I highly doubt that the rest of my mission will be downhill from this point on, but it seemed like an appropriate expression to use. If I only know one thing about missionary work it's that missionary work is an emotional roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs and very unexpected turns every week, if not every day. It makes life very exciting, going out the door every morning not knowing what's about to happen.
Our investigator was baptized and confirmed this weekend. It was wonderful. Everything went so well. Sister McNeece and I made it a point to pray and ask Heavenly Father who needed to participate in the baptism, who needed to be given that opportunity and who Kathy needed to get to know better. We ended up asking our Gospel Principles teacher to baptize her, and it was the perfect choice. He's a young dad, and he told us so many times after the baptism and on Sunday how grateful he was to have that chance to baptize someone since he hadn't done it since his mission.
Both the talks at the baptism were great; Kathy's already got visiting teachers and an older couple will be teaching her the new member lessons starting this Tuesday. The ward really has just come in and embraced her. And Kathy is so happy. She told us as she was driving home on Saturday she couldn't stop crying; she just felt so good and so different. And she got up in Relief Society and bore her testimony, even though she's scared of getting up in front of people. I'm so proud of her. Now for her husband to get baptized...
Today has been a fun P-day. We got a new car, a Toyota Corolla. Elder Fenton let me pick the color, so it's red. He and Sister Fenton brought the car up to us and then they took us and our elders out to lunch at Olive Garden. It was fun to see them and talk with them, it was kind of like being back in my first district. I've missed them; I'll be sad when they leave in June.
Friday night we went by to see a less active member who was very hurt by something a member said to him 30 years ago. We were out with Sister Looper, and she wanted to meet him so we went by. Sister Rowley and I had gone by in the middle of December a couple times and he wanted us to give him time to pray and heal before coming back. Well, he told us that he'd prayed. And after he prayed what came to his memory was the way he felt when the incident happened, the way he's always kind of felt treated by the church- like a number, a statistic. He [had a similar feeling with us] when we asked for a return appointment even after he'd expressed he needed time to himself. And he felt that if he came back to church now he would feel the same way, like a number, and that he wouldn't be doing it for the right reasons. So he feels it's not his time. While I respected the conclusion he came to and was glad he was honest with us, I was disappointed and it bothered me.
Rejection in any form is always hard for me to shake off. I couldn't stop thinking about it. He sincerely believed that God had answered him, and so for me to tell him that those impressions weren't from God would have been calling into question his whole relationship with Him. I didn't feel that it was my place to do that, because I don't know what his relationship with God is like, and I can't receive that revelation for him. In a way, I was thinking "God, why would you let that be his answer?" I wasn't feeling at peace about it, and I felt I hadn't said everything I should have, because I got so emotional when he was telling us all this that I started to cry a little and I couldn't speak. I couldn't express to him that I wasn't crying because I was disappointed in him but because I was sad that people in Christ's church could have been so un-Christlike that they caused him to feel like nothing more than a number.
When we got back to the apartment, I read some of Jesus the Christ, where Christ tells the parable of the wheat and the tares- Matt. 13:24-30. And I realized something. I, as a missionary, am sometimes a little too overzealous to get rid of the tares. I want, even expect, people to be willing to get rid of all their bad habits and weaknesses all at once, and completely live the gospel. This member is not yet at a point where he is ready to fully heal and return for the right reasons. He has made a choice, and we have to respect that. Trying to push the gospel on him anymore at this point would be like trying to weed out the tares when the wheat is young, we'd end up pulling up both in the process. I believe that Sister Rowley and I planted the seed of forgiveness, but it's going to take some time and nourishment for that seed to grow.
James E. Talmage comments that one of the great lessons from the parable of the wheat and the tares is that patience, long-suffering, and toleration are attributes of our Savior that we all need to have. When the bishop gave me a blessing awhile ago, one of the things he blessed me with was an ability to be patient and have insight into people's long-term needs. What I had wanted to hear in that blessing was how to help people move past their barriers and progress more quickly. But instead Heavenly Father showed me that this was going to be slow and steady journey. After Friday night I'm beginning to realize how important patience and long-suffering are as a missionary. They're essential qualities, really, because we have to teach to people's needs, and sometimes people need to move slowly. All progress, even slow progress, is good. It's only when we become stagnant that there is a problem. In the parable, as long as the wheat continued to grow and mature, it was ok for the tares to be there. But if the wheat ever stopped growing, or the tares started to overcome the wheat, then they would have to be removed.
It's the same with us. As long as we are growing more like our Savior, it's ok that we still have weaknesses. But when those weaknesses start to get in the way of our progress, then we've got to get rid of them. Sister Looper will keep stopping by and building a friendship there and as long as this member continues to try to forgive the members who hurt him, that's good progress, and it's ok that he's not going to come back to church immediately. Not that it wouldn't be great if he did come back, but if he wants to move at a slower pace that's ok.