To Try Again, and Then Again

Dear Will:

I am in such bad shape. I haven’t had any sort of formal exercise program for years because (I told myself) my obligations as an early morning Seminary teacher made it impossible for me to work in a workout. So I’d hike the hills from time to time, but other than that I did little else but sit at my desk each day watching my waistline get doughier and doughier. My wife even took to calling me Jabba. (Not true, but I kept expecting it.)

Well, the Seminary excuse is dead, so I’ve little choice but to start exercising. I won’t bore you with my unimpressive plans, but I will say this much: One thing I did was download an app that creates randomized exercise routines that take little time, space, or equipment. (You gotta start somewhere, right?) So yesterday, with a bit of trepidation, I fired up my iPad and gave it a go.

It was everything I expected it to be. Which is to say, it was dreadful. I had neither strength nor stamina nor the internal fortitude to push through the lack of strength and stamina. My body was so traumatized by actual activity (Hey! What’s this all about?) that it took me as long to recover as it did to perform the rudimentary calisthenics. It was awkward. Painful. Embarrassing.

But you know what? Later that day it was kind of nice to feel the sort of residual stiffness that comes from exercise. And today? I’m sore all over, but it’s a good sore. An encouraging sore. Motivating even. I’m feeling eager to get back at it and reclaim a little dignity along with a couple of pairs of pants I no longer take off of the hanger.

As with any previously inactive dude who makes a few feeble attempts at working out, the test will be whether next year or next month or next week I’m still at it. It does get easier, right? And it does, eventually, bear fruit. That’s what we know from experience—and what we promise ourselves when we first set out. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have no delusions of appearing on the cover of Men’s Health. But becoming a few pounds lighter would be a good thing. And having the sense of  vigor that comes from regular exercise would be even better.

So what does any of this have to do with you? This: If you ever ponder coming back to the church you once loved, it may be awkward at first—uncomfortable even. That part is perhaps unavoidable. But if you’ll stick with it, I promise that we’ll minimize that discomfort for you. And at the end of that first Sabbath morning when you find yourself at home considering what just happened, I’m confident that you’ll feel encouraged—motivated even—to try again, and then again, persisting until your power (and inclination) to do has increased.

Ultimately, the benefit of reigniting faith far outweighs the trepidation you may feel about starting again. President David O. McKay once said: “Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite. Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one’s faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life’s sublimest experiences.”

Will it be easy? Maybe not. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. So come and join us. You’ll be glad you did. And so will we.

PW

That They Shall Not Have Died in Vain

Dear Will:

It’s Memorial Day weekend, but it hasn’t felt much like a holiday around here.  We recently installed some cabinets in our garage, which meant that first I had to spend several evenings culling through our “stuff” and piling everything that was worth keeping into a heap in the middle of the garage.  It then took me two full days to assign the various heap units to their new homes.  The garage looks great (it won’t last, I know; but for a few days we’re indulging the fantasy).  Still, I can’t wait to get back to the office so that I can relax.

As I pulled out my flag to commemorate the holiday, I found myself thinking about patriots.  The great patriots of the world have demonstrated a clear sense that the collective is more important than the individual.  They understood that in the fight to establish or preserve freedom for a nation, the focus cannot be on “me” or “mine,” but rather has to be on “us” and “ours.” Consider the words of Moroni, the great Book of Mormon patriot, which he hastily scrawled but carefully chose as he placed them on the Title of Liberty.  “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children,” it read (Alma 46:12).  That banner became a rallying point for a nation, its message a rallying cry for a people.  It reminded the Nephites that they had something worth fighting for.

Moroni’s selfless leadership also reflected an understanding that in order to achieve great things it would be necessary to give up, or at least place at risk, some good things.  That’s why often, when we speak of glorious patriots, we also speak of tragic death.  Because, as Emerson said, they “[dared] to die, and leave their children free.” A couple of years ago, my wife Dana and I enjoyed one of the most moving Sabbaths of our lives.  After attending church in downtown Washington D.C., we set out for an afternoon of quiet reflection at the various memorials in and around the capital, each one paying homage to patriots, both famous and obscure.  We watched visitors take rubbings from that great wall of the Vietnam Memorial.  We were moved by the drama of the Korean War Memorial.  But nothing was so moving as our trek through Arlington National Cemetery, with its rows upon rows of nondescript gravestones, each paying tribute to a life given up for country.  We witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and watched reverently as the honor guard marched 21 steps up, 21 steps back, 21 steps up, 21 steps back—each step honoring the many unnamed men and women who have died defending our country.

Patriots such as these have knowingly faced the ironic truth that in order to preserve our lives and families, we may have to temporarily or permanently forsake them.  It’s a truth that Jesus himself taught.  “For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it,” He said, “and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it”  (Matthew 16:25).  Jesus also said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).  It’s what Abraham Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”  It is the ultimate sacrifice, an act of selflessness that cannot be matched: sacrifice made often in the face of staggering odds; selflessness that defies reason.

What of us then?  Perhaps as we reflect on the great lives and deaths of patriots, we can once again find inspiration in the words of Lincoln, pronounced just months after the bloody battle at Gettysburg: “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say. . . , but it can never forget what they did. . . .  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated . . . to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we . . . highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain. . . .”

PW