Back when I was a missionary in the Philippines, my companion and I were asked to visit with group of high school kids to talk to them about our experiences. When asked if anyone had any questions for us, one student asked, “What was the hardest thing for you to give up?”
A fair question…since Mormon missionaries give up 2 years of their life to be missionaries. Many risk losing scholarships, sports opportunities, college entrance, work, or even the comforts of home and the closeness of family. Many others struggle with finances, family disagreements, peer pressure, or other personal matters. Regardless of the struggle, the missionaries that see value in their assignment usually feel like they’ve given up something in order to be there.
As my companion offered his comments…I thought about mine. I had never really given it much thought until then. I didn’t feel like “going to school” was something that I gave up since I knew I’d be coming back to college. Nor did I think that I missed my family that much either since I had experiences that taught me to be able to cope with family separation. I didn’t think money was an issue, nor did I feel like I struggled with scriptures or the basic doctrines of the gospel. In my heart, I felt that those were superficial things to give up…things that were readily seen.
Then, in my mind came the answer. It was one thing that I struggled with…a lot. Back then, and now. And to those students, I said this:
“The hardest thing for me to give up…is my pride. It’s the desire to be right…to be noticed…to be recognized as someone who knows…every time. ”
I can’t remember what else I said back then. It was so long ago. But that has stayed with me.
Why it’s so hard
My pride…it’s such a hard thing to give up. It’s the tendency to say, “I’m sure of it. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t question me.” It’s hard to give up because I want to be the center of attention. I hunger for it. I want to be right…every time. I want you to notice me. I want your praise. I want you to tell me, “Great job!” or “You’re so smart!” or “You’re the best!” I want you to focus on me. I want the credit for myself. And it gives such a high…it’s addicting.
And, as a missionary…as a representative of Jesus Christ…this cannot be. I must be humble. I need to deflect the praise. Don’t focus on me. This gospel, this message, isn’t “about me”…it’s about how I can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands to help you. As a missionary, I couldn’t…and shouldn’t…teach so that I could get the credit for the most baptisms or the most lessons or the best smile or whatever. There’s a scripture that says “And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.” (D & C 4:5) I couldn’t have an eye focused on the glory of me. And, for me…that’s hard. The glory…the praise…the credit…has to go to God.
Today’s culture emphasizes “ME”: Like me. Follow me. Subscribe to me. Share me. Selfie. Praise me. I deserve it. Look at me. Where’s my trophy?
As much as the world encourages the single life, life with no kids, where everyone must cater to you and pay attention to your needs and pamper you and give you their time, their talents, their money…such a life only ends with what you started with and filled it with: only you. Alone.
Remember the story of Ebenezer Scrooge? All that money…inside that cold, dark office and that cold, dark house…all alone, by himself? Yeah. Cold. Dark. Alone.
It’s so hard to focus on someone else outside of ourselves. Yet, we must. That’s where life is! That’s where living is. Ever since I got married, the Lord has been working on helping me forget myself. My wife is one of the most generous people that I know. She gives without expecting anything in return. And when she receives something from you, she will give something in return…sometimes, ten-fold. Most of the time, she’s just thinking of someone else. Whenever there’s something good to eat, she’d say, “Oh the kids would like that.” Whenever there’s a sale, “so-and-so would like this.” Selfless. Generous. That’s what she is. And that’s who God has given me to help me work off my selfishness. Even my family–my mom, my dad, my older sister and her husband…and now that I think about it…so are all of my other siblings–they all have this generous nature about them. My wife’s mother and sister are also very giving. Somehow, God knew to surround me with selfless and generous people to help me be more generous as well. They live it already. I just need to emulate them.
I still have a long way to go. I still struggle with this “look at me” mentality. Somehow, through His kindness and patience, I’ve been given strength to give it up…even a little at a time. And while giving that up may take a lifetime…I’ve got a work to do:
Helping you focus on Him.
So…forget yourself…and get to work.
See ya next post…