Pour Out Your Souls In Your Wilderness

For those of you not familiar with Mormonism, every Sunday two or three people from the congregation are asked to write and deliver a talk on a particular gospel topic (charity, faith, sacrifice, etc.). The gods conspired, and I was asked to give one of the talks in church today. I use some references from the Book of Mormon that you may not understand if you're not LDS, but that may be just reason enough to go read it. ;)

Pour Out Your Souls In Your Wilderness

Today, I am speaking on 2 Timothy 1: 7. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” On a cursory level we could say this scripture is quite easy to interpret. Fear is bad. Love, spiritual power, and a sound mind are good. And I suppose this is true to some degree. But I think there is something far more interesting going on here in terms of the interplay between fear and love. Fear is a strange creature. It can motivate us to do all sorts of unhealthy things such as lie, hide, stagnate, lash out, attack when we need to retreat and retreat when we need to attack. When fear lives at the core of who we are, every movement and breath we make lacks integrity and as all of us know, life without spiritual harmony is remarkably painful. With that said, the presence of fear in our lives IS meaningful as it plays the important role of harbinger; it relentlessly invites us to get to the heart of what scares us. It is in this investigation of our fears that we will come to know love, power, and a sound mind. In other words, it is in this investigation that we will come to know God. In Philippians 2:12 Paul says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Perhaps this kind of soul searching is precisely what Paul is suggesting--it is only through working with and through our fear and trembling that we can be saved.

Throughout the scriptures we are asked to face our fears to attain our salvation. Often the scriptures use the image of the wilderness to symbolize our fears--it is the dark unknown, the home of wild beasts and angry spirits, it entertains the cold and the fury of nature. The characters in our scriptures are asked, sometimes compelled, to enter this wilderness to search for the promise land which is described as a place of rest, familiarity and prosperity. This is a beautiful metaphor for the experience of meeting God and attaining salvation--peaceful, familiar, overflowing. In the scriptures, our character begins a literal journey into the heart of the wilderness to find her promise land. Metaphorically, she begins her journey into the heart of her fears to discover God and salvation. For her journey to be meaningful, she must be willing to pour out her soul in the wilderness. In Alma 34:26 we read “ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness”. A wonderful example of this theme is in the story of Sariah from the Book of Mormon who we also know as Lehi’s wife and Nephi’s mother.

We love to tell the story of Nephi as Nephi experienced it probably because the account is in his words--we recount his courage and struggles and talk about the ways in which he made brave and difficult decisions. I love Nephi. I love him for his good heart and his honest intent. But I’ve always wondered about Sariah. We don’t know much about her but I would like to offer a conjecture. She was a wealthy woman and likely well respected in her community. She worked hard to nurture and nourish her family. She probably had a close group of female friends that she could turn to for support, especially when she grew tired of living in a culture that wasn’t particularly deferential to women or when she simply felt exasperated living in a house full of dreaming, precocious, vibrant, and energetic men. And then one day, she is asked by her husband to give it all up--to leave her wealth, her community, and her supportive circle of female friends to live in the wilderness in search of a dream. What a proposition. What a very difficult thing to ask of someone. And yet, she went.

Unfortunately, I think Sariah gets a bad rap within our Mormon culture because of those few verses that reveal her fear. In 1 Nephi 5:2 Nephi says of Sariah, “For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the lands of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness.” Sariah murmurs. She cries. She complains. God bless her, she’s human. But this is the beauty of Sariah: she didn’t let that fear destroy her. She didn’t dance with the fear and drink herself into a numb oblivion. She traveled into the wilderness and lived there. She watched her sons disappear into the trees for a seemingly endless amount of time, not knowing if she had lost them to death. She suffered the realities of starvation and betrayal. Yet, amidst all of this, she stayed alert, she felt deeply, she wept and she rejoiced. She poured out her soul in the wilderness. It was in doing these things that she met love, power, and a sound mind. It was in doing these things that she met God.

To bring this down to a more personal level, I would like to share my own experience of walking into the wilderness. It is a vulnerable topic, and I am grateful that I have your support while I share this. A couple of years ago I fell in love. I was filled with so much hope about this man and so much anticipation about where our relationship could go. I prayed to God that everything would work out just as I had orchestrated it in my head. And yet beneath all of this dreaming and planning and orchestrating I felt the stab of a very sharp and insistent thought that it wouldn’t work out. I felt worried and wounded by the prospect that I would have to face my biggest fear: to be unloved. When this fear became more apparent I decided to seek God in the wilderness. I asked to be free from bitterness or defeat or resentment should I discover that this man didn’t love me the same way I loved him. I wanted to see the divinity of this potentially excruciating event in my life. I said to God, “I have taken the brave step and loved without knowing if I would be loved in return. I walked into the wilderness. If I am not loved in return, please consecrate my pain.” As it turns out, this man didn’t love me. And as it turns out, I was not destroyed by this information. Like Sariah, I stayed alert, I felt deeply, I wept, and I rejoiced. I poured out my soul in the wilderness. Never in my life had I felt such spaciousness or such an assurance that things unfolded as they were meant to. The role this man played in this experience became very clear to me: he was my teacher. He was placed in my life to help me face this fear in a gentle and merciful way. Through all of it I knew I had experienced some measure of salvation.

What happened to me in that wilderness? What happened to Sariah? What happens to any of us when we confront the fears and enter the dark places? We meet God. There, in the center of our terror, is a clearing of trees where Christ waits to continue the process of salvation. We give him our selves and he sands off the calcified layers of pride, anger, resentment, jealousy, misunderstanding, and self-loathing from our bodies. We meet him in the wilderness hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe millions of times until one day there is nothing left to remove. And on that day we stand there bare, in our truest form, radiating the light of our own divinity. What is salvation but the process through which Christ reveals us? What is salvation but the undeniable knowledge that we are the very embodiment of God?

I testify that when we face our fears and pour out our souls in the wilderness we will meet love, power, and a sound mind. We will know the truth of 1 John 4:16 when it states that “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him”.

Of these things I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.