Sunday, January 26, 2014

Broken Vessels

Last Sunday our full time missionaries taught the lesson in Elder's Quorum. They started with giving us slips of paper on which we were to write something we are currently struggling with which is causing "our vessel to be broken", causing a struggle with our faith and commitment. We didn't have to sign it (to which I mentally added I would disguise my handwriting). It didn't have to be anything grand and no problem was too small; it only needed be something with which we were personally struggling with, which broke our hearts and made perseverance difficult. These were to be placed into a bowl and the bowl passed around again, and if you wished to read one you could take one out, but you were not required to. These struggles would  be discussed in light of Elder Jeffery R Holland's October 2013 General Conference address, "Like a Broken Vessel". As a quorum we could give constructive advice on how to make it through that trial, the intended purpose being to strengthen one another.

I did not place anything into the bowl. Not because I couldn't make up my mind on which particular flaw in my own vessel to confess. That was a factor, for there are many things which are difficult right now. I wasn't worried about superficial advice, because I know the brethren in my quorum to be very caring individuals who would take this assignment seriously. I just simply couldn't decide what to say, possibly because of the internal dialog telling me I already knew what I needed to do to overcome each of those struggles and that there might be someone who really didn't know what to next so why waste time on my problems. I even realized that it is a type of arrogance to be a martyr so someone else's problems can be solved before my own; it's a type of false martyrdom to downplay the significance of our own trials. But mostly, I over-thought the situation and just didn't write anything down and tucked the paper away in my planner and promised myself I could continue this exercise later on my own, and appreciate the reminder the blank paper would give me in the days to come (which it actually did).

Even though I was expecting the brethren in my quorum to rise to the occasion and give wonderful, helpful, heartfelt advice -- I was pleasantly surprised at how deep that heartfelt advice was. The Spirit was strong. I was grateful for the Elders who had come up with this exercise and grateful for the EQ brethren who so genuinely care for one another and I wanted to shout, "Wait! I have about 15 I can put in the bowl!" Okay, I didn't really want to do that. But I was humbled by the love shown in the answers given. We had limited time and after discussion, with most the quorum participating in offering their own life experiences, including one brother who prefaced his remarks with telling us the slip he'd pulled out was very similar to the one currently being discussed. This itself prompted the thought at the time that not only are my problems not insignificant to me, they likely are not to others, not if they are experiencing that same trouble themselves.

Despite how strongly the lesson affected me then, like most lessons, it had begun to fade from the forefront of my consciousness until it was referenced today in our Ward Conference's combined Elders & High Priests meeting. The theme of the conference -- at least the theme I went home with -- was "Hastening the Work", which the Church certainly has been stressing lately. But it goes beyond crying repentance to the world. Sunday School had been a discussion of the Church's recent video on member missionary work, "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go". I've seen this video a dozen times, at least half of those times at church. It's a very moving, non-threatening, and non-guilt-inducing video on... simply being a nice person. On serving others, and allowing ourselves to be served. On caring for people as individuals. To participate in that Sunday School class was a nice segue into Priesthood class.

Today was a nice reminder of what is truly broken about my own vessel: I spend too much time in my own shell. Perhaps there's a reason one of my favorite animals is the turtle. At church I get very excited about the talks and testimonies and lessons. I make grand plans to do this and that, starting the moment I get home. And then I go home and I take a nap. Which might lead me to the conclusion that naps are inherently, insidiously evil for sucking away all my ambition. But rather I think I merely need to work on my balance, and work on reminding myself of my commitments; not just those Sunday commitments, but my baptismal and temple covenants -- which, as I write this, it occurs to me they should be one and the same. We partake of the Sacrament weekly in order to renew those covenants. there's no reason we cannot renew those covenants every day, every hour.

In the "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" video, not a word of audible dialog can be heard; the family portrayed is shown praying and working together and on their own, to the backdrop of the hymn the video takes its name from. The message is made all the more powerful by showing rather than merely telling.As human beings we have a tendency to draw into ourselves. The video shows the family each showing love and concern for those in their spheres of influence -- friends, neighbors, coworkers, schoolmates,  strangers on the street. And then that concern continues beyond the initial immediate need. That's where my vessel is broken (or at least cracked) -- I will usually do an okay (not great, just "okay") job of recognizing those initial, immediate needs. But followup? Saying "Hello" the next day? Yeah, I pretty much stink at that.

I wonder, do we realize how wide our circle of influence is? I don't think we do. I seldom do. We are told that if we sincerely pray for opportunities, the Lord will provide them. Intellectually I understand that. But somehow that intellectual understanding gets lost when the opportunities to serve actually present themselves; there's a broken link in the chain, a washed out section of the road between my heart where the prompting occurs and my brain which should tell me to move my feet and open my mouth. Or perhaps it's the other way around: the prompting occurs in my brain, but somewhere on the path to my heart, courage and self confidence flee.

I recently heard (where, I'm not sure) a Mormon blogger comment that we ought to define ourselves by our faith first. As in: "I'm a Mormon blogger." "I'm a Mormon single," "I'm a Mormon parent." "I'm a Mormon intergalactic explorer." Okay, so I am paraphrasing, she didn't say anything about intergalactic exploration. You get the picture. If faith comes first, we can better fulfill our church callings; if faith comes first, it doesn't matter whether we are single or married, young or old. It doesn't even matter so much if our vessels are broken, because that faith tells us that we can still serve, and that we can help one another heal.

And I think, if faith comes first, we're ready to receive the Savior's healing grace, His healing power.

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