothing. All my years of effort to become what I wanted to be, all my sense of accomplishment was nothing. I had failed. Giving it my all was not enough. Was once again not enough.
"I don't think about me in terms of you.
I don't think about you in terms of us.
I don't think about us in terms of love."
Did I ever fail to believe that God was there? Did I ever doubt His existence? No. But I doubted my place in His eyes, doubted that I had what it took to join Him again. I looked at my life, my mistakes, and thought myself irredeemable. Surely I was not worth rebuilding from the dust of my dreams and hopes. Surely the Atonement could not heal this.
"I don't think about then in terms of now,
I found a way to start again somehow.
I don't think about what we thought it was
in terms of love."
Frantically, I tried to hold everything together, to allow my failure to make as little impact in the lives of my friends and family as possible. But I knew somewhere deep inside that I was as hollow as a dead cocoon, full of expired potential. I had spent everything foolishly, and now it was gone.
"I'm countin' on heaven to understand.
I didn't mean to go and mess up all the plans.
Sometimes you know where you should go
Before you know the way."
Gradually, without feeling it or seeing it at first, I came to realize what the Atonement really means. It means continuing forward even though I can't see how to go where the Lord wants me to go. It means realizing that I'm nothing, yet believing that God, the master potter, is powerful enough to create beauty from the dust of my soul.
"I'll bother with tomorrow
Once I've made it through today."
It means not looking forward any more than I have to, but enjoying where I am right now. It means fully and literally handing over the responsibility for creation back to Him. It means forgiveness, forgiveness of debt. It means letting Him hold the debt that others owe me, and allowing Him to pay me what I might be owed. It means no longer worrying about what should have been or could have been, or even what will be, but simply trusting Him.
"But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children."
Isaiah 49:25
Letting go.
"I don't think about black in terms of gray
Or revelations in the light of day."
Letting go, but no longer making excuses for others. Not automatically assuming that others' opinions and viewpoints have more merit than my own. Trusting myself, as well, to be a good person. Allowing myself to do my best without expecting perfection. No longer craving constant revelation and guidance because I don't trust my own ability to discern and choose.
"I don't think about cold in terms of ice
Or second chances happenin' twice."
It is total reliance on God for the outcome, constantly seeking His guidance, yes, but not waiting on it. It is moving forward with faith. Forgiving myself for not letting other people stomp me to the ground one more time. No longer making others' problems my problems. Saying good-bye, even if they can't. Allowing them to take their own salvation in their hands so that I can work out mine. Maybe it isn't "happily ever after," but someday it will be.

"And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done?

"Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.

"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.

"And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen."
2 Nephi 31:19-21

*lyrics from SheDaisy, "In Terms of Love"

Friday, March 12, 2010

Culture vs. Doctrine: Conformity is not a Swear Word

I have been thinking quite a lot over the past several years about a few issues that seem to fall into the same basket—women wearing pants to church, women longing for the priesthood, two-hour block meetings, lesson correlation, who says prayers in what order—and proposed behavior in regards to these issues. These issues trouble me because although I can agree with the dilemmas inherent in these issues, I most strongly do not agree with most of the grassroots actions proposed by complainants.

To clarify, let me use one recent example of what I mean. A woman posts a link about wearing pants to Church and the conflict that has been caused by it, listing her reasons for wearing pants despite knowing the conflict and discomfort it is likely to cause. Many other people vent their spleens about how backwards and anti-woman no-pants-wearing-at-church-rules are, some sharing stories about injustices suffered, others sharing stories about how it made no difference. Some imagine up saucy rejoinders to say to any unfortunate leader trying to correct such behavior, others belabor the notion that dress-wearing is cultural bias, not salvational doctrine. (With the automatic assumption that anything cultural is worthless.) Wearing pants to church becomes a symbol of intelligence and strength. And, usually, anyone who might proffer an opinion that it is less than appropriate to wear pants is perceived as backwards, suppressed, or other such adjectives. (Please note that this example is about a principle, not about pants. Frankly, Scarlett, I don't care if a woman wears pants to Church. To me, if it really is a symbol of true strength and intelligence, no one would feel the need to flaunt it and make it into a status symbol.)

I came across a rather interesting scripture that I think applies to situations like this where people feel a need to flaunt their actions which are against ambient culture.

"If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.

"As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

"But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

"But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend."

Basically, this is teaching that although you might know that a particular practice is ridiculous from an eternal standpoint, and has no bearing on eternity, that it is a sin against Christ to actively work to flaunt that knowledge in the face of those who do not have the same understanding.

To use another example, I design the ward bulletin. Every week, I take the various bits of information and put them together. Two weeks in a row, I was told that the "Smith" and the "Brown" couples would be speaking. The first week, I put Sister Smith before Brother Smith on the agenda, the second week, I put Brother Brown before Sister Brown. They switched themselves (I suppose because of the cultural practice that dictates women speak before men.) It bothered me because it seemed to be a slap in the face. (It is a pet peeve of mine when people assume unspoken instructions.) However, after thinking a great deal about it, I realized that it was nothing more than my own pride that was bruised. It doesn't really matter who speaks first, and if they want to arrange it that way, it harms nothing in an eternal sense.

I understand that this principle can be taken too far the other way. Conformity for conformity's sake has a place, but in moderation. One could drive oneself batty trying to match everyone's expectations. However, like everything else, there is a balance. Culture may be wrong, but if squabbling over a petty cultural false conception means that another person will be filled with anger and/or mimic your behavior out of rebellion, it is not worth it.

Sometimes (but not always) Christ's purposes are better filled by simply conforming. After all, He may have rubbed the lawmakers of His day the wrong way by disobeying their made-up spiritual laws, but He very rarely made a point of it unless they first came after Him. Look at Ammon. By judiciously conforming, he changed the course of spiritual history for his entire people.

Popular Posts