Where’s the Line?

Blogland is great. You get to read about all sorts of topics, some of which are pretty controversial. You also get to meet all kinds of unique people.

I enjoy reading blogs on religion and am both amazed and aghast at what some people write. Sometimes it’s a little scary…like the one I read by the woman who self-righteously passed judgment on everyone in her church, especially the people whose clothes were a little shabby or ill-fitting (too tight). Other blogs are inspiring, illuminating, and thought provoking. All things considered, reading blogs can be a mind-expanding experience.

Lately I’ve come across posts that knock other religions, especially the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. A valuable lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that some things are simply beyond my ability to control, including others’ religious beliefs or their feelings about mine. Some people or events might annoy me or frustrate me or even madden me to the point of being enraged, and yet they’re out of my so-called circle of control (Stephen Covey).

For instance, this war upsets me so much that even with my eyes closed I can see some of the horrific images in my mind. The homeless situation in SC saddens me, but I cannot control it (nor the war!). The ailing housing market upsets me big time because we’re trying to sell one house and buy another. But can I do anything about it? Not really. I teach several single mothers who have no plans to marry their babies’ daddies because they don’t want the hassle of commitment. HUH? All of these things bother me in some way, but they are not things I can control. All I can control are my own thoughts and actions.

However, I CAN use my circle of influence (Covey again) to perhaps alter someone’s thinking. In doing so, however, I’ve learned that I have to use mutual respect, patience, and love unfeigned. I’ve also learned that it’s perfectly fine to let others worship how they may. I can’t change or control them anymore than they can change me. They’re happy with their beliefs…just like you and I are.

Many years ago one of my daughters was dating a young man who was not LDS. He expressed a slight interest in the church, however, and occasionally attended meetings with her. My daughter wanted him to hear the missionary discussions at the boyfriend’s grandmother’s house since he was living with her at the time. Well, Ms. Minnie said NO with a capital N. My little daughter was angry! How could such a sweet little old grandmother be so close-minded and stubborn?  I suggested to my daughter that she attend church with Ms. Minnie and Eric that Sunday. “Why would I want to do something like that?” she asked. “My point exactly,” I replied. “You see Ms. Minnie and everyone like her (everyone not interested in learning about the LDS religion) as close-minded and stubborn, but you’re guilty of acting the same way. We’re probably all a little like that.”

There was no way under the sun that either of these gals was going to give an inch. Why should they when they were both happy with the peace and faith that their beliefs brought them? While I think people should fervently tell others of Christ, where is the proverbial line in the sand between being joyful about what you believe and self-righteous and critical about what others believe? What do you think? Where’s the line?

Prodigal’s Brother

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there are many layers to this well-known parable. For starters, just look at all of people involved, at least the principal players. While I usually think of the relationship between the wayward son and his father, lately I’ve been thinking about the older brother. He’s been hard working, loyal, faithful, and deserving, and yet his kid brother comes back from his “fun” escapades and is given a feast…and this dutiful son isn’t even told about it. He happens to hear music and laughter and has to ask a servant what’s going on. Being human, he feels jealous, resentful, and perhaps a little forgotten. The scriptures tell us that he was angry, so angry that he didn’t join the party.

“What about me? Aren’t I important?” Were these the questions he asked himself? Aren’t we all just a little like this? What is it that whispered to him (to all of us) that somehow what another person gets or has takes away from what we have? Why do these situations make us feel less worthy, loved, or deserving? We need to remember that we’re all children of a Heavenly Father who loves us. We’re all heirs to the kingdom, and what another person has takes nothing from us unless we allow it to.

There’s enough for everyone, something Stephen Covey calls the abundance mentality. When we see others with more fame, fortune, love, prestige, money, success, or popularity and allow ourselves to feel diminished, we’re operating according to what Covey calls the scarcity mentality. Not fun. Not good for our self-concepts. Still, we’re human, and like the prodigal’s brother, sometimes it hurts.

At times like that we need to remember that all He has is ours. As the father of the two sons reminds his elder one, “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”

The Prodigal’s Father

I’ve been familiar with this story since my childhood and have always been touched by the way the father unconditionally loves and accepts the returning child. He doesn’t say, “I will love you if  you straighten up and fly right.” He says, “I love you.” Period.

Isn’t that how we all want to be loved by our parents and others who are special to us? Don’t we all want to feel that no matter where we go or what we do, we can always come home to welcoming arms and the proverbial fatted calf? And isn’t this the kind of love that we should offer to others? As parents, we don’t have to remind our wandering children that we “told them so;” they already know that. We just need to remember that love is always open arms.

It doesn’t take too much thought to see the prodigal’s father as our Father, one who will never give up on any of his children, even the wayward ones who have traveled to the “far country.” He continues to look for us, and when we decide to return to Him, we can count on there being a celebration of sorts.

Yesterday I saw this simple, yet powerful quote by Boyd K. Packer on the opening page of LDS.org, and it seemed to fit this parable perfectly.” If you are one who’s been wandering off course, now is the time to return. You can, you know.” When I read it, I was reminded of a similar message (there are actually hundreds of them, I suppose) that Howard W. Hunter gave in the 1994 October General Conference.

To those who have transgressed or been offended, we say, come back. To those who are hurt and struggling and afraid, we say, let us stand with you and dry your tears. To those who are confused and assailed by error on every side, we say, come to the God of all truth and the Church of continuing revelation. Come back. Stand with us. Carry on. Be believing. All is well, and all will be well. Feast at the table laid before you in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and strive to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it. Have hope, exert faith, receive—and give—charity, the pure love of Christ.

Why these words affected me so powerfully, I’m not sure. I do know that I read them in 1994 and have thought about them many times since. Let’s feast (not snack) at the table of the Most High God (not your ordinary host). The prodigal remembered who he was. Do we?

Sunday High

My heart is full. It usually is on Sundays, at least during and shortly after church. If only I could keep the spirit of the meetings with me all week, I’d stay on a spiritual high. Alas, however, life with its myriad demands soon begins to dull my Sunday sheen. In an effort to keep the feeling alive a little longer, I decided to jot down some things I heard and observed this morning.

Sister Branham told of how she had been baptized the day before Pearl Harbor was bombed, and from that moment on, she has always contrasted the horror of that event with the joy and peace she felt upon her baptism. Even now, she contrasts her life and the sweet solace she feels because of the Gospel with the lost state of some in the world who don’t know where to find the love and blessed assurance that she has. When I sat and talked to her one-on-one for a moment this morning, it occurred to me that there are those affected by the December, 1941 bombing who are still suffering consequences…just as she is still experiencing the consequences of the decision she made 66 years ago.

The topic of prayer came up in Relief Society, and while everyone knows that we don’t always get the answer we want, it’s enlightening to learn of others’ NO experiences and how they dealt with them. Telene told of how she had had car trouble yet again and saw this as an ideal reason to get a new car. After all, the car had been repaired three times and was becoming undependable. Besides, she DESERVED a new car. However, there was one small problem: finances. She did what women of the Lord always do when they need answers; she prayed. I won’t paraphrase her whole prayer, but the gist of it was, “Lord, I really, really, really want a new car, so if it’s not the right time for me to get one, then please tell me really loud so that I’ll recognize the answer. Also, You know how hard-headed I am, so please hang in there with me until I’m ready to accept the answer.” When she turned the radio on, there was a song playing that reminded her that for every no, there’s a greater yes down the line.

Laressa taught the Relief Society lesson that was chocked full of wonderful stories and life lessons. For instance, she and her husband recently visited Guatemala where he had served a mission over 20 years ago. They needed a car to get around from place to place, and all of the available cars had stick shifts. This was a problem since her husband had never driven a car with a manual transmission. Laressa could drive the car, but she didn’t know where she was and couldn’t understand directions since she didn’t speak Spanish. They did what they’ve been doing all of their married life, worked like a team. She drove, and he asked questions.
As I listened to her story, I found myself thinking it sure was good that Boyd could speak Spanish well enough to understand and follow directions. At the same time, if Laressa hadn’t been able to drive, what good would directions be? Both skills are important.

I wish you could have been there. There were so many other great lessons about serving others, God’s love for each of us, Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and so forth that I can’t begin to share them all. While I don’t have the time to write of all the things I learned, I do have the motivation to act on them…to try a little harder to live the way my Creator would have me to llive.              

Yes, No, Maybe

Chatting briefly with Paul this afternoon, I asked him if he’d learned anything new in church today. “Not really,” he responded. Come to think of it, nor did I. However, I was reminded of several important principles, and I’m sure that he was too. I often tell my husband that one of the many reasons I regularly attend church services is because I need all the help I can get…that includes reminders of how to treat others, how to keep harmony in the home, and how to pray.

Yes, how to pray.  I KNOW what prayer is; we all do. And yet when we were asked to read some  commentary about it in the Bible dictionary this morning, the phrasing “spoke to me.” According to my reading, many of the difficulties about prayer come from forgetting the true relationship between God and us. He is our Father, we are His children, and when we truly understand the nature of that relationship, then prayer becomes more natural and automatic. 

As I read those words, images of both my parents and my children popped into my mind as I considered all the asking, granting, withholding, and considering that went on…and still goes on. Did I get everything I asked for? No. Was it because my parents were mean and neglectful? No again. Was it because they didn’t love me? Once again, no. The same questions and answers hold true for my own children. While it might be easy at the moment to give one’s children their heart’s desire as soon as they request it, that wouldn’t help them to learn the lessons they need to develop character. 

Just as earthly parents always give an answer of some kind, God always gives us, His children, an answer. He might not give it right away, but He will always reply. In fact, sometimes it’s in retrospect that you see the answer. This morning’s  teacher, who was relying on an article by Richard G. Scott, said that generally we could expect to feel one of three things:

1)     The peace and assurance that your decision is right…or that things will be fine (what I feel about the house situation-see earlier post).
2)     The unsettling feeling or stupor of thought letting you know that perhaps your choice is wrong.
3)     Nothing. That’s right, nothing. Sometimes you feel no response. Perhaps it will come later, in pieces. Or perhaps you’re supposed to be learning patience. Or then, maybe you haven’t fully thought through what it is you’re asking for.  

What made the lesson much more meaningful were the wonderful stories that the class members shared. One mother told of a situation in which she had been estranged from her son for twenty-six years! Every day found her on her knees beseeching her Heavenly Father for any number of things: the sight of her son, an understanding of why this was happening, a phone call, a letter, an email, a feeling of peace, strength to endure, patience, and so forth. When off her knees, she was writing, calling, and praying some more. Her son even went to Iraq and back…but still nothing, not one word. Still, she persisted in prayer and never gave up. Two weeks ago, they met and embraced as if nothing had ever come between them. All is forgiven. All is well. Prayers were answered in His time. 

I’m hoping someone out there in blogland will share stories or insights about their prayer experience.

Like Satin

paul-amanda.jpg
A couple of weeks ago, Donna again taught a terrific, thought-provoking lesson in Relief Society, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since…especially the partial quote and object lesson she provided at the end. I’ve been searching for the quote in its entirely on and off since then, and I finally found it in an article by Margaret Nadauld in the November, 2000 Ensign.

Here it is: “Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.

Attached to the quote were two pieces of fabric, one coarse wool and the other shiny, white satin. The difference was striking, and I haven’t been able to get the two fabric samples out of my mind. That morning as I listened to the end of the lesson, an image of Paul’s girlfriend Amanda came to mind. She’s like satin. She’s kind, gentle, good, tender, refined, happy, mannerly, sweet, modest, and loving. She’s a young woman with “her head on straight,” who knows who she is and where she’s going. Amanda’s satin…just like my daughters.

Perhaps I’m biased, but I don’t think so. I’m with M. Russell Ballard who feels that the world has enough women who are “sexy, saucy, and socially aggressive.” I’m sure glad that my son can spot quality.