Sunday, September 23, 2007

Unless We Become New Creatures . . . .

I don't normally blog on Sunday, but truthfully I've been really down this week and I think this will make me feel better. No, I'm not going to vent or soapbox, but seeing as how it is Sunday, I think I'll share a few thoughts here. Maybe the idea that my words are somewhere making a Monday a little more purposeful for somebody will lift my own spirits.

There is so much anger in the world--people fighting one another over things that are both silly and things that are serious. There are sick people out there, people who are mentally, spiritually or physical ill, or some combination of all three. Sometimes I feel like I am trying to row a wooden raft up a raging stream of difficulty. I struggle and struggle and the shore never seems any closer. This will undoubtedly sound familiar to some of you. And I so admire my many friends who seem to push against the rock with such cheerful attitudes!

I'm sure most of you have heard one of President Benson's most oft-quoted remarks about how the world would take the people out of the slums, but that Christ could take the slums out of the people, who then take themselves out of the slums. He also said that while men can work and fight to change human behavior, only Christ can change human nature.

I've been thinking much the last few days about the nature and power of the atonement. I have been thinking about what it means to be born again by degrees. What it means to accept Christ's sacrifice in exchange for a little more of ourselves each day. It is a hard and painful process. There are days it seems too hard. This week it seems too hard. But then, a couple of days ago, I was reading a very noisy blog that I haven't read before. The tone was combative and political and hardline. Most of the comments on the blog echoed her sentiments. I was most disturbed when I realized that this was a group of LDS people having this mean-spirited discussion.

And then I remembered a thing that happened to me many years ago, probably almost exactly ten years ago this month. A thing which I have carried in my heart these many years. A thing worth sharing when I think there is no way to combat the rising, evil tide threatening to engulf the things I hold dear . . .

I was street contacting people in one of the busiest walk-malls in Sydney. Missionaries were out there daily. This was not my typical area, we were there for the day because of a zone conference. The meetings would not begin until afternoon and we needed to work. My trainer took me out to this busy street and I thought I would wet my pants when she told me what we were going to do. Tracting was hard enough, but at least we were in a quiet country town with houses spaced some distance apart and contacts that hadn't been spoken to by Mormon missionaries every day for the past decade.

And the hecklers . . . .

Okay, it was HARD. One of the hardest things I'd ever done in my life up to that point. The only miraculous thing that happened that day was something that probably benefitted only me. I was getting eaten alive trying to contact walkers, so I began approaching people who were sitting. I approached one particularly swarthy looking man and began speaking to him. When he heard my American accent, I thought he would spit on my shoes.

He was from Iraq. He had gone into exile in Australia not long after the first Gulf War. I knew very little about that part of the world at the time, but I understood enough to know he blamed the Americans for the unraveling of his country. Saddam was bad, but the US led UN sanctions were strangling his people. He railed and railed.

I swallowed hard. I could have walked away, but I felt brave and I knew the Lord was with me. In perhaps my first, powerful missionary moment I began talking to him about the gospel. I told him that I knew he hated me and my country, but that I was in Australia representing only the Savior. My country didn't matter. What mattered was that I had come with a message of love and peace.

We spoke for several minutes. He became noticeably calmer and was even willing to engage in conversation. Suddenly he exclaimed that he felt good, he felt peace. He said, "Something tells me that if I came out here every day and just spoke to you, I could always feel this good, but you will go away and it will be gone." His anger immediately gave way to despair. His hopelessness was palpable and I could see a glimpse of his true inner self in a way that nearly broke my heart.

No! I insisted, it was the Holy Ghost that was testifying to him that I was teaching him truth. I told him that he could have that feeling any time he wanted and encouraged him to stop the missionaries or to attend our local building. My trainer came looking for me just minutes later, saying it was time to go. As I was only going to be there one day, follow-up would have been virtually impossible. I am quite sure that this seed I tried so desperately to plant fell by the wayside where it wasn't nourished properly.

But what this experience did for me . . . .

Well, that is the real crux of my message tonight. I knew, in that brief few minutes I spent talking to him, that Christ's love can heal any ill. I knew that any human heart, no matter how jaded, hard or bitter, is capable of feeling the Spirit if the moment is right. I knew that the atonement could transcend any real or imagined cultural and political barrier to heal hearts. If enough hearts are healed then nations can be too.

I know that my sphere of influence is not large, but if enough people decide to be a force for good, then the evil doesn't have a chance. I know that it is easy to look at current situations in our world and say, "It is inevitable. Nothing can change these circumstances," or my favorite, "It is all prophesied anyway, what can I do to change the outcome?" Maybe that is true. Maybe war and contention is inevitable. Maybe we can't do anything to ulitmately change the decisions of kings, rulers, tyrants and presidents.

But we can pray.

We can pray every day that the hearts of evil men will be softened and that good people will be heard.
We can pray for our enemies as well as our soldiers.
We can pray that cooler heads will prevail and peace will be seen as the first option, not the soft option.
We can pray for the orphaned Iraqi and Afghani children to find solace and comfort.
We can pray that men and women of all religious persuasions will discern between true inspiration and false tradition.
We can pray for those who don't know to pray for themselves and speak for those who don't have a voice.

CS Lewis was once asked why he was praying so earnestly for his wife's recovery from cancer. Did he really think he could change the will of God? His reply was that he didn't pray to change God, he prayed to change himself. Maybe this is what we need. Prayers of pleading for soft hearts and busy hands and kind words.

In the next Spencer Kimball lesson there is a great quote about what a glorious thing it is to be a righteous woman, particularly during the winding up stages of this last, great dispensation. I carried this quote as a bookmark with me for many years. In the lesson, in two or three different places, he likens our sisterhood with the men's priesthood.

Dear Sisters! There is power in our prayers and in our love for one another. Let us, in some small way this week, each look beyond our immediate concerns and families, to find a way to bless somebody in desperate need of Christ's love. Even if we just take time to pray for violated women in refugee camps in Africa, for hungry children in Bahgdad, or ignorant girls in Afghanistan . . . . let us not forget that we are all children of God.

We have been blessed with so much. As we pray for the Lord to change hearts, lets allow him to work that change in our hearts too.


Kimberly Bluestocking: said...

I don't know whether it's possible to bring complete peace and healing to our troubled world, but even if we can't help everyone, I firmly believe in our power to help someone.

Each of us has the power to bless the people around us, and if we all make an effort to truly be a light and a friend to our neighbors and associates, what effect might we have on our communities, and by extension our countries and the world?

Maggie said...

Thank You.

amyjane said...

Annnnd now I'm kind of crying on my keyboard a little. You said so well so many of the things I've been thinking of lately. Beautifully put. Thanks.

MidCityGal said...

(I'm DesMama's sister, btw.) Wow. This was really powerful. Thank you for sharing your experience and hope for the future. I think you're absolutely right. There is something we can do and that's why we live, everyday-- to have hope in Christ. I will soon be bringing my first child into the world and I can't imagine deliberately doing this, if I didn't think there was an earthly experience worth living for.

Someone once said something that has stuck with me . She talked about all the children around the world, starving, dying of AIDS, being neglected, abused. She said that it was overwhelming to think that she didn't have the resources to help them personally, but what she could do was ensure that her children never had to go through that. She was determined to do the best in her sphere of influence and perhaps hope for a ripple effect someday. I think your message has done just that. Thank you for starting the ripple.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

My husband works with a lot of people in their 20s and 30s who have little interest in marriage, and the married ones have NO interest in children. Without some kind of faith, having children really would seem almost pointless.

There was a really great article some time back in the New Era about a sister missionary at the MTC whose first contact with the church was a quilt she recieved at a refugee camp after the second or third time of being driven from her home. By small and simple means . . .

chicagosapp said...

I miss your comments in Sunday School, you always have some insight and/or an experience that relate. said...

I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all that is wrong with the world. The only thing I feel like I can do to make it better is to do my own personal best as much as I can. I get frustrated with other people's free agency sometimes, but know that it is all part of this life. I really liked this posting and relate to what you are asying.

Christie said...

I loved this post. I've had you on my brain lately. Maybe because I made your macaronni casserole and everyone loved it. I even had a dream that you'd asked me to watch your boys for a few days. (Such cute little doobies -- who wouldn't jump at the chance?)

The longer I'm on this earth, the more convinced I become that my life's impact will be most effectively felt in small ways. I'm a firm believer in the scripture that says, by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

God sent his son as an infant to Mary. I sometimes wonder who He's sent me? And who will He send my children? The future of the world is held in a mother's hand. If I can teach my children how to love as Christ loves, won't that mean everything?