Warning: This post is somewhat lengthy and probably not very entertaining. However, it is composed of my very own, not so random thoughts. So if you are up to it, read on.
I do not consider myself a very social person. Normally and in most circumstances I'm pretty content to sit back and let others do most of the talking and be in the spotlight and the limelight. I do enjoy getting to know other people. I enjoy company and conversation, but mostly with people that I am already acquainted and comfortable with. I love being with my family! I do enjoy thinking about parties and events and even doing a fair amount of planning and arranging for such events, but as for being the spokesperson, the in charge person, and especially the hostess of such events . . . not quite so much. And I definitely do enjoy my solitude and alone times too.
This past week I have been thinking a bit about some of my life experiences where I was not exactly forced, but put into circumstances where it was my responsibility to be up in front, or a spokesperson, and or a decision maker. Of course there were the times in school when I was assigned to give a report or read a story that I had written in front of the class. I would be given lines to memorize and recite in programs at both school land church. I was sometimes asked to give a 2 1/2 minute talk in Sunday School. When I was 12 years old for a period of six months or so it was my responsibility to call the other 7 girls in my youth group on a weekly basis to remind them of our planned activities. This was excruciatingly painful for me.
In high school my friends and I tried out for the school plays, and I even had small speaking parts. This was somewhat fun to participate in, but I was so self-conscious that it was difficult for me to project or put much feeling into the parts I was also nominated for student body office my senior year in high school and managed to campaign and speak in front of the entire student body (small as it was . . . .about 400 students grades 7 through 12, and to my surprise was even elected to office! Granted, I was the student body historian, not the president or anyone who was required to speak up front on a regular basis.
Probably my first hugely challenging experience with being social and in front of people came when I made the decision to serve as a full time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a year and a half. The thought of reaching out to strangers on a daily basis in order to teach them about Jesus Christ terrified me, but I had an experience in the spring of 1981 where I knew in my heart that this was what the Lord wanted me to do. So I began planning to take 2 years away from my college education so that I could complete this mission. This decision also helped me with several other decisions that I faced later that summer. I was called to serve and teach in the country of Colombia, in South America. Not only did I need to learn to approach and talk to complete strangers about religion and Jesus Christ, but I needed to learn speak and teach in Spanish. This was not easy. There were long days and long nights and there were tears of frustration and inadequacy and homesickness. But I did it. It was hard. But it was also rewarding. I learned that if I am prepared, and I can speak with confidence in front of both large and small groups. I learned to know and love a very beautiful country and very beautiful people, and I also helped many people understand a bit more about God, Jesus Christ and his atonement, and their plan for all mankind.
I remember one preparation day during my mission. This was usually on a Monday, and the one day when we had free time to do such things as laundry, shopping, writing letters home, and any sight seeing or other approved activities within our assigned city or area in the mission boundaries. The missionaries who were our district leaders had gained permission from the Mission President for our district of six or eight missionaries to take a day hike out in the country. We rode the bus to an outlying town, and from there hiked a mountain of interest. I don't remember for sure, but believe that it was near the city of Buccamaranga Colombia. I'm a country girl at heart, and the day of hiking in the mountains was truly balm for a fairly new missionary in a strange land who is trying to get used to being around people, often large crowds in a large city, twenty-four/seven. As the afternoon drew on and we began our return trip to the city, I was thinking about how much I truly would love to be a hermit and live out the rest of my life in near solitude and an area of such natural beauty. Alas, I also knew deep in my heart that this is not what God intends for any of his children. Part of our challenge here in life is not to find peace in solitude, but to find true peace and happiness by following the example of Jesus Christ and by helping others in any way we can. Most importantly, the challenge for those of us who know the truths of the gospel, is to help others here on earth to understand these truths and to understand how they can find this true happiness and peace.
Fast forward nearly 15 years:
When our youngest daughter began school, I started working part time to help out a bit with family finances. It was a very simple data entry job just a hours a day and required limited contact with other people. As I have become more experienced at my work over the past 15 years, I have gradually taken on more responsibility, answering phone calls, helping students with admissions questions, and even helping with training of other employees on both an individual basis and in larger group settings. These responsibilities have come gradually and have been easier to adjust to as my experience has grown over the years. I still have no desire to "be in charge" but feel happy and even fulfilled to be able to help others with my work.
I think that my most challenging opportunities to be a more social person have come through callings and assignments in our church. For over five years I was responsible for the leadership of the Relief Society Women's organization for seven or eight of our local congregations. I met with the local leaders of each congregation several times each year and with the help of my two counselors and my secretary we would plan several large conferences or service projects each year. This was quite overwhelming as I felt very young and inexperienced and often found myself meeting with and advising women much older and more experienced in life and the gospel than I was. But, I accepted the call and did my best. For the most part I enjoyed these responsibilities. I had very capable help in my presidency and we seemed to work quite well together. I felt we did some good and made a difference with our efforts.
Several years later came my very very very most challenging responsibility to date. Almost eight years ago I was asked to preside over the Young Women's organization in my congregation. This meant preparing and carrying out or assigning lessons to be taught every Sunday and also organizing social and educational activities every Tuesday evening. It meant getting to personally know every young woman in my neighborhood between the ages of 12 and 17, and doing what I could to be an example and mentor and sometimes confidant to them during the challenging teenage years. I again had other wonderful women to work with, but this time around I felt so much responsibility for each of these young ladies, two of whom were my own daughters, and the others who were their friends and classmates. My feelings of social inadequacy were very overwhelming. I had never been very good at socializing when I was a child or a teenager, and as an adult I still feel very inadequate in these areas. But, I again accepted the call and did my best. I don't know that I made much of a difference in the lives of these young ladies, but I truly hope that I did some good of some kind. I still know most of these ladies, and have seen them mature into wonderful, capable students, employees, missionaries, wives and even one young mother.
Many of our weekly activities and Sunday lessons focused on the Young Women's Personal Progress program. This is a program where the young women are encouraged to set goals and participate in experiences and projects, some required and some of their own choosing, based on seven different values: Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Choice and Accountability, Good Works, and Integrity. Once a young woman has completed a certain number of experiences and projects, she is eligible to receive the Young Womanhood Recognition Award.
Not long after I accepted this calling, we learned of a change to the Personal Progress program with the introduction of a new value, Virtue. New guidelines for experiences and projects based on the value of Virtue were introduced. Young Women leaders are not required to complete the Personal Progress program, but are very strongly encouraged to participate in the experiences and projects. I felt a strong need to focus right away on completing the experiences for the value of Virtue.
Now for how this relates to Introspection: The third required experience for the Value of Virtue is as follows;
Prepare to be worthy to enter the temple and to participate in temple ordinances. Read Alma chapter 5. Make a list of the questions Alma asks. Answer the questions for yourself, and make a list of the things you can and will do to prepare yourself to be pure and worthy to enter the temple and receive all the blessings our Heavenly Father has promised His beloved daughters.
This was not an easy assignment. It took me many days, much introspection, and at least 12 journal pages to read and answer Alma's questions for myself. Do I remember God's goodness to me? Have I been spiritually born of God? Do I exercise faith in Jesus Christ? Have I experienced a mighty change of heart? Have I received his image in my countenance? Can I look up to God with a pure heart and clean hands? If not, how would I feel to stand before him today? There is much, much more to ponder . . .
We are currently studying the book of Alma in the Book of Mormon in the Sunday School class that I currently teach. Again I have been challenged to read Alma chapter 5 and answer Alma's questions for myself. It's something we should all probably do again and again. In our hearts on Sunday as we take the sacrament and renew our baptismal covenants. Occasionally it wouldn't hurt to do a more in depth introspection and read and answer all of Alma's questions for ourselves. Am I prepared to stand before my Savior and share with him all of the thoughts and intents of my heart? Where are my values? Where do I fall short? Where do I need to improve? Have I received his image in my countenance?