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Meekness in trial, Conductor metaphor, and ward choir

Kristina's last church talk/sermon in Utah before moving to Texas
July 2018, Lehi UT, Traverse Mountain 8th Ward

My message today is based on two great sermons.  In the April 2018 general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar spoke on meekness.  And in 2013, Elder Ulisses Soares, then of the Presidency of the Seventy, also gave an address titled, Be Meek and Lowly of Heart. Both of these talks are worth reading again, probably multiple times.  I’ll share my favorite parts of each address, as well as some of my own thoughts and experiences.
I’ve also spent some time thinking about the songs in the hymnbook that teach about humility, reverence, a broken heart, or being meek and submissive.  My remarks are specifically based on the line from Hymn #131 More Holiness Give Me, where the author Philip Paul Bliss says, “more meekness in trial, more praise for relief.”  Whenever I find a song where the composer wrote both the lyrics and the music, I’m impressed.  Those are two different skill sets, to be able to write poetry and then to set it to music.  I believe this hymn is a masterpiece in summarizing what it means to be a Christian.  I’ll come back to the lyrics of this hymn later.  For now, please just remember the key phrase: more meekness in trial, more praise for relief.
As many of you know, my family has lived in this neighborhood for eight years.  During this past year, Norm and I have both felt it was important for him to deepen a professional association with his new boss in Texas.  He started work there in July, and just this last week we put our house up for sale.  The kids and I will be joining him in Dallas once we figure out where to live.  Last week my brother was asking, “So when are you moving?”  And the answer is still:  I don’t know.  We’ll get there when we get there, but school starts on August 15 so there’s a lot of work to be done, and a lot of miracles that we are still waiting for.
I’d like to share some of the lessons we’ve learned over the past six months as we’ve dealt with uncertainty and change.  We have faced some really difficult parenting challenges.  I love each of my four kids, and they are growing and learning so many things.  My boys are both teenagers now, they’re both taller than me, and my girls are still young enough that I wish I could freeze time and keep them small and innocent forever.  Mainly I wish that I could raise my girls in world where social media hadn’t yet been invented. 
But that’s where being meek is part of the plan.  The Lord knew exactly what he was doing when he gave me two boys, and then two girls.  Originally when I was expecting Baby #3, I was terrified of having a girl, knowing the mental illnesses that run in my family.  How could I possibly raise a daughter to be strong and sweet, to be courageous and humble, to be assertive yet kind, to be stable and steady when I often am not…?  So many dilemmas.  And yet, if I can meekly submit all of my worries and fears, and meekly surrender all of my bossy directives, then the Lord can make my children into what they need to become.  And, He can do the same with me.
When we are meek, the Lord can use us in His work.  As you and I both know, we don’t pick our trials.  We’re often called to deal with really difficult things.  How can we grow from suffering, instead of letting sorrow make us bitter?  I would suggest that meekness in trial and praise for relief are part of the answer.
Elder Bednar helped to clarify that being meek does Not mean being weak.  He said that there are many interrelated attributes that lead to spiritual maturity.  He also said that when we are meek we find rest.  That’s a funny one for me, because insomnia is one of my thorns.  The scripture from the New Testament where the Savior instructs his disciples:  "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." (Matt 11:29) Maybe in the midst of a season of sleepless nights, we can still find rest, meaning peace.
Elder Soares talked about the temperament of a disciple.  One of the characteristics here is being calm.  If I want more calm and rest in my life, then I can increase my meekness quotient.  He said that behaving with goodness and kindness, showing strength and serenity are part of being meek.
I’d like to read a direct quote from his talk:  “We are blessed to be born with the seed of meekness in our hearts.  We need to understand that it is not possible to grow and develop that seed in the twinkling of an eye but rather through the process of time.  Christ asks us to “take up our cross daily,” meaning that it must be a constant focus and desire.”
In other words, all the small and simple steps really do add up.  The first step is to improve day by day.  He adds that learning to control our temper is another step.  He said that “by controlling our reactions, being calm and temperate, and avoiding contention, we will begin to qualify for the gift of meekness.”  He goes on to say that “God’s promise to the humble is that He will lead them by the hand.”
Years ago I fell in love with another quote about humility.  Elder Neal A Maxwell said it well when he explained:

The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. It is a hard doctrine, but it is true. The many other things we give to God, however nice that may be of us, are actually things He has already given us, and He has loaned them to us. But when we begin to submit ourselves by letting our wills be swallowed up in God’s will,
then we are really giving something to Him. (Neal A Maxwell,August 2000 “Insights from My Life”)

His quote on surrender pretty much summarizes the need to be humble and teachable, and to let God run the show.
The other morning when I was swimming laps at the pool, I began thinking about how our Father in Heaven is little bit like a great songwriter/conductor.  Bear with me on this analogy.  I know all the metaphors from the New Testament talk about fish or bread or whatever.  But for me as a piano player, learning to follow the Conductor has been a lifelong pursuit. 



When I was sixteen, my family was living in Las Vegas and the Bishop in my ward did an unusual thing.  He called my piano teacher to be the choir director, and he called me to be the accompanist.  I’d like to say it was a perfect arrangement, but there were weeks when she gave me incredibly hard stuff to play, and I didn’t make time to practice.  I remember one Sunday after church, where she asked if we could rehearse all four parts of a really hard song.  And I was unprepared.  She had to work with me.  My wise teacher could have said, “Okay sweetie, we both know I could play that part no big deal,” but she didn’t.  She let me struggle through it, and guess what?  The next week I showed up prepared because I knew she wouldn’t let me off the hook.
What I didn’t know then is this secret: being the choir director is ten times harder than I ever imagined.  A few weeks ago, I was visiting with my good friend (who also happens to be our ward choir director) at her house.  Our kids were playing together, and in a random impetuous moment, I asked if I could borrow the choir for a few weeks.  I really hadn’t planned to say that, but I really did want to try my hand with the conductor’s baton.  She was gracious and accommodating, and like a good fairy godmother she basically said:  “Wish granted.  You can be the guest conductor for our next song.”  So she let me pick the music, she let me pick the date, she let me run the choir for a little while.


And guess what?  I never knew how much I didn’t know, until I tried to walk a mile in her shoes.  I’ve concluded that I love my seat at the piano bench, safely away from the spotlight. But here comes the metaphor.  Let’s say that our Heavenly Father has written a beautiful symphony, and I love playing the music.  He knows how to do the dynamics:  when to get louder and softer, when to speed it up or slow it down.  He knows when the dissonance is just enough, and when to resolve those painful chords into a major key.
Here comes the part about being meek:  I don’t know the end of the song.  He gives me one measure at a time.  Sometimes I want to just bang the keys in frustration, because I don’t know exactly what He’s trying to do with me. 
One more quick personal story.  My two daughters are six years apart. 



During those six years, many of you know that Norm and I both wondered and waited on the Lord, not knowing exactly what He was trying to do with our family.  I often said that I just wanted a telegram from heaven, telling me whether or not my family was done, or whether or not we needed to have one more baby.  I know this is a sensitive subject, especially in a ward filled with twenty- and thirty-somethings.  But I’m grateful that the Lord, in His wisdom, chose to make me wait for details.  I know it’s hard to not know the full story, or to not sightread the whole song right away.  But in His wisdom and in His timing, He will work the miracles and cause the growth that needs to happen.  
If He gave us too many details too soon, we might see the ending and think, “no way, I absolutely can't play that.”  Often my kids will ask for something, and my answer is, “No, but thanks for asking.”  I think the Lord does that with us sometimes.  Ultimately, obviously you can see that Baby 4 finally joined our family.  And I’m grateful that I had a kid in my late thirties, even though my hair was starting to turn grey and even though I’ve often felt like a grandma in this neighborhood.
Returning to the metaphor about the Choir director:  After playing this music my whole life,  I’ve grown to love the conductor.  I’ve learned to trust Him, and all I have to do is play the song.  One measure, one line, one page at a time.  I don’t have to know it all, or do it all, or be amazing all the time.  I just have to play my part.
To further this analogy, let’s talk about the members of the choir.  Let’s say that a soprano is capable of singing a beautiful solo, and she can and often will. 

But when you add the alto line, we have this rich harmony and complexity.  


Let’s say the bass part on its own would probably be pretty boring.  But we need that steady anchor, the rhythm and stability they add.  We can’t forget the tenors.  Some of them are ridiculously talented and ridiculously funny.  They bring joy to the choir, and we love practice because they are there.



For those of you who are new to the idea of choral singing, please don’t be intimidated for a second.  This ward choir is open to everybody.  You don’t need to be talented in order to sing with us.  You just have to follow the conductor.



Now before I conclude my remarks, I’d like to shift gears and talk about the Prophet Joseph Smith.  He’s taken a beating on the internet and been misunderstood by many.  But the Book of Mormon stands as his magnum opus.  He translated it through God’s power, and I believe he is and was a true prophet.  Even though he died at the age of 38, he suffered deeply like any other human.  One of the most eloquent and beautiful chapters of scripture is Doctrine and Covenants section 121.  Here we have a window into his soul when he was suffering.  He was in jail and his family and people were being treated terribly. Here we see how he had to apply the idea of meekness in trial in his own circumstances.  His petition to the Lord was filled with honesty and vulnerability.
The reply in verse 7 is that of a tender Father, who knows that his son is hurting:  "My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment…"
Also relevant here are the words of Isaiah.  In chapter 54 we read about Zion in the last days.  The imagery of a painful and difficult struggle is presented, and the consolation resulting from it reads as follows: "Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame, for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth.”  
(Editor's note: The song that I chose to sing with the choir that day is based on this chapter, and as soon as I finished talking, the choir came up to sing it.) My Kindness song, written by Rob Gardner.
One more quick side note here, I’ve recently read a book about shame by Brene Brown.  It’s called, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t).  She addresses the human condition, about how people feel shame and deal with perfectionism.  She talks about her research over the years, and how to make the journey from worrying about what other people think, to knowing intrinsically that we are enough. I have benefited from reading her book.  I enjoyed listening to a TED talk by Dr. Brown a few years ago.  
I also think Isaiah would have given a pretty great TED talk had he been given the opportunity. Back to Isaiah 54, verse 7:  "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.  In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer…
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.”
My testimony today is that the Lord is merciful.  He is good and kind and meek.  We can become like him one day and one song at a time.  In our pursuit as disciples of the Master, I would suggest that meekness is necessary.  In writing this talk I’ve learned that it is a gift we can pray for, and that we acquire it one piece at a time.
I’d like to conclude my remarks by reiterating the words of the hymn More Holiness Give Me. 

Verse 1:

More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.

Verse 2:

More gratitude give me,
More trust in the Lord,
More pride in his glory,
More hope in his word,
More tears for his sorrows,
More pain at his grief,
More meekness in trial,
More praise for relief.

Verse 3: 

More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy—
More, Savior, like thee.



Comments

  1. I’m so grateful to see the music of the master in other’s lives and in my own past. It teaches me that however bitter or wonky my life sounds, God has an incredible, astonishingly intricate, technically astute masterwork to make of my life. He is so skilled. If I watch and wait, His music will fill me with awe and serve to solidify my trust in Him.

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    1. I love this comment. Thank you for writing it Bridget. I think your words are poetic in their own right. You're right, that the astute masterwork He is building is intricate and incredible, even with the dissonance or bitterness. The hard part is definitely to watch and wait, because it's easier to say than to do. I'm pretty sure the song you're learning to sing will be awe-filled and that the awful parts (funny how those two words sound the same) will absolutely solidify your trust in Him.

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