Monday, May 31, 2010

Finding purpose in the past... and moving forward

This week was still rough… but I had a better perspective. So it wasn’t nearly as bad as last week. Monday the Lord answered my prayers for a massive storm. I had prayed last Thursday for a storm… and, in my mind, asked for one big enough that the leaves and perhaps branches would fall of the trees. I was envisioning the massive windy thunderstorms of the Midwest – I feel safer and more loved in the middle of a thunderstorm than almost anywhere else. I know it’s strange to you. But not to me. It had rained the days prior, and leaves had fallen off of some of the trees, but on Monday we had a massive, wet snowstorm. Inches of snow piled up on the roads, cars, trees, and buildings. And, as I drove into Provo, I saw and heard branches cracking and breaking – falling off of trees that, the day before, had looked amazing. Road cleanup crews had truck beds full of tree branches… and there were definitely plenty of leaves that had been stripped from the trees as well. As I looked around me, I felt a wave of awe. The Lord had answered my prayer. Looking back, I’m not sure if the Lord told me what to pray for, or if He simply answered the desires of my heart. I’m not sure that there is much of a difference. Either way, I knew that He loved me and was willing to show it.

The storm wasn’t without its down spots, though. Along with breaking thousands of tree branches, the thick slush clogged the drain outside our storage unit. I hadn’t been there for weeks, but went on Monday to search for a library book. As I entered, my heart sank in the half inch of water that lay on the ground. Everything was sopping wet. I just left. The reason why I put my stuff in a storage unit was to keep it safe and ensure that I would never have to move it until I found a more permanent home for it. Thankfully, when I came back Tuesday, most of the water was dried up (whether from the company or draining or evaporation I don’t know). I pulled out my sopping library books and returned them to the library. Thankfully BYU has a book restoration department.

The rest of the week was up and down. Monday I recorded a song with a friend from the MTC; it’s based on a talk that Elder Holland gave in General Conference and he’d like to give it to Elder Holland next month. We had recorded it once as a gospel/country song and the feedback from others was to make it more like a hymn. It sounds much more like a hymn now. Wednesday I picked up my car – the coolant thermostat, which activates the radiator fans, had gone out. But, later that day, the “Service Engine Soon” light came back on. I got the code checked – “System too lean.” It’s either a broken oxygen sensor, a clogged fuel filter, or something else. I’m going to try to replace the mass air flow sensor since that seems to be a problem with my car from online forums… and since right now my car won’t even start. And I don’t feel very useful at work. My bosses like having me in the office so that if something goes wrong or comes up, I can do it. One of them called me a ‘security blanket’ for the team. That’s sort of how I feel – when you’re cold, I’m really good at fixing the problem. Otherwise, I have very little to do that seems meaningful.

And then Sunday rolled around, with Church, choir, and the Lord yet again helping me to feel His love. I don’t know how to accurately express the feelings I have right now. Maybe a mix of awe, frustration, sorrow, faith, joy, and peace. Driving home I watched the sun go down along the mountains… and it was beautiful. I knew that God loved me. It was one of those moments where I remembered that I am a child of God – and that God created this world to enable me to come closer to Him. But it went further. I looked out the window and wondered if I needed to change my job so that I could spend more time outside among God’s creations. Should I travel to the far reaches of the earth to see the amazing things created by men and by God? Or should I stay close to home and try to recreate the beauty I see to share with others? But how could I ever create something beautiful when compared to the stars, the mountains, the sunrise, or the sunset?

I probably won’t become a park ranger, a landscape photographer, a geologist, or a hiking guide. But, nonetheless, the experience, as most do, pushed me to wonder what I could do better. Ultimately, most of my spiritual experiences lead back to the same prayer – the prayer that has been mine for longer than I can remember. What should I be doing in life? Am I going in the right direction? And, if not, which direction should I go? Sometimes I can already see the Lord’s hand actively in my life. I can see how the people around me, or the things I am doing, will help further His work in some way. But, most days, I look at the wealth of things He has given me and wonder. What on earth (literally) am I supposed to be doing here? A dozen BYU students were named National Science Foundation fellows shortly after graduation. Had I followed the route to physics research, that could have been me. Or so many other things. I just want to be doing the best things I can – not just the good things, but the best ones. But what are the best things in my life?

I know the answer to my question. The Lord has answered it at least a gazillion times – in my patriarchal blessing, in dreams, in the temple, and in conversations with complete strangers. A central reason to why I have my talents, my knowledge, my trials, and why I’ve been placed here at this time, is so that I can be a missionary. Every experience, every talent, every circumstance prepares and enables me to be a better missionary. And that’s the key to finding my purpose in life. Whether in my family as a father (someday), in the Church, or in the world, that’s where my happiness lies – in serving others, sharing the principles of the gospel with them, and helping them come unto Christ.

So I guess the prayer I pray isn’t really “what should I be doing?” – it’s “how should I be doing it?” And I know the answer to that one, too… Follow the guidance of the Spirit. That’s how you best do missionary work, how you are best able to meet the needs of others. That is the crazy frustrating part. I sometimes wish there were a formula I could follow to better meet my purpose in life and be a better missionary – something concrete so that I could chart my progress and work on its development. That’s actually probably why the Lord has me working at the MTC right now. We’re writing a curriculum to help missionaries be better missionaries, and I see parallels in my life and the things I need to do. I have personal experience wrestling with it on a day-to-day basis. Yes, there are some things that will work for some people in missionary work – hence why I write, sing… but, in most cases, you have to rely on the Spirit and follow its promptings to meet the needs of the people around you. Some days I wish my sole purpose in life consisted in accounting.

I guess it ends up being a prayer for faith – faith that the Lord will help me to accomplish His will, faith that He will help me know His will, faith to move forward. And so, dear Lord, help me have faith.

I’m not really sure if my life and struggles are normal. I guess no one is really normal – we are each different. Each of us has a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven… and He has designed life such that we can come closer to Him. And as we come closer to Him, He helps us realize and fulfill our purposes in life. This week, amid the stress of everyday life, the festivities of Memorial Day, working in the garden, and preparing for summer, I invite you to take time to remember the blessings the Lord has given you and to speak with Him. There is no formula that will tell you what is most important in life – but the Lord will tell you (at least, partially) if you ask Him. Go out and be missionaries!

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