Sunday, May 10, 2015

Behold Your Little Ones

When I was a young teenager, I sat on the ground at the edge of a large pavilion. It was dark, and I was surrounded by other girls and women. It was Young Women's Camp, and it had been pouring rain for three days.

We had an old, military-issue canvas tent, the type which leaked water if you touched the sides. We were soaked, our food was cold because we could not keep a fire, even under shelter. The wind had blown down some of the tents, and two of the wards had gone home. When the leaders of our ward had asked us, my two best friends and I wanted to stay, and we convinced the two other girls to agree. Which is why, clutching flashlights and huddled together, I was among those who were left under a tent which, for the first time since we had pitched our tents, did not patter with raindrops.

I loved it. The air was scented with Austrian white pine and rain. We had seen enough sunshine to dry out a rainwashed set of clothing. We had carefully started a fire, gathered around the tent, and prayed. One at a time, people got up to bear their testimony of the Savior. One of the younger leaders, a girl who seemed at the time to be so old, had just returned from her mission. There was nothing unique about her testimony except that, as I sat there, I was suddenly overcome with the knowledge that I, too, wanted to serve a mission.

Years of change followed. I decided I wanted to change my life around, clean up my language and my thoughts, be a better person. I went to college and prepared to serve a mission. Many things happened in those years, but eight years later, I opened up my mission papers. Six weeks after that, I stepped off a plane onto German soil.

Though I had wrestled with myself during those eight years, it was the next nineteen months which taught me what it truly meant to "deny [myself], and take up [my] cross daily, and follow [Christ.]" While I can't possibly share every step I took in learning how to serve God, I remember one moment in particular.

At the time, I considered myself a constant failure before God. No matter how I tried, I could not do missionary work the way they wanted me to. I could not open my mouth to every person I saw, I could not zealously knock on doors or memorize missionary discussions. Nearly everything about that style of missionary work touched on a wellspring of rebellion in my heart. Not because I didn't want to share what I believed, or even that I was particularly shy, but because I could not "sell" the gospel, stress over goals and success rates.

I wanted to reach people, to do as the Savior did and teach them how to access the power of the Spirit. I knew I could never convince someone to submit themselves to the constant struggle of being Christ's disciple. But I knew that God could, and I longed with every energy I possessed to be a tool to that purpose.

So I had been praying to be able to see people the way God sees them. I thought that if I could love people as God did, I could share the gospel with them, and with nothing but desire for their joy. One day, my companion and I were standing in a nearly empty subway station. As I stood there pondering about this topic, it was suddenly as if a sheet of white light spread over everything. As I looked around, each of the few people around me glowed so brightly, I teared up to look at them. As I saw them, I was filled with an immense, nearly painful feeling of utter love. It burned so strongly, I felt as if my heart would burst.

After a few moments, the feeling became more bearable. But as we boarded the subway, I could still sense the souls around me as infinitely beautiful and of immeasurable worth. I could feel the desire of my Savior to do all that could be done to bring them back to Him.

Now, this did not make me suddenly able to share the gospel. But the memory of that feeling has burned inside of me ever since. It was the light by which I served my mission, and later in my life learned to forgive where I had been deeply injured. It has taught me patience with weakness in others and myself, and helped me understand God's ""work and glory," that the journey of imperfection and mortality, sin and weakness is not an unfortunate opposition to God's work: it is the point.

When Jesus Christ came and visited the people in America, there came time for Him to leave. But the people were so hungry for Him to stay, that His "bowels were filled with compassion." So He asked them to bring all who were sick, deaf, lame, blind, or afflicted in any manner to be healed.

Next, He asked for the children to be brought. He then knelt down and wrestled with God the Father in prayer, pleading for those who were present. And the prayer was so powerful, it could not be repeated nor written down.

After His prayer, He blessed all the little children one at a time, praying to God the Father for each of them individually. How jealous I have been over the years as I read this account. At times, the longing to have been there is almost overwhelming. Because after He blessed them, they were visited and ministered to by hosts of angels, their parents watching and bearing witness.

You might ask what this has to do with me preparing to serve a mission, or with briefly seeing as much of the worth of souls as I could withstand.

I think this story was shared for a very specific reason. It is not just an account of what happened when Christ visited the people of the Americas. It is an allegory for us.

As we come to know Christ, we slowly become filled with a longing to be like Him. We hunger to be in His presence, to learn at His feet. We develop a sense for others who serve the same Master we do. But, inevitably, we are faced with our own weakness. We are blind to the will of God, deaf to His words. We stumble after Him lamely and our souls are filled with a cancer, eating us out from the inside. We come to realize that we are not worthy of His presence, nor of His grace and love.

But we don't serve just any God. This is a being who, possessing all power and being filled with glory, came to earth, subjected Himself to us to be ignored, tortured, and murdered, all to prove to us that His power can overcome the worst we mortals can throw at Him. He is able to heal us of weakness, strengthen us against sin, purge us of all evil. We have to learn to hand ourselves over to Him, allow His will to shape us and change us, even though we may not understand or even like all of the things He asks us to do. This submission and "mighty change" will probably not happen overnight. And sometimes it seems that as soon as we are purified, we fall prey to yet another sin or weakness.

In those moments, Christ sees us and is filled with compassion. He weeps for us. He kneels down upon the ground and pleads for us. Then, as our faith in Him grows, He heals us and makes the very weaknesses we abhor into strengths, tools that can be used to heal and bless others. The alcoholic becomes a sponsor. The broken divorcee becomes an example of hope and strength. The infertile couple reach out to those around them who need the love of a parent, and the wicked become God's best and most valiant soldiers.

He heals us, and we begin to witness miracles. Hearts change, lives are rebuilt from ashes. YOU are the little ones gathered around Christ, purified by His power and ready to receive all that He has. No one is beyond that power. No matter the sorrow you have experienced, the failures you have survived. No matter who you have hurt or what you have done, there is hope. Humble yourself and have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

It's when we have weathered the storms, our hearts are cold, our souls shivering and empty, that we huddle with other broken, weak, and suffering mortals under the tent of His gospel, and are filled.

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