22 February 2023

Uncomfortable, yet not comfortless!

I should have seen this coming.

I accepted a call to serve as a Bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last year. A former version of myself would have found satisfaction in receiving a leadership calling such as this because of the external validation it would provide. Well, since then I've come to know better, and I'm trying to repent of such prideful tendencies. From the outset I sensed that this experience would take me out of my "comfort zone" and would be very difficult. Well, I was completely unprepared for the experiences of the next several months.

I love the people of our ward/congregation. To be a member of a ward in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to be in a tight-knit community of believers, even like a family, especially during hard times. That's not to say everything is wonderful and easy. We, like all human beings, are hopelessly flawed without Jesus Christ's atoning power and grace. So, to serve as bishop of such a group of people is an incredible experience, full of friendship, teamwork, hard conversations, sweet and tender experiences, difficult decisions, and miracles. I know that God is mindful of each and every member of the congregation, from the youngest infant to the 90+ year olds who continue to inspire us with their patient and steady devotion.

But I must stress that I really was completely unprepared for my new responsibilities; emotionally, spiritually, and even psychologically. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's almost been a full year and everything is going to be fine. This is the Church of Jesus Christ!

Now, I really should have seen this coming. Leadership in God's kingdom is fraught with soul-stretching and heart-breaking realities that must be confronted:

All the while, we have the words of the Savior to his disciples:

"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John 14:18)

So, here's what I've learned:

While I am regularly uncomfortable with my circumstances (ie. leading a council meeting, receiving a serious confession, etc...), I am learning to simultaneously recognize a new and profound comforting influence from the Holy Ghost, confirming that I'm right where God wants me to be. It's an odd and unexpected juxtaposition of simultaneous emotional and spiritual experiences.

Just as happiness and sadness aren't opposite ends of a single spectrum (they can be felt and quantified independently), it is possible to be very uncomfortable because of current circumstances, yet feel the undeniable comforting influence of the Holy Ghost helping us along the way. These feelings are not mutually exclusive and we should expect to feel them both simultaneously at times.

I think this is what President Russel M. Nelson was referring to when he said the following:

When the focus of our lives is on Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. ("Joy and Spiritual Survival")

The presence of real joy in our lives does NOT imply the absence of sadness, pain, or discomfort.

In summary, while I've never been more uncomfortable, I've never been so profoundly comforted.