Rough Stone Rolling

Converting Oneself One Day at a Time – A Mormon Blog

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Do What is Right, Let the Neurosis Follow

February 4th, 2009 · 6 Comments


One of the more interesting characters in my lifetime is G. Gordon Liddy: lawyer, FBI agent, CIA operative and Watergate burglar. While the others tossed the hot potato of blame at each other during the Watergate investigation, Liddy fearlessly took the heat and went to prison for his president.  During my university years he was something of a hero for me. His biography, Will, resided in my backpack throughout my tenure and I often used examples of his life to illustrate points in college papers.

A favorite story was how he learned to overcome his fears. When Liddy was a child he was terrified of the rats that scurried around in his basement. So overcome with fear was he, that he had panic attacks at the slightest perceived noise when he had to go down there for something. Finally, he became so frustrated and ashamed with himself, that when he was 13 he went down into the basement, waited for a rat to emerge, and then he killed, cooked and ate it. This so exhilarated him, that that’s how he approached the rest of life.

As members of the Church we are, from time to time, confronted by rats in the forms of callings and Church assignments. Most of my assignments have been pretty agreeable. I like to teach and give talks, I’ve done enough theater to get off on running road shows and Christmas programs, and I’ve had enough leadership callings to feel somewhat comfortable going in, with the possible exception of my first stake calling and feeling the weight of that HPGL gig.

But I have my rats, too. I hate hospitals and being asked to go visit and bless gravely ill and dying people. The first gravely ill person I blessed was on my mission, and though her doctors gave her 6 more months, my laying-on-of-hands took her out that very night– so you can understand at least part of the reason for my squeamishness.I have a horrible bedside manner and it’s all I can do to think of what to say to them. Needless to say, my visits are brief and as innocuous as possible. Unfortunately, an 86-year old high priest with whom I was particularly close (and whose family I home taught) was on the brink of death last year and I ended up visiting him a few times a week, giving him a gaggle of blessings and torturing him with bad jokes (he was very susceptible to my jokes). Amazingly, he suddenly rallied and made a full recovery. I can’t say the same for my phobia of hospitals and sick people.

I hate doing blitzes. I don’t know if all wards do this; basically, it’s making a list of inactive members found in the computer and then splitting up in pairs to find them, make contact and invite them to church. As far as I’m concerned, if these people were really where the computer said they were and they didn’t come to church, that’s their prerogative. I don’t think I can recall one member who reactivated because we hunted them down and happied them into submission.

Another big fat rat loitering in my basement is missionary work. As a recent convert to the Church, I sent in my mission papers swept up in the romance that I’d be a savior to the world, met by the outstretched arms of good people starving for the truth. What a maroon. It was a tough gig on several levels: I went to the Bible belt, North Carolina, where Mormonism was the perpetual Cult Playmate of the Year; I was almost immediately met with jerk companions and leaders that resembled nothing I saw on My Turn on Earth; and I learned that my success was gauged by how many doors, discussions, “golden questions” and baptisms I got every month. It didn’t take long for the romance to go down like the Hindenburg and be replaced by my predisposed aversion to infringing on people I didn’t know with a sales pitch. I persevered because I knew my attitude was wrong and I was called of God, and while I was sent home as a ZL and a “successful missionary,” I was glad to put it all behind me. No lie, to this day I have a recurring nightmare that I’m sent back to that mission 28 years later, becoming companions with some 20-year-old hotshot and separated from my family for two years.

So when the Preach My Gospel campaign went into full swing, my blood ran cold. Were we going to be monitored for “golden questions” again? Was I expected to ask my fair-weather neighbor over for burgers and discussions? As the GL I had to push Preach My Gospel fever to the quorum like an Herbalife team leader, and I did, but it went so against my grain. Couldn’t we just be good examples and let them notice our shining lights? Okay, yeah, I know it doesn’t work that way, and it doesn’t work that way. But it’s my big, ugly pet rat– pushing the product. ‘Scuse me ma’am, watch what happens when I throw dirt on your clean carpet…

So I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, having those rats in the basement. Maybe it goes something like, “See how strong and fearless Liddy became after he caught, cooked and ate his rat?” And I guess that’s what we’re supposed to do with all of those dreadful, unsavory callings and assignments we get from time to time: Embrace them, make them our own, become them. Convert to them. We don’t have to believe they were given to us by divine inspiration, but we can show the Lord that we have a handle on faith and the tools that He left at our disposal.

Actually that would be just the first step. From there we should probably strive to make that stewardship more about others and less about ourselves and making points with God.

And it’s at this point the rats and their metaphor jump ship.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 cheryl // Feb 4, 2009 at 1:03 am

    Great post. I honestly believe that everything we are given –everything, inspired or not –will make us a better person if we just let it. Of course, I’m saying this as I just finished telling the RS presidency that for the first time in my life I’m the one who needs a good VT companion and I can’t play the you’re-with-this-companion-to-reactivate-her role anymore.
    We all need to take turns giving and receiving once in a while.
    Anyway, my point is that I agree with you. Some callings suck. Some are a dream. But no matter what we get, if we stick with it, work hard, and try our best (with a load of prayer), then something good will always come out of it. Always.

  • 2 David // Feb 4, 2009 at 5:36 am

    Amen, Cheryl. And usually the first and most obvious good that comes from it is by the time we’re released, we leave loving it– or at least not disliking it quite so much.

  • 3 Chris Bigelow // Feb 4, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Very well expressed post. Makes me feel pretty queasy, though. Makes me feel rebellious and mentally practice saying no to my bishop if he asks me to do something I just don’t want to do. I’ve said yes in the past and then just not done it, and next time I’d like to be honest and say no if I know there’s little or no chance of me really doing anything. I hope my clerk job drags out for several more years…

  • 4 s'mee // Feb 4, 2009 at 6:15 am

    Late to the party, but a few comments.

    It started so long ago I can’t even remember when. As a Primary Presidency we would go out once a month, on Sunday to visit 2 active and 2 inactive families of children. We would make a plate of treats for each family, go unannounced, cold, and make our door approach. We’d stay on the porch, stay five minutes and just say howdy, leave the goodies and go. Our ward still does this every month.

    Our stake, has practiced visiting (paired up with ward axillary companions) the Wednesday night prior to that ward’s conference. Each set of paired leaders visit with one family in the ward. Add that up. 4 families with the Bishopric, 4 RS, 4 Primary, 4 YW, 4 YM

  • 5 Karron // Feb 5, 2009 at 4:11 am

    I hate being required to shove the church down anyone’s throat. It is just flat wrong to me. Inactives will come back when and if they want to. I have inactive sisters on my route, we try to see them regularly, we are always turned away with an excuse. but we keep trying anyway.

    The only way I have ever brought anyone into the church (two families over the years) was to be good friend with them, set the example, and when they asked, answered questions honestly. And, of course, lived the gospel.

    As for callings, some I have hated, but learned from, some I have loved, and learned from. There is always a reason and I just do as I am asked. But, every time the bishopric wants to talk to me, I start begging that I don’t get put in primary or YW. Puuuuullllleeeeezzzzz……

    Good post David, and I get your frustration and the rats that bug you.

  • 6 s'mee // Feb 6, 2009 at 2:18 am

    my comment was too long and got cut .

    My point: In our stake we have had MANY successes in visiting and bringing back less active and those who have left for one reason or another. It works for us.

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