I like to share. I’m not great with small talk, but I love deep conversations. I love fleshing out solutions to problems and asking and answering honest questions. I’m not afraid of talking to people. In fact, I often have to remind myself to not be so quick to share my thoughts or feelings. I don’t usually steam roll over anyone (I hope) and I don’t always have something to say, but I do love to share when I get excited about a new truth. I have to practice bridling my passions and letting others take the reins.
This morning, I couldn’t talk. I was in Ward Council and we were discussing what we can do to help members want to do the spiritual work to get to the temple. I serve with some amazing Saints, whose love for the Lord and for their brothers and sisters is remarkable. They so deeply feel the blessings and joy of the temple and want to share it with everyone. There wasn’t a single person in the room who wasn’t motivated to find a solution.
But we were all stumped as to what to actually do. Should we get a list of Young Women together to provide babysitting? Should we arrange rides, since the temple is 2-3 hours away depending on traffic? Should we teach more lessons about tithing so those who struggle with that part can overcome it? Everyone got in on the discussion, but nothing was landing.
Then the bishop asked us to share from our personal experiences how we learned to do the spiritual work needed to go to the temple. The testimonies of my fellow council members were beautiful. I’ve had my own experiences, and I have a tender testimony of God’s love for his children, but I couldn’t find the words to speak what was in my heart. I knew what I was hearing from the Lord in the depths of my soul, but I just sat in the circle and kept my head low. I actually had to wipe away tears a few times, and tried to do so as discreetly as possible.
For the rest of the day I went over and over both what I had felt I was receiving and why I couldn’t say anything. I’m grateful to have a ward council that is safe. I know I could tell them anything, share anything, and it would be received with love and understanding. There was nothing wrong with any of the suggestions we came up with, they were all very practical and charitable. But I saw an important distinction, learned from my years walking through refining fires, and I couldn’t open my mouth. Why couldn’t I tell them that I thought we were looking at it backwards?
In our devotion to our ward family we were almost desperate to find ways to persuade our brothers and sisters that the spiritual work and sacrifice of temple attendance is worth it. A noble cause. But in my heart I knew God was trying to show me something. Even now I can’t quite think of the right words to communicate what I was feeling, and still feel. Bruce C. Hafen once said, “Our experiences are broader than our vocabulary.” Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t speak. Perhaps I wasn’t ready to communicate it with the spirit. Perhaps I still have more to learn before I can powerfully testify of it.
We don’t save people. We minister to people, and God saves them. There isn’t a single thing we can say or do which will produce a desired effect in those we hope to touch. Only the spirit of the Lord does that. We are but helpers to the spirit’s great mission to bring all unto Christ so they may be saved. Babysitting, rides, class lessons, etc. can all be used as the tools of ministering, but they alone cannot bring anyone to the love of God. We can’t sanctify people by proxy. They must choose, and then the Savior will walk them back to Father.
This great truth is the solution to all of the questions we find ourselves asking as leaders. How do we retain new converts? How do we improve church attendance? How do we encourage engagement in youth activities? How do we get members to qualify for the blessings of the temple? How do we keep members on the covenant path? How do we teach investigators about the gospel? How do we find new investigators?
We minister. We invite the spirit into their lives by following the spirit ourselves, including using whatever tools we have and feel to use, and then the spirit leads them to Christ. The more they can stand in their own faith, the stronger they will be and the more their own desires to do the spiritual work of the gospel will develop.
What does that look like? Well, I guess from the outside it would look about the same. We’d give rides, provide babysitting, teach lessons, and all of those wonderful things. But the entire purpose would be different. We wouldn’t be doing those things to get them to the temple. We’d be doing those things to bring them to Christ. To help them feel the love of their Savior and open their hearts to him. Then the Lord will work with them to find their own covenant path. And that makes all the difference. Then, they will be standing on a solid foundation of personal revelation which can take them all the way back to Father.
So, I guess what I wanted to say in that council, to answer the question of how do we get the members to the temple, is, “We don’t. We do everything in our power to follow the spirit and minister to each member personally and let God worry about getting them to the temple. He’s not in a rush. This might not happen before our next ward temple trip. Salvation is in the long-game. Minister. Testify when appropriate. Love. Then trust God to do the work of saving his children.”
As wonderful as my fellow council members are, I’m really not sure if I could have pulled that off well enough in that moment with the intensity of what was being revealed to me to have it land without offense or awkward weirdness. And my love and respect for them and their callings are too great to just ramble off on something I’m feeling and don’t have words for yet. God shut my mouth so I could sit with it for a while. Because, well, he’s not in a rush. When the time is right, not for them but for me, he’ll give me the words.
Then, as I was reading in 2 Corinthians with my family this afternoon, I received the words. Enough so that I could write this post, which is just one of the many ways I’ve learned that the Lord helps me write things on my heart.
Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand. (2 Corinthians 1:24)
The work of salvation isn’t done by proxy. We can’t talk others into exaltation just because our intentions are good and we’re sincere. We have absolutely zero dominion over the faith of another. All we can do is help. We help them find joy. The joy which comes from having a personal relationship with God. The joy which inspires and informs faith. And it is by that faith that they will stand. There is no program for that. And there’s no schedule. Each covenant path is as unique and individual as each of us. We minister, and God will save his children. We can trust that.