Wednesday, June 14, 2006 Observation:
"O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people... 3 But behold, I am a man, and do sin in my wish; for I ought to be content with the things which the Lord hath allotted unto me... 9 and this is my joy." [Alma 29: 1, 3, 9] [emphasis added]
I have thought a great deal about these words of Alma over the years. I have always believed that Alma's desire to cry repentance unto every people was a righteous desire, even though he said that he did sin in his wish. If this desire was a sin it was only because Alma had discovered the more significant truth that he should be content with the things the Lord had allotted unto him. And the thing allotted unto him was to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord, to be used as the Lord would use him, in "bringing some soul" to repentance. I think Alma learned that he couldn't do everything, or be everything, nor was he supposed to, but that he should be content with what was allotted unto him, and in being content and working hard in his allotted sphere of influence, he would ultimately experience great joy.
The lesson of being content with that which we are allotted began for me in the mission field in the little Mayan Indian village of Tecpan, Guatemala. Only six months a missionary, the mission president called me to be the senior companion and branch president in that little village. We had 13 members when I began and we had 13 members when I ended the assignment six months later. At least I didn't drive anybody away. It was the most obscure and difficult assignment in the mission field, and nothing I did could be equated with what the world would call success, but as I worked hard I experienced joy, grew spiritually, began to master the Spanish-language, and ultimately was prepared to be "allotted" a more visible and perhaps significant opportunity to serve.
Perhaps all of us at times are tempted not to be content with the things the Lord has allotted unto us, feeling underused, and wanting to be given high-profile assignments in the Church, or serve a mission in an exotic place, or as a teacher, to teach thousands of students whom we feel we can influence in a positive way. I know I have been tempted in this way many times during my lifetime. The Lord in his wisdom however, as is the case with most of us, beginning in the mission field, has orchestrated my life in such a way that I have been blessed to labor in relative obscurity most of the time.
Having a great deal of money and other worldly possessions has never been a motivating factor in my life. I think my greatest challenge, having been a teacher and priesthood leader for so many years, has been not to be guilty of the practice of priestcrafts. "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion." [2 Nephi 26: 29] [emphasis added]
As a young teacher I was at times tempted to equate my success with the number of students in my classes, which equaled a form of "praise". The Lord saw to it that this would never be a great problem for me. I started my career as a teacher for CES in the seminary at Bonneville high school in South Ogden, Utah. I had 150 sophomores in six periods my first year of teaching and was just able to stay alive and one jump ahead of my students. I wasn't philosophizing about "priestcrafts" or anything else -- just surviving. My third year at Bonneville high school I was asked to teach three morning classes at South Washington Jr. high school in a not so good part of Ogden. During the course of that year, four or five of my students ended up at the Utah State industrial school -- the reform school for the State of Utah at that time -- and because there was a teaching vacancy at the reform school seminary my leaders saw fit to send me there to join my delinquent students. I would never teach 150 students each day again for a long time.
We would never have more than 12 students in a class at the reform school because of discipline concerns. These were disturbed kids and most of our most effective work as seminary teachers was really one-on-one counseling. Most lessons that I taught would be greeted by some kid saying "Brother Rushton, are we going to have another one of your "blankety-blank" lessons today?" This helped my humility and kept me from thinking too highly of myself as a teacher. I was also able to avoid falling into the trap of practicing "priestcrafts" because "praise" from my few students was nonexistent.
After three years at the reform school I was liberated and sent to Southern California as an Institute Director/Instructor. My assignment was at the Institute of Religion at California State University at Los Angeles in East Los Angeles. The Church had built an enormous Institute building there, complete with a small basketball floor, but with no students. I would work my heart out preparing a great lesson -- so I thought -- and would walk into a classroom with 30 desks and one or two students at most. I would feel as though someone had kicked me in the stomach, and it would take all of my power to muster up enough enthusiasm to teach that student or students as they should be taught -- with all my heart and spirit. However, as time went by, I began to get the Lord's message regarding the importance of just "one" soul and again developed some attributes and character traits that would qualify me for perhaps a wider audience one day if my motive for teaching could remain pure -- "seeking the welfare of Zion".
In retrospect, perhaps the best Institute class I ever taught was for two young returned missionaries at Cerritos Institute of Religion. Because of their busy schedules they couldn't take one of our regularly scheduled classes. They promised me that if I would teach them the course, "Presidents of the Church", at 7 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday morning they would never miss a class and would read and be prepared to discuss with me the life of each president of the Church. They were true to their word! As a result of that class we became lifelong friends and all our lives were impacted by the lives of the prophets of this dispensation. I don't think I would have had a similar impact had there been 100 students in the class. Am I wrong?
My greatest heroes are temple ordinance workers. They work in almost total obscurity. Most members of their wards and stakes don't even know what they do. One general authority labeled them as being "low-maintenance and high-yield!"
How fortunate is the man or woman who is content with that which is "allotted" unto them. If we truly seek the welfare of Zion, it matters little where we labor or how popular and well-known we may be. Becoming paralyzed and living on life support I was "allotted" a mission I never could have anticipated. Though it was a struggle initially, I eventually became content with this thing the Lord has "allotted" unto me, and it has become my joy. My greatest goal now is to constantly strive to be "low-maintenance and high-yield" and to bloom where the Lord has seen fit to plant me. I am afraid however, that Jo Anne has not bought into the "low-maintenance" thing.