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Monday, May 10, 2010

"That We May Be Present": The Opening Prayer that Changed My Day

The strangest thing happened at a recent Stake leadership training meeting on a beautiful Saturday. I had settled down in the remote back corner of the crowded Relief Society room with my stack of books, ready to split my time between reading Nibley's One Eternal Round, studying Mandarin from a recent Liahona and a Chinese dictionary, and perhaps nodding occasionally and even taking a few notes from the meeting I was attending, sort of. If I had to spend much of a Saturday in meetings--Saturday, one of my only times to get my stuff done--at least I was going to walk away knowing a little more in some areas that mattered to me.

And then came the opening prayer that changed everything and foiled all my plans, resulting in a "less productive" day that was inspiring and even joyous instead of a grudging sacrifice and waste of time. It came from a High Council member whom I deeply respect as a faithful Latter-day Saint and highly admired corporate leader as well. Near the beginning of his prayer, he said, "Father, help us that we may be present. . . ." Flush. With that phrase, my plans and selfish intentions began swirling and then swiftly descended into the great drain of reconsideration.

"How can you learn if you don't listen? How can you be guided if you don't pay attention? Whom are you here to serve anyway?" Ooops. Uh, right. So I set down my stack of books, got out my notebook, and began paying attention to what was said. A difficult exercise, one that I'm not ready to commit to as a pattern for the future, but one that brought remarkable results that day. I found that the messages that had been prepared really had some meat to them.

The words of our Stake President especially opened up some new things for me and strengthened me in a variety of ways. I found that there were promptings and small bits of guidance that came as I paid attention and allowed the Spirit to influence my reaction to what was taught. My testimony was strengthened by several of the stories and principles shared, and I was faced once again with overwhelming evidence of what really motivates and drives the leaders in this Church: a desire to follow Jesus Christ, to love and bless others, and to bring the joy into the lives of people that only comes from following Christ. It's not about self-aggrandizement, control or power, but about humble service and love. It's a privilege to be part of that, even if it means occasionally losing a precious Saturday morning to study and do things that aren't on my personal to-do list.

Almost five hours after that prayer, as I drove home, I realized that I had experienced a wonderful and joyous day, much better than what would have happened if I were always drifting in and out of the flow, trying to study my own stuff without being present. Thank heavens for that inspired opening prayer with that day-changing line, "that we may be present." I might even try it again next time.

UPDATE, MAY 14: Before people get too offended by my attitudes about attending meetings, I should clarify that my attendance was not required at this meeting. It was a bishopric training meeting, and since I am not a unit advisor to any specific unit, there was no need for me to be there, but it was OK to attend. I was there voluntarily because I wanted to attend to learn more about ward councils since the Young Women's president had asked me to give her group a little training in that area later in the day. So to fulfill my duties later in the day, I felt that I should attend this earlier meeting, but it was hard to completely give up that time without trying to get some extra things done at the same time. But I admit it's a temptation that doesn't go away even in meetings where I am expected to be there. I won't admit to any further sins along these lines, especially not sneaking in foreign language materials to Priesthood meetings. That would be going totally apostate.

11 comments:

Austin said...

Thanks for this thoughtful story.

This has happened to me several times. I plan to read news, or a book, on my phone during sacrament meeting. Something will trigger me to re-analyze my intentions, whether it was something that was said or the prodding of my wife.

As I then pay attention, I find that I was spiritually fed, and was so disappointed that I could have missed such a spiritually enriching meeting if I had followed my original, selfish intentions.

Thank goodness for other people, and the Spirit, who help us to shape up.

Bookslinger said...

Jeff, you had actually _planned_ on "multi-tasking" during your Stake President's talk at a Stake Leadership meeting?

Maybe you're not such a Peter-Priesthood Goody-Two-Shoes that I thought you were.

So, thanks for being human!

Mormanity said...

No, I hadn't planned on ignoring anybody in specific and would probably have paid extra attention when the Stake President spoke. But it's nice to be prepared to get a few extra things done during lulls. Sometimes the lulls can last more than just a few seconds between talks....

Nathan said...

yeah, right. (well, maybe) My thought is to think you "planned." That's okay. It just means that you are in some ways like some of the rest of us. Thanks for the reminder. I've experienced a big difference between meetings depending on my attitude as well. I may attend next Sunday with a better attitude because of this reminder.

Nice post, as usual.

Mormanity said...

Wait, why does trying to study Nibley during a Church meeting make someone less of a Goody-Two-Shoes? Ah, I see: trying to smuggle in extra shoes. So a Goody-Three-Shoes perhaps?

Now if it had been Sports Illustrated, that would be a different story.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your comments and realization concerning the need to actively listen and participate. I guess I am still a little concerned, though, that a high council representative would go into a meeting with the plan to not really pay attention by bringing in other reading materials and then only "[pay] extra attention when the Stake President spoke," which implies that other speakers are not as worthy of the same respect and attention. Why go to the meeting at all?

Bookslinger said...

My problem isn't the temptation to read other material during church talks/meetings, but rather keeping awake. So many of our speakers seem to be hypnagogic, or soporofic.

Combine that with the low blood-sugar I get due to the timing of sacrament meeting, and I'm often out like a light.

Mormanity said...

Before people get too offended by my attitudes about attending meetings, I should clarify that my attendance was not required at this meeting. It was a bishopric training meeting, and since I am not a unit advisor to any specific unit, there was no need for me to be there, but it was OK to attend. I was there voluntarily because I wanted to attend to learn more about ward councils since the Young Women's president had asked me to give her group a little training in that area later in the day. So to fulfill my duties later in the day, I felt that I should attend this earlier meeting, but it was hard to completely give up that time without trying to get some extra things done at the same time. But I admit it's a temptation that doesn't go away even in meetings where I am expected to be there. I won't admit to any further sins along these lines, especially not sneaking in foreign language materials to Priesthood meetings. That would be going totally apostate.

My tendency to pay extra attention when the Stake President is speaking is not so much due to disrespect for other offices and callings, but for higher respect for him as a person. He has meaningful things to say, things that involve thought and preparation.

ALS said...

The person who prayed hit on a point that I've been trying to find a spiritual basis for. As a therapist I often use the idea of "being present" as a way to combat mood disorders. I actually came to it from dialectical behavior therapy that leans heavily on eastern religious thought. I feel it's a true principle, but I haven't been able to find a good scriptural basis for it yet.

ALS said...

To finish the thought--I feel that being present is requisite for sincere prayer and serious scripture study (and apparently getting something out of meetings). The only scripture that comes to mind is "Be still, and know that I am God."

Bookslinger said...

ALS, how about the scripture in the D&C about being "actively engaged" in a good cause, and not just because you're commanded to do something.

There's a scripture in the OT about not being "settled on your lees", which I think means taking it too easy, relaxing, just sliding by.