Another personal blog post.
The MTC wasn’t the happiest experience of my life. I got sick enough with the flu that they almost took me to the emergency room and I was quarantined in the dorm room for about a week. My companion and I (had a little bit of trouble adjusting to being constant companions 24/7. I was overwhelmed at the idea of even being a missionary and needing to talk to people. And it was exhausting. Somehow in all of the talk about missions I had ever heard, I didn’t remember anyone telling me how exhausting and difficult the MTC would be. Most of the time I felt like I needed to have windshield wipers installed on my eyeballs because I was either crying for frustration with myself for not being able to teach, frustration at being sick, or frustration that comes from exhaustion or crying because I was experiencing some of the most beautiful spiritual moments I had had up until that point of my life. The whole experience was a whirlwind. Some of it I don’t remember. Some moments I can picture as clear as if they happened five minutes ago.
I remember on one particular day after I was feeling slightly better physically. I was happy to be in class but worried that the time I had been sick would have an affect on my ability to be a good missionary. Our teacher announced that we were going to be a field trip. We were thrilled. What sort of wonders would be see? I think a few of us may have been a little disappointed when she took us to the main building where the cafeteria and the front desk are. If you’re familiar with the MTC, you know that the main hallway has a giant map that everyone likes to take pictures of themselves pointing where they will serve. It also has many giant paintings of Christ. She told us to look at the paintings of Christ on display and think about how we feel.
I am not an art critic. I wish I could understand the finer points of symbolism and the details of what goes on in art but I simply haven’t dedicated the time it takes to learn that. As I walked around to look at the paintings, one in particular caught my attention, and I spent much longer looking at it then I have at any other painting ever. I later found out that it is called From Fear To Faith by Howard Lyon.
The first thing I noticed was the bright light around Jesus Christ. That’s so right, I thought. He is the light of the world and even through storms, if we look to Him, we can find light. I like that.
My eyes next went to the apostle right next to Jesus, reaching up to him. That’s beautiful, I thought. Having so much faith that he can just ignore the storm and focus entirely on Christ.
Then I saw the two disciples together, one with his arm around the other. I love that, I thought. Bringing the people we care about to Christ even with a storm all around us.
Next I saw the apostles working to repair the boat. Well, that is also wonderful! It struck me that they were all looking towards Christ, but they were still working to actively solve the problem. Way to go!
I was thinking about how all of these were great reactions to trials. Sometimes we just need to focus solely on Christ and not worry. Sometimes we need to be sure to help our friends and family come closer to Christ. Sometimes we need to be working to do the best we can to solve problems, but if we are looking towards our Savior, everything will work out. Sometimes it’s a mixture. And then I saw the last disciple that I had missed before.
In the dark, with his back towards Jesus, an apostle is bailing out the boat. Is bailing out the boat a bad thing? No. But tears came to my eyes (windshield wipers, remember?) as I thought about this disciple. He knew Jesus. He spent time with Him. He knew what He could do. But in this crisis, he didn’t turn towards the Savior who was standing there wanting to help. He is so caught up in trying to bail himself out that he either doesn’t realize that help is a few feet away or he thinks he can handle the problem on his own. He is in the darkest part of the picture. Light is so close but he has his back to it.
I wanted to weep as I stared at that disciple and realized that so often. In my life, I am that disciple. I’m too stubborn to ask for help, I’m afraid it won’t be given, or I just don’t even think about asking for assistance and so, even though light could be so close, I sit in the dark and get frustrated. I wanted to cry as I looked at the Savior standing so close to that apostle and realized that there were so many times that He must be so close to me if only I would let Him help me.
For me at that time in the MTC when I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be able to be the kind of missionary I needed to be, or that I would be sick for the rest of my mission, and every other concern, little or bit, that I was dealing with, this painting changed my perspective. I didn’t want to be the apostle in the dark. It helped me not be so worried, put aside my fear, and focus on faith.
Later on in the mission, I found a talk by Elder Holland that touched me in a similar way. At that time in the mission, we were beginning to discuss the very real possibility of me going home sooner than had been planned. You can read the talk here. I highly recommend it. It is a wonderful talk on Jesus Christ and the power of the Atonement. Elder Holland says this:
Consider, for example, the Savior’s benediction upon his disciples even as he moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary. On that very night, the night of the greatest suffering the world has ever known or ever will know, he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
I submit to you that may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart. I can tell you this as a parent: As concerned as I would be if somewhere in their lives one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, nevertheless I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time that child could not trust me to help, or should feel his or her interest were unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit, I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands or trust in his commandments.
Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and bless us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. They have to. It is their nature.
I again remembered my experience with the painting in the MTC. I also remember an experience before my mission. I was waiting for my mission call, but I was very concerned about some of the more temporal aspects of going on a mission (has anyone noticed that I tend to worry about things too much?). In my linguistics class, we were talking about how words change meaning over time. The Bible provides some good examples of this and we were looking at examples. One of the scriptures that my teacher brought up was Philippians 4:6. He said that “careful” used to mean “worried”. The scripture says, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” And then below it was one of my favorite scriptures, verse 13: “For I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” I marveled that even in a linguistics class I could have an answer telling me not to worry because everything would be okay. Remembering all of this helped me get through the most difficult part of my mission. I still ended up going home, but it was months later after many wonderful experiences and when I knew that it was the right thing to do.
But still I don’t seem to have learned my lesson. Over the past little while, I’ve found myself getting concerned with many details of life. When will I graduate? What about marriage? Should I do an internship here or in a foreign country? What will I do after graduation? Who should I be friends with? What classes should I take? Where should I live? I get caught up and worried in little things. While at a regional conference this weekend, I was thinking about how this is problematic for a few reasons. One, so many of these concerns are selfish. While I have been told that this is a time in my life where I need to be a little selfish (get an education, dating, etc), focusing so much on the details of everything is taking away opportunities for me to notice and serve those around me. Second, once again, I am the disciple in the back of the boat trying to bail myself out. I realized that I can be working on building the ship while still looking towards Christ. I can still work to bring the people around me to Christ. And sometimes, I can focus just on my relationship with Christ and forget everything else. As long as He is my Guide, I do not need to worry about all the things in life that I haven’t figured out yet.
I hope that I can do much better at focusing on the Savior instead of bailing out the boat.