Monday, April 15, 2013

A pattern of blessings

The scriptures are full of repeated patterns, types, shadows and symbols. Recognizing those patterns leads to understanding, and allows us to see similar patterns in our own lives.

One of my favorites is the story of the fiery serpents, told in Numbers 21 and repeated three times in the Book of Mormon, too. In each case, we’re told that people could look to the serpent that Moses raised on his staff to be saved from the fiery serpents that were besetting them. The serpent raised on the staff is a type or symbol of the Savior’s sacrifice in our behalf; if we look to Him, we also can live.

I recognized another pattern from my own life in our fast and testimony meeting yesterday. The pattern is long-established and has been taught in the scriptures and in the temple: covenant, obey and receive a blessing. It is a pattern I have taught my children, and that I have regularly taught to youth and adults alike in the church.

As I listened to testimonies yesterday, I remembered a clear example of the pattern from my own life. Between my junior and senior years in high school, I spent part of the summer as an exchange student in Germany. The organization with which I traveled inquired if there were health or religious dietary restrictions that my host family should know about. I indicated on the form that I did not use alcohol, tea or coffee. Frankly, I did so out of habit, not because I had some great moral need to exclude those items from my diet. It was simply what we did (or didn’t do). My testimony at the time was typical of a mid-teen boy: pretty still and small. I was a good kid, but I was unsure at the time about missionary service, I was ho-hum about seminary, and I didn’t go to many mutual activities (though I attended church on Sunday). I was not on fire in any way in the testimony department.

Still, I committed to live the Word of Wisdom on that trip.

When I got there, the family was aware of my desire, including the boy who was my age. He and his friends regularly went out together and, like most German youth, they drank together. Still, they respected my desire not to drink, and we found suitable soft drinks for me. When they drank coffee, I drank herbal tea (and realized how much I hated most herbal tea). My American friends in my group were enjoying the freedom to drink and found me a curiosity, but were tolerant.

The mom of my guest family was quite impressed with my commitment. She and I spoke on more than one occasion about the church and my commitment to it. I had packed along a German Book of Mormon, just in case, and I offered it to her, though she did not accept it, citing her husband’s intolerance. Still the family saw to it that I got to church a couple of times I while I was there.

Toward the end of our trip, the pressure for me to drink increased. I had made plenty of jokes about my not drinking and I was quite good natured about it, but frankly I was pretty curious myself. On one of our final nights, I was getting some pressure to try it “just once,” and I was nearly ready to give in. I was relieved, however, when my “guest brother” stepped in and reminded me that I didn’t have to if I really didn’t want to. I honored my commitment to myself and to my host family not to drink.

Several weeks after coming home, I attended my stake’s youth conference. (My mother had signed me up while I was gone, and I went specifically because she asked me to go; I would not have chosen to go on my own.) At that youth conference, I had a transformational experience. In the priesthood meeting on Sunday morning (our conferences went through Sunday in those days), I felt such a powerful spiritual witness of what we were being taught it was unmistakable, and my heart was changed. Following that conference came a series of decisions that carried me to BYU, on a mission, to a temple marriage and to a life of faithful service in the church.

As I reflected yesterday morning on that series of events, it occurred to me that the spiritual witness came after my keeping a personal covenant to live the Word of Wisdom while I was away from home. I can’t say with certainty that one event depended completely on the other, but surely my willingness to keep my personal covenant opened my heart to the change the Lord offered it when I came home.


  1. Thanks for sharing your story; a good lesson.

  2. What strikes me most about the experience you shared, is that at any time during your time in Germany, you would not have been able to say that you saw the blessings from your commitment to following that principle. I am guessing that while the experiences at Youth Conference were great at the time, it took even more time to understand just how much good would come from those faith experiences.

    What I always need to remind myself, when I am feeling like everyone else is in the "blessing part of the cycle," is that blessings don't come on anyone's timeline but our Heavenly Parents. Job becomes a comfort when you are in the middle of a trial.

    Whether we do everything perfectly, as long as we do our best, the Atonement makes up for the rest. I've never tried to break the Word of Wisdom, but twice I've been served what I thought was a "virgin" drink that ended up having Alcohol in it. I don't think that those times call for great repentance, although each time I spent time in prayer, recommitting to my commitment not to drink alcohol. If I had purposely chosen to order a drink, the process of repentance would have been more complicated, and might have lead to a loss of blessings, but not a forfeiture of all blessings.

    I love fast and testimony meetings because they are the place where we hear the impact of the gospel on the lives of those we worship and serve with. While I am housebound, my favorite blogs often serve the same function. Thanks for sharing your experience, and reminding me how important each decision we make is, and that even if it isn't immediately clear what the blessings are *now* but that they do come.

  3. Julia, you raise an excellent point, namely that the blessing we identify is not always proximate to the commandment we keep. I remember someone saying in conference in the last few years (was it Elder Scott?) that the Lord does that so that we can learn to walk by faith: blessings (or the lack thereof) are sometimes not immediate so that we can act of more than just a pavlovian response (my words, not his). Interesting that such a concept seems a little at odds with King Benjamin's claim that as soon as we keep a commandment we are blessed so we continue in the Lord's debt. I have no doubt the blessings are "immediate" in the Lord's time, even if our awareness of them may not be in ours (such as my experience described above).

    Thanks for reading (and commenting!). (You, too, Robin!)