One of my favorite concepts in the church is centralized around this idea of Zion. I love the idea that we are all needed, and that perhaps what we are trying to do in the church is to create this community where we are all working together towards growing, improving and seeking to return to the presence of God. However there are moments that many face, be them anyone who could be seen as falling outside of the boundaries of what you would expect in a traditional member of the church.
Some of these people are feminists, gays, scientists, intellectuals, people who have been divorced, people who struggle with mental health, or so forth. Some of those who may be seen as on the borders can be seen as threats, and it can be tempting to want to respond to them by teaching them how they need to repent and thus come to the correct position in the church, but I believe that Elder Uchtdorf has demonstrated a much more loving response that I think we all need to pay attention to.
He has said “Perhaps you might think that you are not needed, that you are overlooked or unwanted, that you are nobody. I am sincerely sorry if any priesthood holder feels this way. Certainly you are not overlooked or unwanted by your Heavenly Father. He loves you. And I tell you with certainty that you are needed by your Church.”
I would second Elder Uchtdorf by saying that if you feel as if you are not wanted in this church, although it may be a fairly small thing, you are wanted by me.
Each one of us experience those moments when you face a crossroads in which you have to make a choice. This can occur is various situations, such as choosing where you want to study and gain an education, what you would like to do for a career, who you want to marry, the relationship that you would like to have with the church. Basically there is a deep power that each or us hold which is the ability to guide our live is the directions that we want to move. We do not have to be trapped in a life we detest, although in those most difficult moments of life it can feel like this is not true. Life can be incredibly difficult but I do believe that there is something divine within each of us that can help us move to where God would want us to be.
Barbara Smith expressed a similar message of empowerment that can come from the powerful aspects of the gospel. She taught “Each individual is entitled to determine the ultimate destiny of his or her life. We can choose to use the powers within to have a happy life of continual growth and development that leads to eternal progression, or we can choose to follow the crowd of other people struggling to a top that leads to nowhere. Knowledge builds upon knowledge. There is no end to the capacity of men and women to learn. The great vision of the gospel is that we grow in wisdom, in knowledge, and in favor with God and man. We must put ourselves to that task because we have the power.”
A few years ago I was at the Deseret Industries looking through their selection of books, and I was pulling out a hug stack of LDS books that I was excited to purchase and to look into. While looking through their selection, I was approached by a nice little lady who happened to work there. We began discussing LDS books, but the women then expressed a concern that she felt. She seemed to indicate that we need to be extremely careful with what we read, and that we probably should not really read anything that was not written by a general authority. I was very friendly to this woman, but I feel that this perspective is extremely short sighted. For one I believe that we need to be careful with everything we read, included works from General authorities, but also if we choose to ignore that written from individuals who are outside of church leadership I believe we will miss out on a great deal of truth that perhaps God wants us to discover.
This is the point that I think B.H. Roberts was sharing when he said “I believe it is good to investigate and prove all principles that come before me. Prove all things, hold fast that which is good, and reject that which is evil, no matter what guise it may come in. I think if we, as “Mormons,” hold principles that cannot be sustained by the Scriptures and by good sound reason and philosophy, the quicker we part with them the better, no matter who believes in them or who does not. In every principle presented to us, our first inquiry should be, “Is it true?” “Does it emanate from God?” If He is its Author it can be sustained just as much as any other truth in natural philosophy; if false it should be opposed and exposed just as much as any other error. Hence upon all such matters we wish to go back to first principles.”
We live in a fascinating time of the churches history. We are currently living in a time where we are learning to apply modern sensibilities to the truths of the gospel, and one of the issues that we are seeking to understand have to deal with our interpretations of what are families within the secular world. In the church we have ideals, and we have particular familial situation that will be the most beneficial, but I also believe that because of the ideal we miss the opportunity to simply promote loving family relationships in all situations, as families all come in different shapes and sizes. In testimony meeting a women in my ward spoke about the difficulties that have come from her own divorce and the fact that her children’s relationships have not turned out how she had hoped, but she can now recognize that God had been working through them to create these wonderful relationships.
Chieko N. Okazaki seemed to expound on this point when she said “We have faith in our prophets. They have counseled us that mothers with young children are especially needed at home. They remind us of the great needs of our children and their vulnerabilities during their growing years. The importance of the mother in building a secure, loving, stimulating environment in which children can grow up as healthy and self-reliant individuals is very important. … But not all situations are ideal. Not all women are mothers, and not all mothers have children at home. Furthermore, not all mothers can make the choice to be home with their children all of the time. Often circumstances constrain their choices. At other times, other responsibilities and opportunities require that difficult decisions be made. Women and families will be happier with these decisions if they are made using both study and faith.”
One of my favorite aspects of Mormonism is the concept of Eternal Progression. I love how thought provoking it is to imagine an eternity of seeking to be better. However I believe that something which is just as powerful is the incredible moment that begins any process of progression. I believe that there is something within us all, perhaps it is the spirit, which pushes us towards being better. One of the reasons we often lose focus on the power of the atonement is because we love to discuss and ponder ways in which we can begin to move forward on that progression. We discuss commandments, commitments, covenants, etc to push us on that path, but I believe that there is value in this focus on becoming, as there is a power within us all to reach incredible heights as long as we are willing to reach.
Karen Lynn Davidson once taught us that “The sisters and brothers who find the power within to perform amazing feats of courage, ingenuity, and faith have usually started out as ordinary people, probably unaware of their power until a challenge brought it forth. Each of us is entitled to the comfort and pride of knowing we have those powers within.“
Life can be difficult, and sometimes it can feel compelling to simply sit by and allow ourselves to sleep through the restoration, as Elder Uchtdorf has taught. However I hope that we can remember that there is true power within each of us to reach incredible achievements, if we will but reach in and claim that power that we have been promised.
When I was a missionary in Brazil I was a fairly judgmental person. I believe I was doing my very best to be kind and empathetic while also doing the things I felt God wanted me to be doing. However deep down I would look at those missionaries who did not follow the rules and work in the ways I felt they should (although I think I was surprised by the small number that fell in that category) and I had a difficult time understanding why they were there, and quite frankly I felt that I would not miss them had they not been there.
I think about these feelings I had with great embarrassment, as my perspective has radically changed. I now think it is interesting how much I focused on what those missionaries were doing wrong. Vs. recognizing that they too were sacrificing and seeking to follow and serve the lord and those around them, although they were doing it differently from how I was doing it. I now wish I could have recognized the skills and value of those missionaries that I seemed to have so many problems with, and been able to recognize that even though some may do thing differently from the way I would do it, These others are still very much needed in this church.
Sister Mary Ellen Smoot once taught us something that I feel strongly applies. She said “Truly, we may each be an instrument in the hands of God. Happily, we need not all be the same kind of instrument. Just as the instruments in an orchestra differ in size, shape, and sound, we too are different from one another. We have different talents and inclinations, but just as the French horn cannot duplicate the sound of the piccolo, neither is it necessary for us to all serve the Lord in the same way. Sister Eliza R. Snow said that “there is no sister so isolated and her sphere so narrow but what she can do a great deal towards establishing the Kingdom of God upon the earth”. Our privilege and our responsibility as daughters of God and as sisters of Relief Society, then, is to become the most effective instruments we can be.”
Within the church we can have a strong focus on obedience, which I do believe is a virtue, but I also believe that as is true for all of the principles of the gospel, it can be easily misunderstood and used in ways that I do not believe God intends for us. Because of these misunderstanding some critics many rightly point out that we follow some without truly thinking whether that is right. I do not believe this applies to most members, but I do believe we need to have a greater focus on what it actually means to be obedient so that we do not engage in practices that are potentially harmful for our progression.
Commenting on this situation in the Millennial Star, Samuel W. Richards appeared to share this concern when he wrote that “We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them [even] if they knew it was wrong; but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim a rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise the idea…”
***Retraction*** In the audio file I attributed this to Joseph Smith, which I looked deeper into, and it appears to actually go to Samuel W. Richards who was the editor at that time.