Friday, February 1, 2013

"I Tell No One Any Story But His Own"

The first time I read The Chronicles of Narnia I wasn't very impressed.  I thought the allegory was forced and sometimes artificial1.  Yet there was one book in particular that stood out to me.  I still consider it to be the most thought provoking book in the series.  Consistent with my personality, it happens to be the book that I understand to be the least favored by most people: The Horse and His Boy.

The book tells of the travels of Shasta, a boy who tries to escape the life of his childhood by fleeing to Narnia.  Along the way, Shasta meets Aravis, a daughter of the ruling class who hopes to escape an arranged marriage by fleeing to Narnia.  Their travels cross paths with a lion several times, who they later learn is Aslan.  In one of these encounters, the travelers are fleeing a lion (unaware that it is Aslan) and the lion catches up to Aravis and wounds her.

When Aslan (quasi-)reveals himself to Shasta a little later, Shasta observes, "It was you who wounded Aravis?"  And upon Aslan's confirmation, "But what for?"

"Child, I am telling you your story, not hers.  I tell no one any story but his own.2"

This story fascinated me immediately.  Perhaps it doesn't seem like a very interesting story, but the idea that God will personalize His messages to those who seek Him stood out to me.  Still, I never really understood how powerful a message it was until a couple of years later.

Truthfully, it's pretty much the same story you hear from every returned missionary.  Boy meets girl...boy falls in love...boy prays to know if this is the woman he should marry.  But this is my story--so let's face it: it's extraordinary.  To start with, if I believed in soul mates, I would have called this girl my soul mate.  We connected immediately.  We had great chemistry.  Multiple people that saw us together would ask one or the other (or both) how long we were going to wait until we finally got married.

After some time, we planned a trip to Montreal together.  We had a fantastic time.  And as I had been praying about whether I should pursue a more serious relationship or not--and felt good about the prospect of us as a couple--I decided that this would be the time to ask her how she felt about it.

"So I've done a lot of thinking about us, and I feel like we'd make a great couple.  I think we should talk about whether or not we could get married," I told her.

"I've thought and prayed a lot about it too."  I thought my heart stopped beating.  This was it--prayers were about to be answered and angels were about to sing.  "I think we'd be a great couple, and I would love to pursue a relationship with you."  Cue the harps!  "But I feel strongly that the Lord is telling me I haven't yet met the person I'm going to marry."

The world stopped.

I managed to maintain my composure for about 6 seconds, and then I cried.  She put her arms around me to console me.  And then I bawled.

As you might imagine, recovering from that blow wasn't easy. I was so confident that this was the right step for me to take in my life. Why were our answers to prayer so different? Fortunately for me, I already knew: "I tell no one any story but his own."

Sure enough, God gave me the answer to prayer that was in my narrative: that she would have been a great fit for me. He wasn't going to give me her narrative, however. As much as it sucked for me at the time, I admire Him for that.

These occurrences where God tells me something that seems to be at odds with what He's telling someone else are fairly common.  Not many of them are as dramatic as the one I've described, but occasionally a situation comes along that is emotionally charged enough to bring out some interesting behaviors.  A couple of years ago, I was asked by my stake presidency to be a "scouting specialist" or advisor for ten local congregations.  Despite my misgivings about how the Church runs its scouting program, I told them I would consider it and get back to them.  I responded within a couple of days that this just wasn't a position for me, and declined to take it. When discussing this with others, I'm sometimes criticized for my decision.  How could I turn down a calling from God?3 Well, I didn't feel good about saying yes, so I said no.  I don't know what it was God was telling them when they decided to extend that position to me.  All I know is that God was telling me to go in a different direction.

More recently, when discussing my political preferences with other Mormons in the last round of presidential elections, you can imagine that many were surprised to learn that I intended to vote for President Obama's reelection.  There were also a few people who couldn't quite come to grips with the possibility of a fellow Mormon voting differently than they did.  On more than one occasion, I was faced with the question, "Well have you prayed about it?"  As an honest inquiry, that question doesn't really bother me.  But the underlying message was terribly upsetting to me.  It usually seemed less of an honest question and more of a reprimand--as if to say "if you were seeking confirmation from God, you'd vote like me."  Once that line of thought comes out, I usually become pretty dismissive (for better or worse).

I am completely comfortable thinking that God would tell the stake presidency that I'd be a great scout advisor (I would be) while telling me that this wasn't a position I should take (at least right now).  I am comfortable with the idea that God will confirm my choice to vote for one candidate and confirm the choice of another person to vote for a different candidate. (sure, I wish He'd tell everyone to vote like me, but He clearly hasn't.)  I've come to terms with the idea that regardless of what I think or what I feel like God has told me--He's only telling me my story, and I need to trust that other people are correctly hearing the story He is telling them.  Perhaps if we were better about doing that (and I don't exclude myself from that statement--I tend to think everyone should get the same answers I do, too), I wouldn't be writing this blog to start with.

1I have since come to realize that this was a consequence of my youthful arrogance (not that my arrogance has really gone away).  I had only recently returned from serving an LDS mission and was determined to read everything based on what I felt at the time were irrefutable LDS truths.  When I later learned how to read from a more mainstream Christian point of view, I found much more of the profound in Lewis' writings. Sounds kind of like I needed to read this post, huh?

2 The Horse and His Boy, p 281

3In LDS culture, it is widely believed that every assignment (usually referred to as callings) are God-inspired. Consequently, there is a lot of pressure to accept these assignments, almost without question.

1 comment:

  1. From my experience as a Mormon church leader, a church leader may or may not listen to the Spirit when extending a calling. The member may or may not listen to the Spirit when being extended a calling. Both are learning to follow the Spirit. I applaud anyone who follows what they feel the Spirit is telling them. I may disagree with them but I can't say what the Spirit is telling other people.

    I feel that a calling from a church leader is not the same as a calling from God. I think a better way to phrase it is a calling from a representative of God. We know which covenants we have made with God and His Church. (I sometimes get in trouble, when I make Covenant A and my friend makes Covenant A, I think my friend understands Covenant A the same as me.) I think it is safe to say that when we join the Church, we have given our whole selves to God and His Church. In a sense, we have already accepted the calling and are waiting for the representative of God to assign us our task. Even then, we should still follow what the Spirit is telling us to do rather than what some else is telling us or asking us to do. I have more thoughts on that but I will end there.

    I think another issue with "callings" is the sustaining. I like unanimity when we sustain people, but I have a sense that we have done it so much that it is almost impossible to oppose someone's calling to a position. I would like to be part of an opposition to a sustaining vote without contention.