Monthly Archives: March 2014

Should I stay or should I go?

For the purposes of this piece, I am setting aside questions of abuse and actively damaging relationships that simply must be exited for personal safety. For the sake of this discussion let’s limit the topic to relationships that still may feel damaging, painful, draining, empty, or difficult, but are not abusive. 
——

Should I stay in this broken marriage?

Should I keep ties with this manipulative parent?

Should I keep attending these tense, cold family gatherings?

Should I embrace this difficult wayward child?

Should I keep going to this church when I often leave more empty and hurting than when I went in?

When the hurting is louder than the call to duty, when obligation or even obedience isn’t compelling me strongly enough to counter the compulsion to avoid pain.  What to do?

Dang it, we all just want love in this world—to feel valued, to belong and feel safe.  Why is such a universal aching need so very hard for us all?  Almost everything comes down to this.  We want love–we want to feel love for others, yes, but mainly we want to feel love from others.

Aye, there’s the rub.  We’ll give them ours when they give us theirs (and in the way we want it given).  We’ll give them ours when they earn it. We’ll give them ours when they behave as they should.

And they echo the same conditions.  Thus the standoff.

We deem relationships worthwhile because they bring something to us. If not love, security, friendship, joy and peace, sometimes we simply value the relationship more than the alternative: solitude, guilt, fear of sin or judgment.  Sometimes we are noble, and value the lessons we gain in a hard relationship and trust in the personal growth and hope in a positive turn in the relationship.

It still all comes down to: what’s in it for us?

In a marriage, people end it because the pain or work outweighed the benefits.  Same with church going, jobs, friendships, and sometimes even children and parents.

In the case of marriage, it can be said “We just fell out of love,” like our relationships are dictated by random weather.  Do our relationships just happen to us passively, like a spell has been cast?  But what they mean is, “We determined the relationship no longer held value, it didn’t give me anything anymore.”

Yet Christ tells us all relationships are inherently valuable.  Not just spouse and child and sibling and parent, but boss and employee and coworker and neighbor and fellow church member and friend—and enemy. Why?  Because He knows our need–that we just want love in this world.  And He knows that love can be found in any relationship.

Learning to feel and give love is the purpose of life.  Family, our first relationship lesson, creates a flawed environment where we practice that. We don’t get a say in our parents or siblings (the LDS worldview sometimes implies maybe we did at some point, but I certainly hope a wiser soul did the pairing up), but now these relationships seem thrust upon us.  Family relationships naturally develop because of sheer time spent together and the weight of influence our parents have (for both good and bad).  We may choose in most cases how many children we have, but we don’t get to choose who they are.

Marriage, on the other hand, is different from other family relationships in that it involves autonomy and choice, as opposed to biology.

It may be all our family relationships are purposefully designed by God and not an accident of biology, it adds a measure of meaning and purpose to the people we are placed with, parents and siblings. It may be that it could be just as well random because God knows we can learn about love in any environment.  While we can’t see now whether our choice was involved as with a marriage, all relationships offer an education in love whether you believe that God is involved or not.

This is because God is love (1 John 4:8), and all love is merely an extension of the love of God.

All our love to each other, and even to Him, is simply moon to His sun, and we are all in various phases at various times.  Just like the moon, we shine brightest when we position ourselves directly to Him.

This is why love can be felt and given in any relationship, because God is always there. But, we can choose to receive or reject that opportunity for education, and of course some relationships make it easier than others.

Let me channel my Born-Again Mormon Buddhist for a moment and say that I believe that what we think is “good” or “bad” in our family relationships is generally not necessarily either, but always comes down to an experience and education in love, or compassion, as the Buddhists might be more apt to say.  Call me crazy (and I am), but my ability to love and empathize with others, for instance, was a direct lesson from an abusive parent who was himself severely abused.  What is good there?  As I’ve said before, God does not dispel darkness, just as darkness is not pushed out by light, God transfigures darkness into light.  We run around labeling circumstances and experiences and people “bad'” then later often can see, even with our human, fallen eyes, that God has transfigured it into what we would call “good.”

God can, and will, and already has—whether we believe it or see it yet or not—transfigured our darkness into light.  

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God 

—Romans 8:28



Whether marriage or sibling or parents, we can choose whether we really want to feel and reflect love in that situation or not.  Of course you can decide you are going to practice this only with selective people, to make it a little easier.  Whether to church, or any relationship we find ourselves in, we can choose to learn how to make it work or choose not to bother.

 That’s where that first principle of faith is again involved, believing there would be any growth or value in making that effort.

And maybe that is why this life really is inherently an equal playing field for everyone, no matter the circumstances we are born into.  If the purpose is only to learn to feel and reflect love, we can learn that in both negative (or what we call negative) or positive (or what we called positive) experiences. We can learn it with any type of person in our family, our workplace, or our church. The Savior has gracefully provided for our inevitable failures to do so in the learning process.  This provides a level of safety (our only safety), even in this most treacherous world.

Christ said, “It is finished.”  He has done His work already, and we are simply learning to cooperate with Him.  This is what my friend’s Bishop means when he says, “Everything is already alright.”

It is not saying that everything goes exactly as God would have it.  Of course, that would be a perfect world, and how could He wish upon us such pain and suffering when He couldn’t even allow us to fall in the first place without our active consent?

It is saying He can work with anything, and he can save us in any circumstance, and no darkness is out of his reach.  He is that big.

Neither is it saying that nothing we do matters. We can choose to prolong our pain (and that of others) by resisting His love and staying on the dark side of our moon.

It is simply saying that we can choose to learn to love one another, or we can choose not to, in every moment and every situation.

It is saying that Christ has already paid the price for all of us us not loving one another.  He did this so that when we do choose not to love, later we are free to choose again—to try again.

Christ’s immense patience and gentleness works with us in our messy free will.  He can even make our dark choices to not love now end up later increasing our capacity to love when we turn again and try. He is that big.

As we see the consequences of our choices in ourselves, our families, churches, our nations, not to love, it helps us understand the importance of that love all the more.

That’s the need for the fall, the ugly beauty of this very painful fall: to see what lack of love does to us and to others, and to the world, and to experience the healing power of love. God is the realist, who, knowing how this would all go, provided a Savior to swallow up all of that loveless pain in His love, ever giving us another chance to learn to love again.  Always shining His Son to our moon.

If you boil it down, giving and receiving love is the only source of true joy and value and meaning in our lives We don’t always call it love–we can call it feeling valued, belonging, having purpose or a connection.   But in the end it is a sense of being loved.  And there are many loving relationships that don’t see God as the source of love, but thus it is regardless.  I know many happy, loving, generous souls that aren’t necessarily spiritual or religious and say they have no interest in obeying God, yet here they are loving one another (exchanging God, as God=Love) just as their Savior asked.  Others may warm a pew every Sunday yet have cold hearts.

This parable in Matthew 21 on this point has come to mean a lot to me:

 28 ¶But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go awork to day in my vineyard. 29 He answered and said, aI will not: but afterward he repented, and went.
 
30 And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and awent bnot.
 
31 Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first. Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.

This is why the hard phrase “Wickedness never was happiness,” (Alma 41:10) really does apply. Selfishness or fleeting and immediate pleasure never brings lasting happiness.  The moon cannot brighten itself.  The Sun still shines—yet we sit alone in darkness at noonday.

Job 5:14

They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in the night. 

Deuteronomy 28:29

    And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways: and thou shalt be only oppressed and spoiled evermore, and no man shall save thee. 

Yes, no man can save any of us.  Cursed is he that puts his trust in the arm of the flesh (his own, or others).

2 Nephi 4:34

    O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth histrust in man or maketh flesh his arm. 

We look to each other–other fallen mortals–to fill our need for love, and we ultimately are left empty.  We cannot look to other flesh to fill our aching heart.  Even the nicest of them.

Yet, facing the Sun, feeling love (God) in us and through us, and then reflecting it back to one another, relationships brighten—it brings joy.  Thus the true definition of repentance: turning from self and sin to Savior.

Isaiah 58:10

And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: 

So we can say to ourselves, I’m not feeling any value/love/joy from this environment — this family, this neighborhood, this church, this job. And we can choose whether we want to be a part of it or not. God gracefully allows us to take the time we need to figure this out. He knows we’ll need time, that’s why he placed us here in time.

We can even isolate ourselves completely, disassociate from these neighbors, this church, this family, this marriage, because we cannot feel that love there.  It is true that some places are easier to feel loved and others, some lessons are harder than others.  It is true that when we are empty and feel no connection to the love of God, we are more inclined to turn away from harder relationships where the love is not free-flowing, because our own moon is new and we feel dark and cold.  We then increasingly see our relationships as empty, because we are empty.

But the Son still is ever radiant and always patient.  He knows that love can be felt anywhere and He is always ready to make us shine full again.

And even if only one member of a marriage or family or workplace or congregation turns to face the Sun, their light is reflected to the other members. When you face Him, those facing you, even those not currently facing the Son themselves, will feel His love, too.

This is why the love of God and man stands at the head of all the law and all the prophets.  When we feel the love of God, it flows into all of our relationships, actions, it sparks purity and goodness at every level.

But the measure of the first (love of God) dictates the measure of the second (love of man).  That is why we cannot look to man first to put love into our relationships.

So again the question: “Should I stay or should I go?”

The answer: “Whether here or somewhere else, the lesson will be the same.”

CAPAX DEI (Come Join With Us Part VI)

[This is part VI of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

There is a phrase used by early Christian mystics: “CAPAX
DEI”—it means creating capacity for God. 
The premise for this is that all our religiosity and spiritual striving—in
the Mormon world, that long list of ACTIONS—is simply the act of creating a
space for God—to enter in, change us, and make us whole and one with Him. 


These early Christians used the analogy of the sailboat, that
in our religious practice we set our sails, essentially tuning them to the wind
of the Divine.  But it is God that fills
them and moves us.  Without Him, all the
sail-setting will come to naught and we won’t move an inch. 

We are all called upon to open up ourselves for God and allow
Him to work in us.  As Ezra Taft Benson
said, he makes more of us than we can make of ourselves.  We must cooperate with Him, we must clear out
our baggage and get out of the way.  Prepare
ye the way of the Lord into your heart.

We are wise to search ourselves to discover what other things
are filling the places that God is ready fill.

Consider the lamp of the ten virgins—these are Church
members—what are the lamps? Testimonies, knowledge, actions, but they represent
outward performances.  Yet half of them
neglect to notice there is no oil in them?

LAMP +      ?      = LIGHT

Do we spend our time polishing our empty lamp, our
religiousness—a tidy, clean vessel for the world to see?  Could it be that we imagine that somehow having
the vessel of ACTION is sufficient, and we need no light now, here, in this
dark world, we will simply be judged at the end on how nicely we cared for our
lamp? What comfort is treasuring an empty lamp? Why not allow God to fill us
and have light now?

It’s human tendency to mistake the symbol for the thing
itself.  It’s like eating a picture of a
pineapple in lieu of the fruit itself, or holding a map instead of going to the
actual place. 

But the best analogy for this Capax Dei vessel is simply our
heart—the scriptures say so much about this. 
The beautiful empty lamp is our lips that draw near while the heart
wanders far from Him.

So again, what is in my
vessel that takes room that could be filled with God—filled with his
Spirit? 

I’ll tell you—Pain.  I
hold on to my pain like a prized ribbon (or a germy teddy bear)—same with my sorrow, anger, self-pity,
disappointment, regret.  I can let go of
them and let God fill those aching places, but I can’t will my clenched fists
to let my noble story of suffering go.

A long time ago I asked God to make me His.  Repeatedly this prayer has been answered by a
broken heart.  I have always wondered why
my loving Savior asks this of us.  I’m
starting to see that this is simply part of the work of Capax Dei: as I have
requested, He is simply breaking up my will to make space for His. 

A beautiful thing here is that His will for any of us can be
carried out perfectly in any circumstance imaginable, in any place in the world,
and at any time, with any person—it simply requires us to allow ourselves to be
filled by him.  To look for His
light.  (Remember–the eye is the light
of the body, look and live.)

So, what does all of this have to do with going to Church?  


I went back and analyzed the list of Uchtdorf’s promised
blessings for those who “Join With Us.” 
I sorted them into like categories and saw they fell neatly into four
areas:

·        
DIVINE
COMFORT & HEALING
·        
REDEMPTION
·        
KNOWLEDGE
·        
DISCIPLESHIP

I then saw that these four areas fell neatly into a sort of
yin and yang of God/Man, Spirit/Body, Oil/Lamp.  In the blessings he lists, there is a clear
division between things we can ACT on and do for ourselves (works/external
actions) and things God must do for us (sanctification/saving/grace), back to
my aunt’s original comment of finding out what was God’s job and what was my
job.  Of course we will feel empty if we
have one without the other, yet a large portion we cannot earn or force or
create for ourselves.  If we want to be
independent on this, we will never be finished.


Our ACTIONS, our works, are where we simply create a space
for Him to come in.  Capax Dei.  We then simply look, ask, trust and believe that
he will do the rest—we allow him to do His work in us. 

Just as we personally can mistakenly look to an empty lamp
for light, perhaps I have been looking for the outward commitments of my Church
observance to deliver the healing, and was sorrowing that I wasn’t finding them. 

The Church
can symbolize the healing, ritualize the healing in ordinance, teach us about
the healing, persuade us toward the healing—but only Christ can do the
healing. 

As Uchtdorf said, this is a church with a Divine mission carried
out by a group of flawed mortal humans.  It’s
very apt that people suggest you “stay in the boat” when testimonies waver—as
the Church is just that—a vessel being created to complete a destiny.

The Church is Capax
Dei—it is setting the sails for Christ to fill and carry us to the finish of
His work here—to prepare the earth and build Zion for Christ to enter.     

But the capacity of the Church to be filled with God begins
with the hearts of the members.

“It is deeply damaging to the church and its members to suppose that we
can transform the world if we are unwilling to be transformed personally.” 
 (Marjorie Thompson)

Capax Dei—making a place for God to enter—it’s our hearts,
our homes, our meetings, any place or group we inhabit, but especially our
Church as a whole.   Capax without Dei is
emptiness.  Everything is an opportunity
to open our eyes and hearts to the direction of Divine wind, to see the gifts,
to trust that He will fill us. 


“What could happen if an entire congregation or community became a
faithful doorway into God’s living presence?” 
 (Marjorie Thompson)

Think on that.  We have
an exciting road before us as a Church. I hope to get out of my pity party and
join with you for it.

So the variable in this divine algebra—solve for X: the wind
in the sails, the oil in the lamp, the only thing our hearts are really designed
to hold, the essential extra ingredient required to fill the emptiness and
attain the promised blessings: THE LOVE OF GOD.
 1 NEPHI 11
21 And the angel said unto me: Behold the aLamb of
God, yea, even the bSon of the Eternal cFather! Knowest thou the meaning
of the dtree which thy father saw?
 22 And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the alove of
God, which bsheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore,
it is the cmost desirable above all things.
 23 And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most ajoyous to the soul.

There’s that joy again.

Those first two great commandments
that everything hangs upon and boils down to—receiving and reflecting the Love
of God—that is what will save us, our Church and this world.  It is what has saved me and is saving me.

Because I have felt that love I see now how Jesus Christ is mighty to save—He has felt everything I ever have
felt or will feel.  He understands me, and understands you, with a perfect and patient empathy.  He is your personal and intimate advocate, He
is never your accuser.  He has already
paid all of your debts from your birth to your death.  I have felt His saving power and witness that
he can transfigure pain and suffering and sin and brokenness and darkness, even
all of it in this whole crazy world, into light.

And even better, He can do it now.  Not just in the end,
but every day.  We do not
have to wait until this life is over or put in a certain number of actions or
hours to feel the cleansing and transcendent power of the Love of God.  It is right here, right now, and ready to be felt at any moment if we simply
look for the light.  

A Savior doesn’t
watch you drown here only to save you in heaven after death.  Our beloved, dear Savior can and will save us—you—HERE.  

NOW.  

Simply look to Him—and live.   

Not sure how?  Here’s the practice I started with that helped me to start to see God’s hand in my life. 

Post by Valerie Wise Christensen.

PART I
PART II: THE MISSING FACTOR
PART III: THE DARKNESS
PART IV: THE LIGHT
PART V: THE WIND & THE WAVES
PART VI: CAPAX DEI 

THE WIND AND THE WAVES (Come Join With Us Part V)

[This is part VI of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

I joke that I am a Born Again Mormon. It is true that I have felt
a direct connection to Jesus Christ that has become more tangible and real than
any other religious or spiritual experience. 
I wondered if it could last.  Dark
Utah winters are hard on me, and all the unresolved life baggage isn’t
magically carried away by some cosmic bellhop.


I’ve had a very hard winter and challenges continue.  But I’m happy to report that the change—the
deep sense of God’s love for me, an intense love for Jesus Christ, and a lack
of fear—it has stayed with me.  The
sorrow is back, and I’m doing difficult work with my counselor to process past
issues, I still wrestle with theological questions, but I do it in the safe
arms of a loving God.  There is something
changed in me, a solid foundation and sense of intimacy with the Divine.  I feel forgiven, and I feel Him continually on
hand, ready to forgive again whenever necessary as I stumble along my path.

We all live in a very challenging time—great storms, wind and
waves rage about us.  It is very hard here
and many of us have to deal with painful things we never would have
expected.  We don’t have a lot of control
in many aspects of our lives.  Many of us
are empty, sorrowing and aching on a soul-deep level.  We are strangers in a strange land, a fallen
people in a fallen world.  Further, that
blessing and curse of free will provides us little safety—we are surrounded
with 8 billion people who are free to do whatever they want to each other all
the day long.  It’s a recipe for global
mayhem, scriptural prophecies are no comfort at all, and you can see why so
many were scared to take the risk to even come here in the first place. 

But the promise was that Christ was big enough to swallow it
all and we would be able to come home with all the education and growth of this
experience but be cleansed from the stain and pain of this fallen world. We
could go into the pit and find our pearl and purpose, and were promised a
Savior to get us out, clean us off, and it would all work out for the best.  We were to keep our eyes fixated on him.

After my “saving” moment, as I said, I didn’t feel afraid
anymore, even if I did feel sorrow.  I
understood I had to keep my eyes off the wind and waves and on my Savior, looking
to light instead of darkness, and only then could I take on this task of living—a
task that feels as impossible as walking on water some days. 

In my seeking for light, I felt a instinctive desire to praise
Him and thank Him for what he’d done for me. 
When Sunday would come, I would go to Church hungry for Christ,
sometimes starving, ready to worship the God that makes blind see.

“And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ,
we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our
prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a
remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 25:23, 26).

Our Hymns are a beautiful reflection of this—full of praise
and worship and our dependence on God.  (Remember this tip when you don’t know what to do and feel lost–“It is as simple as 123.”  As in Hymn 123).

Yet in our lessons and conversations with each other, too
often we let our eyes wander from the light to the darkness.  We let the adversary sneak in, sow fear and
doubt, and call our attention to the wind and the waves.  We move from the childlike dependence Christ
asks to prideful independence and act like it really is all on us.  And as a result, sometimes our Church
meetings can start feeling less like worship and more like self-help and pep
talks about working harder to tread these waters. For someone hurting and
needing comfort, there is greater balm in finding and clinging to the lifesaver
that is Christ. 

I’ve seen the disastrous fruits of my self-help.  The principle of self-sufficiency was never
intended to extend itself to Christ himself. Christ is both the author and
finisher of our faith, who even grants us life and breath from moment to moment,
King Benjamin says.  We rely on him for
everything whether we know it or not—yet too often His name is only mentioned
to conclude talks and prayers.  

Now we are told that we are to preach nothing but repentance
to this generation, which can be interpreted to mean we must spend all our time
berating our weakness.  But what is
repentance?  It’s a turning away from sin
and self toward Savior, accepting his cleansing Grace. If we want to be good at
something, we watch the master, we learn from the best.  Said another way, when we’re bowling, we don’t
watch our hand, we watch the pin we are aiming for and allow that image to
adjust our physical actions.   

But when I put my focus on the false idol of my human
weakness—it destabilizes the peace I had felt as I focused on the true God and
His love.  Throughout last fall and
winter, too often I came home from meetings sinking in my life’s water, hungry
and aching, fixated again on my lack instead of my God’s plenty, on my darkness
over His light.  I find myself wondering again
if maybe even in my exhaustion I really do need to just find a way work harder
to earn grace.  My eyes leave His, I’m
back on my own in the storm. 

Then that particularly painful day the first Sunday of the
year hit and sent me reeling. My perception and pain was causing Church to
become a traumatic experience.  I went
home and told myself I couldn’t go back, thus the seven weeks.  This inactivity wasn’t final or declarative,
but more slippery and cowardly—a few weekends away here and there, a headache,
a work deadline, etc.  My sweet visiting
teacher and a few friends in the know watched petrified as what everyone (including
myself) thought was a rock-solid valiant churchgoer crumbled to dust in a
moment.

With over two months of missing church, you may find yourself
called into the Bishop. 

The first meeting was a little awkward.  We have a wonderful, kind Bishop who is sincerely loving and concerned.  He encouraged me to consider that this
difficulty was more related to my perception rather than what was happening in the
meetings themselves. I’m the first to admit my perceptions are inaccurate, and I clearly have a lot of baggage going in.  But were the meetings secretly full of worship, praise and comfort in
Christ and I just am not noticing it?  Maybe in my exhausted state I
just can’t see it through all the pioneer fortitude being declared.  

Originally he was worried maybe I was being a
perfectionist and letting Satan make me feel down on myself.  But I fundamentally don’t believe in
perfection without Christ, and have no interest in trying to do that on my own
and see no scriptural foundation that He expects me to be perfect without Him. 


I know it’s mercifully not all up to me.  I’m just raw and exhausted and need the
comfort in Christ that I know is there, and the continual cry of
self-improvement is overwhelming and discouraging. It took a couple of tries
but eventually there was good understanding with the Bishop and we had a good talk.  In the end, I want to look at Christ’s light
and rejoice in it, but it seems worship is always focused on my own fallenness. That’s not worship at all.

The Savior says “I’ve got you. Fear not. Have faith. Just look
to me in every thought.  Keep your eye
single to my glory.” Christ’s plan for perfection was simply that despite the
inevitable mistakes we would make in this world, if we looked to Him, he would
make us whole—perfect—through Him. 

Satan says, “You’re on your own.  Look at everything you are doing to mess this
up.  You know, if anything goes wrong
down there, it’s on YOU.  Just try harder
with that puny arm of the flesh.  Just go
a little faster than you have strength. Oh no, this will NEVER work out. Your
life plan is completely derailed.”  Count
on him to be the eternal Alarmist.  Satan
is the real perfectionist—wasn’t it he who wanted to make sure every detail was
controlled and no mistakes were allowed? 

But still we listen to him. 

Around this time, I wondered out loud to my friend, “Couldn’t
we spend a little more time rejoicing in Christ, praising him for this 99.99%
of our salvation rather than myopically focusing on our own pathetic fraction?”

My friend said, “Well it makes sense that we’d spend most of
our time at Church talking about what we
should do.  Christ has done His part, and
that is assumed.  All we can do is focus
on ourselves and what we can do.” 

And I totally agree with this, as long as we can agree that all
we can do is look to Christ.  Without that caviat, I don’t agree at all.  Christ says
to look unto Him in every thought,
and that we are completely powerless to do anything
without him.

Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I
will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can
do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land,
for which we will praise his name forever.
(Alma 26:12). 

I have spent enough time worshiping the false idol of my
weaknesses and relying on my own arm of flesh to purge them.  I have seen God change in moments errors I
futilely strived against for years simply because I finally looked to God’s
power instead of my weakness.  I’m done
with self-help, but I will look and live.

“It should be clear that Christian spirituality begins with God, depends
on God, and ends in God.  We owe our
capacity to be spiritual to the grace of One who creates us free to share our
love.”
Marjorie Thompson

When I’m hurting, I am comforted when I glory in the strength
and power of my God.  Yet some of my friends will look at me skeptically and worry that such talk of grace puts us at risk of complacency.

Do we really
believe that resting in Christ’s grace and love makes us complacent and
lazy?  For me, it’s just the opposite.  With my eye on Him, I am filled with His
love, I am happier and energized and hopeful and end up doing more, but more
efficiently.  I even physically feel
better. I’m led by the Spirit in the moment instead of by tasks and checklists
which can’t fortell the unseen demands of the day.  When I feel His love, I’m beautifully
compelled to share His love—the ACTIONS get easier.  His burden really is lighter than the ones we
place on ourselves.

When my eye isn’t on him, I’m too hopeless to move.


We don’t need to work harder to earn His love and grace, we
need to work harder to FEEL and REFLECT his love and grace. We are so afraid of
being complacent that we avoid the word “grace” as if it isn’t the complete fuel on which we run.  

 “The spiritual life is not a task
of self-reformation…Spiritual growth is essentially a work of divine grace with
which we are called to cooperate.  Free
and active cooperation is our share of the labor….All is grace, yet all depends
on our willingness to work freely with grace.” 
(Thompson again.)

Our work is to allow God to reform us.  It is cooperating with him.   It is Capax Dei.

Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life

THE LIGHT (Come Join With Us Part IV)

[This is part IV of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

The light started to come in September with the advice of a
sweet Aunt who told me I was trying to do God’s job for Him and I needed to
figure out what was His job and what was mine. 
She suggested I start being still, and simply notice God’s little gifts
from day to day and write them down.  She
called it “making a little lane change” in how I was thinking about things.  It sounded trite and simplistic, but as I had
already thrown in the towel and come to terms with a much lower glory on earth
and in heaven, what could it hurt?


In just a few short weeks of this practice, naming the gifts,
I started to see Him more and more, and then everywhere.  When I talked to my visiting teacher about
this, she recommended a book called 1,000 Gifts (a dare to live fully right where
you are), where this practice of naming God’s gifts actively led the author to
a deep and personal relationship with Christ. 
As I practiced this little hunting game of naming gifts, my experiences began
to mirror the author’s. As I looked, I began to see. 

Over the weeks I started to feel something I can only call
Joy. I can honestly say I had never felt that feeling before. Fleeting
happiness yes, but not Joy.  I felt like
I was seeing things that I had never seen before, even though they had always
been there, I could see that life was good, and that to some extent I had
wasted so much of my life in darkness and despair, focusing only on all of the
places that I and the world were falling short, focusing on the real and
painful darkness, but not allowing myself to see the transcendent Joy that was
all around me and just there for the seeing.

Yes, there is darkness, and the darkness is not pushed out or
beaten by light, it is simply transfigured into light.  I started to see how even my own dark
experiences in life have in many cases already been transfigured by Christ into
light.

This effort all culminated one day in the kitchen when I was
making dinner and listening to the Tab.  The
song “I believe in Christ” came on, and I walked over to turn it
down, because that particular version is very bombastic and a little annoying,
but as I went to do so, I was stopped in my tracks as with a hard stomach
punch, and became overwhelmed by an enormously powerful physical experience
where I felt completely filled by this feeling of Christ’s love for me—and the whole
universe—and the love was so huge that I couldn’t bear it and physically had to
lean on the counter to stay standing.  I could
hardly breathe.

I always wondered how I could build a relationship with
Christ since we always prayed to the Father, but somehow in this moment there
came this enormous connection to Christ directly—just an instant awareness and
connection to Him and what He did for me—it was an all-encompassing comfort.

I felt this distinct impression to notice that this
experience did not happen in the temple or the chapel or on the mountaintop, or
even in my anxious striving and seeking (in fact I had been going to the temple
daily most of the past summer just to make it through the day), but in my
kitchen as I was wrist-deep in flour just listening to music–in my day to day,
mundane life, He was showing me he could save me in my daily walk, even while
my children walked quickly through the kitchen, giving me odd looks as I cried
like a baby—awash in His love. 

A Yale theologian and favorite writer of mine, Marjorie J.
Thompson, said, “Christ provides realistic hope for a realistic life.”  (I highly recommend her book Soul Feast)

I felt literally saved in this moment. I felt so loved, so at
peace with where I was on my journey, that I was in God’s hands, and He  had me, I did not be need to be afraid
anymore.  

I tried to recover myself and get back to dinner, but then
the song, “I am Called By His Name,” came on and I felt this intense
burning in my heart—a sense of being literally branded by Christ, made His,
becoming called by His Name as the song played. 
It was searing joy.

Dinner was late. 

But it’s okay, because now I knew how God felt about me—I can
understand those who say they are saved, because this love saved me from being
lost.  I was found.  He knew where and who I was, and it wasn’t
just ideas or symbols or words, it was inside me.  The song Amazing Grace meant something
entirely new.

I was so peaceful and happy and grateful for quite a long
time, I joked to my husband that I might have a brain tumor or something—perhaps
you’re thinking the same thing, or maybe that I’m bi-polar with all this happy/sad.  Nope–just a boring depressed person saved by Jesus.

All of the fear went away, even the fear about all those
close to me leaving the church, all my religious anxiety, wondering what
eternity looks like—I just trusted.  If
God loves me like that, I just need to keep feeling and reflecting that love
and everything would be okay.  In fact,
like my friend’s bishop always tells her, “Everything is already okay.”  Did we think
Christ wasn’t serious when he said not to fear? 
Did he mean don’t fear unless something really scary comes up?  Don’t fear unless a loved one wanders?  No, he says, look at me and don’t fear.  When Moses fears, he looks into the mouth of
hell.  Fear breeds fear.

The result of this experience was the loss of fear, because I
knew in whom I had trusted.

I no longer felt like my own weakness or mistakes now or in
the future could derail my great cosmic plan somewhere.  Christ was what He said He was.  He did not leave us comfortless.  I can look to Him, and He is big enough to
save me, and all of us, and He loves me, and all of us, enough to actually do
it, whether we see it, or believe it, or not. 
He has done the work, and it is finished.  Our work is to look and live.

NEXT: PART V: THE WIND & THE WAVES

Post by Valerie Wise Christensen.

Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life

THE DARKNESS (Come Join With Us Part III)

[This is part III of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

So, I was already exhausted when a bomb fell in my personal
life last February and by August I was my darkest place.  

I’m sure your mind is running with all the
possible sordid details, but my facts are likely the same for most of you.  

Life gets exhausting. 

Disappointments, loss, and
failures pile up, some bigger than others, and some simply are the last straw.  

The arm of the flesh fails us—both our own,
and others’.  

Marriage is hard, children
are hard—being a fallen human being is hard. 

Your body falls apart, everything
makes you tired. 

The suffering of family and friends and even of strangers is
immense and overwhelming.

The weight of childhood baggage gets heavy.  

You hit 40, and your friends and family start
losing their faith, children, jobs, marriages, hope, and what you thought life
was going to be is firmly replaced by what it is.  

I watched my 93 year old grandma die after 12
years of corrosive dementia and (having written her practical, yet often sad
biography).  I’m left with the sense, “Is that all there is?” 

I wondered if I really wanted eternal glory, eternal progression, even eternal family. I coveted a bit the born-again heaven where I could just sing praise all day.  

But really, I just wanted to be alone, and I wanted to nap.

So yes, a raging midlife crisis. 

And yes, I’ll admit there is a big blanket of chronic lifelong
depression laid over all this, but as my sweet, equally lifelong depressed
husband always says, “It’s not depression, it’s seeing things clearly.” 

(So you can imagine how rosy things are around our house.)

THE MISSING FACTOR (Come Join With Us Part II)

[This is part II of the Come Join With Us Series that starts here]

In Come Join with Us, Elder
Uchtdorf reviews reasons people don’t join with us–why they leave.  
He starts out by saying it’s not because they are lazy, offended or sinful. What a relief!
The ones he covers are:
  1. Unanswered questions or differences of opinion about history
    and doctrine
  2. Mistakes of imperfect leaders and members, including
    hypocrisy
  3. Feeling like you don’t fit in
  4. Feeling like you can’t live up to the standards

All of this boils down to something or someone not meeting our
expectations.
Uchtdorf explains that God and His doctrine are pure, and
whatever doesn’t make sense now will later be resolved to our full satisfaction
after Christ comes.  He says we are all
flawed and need patience and forgiveness with ourselves and each other as we
can’t fully live up to our ideals. He says the Church needs uniqueness, so
don’t leave if you feel out of place.
My my sweet cousin, married to a church historian, says of
her husband, “He knows things that would curl most member’s hair,” but usually that’s not been a huge stumbling block for me.  I can always reach out to him when I get a hard question and he has some amazingly thorough answers, considering he knows what JS had for breakfast most mornings, the angle of the sun on a particular day, and about every word the man and everyone around him ever wrote or said.  And he doesn’t take an apologist approach, but an academic one, which is helpful.

Also, I
can accept my own shortcomings and those of leaders and early church members,
because I believe in Christ’s love and grace and that he can do His work
despite and even sometimes through our failings. And while sometimes I fit in better than others,
that has never been a reason for me to go or not to go. I go to find God.

But in general, these are not the reasons why so many of my friends and family have left or
are in the process of leaving.  Even my
own recent resistance to church going, doesn’t seem to be related to
these.  But it is related to the same
idea of expectations.  No, the reason for
not going (and the reason for my San Francisco Sunday morning tears) wasn’t from the
list of complaints—rather, it was in the list of blessings
If list A (ACTIONS) doesn’t lead to list B (BLESSINGS)—even
when you believe in God, want to follow Him, and believe this is His Church—churchgoing
becomes empty.  But this list of promised
blessings isn’t simply a natural result of fervently keeping this list of
commitments. The number one reason those I love most leave is: 

What’s the point?  

It’s an issue of faith and belief, yes, but also a factor of not feeling the promised payoff.  

This is where the well-trained Mormon starts to investigate—I
must be sinning somewhere, I must be trying to justify something, it must be
the devil, or mental illness, I must be doing something wrong or I would feel
those things.  Sometimes helpful friends
or even people you barely know will gladly speculate on this for you. 
I recently heard a woman I greatly admire, say when she had 5 kids under 5 and spent 24 hours a day
serving, she said to the Lord, “Service is supposed to make me happy” (ACTIONS
are supposed to lead to BLESSINGS). She asked Him:  “Tell me, service plus WHAT equals happiness?”
The same question can apply for church going, obedience,
sacrifice, any religious act: 
ACTION plus WHAT equals BLESSINGS AND HAPPINESS?
WHAT WE HEAR:
DOING GOOD STUFF = HAPPY FEELINGS
ACTIONS = BLESSINGS

REALITY:
DOING GOOD STUFF  +          ?      
 =  HAPPY FEELINGS
ACTION +     ?    
= BLESSINGS

She told us her answer that eventually came, and beautifully,
it’s been my answer, too.   And maybe you
already know. But let’s work our way to it.

Next: PART III: THE DARKNESS

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COME JOIN WITH US? (Part I)

I don’t
generally write out my lessons verbatim, but this one is special, and by that I
mean hard. I’ll start with how it all went down.
I was lazing
about like a heathen on a Sunday morning in a hotel room in San Francisco in
February when I received a text from my friend Karen, a counselor in our Relief
Society, asking me to sub and teach on March 23rd.   I said yes, as I don’t know how to say
anything else when I get calls from Church, and I kind of missed my old calling
to teach.
She only had the page number, so I asked for
which one it was since I don’t have the paper version.  She had to go look it up.  She texted back, “Come Join With Us.”  Uchtdorf’s last talk from General Conference
encouraging us to keep coming to church. 
This
particular Sunday was the 7th week I had not been at Church. 
I texted
back jokingly, “Is this your way of reactivating me?” Her response, “Actually I
just looked up the title since it is not on the bookmark and realized what it
was.  I have to say it made me chuckle J 
it must not have been my idea.”
I took a
deep breath and opened up the talk on my phone and read while I waited for my
turn in the shower.  I’m in marketing by
trade, and a big part of my job is to review all of a client’s documents and
boil them down to their most simple, understandable form in the most logical
order.  Having applied that process,
here’s what I came up with:

The Church consists of a group of
people that has these things in common:
  1. They LOVE the Savior and wish to draw
    closer and follow Him
  2. They YEARN TO KNOW Christ’s pure doctrine, rejoicing that God speaks to man
  3. They ARE GOOD: caring, kind, honest, industrious
  4. They
    want to put FAITH INTO PRACTICE, and
    see assignments as opportunities to fill covenants and engage in a great cause

These people share a common belief
that:
  1. Jesus CHRIST HIMSELF LEADS the church
  2. As a result, this Church has the AUTHORITY to act for Him
  3. This is used to administer necessary ORDINANCES & COVENANTS
  4. Christ guides his Church through REVELATION & PROPHECY

Because of this shared belief,
members willingly take on a very large commitment which includes:
  1. Callings
  2. Home
    Teaching
  3. Visiting
    Teaching
  4. Family Home
    Evening
  5. Temple Work
  6. Service
  7. Teaching
    Assignments
  8. 10 Hours of
    General Conference
  9. 3 Hours of
    Church Weekly
  10. Family
    History
  11. Youth
    Activities
  12. Early
    Morning Seminary
  13. Maintaining
    Buildings
  14. Word of
    Wisdom
  15. Fast
    Offerings
  16. Tithing
  17. And Much
    More! (a well-worn final bullet in marketing materials)

Uchtdorf also makes clear some important things about the
Church Organization itself:
  1. It has a course and
    destiny
    and God will
    not allow it to drift or fail.
  2. Is operated by flawed
    human beings
    , yet the
    truth of Christ’s gospel not tarnished, diminished or destroyed.
  3. It is designed for the imperfect
    with desire to follow Christ,
    not for those who have mastered it all: “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
  4. The Church values pondering
    and questions
    , it
    was restored by a man with questions and doubts.
  5. The Church honors
    personal agency
    and the
    right to worship however others choose, even if we sorrow when others chose
    differently than we do.
  6. The Church benefits and
    needs unique perspectives
    , backgrounds and diverse experiences.

While on an individual and ward level we don’t always allow room
for flaws (in self or others), can become fearful about pondering, agency or
unique perspectives, official policy isn’t quite as down on these
realities.  Even the best of us are
imperfect, uninformed and needing forgiveness from God and each other, and all
of us have very different experiences here.
Uchtdorf then breaks down the
features and benefits of his Come Join With Us call to action.  Here’s the “WHY” of the proposal—these are
the blessings that surely will come as a result that long commitment list—the ACTIONS: 


•        
Peace
•        
Happiness
•        
Hope
•        
Purpose
•        
Healing of Wounds
•        
Healed Suffering
•        
Comfort for
Grieving Souls
•        
Nourishment
•        
Rest
•        
Truth
•        
Meaning
•        
Feel God’s Power
& Presence
•        
Know & Grow
Closer to Savior
•        
Belonging
•        
Benefitting a
Group
•        
Great Treasures
of Knowledge
•        
Words of Eternal
Life
•        
Way to Act on
Faith, Take Up Cross,  Follow Him
•        
Forgiveness of
Sin
•        
Sanctifying
Influence of Holy Ghost
•        
Salvation & Profound
Joy in World To Come
•        
Revelation and
Prophecy
•        
Priesthood
Ordinances  & Covenants


I finished reading the talk.  Tears
were soaking the pillow in my San Francisco hotel room. Peace?  Happiness? 
Hope?  Healing? Comfort? Rest? I’d
been going to Church for 42 years with an obedient, sincere heart and can’t
witness to the truth of that. 
In fact, the last time I had went to Church, seven weeks before
on the first Sunday of the year, I had gone in heartbroken fasting and prayer
and pleading.  I went praying that I
would recover emotionally, mentally, and spiritually from the very difficult
last year.  I had spent several months
carefully weaving together a peace out of Christ’s grace and love and went
holding it carefully in my hands.   But when the meetings ended, I had fled
sobbing, all of my very carefully constructed peace had been unraveled—first a
picking, then pulling, then a hard yank in the last of those three dutiful
hours—and it left me entirely undone.  Church shouldn’t hurt like that.
This was followed the next week with emails from old,
once-solid friends about why they left the Church that left me wide-eyed and
reeling in my weakened state. How could all this be the result of my effort and
asking? And all these blessings, aside from the last two, all of my faithful non-LDS
Christian friends could make the exact list of reasons why they benefit from going to Church. 
What did all of this mean?
Before I jumped in the shower, I texted Karen back: “I just
read it and it hit tearfully close to home. 
Are you sure I’m the right person to do this?” 
She assured me I was, so I asked for her prayers and said
maybe this would be a good catalyst to work through some things.  And it has been. I can’t say my attendance
stats have improved terribly over the past month since this request, I still
feel sad and hurting when I leave Church and have noticed myself subconsciously
avoiding it, so this has been a good exercise to investigate that more.  
So all of that said, I am either highly qualified to teach a
lesson on why we should go to Church, or am extremely under qualified.  
Next: PART II: THE MISSING FACTOR

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PART III: THE DARKNESS
PART IV: THE LIGHT
PART V: THE WIND & THE WAVES
PART VI: CAPAX DEI 

The Honest Truth: Thoughts on Church Meetings

Tonight we found ourselves in a discussion with another couple and my mother about the tendency of Church meetings to lean toward abstract principles, ideas and to-do lists.  These meetings helpfully review what we should be experiencing.  We all longed for more discussions that can be felt, not just conceptualized—personal discussions that reflect the complexity and difficulty of our daily experience, a space for us to safely be honest about what we are actually experiencing in a group environment.

I mentioned that perhaps the reason for this is that in our attempt to be unified, it is easier for us to agree on outside abstractions of a true principle, then call that unity.  It is much harder to really see, hear, understand and connect with our actual—generally messy—experiences that require Christ’s grace.

It seems we often replace true unity with the illusion of sameness—we all agree on these principles and parameters, therefore we are of one mind.

Yet we are not of one heart.

Sameness is a lazy, lower unity.  True unity—being of one heart as Christ has asked—requires more than nodding our heads at a set of tidy, abstract ideas and parameters.  It requires connecting with each other in honest, personal ways about our own fallen experience in a fallen world that daily requires Christ’s intercession.  It requires that we are safe to share this reality with one another in a spirit of empathy and forgiveness, devoid of fear or judgment, because we trust in God’s goodness.

As a community of Saints attempting to falteringly walk with Christ, we have the opportunity to gather together and discuss not just abstract truths, but the truth of what we are actually experiencing, thinking and feeling from day to day as we try to walk with Him—even when we stumble or walk away.  When all can meet together in faith (which is trust, really), we are protected and unified in our honesty.  In a community of true faith, we can all trust that God’s grace is big enough for each of us, wherever we are on the path.  We can be open with one another about our struggles and pain as we work out our salvation—but now no longer as isolated and alone as before.

That is the harder, higher unity—having our hearts knit together in love.

So, we settle for the easy road and we too often worship through sameness over love: we can agree that faith is the first principle, discuss the abstraction of what it means, read quotes about its importance, and list on the board handy steps for building it.  That’s Religious Unity 101—we are unified because we all subscribe to the same theology.

But we live far below our blessings, and in a moment we could graduate to upper division unity.  And that discussion of faith can be an honest sharing of how we fallen sinners are learning to trusting Jesus Christ’s promise that he can heal us—even here and now—in this moment of loss, disappointment, betrayal, trauma, abuse, loneliness, weakness, sin and despair.  We can honestly share our stumbles and wonderings and wanderings.  We don’t need to be restrained only to affirmations and happy endings, and we never have to wear our game face to church.  In safety, trusting in the reality of a real Savior, we can learn from each other in messy, real love.

As a Church, our Sunday School lessons and Sacrament talks can move past the conceptual abstractions and statements of truth to the heartfelt truth of daily experience.  We all sit up and notice on the occasions where that happens—the Spirit of the meeting changes when the speaker moves from pontification to the honest, faltering struggle of an effort to connect with the Divine.

My husband said that one of his most successful Sunday School lessons came as a result of the question “Why do you go to the temple?”  He did not ask “Why do we go to the temple,” or “Why should  we go to the temple.”  Instead, he dismissed in advance any easy answers.  He asked his class to really think honestly about why they personally go—and the resulting answers took time.  The answers were personal, honest, and surprising—and not the same.  The manner in which the truth of the temple met with the truth of their daily experience varied.

The unity of sameness dissolved into the true unity of love.  The Spirit not only served then to confirm truth, but to bind together the hearts of the individuals there.

My mother shared a similar experience with a recent lesson on the power of women.  While the discussion tended toward extolling the virtues of beatific femininity and idyllic motherhood, one woman raised her hand and spoke honestly about how the conversation was difficult for her, because she didn’t have that kind of mom—her mother was cold and uncaring both in her childhood and now toward her and her children. The abstract talk of a true principle was leaving her hungry and sorrowful because the truth she had lived and was living was not reflected in that discussion.  But while the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.  She added her honest voice to the discussion so it could include not just the truth of a principle, but the truth of her experience, one that required Christ’s grace.  Surely there were others in the room who could relate to the reality, the pain, the guilt of our own falling short and the falling short of those we wanted to rely on.

In this moment we get to why we are really there in that meeting—to see the healing power of Christ in action in the moment of loss, pain, sin, and falling short.  A discussion of perfect womanhood needs no saving, no Savior.  But the truth that we all experience as flawed, mortal women—all daughters of flawed, mortal women—needs saving.  Christ’s grace now has room—a gap in our perfect ideals—to enter in and save.

And further, that honest expression led to a personal conversation later with my mom that served to connect and heal to them both—the honesty of the grace-starved gap that only can be filled by Christ served, and always serves, to bind hearts together.

In the end, if we narrow our focus only to the ideals, perfect principles, and tidy checklists, where really do we need a Christ?  Only as exemplar perhaps.  True worship includes an honest discussion not only of abstract truths, but of the flawed, daily truth we live each day—full of the gaps we need Christ to fill.

Peace like a river

Unforgiveness and the related anger brings a sense of power, it masks the feeling of powerlessness when I’ve been hurt. When the anger breaks down (humility), the floodgates of sorrow open and flow out.  Only then can the forgiveness come in.  The pain comes before the peace, a price we are not always willing to pay.

As the pain floods behind a wall of anger, perhaps the pain is more intense because I let it build up back there.  I build that wall of anger, rather than turning to Lord and allowing myself to sorrow in Him.  Instead of peace like a river, I have the pain and loss of a broken dam.

Father, let me allow the pain of my heart run out, all of it.  Do not let me wall it back up in a false self-protection.  Let me trust that in time the waves will subside, and in Thee through Christ Jesus, I will again flow instead of fight.

Grace vs. Works: The Traffic Jam

Grace vs. Works

Stalled vehicles line this desolate stretch of desert highway—mine among them.

The broken down.  The empty.

Some dutifully get out and push.  Some sit by the side of the road, wondering at the absurdities of such a futile effort with no station in sight.

And pushing is absurd. The road is too long, the hills too steep, the sun too scorching.

No. We need fuel if we ever hope to make this journey.

All these normally wise, prudent folks have truly put cart before horse and set out without fueling up.  Destination: a great service station at the end of the road where, they are told, they will find all the fuel they will ever need.

At the end of the road?

And there you have it: the great, false debate of works and grace.

On this road trip of life, grace is the forgotten fuel for the dutiful work of miles.

When we strive to work without being fueled by the grace of Christ, we stall on the side of the highway.

And thankfully, it’s simply not true. Stations of grace line the highway.  Yet we pass them, even while we run on fumes—all the stations invisible to us as we myopically focus on working our way to that great gas station in the sky.

Yet you learned it in Sunday School, that in a just universe that only can reward the deserving, we undeserving creatures have been provided a merciful Savior to offer us the daily fuel we can’t earn so we can make this journey.

Our fuel isn’t earned by the miles we travel, just as our grace isn’t earned by our works. Grace is the free gift of Christ—it’s the divine love that fuels us simply as we open our eyes to it, believe he’s really there, start to feel his arms around us, and learn to trust that embrace.  We allow ourselves to feel and see his care—in the tender mercies, in the expanse of cloud, light and sky, in the coincidences, in the wind, water and trees, in the timely counsel, in the humor, in the quiet moments, in His Word, and in the miracles.  All of these signs of life-giving love—shimmering in an expanse of darkness that seeks to fill and blind our eyes.

We look for, even hunt for, the gifts all around us that point to His grace—that’s how we fuel up our tank of grace.

And when we are broken down, we can only begin again by asking.  Asking for the desire, the ability, the belief, the will, to look up, to believe and trust, that He—and his promised fuel—is right here and now, not just at the end of the line.

I know so, so many who have striven and worked themselves into empty exhaustion. The promise of the grace after all they can do simply wasn’t and isn’t enough to fuel their journey to the end.  We Mormons often live up to the evangelical accusations that we seek to earn our grace and work our way to heaven, and we blindly enter the grace/works debate, arguing against complacency with great fervor.  Fake it ’til you make it. That used to be my mantra. In our quest for the glorious end of the road, we don’t lose a beat with an empty tank—we just dutifully get out of our car and start to push, handcart-style, with our last ounce of self-sufficient pioneer strength.

Here are the same practical folks who would find it foolish to set out on a journey before stopping to fill up, yet will here explain with great sincerity that the miles traveled—the works—will earn them fuel—the grace. The Lord corrects: “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren (Luke 22:32).

There is a reason Faith comes before repentance.  Repentance is our continual effort to align our mortal selves with Divine will. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—that first principle—is the belief that we can trust the safety of that path.  Faith in action begins with opening our eyes to the stations of grace all around us, allowing Christ to fuel us and fill us with both desire and strength to do all the Spirit directs.

Exponentially more effective, works fueled by grace of Christ over the arm of the flesh are the difference between cruising the interstate and pushing our stalled car down the shoulder.  Grace-fueled works have the power to do more, impact more deeply, and arrive more timely than all your mortal self-sufficiency.

His burden truly is easy and light–as engine to bicep, as petrol to sweat.

Broken down, I too have sat in despair at the side of the road. My works were dead. My tires were flat. My hopes of any great station now or later—dashed.  Pushing seemed (and I still think is) futile and ridiculous. Then a kind fellow traveler suggested I look for station closer by than the mansions above—she told me there were stations of grace.  These undeserved stations I could access even from here—where I sat, broken.

It took strength to lift my eyes, strength I didn’t have, but I asked for it.  I simply asked and looked—the only work I could do.  It took just days, not months or years, of this looking before I began to see it, like a shimmering mirage through the heat across the road—there was the station of grace.  And more—dozens of them behind me—stations I had passed, even as I had ran, panicking, on empty. Now I saw them and shook my head at my needless emptiness.

With more looking, the stations of grace near me became crystal clear.  Without money and without price, I was brought in, fixed up, fueled up, and in time, again able to hit the road. The love of God, that grace, filled my heart and with it returned my desire to resume my work, my journey.

I set out again.  Slowly, but gratefully—mercifully.  No more running on guilt or guts or grind or grit.  With energy-efficient ease, even joy, I began to gladly cover the work of my life’s miles—fueled by my Savior’s grace.

That would have been a beautiful ending. But in time, I forget again, and the ever-present stations of grace fade to my eyes in this desert landscape.  Too often I again find myself stranded and forgetting, even as the Savior ever calls to remember.  I sit too long on the side of the road in exhaustion and self pity.  I stubbornly (and rightly, I think) refuse the ridiculous self-deception of righteously pushing my stalled vehicle.

But in time I remember again, ask again, and look again.  And every time I look, I again see the stations of grace that are and were always there.  Again without money, and without price—only asking and looking, but never deserving or earning—I am refilled for my journey.