When You Think You Are Beyond the Gospel’s Light
I remember the first time I felt like I was in over my head. I had just graduated high school and the bishop of our congregation, or “ward,” had invited me in to his office during Church. As we chatted about my plans for college and other things, he asked if I would accept a “calling,” or in other words, a church assignment. I was expecting him to ask if I would be the ward chorister or something. But instead, he asked me if I would accept the assignment to be the teacher of a group of teenage girls, or “Young Women,” in our congregation.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when a girl graduates from High School or turns 18, she stops attending the teenage girls’ classes, and attends the women’s class, the “Relief Society,” in the ward. I had been really looking forward to attending the women’s classes.
Here Am I, Don’t Send Me!
I was surprised, to say the least. Though I had already graduated, I was still seventeen, which meant that there could technically be a Young Woman in the group of girls who was older than I—the teacher—was. I felt very young and unprepared. I had never taught before. And to make things potentially even more strange, because I had just left the Young Women program, that meant that I was now expected to “teach” the peers and friends I had been in the program with for years! I felt very uncomfortable giving any kind of counsel in such a formal setting to girls that I loved to chat and hang out with. Would they think I was coming off as “holier than thou?” Would it change my friendships?
Not only that, but all my really good friends had been in Relief Society for months now, and I had been looking forward to joining them for what seemed like forever. Soon we would head our separate ways to college, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible. I’m sure there were more excuses running through my head, but I had to decide what I really wanted, or at least discern what the Lord really wanted from me.
I stood at a crossroads.
I could have said “Thanks, but no thanks” to that calling. I could have told my bishop all the excuses that flashed into my head at that moment. This experience taught me a few things that President Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently taught.
What Kind of Questions Are You Asking?”
President Uchtdorf made a powerful suggestion in the October 2015 LDS General Conference that counters much of what some people have said about what kinds of questions can build your testimony:
Sometimes, the truth may just seem too straightforward, too plain, and too simple for us to fully appreciate its great value. So we set aside what we have experienced and know to be true in pursuit of more mysterious or complicated information. …
“When it comes to spiritual truth, how can we know that we are on the right path? One way is by asking the right questions—the kind that help us ponder our progress and evaluate how things are working for us.
“Does my life have meaning?”
“Do I believe in God?”
“Do I believe that God knows and loves me?”
“Do I believe that God hears and answers my prayers?”
“Am I truly happy?”
“Are my efforts leading me to the highest spiritual goals and values in life?”
In my situation, the questions I was asking about my inadequacies weren’t conducive to the spirit. I could feel it. Introspective and faith-building questions appropriate to my situation could have been, “Do I believe God loves these Young Women?” “Am I willing to perhaps put my social life on the line to teach what the Lord needs me to teach? If not, why?” “Do I have faith that I really am within the boundaries of an inspired leaders’ stewardship?” “Do I believe that the Savior’s grace and divine strength can help be a better friend and teacher?”
Yearning to Taste the Fruit of the Gospel
In my case, not living the gospel in this one aspect would be so much more convenient and easy! Have you ever felt that the gospel—as you were living it—just wasn’t working for you? That perhaps you wouldn’t ever see or feel the fruits of joy and peace that the gospel brings?
If so, President Uchtdorf has some hopeful words for you: “I also recognize that there are some who have a less-than-fulfilling experience—who feel that their membership in the Church sometimes isn’t quite what they had hoped for. This saddens me because I know firsthand how the gospel can invigorate and renew one’s spirit.”
“So what,” President Uchtdorf asked, “makes the difference between those whose experience in the Church fills their souls with redeeming love and those who feel that something is lacking?” He gave two suggestions anyone could follow.
His first point of advice was to simplify: “If you ever think that the gospel isn’t working so well for you, I invite you to step back, look at your life from a higher plane, and simplify your approach to discipleship. Focus on basic doctrines, principles and applications of the gospel. I promise that God will guide and bless you on your path to a fulfilling life, and the gospel will definitely work better for you.”
I’ve learned that when I try to live the gospel and serve others, the Lord has opened my eyes to how simple some decisions can be. While I had fleeting thoughts about how my calling would affect my social life, the Lord was simply telling me, “That doesn’t matter right now. Just serve them.”
While I was overanalyzing how many hours less per week I would get to see my friends in Relief Society because of this calling, the Lord was saying, “That’s not important. I need you to serve the young women.”
And while I was lamenting my lack of teaching skills, experience, and age, the Savior was gently prodding me, “That doesn’t matter. I’m here to help make you better; I just need you to give me the opportunity to do that. And this is it.”
With all the thoughts I had crashing around up there, I needed to take a step back and just look at the big picture. The Lord’s comforting messages to my heart in the following weeks were so simple compared to the roller coaster of worry and emotions I sometimes felt in my heart during those next few weeks as I was adjusting to my new calling.
2. Start Where You Are
Secondly, he said to “start where you are.” Often times we worry that we need to be more of something: “More spiritual, respected, intelligent, healthy, rich, friendly, or capable.”
He continued, “Naturally, there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve. God created us to grow and progress. But remember, our weaknesses can help us to be humble and turn us to Christ, who will ‘make weak things become strong.’ Satan, on the other hand, uses our weaknesses to the point that we are discouraged from even trying.”
Imagine how excited the Adversary gets when he sees armies of the Lord’s children just giving up. He doesn’t need them fighting on his own side, per se, but just doing nothing is enough for him! President Uchtdorf remarked, “God will take you as you are at this very moment and begin to work with you. All you need is a willing heart, a desire to believe, and trust in the Lord.”
The Lord doesn’t require us to have a proven track record of 100% Church attendance, 100% personal prayer, 100% scripture study, and 100% Visiting Teaching before he will work with us—though that certainly is what we shoot for. He doesn’t care as much about our “numbers,” as he does about our trajectory—the direction we’re going, and the direction we want to go from there.
Likewise, I didn’t need to worry about being an experienced teacher before I taught. Thankfully God doesn’t ask us to be experts before we serve him. Everyone in our wards is unpaid and often times inexperienced. So if you feel inadequate, join the ranks of thousands of other Latter-day Saints who feel the same way. That might be one way in which the Lord helps teachers develop humility and the learners develop forgiveness and sympathy. He provides us opportunities to feel inadequate so that we will call on his divine help.
Heroes Who Didn’t Feel Heroic
Take a look at the three scriptural examples President Uchtdorf gives of people who felt called by God to do something, and who started where they were.
Gideon: Gideon only saw himself as a poor farmer, “the least of his father’s house.” But God viewed Gideon as a mighty man of valor. So although there was already a prophet in Israel, God chose Gideon as a helper to help get rid of unbelief (by destroying idols), and building belief (Judges 6-8). Can the Lord bless us with the valor and courage we need to not only actively fight against disbelief, but then go a step further and provide an atmosphere for the Holy Spirit where belief can flourish? 1
Saul: His second example was that of how God saw Saul: “When Samuel chose Saul to be king, Saul tried to talk him out of it. Saul was from one of the smallest tribes of the house of Israel. Saul thought that God wouldn’t want anyone to help Him who was a “no one” or who wasn’t notable. How could he be king? But God saw him as “a choice young man.” 2
Moses: “Even the great prophet Moses felt so overwhelmed and discouraged at one point that he wanted to give up and die. But God did not give up on Moses.” The Israelites—his kin and his friends— were complaining to Moses about being hungry, which was a difficult burden from him to bear. 3
Do any of these weaknesses sound familiar? They certainly do to me. It just takes that first small step of faith to follow the Savior. As we do this, President Uchtdorf promised that “your heart will change. Your whole being will be filled with light. God will help you become something greater than you ever thought possible. And you will discover that the gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed working in your life. It works.”
Starting Where We Are, So That the Lord Can Lift Us to Where He Is
During that time when I was asked to serve in the Young Women organization, I was familiar with the Lord’s promise that he will “make weak things become strong unto” us. 4 I had learned it over and over at home and in Church. But this was one of the first times I felt like I needed strengthening. I truly felt like a “weak thing!” But I loved these girls, and knew that I should trust the Bishop’s inspiration in calling me. Who was I to say he wasn’t inspired? Who was I to say that though the Lord was all-powerful, he wasn’t powerful enough to help me? Who was I to say that my complicated misgivings mattered more than his simple prompting for me to simply love and serve these girls?
With the Lord’s promise in mind that he would expand our abilities, his promise especially extends to us when we trust the calling and inspiration of our leaders. 5Even if it is something as simple as accepting a calling. It is by living the basic gospel standards of personal scripture study and prayer, serving others, and sustaining our leaders, that the Lord can strengthen us and make us into who he needs us to be.
President Ucthdorf reminded us that “if we look at ourselves only through our mortal eyes, we may not see ourselves as good enough. But our Heavenly Father sees us as who we truly are and who we can become. He sees us as His sons and daughters, as beings of eternal light with everlasting potential and with a divine destiny.”
And this doesn’t just apply to someone who is struggling to accept a calling. This can apply to someone who doesn’t feel like they are welcome at Church. His counsel could apply to someone who feels like they need their “life’s batteries” recharged. It applies to someone struggling to cling to their faith. President Uchtdorf’s counsel is universal. “Exaltation is our goal. Discipleship is our journey,” seemed to be his reminder that exaltation comes by letting the Savior perfect the imperfect. Our discipleship can be maintained by simplifying our approach to living the basic doctrines of the gospel, and by starting where we are, so that the Lord can lift us to where he is.
Boyd K. Packer’s counsel has become something I reflect on constantly: “[That leap of faith] 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.” 6
Although my social life might have suffered a little by not getting to go to Relief Society with my other friends, my spiritual life grew by leaps and bounds for simply following the gospel and for not waiting to try out gospel principles. That decision made countless other decisions much easier to make after knowing from experience that the Lord would light my path if all I did was take the first step into the darkness.
She occasionally posts or co-posts gospel handouts on her husband's site, NathanRichardson.com. She is excited to be one voice among many Mormon Women who support the Savior, His gospel, and the leaders of His Church.
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