Putting our “Exception” on the Altar

Exceptions to the Rule. They crop up everywhere, don’t they? Nature, Math, English grammar. Always there … lurking. Just when we think we understand something, an exception pops up and we have to re-examine our thinking.  But do the exceptions make the rule “untrue”? Do we throw out the rule because there are exceptions to it?

Personally, I don’t think so.  When we begin to say that rules don’t exist, or shouldn’t be followed because of exceptions, then we delve into a space of chaos.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Everyone who ever  has lived on earth has sinned, so everyone needs to repent.

That’s a pretty inclusive rule!

Oh, wait. There is (at least) one exception.

Jesus Christ never sinned.

I think that the most interesting thing to go along with our discussion then, is that, though He  clearly was THE great exception to the rule, (like 0 in mathematics) He got baptized anyway.

So what does this teach us?

Before we go into that, I’m going to share a couple of stories.

Story # 1 –

When I was at Basic Training, I broke my leg, a stress fracture just under the right knee. I was in excruciating pain for several weeks. No one believed me and I tried to continue to “run through the pain”.  When we took our final PT test, I hobble-ran around the track and began to be lapped by all of the other soldiers.  The drill sergeants then realized that there was something real and horribly wrong and sent me to the Army hospital where an x-ray proved the break.  We still had several weeks of training left, and I began a strange routine of doing the best I could.

During PT one morning, my Drill sergeant yelled at me for doing the exercises and made me sit and watch.  A few days later, when we were at a special camping training (bivouacking in the woods) I was chosen as one of the night guards because of my injury. Guard at night, sleep during the day.  Although, on one of those days, I went out for training with my platoon, at my drill sergeant’s behest. We were supposed to run through an open field (practicing the art of covering ourselves and our buddies). Each group went out and I lingered at the back (as running with a broken leg had proven not to be my thing.)  Then my Drill Sergeant told me it was my turn.

“But, Drill Sergeant Jones, remember? My Leg?”

“GO! I DON’T CARE! GO, MOVE, MOVE MOVE!!!!”

He could be quite persuasive, so out I ran, hobbling through the exercise, hoping that an enemy soldier wouldn’t “pick me off” as I went.  Hobble, hobble, hobble,  hide behind a tree, cover my buddy, hobble, hobble, hobble, run behind a rock, watch for enemy snipers – you get the idea.

The funny thing was that, as silly as I looked, I actually enjoyed being out in the field that day – injury and all.  It was such a relief to participate in something after being “held back”. The air was fresh. Movement was welcome to my body.  I felt unified and reconnected with my platoon again, and I never got hit by the pretend enemy! 😉

Story # 2 –

When I was in my twenties, I became the Laurel adviser in my ward (that means that I was the teacher for all girls aged 16-18 in my area). I began to teach them, that though they wanted to get married – which every Mormon girl wants of course, [note that’s the general rule, not the exception] 😉 sometimes marriage didn’t come as fast as we planned, and that they should have a something else in mind for life without nuptials.

As it turns out, all of the girls in my class got married before I did.

I thought that “marriage doesn’t come right away” was the “new rule”, because it was so in my case (and, after all,  it is the teaching of mainstream American society).  It turned out that I was the exception, and that in that class, the original rule (that most Mormon girls get married young) was in full force.

So now, let’s get back to our discussion above, about the Savior and His baptism and introduce a BIG, GIANT, sticky problem.

What do we do in gospel living when we are the exception to the rule?   Does it make the rule “untrue”? Do we throw out the rule for everyone in the whole church simply because I am an exception to it (or because exceptions exist)?

The scriptures teach us that we are to follow the example of the Savior. (See this link for a plethora of scriptures about this teaching.)  Here is one of my favorites –

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (1 Peter 2:21)

 WHAAAAT?

Are you saying, Laryssa, that if we are the exception to the rule, we are still supposed to follow the rule?

Yes, I am. Or at least, I am saying that if you can’t follow the rule, because of your exception, you should live as close to the rule as possible. Yes, I am Drill Sergeant Jones, pushing you out onto the field with a broken leg.

"'To fulfill the law,' said Jesus, when the baptist questioned why."

“‘To fulfill the law,’ said Jesus, when the baptist questioned why.”

Why?

For two reasons.

Reason #1.  Because of this great promise –

If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself (John 7:17).

That by doing, we will know and understand the reasons that God gave us the doctrine to begin with.  Then we can testify from our own experience about  A.) the truthfulness of the teaching, B.) why it is the doctrine of God, and C.) of the miracles that helped us live the doctrines even while in our exceptions.

Reason # 2.  Because, if we follow the example of the Savior, (especially in our exceptions) we will have the power to bless the human family in ways so powerful it is incomprehensible.

Just look at what the Savior wrought, by taking on sin as a sinless being.  He was the exception. His was an adult life devoid of sin. He had every right to enter into the Kingdom of God because He lived perfectly (see 1 Nephi 15:34,  3 Nephi 27:19, and Revelation 21:27) and yet, He gave up His “exception to the rule status” and took upon Himself our sins, and through that great and glorious Atonement, gave every single human being the ability to enter into the Kingdom of God, should they chose to accept it.

Now, that is phenomenal.

Each exception to the rule of life carries with it a huge burden and a huge opportunity.

So, how do you live as close to the rule as you can with such difficult problems? What are you expected to do? I don’t know, because your case (quite probably) is so very different from mine. But there is Someone who does know.  If you ask Him, He will show you with baby steps, and then sometimes, with grander steps, what is right for your unique and personal situation.

I will give a simple example from my life.

When I was a single sister in the church that teaches that Marriage is the ultimate design of both earth life, and of ALL ETERNITY, I found myself getting older and older without the opportunity (and I found that the rule was that most Mormon young adults were getting married and having those babies that I so desperately wanted – see story # 2 above).

I went through a period of anger and rebellion.  But then, because I loved God, I decided to try to live life in the gospel, even though my circumstances were not ideal according to the general rule.

Then, I went through a time when I demanded that every one, every religious talk and teaching about marriage (in conference or any other church function) bring up and recognize my own personal exception to the rule (and coincidentally, offer praise and comfort for my “amazing faithfulness”).

Finally, I came to a point in which, I began to realize the necessity of giving up my demands, and doing what the Spirit was prompting me to do – to testify of the importance of the family, without regard to my own personal exception.

I focused my thoughts and prayers on my relationship with God. When the pain, anger, or injustice came up, I prayed or sang a hymn, treating those thoughts as I would an immoral or upsetting thought – forcing them to leave my mind, rather than spending time dwelling on it,  “licking old wounds”.

In so doing, over time,  it took away the pain and anger.  It drew me closer to the Savior. It made me an effective Seminary teacher because I could teach without angry energy seething out of me. It put me in a position to be taught deeper truths about the doctrine.

And, OF course, not getting married young brought me these exceptional military stories that I am now able share with you. 😉

The years have passed. Eleven, to be exact, since I got married and started my own family. Now, I am asked to live with different set of exceptions to the rule.  Exceptions that I do not have the courage or the permission to talk about yet.  However, the Spirit whispers the same solution to those problems — follow the Savior.  Live the rule, or as close to the rule as I can.

We hobble, hobble, hobble, and hide behind a bush, hobble hobble, hobble, cover each other as battle buddies, hobble, hobble, hobble and watch for enemy snipers. It’s not pretty to watch. My husband and I don’t move as gracefully in the battlefield as other families that live without our exceptions to the rule. But, we are participating in the activity.

Yes, I am petty and wish for things to be ideal, but, I see miracles on a regular basis. Miracles that help us live as close to the rule as possible. I am learning the doctrines and finding that they bring joy. I can witness that following God’s ways and rules give me peace and great opportunities that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t live this way. And finally, hopefully, as you and I try to be more like the Savior, by placing our own “exceptions to the rule” on the altar, that sacrifice will bless lives, just as His did.

 

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Having Charity for God

Last Sunday, I was blessed to speak in church with my sister and brother (the speakers called out sick with only 24 hours of notice) and our bishop (my sister’s husband) called in favors with the three people in the ward that he knew would be eager and able to speak at such short notice.  When our bishop introduced the change, he said that his other option was to call up random ward members.  I got a big “thank you!” mouthed from a friend in the congregation. 🙂  Amazingly enough, for those of you that know my family, we ended the meeting two minutes early.  But, the most wonderful part about it all, was that it was my Dad’s birthday (he would have been 69) and I wonder if he was able to be there.

I wanted to share my talk here (again, slightly altered due to the change of formats).  We were assigned faith, hope, and charity and I got to speak on charity.  Some of it ties together with the talk that I gave at my dad’s  funeral (which was on the previous post) and so I thought I’d continue the conversation here.

Charity quote

My dad had a rule at my house that we were supposed to park into our driveway backwards.  From the time that I began to drive at age 16, that family law really bugged me.  I would constantly disregard the regulation, and sometimes even needle him about it.  For example, as a young adult, I was traveling in Washington DC and found some parking stalls with a posted sign that read, “Do not back in.”  I took a a silly-faced picture with it and, of course, gave it to him.  Over the course of the next few years, I rarely ever backed into the driveway at all.

One day, in sheer exhaustion, Dad said to me, “Laryssa, don’t you respect me at all?”

It touched me.  I began to think of what a little thing it was for me to do, and what it would mean to my dad if I began to follow it.  Since then, to show my love for him, I have been regularly backing into the driveway (except for that odd occasion when I know I’m going to run in and go out again soon). 🙂 

With that story in mind, I decided to talk about a different aspect of charity, that is, having charity for Heavenly Father.  There is a story in the scriptures that always touches my heart with compassion.  It’s when the prophet Enoch is talking with God who has shown Enoch all of His creations, and then begins to weep.  Enoch can’t understand it.  He essentially says, “You are God, why would you cry? You have made all of these amazing creations, creations without number, why then, are you weeping since you are, and have, and do so much?”

“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;” (Moses 7:32-33 emphasis added).

That idea just brings me to tears.

I am the primary chorister in our ward, and as I was trying to settle the kids down to sing the song, I am a Child of God, I told them that as a mommy, I go in every night to check on my babies.  I don’t want to wake them up, but I just love watching them sleep and thinking about how much I love them.  Then I asked the kids if they thought that maybe sometimes our Heavenly Father checked in on us from time to time, not wanting to disturb, but loving us.  Then I asked them to sing the song reverently.  A little Sunbeam (three-year-old) looked up and whispered, “Can we invite Him to come to our house tomorrow?”  That’s the faith and love of a child toward God.

But things happen as we grow into adults, which turn our hearts away and make us capable (and sometimes able) to sell God for silver and gold (see 3 Nephi 27:32).  A while ago, in a Relief Society lesson, the teacher said, “raise your hand if your life has turned out the way that you had planned.”  Not one hand went up.

So here we are, as adults, trying to deal with the plateful of mess – that combination of the consequences of our and other’s use of agency combined with the occasional “act of God” – that is our life.  In that state of disillusionment and unfulfilled dreams, we are asked to love our neighbor as ourselves and to have charity for all, as the Savior would.  When all we want to do is sit in a corner and lick our wounds, this challenge can seem daunting.

There is a way to do this (amazingly!) and it comes from something that Joseph Smith said, The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 428–29, emphasis added).

When we go through these experiences, we learn a measure of compassion that we could have gained in no other way.  As we draw near to our Father in Heaven, humbly submitting to His will even as a child doth submit to his father (see Swallowed up in the Will of the Father) we can learn those things that give us charity, and at the same time, draw from the source of all Light and Truth. But submission requires obedience, and as Elder Shayne M Bowen stated, (when talking to his children) “I don’t want to answer ‘why,’ I just want you to do it because you love me.”

So, perhaps we should pick our “parking in backwards” item, the thing that we hold back from our Father in Heaven, and begin to submit in that area, simply because we love and respect Him.  Then, as we have charity for Him, we will be endowed with the ability to love our brothers and sisters.