Friday, March 31, 2006

Old Enough

[Cross posted at Mormon Mommy Wars.]

I never felt “old enough” to be a missionary and for sure never old enough or adequate to deal with the violence and trauma of the lives we encountered—people flailing about for help, desperate to grab anything, even us kids. I also never quite felt up to the challenges of companionship and mission leadership. I had barely started to figure things out when I was sent home, and that after a year of training others how to do it! I've been home from the mission eight years and the feeling hasn't changed—I'm not “old enough” to deal with the trauma of my students' lives, the challenge of being an adult member of a family, the difficulty of serving in the Church. I imagine I'll feel the same about spousehood and parenthood.

I guess it was a cherished delusion from my youth, but I sort of figured that the people above me growing up knew what they were doing more than I did by the time I got to their position. I was shocked by how often my initial response to issues was “I have no idea.” I never figured we would live so close to the edge of our competence, the edge of our faith.

But, we did it: breathe deep, pray hard, try to shoot straight, then go home and pray it all works out despite our “desperate inadequacy,” and then go and try some more. Sometimes it worked out—miraculously. Others it didn’t, and that was very hard. This, I gather, is part of life, part of love.

As I look back with the “flickering lamp” I console myself “with the rectitude and sincerity of [my] actions.” When they were insincere or “un-rect” I repented. But, I think there is better consolation than “I tried.” The Lord “know[s] the end from the beginning” (Abr. 2: 8). He knows both where His lost children and His servants are. As missionaries we were often “lost”—meaning we didn’t know where we where. But the Lord did and we often found prepared people when we were “lost.” I also observed that many of the people we taught had been taught before and the majority of those we baptized had been taught many times and had many experiences with the Lord and the church and the saints over the years. We were just another few in a long train who had nudged and guided along the way. I have hope that many of those experiences I call failures will one day be considered just another step along their way home.

I should point out that making peace with apparent failure does not depend on all things working out in the end (and I mean the end-end, not just the end of mortality), because it doesn't and they don't. It only all works out (in the "end-end") if we have faith and choose righteousness. Many people exercise their agency and don’t, all the way to the end. The Lord weeps and so do His servants for the sufferings and wickedness of men (e.g., Moses 7:28-41, John 11:35, 2 Ne. 33:3). How the Holy Ghost can comfort us in the face of such real failure is beyond my comprehension, which is probably why it is called, “the peace…which passeth all understanding” (Phill. 4:7). Somehow Christ can make us okay when, in His justice, He does not change the outcome of events.

There is one other thing I learned about failure through my mission (I don’t say “on my mission” because I didn’t figure it out till I returned). It is an extension of the idea that the Lord knows where everyone is and what they need. That includes me. He knows who I am and what I need. That might include struggling with an investigator or a companion for months, even though the Lord knows they are not going to “make it,” at least while I am around. I feel like I have failed because I did not “save” them, but the Lord had no intention of me “saving” anybody—He does all the saving anyway. He wanted me to grow. I think it is like one of my cousins wrote from his mission: sometimes the Lord puts mountains in our paths that we can’t get around so that we grow big enough to go over them. Sometimes we grow enough without ever getting over the mountain, and then He takes us off or moves it.


At June 11, 2006 12:15 AM, Anonymous scjr said...

richly put, wired similarly, how do we make peace with a history that in reality we only have a fraction of - that fraction being what our eyes and hearts thinks they saw?

At June 29, 2006 3:20 AM, Blogger Kate said...

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