Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Prayerful watching

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Friday Morning Session from the April 1974 Conference.
I loved Howard W. Hunter's talk from this session, titled "His Final Hours." You might think a talk like this one, basically just summarizing and adding comment to lengthy passages of scripture, wouldn't have many new insights. But I found the opposite to be true: Elder Hunter's tender retelling of the Savior's final hours felt deeply meditative and personal, almost like another witness being added to stand alongside Matthew's, Mark's, Luke's, and John's. Which I suppose is exactly what it was. Hearing the familiar events summarized in new words made some new things stick out to me, such as when Elder Hunter observed:
As [the Pharisees] turned away [Jesus] added a plea: “… and [render] unto God the things that are God’s.” As the coin bore the image of Caesar, so these and all men bore the image of God, their Heavenly Father. They had been created by him in the likeness of his image, and Jesus was to provide a way for them to return to him. Yet, “When they heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.”
I had never before made the connection between the coin which bore Caesar's image, and ourselves being in the image of God. I hadn't thought about how "rendering to God the things that are God's" means giving OURSELVES back to Him.

Maybe my favorite part of this talk, though, came as part of a story I know so well and have had so many lessons about, I wouldn't have thought I could get any new insights about it! And Elder Hunter just mentions it almost in passing:
[Christ] spoke of virgins attending a wedding, some of whom had sufficient oil for trimming their lamps while others saw their meager supply depleted because the bridegroom tarried longer than they supposed. Thus Jesus taught his disciples to watch and pray; however, he taught them that prayerful watching does not require sleepless anxiety and preoccupation with the future, but rather the quiet, steady attention to present duties.
I've been thinking a lot lately about learning to WAIT. The scriptures so often advocate waiting, watching, "holding our peace." I know that such patience is more than passively sitting around, but…it can involve some passive sitting around, it seems! I have been wondering how to navigate the path between "reaching and trying and stretching for what could be" and "being at peace and content with what is." How do we know when revelation is slow in coming because we aren't doing enough—or when it's God's will that we…just wait?

So I love this doctrine Elder Hunter picks out of the parable of the ten virgins. I assume he got it from the part that says:
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And of course! I had never noticed this! But there it is! ALL the virgins fell asleep. Perhaps the foolish ones were falling too much on the side of not worrying; perhaps they ought to have been staying up all night trying to do something about their low oil, I don't know. But Elder Hunter seems to imply that that was not the right way for any of those waiting for Christ: "Prayerful watching does NOT require sleepless anxiety and preoccupation with the future." Certainly the wise virgins weren't just frittering away all their time till the bridegroom came. But they also weren't unduly fearful about what was to come. They weren't lying awake at night imagining all the bad things that might happen to their children someday, or thinking about how many things they were failing at, or fretting about all the things that were getting neglected in their busy lives. They gathered their oil. They slept. Then they arose and "trimmed their lamps."

I'm sure Elder Hunter wasn't saying that urgency is never necessary, but I love his reminder that "more anxiety" does NOT necessarily equal "better results." It just struck me how peaceful it all sounds. And it seems like such a great pattern to follow when we are attempting "prayerful watching"! Like the wise virgins, we can prepare and do our best, paying "quiet, steady attention to [our] present duties," as Elder Hunter says. But after that (or even amid that)—we can wait calmly, content and at peace. Sleep. And then when the call comes, we can "arise" with enthusiasm and do what is necessary to get even more light from our lamps.


Other posts in this series:

3 comments:

  1. Oh! Such beautiful insights! I love them! (And I've just been rambling absolute and incomprehensible gibberish in an email to you about the whole serious verses lighthearted, etc. When this all here is much more calm and simple and clear!)

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  2. Thank you so much! I think much of my life was spent with an unnecessary preoccupation with what might happen (or what I wanted to happen) in the future. I love the idea of "quiet steady attention to our present duties".It really is amazing how more can be learned about something I feel like I've heard about many times.

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  3. Yes I've fallen way way behind the group but I'm still plugging along at studying the past conferences. As usual your insights were the ones that touched my heart.Thanks so much

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