This post is a confession, and like most confessions, I am not proud of myself. The title of this article will be explained later. I feel constrained to share what I recently learned about myself, and more importantly, about the Lord, from a dream I had. This is all about doing good for others, but for the right reasons.
I am driven by a need to be useful. Whether I am at a job, in Church, at home, in a relationship, I always feel a great need to feel useful. That makes one of my greatest fears the idea that something will happen to me and I won’t be needed by anyone, and won’t be able to contribute in any meaningful way. I tremble at the thought of feeling completely useless.
As I approach old age, I see others around me struggling with this same issue. They used to be the movers and the shakers, heads of their own companies, leaders in the community and in the Church. Now they are retired, and are lucky if anyone recognizes that they made it to Church on Sunday. This can be a very tough part of mortal life. Honestly, every part of mortal life can be tough, I’m just facing the last part at the moment.
About eleven years ago, in 2009, or thereabouts, Elder Ballard spoke at BYU-Hawaii where I lived and worked, and told us we needed to go online. We needed to join the global conversation about the Church and gospel of Christ. People were talking about it anyway, so why weren’t the members of Christ’s Church online discussing it with them? The online community needed our testimonies, our input, and our experiences. Truth needed to be present to balance all that those unhappy with the Lord’s Church were posting online. People needed to see both sides so they could decide what to believe.
I stewed over Elder Ballard’s words for a good three years. Finally, I couldn’t ignore them any longer, and one day I found my outlet for my frustration. I worked at the Entrepreneurship Center, and one of our visiting entrepreneurs specialized in online marketing. We had a long conversation about what I was feeling and thinking, and he said he would be my mentor if I was willing to follow his instructions.
This got me started in the world of online publishing and posting. Up to this time I knew absolutely nothing about Facebook, Twitter, blogging, websites, etc. I visited them, but I had no idea how to design a website and use it. About July 1, 2013 I began posting my first articles to my new website, mormonbasics.com. I thought I was going to explain the Church teachings to people outside the Church using simple examples and my own experiences. Over time I realized that there were others more suited to that task. My strength, apparently, was in explaining the gospel to the members of the Church.
I had taught Gospel Doctrine, High Priests, and Gospel Principles for more than a decade, mostly all at the same time. What I learned was that everyone from all three of those groups had the same basic questions and difficulties in processing and understanding the gospel of Christ. I realized that talking about the gospel of Christ is my greatest passion.
Seven years later
I may not be the brightest star in the sky. I may not be the sweetest banana in the bunch, but I am doggedly persistent. For the last seven years I have written my articles as they came to me, often in the middle of the night. I would come straight out of bed with an article in my head. I couldn’t go back to sleep until I had written it down. Some weeks I would write up to four or five articles about different subjects. I started doing commentary on the lessons for Sunday School and for the Priesthood/Relief Society lessons. And my commentary still takes up the lion’s share of my time and energies.
My mother’s most consistent comment to me is that she is amazed I haven’t run out of things to say. I share that opinion. Each time I feel like I have recorded all I have in my head and my heart, something else presents itself and presto! another article is born. I am nearing one thousand articles now. I have commented on all four years of Sunday School lessons, and have gathered and published each year’s commentary into a self-published book. I am now in my second year of continuing that process with Come, Follow Me lessons.
Yet for all of that, I have felt unnoticed, unappreciated, unheard. Only rarely do I hear a person make mention that they appreciate my writing or that they have learned from what they have read in my materials. For the most part I have been writing in the dark, with no recognition, no recompense, and no acknowledgement that what I am doing is making any difference in anyone’s life. I continue to write because I need to write. I don’t know what I would do if I were to stop writing. This is how I am trying to stay useful in my imposed retirement.
The confession part of the confession
Now you know what I have been doing for the last seven years. You know I feel a driving need to be useful and relevant in some way. I loved teaching my Gospel Principles class, but I felt I needed to reach far more than just the one to two dozen who frequented my class. I wanted to feel like I could share myself with thousands.
My monthly visitors to the website, now called https://gospelstudy.us (we don’t use Mormon anymore), are about the size in number of a full Stake worth of members. But my readership is global, as I have readers in countries all over the world. But most who read just read and move on. I never know if what they have read has made a difference in their life. My vanity has long insisted that if I was really making a difference then I would have caught the attention of the Church leaders, or at the very least, those who are movers and shakers in the kingdom. Surely someone would have noticed by now that I have something important to say. Something of value.
Somewhere along the line I got it into my head that if someone in the center of the Church was not promoting my writing that what I was doing was for no purpose, for what possible good could a backwoods writer do in someone’s life if there was no recognition, nor acknowledgement of what had been done? This is what my vanity and my pride has been working on in me for years now. Somehow my worth depended on recognition from those whom I deem important in the Lord’s kingdom. I am ashamed to admit it, but that is the truth. I have continued to write, but I had lost hope that I was making any difference in the world.
A few days ago, less than a week before I wrote this piece, I awoke from a dream feeling thoroughly chastized and completely changed. In my dream I was complaining out loud that no one knew who I was. My voice was not important, that I wasn’t having any known impact in the lives of those I am currently living and breathing to influence in as positive way as possible. I was whining, basically. I was feeling sorry for myself, and was vocalizing my discontent freely to the universe. That is when I heard the voice.
I don’t make any claims on who the speaker was. I am sure it was just one of those epiphanies you have when you realize you have been an idiot, because you now see things for the way they really are. But this voice came into my dream as I was complaining about not being known by the leaders of the Church, and it said, “I am the leader of the Church. And I know what you are doing. The leaders in Salt Lake City don’t need to know what you are doing. They are busy with other things of importance. But I know what you are doing, and I know where your words are going, and that is enough.”
I learned some things in a real hurry. It is possible to go from spoiled to humbled instantly. It is possible to have your whole outlook on life redefined instantly. It is certainly possible to go from ungrateful to grateful in an instant.
What this experience has taught me is that the Lord truly is capable of doing His own work. If He is willing to work with a nobody like me, that means He is also working with many thousands, if not millions, of others all over the world to bring his purposes to fruition. The Brethren in Salt Lake City have very specific responsibilities they must answer for to the Lord, but they cannot be all-knowing and omnipresent like the Lord. The Lord accomplishes the bulk of His work through all of us plain and simple folk. All it takes is for each of us to be listening to the Spirit, and doing what we can to further God’s work in any way that is open to us at the moment.
The Lord has time for us to change. He has time for us to do what needs to be done. And if we don’t do what needs to be done fast enough for the timetable of the plan of salvation, there are other of His children who will do what needs to be done. He is patient, loving, and aware. Oh, so aware of us.
This is my confession. I was a fool, a vain and silly fool to think that anyone other than the Lord needed to know what I was doing. Yes, the world tells us that if we don’t have millions of followers or views on our posts that we are failures. But the Lord only needs our good works to be available, and He will lead those who need what we have done to find them, either personally, or through someone else who is aware of the good we have done.
We cannot see the ripples of good our efforts make in the pond of humanity, but the Lord can trace and follow every ripple, squeezing every drop of goodness out of our efforts in His efforts to bless the lives of His children everywhere. This is what I have learned.
What about you?
Have you ever gotten caught up in your own sense of self importance? Have you ever thought about where the good you do for others ends? And what about the Lord’s ability to use what we do, even the small acts of kindness, to change the perspective and feelings of another person? Can we really say that what I do today ends here? How many mothers have felt that their years of sacrifice and work for their family members was going unnoticed, only to see that same example of service played out in each of the lives of her children? How has the Lord been aware of you?