Monday, August 16, 2010

Serving Cheerfully

Yesterday was first day back in my home Ward after attending church at the Detention Center every week for the past six years.  I was really looking forward to worshiping with old friends and my own family.  Somehow, there was more disappointment than pleasure.

I have said over the past six years that I loved worshiping in the more intimate setting of the youth correctional facility to which I had been assigned.  "It's the gospel without the culture," I'd explain.  Nobody seemed to understand what I was talking about.  Behind those locked doors there was little that resembled the typical church meetings and traditions that I'd spent a lifetime growing familiar with.  There was no chapel or cultural hall.  Prayers didn't have the same wrote, repetitive familiarity that we've all come to expect.  Nobody got reminded to do their Home Teaching, or scolded for not behaving in class.  There was no talk of the most recent Scout camp or the scores in the Church ball tournament over the weekend.  Instead of asking about this boy who'd just gone on a mission or that one who was just leaving; we spoke of this one who'd just gone to rehab and that one who'd just come back.

There was talk of Jesus Christ and faith and forgiveness.  There was talk of love and understanding and compassion for one another.  There was talk of sin and confusion.  There was candid confession and deep humility.  The gospel was there in rich abundance and it, rather than the cultural appendages that have become attached to the gospel, was the focus of every meeting.  Questions in class applied to real life, ever present problems instead of the hypotheticals we skirt around in Gospel Doctrine Class.  In Gospel Doctrine principles are treated in 3rd Person so often.  Like, "I have a friend who...."  Or, "what would happen if...?"  That is if we even dare to get that deep into real, actually problems with living.

Not so in Detention.  Where questions are like, "I have done this horrible thing for which I am very sorry.  Is there any possibility of forgiveness for me?"  Or, "What must I do to become free of this tendency I have to get angry, or seek revenge, or use drugs..."  It was so disappointing to sit in class in my home ward and pretend we were perfect and that the lesson had no practical application to our lives.  No one would dare say, "I have a problem understanding how to control my thoughts."  Or, "I've tried and tried to do what's right and I still can't quit sinning.  How will I ever make it to Heaven?"  And if they did, no one else would likely dare come out and say, "When I was lost and trying to fix myself, my frustration grew until I finally turned my problem over to the Savior."  That is a degree of candor and honesty that is not only refreshing, but productive; and which seems to be seriously lacking.

The culture of the church seems to have set us all up to be pretending to be better than we are.  I think that is destructive.  I personally, through all of my sinful addictive ways took the notion from everyone's "good example" that I was somehow inferior, in that I could not muster the self control and perfection that seemed second nature to most other active members.  I'm old and experienced enough now to realize that everyone has weakness, a God given gift, but most are going to great lengths to conceal it.  Looking back I realize I did the same thing.  Would it not be more productive and helpful to others to confess our weakness and describe how the Savior, applied His redeeming blood to help us recover from the damaging bonds of sin?  Growing up, I never once heard anyone except Alma the Younger make such a claim.  Surely there are others who could have given me a more contemporary example of how to apply the Atonement to my life.  He just wasn't willing to do it.

Another distressing thing I noticed at church yesterday was a startling lack of apparent joy.  Most of those to whom I was exposed seemed to be going through the motions like a bunch of Zombies.  We who served at the Detention Center did so with exuberance and good cheer.  Serving in the Kingdom is fun!  Yet it appears that so many see it as a necessary drudgery with must be endured to the bitter end.  Holy Cow!  What a shock to come back to such a dreary, dutiful, drag.  I wonder if I was ever like that.  I think I must have been.  Back when I thought I had to achieve heaven on my own merits, it was burdensome and hard.  And since I knew I wasn't living righteously, I carried the added burden of doubt.  Doubt that despite my dutiful, reliable efforts, I wasn't going to make it anyway.

What joy it is to discover that Jesus is the way, that I will make it on His merits not my own, if I will but trust Him, have faith in Him, repent of my sins and serve Him with all my heart.  Understanding that, having experienced that, knowing He is assisting me with the stewardship He's given; I can do nothing but rejoice at the opportunity to share what I've been given!  In that light, His burden is indeed light and full of joy and good cheer.  It is fun to serve Him.  I is fun to see the Spirit work in the hearts and minds of good people who so desperately know their need for a Savior.  It is fun to spread the fun!

I remember when Paul Justice came home from his mission.  He was exuberant and cheerful all the time.  I want to be like Paul and rejoice in the blessings and opportunities of the gospel.  I hope its contagious!  And that I can spread it like wildfire among my fellow Saints.  It breaks my heart to see them so drearily burdened with the very thing that could bring them the greatest joy and satisfaction.

Part of the problem may be our tendency toward piety.  We think the gospel is a somber, serious thing.  Did President Hinckley make it look like that?  The gospel is good news, after all, why don't we celebrate it with joy.  I took my nephew Ryan through the Provo Temple for his endowments.  He was so excited he was giving high fives to the Temple workers.  Sensing his unrestrained joy and receiving those marvelous blessings, many seemed to take Ryan's good cheer and pass it on.  There was no call for irreverence and there was none, but it was a time to experience fully embraced joy!

Now, I don't want anyone faking it.  Artificial smiles will not conceal pretended joy.  If you're in my ward and you're not happily serving, I'd like to know it, so we can deal with it.  Let's all quit faking it at church and start lifting each other out the morass of despair and discouragement.  Lets start treating the gospel like the GOOD NEWS that it truly is!

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