Last month I was released from my calling as counselor in the Elder's Quorum. I had been in three presidencies over three and a half years, first as secretary and then as counselor, as presidents either moved away or were called into a bishopric; for a month prior to my release I was "acting president" (and indeed it ofttimes felt like acting) and feel I learned nearly as much in that month as I had in three years prior. Over the course of that whole time period I learned much about the way the Church is run, what our Heavenly Father expects of His children -- as well as what He has in store for them, and much about myself (not all entirely pleasant.) And I gained a great appreciation for Heavenly Father's children and their individual journeys as well as my own, and that has changed my understanding of, and attitude towards service.
Last week the rest of the new presidency was called and sustained, and it was with a curious mixture of relief and sadness I was not part of the new presidency. I felt relief because I was tired; not tired of the learning and growth, not tired of serving (indeed I felt a little lost without the extra tasks during the week), but the tiredness that comes when you stop motion for awhile, when you realize you hadn't realized you were tired. I had learned so much, and grown so much, through that service that I felt a bit lost, not knowing "what's next." I feel a greater willingness to do whatever comes next than I recall ever feeling before, yet still lost. Not a without-purpose kind of lost but rather in knowing there is a new path, but I am not yet seeing it. I'm not seeing my purpose.
Yesterday and today was stake conference. It was wonderful. But it almost wasn't, because I almost didn't go. Yesterday, after much internal debate about the weather and the cough I had woken up with the day before, I decided neither was a viable excuse and that the problem lay with me. I have a good friend who often points out to me, whether speaking of herself or of me (much to my chagrin) that when we say "I can't" what we are really saying is "I don't want to." I know from past experience that the times I do not want to go, whether it be a regular church meeting or a stake meeting, general session or Priesthood session, if I go anyway, I am always glad I did; I always get a great deal out of the meeting. Recognizing that is usually the only push I need. Last night it wasn't enough. But after I prayed I realized I needed to simply make a decision: Go, or don't go. And once I decided to go, I knew who to call to carpool, whereas my previous calls had been unsuccessful. It was a reminder that new pathways are generally only opened up when we're in motion.
The main topic last night was member missionary work: a topic that usually makes me go "ugh." Not so this time. The focus wasn't on lists of friends and family, nor on commitment challenges - i.e., "I will have x number of people ready for the discussions by date y. While not inherently bad, these methods are limited in the effectuality for a couple reasons: because we become discouraged when what worked so well for others doesn't work so well for us; and because those methods measure our "success" by another person's agency. We haven't found our own voice, or used our own talents and own experiences to share those truths so vitally important and dear to us; or we have expected that which is so obvious to us is going to be equally obvious to those we so valiantly and clearly (clear to us, anyway) share it with. Our job is not to convince others, but to share with others - and who do we share with? Doctrine and Covenants, Section 1 answers that. the message is for all; therefore, we share with all. And we do it by finding our natural way of expressing those things. And we ought to set goals within the realm of our own agency, not the agency of others, and God will provide the rest. Just as he prepared us and continues to guide us to deeper understanding, so he will for those we love and those we don't even know yet but can still have an influential good for.
Today's talks, for me, continued where last night's left off. I was most moved by our stake president's closing remarks. Summarizing talks from both days, he spoke on covenant keeping, admonishing us as the Lord is hastening the work, we need to hasten our covenant keeping. He spoke of how a covenant is often compared to a contract, but that's not quite accurate. The terms of a contract are negotiable by both parties, and a covenant is not: the Lord sets the terms, and we accept (or not.) But he asked why we would want to negotiate those terms in the first place, for the terms are "ridiculously generous in our favor." And he gave the example of we give an ounce, and we receive a ton in return. It is true. The scriptures tell us again and again if we are obedient to the very best of our abilities, we receive "all that he hath." All. I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty amazing to me. Our stake president said he prefers to think of covenants as a promise: a promise to become. We promise to become like those who went before us, we promise to uplift and succor others, we promise to become sons and daughters of God, to become holy and sanctified -- and we are promised by Him the ability to do so.
And then our wonderful stake president (if he reads this: don't let that statement go to your head!) gave us an example that brought tears to my eyes. He asked his son to bring his three month old granddaughter forward. And as he held this beautiful child in his arms, he told us that right now, that child is helpless and entirely reliant upon her parents to feed her, clothe her, change her when she's made a mess; to teach her, to comfort her, to love her. And sometimes when the parents have done all that, their child still cries, because she is sad, or confused or frightened. But he as grandfather can look at that child now and see her as a toddler, and a growing child, and as a teenager going to the temple, and as a young woman raising a family of her own, and as a glorified, exalted being. And the distance between now and that day is much, much smaller than the distance between where we currently are and where our Heavenly Father can see us, and can lead us to. We, like that child, are entirely dependent upon our Heavenly Father. He feeds us, physically and spiritually. He clothes our spirits in physical bodies and provides for our daily temporal needs. He teaches us. He forgives us and gives us new chances. When we make a mess, He tells us, Oh, my dear child, you have made a mess; come, let me change you. And sometimes we are still unhappy and we cry because we are tired or lonely or lost or confused.
Our Heavenly Father can change all that too. It's difficult to live the Gospel in a world and culture not friendly towards spiritual things, whether we are single or not. Last autumn our stake was privileged to have an Apostle of the Lord, Elder David A. Bednar, come address us before our stake conference; it was like a bonus conference. To the challenge that it is difficult to be a member of the Lord's church, he countered: "It's more difficult to not be."
In closing, our stake president invoked blessings upon us: to be happy; to make and keep our covenants and to become all our Heavenly Father has in store for us.
And I left conference with a little deeper understanding upon what my (not really lost or hidden after all) purpose is: to not give up, to keep moving forward, to serve, to follow, to become.