Warning! This is highly introspective and personal – kind of a confessional.
It was 1960, and I remember standing there watching our next door neighbors pulling away in their fully loaded station wagon, moving far, far away (actually, only from Lawton, OK to Oklahoma City – maybe 90 miles), never to be seen again. I hurt so badly that I swore to myself that I would never allow myself to hurt like that again. My little seven year old spirit set about building an impenetrable fortress around my heart. It took years to perfect, but the walls went up immediately, and, unfortunately, they are still there today. My life, my personality, is decidedly guarded against highs and lows. I’m known for not getting really upset about anything, but also for not getting really excited about anything. These walls are subtle and insidious – the worst kind. Most people would not suspect, but I know. I’m starting to realize that I miss getting really excited.
In 2010, while my wife and I were serving a mission in France, I had a dream – one of two dreams in my life that I know were sent to me by the Lord. In this dream, I was auditing a seminary class and thus surrounded by students who were younger than me. The instructor asked the class if they were willing to give everything to serve the Lord, and then, to my great anticipation, walked right up to me and said, “Are you willing to give everything to serve the Lord?” I remember wanting to shout, “Yes, Yes, Yes” with all the enthusiastic commitment possible. I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hosanna!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Choose ME!”, without any shred of reservation, but when I tried to answer, the words just wouldn’t come out. It was like something was preventing these pure, childlike desires from being expressed; like there was a cap somewhere on my soul that was preventing my true feelings from coming out. After pondering the meaning of the dream for some time, knowing that I needed to track down the source, I came to the conclusion that I needed to write a song, which I promptly did. I hoped that the process of writing would help me come to grips with what it was that was preventing me from giving myself completely to the Lord. The song was a hit – at the top of my personal playlist for weeks – and I thought my ruse had worked. It didn’t.
Just recently, my daughter shared her account of a life-altering experience. My first reaction was jealousy – sheer jealousy; so green it should have had carrots and pineapple chunks swimming in it. I was appalled at myself, and this event has triggered another intense round of self-examination. I began asking myself why I would react this way, and I’ve realized many things, including how self-centered I truly am, how much I still aspire to the honors of men, and how much I still care about how I compare to others. My home teachers brought a lesson last week, the point of which was that we must not consider callings within the church as status symbols. As I was listening, I realized again that, not only was this specific message meant for me, but that I still have what I can only describe as a giant spiritual hairball stopping my progression toward the blessings of eternal life. I need to get excited!
Now, there is a point to this post beyond describing how “spiritually retarded” or emotionless or self-centered I may be. That, actually, is not the point at all. I have been and continue to be blessed with a spiritual journey and progression that I believe is uniquely orchestrated by the Lord Himself for ME. The point, instead, is to share a key discovery on this journey, and to bear testimony of the amazing beauty and wisdom of the scriptures. You see, we have been commanded by the Savior to forsake sacrifice by the shedding of blood in lieu of a sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit (3 Nephi 9:19). But I have always maintained that, when I was baptized, I didn’t come with a broken heart. I was actually at a high point in my life – everything was going great. I was not compelled to humility; I came to the Lord willingly, seeking greater things in my life, having pulled myself (yeah, right!) years before out of a pit of despair and self-destruction. My heart was not broken at all. I came to the Lord almost arrogantly, saying, “Here I am – aren’t you glad to have me?”
Yet, in spite of my arrogance, the Lord humbly and lovingly said, “Yes, I am glad to have you – welcome to my kingdom.” What He left unsaid was, “We have a lot of work to do”….which brings us to the point of this post:
I have realized, just this morning, that, even though I have been baptized, confirmed, and endowed, served 2 missions (one of them a part-time service mission), read continuously from not only the scriptures but countless other books; and even though my spiritual progress is considered by many to be notable if not remarkable (I know better), the truth is that I still need to go back to the beginning. I still need to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. My place in His kingdom will never be secured until I have obeyed “all of Father’s commandments.” Until I do, I remain at least partially blinded by my pride.
So, my journey enters a new phase, but one in which my destination is a tad more clear. I have to somehow figure out how to allow the Lord to reach inside my heart and break down those insulating (but also binding) walls that I began building that day when I was 7 years old. I must shed the self-protections that I have built up, learn to stop trusting in the arm of flesh, and offer my broken heart to the only one who can truly heal it. I must let Him in – and let Him rebuild me from the ground up. I don’t expect this to be easy – I expect there to be trials. (Segue into next topic)
However, there’s a problem. I don’t seem to have any trials in my life. I know this sounds crazy, but I really, and perhaps foolishly, struggle with this. I’ve often wondered when the other shoe is going to drop. I’ve read in many places that trials are required for growth – that we will never be able to approach the Lord until our faith has been proven in the furnace of trials. Denver Snuffer emphasizes this concept heavily in his book “The Second Comforter”. So, if I don’t have any trials in my life, how am I going to grow? In a way, I feel cheated – like I’m never going to be able to receive the greatest blessings of the Kingdom if I don’t have trials. Of course, one might well ask, “Are you crazy?!!! You’re feeling cheated because you don’t have trials? Whatcha gonna do – go ask for some? Are you going to create crises just so you can deal with them?” I’ve pondered this a lot, and these are some of the possible explanations:
** I’ve seen trials before. They were mostly of my own making – the result of my own decisions. The life I live now is, by comparison, a breeze. In other words, I have not forgotten how unhappy I was before, and today I live and love on cloud 9. Perhaps I am having trials, but I simply don’t recognize them as such.
** I’ve already overcome the trials that I needed to overcome. As I just mentioned – I deliberately and willfully went far, far down a path away from God. I rebelled against God. Yet, I came back. Yes, I was arrogant and self-satisfied, even upon my return, but I came back to the Lord. I learned some very valuable lessons about how badly we can mess up our lives when we try to live without Him; I do not want a repeat, and I’m resolved to avoid anything that even smells like my old life. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have lessons to learn, but that perhaps they are mild in comparison.
** I’ve considered the possibility that the worst thing that could happen to me is to see my wife suffer. I could suffer – and it would be ok – I would hopefully put on a brave face and endure to the end, but I would never want to see her suffer. That would be a trial! It’s also interesting that when I think about trials, I don’t think about my health, or financial hardship, or anything like that. I think about other people. I KNOW the Lord loves me. I KNOW of the power of the atonement, and that as long as I keep moving towards Him, He will be there. He’s already proven that. So, I might be stressed over financial issues, or health issues, but I’ve seen so many people suffer worse than anything I can imagine for myself, I truly feel like I would continue to feel grateful for the ways in which I am blessed. I would have no right to complain, because I’ve already been blessed far beyond anything I could ever deserve. So, what lessons would I learn from those types of trials. Having to watch my wife suffer and having to care for her – that’s a different story. I am confident, though, that I would do it – I would be there – because she’s my saving angel, and she is so precious, I could never turn my back on her.
**Another possibility is that I am always seeking improvement. It has become part of my life to perpetually be seeking ways to draw closer to the Lord. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t always follow through. I still think of myself as being quite self-centered, even selfish. I get quite annoyed when other people upset my apple cart, even though whatever they’re doing is rarely about me. I don’t actively seek service opportunities like I should. I watch way too much TV and spend too much time on the internet – often both at the same time (is that poor time management, or good time management?). I’ve never been very motivated to “accomplish” things. Nevertheless, I do constantly seek the Lord’s will, and I constantly strive to overcome these inadequacies with faith that if I keep trying, He will keep helping me.
So, to wrap this confessional up, I really have recognized how much the Lord loves me in spite of my arrogance, and I realize now that the scriptures are absolutely right when they say that the first sacrifice we must make is to come to the Lord with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. I offer my heart willingly to Him, and humbly ask Him to heal it as only He can. If that involves trials, then I stand ready, confident that they will come in the Lord’s infinite wisdom and love, and that He will prepare me to withstand them.