Life is hard alone. Unbearable even. I have felt the pangs of The Lonelies a time or two in my life.
They are real, and they are awful, but I have recently been privileged with some up-close looks at how much worse they can be when compounded with poverty, addiction, disability, grief or regret. Often these are root causes of loneliness—not just correlated symptoms. To varying degrees they are for me. Is loneliness possible without having experienced companionship? Does poverty feel povertous without an awareness of lack? Connection is both the problem and the solution.
One of my challenges/privileges in 2014 was to teach LDS Seminary at a local high school every morning at 6:30. My 30 or so students and I studied the first half of the prophet Joseph Smith’s revelations, LDS scripture known as The Doctrine and Covenants. Joseph’s life was concerned with connection. Joseph’s first prayer, the catalyst of his extraordinary life began with a simple question. As a 14 year-old boy, Joseph had a simple question: What church should he join? Which community of faith should he align himself with?
He spent the rest of his life building a church—a physical and spiritual gathering place with temples, cities, wards, and stakes, ordinances, and theology centered on connecting God to his children and His children to one another. Joseph wanted to build Zion—a place where all were one in heart. A community brought together by the consecration of all things to the building up of God’s kingdom. The saints were to share all that they had with one another in order to create a holy society with “no poor among them” (Moses 7:18) where all were “pure in heart” (D&C 97:21).
What a beautiful goal.
I have been blessed again and again by the social structure of the church. I have been welcomed in wards around the world as a visitor, even when I don’t speak the local language, the atmosphere and organization makes me feel at home. When moving into a new area I know that in my new ward I will meet new friends with whom I share a basic worldview and general life experience. Wherever I go I have what Joseph liked to refer to as ”immediate connections.’ They are imidiate not only in physical and emotional proximity, but also in speed. The church gives me ‘fast’ friends. What a blessing. This almost instant and deep level of connection is the benefit of church membership that my friends outside the church have most frequently remarked on with envy.
This powerful connection is what I try to tap into as a leader in my ward. I want all my church-mates to share this feeling of security and friendship. I see too many who feel alone. I want to reach out to them, and also give them courage to reach out to one another. By reaching out, sharing both weakness and strength they and I can find joy and peace together.
Joseph’s scripture also uses ‘connection’ to locate our human relationship to Deity. Man has the power to act in God’s name because “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.” (D&C121:36) One of those principles is that we are able to access the power of God only insomuch as we are acting in behalf of others. We cannot call down blessings or cursings (I don’t recommend cursing to anyone, btw) upon ourselves. A priesthood holder cannot lay hands on himself. A person cannot baptize herself unto salvation. We need one another. Our salvation depends on our willingness to place ourselves in the literal hands of one of God’s servants here on earth. That is the power of connection—the power of salvation.
What does this mean for me?
Strangely, in the year of being unselfie I thought primarily of reaching out to others in order to bless my own life. I believe I did so intentionally, but as I have served in my calling I have seen just how impossible that mindset is to maintain. As Relief Society President, as I had when I was a missionary, I learned in .5 seconds that any thought of blessing myself through reaching out to others is swept away. (It is sooo much like being a missionary, it’s a little scary.) I had a similar mindset as a missionary initially. “Wow! I’m so awesome. I’m so great for doing this!” I challenge anyone to come up with a faster way to earn a painful slap of inadequacy upside the head from the Lord than that train of thought. My illusions of noble service were just that. The real blessings that result from service basically never come in the forms that I most enjoy (read: applause, recognition, flattery). Nor should they. They come as I am quietly reminded by the Spirit that the Lord is pleased with my service; that I am close to him as an instrument in his hands in efforts to bring to pass much righteousness. That is the greatest feeling in the world. Through service I am connected to Him and to those I serve. I become Zion.
2015 promises to be another year of change and transition. I will complete my thesis project, titled Generations Connect. I will finish graduate school. I will look for and I hope start a new full time job. I may or may not move to a new state. But staying or going, there are bound to be new connections made and continued distance between myself and those I love. How will I connect more fully?
Phone-A-Friend: I’ve inherited my parents’s genetic dislike for talking on the phone, but I also value the conversations I have with my dear friends far away when I make the effort. Facebook makes it really easy to feel like I’m still in touch with you, even when we haven’t talked in years. I am committing to having a substantial conversation with a good friend on phone or Skype once every month. There! I just made a list 15 names long of people I would love to spend more than 10 minutes catching up with this year. So look out old friends! I’m coming for you.
Be Bold: Ask those two guys out. Enough said.
Soul-Fit: Strengthen my mind and body connection by feeding and taking care of both of them better. This requires taking time to exercise and listening to my body about what it really wants to eat and not eat. I believe that these elements are inseparably connected, so I want them working on the same team for the same purpose.
Professional Connections: I will make myself more visible in professional circles and seek out the connections that are available near and far. This will include submitting my plays for professional development and getting involved with local theatre companies.
Knitting: making connections one stitch at a time. I’m enjoying this.
Go me! There is more that could be said, but I am now anxious to get to work. Wish me well.