This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. Today covers the Sunday Afternoon Session from Oct 1972 Conference.
I was talking last time about learning to know the voices of these earlier apostles. Well, just for a minute in President Lee's concluding talk—a short one, more like just closing remarks, really—I felt like I heard and understood his voice. This seems like such a stunningly humble, personal thing to say to the whole church:
I come now to the closing moments of this session when I have time for some sobered reflections. Somehow I have had the feeling that during the expressions here, whenever my name has been mentioned, they were talking of somebody other than myself. And I really think that is so, because one cannot go through the experience that I have gone through these last three days and be the same as before. I am different than I was before Friday morning.
I cannot go back to where I was because of the love and faith and confidence that you, the people of the Lord, have reposed in me. So you have been talking of somebody else. You have been talking of somebody that you want me to become, which I hopefully pray God I may, with his help, become.
I love President Lee for saying this. I love his desire to become all that God and others wanted him to be! I've felt that same desire myself, and I'm impatient about it. I want to be transformed all at once. I hate battling the same weaknesses, revisiting the same old wounds. I want to change and STAY changed! After each renewed commitment, each meaningful experience or spiritual high, I want to say with President Lee that "I cannot go back" to who I was before. And I think that's why this section caught my attention.
Because…in spite of myself…it seems that I DO go back.
A few months ago, I sat watching the broadcast of the dedicatory session of the Provo temple, and it was one of those meetings where every moment spoke to my soul. I felt transformed. I felt full of goodness and gratitude and joy. There was nothing jarring or foreign in the ceremony of it all; in fact, I felt that nothing could better give voice to my feelings than shouting hosanna and giving God all the "thanks and praise which [my] whole soul [had] power to possess." I felt overcome, hollowed-out and yet at the same time completely overflowing—brimful of thanks, brimful of hope, brimful of determination to be and do anything God wished me to.
Then the meeting ended, and the feelings seeped out, as they do, leaving only little pricks and tingles like the feeling returning to your foot after it's been asleep, until soon that being of love and light had completely gone and I was again just…ME. Impatient, annoyed with arguing kids, anxious to eat lunch and have a nap.
This is always discouraging. I thought, "After all that, why can't I be truly transformed? Why can't I be changed for good, changed so that anyone could see the difference? Why am I still ME instead of someone better?"
And so, as I'd had this on my mind for quite awhile now, I was struck by the construction of President Lee's thought. He says:
1. I am changed by this experience.
2. I cannot go back.
3. Thus, I pray I may become more.
It seems like he's saying that the change you feel in yourself, after a "transformative" experience—is not, in itself, the transformation. More "becoming" is still needed. So what does that mean?
Well, back to my experience at the temple dedication—
As it turned out, events that day arranged themselves so I could go to the next dedicatory session as well. I knew it wouldn't feel exactly the same, nor (I told myself sternly), should I expect it to. And sure enough. The second session was great. The speakers were good, and the spirit was present, giving a feeling of peace to the proceedings. My mind wandered from time to time, but it felt good to be there. Not overwhelming, though. Not transformative. I began to wonder if my feelings in the earlier session had been the imaginings of an overwrought soul. No, I decided, they had been real, but temporary; the change I felt had not been permanent change.
"Maybe it would be presumptuous, even greedy, to expect more. God doesn't just pour out his spirit and transform us anytime we want it," I thought.
And at that precise moment, without warning, the spirit flooded back in. Who can ever describe it? I can't, except to say that, again, I was full, full, overflowing with joy and God's love. Transported, soaring, transformed—and then, before the tears had left my eyes—I was left to myself again.
I puzzled over it for weeks. What did it mean? Why was I given the gift of those first wondrous, joyous two hours? Why did those feelings ever have to go away? And why give them and take them again a second time, so pointedly and suddenly?
I don't know for sure, of course, and feelings are slippery things. I am hesitant in the sharing of this experience at all, except that it has come so persistently to mind as I've pondered President Lee's humble words. And the feeling I've kept coming back to wonder at, as I've pondered, is that swelling; that absolute filled-to-capacity, no-room-for-more, immersed-in-God's-love feeling that leaves you amazed and overwhelmed. I don't know why it comes sometimes, while other times, though I'm craving it and seeking it, it doesn't. But it seemed to me, as the abundance poured out so surely and so unbidden, that second time—that it was almost like Heavenly Father was saying, "What do you mean I won't give you this all the time? Of course I can. This is what I AM. I'm not the one who is limited—YOU are. I am willing to pour into you as much as you are capable of receiving, but it's you who aren't yet capable of holding more."
And so lately I've been thinking of it like this. There's the enlarging. And then there's the filling. The enlarging happens bit by bit, without us noticing. We serve in our callings, study the scriptures, give up some small selfishness we've been hanging on to. It stretches us and we become able to hold more, but we might not even know it—until at some point, when we're ready, the spirit pours out, and we are filled. And maybe it's only then that we feel the change. "I'm different!" we say. "I can never go back to who I was." That's the change we sense, and it's real, but it doesn't mean the fullness stays. Since we are imperfect vessels, the light that filled us eventually begins to drain away. We sin, we tire, or maybe we've just reached our current capacity. And so we have to start again, that process of enlarging, so that next time the opportunity comes to be filled, we will be able to hold even more of God's love.
And maybe each time we are filled with the spirit, that itself stretches us a bit as well. I think that's what President Lee meant. The experience of being sustained as prophet was amazing, enlarging, and transformative. His soul was filled to spiritual capacity. He knew this enlargement, like every other spiritual enlargement, could become permanent and thus he would never be "the same person" he once was, but he also knew the fullness wouldn't last forever. Only if he kept faith, more enlargement would take place, making a new, greater, capacity available to be filled—and so on, until at last he reached that ultimate transformation into a new creature, one with God.
I'm not sure we have control over the "filling" part. Maybe by being places we're supposed to be—church meetings, the temple, General Conference. I've felt that overwhelming love when working on a talk, being with my family, reading my scriptures, and even in other less-predictable situations. But not every time, and not always when I wish for it. I think we just have to trust that it will come. And I'm sure there are limits because of mortality, too. Not even the apostles walk around in a cloud of love and gratitude and the spirit when they are shopping for shoes or calling the insurance company, I assume. President Lee didn't see himself as the paragon others thought he was. So, yes, I know we have to live in this mortal world with distraction and necessity, and people have to face the messiness of life and deal with annoyances, and it can't just all be streams of love flowing into us and out of us all the time. That's part of the plan, I'm sure. BUT I keep coming back to that impression I had, of Heavenly Father saying, "Oh, it's possible all right. You just aren't ready"—and SHOWING me, by opening up those feelings again, that it was possible to have them at any moment. God DOES want to pour out his spirit and fill me, more often than I know, maybe. I'm just not enlarged enough, yet, to hold that goodness for long.
I know people have to be transfigured to be with God, and this is kind of similar. The love and light is constantly pouring out of Him, and we can access it—theoretically—any time—but in practice, we aren't strong and light enough ourselves to bear it for as long as we might wish. And then, of course, we sin, and that puts up a barrier as well. So God gives us those transformative experiences in bite-size amounts and then says, "Okay, that's all you can handle for now." But maybe He also wants us to know, those cessations aren't coming because HE can't GIVE more. I keep thinking of that image of a cup overflowing. If I want the fullness to last longer, I need to make myself into a bigger or deeper vessel. I need to keep doing the small, enlarging tasks even when I feel a bit empty—because then, when the next filling-up comes, I will be able to receive more of what God so dearly wants to give—and hold it longer.
Other posts in this series:
Other posts in this series: