Monday, August 26, 2013

Farewell Talk

Brief explanation: I'm not sure what bar/bat mitzvahs are like, but my friend once described a missionary farewell as a Mormon bar mitzvah - there is the element of coming of age as well as celebrating an individual's spiritual journey by having friends, family, and the individual give prepared addresses. I thoughtfully and prayerfully worked on this talk for about a week, and I am sharing it with you to give a glimpse of what I anticipate missionary service meaning to me.

I absolutely love to read the scriptures. One of my favorite things about studying the scriptures is I inevitably find ways to be a better person—a better friend, a better sister, a better daughter. Recently, I have been thinking about the idea of “stand[ing] as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places” as elaborated in Mosiah 18:9, and a phrase I heard, quite literally, hundreds of times in Young Women’s. Since deciding to go on a mission, the ideas of “standing as a witness” and volunteering to do so “in all places” has taken on a new meaning.
For instance, in May, when I put in my mission papers, or sent a request to be assigned a place to serve a mission, I had no idea where I would be going. Missionaries are sent to places as exotic as Mongolia, or as ordinary as Kansas, so it really could be anywhere in the world. 
Pondering where I thought I would be assigned to serve, I had the following realization: Sure, my mission call would be telling me WHERE I would be spending 18 months of my life, but it wouldn’t be telling me HOW I would be spending those 18 months. The only person who could decide that was me. Would my kindness and the way I treated others be a witness of Christ’s example? Or would I selfishly think of myself? Would I stand up for what I believed in at ALL times and NO MATTER where I was? Or would I step down when the going got tough? In short, would I be willing, truly, to stand as a witness of God, always, and no matter where I ended up?
These questions and the idea of standing as a witness, as I have realized, is what a mission is all about and what makes it worth it. It doesn’t take much work to choose to serve a mission – just a phone call to your bishop and you can begin filling out the papers. It takes a little bit more work to choose to go through the paperwork and interviews and doctor’s appointments necessary. But choosing to stand as a witness of your God and your religion? That takes the most work of all. It is a lifelong endeavor, and because it requires daily, incremental changes, it is the one that allows for the most transformation of your character. I have chosen to serve a mission, and more than that, I am choosing to be a disciple of Christ.
What exactly does discipleship entail? To me, being a disciple of Christ means that I am working on becoming more Christlike. Standing as a witness means standing as an example of Jesus Christ’s character and his love. So let’s break that down a little bit further: what are some of the key principles we need to learn and internalize in this path to being like Christ?
First and foremost, one of the primary principles of Christ’s teachings is faith. It is a topic that has especially stuck out to me as I have been preparing for and writing this talk. 
My understanding and perception of faith have shifted quite a bit over the years. When I was young, I thought faith was an impossible thing – not something I could achieve. I remember a primary teacher reading the scripture Matthew 17: 20 to our class, which promises that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (which is, as I learned, is very small), it is enough to move mountains. I wanted to have the kind of faith that could do miracles like shut the mouths of lions or survive fire unscathed or raise someone from the dead, but try as I might, I just couldn’t do any of those things. 
Even the more ordinary type of faith that people demonstrate when they say they KNOW that the church is true (in a talk or a lesson) seemed like it was out of my reach. I felt that I could not honestly say that I knew. As I grew, I slowly transitioned from “I don’t know” to “I think so” to “I believe” to “I know”. It is only recently that I realized that faith—my desire to believe—was something I had had the whole time, and not merely at the end when I reached the point where I could say that I KNOW. Let me reiterate that. I showed faith in my desire to believe and my persistence in seeking confirmation of what I believed. 
In the book of Alma 32:21, the prophet Alma speaks about faith. He says, “faith is NOT a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen which are true” (Alma 32:21). As I see it, this is because faith is, in fact, what precedes knowledge rather than knowledge itself. When you have faith, you are acting on things you might not know, but that you believe, or HOPE, to be true. Even though it is great to desire to KNOW for yourself if things are true, I want to reassure you that it is alright sometimes to admit, much like the man who approached Jesus for a healing, saying,  “Lord, I believe: Help thou my unbelief” (CITE), that we don’t know everything.
Just as you don’t have to claim to know to have faith, neither do you have to wait until after living a long life of righteousness to say you have faith. Faith is what gets you to take the first step down the path. And the second. And in fact, it is what motivates you every step of the way. For me, faith is the thing that motivated me to go on a mission, and it is the thing that will motivate me to be hardworking throughout my mission.
One of my favorite hymns, Lead Kindly Light, describes a similar idea quite beautifully. I recommend you read or listen to all of it (BYU Vocal Point did a beautiful version), but I will just read a selection: “Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see / the distant scene, one step enough for me.” Just as the author of this beautiful hymn, I feel that faith is trusting that each step you are taking (whether that is attending a church meeting, or reading the scriptures, or praying, or helping uplift others around you, or any of the many good choices you can make) is ultimately a step in the right direction. 
This also reminds me of another favorite scripture of mine (you may be noticing a trend here – I have a lot of favorites when it comes to verses of scripture or songs!), Proverbs chapter 3 verses 5 to 6, which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all they ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy path.” I love this verse because it conveys the idea of trusting God, even when you don’t know the outcome, as well as promising that the blessing of such faith is having the direction of a divine, loving, Heavenly Father along our paths. Wow. What a beautiful promise!
Living a life where you follow the example of Jesus Christ, earnestly believe, and act in faith, also allows you to have mental peace in the midst of turmoil, changes, or hardships because you can return again and again to the reassurance that you are doing the right thing. Likewise, it gives you the same peace Jesus promised his disciples right as he was about to die, when he said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27) – namely the peace of the Holy Ghost.
Which brings me to my second point: to stand as a witness, you must also seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost, which conveys what Heavenly Father wants you to do, and follow these instructions. Generally, this is through thoughts (I’ve had whole phrases or sentences pop into my head) and feelings.
For instance, the other day, I was sitting on the couch after dinner, doing something on my computer while my mom did the dishes. As I sat, I kept having a nagging feeling that I should go help her in the kitchen. It took a long time – I hadn’t realized that she had gone to the grocery store that day and had a lot of food to sort out and put away in addition to nightly dishes. While I’m sure my mom was grateful for my help, I realized that I had benefited from listening to this urge to help her – I appreciated her more and loved her just a little bit more. 
Such stories seem trivial or even trite if you have been hearing them your whole life, but it is little decisions like these where your faith is really tested and it is the cumulation of such experiences that builds a testimony. 
So often, we confuse divine for grand – we assume that God can only be involved in the magnificent, the majestic, the powerful. While that is true, he is also involved in the mundane, the ordinary, and the trivial. 1 Kings 19:12 describes this paradox in an interesting way: “a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” 
We expect to see God in the miraculous or powerful, but sometimes, all we get is a “still small voice”. We may expect to be part of some grand, miraculous work, but perhaps all we get to do is be a small part, following a small piece of guidance. Each person, regardless of how large or small their role is, is important.
I would like to close by sharing a brief testimony. I know that Heavenly Father loves us. I know that he desperately wants to help us grow and learn and ultimately be able to return to him. He wants to speak to us, and through the Holy Ghost and personal prayer, we can both hear and speak to him. I know that through Jesus Christ, we can be forgiven of our sins, and we can change to become more like him. I know that there are prophets on this earth today, and that this church is the true path to Christ. I know because I have lived it, because I have prayed about it, and because I have received an answer so sure that I cannot claim otherwise.

I am so grateful that I was lucky enough to be raised a member of this church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am so excited to share what I have learned and studied and what I know to the people of El Salvador. I testify of these things, in the name of our dear savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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