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I love the quote of Winston Churchill, when his Conservative Party was voted out of office and his wife suggested it could be a blessing in disguise. Churchill (paraphrasing) quipped, “If so, the disguise is perfect.”
And sometimes life offers us circumstances that truly do look one way, yet are entirely the opposite. I’ve found at least five situations in our church, which are impeccably disguised:
1. The ward is full of perfect members.
I hear this frequently from those reluctant to attend. They have somehow concluded that all the families at church are intact, inimitable, and infallible. All they see are happy couples stroking one another’s backs during Sacrament meeting, obedient children smiling up at their parents, and folks dressed to the nines, clearly blessed in every way imaginable. No addicts, no liars, no depressed folks, nobody lonely or disillusioned, no one grieving, nobody broke, nobody divorced, nobody struggling. And I want to say– no shout– “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Do you need your eyes examined? Are you hallucinating?”
But, of course I don’t say any of these things. Each ward is filled to overflowing with problems—just ask any bishop, who weekly sees “pain in every pew.” Every individual and every family struggles, often in multiple ways at once. If we were perfect, we’d be translated beings. We’re there because we’re imperfect and we’re trying to repent, renew our baptism covenants, and be nourished by what we hear and the people we meet. We’re all striving, getting knocked down, and then getting back up again. If any of us come off as Mary Poppins (“practically perfect in every way”) it’s the magic act of the century. So I explain that every problem they’re facing has been faced before, and that people at the ward will rush in to help them both from faith and experience. The illusion of perfection is a mirage. As the Welsh proverb goes, “If every fool wore a crown, we should all be kings.”
2. The Church is too restrictive.
Some people see our church as a pile of rules they don’t want to obey. We don’t just have those pesky Ten Commandments, but a whole bunch of other “haftas.” We have to pay tithing. We have to go to the temple. We have to serve in callings. We have to store food. We have to research family history. And then there are “mustn’ts,” those things we are told not to do: We can’t smoke or drink alcohol. We can’t get high on drugs. We can’t wear scanty clothes. We can’t have sex outside of marriage. We can’t gamble. We can’t swear. The list goes on, and sounds to the hedonist as if we’re strait-jacketed into a dull life.
Of course, maturity teaches us that all the risky, free-wheeling behavior choices that express our precious freedom, usually result in loss of freedom: Addictions, expenses, regrets, unwanted pregnancies, bad relationships, poor health, arrests, and injuries. Just as a parent makes their child brush their teeth and eat something other than a candy diet, our rules can appear to be no fun. Until you grow up. Then you realize that what seemed restrictive was actually liberating, just as heeding traffic laws can prevent accidents and injuries. Obedience is a launching pad to incredible joy, fulfillment, and greater freedom. Commandments are for us, not against us.
3. Adversity proves God doesn’t care.
Some expect God to pave a smooth path for us from birth until death, and point to tribulation as evidence that he’s too busy or uncaring (or nonexistent) to help us. They point to worldwide calamities to show the same thing. But our caring God designed this earth as a proving ground, a place to learn and grow (and what’s that quote, that all growth happens outside our comfort zone?).
Without setbacks and difficulties, we would not develop faith, turn to God for help, or be of use to others as they encounter similar problems. We would not develop compassion or selflessness. We would not find solutions. We would not know the joy of triumph over evil. We would never need one another, and wouldn’t grow close to those whose burdens we share. We would never know gratitude for God’s blessings, having no point of comparison.
Without sins or trials, what need would we have for the Atonement of our Savior? We would be perfect, obedient little robots making no choices for ourselves (Satan’s suggestion, if you recall). Neal A. Maxwell once said, “The sharp, side-by-side contrast of the sweet and the bitter is essential until the very end of this brief, mortal experience. Meanwhile, even routine, daily life provides sufficient sandpaper to smooth our crustiness and polish our rough edges, if we are meek.”
And sometimes, adversity teaches us about ourselves. As we strive to refine our souls and become more Christlike, we encounter opportunities to exercise those very traits. When Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham learned about Abraham. When disaster strikes all over the world and people step up to do heroic things, they find out what they’re made of.
4. Callings are too burdensome.
While there are some people who have no brake pedal and will throw themselves into callings at the exclusion of all else, endangering their relationships and even their jobs, what miniscule percentage is that– .00009 per cent of our membership? And that tiny fraction is not following the church’s directives, and usually knows full well they aren’t expected to run faster than is possible. As for the rest of us, callings are actually gifts. In my recent Meridian Magazine article, Living with the Deadliest Animal I explained that callings look like they’re all about giving, but in reality they’re all about receiving. From callings we learn we have greater talents than we thought. We learn how God can make more of us than we could have fashioned alone. We find blessings pouring into our lives because we were willing to serve. (We learn to love people we might never have even liked, before!) We develop skills and traits that improve us. We become better, shinier, more refined. We learn to hear and follow promptings. Our testimonies grow as we work with God to advance His programs and goals. People who accept and magnify callings discover this immense opportunity was disguised as a “sacrifice” but was actually a wonderful treat.
5. Tithing ten per cent will break me.
Tithing is actually the fastest way to see an amazing disguise in action. It can look huge. Unpayable. Undoable. Yet if you muster the faith to do it without begrudging it, wham! You see a blessing. It may not be a monetary one; maybe your kids will just get along in the back seat for the first time in history. Or maybe your home will fill with a tangible Spirit of peace and harmony. Maybe your health will suddenly improve. A rebellious family member might turn around. Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll be like thousands of church members who saw a vivid, distinct outpouring they could measure in dollars and cents. These are real examples: The piano you were saving for might suddenly be donated to your family. An envelope containing the exact amount of your rent, will arrive as a belated gift. A promotion at work will be offered, more than covering the tithing you paid. The IRS will inexplicably drop their audit. I’ve seen this happen!
Some say that tithing is Funny Money, or Magic Money. The math doesn’t work out, yet there’s more money in your account than you realized. Somehow your dollars stretch and you feed your family on less money than the neighbors do. You’ll scratch your head, and you might even wonder if tithing has simply made you a thriftier manager of your funds. But there’s no denying that it brings blessings, and you’ll be like so many members who say, “I can’t afford not to pay tithing!”
Disguises are all around us, but with sufficient faith and humility, we can see beyond the camouflage and discern truth, even when it seems to come in a very deceptive package.
Watch the music video of Hilton’s song, What Makes a Woman, from her new musical, The Best Medicine (with music by Jerry Williams). Her books and YouTube Mom videos are available on her website, here. Hilton currently serves as a Relief Society President.