I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I should talk about in my inaugural post on this blog. Quite honestly, when I agreed to do a stint as a guest blogger, I thought it would be pretty easy. But, lately, it seems that all my Mormonism-related thoughts have been trite and meaningless. For example, I considered drafting a post complaining about one of the teachers Elders Quorum and his refusal to teach out of the manual. But, honestly, I think that post would have just ended up being a rant about a quorum discussion outlining the evils of facial hair (true story, by the way) and I don’t think that’s what the faithful readers of this blog are looking for. So, I decided that, if that’s the quality of ideas I’m coming up with, it was probably best to wait until a really good idea came along.
I think that’s because, when it it comes to blogging, trite and meaninglessness are kind of my go-to moves. I suppose that, for my limited time here on T&S, I could be sort of the blog’s resident Seinfeldian character — meaningless, inane thoughts that, if nothing else, are entertaining. Let’s see how far that gets me. Of course, that brings on the added pressure of actually being entertaining. I guess I’ll try not to dwell on that.
That said, I do I want to say the topic of this post is a relatively serious one for me…that’s probably why I’m going to be so irreverent about it. Here we go…
Growing up in Mormon-dom, we become accustomed to hearing faith-promoting stories about trials and obstacles various Saints have had to overcome and the lessons they learned along the way. Many of us have stories of our own to share in that regard. Indeed, many of my family, friends, and acquaintances have had to deal with things like a death or illness in their immediate family, children born with disabilities, the inability to have children at all, long-term poverty or unemployment, or any number of serious, life-altering struggles. In many of these cases, these people respond with unwavering faith that this has happened to them for a reason and that they’ve grown from the experience. Others respond by questioning the very nature or existence of God, many times they “go inactive” (whatever that means…they haven’t stopped moving or anything) or they become openly bitter toward the Church and the Gospel. Of course, I greatly admire the former response and can certainly understand the latter one.
Here’s the thing…this kind of thing doesn’t ever happen to me. I’m not talking about the questioning of God thing (no, my faith is a tad short of perfect), I’m talking about the struggles that get people to that point. Whenever I’ve been faced with a “crisis” of faith, it hasn’t been because of some unfair event that’s happened in my life it’s usually because I’m just an idiot…and because I have facial hair (just ask this dude in my Elders Quorum). Please be aware, this is not a complaint, only an observation. I certainly don’t want to make light of any real trials readers may have endured, I’m only pondering my own lack of similar trials.
Throughout my life, I have been tremendously blessed, both materially and spiritually, to the point where anything resembling a complaint from me about my life should be considered on ungrateful grunt. I havent’ been rich, but I haven’t been poor either. My family weren’t all a bunch of spiritual giants, but, all in all, they’re good people. So, none of the things that tend to cause real heartache in a persons life have been sore spots in mine. Yeah, I had some rough, depressing times as a missionary — in New Mexico. I have a friend who went to the Philippines and, according to him, his companion woke up one morning to find his foot had been gnawed off by a 100-pound rat (or something like that…rats were definitely involved and, according to my friend, they were huge). The biggest problem in my mission was that the trucks they gave us to drive around didn’t have 4-wheel drive. Also, I didn’t get married until I was 29, but you should have seen some of the girls I was dating before I met my wife — marrying virtually any one of them would have been a bigger trial than perpetual singlehood. These are just a few examples. Obviously, like everyone, I’ve faced some difficulties in my short 31 years on the planet, but nothing like those faced by the people I know, see, or read about.
Typically, we hear two principles that explain the need for personal trials. The first is that they happen in order teach us something, either a specific, custom-fitted lesson for the individual or the whole “opposition in all things” thing. If we looked only to that principle, I suppose the only logical conclusion for me to draw would be that I know everything already so there’s no need to trifle me with additional lessons. However, even with that airtight logic, I doubt the plausibility of this conclusion. I swear like a sailor, watch rated-R movies with great frequency, send text messages during church, stand in the hallway during Elders Quorum talking about politics or the recent Jazz game (I hate Kobe…just sayin’), make irreverent jokes, and, though I’m not proud of it, I do tend to kill the occasional hobo. This is not a confession, T&S readers, I’m only making the point that there are still obvious lessons to be learned by the Bry-man (I’m already regretting calling myself that…too late to change it now, though). Also, even if I did know everything, I’d probably have to deal with the occasional trial so that my example could teach others God’s intended lessons. Nothing like that is going on either.
Fortunately, the second principle sheds more light on this subject. That is the whole God-Will-Not-Try-Us-Beyond-Our-Capabilities thing (see eg. 1 Nephi 3:7 or 1 Cor. 10:13). For many people, this is a source of comfort when they’re dealing with difficult times. For me, though I hate to admit it, it’s kind of a source of shame. I mean, if Principle A (trials are lessons) doesn’t explain my lack of trials due to my obvious and obnoxious need to be taught a thing or two, then Principle B (trials cannnot exceed our strength) suggests that I’m rarely tried because God doesn’t think I can handle it. Obviously, I’m oversimplifying a difficult doctrinal question, but, still, that doesn’t do much for the self-esteem.
Honestly, I’m hesitant to ponder this topic too deeply out of fear of that it will tempt the irony gods into preparing something real special for me. That loud noise you hear is me knocking on wood very loudly…so loudly, in fact, that it exempts everything I’ve said here from coming back to haunt me. Having said that, sometimes I think that I’d like to have a sort of off-the-record conversation with God about this, if nothing else to satisfy my own curiosity. Though, due to my fear of actually bringing trials upon my myself, I’d probably rather not go there. Here’s how I think that conversation would go:
Me: Hey, God. I don’t mean to bother you or anything. Just had a couple questions.
God: No problem….what was your name again? I’m sorry, I’m not so great with names.
Me: It’s Bryan. Remember me? I was one praying last week that the Jazz would make it out of the first round.
God: Oh yeah! The Bry-man! Sorry I couldn’t help you there. I don’t typically get involved in sporting events and, quite frankly, if Carlos Boozer’s not going to play defense, even I would have a hard time changing that outcome.
Me: No worries…I’m getting over it. Anyway, I don’t want to tempt fate or anything —
God: There’s no such thing as fate. Preordination is a true principle, predestination is not. The difference is subtle but significant–
Me: Sorry…just an expression. What I was saying was…I’ve noticed that I’ve had it pretty easy lately while, at the same time, it seems like everyone else is dealing with some pretty difficult stuff–
God: I see. So…you want more trials then? A little pain and suffering perhaps? I can totally hook you up. Testing people is kind of what I do.
Me: No! That’s not what I want. This is more of a philosophical curiosity. You see, I don’t really feel like I deserve such a blessed status and, well, I see lots of really good people–
God: Remember, opposition in all things? That’s why bad things happen to good people. There’s a scripture about that in Nephi. Look it up.
Me: That’s my point, do I not need any opposition? Or, is it because I’m too weak to handle any?
God: This is getting a little confusing. You say you don’t want trials, but you kinda sound like you’re asking for them. I’m gonna go with my gut on this one. Trials it is!
Me: No…never mind I take it back! Let’s pretend this never happened. Anyway, didn’t we agree that this was off the record?
God: No, I never heard you mention that.
Me: Oh crap….
Anyway, that’s the spot I’ve found myself in recently. On the one hand feeling very grateful for my current situation but, on the inside, silently (very silently) wondering why nothing bad seems to happen to me. Again, I’m not bragging or trying to make light of any serious trials people might be facing. I just occasionally wonder if there’s another principle there that I’m missing. They probably discussed it during Elders Quorum when I was in the hall.