I couldn’t keep still.
I jiggled my legs and held my arms across my chest. I was fighting the urge to run from the room.
I was at church, waiting for Sacrament Meeting to begin.
What? My feelings and my location didn’t match up. I always loved going to church. Sure, I had my tired moments and squirmed during those testimonies, but for the most part I looked forward to my Sabbath Day.
Then, everything changed. I changed. In the midst of traumatic life experiences and the long recovery that followed, there were some days when I found sitting in church almost unbearable. More than once, I left as soon as sacrament meeting was over. I felt like I was boiling on the inside and freezing on the outside.
I knew I belonged there in that seat, but there was a complete disconnect from my spirit and my Sabbath worship. None of it made me feel better. If anything, it made me feel worse.
Today, with the grace of Jesus Christ, I’m much better. But something causes me to relive some of the pain I felt: the practice of pronouncing promises to our congregations and classes, promises which may not actually be endorsed by God.
We have a habit in our culture of making sweeping and absolute generalizations about what God will do for us. For me, and maybe for someone else, this can be dangerous and painful.
For example, it is completely natural to promise someone in a talk that if they start reading their scriptures today, they will feel closer to God. The problem? This isn’t always the case.
Don’t misunderstand. There are always blessings that come when we keep the commandments of God and stick to the path, even when we may feel we have no reason to. This has been proven time and time again in my own life. Has God promised blessings for scripture study? Of course. However, God is the author of such blessings and will dispense them according to his divine will.
I read my scriptures for months, trying to feel the spirit and be obedient. I usually ended up closing my scriptures in despair. This is a radical thought, I know. Sometimes you read your scriptures and don’t feel better. Sometimes you pray and get nothing. And I don’t mean the “not now” kind of answer. I mean nothing. Then, I’d get to church and everyone would talk with fervor about how getting the blessings of scripture study (insert commandment here) would come as fast as I could swipe my obedience card in God’s vending machine of blessings.
So if my scripture study wasn’t “working,” I had to be problem. I must be doing it wrong. I must not be trying hard enough. I must be so terrible that God can’t bless me like he is everyone else. I should just give up.
I realize this all comes down to semantics. Maybe we don’t need to spend so much time going over our words when most people won’t even notice. Maybe I’m the only one. But maybe something powerful happens when we reflect that what may be a fulfilled promise in our life maybe a painful period of waiting for someone else.
My heart has been made tender for those who struggle, often silently, with worries that either the Church isn’t true because it isn’t working or they are so shameful that each time they try to use their obedience card it comes back denied.
The fact of the matter is, obedience doesn’t work like a vending machine and promises, while sure, are individual. So what can we do? I’d feel amiss if I just spouted off this crazy idea without actually offering some thoughts, so here are just a few things that have helped me.
- Instead of stating promises in absolute terms, talk in regards to your own individual experiences and how God has fulfilled promises to you in your life.
- Don’t put timelines on blessings. Make sure to put promises into the eternal perspective God has them in.
- Reaffirm that with the power of Christ, all promises will be fulfilled according the Lord’s will.
- Make promises as the spirit directs. Those with stewardship do have the authority to pronounce blessings and make promises. This is a sacred experience. Take making promises to anyone seriously.
One of my favorite quotes is by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland and I think it is the perfect way to sum up how we can express the love and promises of the Lord.
Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.