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

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With Faith and Trepidation

Dear Will:

For the last seven years I have arisen before dawn every day of the school year to teach Seminary, the early morning religion class for somnambulant high school kids. It’s a curiously glorious assignment, one I have performed willingly and gladly since they first asked me to do it in 2007.

Since our church does not have a paid clergy, the whole, elaborate local operation is run by volunteers like me, most of whom do as they’re asked when they’re asked to do it. But we are not given the option of choosing our assignments—we are simply pulled aside and offered the chance to serve. And because we are committed, when we are invited to teach the five-year-olds or lead the choir or clean the chapel, our inclination is generally to say: Sure.

Of course, often we are asked to do things for which we have no true qualifications or training. We simply plunge in with a combination of faith and trepidation, learning as we go—sometimes at the expense of confused five-year-olds or thoroughly bamboozled altos and tenors. That alacrity to both serve and be served in spite of manifest ineptitude is consistent, I think, with the nature of Christ’s early church, which was run by a ragtag bunch of fishermen and tentmakers. They stumbled along, no doubt, but history shows that they were magnified in their task and the world is better for it.

It all brings to mind a favorite story. Peter and John, fairly new to this business of running a church on behalf of the Master, encountered a man who had been unable to walk since birth. Day after day his friends brought him to the temple gates to beg for coins to make his living. When the apostles stopped in front of him, the lame man expected that they would open their purses.

But he was mistaken. “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:6-8).

Peter and John may not have had much. What they did have was a willingness to give—such as they had. To give what they could and let the Savior compensate for that which they lacked. To bless another life—change it even—in spite of the fact that they were mere fishermen.

I bring this up to you now because I have been given a new assignment for which the term inadequate is itself inadequate to express my lack of qualifications. After this week, I will no longer be teaching sleepy teenagers in the morning because I have been called to serve as your new bishop, head of the entire ward congregation.

It’s a terrifying privilege to receive this assignment. I have not been blessed with great executive skills and I have no relevant professional or academic credentials. What I do have is a love for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for the people in our ward. I don’t expect to be particularly good at this job, but I take comfort in Christ’s ability to help us overcome our weaknesses (see Ether 12:27). If not for that, I wouldn’t have a chance.

It comes to that and little more. I really don’t have much. But such as I have, I’ll gladly give.

PW

No Ordinary Blessing

Dear Will:

I think I’ve mentioned before that I teach early morning Seminary. My class begins at 5:45 a.m. each school day. This year we are studying the Old Testament.

In preparation for this week’s classes, I have been reading about the prophet Enoch.  Although there are men in the scriptures who seem a bit inaccessible to me either because they’re too perfect or too superhuman (I’m thinking about Nephi and Elijah, for example), Enoch seems like my kind of guy. Uncertain. Deeply flawed. Human.

When God first told Enoch that he wanted him to go preach to the people, Enoch was full of very reasonable excuses. “Why me?” he said in essence. “I’m too young, nobody likes me, and I don’t talk so good” (see Moses 6:31). Something like that, anyway. Well, God sent him out nonetheless, and the early results were not very promising. We’re told that “all men were offended because of him.” Some said, “there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us” (Moses 6:37-38). (You can see what this new assignment did for Enoch’s popularity.)

Even so, Enoch persisted, and the people came around—and then some. So great was the impact of this one, humble man and his glorious message that “the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).

Imagine. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place with such a great group of people? And to think it was all made possible by a reluctant prophet—a man who thought himself so awkward and so unpopular that he tried at first to decline the assignment.

You and I may never have the opportunity to dwell in such a place, but fortunately we do enjoy the benefits that come from having a living prophet on the earth. This coming weekend, in fact, Thomas S. Monson will be addressing the world along with his counselors and the Twelve Apostles, men divinely appointed to share with us the will and word of the Lord.

Enoch’s followers had to go up into the mountains to hear his message. But you and I can hear a prophet’s voice without even getting up off of the sofa. If your receive BYU-TV through your cable provider (most of them carry it), you’re all set. And if not, you can always watch a live stream of the conference online. Just go to lds.org where you’ll find all kinds of options for hearing the words of the prophet in your own home. (Sessions run both Saturday, Oct. 1, and Sunday, Oct. 2, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. PDT.)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, reminds us of what a blessing it is to have a living prophet—and the miraculous technology that allows us to hear his words here in California even though he is standing and speaking hundreds of miles away:

“Our merciful and loving Heavenly Father has not forsaken and will not forsake His children. Today, as well as in times past, He has appointed apostles and prophets. He continues to reveal His word to them.

“What a marvelous privilege it is to hear God’s messages for each of us during general conference! Let us prepare well for this great blessing of divine guidance delivered by His chosen servants.

“For this is no ordinary blessing” (Ensign, Sept. 2011).

I’m looking forward to a great, inspiring weekend. As one who is himself deeply flawed and very human, I need all the help I can get.

PW