"Miracles are never wrought without prayer, felt need, and faith...they are the natural result of the Messiah's presence among men."
Bible Dictionary

Monday, November 21, 2016

Building Faith by Sharing the Gospel

I wrote out what I planned to say in entirety, since I had a firm 10 minute time limit. I had aspirations to lightly refer to my notes and confidently throw my gaze across the crowd and seize their hearts. Instead, the sea of 1200+ faces ended up sucker punching said confidence, and I’m honestly not sure how much of what’s written here actually came out of my mouth. But in a perfect world, this is how it would have gone.

Five and a half years ago, like every other freshman guy at BYU I received my mission call, and I was called to the Buenas Aires North mission in Argentina. And like everyone else, I thought this was the first step in what I think of as the five M's of Mormon maturity: mission, marriage, acadeMics (you got the M there?), eMployment, and last but not least, money.

This is corny.

I'm not sure what order those go in, or where maturity happens (if ever), but that's the traditional path that most of us are somewhere on. And that's the path I thought I was headed down as well. Just three weeks after I got my call the course of my life changed dramatically. I suffered a C-5 burst fracture in my neck in a freak accident at a local gymnastics facility. My spinal cord was damaged severely, and I became paralyzed from the chest down. I don't have time to relate all the details of the aftermath of my accident and my recovery or express all of the emotion that surrounded that time, but it suffices to say that my plans, priorities, and outlook on life changed quickly and dramatically.

I went from worrying about if my hometeachees were cute or not and thinking about how many points Jimmer would score in his next game to hoping the muscles in my chest would strengthen enough to get the fluid that was building up in my lungs out on its own so I wouldn't need a tube stuck down my nose to suction it out. Most painful thing I've ever experienced by the way. Instead of entering the MTC, I spent the next two years in either a hospital, doctors’ office, or physical therapy clinic. Just as soon as I was entering the part of my life full of freedom and growth, it was gone, replaced by a frustrating grind of trying to get my body to do the simplest things, things that I had always taken for granted. Not only was I not going on a mission, but I now had doubts and fears about all the M's on the list. I had always been a great student and quick learner, but how was I going to continue in school without being able to write or use a computer? And what about finding a job? Or getting married?

Time passed, and I have been able to work things out, with the help of so many small miracles. I've been able to get out and live on my own, I'm on the verge of earning my Master’s degree in Statistics from BYU (not crazy!) and I've accepted an exciting job offer. Those were difficult goals to reach, but maybe more difficult was dealing with the emotional demons that have plagued me since my accident.

From the beginning, I felt different, unable to do things that other people were doing, and separated from the rest of the world. These were difficult things to deal with, and at first I tried to cope by denying I was any different than anyone else. I stayed as far away as possible from conversations about my accident and limitations and became frustrated and depressed by feelings of emptiness and difficulty connecting with other people.

Searching for answers, I came across Christ's words to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 12:16 "Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" I realized that my efforts to be no different than anyone else was dimming my light and suffocating who I was. Paralysis was a part of my life now, and I needed to own it, despite how debilitating and just plain difficult it was. I also realized that I have a unique platform to empathize with others and share the gospel. I wasn't able to serve a mission, but because of the trials I've been through I have been able to connect with others that have gone through similar things and been left with a broken heart and contrite spirit. So I took a leap of faith and began to put myself out there by sharing my story on social media.

Years ago my family had a blog we would use to post updates on my recovery. I decided I was going to get back on and reboot it and I started sharing the gospel through personal experiences. And just to be clear, I'm not plugging my blog in stake conference.

This is also corny.

Now, I said before that my mission experience has been different than most. While my peers were preaching the gospel, I was literally going through the refiner’s fire and being shaped for a different kind of mission. As I've shared my story and my experiences seeing miracles from God's hand in my life, I've been able to not only connect with others, but also build my own faith.

Clayton M Christensen said "We share the gospel because we know it will help others become better, happier people. But the blessings for us are priceless"

As I've shared the gospel, I've been able to more clearly identify the Saviors hand in my life, and know that he loves me and that I am a child of God. And I've been able to strengthen the personal relationship I have with my Savior, which is truly the most valuable relationship we can build.

If you are looking for a way to grow your own faith and testimony, might I suggest sharing it with others?

As I've done this, I've been amazed at the personal strength and confidence I've gained in the gospel and in myself. The church is rolling out a new social media missionary program, and since my roommate is one of the co-chairs and the meetings are at my apartment, I attend. I know sometimes we feel silly sharing messages of the gospel on social media, and I'll be honest in saying that in the past I've been dismissive of messages I've seen on Facebook but lately I've developed a testimony of it. Honestly, we should all do this. If the excuse to not be a missionary in Provo is that everyone is already a member, isn't sharing the gospel on across the world on the internet the answer? And even if it is just your LDS friends that see your message, don't we all need those messages from other people to help us be converted again and again?

Now, final point, I talked earlier about how I felt different, unable to do things that other people were doing, and separated from the rest of the world and that I had to come to terms with all of these things in order to let my light shine. But as members of the church, don't we all feel these things? Don't we all feel different? Unable to do what other people are doing, and separate from the world? Satan would tell us that these are restrictions, and there is more excitement in life in pushing these restrictions as far as they can go. He would have us fight against these supposed boundaries the church puts around us. However, like my process of coming to terms with paralysis, true happiness comes when we know we are different than the world, and choose to abstain from those things.

As Christ said in Matthew 16:25 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it"

When we fully commit ourselves to the gospel, we are taking the shade off our lamps and allowing our light to shine unhindered. Not only does this draw others to the light, but it helps us purify ourselves and have a greater measure of the spirit to be with us. I testify that this is true for each one of us and despite the darkness or despair that trials can bring into our lives we are being watched over and guided along. We are being molded into what our Heavenly Father would have us be, and he has greatness and joy in mind for each of us. All we have to do is trust him. And really try. Honestly, earnestly try.

Brothers and sisters, I know of no better way to strengthen our faith than by sharing the gospel with others. It doesn't matter who they are, family, friend, member, non-member. Any dialogue we have about the gospel is a positive thing. One of Satan's most clever lies is that the gospel is just for Sunday, and it's not cool to get preachy outside of church. Don't believe that! It is cool! Share the gospel and others as much as you can. It will be a blessing to yourself, and everyone around you.