Originally shared in Sacrament Meeting, Laguna Creek 4th Ward, 5/18/13
In a far away corner of the Pacific, lies a dormant volcanic island, rimmed in cliffs and covered with jungle. In that jungle is a most peculiar switchgrass with wide blades that are long, flat, and thick with sap. When slowly heated the sap will ooze out, coating the grass and making it impervious to water and wind – nature’s very own weatherproofing spray.
On the same island is a certain type of tree that the locals call “bois de fer”…literally “iron wood”, named for its exceptional hardness. It doesn’t burn, doesn’t bend, is very difficult to cut. It feels like it’s made out of solid steel, and is just as heavy. Once planted in a hole in the ground, iron wood just doesn’t move.
The Melanesian natives have been crafting huts of switchgrass and ironwood for thousands of years. Solid ironwood frames covered in a switchgrass walls and roof, with small fires inside. The heat would coax out the sap which would cloak the entire hut, rendering it completely weatherproof. I lived in one for a time as a missionary, and when cyclones blew through and the rains came down and the floods came up, other buildings made of concrete and metal washed away but the native huts built on a solid foundation stood still.
In order to survive, the Natives knew 1 simple rule: build your home the right way and it will get you through anything.
They taught this to their young ones from a very early age. We’d see kids building smaller huts or canopies on their own, practicing how to get just the right wood and weave just the right grass. They knew that everyone was expected to know for themselves how to build their own hut. Each would be shaped just a little differently, no two were identical, and nobody would make it for you – if you wanted to survive in the jungle, safety and shelter were your first priority.
Even though having a solid hut was a really big deal, they didn’t always get it right. Sometimes a wise tribal elders would help point a mistake or a flaw that could be fixed. Sometimes they wouldn’t know how strong their hut was until a storm came blowing through. And sometimes it just took a lot of patient evaluation by the builder himself, carefully probing out each side and joint and grass bundle, finding the flaws and leaks and fixing them before they got bigger, even if it meant tearing it out down to the studs and rebuilding it from the ground up.
I learned much from those humble and wise people.
I found that my efforts to live as a disciple of Christ and build an edifice of faith was kind of like building a hut and followed a lot of the same patterns. Like them, we don’t always get it right the first time. Sometimes life will storm its way in, testing us to see just how strong we are as it piles on tragedy after trial after test, wearing down our mental and spiritual fortitude. Or perhaps some days we’ll have a trusted friend, a little wiser or more experienced, to help us see things differently, expands our perspective, change our world view, and reveal long hidden weaknesses or opportunities to improve. Or sometimes spiritual cracks appear of our own volition as we give in to weakness and sin and violate God’s laws to the pain of our very souls.
Sometimes we need to be rebuilt, even if it means tearing our testimony down to the very studs, and rebuilding from the ground up. Perhaps that is was was meant by having a heart not just sorrowful, but broken…a spirit not just embarrassed or humbled , but fully contrite.
Perhaps the Son of the Carpenter can’t really build us up until we’ve been thoroughly broken down.
One way or another, accepting our need to reconstruct broken or incomplete faith can be an ennobling, empowering event. Having to rebuild is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith; to the contrary, it is one of the greatest manifestations of faith to genuinely introspect and painfully admit “Lord I believe; help thou my unbelief.” As Jeffry Holland recently proclaimed “When those moments [of doubt or troubling uncertainty] come and issues surface…hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes…..I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.”
Oh it is wonderful that Christ would care for us enough to die for us, to extend His mercy to help us not only overcome our mistakes, but also to allow us to make them in the first place. A model of this is shown here every Sunday, in our most public ritual, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Notice that whenever a young man gets the words wrong, no alarms go off, no public penance or emotional flogging is required. He simply starts over and tries again and once he gets it right, life goes on without a second thought. His mistakes diminish neither the ceremony nor the officiator nor participants. And we who say “Amen” do so not out of righteous perfection, but because our flaws and weaknesses are still being repaired…we have all fallen short and now seek Christ’s healing grace. As Dieter Uchtdorf once said “the heavens will not be filled with those who never made mistakes, but with those who recognized that they were off course and who corrected their ways to get back in the light of gospel truth.”
We can take solace in knowing that we are allowed to get it wrong, both individually and institutionally…because He who loves us all got it oh so very right. And that it is truly through His grace that we are saved, after all that we can do.
We may find a need to deconstruct what we previously “knew” before we can rebuild. Sometimes we “must unlearn what we have learned”. Our notions of our roles in life, the nature of prophets and leaders, elements of our doctrine and history, even our understanding of the God we worship and our relationship with our Heavenly Parents themselves should be periodically re-evaluated, and if need be, removed and replaced with that which is stronger, deeper, and more able to weather life’s storms. Perspective and paradigms can be perfected and polished. That is the essence of discipleship – staying true to what we know and a constant yearning for the greater light and knowledge our Godly Parents promised to send us, and a willingness to take in that newness and let it change who we are.
CS Lewis once quipped that we should “imagine [ourselves] as a living house.” And the moment we decide to be a Christian disciple, “God comes in to rebuild that house. At first perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to?
The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage; but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” (Mere Christianity)
So please – don’t be afraid to deconstruct and rebuild.
And as we do, let us remember that He who is the author and finisher of our faith is the “stone [that shall be the] great, and the last, and the only sure foundation upon which [we] can build”.
It’s worth clarifying the difference between believing in the Church and believing in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There’s a difference in following along in the LDS organization versus following The Organizer. There is a difference between being a cultural Latter-day Saint versus being a true disciple of our Savior. There is a difference in being baptized a Mormon at 8 years old, versus having intentionally sought out God’s truth and actively deciding ‘here I make my stand. I sign my name on the line, raise my hand to the square and I am now enlisted till the conflict is over…’. Somedays Church life may be nothing more than habit or repetition…and other days, when we get it right, Christian living is a conscious choice borne of spiritual hunger and deep devotion.
While we thank our God for a prophet and apostles, we know that they are not the cornerstones of our belief – Christ is. While we may belong to His Church we know that its programs and policies and patterns are only means to an end. While we believe the scriptures to be the word of God, we also know they are not complete or even always accurate, and that God continues to speak to us and through us, notwithstanding our weaknesses. All these things combine to point us to Christ…they are individual bricks in the wall of our testimony of the Savior.
As Elder Holland recently said in Conference, “…be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we. And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work. As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fulness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all. Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving.”
One of the first missionary letters I received from my mom taught me this lesson in pure simplicity. In it she said “Ben, you have to realize that sooner or later, everyone that you trust will let you down.” This seems like a no-brainer! But that day it hit me hard as I realized that every leader, despite their inspiration or best intention, was still human and would still mess up. Upon whom then could I rely? Who is to be trusted or believed, if everyone has the propensity to be untrustworthy?
She answered: “Stay yourself on the Holy One of Israel, for He is the only one on whom you can permanently, eternally, rely.”
As Isaiah prophesied of Old, God would “lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation…” Let Christ be the center of our belief, and let the Holy Ghost help us understand how all that we have points and directs to Him.
We’re probably all familiar with the symbol of the Book of Mormon as a keystone that supports the arc of our doctrine. And while keystones are necessary for supporting such structures, they do not act alone, but are designed to redirect gravity’s pressure downward to the foundation, to the stones in the bottom corners. Thus The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion because it redirects us to Christ – it’s goal is not to be the central focus of our belief, but rather to set Christ center stage. Neither the Book nor its translator nor any other prophet or leader, living or dead, has more prominence in our faith and worship than does the Son of the Living God. All those things testify of Him, for He is to be our Rock and our Salvation.
As we seek to build a lasting framework of faith, some days we may lose the grand perspective of what we’re doing.
A story is told of a traveler who came upon a man laying brick. The traveler asked him what he was doing and the worker said “Oh, I’ve been hired to build a wall.” The traveler moved around the corner and saw another man working and asked him the same question. “What does it look like, we’re raising a church!” The traveler found a third man there, standing with a satisfied smile and looking up at the partially completed walls. “And what are YOU building” the traveler asked. The third worker turned to him with a smile and said “I am constructing a temple to my God.”
Do you ever have moments when you feel so caught up in the minute plans and programs and business of being a Mormon that you lose sight of whose we really are and to whom we are building our lives. Ever get so lost in the details of being actively engaged in a good cause that we forgo the perspective of Whose cause it is?
A recent documentary explored the notion of Christianity as it was perceived by non-believers, and an interviewer asked people “do your Christian friends really live what they believe? do they really follow Christ in all that they do and say?” Responded one person “well, I know that they’re Christian, but they don’t act any differently…they’re just really busy on Sunday.”
Our lives as disciples of Christ hopefully are defined by more than the pharisaical hallmarks of what we do or do not drink, what we wear or wont, how many inches of skin are showing or what we allow or prohibit on the Sabbath. The hallmark of discipleship is sincere Christian love, the kind of love where we accept and reach out to people around us because they too are children of God…regardless of what they believe. Godly perspective is so easily lost amongst the concern for the outward appearance of faithfulness.
Some days it may feel like we’re just building a wall. And other days, if we are quiet, we may remember we are constructing of our lives a temple to our God.
And these temple-lives are not merely for ourselves, but for generations to follow. As the greek proverb states “a society grows great when old men and women plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”
So too do I struggle to remember that my testimony is not just for me, but also for my children’s children’s children. I’m a parent, yes, but I’m also raising my grandchildren’s mother, and everything my wife and I try to teach her will, one way or another, also teach them. For the future is not something that just happens to us…it is something we create. My faith journey is only made along bridges laid down by those who have gone before…and so too do we lay markers, pointing to the Cornerstone, so that “our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins”.
I hope we can find and keep that eternal perspective.
And finally, we must trust in the patterns He gives us to help us weather the storms.
We must fully expect that life and the universe and everything will come crashing down on us. Discipleship is never a free pass from struggles, and while wickedness never was happiness, well, righteousness never was problem-free. The Lord maketh the rain to fall on the righteous and on the wicked and when our lifeboats feel swamped we will likely cry out “Master, carest thou not that we perish?”…or from the bitter frozen dungeon of our own liberty jails “How LONG oh lord shall we suffer these wrongs and oppressions before thine heart be softened towards us?”
And it is then in the depths of our despair that we may hear His voice calling to us, lovingly, softly, and distantly… “my son…my daughter…peace be unto thy soul.
“Though thine afflictions seem
At times too great to bear,
I know thine every thought and every care.
And though the very jaws
Of **** gape after thee… I am with thee.
And with everlasting mercy will I succor thee,
And with healing will I take thee ‘neath my wings.
Though the mountains shall depart,
And the hills shall be removed,
And the valleys shall be lost beneath the sea,
Know, my child,
My kindness shall not depart from thee!”
Brethren and sisters, shall we not go forward in so great a cause?
If we build our foundations in eternal stone, we can weather any storm.
Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.