Monday, July 27, 2015

(Some of) What We're Re-learning on Our Mission

By Rodger Dean Duncan

As a married couple, Rean and I have nearly a half century of service in the Church. In addition to callings in numerous wards and stakes, as well as special assignments in other countries, we’ve been blessed to observe—in an up-close-and-personal way—some of the most faithful (and in some cases, most well-known) people in the Church. We continue to learn from our experiences. And during our full-time missionary service in Texas, many lessons from the past are being reinforced daily.

Here are some of them.

The Lord qualifies whom He calls. Our church has no paid clergy. Nobody campaigns for office. Nobody lobbies for position. When someone receives “a calling” from the Lord (issued by people in authority), the recipient is often surprised. One of the most common responses is “Oh, am I ready for that responsibility? Can I do this?” And the answer is always “Of course you can, with the Lord’s help.”

We’ve seen this principle play out countless times with new bishops, new Relief Society officers, teachers, youth leaders, and in all the other service opportunities that can come to a faithful Latter-day Saint.

During our mission, we’ve been especially impressed by the nearly overnight growth and maturity of the young missionaries who serve with us. When they come to the mission field, most of the young men are only 18 or 19. The young women are typically 19 or 20. After only a few days at the Missionary Training Center in Utah, these young spiritual warriors report for duty. Many of them have never really been away from home. But they faithfully jump into the work with both feet, believing the Lord’s promise that they “can do all things through Christ who strengthens [them].” (Philippians 4:13)

Their faith and performance reflect well on their upbringing (thanks, parents!). But most of all, they prove the point that they are qualified by Him who called them to the work.

We fondly recall one young missionary who was serving as a District Leader. He prepared and conducted training meetings with remarkable maturity and insight. Then one day in commenting on his colleagues’ good work, he excitedly said their performance was “freaking awesome.” Rean and I were instantly reminded that there was still a lot of boy left in this missionary (he was only 20 and soon to return home after his two-year assignment). We thought “awesome” (without the “freaking’) was an excellent description of what the Lord had done with this faithful young man.

Age is largely irrelevant. (See previous item.) The new stake president in the Waco Stake, with responsibility for eleven congregations as well as his own family and thriving business, is still in his 30s. The new bishop in one of the stake’s largest wards is likewise in his 30s. Both are performing with great maturity and remarkable effectiveness. I was ordained a high priest at the age of 25, and I’m still going strong in my 70s and showing no signs of slowing down. As my grandfather always said (possibly paraphrasing Mark Twain), “Age is just mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Carry on.

Life is a series of tender mercies. We’ve pretty much eliminated the word “coincidence” from our vocabularies. Through obvious tender mercies from the Lord, we’ve avoided several traffic accidents, some of which would have been fatal. (Including as recently as today.) Our health has been improved and our energy revitalized. Our first choice for an apartment was not available by our deadline, so we felt disappointed when we had to commit to a second choice. That second choice has turned out, in every conceivable way, to be the absolute best option. (Who knew? He who called us on this mission.) We miss our family and friends, but our days are currently occupied with service to new friends. We’re confident this work will make us even more effective with service in our home congregation and community. And it will make us better parents and better grandparents.

Multitasking is a myth. We thrive on activity and have always been busy people. Our to-do lists are never completely crossed off at the end of the day. Being anxiously engaged in good causes is one of the most satisfying parts of mortality. But the popular emphasis on “multitasking” is a trap. Laser focus on one task at a time has been proven to be the best way to get things done. By all means keep a list of action items, prioritized more by importance than by urgency. (Good time management keeps “urgent” items to a minimum.) Then give each task its appropriate, individual focus. And one other hint: when possible, allow important tasks to ripen. Example: Giving a talk next Sunday? Delaying preparation until Saturday night guarantees mediocrity. Instead, decide on a theme, make a rough outline, then allow the spirit to work with you for several days (and nights) before distilling your thoughts into a final product. The result will be far superior to a wing-it-and-sing-it attempt.

Pray before you study. For the past several decades we’ve made it a practice to read scriptures together before retiring each night. It’s a peaceful way to end the day, and puts the mind appropriately in “park.” We’ve almost always saved our nightly prayer for the very last thing of the day. A better practice for us, we’ve discovered, is to have our nightly prayer before scripture reading. When we ask for specific help, we find that the spirit opens our understanding to things in the scriptures that we might otherwise overlook. It’s sort of like putting on polarized glasses to see the fish right under the water.

Most of all, we're re-learning that the most important human relationship in our lives is the one we have with each other. In nearly 48 years of marriage, we've never spent so much time together. During this mission we are rarely apart, and then for only minutes at a time. Togetherness is a wonderful thing. 

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