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12 August 2016

What Did You Give Up?

I recently read the conversion story of a woman, a liberal university professor living in a lesbian relationship, and a little bit of her journey as she made the dramatic changes to align her life with the Truth she discovered in the Bible. It's a remarkable story, and I find myself wondering if I exemplify Christian love as well as the church she found does. There's a lot of food for thought in the story.

 I had some really burning questions for people. I would go up to my homeschool mom friends, and say “Look, I have to give up the girlfriend: What did you have to give up to be here?” I heard amazing things that made me realize I did not have any more to give up than anyone else. I learned there were other people in my church who struggled with sexual sin, with lust, with faithlessness … and they told me that! They took the risk of no longer looking all cleaned up to me.

What an amazing question. What did you give up? 

My initial reaction was that I haven't given up much. I was born into a family that's been strong in the church for generations. Nobody disowned me when I got baptized; Mom made me a beautiful pink dress (probably the last pink dress I ever owned), floor length, with a sweetheart neckline and this amazing satiny fabric. I was in Little Girl Heaven, and not thinking of sacrifice at all. There were cookies and out of town relatives all smiling proudly.

But later, when the dress and the cookies were done, the work began.

 There was mockery and ostracism at school. 

There was that young man I chose not to date because he did not share my beliefs. 

There was that time when, after I passed the audition, I found that rehearsal was on Sundays and Wednesdays, and conflicted with every church meeting. I can still sing several of the songs, even though I only went twice. 

There was prioritizing marriage over study abroad in Japan in college, and trips to Japan that I skip now because I put my children's needs -my role as a mother- before my martial arts practice and dreams of travel. 

There are homeschool groups I cannot join, opportunities my children are barred from, because we are the "wrong" sort of Christians. 

Job opportunities and other activities our family has walked away from because they demanded Sabbath work. 

There are days and weeks and months and years spent at home, rather than on career, travel, adventure vacations, and so on. 

Once I start thinking about it, there's a fair amount of sacrifice. But it doesn't usually feel that way. Once it did. In junior high school, when I was a pariah, and nobody would talk to me except to mock me, and I wasn't certain of my conversion, when all I saw was stacks and stacks of rules, Thou Shalt Not, but I had not yet discovered why God's plan is called the Plan of Happiness... I'm not so different from the rich young ruler; I was being good, but I couldn't see where it was all headed, either. And we don't know how his story ends; there's no knowing if he came around again later.

Eventually I realized that there are 1001 reasons why we call it the Plan of Happiness; gradually the glimpses of what He is trying to do with my life started to feel real. Things are still hard. They're hard right now, and adherence to the faith is a major factor in what's going on. But there is immense joy in the journey, and satisfaction in the service, too. There is deep satisfaction in knowing that you have done your level best to do God's will - and that He knows it, too. My efforts to give up all I have and come follow Him are still imperfect - but He knows that I am giving it my very best. Effort counts. Intent matters.

When I stack things up and count the blessings and the cost, I find that I have been richly rewarded for the sacrifice. This was the phrase that came to mind:

...it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over...

There's another important thing she says in that paragraph:

I learned there were other people in my church who struggled with sexual sin, with lust, with faithlessness … and they told me that! They took the risk of no longer looking all cleaned up to me.
-Journey of Grace, emphasis added

I think this is important, but it's so, so hard. It's hard to be vulnerable to judgement, to risk revisiting painful episodes, to know how to deal with talking about problems that involve other people without being gossipy, to risk exposing the messy, broken parts of ourselves. We have to be kind and gentle when those around us are not looking "all cleaned up". There's a lot of sensitivity to the Spirit that needs to be had in having this kind of conversation. But look at the fruits that it bore for this church and their new friends, when they had the courage to allow a peek past the cleaned up parts: look at the understanding they were all able to develop, the bridges they became -I love the quote, “You are a bridge, and bridges get walked on.” There's so much truth in that. It's not easy. She talks about how the conversion process creates "comprehensive chaos", and I think she's right. And not just at the outset; conversion is an ongoing thing; we can never stop trying to become better, more Christlike, and the process continues, upending things we thought were solid. Sacrifice is a process of sanctification at any point on the path, not just at the beginning of our journey with Christ.

Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things, never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things: it was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life; and it is through the medium of the sacrifice of all earthly things, that men do actually know that they are doing the things that are well pleasing in the sight of God. When a man has offered in sacrifice all that he has, for the truth's sake, not even withholding his life, and believing before God that he has been called to make this sacrifice, because he seeks to do his will, he does know most assuredly, that God does and will accept his sacrifice and offering, and that he has not nor will not seek his face in vain. Under these circumstances, then, he can obtain the faith necessary for him to lay hold on eternal life.
-Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith 6:7

So, what did you give up?

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

1 comment:

Anne Chovies said...

Wheni was on my mission challenging people to change their life to come unto Christ and seeing some accept the challenge while others choose not to, the biggest, most visible challenge most struggled with was the Word of Wisdom. During that time, as I struggled with my own challenges to do the same I came to realize that there are other challenges, less visible and obvious, but every bit as difficult to overcome, every bit as difficult to resist, that have to be continually resisted, that some people struggle with, some for their whole life. And yet they gladly persist in the struggle because they understand the Plan and want to please the Lord. These are some cool thoughts you have here. It's good to step back periodically and remember what you're doing and why. A grateful heart brings blessings.


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