Everyone in my church gets a chance to speak and preach from the pulpit and I took my turn last Sunday. I chose to speak about holiness, which is not something I usually think much about but felt like I should explore a bit more. This is what I came up with, and the things I want to remember when I feel like there is too much and that I am not enough.
I’ve found that one of the of the benefits of living in New York City is that we get to live in relatively small spaces. Small spaces mean that there is less to clean. They mean we can be very close to the people we live with. And they also mean that we are constantly having to decide what belongs in our space and what does not. At least we do in my apartment. Do we really need to hold on to all of these books? What clothes do we no longer need in our drawers and closets? Are there toys that are broken, paperwork that is useless, tools that we no longer need?
We are constantly editing our lives and getting rid of the junk. And, at least in my family, we try to do the same with our time. Do we really need to go to this activity? What can we give or gain by adding this event to our calendars? We do our best to keep our space and our schedule free from clutter that would make our lives messy.
It is an attempt to keep ourselves unburdened, to not carry more than we are capable of, and to be able to focus on the things that are the most important to us. We try, in this way, to live in the world but not to be of the world. We try to make our home a place of peace and cleanliness and our lives focused on things that bring us and others joy.
In our small and meager way we are trying to create a holy place and live holy lives.
To be honest, in the past when I have thought about holiness, my eyes have glazed over and my mind has skipped ahead to the next part. But this last conference, Sister Carol McConkie gave a talk on holiness that piqued my interest and left me thinking that this was something I needed to be more aware of.I discovered that in Old Testament times, to be holy meant that something was set apart for a sacred purpose. It could be a space, like a temple, or it could be a person, who had a special job or responsibility. The difference between the holy and the common—in Old Testament times, between Jehovah and the heathen—was personal character. Jehovah had a greater moral character than the heathen, and by emulating Him, people could become holy as well.
The Israelites attempted to legislate holiness, creating the Law of Holiness, which you can read about in Leviticus 17-26, but the attempt failed as the people became more concerned about following the letter of the law rather than allowing the law to change their spirits. Holiness has to come from within. To be a moral people, to have our character be like God’s, we have to choose to set apart our space and our lives for sacred, Godly, purposes.
Obviously, this is isn’t easy. And it’s a choice we have to make often—sometimes many times a day. In D&C 20: 31-34 we read: And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength. But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God; Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation; Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.
Sometimes I feel as though all I want is to serve God and I’m trying SO HARD. I am anxiously engaged in doing what I have felt is His will for me. (Emphasis on anxious.) And I am very much aware of the many ways I am falling short. This is particularly true as I try to be a good mom. I know that I am not good enough for my children. I cannot do everything that I want to do for them. I worry about them constantly, worry about whether I can keep them safe and if I can give them the resources they need to live in this world.
It is easy when I am feeling overwhelmed to want a checklist, a list of right and wrong behaviors that I can rely on to give me the result I want. Am I reading my scriptures? Check. Saying my prayers? Check. Serving in my calling? Check. Reaching out to others? Check. Then my kids are going to be okay, right?
But if I do those behaviors just to do them, just to check the box so I can get the blessing, I have not really taken myself out of the world. I am not truly holy. I am more concerned with the letter of the law than with the spirit of it.
Last month, the church held a Face to Face event for the youth. Elder Holland and President Eyring answered questions from the youth about challenges they are facing and how they can live the gospel more fully. A couple of the things they said that really stuck out to me was that if we really want to benefit from reading the scriptures, we need to read until we feel the spirit. And if we really want to benefit from praying, we need to give God the respect of pulling Him—or ourselves—aside for the conversation and giving Him adequate time to answer.
We need to follow the spirit, not just the letter.
This also can sound overwhelming. At least to me it did. But in her talk, Sister McConkie reminded me that in our attempt to set ourselves apart and follow Christ and become like God, we sometimes over complicate things.
She told the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42: Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
One thing is needful. That is the part I keep coming back to. So when I feel that it is impossible for me to simplify my life any more without neglecting my responsibilities: One thing is needful.
When I cannot reconcile the great expectations God has for me with my great weaknesses and failings? One thing is needful.
When I feel that I am not good enough for my children or my husband or friends: One thing is needful.
When I am cumbered and careful and troubled: One thing is needful.
And then I check to see if, in my heart, I am kneeling at the feet of the Lord and learning from him through sincere prayer, focused study of his word, and heartfelt service to my fellowmen.
And if I am truly doing those things, not just to check things off the list, but with my might, mind, and strength, I find that, in this case and as paradoxical as it seems, I am not trying to get rid of things, but I am filled with more. As the hymn says:
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.
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.
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.