Thanks to my friend Joan Ella, I now have the perfect way to introduce something I’ve been thinking about off and on all week. She tagged me and some of my 6-year-old classmates from a Sunday school class “back in the day.” Even without the tags, I easily recognized just about everyone and for the last hour or so I’ve been thinking about those days at FBC of Camden. I LOVED going to church there. My friend Patty had a beautiful voice, and she often sang solos in the worship service. The rest of us sang “Jesus Loves Me” and paid close attention to the Bible stories that our teachers taught us.
Still, we were kids, and we didn’t really know that much. We just liked being there and hearing the stories and singing the songs. I’m older now, and I have a different outlook, a bigger picture. It’s taken decades to gain the knowledge and faith that I have now. I still like listening to stories and singing hymns, and line upon line, precept upon precept, I have gained a greater understanding of life’s mysteries.
Here’s an example of how ignorant I was about the time the above picture was made. I remember sitting with my maternal grandmother in the annex of that beautiful church one Sunday morning. Mr. Monty was preaching fire and brimstone that day, and reminders that the end was nigh were scaring this poor child to death. I glanced up at my grandmother’s pretty profile, and she seemed calm, seemingly unaware that we might never even get to open our Christmas presents. As we walked out of the church, she evidently noticed my pale-faced anxiety because she grabbed my hand and asked what was wrong.
“Didn’t you hear what he said? The world’s going to come to an end soon, very soon, and unless we stop sinning, we’re going to go, well, you know, to that other place.”
“That other place?” she asked. “What are you talking about?”
“Not heaven,” I said, probably trembling. I couldn’t say the H word aloud, not even to a caring grandmother.
To my surprise, she seemed to be stifling a smile. “Come on, Honey. Let’s go have some dinner. Nothing’s going to happen to us today.” If she said it, I believed it. Her name was Mary John…gotta love that!
Fast forward a few decades. Last Sunday I heard a powerful message by President Uchtdorf at the Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. His talk was about Saul’s transformative experience on the road to Damascus, and there was something about his words that struck me as so true. He said that many people spend their days on the proverbial road to Damascus waiting for some traumatic event to change their hearts. They want the heavens to part for them and show them the way, the truth, and the light. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit on the address itself, but then, this is my take on it.
For most of us, this isn’t how it happens. Instead, bit by bit, little by little, we catch a little more of the vision. We grasp a little more of the truth. As President Uchtdorf said, truth comes in the form of a puzzle, one piece at a time, and each piece enables us to see a little more clearly. That Sunday with my grandmother wasn’t a transformative experience. It was just a tiny piece of the puzzle. Many others have been added since then.
I now know that God loves all of His children and wants us to be happy. Maybe that’s why I like the children’s hymn that says, “Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.” I don’t listen to fire and brimstone sermons anymore. I listen to ones that promise blessings for making good choices.