Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ten Steps to One

There's a Muslim hadith (a traditional saying attributed to the prophet Muhammad) in which God says, "O My servant! If you take one step toward Me, I take ten toward you." The basic idea behind this saying is not different from the basic idea in the parable of the prodigal son, where the father, upon seeing his lost son at the gates, runs full speed to meet him and bring him home.

I have experienced this overflow of love in God's dealings with me. Looking back over my life, I occasionally feel a sense of shame about the many mistakes I have made, and about my life-time of rebellious, self-justifying attitudes. I have often wondered, Why me? Why would God care about me any more, when I disregarded him for so long? When I still make mistakes? And yet, I have experienced this extravagant surfeit of divine love. When I have made the slightest move toward God, God has always immediately been there, encouraging me, sustaining me, walking not just toward me but with me. I have been so blessed, and not because I deserve it.

God showers us with blessings, and yet... And yet, God cannot bless us if we will not first at least take that one step. First we must move at least enough to show God (and to prove to ourselves?) that the intent of our heart is toward him. At some level, God knows that no blessing he can give us will have meaning unless we ourselves are willing to receive it. "For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift" (D&C 88: 33). We have to exercise at least that particle of faith required to open our hearts to receive whatever gifts God wishes to bestow upon us.

I have experienced this recently in a very personal way. I've been experiencing a very difficult, very painful trial of faith recently, the details of which I really can't discuss publicly. At times, I've felt like I was entering into a tunnel of despair. I could feel the darkness closing around me. I worried that I was going to sink back into the depression that haunted me as a young man. I was beginning to experience again that same numbness, that emotional paralysis.

But I'm not the same man today that I was some two decades ago when I was on the verge of suicide. Today I know at some very deep level, in a way that I did not -- could not! -- know then, that God is there for me, that God will never fail me. I know this from trying him again and again and again, and never yet having been failed by him. And so in the face of this most recent challenge I got down on my knees (in the face of this challenge I get down on my knees daily), and I asked God for help, knowing that what I needed from God I would receive.

And the Spirit did speak to me and tell me what I needed to do. As always, there were things God needed me to do. It would not be easy at first. It would not be comfortable. I would have to endure loneliness. I would have to stretch myself and do things beyond what I would initially have thought myself capable of doing. But -- the Spirit assured me -- if I would do the things being asked of me cheerfully and with faith, I could always count on the Spirit's sustaining presence, and I could soon expect the Lord to bless me and my loved ones and open up doors of assistance and encouragement and relief. In short, God would make a way for me. And in fact, that is exactly how it has worked out over the last few days, and how it continues to work out. It seems that for every step I take God does indeed carry me forward ten steps.

Each time I have to do this, I learn something more about faith, about how faith works. And I learn to trust that it will always work this way.

I was having a chat yesterday with a fellow gay Mormon friend. We were discussing the fact that many gay Mormons have become utterly discouraged. So many have left the Church and in essence are saying, "I'll consider coming back, once the Church changes."

But that is not how faith works.

Faith works when we take that initial step. Yes, God will take ten steps toward us, but God expects us to take the first step. Unfair? Absolutely not. This is the only way we can prepare our hearts to receive whatever blessings God has to bestow on us. We need to stretch. We need to exercise faith.

We need to take fearless inventories of our lives and recognize that if we want things to be different, we need to act differently. Even little things that we do have transformative power. If prayer is not a part of our life, getting down on one's knees and asking for help can be a life-changing event. If we are not studying the scriptures, a little daily scripture study can open up wellsprings of unexpected wisdom. If we are not going to Church, going that journey on Sunday morning from our doorstep to the pews might sometimes feel as momentous as the Saints' journey from Iowa to the Great Salt Lake. It may take at least as long as that journey for our journey to begin to change us. But we cannot expect the world around us to change until we are willing to change ourselves. And I can testify that if we are willing to face whatever challenges it takes to become more faithful, when we really need faith, faith will not fail us. God will hear and answer our prayers.

But it starts with us.


Beck said...

Is it fair to ask a wayward son to take that first step back? Or is that asking too much? I am willing to take the ten steps forward, but I want some sign of effort on the other side. Is this wrong?

Instead of tit-for-tat thinking of "I'm not going to budge until you do", I am trying to work on the "running to meet" approach.

How much "one step" verses "ten steps" really is is determined by one's perspective. One may feel "ten of your baby steps = one of my steps", but the concept is still there of "running" to the other with any sign of cooperation and faith.

Good thoughts. Thanks.

J G-W said...

Well, yes... I've been sorry to read about your own struggles.

I think what you're experiencing sort of proves the point. If he's running in the opposite direction from you, you can chase him all you want. You still won't catch him. It's when he's at least willing to stop running, and maybe even turn and take a step or two in your general direction that your movement really matters.

That's really the most heart-breaking aspect of being a parent -- when you see them hurting themselves and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.

We've been so lucky with Glen. I thought I'd have to wait a decade or two to hear him say the words, "I guess you really knew what you were talking about." I've actually already heard it a couple of times in the year since he moved onto campus.

But some lessons, eventually, they just have to learn on their own, the hard way. Hopefully not too hard...

Mind Of Mine said...

When you were considering killing yourself, what stopped you. Did you worry you would not get into heaven

J G-W said...

MOM - I had pretty much already decided I wasn't going to make it into Heaven, so that wasn't a consideration. I just wanted the pain to end... I just wanted to be done with it.

J G-W said...

I guess I didn't really answer your question, What stopped me...

It was the friendship of an Episcopal priest neighbor of ours. I felt drawn to him, felt he was someone I could talk to and open up to. I couldn't tell him everything, but I think he sensed my need, and he kept me busy that summer and helped get my mind off my own problems long enough to get past the point where I wanted to kill myself.

GeckoMan said...

Sorry to hear the 'refiner's fires' are burning. I hope you know you're always welcome to email or call me.

J G-W said...

Gecko - yeah, the fires are burning.