Thursday, November 29, 2012

When it Comes to Forgiveness, Seek First to Understand

I'm not certain why it caught my attention, nor do I recall where I saw the words, but it has remained with me for several days now:

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

The meaning behind such simple words has been indelibly marked into my soul over most of my life, at first like an etching made with a pocketknife into a piece of wood, only growing deeper with the passing years. The desire to be understood by others is a hallmark of humanity, of our individuality. To know someone cares enough about who we are and why we think the way we do can be marvelously affirming. It gives substance to the inner thoughts and ideas we constantly carry around in our heads. Indeed these ideas, beliefs, or whatever else may be roaming around in the confines of our minds, when validated or dismissed by someone other than our self, will form so much of who we become as more years go by.

One little act by another person, to put aside one's own ego long enough to discover what makes another person tick, can change lives. While we appreciate the effort someone takes in understanding us, we must strive to do the same for them. Do not ask someone to do for you, what you are not willing to do for them.

It seems like such a simple task, doesn't it? The recent election for president of the United States would certainly not lend toward such thinking. Instead it shows what too many of us are apt to do - assert our own beliefs, citing our reasons for insisting our way is the best way, but not taking the time to listen to the beliefs of others when those beliefs contradict our own. Nor do we want to hear why they think the way they do.

It's not only in politics that we see this happen. It can occur within any relationship we experience. Sometimes we are at fault, not taking the time to understand where others are coming from. Other times we are the ones who suffer because someone else refuses to understand.

This was me just a few days ago. What I am about to share with you is not done in the hopes of wanting to hurt another person - I won't share any specific details, nor is it to find validation for my own side in this, but rather my hope it to share why the above quote seemed to have been given to me as a reminder of why I should, and can, forgive this woman. Because I understand where she is coming from.

My friendship with this woman has never been an easy one. It is, for the most part, one sided. I have had to put up barriers once before, but as she appeared to have many good things happening and had a much happier countenance I thought we could give being friends another try. For a while it went well. We attended the temple a couple of times together. We chatted at church as well as online. From my point of view life for her appeared to be a happy one.

I got sick over this last weekend. It's just a cold, but one that refuses to go away. While I'd been a bit better on Monday, Tuesday I was miserably exhausted. Around 11:30 in the morning I fell back to sleep and didn't wake up until around three in the afternoon. I received a message from this woman saying she showed up around 2, knocked and knocked and knocked but I never answered, tried calling but I didn't answer, and she was clearly upset with me.

The thing is, I had no idea we were supposed to get together. I looked back over our messages and saw that she had, indeed, asked to drop by at 2, but her words indicated she was just going to drop something off. I wrote back, apologizing, explaining that I was sick, and asked why she didn't leave the item inside the screen door.

Her answer the next morning floored me. She accused me of several things, all of which were simply not true. I was hurt in ways that are impossible to describe, especially when she had never indicated anything was wrong. I spent the rest of the day crying, contemplating, and praying. By the end of the day a few things had come to my mind.

First, the Lord helped me to understand why she said everything she said. In every accusation, in every word of reproach, I saw where she was coming from. In her mind the things she said were just and true.

Second, though we may see some of what is going on in the lives of others, we do not know everything. This woman has fantasized what my life must be like, and has somehow made herself believe I can make her life better. She does not know my joys and heartaches, my daily triumphs and struggles, nor my priorities. She cannot comprehend why I place certain people at the forefront, while others must take a back seat.

At the same time I do not know all of what she struggles with. I am not in her head, nor her heart. I cannot begin to comprehend what hardships caused her to feel as though taking it out on me was okay. And that's something I simply need to understand, even if I don't always like it.

Third, forgiving someone their trespasses against you comes from seeking first to understand where they are coming from. When we can do that, we release their tight grip on our conscience, and allow the Lord to step in and replace the hurt.

And fourth, forgiving someone does not have to mean lying back down to be a door mat for them again. I don't know what it'll be like to see this woman on Sunday. I haven't decided if I'll talk to her on the off chance she approaches me. Though I understand enough to forgive her, I know for my own sake I need to keep her at more of a distance, at least until my heart has healed enough to know where to go from here.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Eight words given to me this week by my Lord to help me through a difficult situation. I am grateful for His loving hand in my life.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Mormon's Really Believe: Did a 15 Year-Old Boy Really See God?

In 1820 a young man of 15 years old found himself confused. 

"There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, 'Lo, here!" and "Lo, there!" Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some fr the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

"For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faith expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued - priest contending against priest - and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions."

Though four members of his family opted to join the Presbyterian faith, this young man was more inclined associate with the Methodist sect, but even this did not bring him much peace. 

"My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.

"In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?"

This young man had been raised on the words of the Bible, and turned to them repeatedly for answers. One day he read in James, chapter one, verse five: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

"Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible."

After much studying, pondering, and prayer, the young man at last decided it was time to ask of God, as was encouraged in the scripture that so touched his heart. Little did he know what was to follow.

"I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

"After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

"But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction - not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being - just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other - This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!'"

Many stories have been told of Joseph Smith, Jr, the man who brought forth the restoration of the Lord's Church in this day and time. Some of those stories are true, others are not. For one to understand the truth of what we, as Mormons, believe it is important to read the words of the man who we believe was a prophet of God. He was a young man, confused by the words and beliefs of mankind and their interpretation of scripture, of the seeming hatred between each church, and the claims of each of them being God's one true church. He prayed, as each one of us are encouraged to do, in order to discover the truth as promised us by the words James taught.

We can learn much through his example: read the Bible. Study the words out in our minds. Ponder over what is being taught. Decide on a question to be answered. And pray with a sincere desire to know the truth.

Because of one prayer some precious truths were taught. First, that Satan is a real being. Joseph Smith, at 15 years old, was about to start on a journey that would be fraught with hardship and happiness, a journey that would shake some of the foundations of Christianity. The second truth we were taught - that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ stood side-by-side, that they are two distinct individuals, and that Heavenly Father is pleased with what His Son had accomplished.

One more thing we learned in these brief moments: God the Father knew Joseph's name. Just as He knows all our names. Just as He knows each and every one of us, and has a plan in store for our lives. Though Satan may howl and bring us low, he has no more power than that - God's power, the Lord's power, that is strong than anything Satan can throw our way.

I testify of this experience, one we refer to as 'The First Vision', as having happened. Like unto Joseph, I have read the Bible as well as other scripture that has been brought forth. I have pondered on the words, I have decided on particular questions to ask, and with a humble heart and a sincere desire to know, I have prayed about each point related to you today. And I have received a witness of it's truth, just as you can receive that same witness. 

However, if you desire no more than to simply understand what we believe Joseph Smith experienced in the hopes of knowing why we believe in him as a prophet, and another reason as to why we believe Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two separate beings, then I hope I have done at least a little of this today.

If you would like to read more about the beginnings of this Church in Joseph Smith's own words, you can go to Joseph Smith-History and read more.