"Following Others' Tails Lights:" Dragging Out the Process of My Coming to Christ
I had no more tears left to cry as my forehead lay smushed against the steering wheel, my arms slumped to my sides. I had pulled over to "the side of the road"---defeated. Here I sat in my "parked car," feeling I would be swallowed up by despair. Having been born and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I knew "this vehicle" could drive and I watched it take people wonderful places. It just seemed that there was something wrong with me, or as I have heard others question, maybe there was something wrong with their "vehicle." Here I sat behind the wheel, yet no matter how much I desperately tried to do, I seemed to just spin my wheels or go in circles. I had been lost in the middle of nowhere for too long. I had tried every road and side road searching for the way out, but came to dead-end after dead-end. So there I sat, with seemingly no options.
Suddenly I heard another car zoom past me, shaking my car gently. My head shot up, wondering if I was beginning to hallucinate. As my fingers fumbled to shift into drive, I knew this was my ticket out. If someone is out on these treacherous roads too, they must know the way out. All I have to do is follow that car, and lucky for me, it was dark...so I just needed to keep their tail lights in my view. I had new hope as I pulled out onto the asphalt. "Monkey see, monkey do," right?
Monkey See, Monkey Do...RIGHT?
Oooh...those two paragraphs turned out nicely! :) If you can't guess, I made up the part about a car and being lost; however, if you haven't caught the hint of my little analogy tonight, let me spell it out for you...something that prolonged my coming to Christ, and I have watched others trip on that exact same stumbling block, is trying to follow another's tail lights. When we see someone who is really "moving" and noticeably has what we have been seeking for, it may seem like we just need to watch their every move and do exactly what they did to get to that point and we will be able to have those precious things for ourselves. For whatever reason, thinking about this tonight reminded me of THIS clip from the movie "Mr. Peabody and Sherman" where they are trying to get out of the pyramid. I have definitely felt like that as I have watched others around me with the gospel "working well for them" in their lives--- assuming it's monkey see, monkey do.
The tricky part is that people truly can be the means that God uses in our lives to fulfill His purposes or to point us to Christ. That is a completely separate thought from what I am focusing on tonight. In that case, I am learning to look beyond the means...to see past the person/thing/whatever the means may be, to see God. What I am talking about is when we see that person---and what they are doing or have for themselves---then try to duplicate it on our own lives by following them rather than going to The Source directly for ourselves. We assume that if we step exactly where they stepped, it will all work out for us in the exact same way it did for them.
But HOW Does it Work?
We teach that we can be saved...that we can be justified and sanctified...BUT HOW? How can we become Godlike? I know we can, but HOW? HOW can I achieve these lofty goals and claim these miraculous gifts? I had begun to feel frustrated driving in circles looking for a way out of the sticky situations I had found my self in from my loved-one's choices, the equally sticky situations of my own making, and the realization that I was in much deeper than I had ever noticed before. HOW, HOW, HOW? The gospel, as I understood it at that time, wasn't making sense, and as I watched others driving by and tried to copy what they did, I continued to run into dead-ends.
Fortunate for me, I had numerous tail lights to chase, and most people gently pointed me to Christ. I was surrounded through the thick of the confusion by angels. Truly they were. There were those loving angels in my ward who surrounded me with pure love and bore through the darkness with me...who never allowed me to see them through it, but Him through them. The wonderful friends who had/were seeking Light through similar journeys, the professional counselor who breathed confidence back into my shaky attempts to discern The Spirit again, incredible teachers, other friends and close family members who stood by me through the metamorphosis, encouraging me on, my dear husband who has been brave and courageous in moving forward in his own journey and has been patiently supporting me as I catch up with him. I can see these angels whom I desperately wanted to follow and the ways God worked through them to reach me. It has been a great network made up of incredible individuals, all striving to walk their own path, that collectively helped me get my footing. I now understand that the only tail lights I can follow that will guide me back into God's presence are Christ's.
In the book "Power to Become..." Elder Bednar taught that when we ask the question "WHY," it's a doctrine. When we ask "WHAT," it is a principle. WHEN WE ASK "HOW," IT'S THE APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE(s)/PRINCIPLE(s). The amazing thing about the gospel is that the doctrines and principles do not change; however, the application of them is perfectly tailored to us individually. There can be danger in following tail lights. What about those that for whatever reason falter and go off course? Even well-intended individuals can lead others off-course. But even with just following those who already have the righteous desires I am seeking, there can be delays or dead-ends for me. As I am seeking to follow tail lights, that individual may be lead down a different path than what I would be lead down. When I am so set on desperately following tail lights, I can drive and drive, yet never reach my destination of returning to God's presence. Do you follow? (Haha..I had to throw that in). I don't need to chase tail lights that may or may not lead me along securely on my journey. I don't need to guess where to go either. He can show me line upon line where to rest my focus next and exactly HOW I need to move forward from where I am right now.
The answers to all of my "HOW" questions in the first paragraph plus any "HOW" question I can come up with are personal. That means what may be an answer for one may not be for another. Even if an answer for someone else is the same answer I get, the timing of that answer or the details may not be the same. What relief I felt as I finally understood that! I'm not "doing it wrong," by God leading me a different way than others around me or using different means than what worked for someone I admire or would mistakenly pattern my life after. I am amazed that the gospel isn't one size fits all, yet at the same time, it covers all of us and the messy details of our experiences here in mortality. There is but one way, which is through Christ, yet He will lead us personally on different detailed journeys as we seek Him.
It Really is That Simple
With understanding that "HOW" questions are going to generate a personal answer, it made so much more sense to me as I read the scriptures. There are definitely patterns and I began to notice more of the patterns than the nitty gritty details of what their personal journey looked like. I need to follow the "WHY's" and "WHAT's" but the "HOW's" will likely not look the same.
The amazing thing to me is that the scriptures spell out over and over again exactly what we need to do (as "exactly" as the scriptures will get). :) One of my favorite passages in this light is in 2 Nephi 31 & 32 (with emphasis added):
Did you catch that? As we "enter in the gate" through baptism, and are seeking our footing on the straight and narrow path, it is the Holy Ghost that will guide our footsteps. Remember Lehi's vision of the Tree of Life? The iron rod is the word of God. It's the same as I added above. I used to consider it was only the scriptures, prophets, apostles, leaders...think of those we know personally who clung to those, yet still wandered off the path. It is also the word to us personally. NOTE: The Spirit will lead us to TRUTH and that will be in harmony with the other sources of the word.
Now here is what is incredible to me about this passage. Nephi said it so plainly in chapter 31, yet just in case there are some who don't quite have eyes to see and ears to hear, he lays it out even more plainly in chapter 32:
It is Him we have been seeking all along as we knew we needed some source of light. That is why we were chasing tail lights. Rather than the dim lights of man-made effort, He invites us to step into His glorious and brilliant light. I testify as a living witness that Jesus Christ is the only way and will guide us personally, step by step, to find increasing light and joy.It is my hope in sharing my experience in learning to be still, you won’t become distracted by the details. Step back and consider on the patterns. My hope is this will be more like a workbook for you. I speak boldly and confidently of Christ. It is my greatest hope that this won't just be a read it and walk away experience, but that my words can point you to Him who can bring peace, strength, and endurance.
THEREFORE WHAT?At the end of each section I have included a “THEREFORE WHAT?” portion. Here you will find additional study suggestions and challenges to act.
Here are two really cool things to ponder from a recent General Conference along this vein.
President Nelson said, “President Packer declared:
‘We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out. …’We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.’ Today, let me add that we need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith and who are courageous defenders of morality and families in a sin-sick world. We need women who are devoted to shepherding God’s children along the covenant path toward exaltation; women who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly...Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.12 We need women who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve. My dear sisters, nothing is more crucial to your eternal life than your own conversion. It is converted, covenant-keeping women—women like my dear wife Wendy—whose righteous lives will increasingly stand out in a deteriorating world and who will thus be seen as different and distinct in the happiest of ways."
Doesn’t that just give you chills?! My favorite, favorite part of this quote is where he talks about having a bedrock understanding of the Doctrine of Christ can help us raise a sin-resistant generation. WOW! So what is the Doctrine of Christ? (Hint: go check out 2 Nephi 31 &32 again). How could understanding this doctrine help us be sin-resistant? How can passing on this doctrine in its purity help us raise a sin-resistant generation?
And President Uchdorft gave a masterful talk entitled "It Works Wonderfully!" I invite you to read or review the entire talk. Here are a few things he said that I love:
"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. Hopefully we will learn that when we chase after shadows, we are pursuing matters that have little substance and value...I wonder if we as Church members might also benefit from asking ourselves from time to time: “Is my experience in the Church working for me? Is it bringing me closer to Christ? Is it blessing me and my family with peace and joy as promised in the gospel?...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.” ...But why does it seem to work better for some than for others? What is the difference between those whose experience in the Church fills their souls with songs of redeeming love and those who feel that something is lacking? As I have pondered these questions, a flood of thoughts came to mind."
Go check out his talk to consider on the invitations to simplify and start where we are. Consider on the invitations to center our lives on Christ, (another wonderful talk) given by other prophets and apostles.
The things I had learned all my life had given me a broad foundational understanding. Although there was quite a bit of "cleanup" to do in clearing out the misperceptions and precepts of man going along with them, I had been taught true principles. The turning point for me in my understanding was when I was able to connect the missing dots. Although these are universal doctrines and principles for all of God's children, they are also for me. Although Adam fell and all of God's children inherit fallen bodies and natural man tendencies, until I could see how I was suffering the effects of the fall, it would make no lasting difference. Similarly, I knew God sent His son, but until I could see my sins, I could not understand my personal and desperate need for a Savior. Our walk with God is intended to be a personal one. God has not only a universal plan for all of His children collectively, but a personal one for each child individually. These same doctrines and principles work for each of us, just in individually tailored application. The patterns are the same, yet the details are unique. Isn't that beautiful to consider?
YOUR CHALLENGE is to read/watch/listen to any (or all) of these talks. Also consider this invitation to catch this talk by Elder Brough and consider on the "personal care package" God has or is sending you. What can you do to come to know God better? What are your personal prayers and scripture study like? What other ways can you develop a more direct relationship with Him? Also take note of Elder Brough father's counsel when he had to do something difficult (a story he tells in this talk). Why is it so important as a parent, as a friend, as a spouse, in my callings, as I interact with others to lead them as directly to God as possible? What can I do to lead those around me more clearly? Your challenge is to read or listen this and/or the other talks (or others that may come to mind) and the scripture passage in 2 Nephi 31 &32. Take the time to write down the personal impressions or thoughts that come to you as you read and ponder on these things.