I'd like to begin this last post with an accurate, albeit slightly macabre, quote by Samuel Johnson:
“When a man knows he is to be hanged...it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”
Such is the state of mind of a missionary in the single-digit countdown to release. My mind over the past few days has been a melding pot of thoughts of the past two years. Unsurprisingly I can't remember much from the future, so my mind has reverted to what it knows. I've thought much about the past two years; how different life has been, and yet how normal it all feels. I'm amazed at how much time my mind finds to think. It seems like every waking minute is occupied with some thought or another. Gone are the times of thoughtlessly brushing my teeth or mindlessly tying my shoes. My brain has taken these times of mundane activity as a perfect opportunity to wonder at the past, present, and future.
With all of this extra time to think, which before now I didn't think existed, my mind has been flooded with a myriad of thoughts. From the positive and hilarious to the melancholy and downcast my mind is enjoying the reruns of the past two years spent in New York. And the underlying theme of all these musings is the powerful and resounding question of "Why?"
My mind has been concentrated on this paralyzing single-word query for a few days now. Even with the simplest of actions I wonder the reasons why I act or remain inactive. Why do I have this tie on? Why don't I polish my shoes anymore? Why are there these dark marks under my eyes? Why is my trusty sidebag's color resembling more and more dry grass on a summer day instead of its original evergreen?
Do you ever do that, just question everything? I know mine does. My mind does that a lot. Too much sometimes I feel. The problem being that when you question everything in this manner it is far too easy to slip down the slippery slope of negativity and land yourself right in the middle of a pile of despair. Life's not so fun when you're surrounded by the constant feelings of falling short and mediocrity. Such is the place I found myself in as my mind was concentrated by my impending release from full-time missionary service. It's not uncommon, I'd actually err on the opinion that most missionaries feel similar to this to some degree or another.
But it was a state of mind like this that led me to be sitting alone on our doorstep in a state of not-quite abject terror. I decided to make a call to a dear friend that I met well over a year ago and just talk. I spoke on the phone with this friend for quite some time. Nothing they said particularly hit home or was a major revelation. We reminisced a little bit and talked about the future. Sometimes we need a soundboard, someone to just talk to. It wasn't anything of this conversation that stuck out to me, but the calm that it brought to me. An agitated mind is like trying to see the bottom of an ocean from the surface on a choppy day. We get glimpses for a moment, but then a wave enters into view and we lose sight of what we need. When my mind was calm like glass I was finally able to understand and perceive a message that I had been taught long ago in the form of a rhyme:
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering.
There's a crack in everything,
that's how the light gets in.
Now I know that this is a line from Leonard Cohen's song 'Anthem'. But when my mind was calm this thought entered in a way that was as subtle as it was overpowering. Like the deafening volume of silence, this answer came in the calm of my mind to remind me of a central principle that guides mortality.
It's not our position to worry about the grand scheme of things. That's God's position, he is the author of this probationary state. We can run around ringing all of the bells that we can, but all that we can do is still imperfect. But in those moments of imperfection perfection is put into perspective. When we fall short, the Lord's redeeming and enabling grace is brought into perspective and is showcased in its beauty.
At this closing portion of my mission I can see, clearer now than ever before, the light that has shone through the cracks. I'm better able to see the Lord's guiding hand in this work in hindsight than I've been able to see it in the moment. I've been ringing the bells that I can ring, knowing that it's an imperfect offering. But the Savior, in his love, cares more about our direction of travel than our speed. I'm amazed at the things I've seen on my mission, and I wonder at the experiences that I have had over the past two years.
I know this work is true, and that God is the author of it. As I gaze back, gleaning great understandings at the purposes behind my actions, I can see now the light coming through the cracks; I see the Savior's grace shining through my imperfections.
I hope you all have a wonderful week, I know I will!
Elder John Gailey