Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be Still

We were asked to speak this last Sunday, as what the Bishop referred to, somewhat hilariously, as a "parting shot". Following is the text of my talk.

When Brother Cregor asked us to speak, he extended the wonderful blessing and burden of choosing our own topics. We’ve been preparing to move, and I’ve had such conflicting emotions about this decision, and have had so much to get done and been reflecting so often on our time here in Lindsay, its been difficult to get my mind to slow down enough to focus on anything.

We moved here 5 ½ years ago, when Keilana was not quite 2 and Dylan was only 6 weeks old, and nearly all of the time that has passed for us here has been tremendously intense, in every possible way: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. There’s been a lot of good, a lot of bad, a lot of fun and a lot of hard stuff, but just A LOT. So often I have found myself thinking, “When is this going to slow down? What am I supposed to be learning here?” Having my mind race and my spirit agitated so that I can’t focus has been a common challenge for me during the time that we lived here, as we faced many, usually unexpected, challenges.

As I thought about that, two experiences I had with different nephews came to mind. Many years ago, my brother and his very young wife were living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where he was stationed with the army. Both of them were living away from their families for the first time, when they welcomed their oldest son, Jeriah Daij, into the world. He was small, only 5.5 pounds, but healthy and beautiful. A day later, as they were checking out of the hospital to head home, their tiny baby began to seize violently in his mother’s arms. After rushing the baby across town to a private hospital where he could receive specialized care, his frightened young parents were told that he had spinal meningitis and that a baby as young as he was had almost no internal defenses developed to help fight the infection. It was highly unlikely that he would live, but if he did, he would probably be deaf, paralyzed, and mentally challenged, among a whole host of other maladies. This past summer, that baby turned 11. He is smart and healthy and strong—in fact, a few weeks before his 11th birthday, he completed a grueling hike, with his dad, uncle and older cousins, that has been known to sometimes get the better of grown men. There is nothing today to indicate that he was ever sick.

As most of you know, we faced a tragedy in our family a few years ago. Seared into my memory is a warm, sunny Friday afternoon where in five minutes time the whole world seemed to turn sideways as my sister-in-law told me over the phone that Conner, her beautiful, sweet young toddler, has toppled into a small backyard pool and drowned and was in the hospital. Eleven hours after I received her phone call, I received a second one from my mother-in-law at the hospital telling me that Conner had slipped away.

I reflected on these incidents and thought, “I could spend my whole life asking, ‘Why?’ Why is Jeriah a happy, healthy 11-year-old, but we had to say good bye to Conner?” Both boys were given Priesthood blessings, were prayed for by large, loving families. I could spend my whole life asking, “What lesson are we supposed to learn here? What could we have done differently?”

Many individuals and families do torture themselves with such questions: “We had FHE, we said our prayers, we were diligent in our callings, so why have our children gone astray? I have been a good and faithful friend, who has tried hard to be kind and patient, why has my trust been broken? I have been a devoted and caring spouse, why has our family fallen apart? I have been a hard worker, diligent and wise in trying to provide adequately for my family, so why can’t I find work? And so often, the question that follows these is “What am I supposed to be learning?” In many respects, this is a very valid question to ask, but often we ask it as we look for that little treasure of knowledge that will magically release us from this or that trial, because now we’ve learned what we needed to learn and we can move on. While we should always be actively seeking to know what the Lord would have us learn, that simply isn’t how life works.

I’ve come to understand that often the lesson we need to learn is to simply be still and know that He is God—that he is over all, and he has his reasons. This doesn’t mean that we sit around and wait for the Lord to run our lives. Always there is much to be done, and we can and ought to be anxiously engaged, as the Lord has instructed. But our souls should be still. As a wonderful hymn says, “Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side/With patience bear your cross of grief or pain/ Leave to thy God to order and provide/In every change, he faithful will remain/Be still my soul/ Thy best, thy heavenly friend/ Thru thorny ways/leads to a joyful end”. Thru all the trials and troubles and busyness of life, we must learn to discipline our souls to be still, to be at peace, “In every change, he faithful will remain”. Everything in life is temporary. Mortal life itself is temporary, and often wildly unpredictable. He only is constant and unchanging. He never leaves us alone, and ultimately he is over all—we must learn to trust more completely and more readily in that, and so be at peace.

When the apostles were tossed about by the waves of the sea, they were afraid they would drown as the Lord slept. They went to their Master and asked, “Carest thou not that we perish?” The Lord was more mindful of their circumstances than they had realized, as he spoke those quiet, powerful words, “Peace, be still”—perhaps as much a loving rebuke to his apostles as to the powerful sea. Why should they fear when the Lord was with them? Yet, too often we do the same thing, finding ourselves rocked by the storms of life, we forget that we have the Lord as our companion, and don’t think to ask for his help until we turn to him in a panic and practically shout, “Why are you letting my drown?” We forget that if we exercise faith in him, he can calm any storm. He is always aware of the challenges we face and is ready to help us, if only we remember that he’s there and have the humility to seek him.

Yet we must also strive to have the kind of faith displayed by Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego as they faced King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace. They declared that they were not afraid because they knew that the Lord had the power to deliver them from the flames, “but if not”—if they perished in the furnace--they would remain faithful to the Lord. We too must trust in the Lord, that he has the power to deliver us from any fire, but that if he doesn’t, he has a wise purpose for letting us struggle, and we ultimately will come off conquerors through him that loved us. So much in life is beyond our control. It is not, however, beyond his control.

“In the world ye shall have tribulation,” he said, “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” Our sorrows, our pains and our troubles are temporary. Through the Atonement, he will make everything right in the end. Sometimes we get relief and see a little more of the big picture in this life, but sometimes we don’t. We have to remember that that’s OK, because we know that even the end of this life is not the end. The Atonement is infinite and eternal. The Plan of Salvation shows to us a Father above who is more patient, more merciful, and more loving than most people would ever dare to guess. He wants us to succeed. He wants us to become like Him. Its just that getting there is an awful lot of hard work, and in the mean time we can’t control the agency of others, and the Lord will certainly not usurp the agency of his other children for our convenience. We must trust in the Lord, and trust in the covenants we have made with him. He will honor all that he has promised us if we will but strive to be faithful to him.

Instead of asking “why?” we should more often ask, “what?” “What blessings has the Lord given me to help me weather this storm?” In my case, it has been true over and over again the last few years that one of the most valuable blessings the Lord has provided for me is marvelous friends. CS Lewis once wrote, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” I believe that God knew the challenges we would face, and knew we would need help and so he armed us with faithful, loving friends. The Lord instructs us to “Let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.” I am humbled by the extent to which so many in this ward have shone the light of Christ into my life.

Christ-like friends not only help us weather life’s storms, they help us to do so cheerfully and to be a better person for it. The Prophet Joseph Smith, who walked a very stormy path, often spoke of how he valued the love and support of his friends. He once wrote, ” “How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not; and whose knees are confirmed and do not falter, while they wait upon the Lord. . .They shall not want a friend while I live; my heart shall love those, and my hands shall toil for those, who love and toil for me, and shall ever be found faithful to my friends.”

I am so sad to leave, because I won’t have the opportunity to begin to repay so much of the Christ-like charity that has been extended to me and to my family. When we came here, I never imagined that it would be so hard to leave. Though five years is a small measure of time, the things that we have learned during our years here have had a huge influence on my eternal perspective and I am certain we have made more than a few friends who will have had an eternal impact on us.

The Lord commands us to be perfect. When I was a teenager, my father once told me that an alternate translation of the Hebrew word for “perfect” is “complete” or “whole”. I thought about that as I remembered my first night in Lindsay 5 ½ years ago. We stopped at Save Mart on the way home to grab something to eat because we were living in a tiny rental house out in the country and didn’t have a refrigerator yet and all our stuff was still in boxes and I didn’t know anyone and the whole place was new to me and I was sitting in the car in the rain listening to my baby cry and I thought, “What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here!” I was a tumult of emotions inside—at that moment, I lacked so very much, I was so terribly incomplete. But as I put my faith in the Lord, I quickly found that over and over again, usually through the actions of caring friends, I heard the Lord quietly whisper, “Peace, be still.” The Lord helped me move a little closer to being whole by providing friends who are strong where I am weak.

As so many in the world run to and fro in search of peace, blown about by every wind of doctrine and frantically trying to find some even ground on which stand, we can be still, be boldly immovable in the surety that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior, brother and friend, and never flees nor fails us. In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord said, “Therefore, fear not little flock; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. . .Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” The Lord is on our side, then why should we fear?

1 comment:

Becky said...

i love this. you brought tears to my eyes. though, i am looking forward to beautiful pics from montana in your posts.