Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Journey to the Promised Land

Just yesterday I read a post that was so uplifting and encouraging to me that I shared it on Facebook.
"God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it," by Kayla Lemmon is profound!  Soon after posting it on Facebook I got a text from a dear one who was not comforted by Sister Lemmon's comments. My loved one feels the heavens are silent and that while she has tried and tried to get God to lift her burden it remains; and even seems to be growing in magnitude and intensity.

I've spent nearly 24 hours pondering her dilemma and felt to respond here as there are surely others who feel as she does.

First let me observe that what we all seek as we petition the Heavens is freedom.  Freedom from pain, freedom from bondage, from debt, from sorrow, from grief, guilt, disappointment, loneliness, bewilderment...  The list goes on and on. So I need to make a few observations about moving from bondage to freedom.  In her wonderful book My Grandfather's Blessings, by Rachel Naomi Remen; she recalls a conversation with her Rabbi Grandfather about the delivery of Israel from their bondage in Egypt.  Grandfather tells Rachel that after all the plagues, after the first born of Egypt all die, after the Angel of Death has passed over the first born Israelite children and after Pharaoh has finally let the people go; Moses goes to Israel to take them and they don't want to go.  "Why won't they choose freedom over bondage Grandpa?" Rachel asks.  To which grandpa replies, "The choice is never between freedom and bondage Rachel, it is between freedom and the unknown." (paraphrased)

Second, allow another observation.  Jesus, in the parable of the Second Mile teaches another principle that applies to our bondage.  The Jews were in bondage to the Romans.  An edict required that if a Roman encountered a Jew he could compel the Jew to carry his baggage for one mile.  Jesus suggested that the Jews carry that load for a Second Mile.  He was teaching them that even in bondage they could be free.  Sure the first mile was slavery, but the second mile was discharged as a FREE MAN!  The choice belonged to them and when they exercised that choice they exercised their agency and were indeed free!  Try to imagine the actual circumstance.  You're headed to work, for example and suddenly you encounter a Roman and inconvenience of inconveniences, you're stuck carrying the guys baggage.  He has no regard for your time, schedule, other obligations.  Perturbing to say the least!  How is your relationship with the Roman going to be?  What are you feeling?  What is he feeling?  Now, you choose, in the spirit Christ intended, to go the second mile.  Now how are you feeling?  How is the Roman feeling?  What happens to your relationship?  Your mood?  His mood?

Now, after considering these two concepts lets go on a journey with Lehi, shall we?  Lehi had a big problem, His life was in grave danger and his sons were on a perilous mission, so he took his problem to the Lord and he got his answer.  Here is how he explained the answer to his wife:
1 Nephi 5:5  “But behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness.”
Notice that he is speaking of his blessing as thought it has already happened.  The promise is sure, but it most certainly is not immediate.  At least in the temporal sense.  He still has to make the journey to take possession of it.  Be reminded that the journey took eight years of arduous, hazardous travel, just to reach the sea and then the construction of a ship, and then a long perilous voyage before they actually arrived at the Promised Land.

God does not expect us to progress from point A to point Z in one jump.  Neither should we expect Him to magically make that happen.  If we do, we miss the point of being in mortality in the first place.  We are here to learn and grow.  Lehi's family had such an opportunity.  And they had a choice:  A) to believe that the Land of Promise was theirs and that all they need do is take the steps God directed for each day.  Thus, day by day progressing toward the fullness of the blessing; or B) to resent the journey for being in the way of the prize.

Looking back on my journey out of Addiction, I wish I had understood this better.  Through hind sight I can easily see that way back when, as I begged for deliverance from my bondage, the blessing was given to me, right then!  All I had to do was go where it was to receive it.  Naturally, I wanted it right now.  Blindly I felt I had been denied my blessing.  But now I see, that step by step God revealed to me what to do next, day by day until I reached the freedom I sought.  I think the same can be applied to any other form of bondage.

Had I known just this much back then, I might have understood that to be free is not a place or condition that can be just handed to us.  The parable of the Second Mile makes it plain that we can begin to exercise our freedom, before we are entirely released from bondage and in the process learn to be free under any circumstances.  This is important because it is a big key to enjoying and making the best use of the journey.

I wanted my complete liberty handed to me on a silver platter.  When that didn't come, I murmured and complained, got discouraged, rebelled, all that - just like Laman and Lemuel.  And at first when I arrived (on someone else's coat tails) I neither appreciated, nor made use of the blessing.  Also, just like Laman and Lemuel.  Nephi, on the other hand grew until, the Promised Land was in him, no matter where he was.

Lehi, was given a Liahona to direct his day to day progress.  We are given the guidance of the Spirit to do the same.  I'm convinced that there are none among us, who, if they deliberately paused several times each day and asked God the simple question, "What is the next right thing?", would not get the perfect answer for themselves.  Then, it is just a matter of believing that this will lead me out of bondage and toward the blessing I've been promised; and acting on that belief.  Sure it will be stepping into the unknown.  Take baby steps at first.  Your trust and faith will grow.

Some hesitate to ask that question, because the answers lead into unfamiliar territory.  He will most certainly ask of us more than we can give, so He stays with us to make up the difference in strength and resources.  I'll never forget the story of Mayor La Guardia as told by Cheiko Okasaki.  The Mayor liked to be involved in the day to day affairs of New York City, so one night he dismissed a Justice of the Peace and took over the bench himself.  During the proceedings that evening a lady was brought before him for stealing food from a grocery store.  Desperate to feed her grand kids, she'd felt it was her only option. He fined the lady and ordered her to reimburse the grocer.  Then, took money from his own pocket and paid the charges himself.  Then - he fined everyone in the courtroom $.25 for living in a city that would allow a destitute grandmother and her family go hungry, and gave her the proceeds of that fine.  So it is with God, sure He demands a lot, even more than we have to give sometimes, but He never abandons us to work out the impossibility by ourselves.  He wants us to need Him because in making that connection, He's preparing to make us utterly and fully free!  That said, He also wants us to grow in strength and capacity and that cannot be handed to us, it is something we must earn.  If you want strong muscles, you've gotta pump some iron, even 'til you feel the burn.

Study each of the Promised Land stories:  Moses and the Children of Israel, The Jaredites, The People of Lehi, The Mormon Pioneers, The Return of the Jews to Palestine, The Return of Mohammed to Mecca, The Pilgrims, St. Patrick's Return to Ireland, Shackleton's return from Antarctica, The Story of Abraham, Columbus' Voyage, even the Trail of Tears, and many many more and you will discover a common theme.

It is all about the journey, not the destination.  Each step along the way building the Promised Blessing in our very being. It is about becoming what we seek, so that when we get there we could be anywhere.

Looking back on my own journey I see miracle after miracle, that for me, rival the parting of the Red Sea, manna, pillars of fire and tasty raw meat.  They came as bread crumbs to follow, teachers to show the way, doors opened and others shut, paths cleared, new friends and wonderful books arriving at perfect times, and most of all, revealed guidance.  Looking back I see that God was with me every step of the way, helping, loving and patiently encouraging.

I think if you watch carefully, you don't have to wait 'til its over to recognize those miracles in your journey.  I know that if you watch for them you'll see them and in seeing you'll progress toward your freedom much faster than I did.

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