Tuesday, July 18, 2017

To fill the inner man with light

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1976 Conference.

Elder James E. Faust gave a great talk called "A Personal Relationship with the Savior" in this session, which I was excited to read because I've been thinking about that topic a lot. As I read, I noticed there were a lot of references to the "inner man" and our deeper selves. For example:
Having such a relationship can unchain the divinity within us, and nothing can make a greater difference in our lives as we come to know and understand our divine relationship with God. 
We should earnestly seek not just to know about the Master, but to strive, as He invited, to be one with Him (see John 17:21), to “be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” 
Peter counsels us to be “partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Pet. 1:4.) The influence and teaching of the Messiah should have a transcendence over all other interests and concerns in our lives. We must constantly be reaching upward for the riches of eternity, for the kingdom of God is within us
Is there not a yearning to understand in your mind what is in your heart, a feeling which you cannot give utterance to because it is so unspeakably personal? The Master said that this quiet reality can “speak peace to your mind concerning the matter.”
That last quote really spoke to me: I am always yearning to understand in my mind what is in my heart! So often when I learn something new or significant, I have this feeling of reaching toward something so much more than I can grasp—and I can SENSE that it's important—but I just can't quite get it! It sort of helps to try to write about it (I often go through that process here on this blog), but then you have the problem of reducing this vast, multilayered feeling back into the two-dimensionality of words—and, much as I like words, I never feel like they quite do the job. So, that frustrates me.

In spite of relating to that yearning Elder Faust referenced, though, I found myself thinking that all this about the inner self was an odd thing to focus on in a talk about getting to know the Savior. After all, what does self have to do with Him? Shouldn't we be focusing less on our own feelings and on finding "the divinity within us" or the "kingdom of God within us" (in fact, if it hadn't been President Faust using those phrases, I would have scoffed at them immediately as being a bit too new-age-y and self-centered for my liking)—and instead be focusing outward, on getting to know Christ and serving others?

Well, yes. And of course President Faust gets to that. To those who want to know Christ better, he does prescribe prayer, and selfless service, and scripture study, and obedience. But I suddenly realized WHY the "inner man" stuff was necessary and relevant to the subject at hand. It is because of the "relationship" part of "a relationship with Christ." We have to give something to the relationship for it to be mutually fulfilling, and that something is within us. It is our "inner selves," also known as our "wills," I suppose. But I like the "inner man" designation because it implies not just our desires, but also our thoughts, our questions, our worries, our preferences, our curiosities, our interests, our enjoyments, our annoyances. All these aspects of us must begin that reach toward Christ. I think that's what President Faust meant by "we must constantly be reaching upward for the riches of eternity, for the kingdom of God is within us." Not that hackneyed "girl-power!" sort of pep talk you get from children's books or Disney movies or guidance counselors encouraging you to "be whatever you can dream of being!" This is something more corporeal—rooted in and growing out of the reality of who you actually are now. In all our weakness and smallness and pettiness and lack of vision—in our most embarrassingly inner of selves—a stretching upward toward Christ is the first step to knowing Him.

And I love that! Of course I have heard that Christ "knows us better than we know ourselves." But to think what that MEANS for us! Because I love the idea that He can take all those things I don't understand about myself—those things I keep doing even though I don't WANT to keep doing them, or those times I feel mean and snappish even though I have no real reason to, or those fears I haven't even quite articulated to myself—and start to teach me, in that "unspeakably personal" way, not only how to understand the things of God from afar—but also how to teach my bedraggled SELF to become part of those things of God.

And then, on top of that, to think that Jesus Christ can take those little snips and glimmers of understanding and transcendence I sometimes feel (but can rarely hold onto as long as I'd like), and tease them out into longer strands, and harden them into something that lasts—transform them from "bits of residual divinity within" to "aspects of goodness that actually make sense in context of who I am now"—well, that seems truly miraculous. But it is no less than what He promises us in the scriptures. Elder Faust uses this verse from the Doctrine and Covenants:
“If your eye be single to [His] glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.”
I've always loved that scripture, but here I love it for what it means for our relationship with the Savior. Jesus Christ can not only emanate His light outward from His perfect self, but he can also send it into our dark corners until those, too, shine with goodness! He can fill us with understanding: of His mysteries, of those vast truths of eternity we're reaching up and yearning for, yes. But He also brings a new and real understanding of ourselves, and of our otherwise-unknowable brothers and sisters. All we have to do is open up our "inner man" toward goodness, and let Christ shine in.

Other posts in this series:

1 comment:

  1. Such a hopeful post. Today I feel so small and closed that it feels impossible that these things ever might become realities for me, but in these quotes and scriptures there is that glimmer of brightness that says "but it is true! You can!" that keeps me trying and hope not squelched.

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