We Never Walk Alone — Sacrament Meeting Talk

We Never Walk Alone

12 Jan 2014

Arlington Third Ward.

There is nothing in this world quite like a simple, clear, obvious, undeniably true statement with which no reasonable person can disagree. I have become convinced that there is absolutely nothing like it – there is no such thing. Through my life, I have come to see that there is much truth to be found in challenging what seems to be obviously true. One of the first times I remember noticing that phenomenon was the first time I read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus taught that we should reward those who take from us by giving more, those who strike us by giving them a chance to strike us again, and that we should actually love our enemies. It seems obviously true that we should punish those who take from us, defend ourselves from those who hit is, and hate our enemies. Left to ourselves, we do such things, in point of fact. But the Savior challenges us to return good for evil. To do something that, at first blush, seems to contradict reason.

There is a term for a situation where two things seem to be mutually exclusive, but are both true, and that is a dialectic. Where simple logic seems to dictate black and white, either/or thinking, dialectic describes shades of gray and yes/and thinking. Rather than good people on one side and bad people on the other, dialectic shows us just people, children of God, our brothers and sisters who are and do both good and bad on all sides of a question – and there are usually more than two sides to any story. Where simple logic seems to dictate that good people receive good things that make them happy, and bad people receive bad things that make them unhappy, dialectic, life and the gospel show us that people can receive bad things in their lives despite making good choices, and can receive pleasant things in their lives despite making bad choices. I believe that dialectics exist due to reality being more complex than our language and minds can totally comprehend.

In the September General Relief Society Meeting, Pres. Monson talked about times when good people have difficult times, and can feel like they’re alone. Alone-ness is a dialectic thing. On the one hand, we all have times when we want to be alone: for example, after a long day caring for very energetic and clingy children, when around people who are unpleasant, or, perhaps, when giving a talk. Our culture values the power and wisdom of the individual, acting alone, to accomplish great things.

  • the Mormon talking to a mainstream Christian who tells you that you’re going to Hell because you don’t believe in the right Jesus, and you belong to a cult,
  • the only one at a party that’s not drinking,
  • the only one not invited to the party,
  • the only one not dating because you’re not sixteen yet,
  • the only one who doesn’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend,
  • the only one not dancing
  • but, also if you’re:
    • a new member who:
      • sees everybody else wearing white shirts and ties or skirts and dresses, and you don’t have a white shirt, tie skirt or dress to wear,
      • doesn’t understand the insider language or scriptural references,
      • don’t understand what folding arms has to do with praying,
    • don’t have Pioneer ancestors,
  • how you feel inside doesn’t match the outsides of the perfect-looking people and families you sit next to at Church,
  • your home doesn’t look, sound or feel like the stories you see in the Friend, New Era or Ensign, or hear about in Conference,
  • you hear other people bearing their testimonies, and you can’t really say “I know,”
  • the Spirit doesn’t seem to speak to you,
  • no one around you seems to take Church standards as seriously as you do, and they call you a “goody-goody,”
  • a Mormon who:
    • isn’t white,
    • isn’t married,
    • is divorced,
    • has no children,
    • is politically liberal,
    • is intellectually inclined,
    • is feminist,
    • is gay.
  • Sometimes, we want to be a part of the group, and sometimes we want to be apart from the group. Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen says that, in actuality, we very often want both at the same time, and will use words, voice tone, body language and other elements of communication to navigate between those apparently contradicting goals.

    President Monson’s talk was titled “We Never Walk Alone,” and, in it, he describes things we can do when we feel alone to be reminded that God is always there with us and for us. It doesn’t always feel that way, though, does it? If you’ve ever had a time in your life when it seems like God and his love are far away, and that you’re really alone, then you’re not alone. In his talk, Pres. Monson says “There will be times when you will walk a path strewn with thorns and marked by struggle. There may be times when you feel detached—even isolated—from the Giver of every good gift. You worry that you walk alone. Fear replaces faith.” And if you think this is a sign that something is lacking in you, consider the words of Joseph Smith in D&C 121 when he says: “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?“ Or Mark 15:34, when Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

    In D&C 88:63 the Savior says: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” As we reach out to God in faith, he will reach back to us. Pres. Monson suggests that we can draw near unto God and feel his comfort and presence by conversation with him – talking with him through prayer, and listening to him through scripture reading. This will and does work. But he also tells the story of a woman named Tiffany, who was in a hard place in her life, when her husband was often absent for work, a loved-one was diagnosed with cancer, and she was overwhelmed by the demands of life and family. Although she was faithful, she still fell into a deep depression, and her weight dropped dangerously low, which we might attribute to an eating disorder. Friends tried to bring her foods she liked, but she could only eat small bits of what they brought her. She thought that fresh-baked bread was something she might be able to really dig into, but she didn’t have any available when she thought of it. The next day, Sherrie, a friend of Tiffany’s sister, showed up at her door with a loaf of fresh-baked bread. Tiffany assumed that her sister had asked Sherrie to help, but later found that she had not. Sherrie had felt prompted to make an extra loaf of bread, and, then, to drive out of her way to bring it to Tiffany. The answer to this prayer seems to have been a blessing for Tiffany, as a sign of God’s love and presence in her life.

    Two things struck me about this story. The first is that there is no sign that Tiffany was lacking in any fashion that led to her depression and issues with eating. No sign that she wasn’t reading her scriptures or attending her meetings or saying her prayers. As Pres. Monson said, this kind of struggle is something we all experience. In my experience with depression, I have learned that being depressed is something that leads me to make bad choices through despair, much more than depression is the result of the bad choices I have made (although it does also result from making bad choices).

    The second thing was that, although God was aware of Tiffany’s situation, and the meaning the bread would have in her life, he didn’t just magically make it appear in her home, or drop it, manna-like, in her front yard. He did it by prompting Sherrie, who was in-tune to those promptings and followed them, even though they took her out of her way to the home of someone she barely knew, without knowing why. And that’s usually the way God touches our lives – through the actions of others. We are his hands. If we are open to the inspiration of the Spirit, we will be available to be God’s hands for reaching out and helping our brothers and sisters. This will require us to reach outside our comfort-zones, and may require us to go out of our way to help someone we barely know, something which can be very, very difficult to do. We can prepare for that kind of service by making use of the service opportunities we have with those who are closer to us.

    Now, I want to look over all of these things with the title of the talk in mind: We Never Walk Alone. This is because, no matter where we are, we are still within God’s power, attention and love. This is why being alone can help us to recenter ourselves – because being alone really means being alone with God. When we are experiencing difficulties, he is there with us, leaving his footprints in the sand and, sometimes, carrying us without our even noticing. This isn’t always a pleasant thing. When one is having a fight with God, as I have been known to, for instance, not being able get away from him can be frustrating. Depression, again, can play a part in this. Reaching out to God, even a little bit, when it is very hard, can make a huge difference. I have had times when all I was able to do was the Five Word Prayer: “God, help me want to pray.” The importance of that prayer is less in the words than in the willingness to receive what God has in store.

    Dialectic can produce a condition called cognitive dissonance, which can be very uncomfortable at first. The urge is to force a resolution – to make one of the contradictory things true so the other can be false, and everything can be simple again. I have learned, though, that in the willingness to be open to further light and knowledge, and to search for truth even when the truth is unpleasant and difficult, there is much which can be learned which can be of great benefit. We never do walk alone. We can not walk alone. God is always there with us and for us, even when we don’t want him to be. And he will bless us and help us as much as we will allow him to do so. Let us be open to his help, including the opportunities to be the hands through which he blesses others.

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