I have learned over the past 20+ years of good, bad, awkward, and heated conversations that religion is a hard subject to talk about. The only thing harder than talking about about religion… is living it. Sure, there are times when it is easier than others, but easy was never part of any religion’s doctrine that I have ever heard of. Usually just the opposite.
Like when Jesus said:
But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again. -Luke 6:22
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. -Matthew 7:21
Be sure. We shall test you with something of fear and hunger [or] some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil) but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. -Qur’an 2:153-157
However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act on upon them?
Personally, I started to have a relationship with God when I read the Book of Mormon and Bible. I have continued to gain a deeper relationship as I lived and learned more of the teachings and simply lived life. The times I have learned the most was when it was hard. Really hard. But, like all hard things, it has made me who I am. Here are five of the hardest lessons I have learned:
1. Everybody Thinks Their Thinking Is Right
I have had very few conversations with people who thought that their religion was false or wrong. On the other-hand, I have had 1000’s of conversations with people who would argue, or even fight for their beliefs. I would do the same because my beliefs are mine. I earned them through a life of learning and most others feel the same. I remember some of my first arguments about religion. They were with my mom. We agree on almost everything other than politics and religion and both have 1000 reasons why we are right. The first letter I got my from mom when I went on a church mission basically said:
You have traveled to England to get people to join your church when the main person you want to convert is me. I will not be converted.
It was a hard way to start my 2 year mission in England. I kept thinking that if my own mom was so firmly against my beliefs then how would I ever find others who would listen. What I found over 2 years was that not a single person I talked to and argued about points of doctrine was converted to Mormonism…or talked to us again. On the other hand, people who converted were looking for something and the doctrine we taught them simply made sense, or if they struggled they figured it out for themselves after a little information from us. I never once convinced someone of the error of their ways. No amount of scripture memorization or logic worked if they thought their way was right.
When I came home I knew my mom was nervous that we would go back to religious arguments, while their were a few we have settled at a place where we can respect each others feelings, experiences, and thoughts and have a deeper level of understanding for why we are the way we are.
2. Nobody’s Perfect
But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. -Luke 5:30-32
There have been many times when I have been offended, or I have offended someone at church. When I was around 14 I went on a young mens camping trip to Island Park. I didn’t really attend church too often at that time and was a little hesitant. I was joking with a few of the boys and was a little loud and rowdy and the bishop at the time got right in my face with his finger and told me to shutup and be quiet because there were other people in the area. It was sharp, it was fierce, and it made me instantly not like the man and want to go home. It took me a while before I went again with my grandparents to church.
Church leaders since Adam (remember the apple?) have made mistakes or have done things that people find offensive or simply don’t understand. Our church history is filled with examples that have caused people to leave or doubt and who can blame them? People make mistakes and those mistakes can hurt others. The hard part is learning to forgive.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. -Matthew 6:14
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. -D&C 64:10
The worst feeling I have ever had is hatred or contempt for someone who has hurt me or someone I love. It’s bitter. It’s hard. It’s prideful and it stops us from moving forward. On the flip side, loving others is the best feeling I have ever had. To love others we have to accept that they are not perfect and that we aren’t either. People sin. It’s what we do. We know what’s right and we fall short for various reasons. Church isn’t for perfect people with perfect lives and perfect families. It’s for people who are offensive, offended, angry, sad, prideful, shameful, depressed, poor, rich, addicted, or afraid. We need to accept each other. More importantly, we need each other.
3. Sometimes, you just have to have faith
I’m not a patient man. I pay for the fastest internet I can get in Burley, Idaho. I avoid lines at any cost. I pay extra for next day delivery. I skim emails to get to the important parts. I like to be in control and waiting for something to happen is extremely hard for me. Waiting is an act of faith. When you wait, you are showing that you have faith that something or somebody will come and end your wait. You simply hope.
Over the past 6 years I have been praying to understand very specific revelation that Hillary and I received in a blessing, and countless other personal experiences that have happened in prayers, dreams, and at the temple. To this day it is still a mystery why this specific revelation was given and continues to come. While I wish that I could mention the specifics, I can’t. What I can say is there is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about it and desire for the fulfillment of the revelation and better understanding. 6 years is a long time and it hasn’t gotten easier. But, I have learned that I can continue to have faith and hope that the revelation was real and will come to pass, or I can doubt it and struggle with the feelings of fear or despair. To be honest, I have done both. I have felt that I was wrong or God was wrong. I have doubted all that has been revealed to me and tried to forget it. But, when I decide to accept that I am not in control and to simply have faith I feel at peace. I can see life clearly.
We all have questions. We all wonder why bad things happen. The answer might not come for 6 years. It might not come for 10 years. To be honest, it might not come in this life. The question is if you can take a step in the dark without knowing what you will find.
4. Life is about change
As a missionary for the church in England I lived with 10 companions in 6 different cities in 2 years. It was constant change. As soon as I got to know people in a city and had friends then I would move and start from scratch. It was hard. Really hard. But every experience taught me new things and kept me from getting complacent and comfortable. I came home feeling like I had just lived a full life worth of up’s and down’s and moves in 2 years.
I have also had roughly 12 different callings (positions of responsibility) in the church since I have been home from my mission. I have spent time teaching classes to adults, college students, and 7 year olds. I have been a secretary, camp director, counselor, website builder, and many other things. Each responsibility has impacted my life and taught me lessons about service, love, patience, organization, public speaking, and empathy. The list could go on and on. Very few times in a calling or as a missionary did I want change, but I have came to realize that I am better because of it. Don’t be afraid to try something new for variety is the essence of life. Diverse experience has helped me to see from others perspectives and most importantly, has shown me that we are all equal. Our responsibilities at the time may differ, but in the end what matters is what you do with what you have been given.
5. Not my will, but Thine be done
All the the lessons I have learned have added up to this big one. As the Savior knelt on bended knee in the garden of Gethsemane, surely feeling overwhelmed at the task ahead of him, he said:
Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. – Luke 22:42
Nothing on this earth has ever been harder than giving your will away to another freely. The Savior did just that, and while grasping tree and stone, drank from the bitter cup of all the sins, shortcomings, fears, and guilts than mankind had experienced and rose above them all.
I like doing what I want to do. I don’t like being told what to do. Being humble enough to pray and turn yourself over to God and spend your days doing what he would want you to do is the ultimate sacrifice we can make in this life. Our will is truly the only thing that can’t be taken away from us. The ability to choose is ours. I can’t count the times I have felt the prompting to stop and help someone, or to stand up for others, or get down on my knees and pour my soul out to God, but instead did something I wanted to do. I think it takes a lifetime to learn to truly submit to God’s will in all things but as I have watched and seen those that do it seems they are the ones that truly have found themselves and their purpose.
I’m glad to be a Mormon. I’m glad for hard things. I think the Joseph Smith said it best:
I am like a huge rough stone…and the only polishing I get is when some corner gets rubbed off by coming in contact with something else, striking with accelerated force…all hell knocking off a corner here and a corner there. Thus I will become a smooth and polished shaft in the quiver of the Almightly.