Sunday, July 29, 2012

Obedience Talk: A Seatbelt Story

In an effort to redeem myself a bit from my last posting which some consider to be a little irreverent, I am pleased to share a guest post from a good friend of mine just returned from an LDS mission in Italy. My friend, we'll call him Friend-B, gave one of the best homecoming talks I've heard. Without further ado, I present Friend-B's talk on Obedience:

Several years ago, as a young deacon, I would often get a ride to church from RL for Deacon’s Quorum Presidency meeting. I was always the last stop on the very short trip to church and, as RL will certainly recall, I would almost always find at least one person who hadn’t put on their seatbelt. And I would call them to repentance. It quickly became our weekly joke. And that is all it was—a joke. At that point in my life, wearing a seatbelt was just an uncomfortable rule imposed on me by my parents, backed up with words—meaningless to me—about safety. I would guess all of us, at times, have felt like it was a nuisance to dig up the lost seatbelt in the back seat, fumble around to put it on, and then be rooted in place for a seemingly risk-free drive. As a missionary I learned why my parents taught me such an obnoxious rule. *Mom, you might want to buckle your emotional seatbelt—you’ve never heard this story before.*

Just over a year ago, it was my first Sunday in Battipaglia and my first time with a mission car. A member in Policastro—about 2 ½ hours south of Battipaglia—had called us and requested a blessing. So we jumped in the car after church and set off. Thick clouds threatened rain, but all we got was thick humidity as we set off down the narrow and winding roads of Italy. I knew nothing of Italian traffic laws, so I left the driving to my companion and enjoyed the beautiful landscapes. Then, after over 2 hours, nearly at our destination, my companion took a curve just a little too fast. In an instant that seemed to last hours the car sped head-on into a concrete wall and was thrown violently into the air. It landed on its side—my window—sending tiny shards of shattered glass past my eyes as the car slid a good thirty feet down the road while spinning on its side. The car stopped. And then, hanging by my seatbelt just inches off the ground, completely unharmed, I knew why wearing a seatbelt was important. Suddenly a joke and annoying rule became a literal life-saver. To my parents and those of you who are devout seatbelt wearers, I say thank you for setting the good example. To the rest of you (and especially you, RL), wear your seatbelts.

Ok, so why all this talk about seatbelts and car accidents? First, you should know that for missionaries in Italy, wearing a seatbelt is not a law of the land, but a commandment from God found in the Missionary Handbook. It’s a commandment that, when obeyed, brings safety. When my mother told me countless times to wear my seatbelt, it was not out of a desire to keep me fixed in my seat, but rather out of love, for she knew much better than I the rarely-realized-but-ever-present dangers of driving in a car and didn’t want my physical safety put at risk—not even for the one-minute drive to church.

God is our loving Heavenly Father. When the Lord commands, it is out of love. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “It is important to understand that obedience is not simply a requirement of a capricious God who wants us to jump hurdles for the entertainment of a royal court. It is really the pleading of a loving Father for you and me to discover, as quickly as we can, that there are key concepts and principles that will bring happiness in a planned but otherwise cold universe.” (A Time to Choose, pg. 13-14)

When the Lord commands us to flee from drugs and alcohol, it’s not to keep us from a good time, but because He knows better the ultimate risks and consequences. He knows there are better times to be had. Now I do not think drugs and alcohol or others of the great and obvious commandments are among the most commonly misunderstood or violated commands here in Centerville, UT, so I would like to return to my original story to illustrate how obedience to every command, including those small and “forgotten” ones, can bless our lives.

As a missionary, the list of commandments to follow is quite long and one of them, listed under finances, reads “keep a reserve fund with enough cash that you could travel to mission headquarters if you were not able to obtain money through the normal way.” This was defined for our mission as always carrying 100 Euros in cash. This was an example of what I’d call a “small and forgotten commandment.” It was extremely easy to follow, but it always seemed that no one did. Excuses included things like “there are ATM’s everywhere, it doesn’t really need to be cash” or “I already spent all my money for the month on food and travel expenses.” In the hours following the car crash I learned why we had such a rule.

With our car far from drivable, we found ourselves quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Conveniently enough there was a mechanic with a tow truck not too far away and he was nice enough to drive us to the nearest city with a train station. This still put us over two hours from home, however. And to make things worse, we discovered that that day the train line we’d need to catch was on strike. And it started to rain. There was only one train that would be passing that night—an expensive Eurostar—and it would only take us to Salerno, where we could hopefully catch a bus home. Now Eurostar trains are nice, but they change what would be a 5 or 10 euro ticket normally into a 25 or 50 euro ticket. It was the end of the month and I’d just arrived in a city and zone known for the best cheese and best pizzas in the world, so naturally my companion had no money. Also, it was Sunday, and in this tiny little town there were no open banks or ATM’s. I’m so glad I had my emergency money.

When we begin to feel restrained by spiritual seatbelts or hindered by seemingly unnecessary commands, even ones like “be prepared,” we ought to remember that such commands and restraints are given to us with reason by a loving Father who truly knows better than us (D&C 38:9).

For each commandment, there is a blessing (D&C 130:20-21). If we wish to have complete happiness; if we want to have the joy that comes through Christ’s atonement completely in our lives, we ought to be obedient to all, not just a few, of God’s commandments. To quote Elder Lawrence Corbridge, of the 70, “There is only one way to happiness and fulfillment. Jesus Christ is the Way. Every other way, any other way, whatever other way, is foolishness” (The Way, Oct. 2008). How do we follow this “one way?” Obedience. What are we promised? Happiness and fulfillment. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through his atoning sacrifice, provided us a bridge from mortality to immortality. President Monson once taught that he also provided us with “the bridge of obedience,” a bridge that, when taken, promises salvation and eternal life, among other blessings (The Bridge Builder, Oct. 2003, see also 1 Nephi 22:31). Our mortal journey is rarely one of a wide, newly-opened and downhill freeway to success, but more frequently we find ourselves on foot in difficult terrain. Fortunately, Christ knows of the pitfalls and chasms we face—indeed he has already walked our path—and at these dangerous and potentially fatal pitfalls He built us bridges that guarantee safety for the tired travelling soul. These bridges are marked most commonly by the Lord’s commandments and direct us saying “this is the way, walk ye in it” (Isaiah 30:21).

Unfortunately we often don’t heed such warnings, thinking ourselves somehow exempt and we blindly claim to know a better path, not recognizing the treacherous pitfalls below. We say to ourselves, “That bridge is for the weak and bill bring no fun or thrill.” We make our own path and then, when we least expect it, we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Let us remember that no thrill of disobedience can ever match the inner peace and happiness of righteous obedience, nor are the risks of disobedience ever really worth taking. Sure, I can drive thousands of times without an accident, but that will never change the saving power of a seatbelt the one time that there is one. We might go 50 years without a need for food storage, but that will never diminish the blessings of having it in the one year that money and work come short. This same principle can be applied to our duties as Home and Visiting Teachers, quorum advisers, primary teachers, and even simple “examples of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Our diligent service in church callings may often seem unnecessary, especially here, where we are generally called to help those who already get by, or at least seem to get by, both temporally and spiritually on their own. This fact, however, does not diminish the blessings we can be in the lives of these people when their times of need do come—times of need, one should note, that are rarely visible on the surface. And I might add, the blessings from our obedience to these commands and duties may not be recognized immediately. We may not find out for months, as I found out just weeks ago, that someone we simply offered service to on the street one day and never saw again, ended up being baptized. For years the K____s were my home teachers and probably never realized the impact they had on me. They easily could’ve decided other things were more important, thinking certainly their regular visits had little effect on a family that already was as active as ours was. However, looking back, I can trace many of my life’s lessons and much of my desire to serve as a missionary and home teacher to their visits and specifically R’s example. The same could be said of many of you here today—friends, family, and leaders—who helped me by teaching and example in my countless moments of “invisible” need without realizing the help you gave me.

Obedience brings forth blessings, for us as well as others, for it is through obedience that we become more like Jesus Christ—the perfect example of obedience. I, like King Benjamin, “would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness” (Mosiah 2:41). I believe the famous line of scripture “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear” refers to much more than an emergency preparedness merit badge and practiced fire drills (D&C 38:30). I believe it refers to a type of preparedness that comes through obedience—the only way to truly be prepared to meet our Maker (see Jacob 2:6). As said Elder Carlson of the 70, “faithful obedience, regardless of the apparent size of the task—[great or small]—will [always] bring the Lord’s guidance, assistance, and peace” (When the LordCommands, April 2010).

I’d like to return one final time to my original story and address all of you who were feeling bad for poor Elder Me, hanging by his seatbelt and stranded in a seemingly deserted rainy town. I’ll admit, that was an exhausting day. But I loved that day. Why? Perhaps because it provided me with a great illustrative story about seatbelt safety to share with all of you? I don’t think so. I believe that the true reason I loved that day was because we were prepared. I can still remember vividly the jokes we made and the laughs we had standing by the wreckage of the dying car with all its silly alarms ringing like some dying robot in a sci-fi movie. I still remember laughing at the irony of the rain and enjoying the cool air. I still remember how much fun we had teaching a group of youth about modern prophets on the train home and an old man on the bus.

This is the “blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments” (Mosiah 2:41). Obedience not only protects us from physical and spiritual harm, but brings us peach, comfort, and joy. It promises us the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, which will turn any day into a great one—even days when nothing seems to go right.

I’m so grateful to my Heavenly Father who gave me commandments to follow that have brought me happiness. I do not claim to have been or be the greatest example of obedience, but I do know that the lasting happiness I have today has come through the level of obedience I have had. It is thanks to obedience to simple commands like “read, ponder, and pray” that I stand before you today with a testimony of Christ’s infinite love for each of us. I remain very far from perfection—as do we all—but I know that, because of the only perfect man, all of us can be made perfect in Him if we but go unto Him and obey His commands (see 1 John 1:8-10 and Moroni 10:32). I know that Christ lives and has provided us with the “bridges” and “seatbelts” we need to find happiness in this life and eternal life in the life to come. He guides us to these bridges through modern prophets and inspired local church leaders today. I pray that we might all heed God’s counsel and follow His path, the only path to eternal life, and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Thank you for sharing this, Friend-B. And thank you for your missionary service.

1 comment:

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