Friday, November 27, 2009

I'm Grateful for the Wilderness

In fairy tales, the wilderness is a frightening place where characters either run for refuge or are order to fulfill a mission, face a great challenge, meet someone instrumental, or learn an important skill. The wilderness is an instrument of change.

The same is true in scripture, both ancient and modern. Consider:

Our first parents were cast out of the Garden of Eden to a wilderness...the lone and dreary world. Without that step into the great unknown, the world would never have been populated. We would not exist. Adam said, "Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient." (Moses 5:10-11)

Moses led the children of Israel out of captivity...and spent the next forty years circling the promised land, in the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that they witnessed the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, built a golden calf for idol worship, and received the Ten Commandments.

Lehi was warned in a dream to leave behind his riches, his possessions and his remarkable real estate and journey into the wilderness with his family. The entire Book of Mormon begins with this crucial story of one family's journey into the wilderness.

Mormon pioneers were cast out of their homes and farmland and driven into the wilderness, crossing thousands of miles on the plains before arriving in the Salt Lake Valley.

John the baptist was raised in the wilderness. Living in the wild was somehow essential to his preparation as a baptist and an elias, one who ushers in.

Christ spent 40 days praying and fasting in the wilderness, and ultimately retired to the wilderness, the Garden of Gethsemane, to talk to God and atone for our sins.

This year our oldest son spent two months in the wilderness. It was a much-needed instrument of change. The beating down of the earth's elements seem to soften his heart in ways nothing else had succeeded.

At some point every one of us, just like fairy tale characters as well as prophets and patriarchs, will have to pass through a personal wilderness. Perhaps several, both literal and figurative. These wildernesses are frightening places, full of unknowns, full of danger...but often harboring wise leaders, helpful guides...and always effecting change.

This year my gratitude for the wilderness is profound. I am grateful for the progress our son made there, for the peace and reflection that comes to me when I escape there myself, and most especially for the wilderness Christ was willing to enter in our behalf. I am acutely aware of the fear that comes as we leave our personal comfort zones to embark on a journey. I am in awe of the peace that is offered, often in the very face of life-threatening danger. I am humbled to my knees at the wilderness Jesus bore for each of us. And I rejoice in the miracle and power of change.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Catch and Release

Today I felt a burden lifted. I’m not sure if it was the drag of October...suddenly turned November. Or if it was the fact that I was released from my calling today. But there was tangible lightness. I felt lifted, renewed. Connected. Happy, even. Just as I was being released.

Catch and release. A practice of mercy. Throwing fish back in the stream. To save them. In the church it is Call and release. But I still think there is some initial pain, some mercy, and a stream moving us toward our destination.

This has been, in many ways, my most difficult calling. Even though I’d done it before, in a previous ward. The work itself wasn’t difficult. But this time around I felt like a fish out of water most of the time. Never quite sure where I fit, what contributions I was making.

I spent too much time in this calling feeling angry. I had so many wrestles of the heart. I felt controlled. Often manipulated. Redundant. Resentful. I felt like an appendage. Whatever I did was often already done before I got to it. And more often redone as soon as I was finished. The frustration was running high. I felt like my wings were clipped.

At the same time I felt guilty. I felt guilty for feeling angry, of course. Guilty for not ever really taking off, not spreading my wings. For somehow allowing my wings to be clipped. I also felt spent. I did not have the energy to continue to fill the empty well that stood before me, more like a sieve, desperate for approval. But I realize that approval wasn’t mine to give. It was only His.

In some ways I didn’t realize how oppressive all those emotions weighing on me had become...until today, as they were lifted.

My patriarchal blessing tells me to “accept with a glad heart each call”. It also says that when I “serve to the very best of [my] ability the Lord will honor [me]”, and I will “find great joy in His service”. I have always used those phrases from my patriarchal blessing as a sort of barometer for my church service...if I wasn’t finding great joy, I must not be serving to the very best of my ability. Maybe I needed to work harder. Or work deeper. Something.

But this time around I could never seem to find that something. I never felt like I hit the ground running. I never knew quite what to do, let alone how to improve. Couldn’t figure out why I was unhappy so much of the time. I loved being with the children, preparing sharing times, teaching them, greeting them, singing with them. And I especially loved painting a mural of the sacred grove to beautify the room where they meet. But this emotional drag, this was foreign territory for me. I usually love my callings. Love serving. Love going the extra mile. I was definitely out of my element.

As we held our final presidency meeting this past week, I thought about my dad. I remember on the morning he was released as bishop, he called us together for family prayer, and offered up our collective service to the Lord, acknowledged all the labor and sacrifice, and offered it to God as his and our response to the call to serve. I remember the powerful feeling that followed, as we felt that the Lord had indeed found our offering “acceptable” and poured out his spirit to let us know.

Somewhat guiltily, I wondered if I could have such an experience in this calling. If I could actually offer the Lord my service as second counselor in the primary presidency as the best I could give, and if He would find MY offering acceptable. Sheepishly, I decided not to ask.

And yet, today I felt good. I didn’t feel inclined to hang my head. Or shrink in defeat. I felt honored. Appreciated. Eager to serve. Lifted up.

So maybe what I had to offer--even if it was very different from what I have been able to offer at other times, in other places, in other circumstances--maybe what I had to give this time around was somehow, miraculously, enough. Perhaps even very good.

I looked back on my setting apart. Remembered how I had questioned (like never before) the inspiration behind this calling, and sought confirmation. When the bishop laid his hands on my head, he told me that I was expected to open the scriptures with the children, and teach powerful truths from their pages. Beyond that, I was promised that each time I bore testimony...of the scriptures, the Restoration, the Savior...those I loved and cared for at home would be blessed. That was my witness. The Lord knew my heart.

I thought about the way I used the scriptures in every sharing time...Telling the story of the Brother of Jared. Showing how the Book of Mormon, the Old Testament, and the New Testament all started with the story of a single family. Teaching the way prophets used tools (and made the ones they didn’t have) to build towering structures -- and strong families. I know I did my part. I also thought about the particular crucible our family has crossed through over the past three years, and can only conclude that the Lord kept his promise.

I have regrets. I wish we had focused more on ministering and less on ad-ministering. I wish we had visited the children more often in their homes, made more of an effort to reach out to the less active families. I wish I had been more submissive and served more joyfully, offered less resistance.

But today I am hoping, praying, that the good somehow outweighed all those regrets. And that somehow this odd mix of frustration and fractious feelings and sharing and service and soul-searching was somehow, without my even being aware of it, the best I had to give.

And now I am back in the stream, floating for awhile, until the next catch.


When I was set apart for my next calling, the Lord very graciously and specifically told me how well I'd done in this calling, and that my service was deeply appreciated.