I really enjoyed this talk on an intellectual level. I liked the clear distinction that Elder Hallstrom made between the LDS church and the gospel of Christ. Here are the characteristics he describes of the two:
- it is "the glorious plan of God in which we, as His children, are given the opportunity to receive all that the Father has"
- it is "eternal life"
- it is “the greatest of all the gifts of God”
- it is "was established by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry"
- it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”
- "Jesus Christ was and is the head of His Church, represented on earth by prophets holding apostolic authority."
The main point that stood out to me in this talk was that activity in the church does not equal activity in the gospel. He points out that while activity in the church is greatly desirable, it is inadequate. He states that we need both the gospel and the church.
This got me thinking about the reverse - can we be active in the gospel without being active in the church? I have definitely wondered this before and went through a period of time when I believed the answer was yes. At that time in my life, I felt that going to church was more of a strain and drain on my spirit than an upliftment. I told my dad that and he said that maybe I wasn't supposed to go to church to be uplifted by others but that by going I might be able to help other people. I didn't understand that at the time, but I think I do now.
Exaltation is not a solitary experience. God intends for us to have eternal life with our families. He desires all people to be united in Christ.
Moses 7:18: "And 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."
That is what He desires for us. While we need to personally develop our spiritual attributes, such as faith, hope and charity, what God truly wants is for His people to be united with these same attributes. I didn't always understand that, and I know there is still more for me to understand. But I do see that God values unity among His people. Prayer and fasting in a group is often more effective than prayer and fasting alone and brings feelings of love and harmony to those who prayed and fasted together. I find spiritual guidance much quicker when I am asking how to help those around me than when I am asking for help myself. We are sealed together as families for all eternity. There is a reason for all these things: God wants us to be unified together. He wants us to be unified as a church as well.
At different times in my life, church has been different things. In my college wards, I felt that every Sunday I learned so much, felt the Spirit so much and was lifted up. This was great for me, because at the time, I really needed to build my own foundation of faith in the the church. Currently, I feel that I am lifting more than being lifted. And that is fine! That doesn't mean the church isn't true or that I should stop going because "what's in it for me?" I have a demanding calling being a teacher to 3 and 4 year olds. There are a lot of them and many of them are "difficult," even for their age group. I often come home from church utterly exhausted and without hearing the lessons from Sunday School and Relief Society that have so often buoyed me up. But, by being a good teacher to these children, I enable their parents to enjoy those lessons. And, even more important, by being a good teacher, who prays for inspiration in how to teach, I am helping build a spiritual foundation for these little ones. And I know that even if it feels that going to church is currently taking more of me than it is giving back, it isn't true. The peace I feel throughout the week when I go to church and try to do my best is more than recompense.
I relate to and understand people who feel that they don't want to go to church because they feel different or they dislike many opinions/viewpoints held by many members of the ward. I have been in meetings where things were said that have made me uncomfortable or that I didn't agree with. None of these things were church doctrine, just people's interpretation of the doctrine that I think they potentially got wrong or they misunderstood, due to immaturity or some other personal bias. No one perceives all truth perfectly, so I am sure sometimes my perception of things is wrong, too. But when I heard things said that I didn't believe, I used to think that a) meant the church wasn't true, b) that I shouldn't need to go to church, since those things weren't edifying me, c) that person was a jerk or prejudiced or crazy or something negative. Now that I've grown up a bit, I realize that the church is made of people who aren't perfect, but for the most part, everyone is trying to do their best. I have recently experienced a woman talking in church who said some strange things. Previously, I would have dismissed everything she said, but - while I did analyze everything she said with a grain of salt - I ended up sifting through the "crazy" and still being edified with many of the points she was trying to make. She is a good woman who is trying to do her best as she sees fit. Did I agree with or even believe some of the things she was saying? Not always. But I saw that many of her points were good and those were what I focused on. And one of her points even helped bring me comfort about my miscarriage. I would have missed that if I had simply dismissed her.
I also relate to people who don't want to go to church, because they are intellectual and feel like they are much smarter than the people who will be giving the talks and the lessons. I have felt this way before. But even if that was true (which I am not saying it is - I am often very prideful), that doesn't mean I can't get things out of it. How many times have we heard lessons on prayer, faith, fasting, charity, etc...? Even lessons reviewing the basic fundamentals of these basic fundamentals are always useful and applicable. As humans, we constantly need reminding. I used to get bored of the scriptures once I knew every story. Now, I realize there is so much in a single verse that I will never be fully able to understand it all. I have had lessons taught by amazing scriptorians and amazing public speakers that have been wonderful and I have gotten a lot out of them. I have also had lessons taught be people who have not known much about the subject they were teaching that I have also gotten a lot out of. Just having an hour to think and read along in the manual about a specific gospel principle is something I would not be motivated to do at home by myself. And Heavenly Father doesn't want me to do it by myself. Now, when I am being taught in a lesson, I try to follow along, look encouragingly at the teacher, pay attention and not talk to or distract others, raise my hand to read a scripture or answer a question that is asked and comment if I think of something that might add to the point the teacher is trying to make. Am I getting things out of doing this? More things that I would be if I was studying the same topics for an hour alone? Of course I am! But, hopefully, I am also helping and uplifting the teacher and those around me. That is what Heavenly Father wants from us at church. I believe that is why we are supposed to go to church (aside from taking the sacrament and renewing our covenants, which is the primary reason). I am not saying all this to say, "Wow, look at me! I'm so great - I pay attention in Sunday School!" Rather, I am trying to show what I have learned, since I have totally "been there" when it comes to not wanting to be active in the church for various reasons. These changes in perspective have been years in coming ("line upon line," you might say), and it is through the good example and love and encouragement of many good people around me (Cam and Emily, I'm looking at you - and I suppose my parents, too :D) that I was able to have them. I am very glad that even when I did not feel like being active in the church, I still came anyway.
This post ended up being much longer than I intended, but I guess I should be used to that by now. I am nothing if not verbose. I would love to hear comments on what other people think of the need to be active in the church AND active in the gospel. I think a lot of people have felt or feel the way I have felt sometime in their lives, and it is something not generally talked about too much.