When I write about my church, it’s usually to analyze some aspect of belief or to defend it from critics. But today I just want to celebrate the beauty and joy of the kind of life practiced in the Mormon church.
For months now I’ve often looked back from the end of a day and thought of just how amazing it was. It’s crazy how many days make me laugh and smile and think, how many days have a little bit of me helping someone else and someone else helping me, how many days see me witnessing and participating in the best and hardest moments in an ever growing number of lives. This isn’t meant to say that any other way of life is worse than this or bad at all; this post is for me to simply say that the practice of Mormon discipleship is a truly wonderful way to live.
For numerous specific anecdotes of exactly what I’m talking about in the daily lives of ordinary Latter-day Saints, please check out the series of posts tagged “on the sweetness of Mormon life” over at the excellent Junior Ganymede blog. Dip into any of those slices of homemade gourmet living and you’ll find your heart filled with a rich light.
The most recent entry:
An old cowboy bears his testimony. he is being released from the bishopric. It is his 3rd bishopric. He cries when he speaks. He say’s he’ll miss the friendship. His successor is a dirt contractor who “grew up rough.”
The first speaker says he’d been working at the temple a few days back. The Temple President came and pulled him from his duties. Unusual. “We need help in the baptistry.” There was only a father and son. Also unusual. They ran a session of baptisms for the dead and then confirmations for the dead, with just the Temple President and the speaker and the father and the son. Very unusual. The father was fighting back tears.
After, the Temple President explained. The son had turned 12 that weekend. A day or two later, the man received his 7-day notice that he was ordered to Afghanistan for one year. The temple had made special arrangements so he could do his son’s 1st baptisms for the dead.
Or you could refer to this summary from the end of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for a remarkable parallel to the kind of life I have in mind:
A quick segue from the normal Mormon experience, but an important one: what are any of us doing in the 7 o’clock hour any given Sunday morning? Puttering around, if not still sleeping, right?
The average Mormon bishopric is already meeting at a church office by then, in suits and ties, discussing the physical and spiritual needs of people in their area, and planning how they can serve those needs for the people, purely from a desire to see others blessed with an even better life. I don’t know about you, but just knowing that absolutely floors me. It’s a very huge but a very quiet sacrifice made constantly and for the best of reasons. What great neighbors and friends these leaders are, throughout the world!
Every now and then, I see features in the news along the lines of “A day in the life of a Mormon missionary,” which is all fine and good. People know our missionaries. But they don’t know our leadership at all, much less our fairly anonymous local leadership. I’ve always thought that a jaw-dropping feature story might be called “A week in the life of a Mormon bishop.” But those poor reporters would be putting in some serious overtime!
In June, LDS Living excerpted some great thoughts from Jeffrey R. Holland, an Apostle, about “the inexplicable joy we can find in belonging to the church.” One little part:
It is an immensely satisfying thing to be needed in the body of Christ. Whether I function as an eye or an arm is irrelevant; the fact is, I am needed in this most majestic organism, and the body is imperfect without me. A popular singer made a small fortune reminding us that “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the restored ecclesiastical body of Christ, people do need people and everyone is welcomed. This includes (in Paul’s assertion) not only the attractive, talented, “comely” members, but also those of us who seem to have fewer gifts and face greater challenges, those who receive less honor and attention. In the Church of Jesus Christ “more abundant honor” is given to these. Every member matters, and the less favored member most of all (See 1 Corinthians 12:23-24).
For most of the first two decades of my life I attended one ward of the Church—the old St. George Fifth Ward. Now, after two more decades, it is a moving memory for me to sit all alone in that darkened red sandstone tabernacle so artistically crafted by loving pioneer hands. That is the meetinghouse of the “members” where I was confirmed into the “body of Christ.” That is where I went to Primary and first passed the sacrament as a nervous and uncertain deacon. That is the pulpit where I gave my first talk and the podium where I shook the hand of President George Albert Smith the year I was baptized. It was there that I sat spellbound in that ornate balcony as Elder Matthew Cowley brought the audience to both laughter and tears on a visit to our stake conference. I was hardly an eye or an ear then; more like a lash or a lobe, I suppose. But I was an irreplaceable member of the body of Christ.
Since then I have lived and loved and been loved in a dozen other wards of the Church, and the blessings of church assignments have taken me to many dozen more. But always and everywhere it is the same, whether in an open-air, hand-hewn South Pacific fale or the striking Hyde Park Chapel on Exhibition Road in London. Wherever I have attended church at home or abroad, it has evoked the same meaning of that beautiful old tabernacle where I was first part of the congregation. . . .
You should really read the whole thing.
I go to church every Sunday and get to see dozens of people I absolutely love. They cover a surprisingly wide range of backgrounds, interests, and personalities (today in church, a Native American man spoke and part of his message was singing his own prayer song for us–everyone had goosebumps).
These awesome people make me feel hopeful about the world, today and tomorrow.
I’ve been in this ward for 14 years. My first calling here was as an assistant cub scout den leader. The boys in that group are all now long since grown–some are returned missionaries, some husbands, some fathers, but all are good men. It was special and great getting to see them grow.
I see a lot of other people’s kids growing up alongside my own. It’s a big family community. I didn’t grow up in this church, and I never knew there could be so much love in the world.
This picture pops up on social media a lot:
The way I intend to do this is the way that many before me have: by centering my life in the church. When I see that quote, I think of all the time we spend getting ready for Cub Scout pack meetings, or preparing a family home evening lesson, or calling someone who hasn’t been to church in a while to see is they’re okay, or digging around online to find a census record for some ancestor from the 19th century, or inviting friends and neighbors to the Trunk or Treat at church, or getting up early to come help clean the church on a Saturday morning, or poring over the last General Conference to highlight the parts that really inspired us or challenged us, or mowing a lawn for a widow who doesn’t get to go out much, or babysitting your visiting teaching companion’s kids so she can go to a job interview, or trudging around town in a suit in July trying to collect fast offerings for those having a hard time but nobody ever answers their door anymore…or a thousand other things!
Actually, it all strikes me as heroic, sometimes epically so, sometimes comically. This is a pretty big life we’ve signed on for here, one that demands enormous sacrifice and effort…and heaping helpings of boredom and frustration.
But we all know the cliché of deathbed repentance, right? Ever notice that it never goes the other way, though? Nobody lies down to die and says, “I spent all those years going to church. Dang, wish I hadn’t done that.” This is a life that avoids regret as much as possible.
I’m going to turn 40 soon, and as I look back at my 20s and 30s, I find everything positive from adventure to contemplation and from excitement to serenity in this journey so far. I don’t dread middle age–I’m looking forward to it! I want even more of this breathtaking life, and I have this church, the Lord’s restored church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to thank for it. God bless this church, God bless this life, and may God bless you!