Thursday, December 23, 2010

Increasing Our Strength

Increasing our Faith
A couple of weeks ago I was pulling something out of my scripture bag and this little item came out with it.  This is a little mustard seed.  I forgot I even had it.  I don’t remember what class it was handed out in, but it is a reminder of the parable in Matthew 13:31-32 which says:
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field.  Which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.
Sometimes our faith is like this little seed, so small it can hardly be seen.  Sometimes our faith grows and becomes the tree.  I believe our faith is something very fluid it grows and shrinks based on how we use it.   Sometimes challenges happen in our life which cause our faith to be tested.  And it’s okay if our faith is small, we just have to take steps to help it grow.  I recently read this story in the book Reaching for Hope about a woman who had a horrible thing happen to her.
“[These are] Mary Blair’s own words as she shared . . . the baby steps she had to take to move herself back into the big picture of church activity.
“When I arrived back at my home, I initially moved in with my mother.  I did not tell her what had happened to me and why I came home because I was so horribly embarrassed and bereaved. . . .  for a number of months I wrapped myself in a blanket . . . and cried.
Yet every Sunday I had a ritual.  Every Sunday, I required of myself that I get up and get dressed for church.  My worship had been a cherished part of my life for years, and I wanted to go to church.  Yet I couldn’t . . . but I got up and got dressed.  That was the best I could do, and I usually cried while I got dressed.  Then I would sit in front of the television and watch a local broadcast of a church service my mother enjoyed.  I did my “get dressed ritual” for several months.
Next I decided to drive to the church building.  My new ritual was that every Sunday morning, I got dressed, got in my car, and drove to the church.  I couldn’t drive into the church parking lot because someone might see me.  Fortunately there was a dental office across the street, so I would drive into the one parking space where the tree branches hung over my windshield and sit and watch through the leaves as the busy Mormons I used to be like scurried into the meeting house.  I did the “parking ritual” for about three months.  It was the most I could do.  And as I watched the people live a life I used to have, I wept softly, but with loud anguish.
Three months later, I was ready for an act of real bravery. . . . So I came up with a new baby step.  The very next Sunday, I got up, got dressed, drove to the dentists’ parking lot and this time nervously waited until I believed the sacrament song was being sung.  I entered that church building with more courage than it would take an FBI agent to enter a building holding hostages.  I was absolutely afraid.  I longed to be back in the sanctuary of peace I had always felt in church. . . .  I did it.  I made it to the foyer during sacrament.  Thank goodness that my old ward still sent deacons to the foyer, because I actually got to take the sacrament.  Victory, I felt so comforted by taking the sacrament.  The fear and pain washed over me yet again, and I fled the building.
But I had done it. . . . I had spent five or ten minutes in the building of my old ward . . . and taken the sacrament in the foyer, and it was the greatest act of Christian courage I had ever rendered.  “It was good.”  It was my widow’s mite.  It was all I had in my depressed soul.  But I did it.
Mary Blair eventually made it to church for the whole three hours and was noticed by a kind counselor in Relief Society, her records were requested and she became an active member of that ward.  It is okay if at times our faith is only as small as a mustard seed and it is okay if all we can do is take baby steps.
In Elder John K. Carmack’s article, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” in the Mar 2002, Ensign he said,  “In Remembering that Jesus spoke of the enormous power that a tiny seed of faith contained, we must conclude that in addition to belief, faith is also a principle of action and power. . . .  Such faith is a great tool to do the Lord’s work. Men and women can grow in spirituality to the point that they can do mighty things in the cause of the Lord, and when they do them, they operate by the power of faith.”
He mentions other tools in the article such as fasting and prayer, trust, obedience, belief, gratitude and sacrifice.  I would like to add a few other tools to this list. 
Megan and I have been talking about perseverance and I think it is a vital tool in increasing our faith.  I understand that one of the main causes of inactivity is when people feel like they have been offended.  I have been offended by all kinds of people, from people I worked with who were church members, to Stake Presidency members, Bishopric members and various ward members over the years.  Sometimes it has been very hard to go to church because of the things others have said or done to me, but I will not let what other’s do stop me from returning to my Heavenly Father so I come to church each week, I come and I listen and I wait for the words that will help me get through my latest challenge.  I wait for the thought, scripture, story or testimony that is meant for me to hear.  I persevere because I am where I know I am supposed to be.
In the November 2004 Ensign, President Thomas S. Monson said: The boy prophet Joseph Smith sought heavenly help by entering a grove which then became sacred. Do we need similar strength? Does each need to seek his or her own “Sacred Grove”? A place where communication between God and man can go forth unimpeded, uninterrupted, and undisturbed is such a grove.
I think having our own grove is an essential tool for increasing faith.  When I was a teenager my own personal grove was the grounds of the Provo temple.  It was my temple, not only because it was close to me, but I had seen the inside before its dedication and my father had helped build it, so I felt a very strong personal connection to it.  I felt closer to my Heavenly Father when I was there.  We all need that, somewhere where we feel close to him.  I was there one day, sitting on a bench pondering a problem I had and one of the temple missionaries approached me.  He said, “you have a problem.”  I said yes, I did.  He then said, “go home and look in this month’s Ensign on page 33.”  And sure enough, it was exactly the answer I needed. 
Another tool I use, Elder Carmack mentions in his article: “Perhaps the Savior was teaching us that if we are serious about desiring greater faith, nothing short of maintaining a constant eternal perspective will do. If we place any condition on our willingness to serve the Lord with all our hearts, we diminish our faith. If we have complete trust in Him, our faith will increase, and that means the strength of our belief and our power to act will increase. We will not think we have done our duty and that is enough. We will continue with pure intent and total commitment the rest of our lives.”
Having an eternal perspective on our experiences here in this life can make it much easier to deal with.  My cousin shared with me a saying that has become one of my favorites.  “You have to accept that what you are going through is the only way for you to learn what you need to know so that you can progress spiritually.  Once you accept this it takes the drama out of the situation and puts you back in control.”  Realizing that whatever you are going through is just a moment in the whole scheme of things can definitely change your perspective.
Another tool is taking advantage of the power of the priesthood.  One of my greatest tools is my Pat. Blessing.  In addition to that, I learned when I was young that I could always go to my father and ask for a blessing when I needed it.  To be able to go to my husband and ask for a blessing of counsel and comfort is something I value greatly.  After blessings I like to take a moment to ponder what was said and write down as much of what I heard as I can remember in my journal.  A few years ago I created a special book, I went back through my journals and copied my blessings into this one book so that I can easily review them whenever I need to be reminded of my blessings.
Elder Carmack also said:  “[I]f we want increased faith, such as Enoch gained, we must give ourselves over completely to our Lord, utterly trusting Him and striving to act as He would act in all circumstances.”
I was 19 years old the first time I put my life completely in the Lord’s hand.  I remember it was a Sunday morning and I was in deep emotional pain, the challenge in my life had become more than I could bear.  I kneeled down that morning and prayed, I asked the Lord to end the situation however he saw fit, that I couldn’t handle it any more and to please end it that day.  And He did, I saw the Lord’s hand in it, it ended the way He wanted, not the way I wanted at the time, but I trusted Him so completely and I accepted His answer.  I know now that I can always put my complete trust in Him, I did it once, I can do it again.
Another way we can increase our faith is by using the scriptures just as a friend of mine had done.  Her family was struggling financially and she was deciding whether to pay her tithing or not.  She read Alma 32:27 which says: 
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.
She exercised that particle of faith, faith the size of a mustard seed and she was well rewarded for using even that smallest amount of faith.
In high school, there were many nights after basketball games or other events where my best friend and I would be driving home in the fog.  We learned to trust the lines on the road.  You couldn’t see very far ahead of you, but if you get your eye on the lines, you always got home safe.  We learned we could go into the darkness and fog without fear, going step by step, line by line.
President Boyd K. Packer said: “Somewhere in your quest for spiritual knowledge, there is that ‘leap of faith,’ as the philosophers call it. It is the moment when you have gone to the edge of the light and step into the darkness to discover that the way is lighted ahead for just a footstep or two.”
And Elder Carmack said:  To summarize, we do not increase our faith by following a formula, although the ingredients of fasting, prayer, and righteous living are part of that process. Increasing our faith requires trusting the Lord with our whole souls. We cannot say, “We have done enough and deserve to rest.” Nor does the increase come through definitions, logic, or philosophy. . . .we can increase our faith, if we desire, by going beyond the minimum requirements of the gospel and developing complete trust in the Lord.
I believe the greatest tool of increasing our faith is the power of prayer.  A few months ago I had gone to the temple with a singleness of mind.  I have been having a hard time believing in my value and as I sat in the chapel that day waiting for the next session, I flipped open the scriptures and read D&C 11:13-14 which says:
Verily, verily, I say unto you I will impart unto you of my spirit which shall enlighten your mind which shall fill your soul with joy.  And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. 
During that session I was blessed with a powerful witness of how much God loves me.
The final tool that I would like to leave with you is one that the young women are very familiar with and that is the knowledge of our Divine Nature.  Knowing that we are daughters and sons of a Heavenly Father that loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son to save us can increase our faith as nothing else.  I would like to close with one more story from the book Reaching for Hope, it is the story of a 28 year old woman named Ross Ann who had suffered abuse from family members.  This is a moment that happened during one of her therapy sessions with one of the authors of the book:
One day Ross Ann sat with me in a therapy session and repeated her old refrain, “I am just a black sheep.  I will always be just a black sheep.  I will never fit in with the ‘normal people’ of the world.  I am too damaged.”
This particular day, I remember praying silently and fervently, “give me the words that Ross Ann needs to hear to begin healing from the abuse.”
I heard myself say, “Ross Ann, tell me about the black sheep.”
She began to cry softly and answered.  “My black sheep is a lost sheep.”
Ross Ann, who is the lost sheep?”
“I am the lost sheep.”
And again, I heard my voice ask, “Ross Ann, who did the Shepherd leave the flock to find?”
Silence.  Pondering.  Tears.  “He left the flock to go find the lost sheep.”
“And Ross Ann, who is the lost sheep?”
Sobbing.  “I am the lost sheep.”
Our Heavenly Father loves every one of us whether we feel like we are a lost sheep or not, we are his children and as long as we know that, really know that, our faith will no longer only be the mustard seed, but will be the tree.

1 comment:

  1. Renae, thank you so much for posting your talk. I'm giving a talk tomorrow in our new ward on the Holy Ghost. I'm anxious to give it because I feel like I have a lot of responsibility to share my testimony about the things I know and things that I've learned, but I'm nervous because there's so much spinning around in my head. It was so comforting to read what you said in your talk. I hope you don't mind if I borrow the part about following the lines on the road in the fog. I LOVED that!!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting!