Anziano Burton hasn't heard the Sunday afternoon session of Conference yet, so I sent him this line from one of his favorite speakers:
What was once a tiny seed of belief for me has grown into the tree of life, so if your faith is a little tested in this or any season, I invite you to lean on mine. I know this work is God’s very truth, and I know that only at our peril would we allow doubt or devils to sway us from its path. Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (2013 April General Conference, “Lord, I Believe”, Sun. Afternoon Session - By Jeffrey R. Holland)
Geez, I love Elder Holland. Thank you for that quote, Mom. Fan the flame of faith.
Y'know the thing about flame? It's hot. And it hurts. But I'm crossing my fingers that what everyone says is true: it's a refiner's fire. It burns away all the impurities and leaves a block of pure gold to be shaped into something valuable and beautiful. But right now... it's just hot. And it hurts.
I've been on my mission for just over a month now. That doesn't seem like very much, does it? Doesn't feel like very much, either. But let me tell you... it's hard. It's really, really hard. Let me tell you why, in words that I hope will edify and inspire either the reader or the writer. I think I write so much in my journal every night because writing organizes my mind and solidifies my thoughts.
Thank you all for your prayers. I need them. I am weak in faith and far from humble, but I hope to improve day by day. That's something I'm really focusing on, especially since it was emphasized in Conference: day by day, step by step, passo dopo passo. I can't expect anyone to be perfect immediately: myself, companions, investigators, members, everyone. Improvement is gradual, but it's real, and it accelerates when it is measured (President Monson).
Sometimes it feels like I don't matter. It feels like I'm just a piece in a huge missionary machine, but nobody really cares about one little cog that barely knows what it's doing. I feel unloved and lonely, and that's when it's hard. But those thoughts are all wrong and selfish. When I study it out--using the scriptures and Preach My Gospel--I learn that the point is that I do matter, that I make a difference, that there's a reason I'm here with the people I'm with. Anziano Modugno, the awesome Italian missionary from Bari who lives in my apartment, told me that nothing in the mission happens by chance. Makes me think of Elder Holland's words to our district at the MTC: "Every minute will be for your good."
Why is it so easy to forget things like that? Why is it so easy to forget my purpose and succumb to discouragement, to refuse to change and ruin my own day? Why is so hard to "remember, remember" as the Book of Mormon prophets counsel so often? Perhaps it's just the natural man; and, as Elder Bednar said, the purpose of this life is to turn away from the natural man and align our will with God's. A mission is certainly the perfect place to learn that, but it's going to take me a lot more than a month.
I don't mean to be a downer, but I must be honest and realistic. I didn't expect it to be this hard and this lonely. I know what I have to do to make it better, to make every day successful and productive, but it takes a lot of humility and strength that I don't have yet. Day by day, step by step, passo dopo passo. Did I expect to be perfect after one month?
For those of you who have yet to serve missions (or those of you who have forgotten from your own mission however long ago), it's all about love. If you have an attitude of love for everyone, things will run much smoother. Even in the bumpy parts, you'll see the benefits at every turn. And when I say love "everyone", I mean EVERYONE. And MAN, that's hard!! It's easy to love the missionary who smiles at you and hugs you every time he sees you, the ones who love you first. It's easy to love the people in the streets who stop for just thirty seconds to listen to you and kindly say "Non mi interessa, ma grazie, bravi ragazzai, grazie!" But it's not so easy to love the missionary who could care less about who you are or what you want, or the people on the streets who tell you you're wrong or completely ignore you or laugh in your face. But as soon as you love everyone... well, I assume it gets better. I'll let you know when I've figured out exactly how to do that. Any advice?
Again, thanks to everyone who sends me letters and emails or even just thinks about me during the day. I need to be reminded that I'm loved, that I can do this, that I've done hard things and will continue to do many more. Every missionary says "You can either be humble or be humbled." I'd way rather do the first, but I'll need your love and prayers to remember that I matter, someone cares, I'm doing the right thing, and things will just get better. I get so anxious and stressed that I feel like I'm going to fall apart, but as soon as I remember that there's someone out there who cares about me--my mom, my siblings, my dear friends, my Heavenly Father--I find hope, I find faith, I find courage, and I press on. I know I'll be so happy that I made it once I reach the end, but I'd really like to enjoy the whole journey if possible. And it is possible.
What really matters is that I have a job to do. I've been called by my Savior to help bring others to Him. I know He lives, I love him dearly, I'm grateful for His example of doing hard things--the hardest thing. Again I think of Elder Holland who talked about the Savior's loneliness. Who am I to feel alone when I am set apart to represent and witness for Jesus Christ to God's beloved children in Italy? How truly blessed I am. What a privilege to go through these hard things. As mentally and emotionally taxing as the mission is, it's bringing me closer to Christ, and that is worth any price.
If any of you feel lonely, too, know that you are not alone. You may not believe it, but you have countless hands reaching out to bolster you up and help you press on. Andiamo avanti. We can do this.
I love you all. Learn to love. Thanks for all your good examples. Passo dopo passo. Think about it. F'naaaa.
(Sorry, I forgot my camera. In my ultra-happy email next week, I'll make sure to send some pictures.)