Saturday, December 26, 2015

Being There—Now

I remember the counsel of a dear brother in Christ.
'Pay attention,' he said, 'to the stages of life.
Each is a blur, and before you know it,
your little ones
will be gone.'

By the grace of God, his words stick to my heart
like my 3-year-old sometimes clings,
to me.

Our children are 6, 3 and in the womb.
Even in their youngest years, I feel
an urgency to be present—
to hug,
to play,
to tickle,
to laugh,
to cry.

Parenting cauterizes the soul from the curse of selfishness,
tattooing patterns of selflessness 
onto our Divine Image.

This is the high price of celestial sweetness—
we feed, we clothe, we bathe, we teach;
we sleep, sometimes,
we worry, frequently,
but we rejoice, always.

Samuel B. Hislop

Sunday, December 6, 2015

In Failing to be Another, I'm Learning to be Me

"Why do we feel damaged when somebody else is blessed?"

I once heard Elder Jeffrey R. Holland ask this as he expounded upon the New Testament parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). He called this a "fundamental question that we ought to work through in our life before it’s over."

I'm over 30, yet I still struggle to answer Elder Holland's question. I'm one of the weakest creatures of God's creation. He hasn't blessed with me with extraordinary physical or intellectual gifts, so I've spent much of my life envious of others endowed with more talent, more money, more success. I've repeatedly failed to be them, forgetting that there's a divine, unique me.

Fortunately, failures bring us nearer to truth by a process of elimination. My inability to be what others are brings me closer to learning who I am and what I can offer the world.

Scripture and the words of religious leaders also help.

To wit, I take great comfort from Alma in the Book of Mormon. Even as a spiritual leader, he was slightly off center in his wish to preach repentance to the entire world. He recognized sin in his desire to do it all, and came to the humbling understanding that he wasn't the only resource God has to accomplish His divine project. "I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me," Alma says (Alma 29:3).

Another spiritual leader, Paul, teaches that the church is like a body, and reminds us that "the body is not one member, but many" (1 Corinthians 12:11). And in the Doctrine and Covenants, Jesus teaches the liberating doctrine that "to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God" (D&C 46:11, emphasis added).

I'm reading Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence, an outstanding new book from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I treasure his wisdomespecially his exegesis of the book of Genesis, which contains these two insights:

Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else. (p. 139)

There is no need to want someone else's blessing. We each have our own. (p. 170)

I've spent too much of my life thrashing about in attempts to be what other people are and to have what they have, all the while not trusting God's promise that I have something special to offer and forgetting His teaching that I need to be content with that offering.

And so I move forward, seeking to be the me God wants me to be. Recent experience shows me that few things bring more peace to my soul than to see my true self in the divine mirror.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Economy of Heaven: 'Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread'

Mormons excel at what one writer calls the "the sacrament of helping other people move." In our nearly nine years of marriage, my wife and I have moved six times. In each instance we've had strong hands from our local congregation (as well as our extended families) lighten our moving load.

Our most recent move was this summer, into our first home. We knew our parents and siblings wouldn't be able to provide all the help we would need for a quick move, so we announced our plans at Church so members could schedule time to help us.

When the morning of the move came, only two people from our congregation (in addition to my parents, brother and sister-in-law) came to help. This bothered me. How could it be, I wondered, that only two of the hundreds of people in our congregation had time to help us move furniture and boxes?

As the day unfolded, however, I could clearly see how God was blessing us with what we needed on that day. My brother and I unloaded the truck quicker than I expected and we finished by early afternoon. My parents brought us pizza and soda soon afterward (timely sustenance and refreshment), and both they and my wife's parents provided key help in many other ways.

As the blessings of the day became more apparent, a portion of the Lord's prayer repeatedly came to my mind: "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11, emphasis added).

I learned something of the economy of Heaven that day—namely, that God will always bless us with what we need, but not always with what we want. Perhaps He won't send the whole congregation when two faithful neighbors are enough to help get the job done.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Finding My Place in Christ's World

Sometimes God answers the unasked question.

This spring, as my wife and I began the labyrinthine process of buying a home, I started to re-read the Book of Mormon (I'd been focused on the other portions of the Mormon canon the past three years and was hungry to re-engage with this sacred text).

I hadn't finished the book's third chapter before the Holy Ghost taught me with undeniable clarity that my focus on material things was misguided.

You see, I wanted to buy a big-screen television (60 or 70 inches wide) for our new home. We've never had a TV larger than 12 or 15 inches during our 8.5 years of marriage, so the purchase of a new home seemed an appropriate time for a TV upgrade.

When I came to the account of Nephi, Laman, Lemuel and Sam trying to obtain the brass plates from Laban, verse 26 of chapter 3 spoke directly to my spirit:

And it came to pass that we did flee before the servants of Laban, and we were obliged to leave behind our property, and it fell into the hands of Laban.
Those italicized words were the message. They couldn't achieve their objective (obtaining the brass plates, or scriptures) without letting go of their possessions. Applying this verse to myself, I can't achieve my objectives (being a husband to my wife and passing on the tradition of faith in Christ to my children) without relinquishing my desires for the shiny things of this world. 

We have been in our home for five months, and 1 Nephi 3:26 continues to guide me. Sometimes I wander into the trap of thinking our home isn't big enough for our growing family or isn't good enough when compared to the elegant homes of our neighbors. I know these thoughts are absurd (and no doubt cultivated in the rich materialist soil of American culture), but such are the temptations we confront in this world.

I like the way C.S. Lewis says it in The Screwtape Letters: "Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is 'finding his place in it,' while really it is finding its place in him" (p. 132). 

May we all find our place in Christ's kingdom. This will take more than casual searching, however, because He tells us His dominion is "not of this world" (John 18:36).