Friday, June 17, 2011

Clarity and faith

The week following my last post, I took the time to do some serious thinking and feeling. I was encouraged in part to do so because of an email Scott sent to me that explained some of the reasons his testimony has evaporated. I felt a need to attend the temple to seek some answers.

Here are some of my thoughts during my drive on the way there, and then while sitting on the temple grounds after doing some initiatory work. Some of the thoughts stem from Scott's words, which I am choosing not to post.

  • Yes, there are other churches with good and bad pieces, with people that will be rewarded for their good works and faith.
  • God lives. Jesus is the Christ.
  • It does not matter if leaders are perfect or not, if church history is twisted, if policies change, if it seems sometimes that things are so conflicting, contradictory, hypocritical. God allows things to happen, mistakes to be made, for a reason.
  • Culture...Life...Policies...Ways of doing things are ever changing, and always will be changing. But God is the same forever. He loves all of us--liberals, conservatives, atheists, believers--and he knows what is in our hearts, how our experiences have brought us each to where we are. No one but Him can truly judge why each of us act or think the ways we do. He allows changes to happen when and how is best. Key word there that I feel strongly about is "allow." We have our agency--each of us, even church leaders. But just like cleaning a room, where sometimes it has to get messier first before it improves, God is doing his own cleaning using agency, and we cannot yet see where the end result will be. But all will be well. We must have faith. We cannot forget the testimony-building experiences in our individual pasts just because it is a little messy now.
  • The contradictions and the call for obedience, and what often seems like blind obedience, are frustrating. I know that. I have felt and experienced that in many ways over the years. What does matter is doing the best we can with what we've got. Finding a place, a religion, a philosophy that works best for each of us, whether that be where we are most comfortable or where we have the greatest opportunity for growth, and often where we can help others grow along with us.

I began to relate these thoughts to me personally, to something that helps me understand why God and church leaders do the things they do, why obedience is so important, and why change in what once seemed like the unchangeable sometimes happens.

Over the 13 years of being a teacher, my policies have also been ever-changing. I try one thing, and then the next year or semester I tweak or completely change something. But while that policy is in place, I try to be consistent in enforcing it. Students sometimes question my policies. Sometimes I explain, sometimes I say it just is the way it is so deal with it. Despite my efforts to be consistent (justice), there are exceptions (mercy), or there are times when I help a student all that I can to meet my own policy, wishing I didn't have to enforce it for that student, but making up the difference so it works out. If a student really desires not to fail, I make it possible for them not to fail, as long as they follow make-up tasks I give them, which are often quite easy. Despite the easiness, many still do not listen to know what they can do, or they don't care, or they don't even try. Someday they might regret it. Some will do credit recovery. Some will drop out and never graduate. Some will get their GED later. There are different paths to get the same place, and some take much longer, and some are just different.

Sometime within the last couple of years, when one of my neighbors bore her testimony in Sacrament meeting, she spoke of her family hiking to delicate arch. She mentioned that her older son ended up going a different way, but he still made it there. She related it to this life, and how some of us follow the marked trail, others of us follow other trails that end up the same place. Some trails might be more difficult than others, or one that is difficult for one person is amazingly right for another person. Sometimes we think someone is lost, but they are just going a different way. I don't remember exactly what she said, and I might be adding some of my own thoughts, but you get the idea.

We recently went to Arches National Park as a family. The trail to delicate arch was harder than I remembered, but the end result was also more spectacular than I remembered from the last time I was there 20 + years ago. I thought of this friend's testimony and analogy to life. Life is hard, we all follow our own path, and the path that someone follows may be right for that person even though it is not for another.

Many people like to quote scriptures that I feel like they are directing at people like me, like "straight is the path and narrow the way that leads to eternal life." For some that may be true. The "straight and narrow path" of the "tree of life" analogy in the Book of Mormon is just another analogy--an analogy that some can relate to but others cannot. I think I might want to spend some more time thinking about Lehi's dream of the tree of life, and determining what it means for me personally, finding myself there, and understanding how the "great and spacious building" fits in. Stay tuned for that one...

A little side note of thoughts that I gleaned from my time in the temple itself:

1. I am blessed to know the difference between truth and error. I couldn't stop thinking about a line in my patriarchal blessing that says I have a talent to believe and accept truth. I realized that I inherintly know that God lives, that the basic gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that is all that matters. Strange historical facts from the early days of the church that tear apart peoples' testimonies--I don't need to know if that is true or not. It doesn't matter. I can still know in my heart that Joseph Smith was a prophet that spoke to God.

2. I should listen to the council of my husband and the council of God. Scott has much good insight. The same email contained some advice for me regarding the children, about being more consistant in requiring them to be responsible with their chores. I can do better. I am trying to do better, and hopefully that will make the summer break and life in general easier for all of us.

3. I will be protected from the destroyer. I'm leaving out some details because these are sacred words from the temple, and I feel like it is not appropriate for me to say more. But I was impressed that I am doing what is right to keep myself safe from the clutches of Satan, that I am truly not the evil I that I wondered if I could be after reading that talk in last month's Ensign magazine.

One of the main things I did the night I received Scott's email and the following morning at the temple was pondering spiritual experiences in my past, experiences that I simply cannot deny coming from a loving Heavenly Father. Even as I write this, I feel overwhelmed by his love for all of his children, gay or straight, citizen or alien, believing member or cynical x-member. He loves all of us and focuses on the good in each of us. And eventually we will all end up where we are supposed to be. Maybe exhaultation is easier to get to than we think it is, or maybe the Celestial Kingdom is simply not the right place for everyone. I don't know. All I know is that I am at peace with where I am, with my activity in the church. And if Scott (and many others that I know that have resigned their church membership) is at peace with where he is, then maybe that is what is right for him. Maybe someday he will come back. Maybe he won't. But he is still a good man, and God knows that and can judge that when no one else can.


Anonymous said...

I've followed your blog off and on, mostly as a curious voyeur, for awhile now. And I just wanted to say that this post really spoke to me. I have variously agreed or disagreed with posts and comments on this blog throughout. I think this is such a good, humble summation that everyone, dealing with your particular set of difficulties or not, can relate to. In a way, the basic concept of this post is what I come back to time and time again when life gets tough, when I don't understand how or why things happen: God loves me, He loves all His children. Because I know this deep in my soul, it's OK to not know everything else.

Thank you for this post.

J G-W said...

Thanks, Sarah. I've wrestled with similar questions... The bottom line for me is I have a testimony, I've tested it, and it works.

And yes, patience and hope!! Not everything is the way it's supposed to be. But I'm not sure how we get where we want to be if we use the existence of a mess as an excuse to not work.

Lisa said...

ok...this post really, really spoke to me. It is absolutely correct. Yes! We are ALL on different paths. What is right for one person may not be right for someone else. We have not spoken much, aside from fb, these last few years, but, as you may have guessed, I am no longer mormon (well technically I guess I am, since my name is on the records). Along the same lines, what is right at the time may not be right later on. I was born and raised in the LDS church, but in OR. Things are way, way different there. There is an acceptance and openmindedness that is not found in UT. We played with everyone, no matter what religion they were. Still, I felt the "Gospel" was true, and it was the only way to get to heaven or the celestial kingdom, or whatever you want to call it. My testimony grew stronger as I got older. When I went on my mission to Argentina, I felt in my heart that it was the right thing to do. I still know I made the right decision. I grew from that experience in ways I never would have otherwise. I became more outgoing, learned how to plan and communicate, met people and had experiences that forever changed my life, and that are a part of me, and I do not regret it for one minute. It is part of who I am today. That said, I have come to realize in the years since I married, that the LDS path is not the right one for me. It may be for you, and I am ok with that. We each have our own paths. I do not believe there is only one "correct" way to be saved, and we are each where we need to be , at whatever point we are in our understanding of life and the universe, and where we can learn the most. I have recently begun some new studies on my path that make me happier than I have ever been in my life. Yes, I am happy without the LDS church..happier than I was with it, although I never would have believed that possible. I have come to realize that my time in the Church was like roleplaying. I was playing a part of who other people thought I should be and rejecting who I really was and was meant to be, and now that I have finally find the path I am meant to be on, I am "more true to who I have really always been" to quote a classmate from high school. Life is good, life is sooo wonderful. Yes, it is crappy at times, and I cannot even imagine the pain you have gone through, but I believe everything, good or bad, happens for a reason, and makes us better people. I do hope we can get together soon. Stay strong.