Obedience — Start where you are #ldsconf Odyssey
I’m behind, as usual, but here is my #ldsconf General Conference Odyssey post for this week. (I missed last week. See links for both weeks at the bottom of this post.)
There’s been a theme showing up in my life the past few days, something I wanted to write about. It’s summed up in one word: Obedience.
That word, though. Sometimes it can give me a little bit of a panic attack — not because I don’t believe in it, but because my perfectionistic self has spent a lot of time over the years hand-wringing about my inability to be perfectly obedient to all of God’s commandments all of the time. I am also easily overwhelmed at the checklists of what Good Mormons Do. In addition, I have sweat a lot of bullets over the years about how very short I fall in being like the Savior in terms of character traits.
Because, after all, He was perfect.
And I’m not.
Many months ago, I set to trying to understand this key doctrinal principle better. I turned to Nephi in the Book of Mormon, because Nephi talks a lot about obedience. I thought maybe he’d be able to teach me something.
Teach me he did. (Well, the Lord taught me, but you know what I mean.)
I was reminded, of course, that Nephi was an obedient soul. He lived the law of Moses. He cared about the Ten Commandments (or else he wouldn’t have cared about the whole Laban thing). And, like I said, he just talked a lot about obedience. It mattered to him.
But what I noticed as I studied more about Nephi and his obedience is that a good portion of the time when he was talking about obedience, he was talking about obedience to personal revelation, not about the general commandments God gives us all. (Again, obedience in that sense mattered to him.)
But this additional insight about obedience really mattered to me, because suddenly it made obedience more personal — something that isn’t just about me trying to be a Good Christian or a Good Mormon, but about me coming to know what God wants me, Michelle, to know and do in my own life.
I’ve been thinking about Nephi again this week. I read a letter from a nephew who just entered the Missionary Training Center. His letters are amazing. (Speaking of Nephi, he organizes his letters into “Large Plates” general stuff and “Small Plates” spiritual insights. Love it.)
As I read his letter to one of my daughters, a thread appeared in his letter. I combine something he said in the Large Plates part of his letter with something from the Small Plates.
We’re currently teaching a tentative atheist…who has lots of questions. Our discussions are super fun but we always manage to get across an important central message and commitment regardless of her slightly random questions. She’s progressing and seeks more light and truth every day, and is willing to do so by keeping commitments (D&C 93:28). [Read that scripture — it matters to this post.]….There are three main levels of scripture study: learning information, gaining insight, and receiving revelation. The first one builds knowledge, the second builds understanding, but the third will always include personal application and a call to action by the Spirit. I realized that I am too often blinded by information and too easily satisfied with insight that I don’t gain the most important objective.In a similar vein, the high level of repetition in church lessons, the scriptures, and ordinances of the gospel and temples are not intended for informative purposes alone, but to facilitate revelatory experiences….Receiving revelation will only increase our faith if we act on it. Hence, Laman and Lemuel built no lasting faith from signs and angels because they didn’t act upon the answers the received.
That insight about Laman and Lemuel really struck me. A key thing that separated them from the happiness that Nephi and his people found was simple obedience, acting upon what they had seen and learned.
It was with my nephew’s thoughts rolling around in my mind and heart that I re-read the first talk in the Saturday afternoon session of October 1972 General Conference.
The life of the Savior is replete with instances where he applied the principle of “Thy will be done, not mine.” Christ’s ability to apply this great principle in his life made it possible for him to become perfect.
As we apply “Thy will be done, not mine” in our lives, we will likewise move toward perfection and true happiness….
To obtain the desired happiness on this earth and in the world to come, we must steadfastly face trials and tribulations regardless of the form they take, with the spirit, “Thy will be done, not mine.”
My mind then drifted to a quote that is shared in the Church’s 12-step program — a program that for me is a key part of my spiritual life. This is from Elder Neal A. Maxwell:
“The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him” (“Insights from My Life,” Ensign, Aug. 2000, 9).
(As a side-note: This is not an easy concept for me to grasp, in part because I sometimes simply don’t know that I know what God’s will is. That is part of my hand-wringing, too. Sometimes I spend so much time and energy worrying about what God wants me to do, afraid of doing something wrong. And yet…what I am learning as I come to know God better is that His will often makes itself known. I don’t have to wring my hands or worry myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t ever have to wrestle (again, I think of Nephi), but God does find ways to let me know what He wants me to do. More on that in a minute.)
A couple of hours after this train of thought was moving in me, I happened to need President Uchtdorf’s most recent talk (He Will Place You On His Shoulders and Carry You Home) for something I was working on. Once again, the message of willing obedience was right there for me to ponder.
Because [the Good Shepherd] loves you, He will find you. He will place you upon His shoulders, rejoicing. And when He brings you home, He will say to one and all, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”
But, you might be thinking, what is the catch? Surely I have to do more than simply wait to be rescued.
While our loving Father desires that all of His children return to Him, He will force no one to heaven.4 God will not rescue us against our will.
So what must we do?
Usually, my brain gets ready for the checklist, or the injunction we often hear to keep ALL of God’s commandments. But like I said (even though I’m a basic commandment follower), that concept of ALL overwhelms my anxious, perfectionistic mortal brain. President Uchtdorf’s thoughts reflect more of what I’ve experienced as I’ve come to understand more about how God works in my life.
[Coming to Christ] requires a little faith. But do not despair. If you cannot muster faith right now, begin with hope.
If you cannot say you know God is there, you can hope that He is. You can desire to believe.8 That is enough to start.
Then, acting on that hope, reach out to Heavenly Father. God will extend His love toward you, and His work of rescue and transformation will begin.
Over time, you will recognize His hand in your life. You will feel His love. And the desire to walk in His light and follow His way will grow with every step of faith you take.
We call these steps of faith “obedience.”
Elder Richards says that obedience is the key to perfection. And that was how I was going to title this post.
What I felt as I read Elder Richards’ talk, though, was more along the lines of what President Uchtdorf said. This kind of line-upon-line obedience that President Uchtdorf describes is an obedience that I can wrap my brain around. I can seek to engage with God, today, seeking to see His hand, today, and by doing this each day, I can increase in faith and faithfulness. I can increase in grace and truth…just as Jesus did. (Huh. Maybe it’s easier to be like Jesus than I thought.) The difference between me and Jesus is that I have a Savior to make up the difference. He had to walk it all perfectly (but how did He do it? By engaging with God each moment, each day), and because He did that, all I have to do is start where I am, today. It’s my job to be mortal. It’s His job to make up the difference.
Start where you are (another President Uchtdorf phrase)! Isn’t that a hope-filled thought? One day at a time, we can be perfected as we become more perfect in our trust in God’s will and love for us — collectively and individually.
As I wrote this post, a favorite insight from a 12-step author I love came to mind. I end my post with her thoughts.
“I’ve learned some ideas about God’s will for my life, about God, and about my relationship to God. God’s will is not an outside, impossible, forced agenda for my life. If it’s God’s will, it happens. Usually, it happens naturally, without any control efforts required on my part.
“At times, there have been hard lessons to learn. These lessons had to be learned, however, to work things out inside me so I could have the best possible life.
“Usually, I have to wait longer than I want to. And much letting go is involved in the process.
“God’s love is immediate and powerful, yet gentle, healing, and nurturing. It takes into account what I want and need. God’s will contains discipline, not deprivation….
“Stepping into God’s care is a gentle step, one that brings peace and harmony.” (Melodie Beattie, A Codependent’s Guide to the Twelve Steps, p. 55)
– – – – –
Posts from this week’s General Conference Odyssey are below.
– All Things Work for Good, Even Detours by Nathaniel Givens
– The Courage to Conform by G
– Doing the Will of the Lord by Daniel Ortner
– Saints Securely Dwell by Ralph C. Hancock
– Creatures of Habit by Walker Wright
– “Thy Will on Earth” by SilverRain
– Being the Ballast by Chastity Marie Wilson
– A Complete Testimony by Jan Tolman
– Power in the Ideal by Marilyn Nielson
– – – –
Posts from last week’s Odyssey (highlighting the 1972 Saturday morning session) are below:
– Home is Heaven’s Construction Site by Nathaniel Givens
– Family–Isn’t it about Time, and Eternity? by G
– Preach in Season and Out of Season by Daniel Ortner
– What Makes Mormonism Unique? by Michelle Linford