The Beauty of Gospel Symbiosis

During the months preceding my call to work in the temple, I was looking for something. I didn’t know what it was, but the Lord did. I had thoughts such as “I just don’t feel the Spirit like I used to,” “I’m not really progressing right now,” and “Are my prayers even working?” I knew that I could be praying better, reading my scriptures more thoroughly, and paying closer attention in church, but I wasn’t doing those things on my own and I really needed help overcoming my own spiritual inertia. When I got a call from the temple president’s office, I was amazed at how attentively the Lord had heard my prayers and offered to me exactly what I needed.

Serving as a temple worker has been such a blessing and every shift I work is healing and inspiring to me. However, I know that my service in the temple isn’t about me. The blessings I receive are not the primary purpose of my service, but they are a natural byproduct of it because the temple is a perfect example of what I like to call gospel symbiosis. I remember learning about this principle in science classes as a child. My teacher told us that “symbiosis” is another way of describing a win-win situation. When I was in third grade, we learned about the remora, which is a little fish that nibbles small parasites off of big sharks and other sea creatures. The fish benefit from having something to eat, and the sharks benefit from having their parasites removed. The fish will even clean out the shark teeth, which I imagine takes a lot of courage.

The gospel is all about symbiosis. Every act of service we do also serves us, and every act of personal devotion we do benefits those around us indirectly. The temple is a pinnacle of the win-win nature of being a member of the church. For example, every week at the temple it is a blessing for me to perform ordinances and welcome people to the house of the Lord, it is a blessing for temple patrons to worship in the temple, and it is a blessing for those who have passed on to have their ordinances performed by proxy.

I had an experience in the temple a few weeks ago that provides a sweet snapshot of a regular day as a temple worker. While I was assisting one sister, she told me, “My friend is here with me, this is only her second time in the temple so she’s not quite used to it yet.” A few minutes later, I met her friend. She was a much younger sister and was nervous both because she was new in the temple and because we were navigating a slight language barrier, which she managed beautifully. It was a pleasure to do temple work with these women, and after they were finished I heard the two friends talking nearby. The older sister bore a simple and heartfelt testimony about how good it feels to do something selfless and how the blessings of temple service have given her hope in the face of all her health problems. As I sat there in the soft white light of that peaceful setting, surrounded by the still, small whispers of sisters reverently doing the Lord’s work, I felt my heart grow three sizes in admiration for the pure and loving friendship of these two women, who were so different in age and cultural background but so alike in their willingness to serve. I don’t know what the story of their friendship is, but I do know that the church community fosters unlikely friendships just like theirs — friendships that transcend cultural, generational, and other barriers. I felt such a strong sisterhood there because in the temple we feel keenly that we are part of God’s eternal family and the Spirit reminds us that families belong together.

This simple experience showed me the power of gospel symbiosis, which is so potent within the walls of the temple where we can connect with each other and with God on a spiritual level. These two sisters were clearly so blessed by their friendship with each other, I was grateful to witness it, we were all benefiting from the Spirit of the temple, and the people whose names they brought in received a gift that had the power to change the course of their eternal lives.

I used to think that I went to the temple just for self-care, but it is so much more than that. The temple is a magical place that combines self-care and community care seamlessly and we can take that example into every part of our lives. The symbiotic model of the temple can show us how to go to church more interested in contributing love and friendship to our community than what’s in it for us. It can help us approach our church callings and community service opportunities with an increased sense of gratitude.

On of my favorite scriptures is a gospel paradox spoken by the Savior and recorded in Matthew 16:25: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” When you lose yourself in any kind of service, including temple service, you will find the life God has in store for you. I will add my witness to these words. I promise that the temple can instruct you in the ways of gospel symbiosis and that the Lord will help you find ways to serve through your private devotion and will ensure that you will be personally blessed as you turn outward. May we ever follow the divine patterns which are set in the temple, for these patterns are the way of Christ.

*Christ Calling Peter and Andrew, by James T. Harwood

3rd Day

          Romans 8:11

I wonder how You rose:

bright eyed, leaping to Your feet?

Did You open Your eyes, smile, and

enjoy the weekend morning just a little?

 

Or like a missionary:

         groaning as the alarm buzzed 6:30

         rolling right on to Your knees

 

 

*Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons. Alsace, Bas-Rhin, Église Saint-Étienne de Bilwisheim (IA00119125). Maître-autel néo-baroque (1912): tableau “Résurrection du Christ”

Let Him Be The Savior

I stood on a cramped jet way a few weeks ago watching a little brother and sister run around. They were impatient with the small amount of space they were given for the expansive task of being children. The brother was trying to get into the plane, weaving through the legs of passengers and knocking over bags. After a nod of approval from their mother, I gave her two little ones fruity tic-tacs, trying to appease them. The older sister (named Boston, I gathered) attempted to bring her brother’s chaos under control, yelling, “Aiden, stop running around, come back!!!” She wanted her brother to thank me for the tic-tac. Chasing and yelling at her brother only added to the mayhem, as children’s attempts to de-escalate often do. The other passengers shifted around, leaning on their luggage, mostly amused by the youthful antics. I remember thinking, she is just so obviously an oldest child, smiling at the thought of my big sister and her loving sense of responsibility for the rest of our family. As I thought this, Boston’s wise mother gently reminded her, “Boston honey, let me be the mom.”

Later, while reading the New Testament account of Mary and Martha, I remembered Boston and her mom. In the story, Mary and Martha host Jesus in their home. Martha bustles around, busy with household tasks, while Mary listens to Jesus. Martha feels burdened without the aid of her sister, and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, saying “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.”  While reading, I thought, Martha is a classic oldest child. I realized the story teaches us something about the way we treat other people. Jesus doesn’t need us to tell Him what everyone else is doing wrong. He needs us to love and minister to each other. Just like that tired mother on the jet way, when we feel the need to help God with His judgments, he gently reminds us, Let me be the Savior.

Learning to love people well is tricky. Most of us have every good intention for the people we care about, and families and friendships are generally fulfilling and wonderful. Still somehow, all of us err along the way. One of the missteps that tempts me is wanting to be in charge of what other people do, thinking I know what will make them happy. Why are they together? Why aren’t they together? He needs to be in school. I’m her visiting teacher and it’s my job to get her back in church. They should have more/fewer kids! The temptation to yield to this kind of thinking is strong when it comes to those we love. When I was small, after an anti-tobacco campaign at school, I remember saying to a stranger smoking in a parking lot, “Did you know that’s bad for you?!” Of course he knew. I haven’t fully grown out of this impulse. I know it’s not God’s plan for every single person to serve a full-time mission, but I loved my mission so much that I mistake my joy for God’s agenda and find myself nudging everyone around me toward missionary service, regardless of what they tell me about their wants and needs.

Full-time missionaries can fall easily into this trap. A missionary’s purpose is to invite people to change their lives. I believe in the message our missionaries teach. I believe it is for everyone. I also believe that this message has no power unless people choose to accept and live it themselves, by their own free will, with no manipulation or pressure. So many times on my mission, I wanted to pull my investigators out of bed and march them to church. That attitude is so different from the way of the Savior: Jesus wants to entice us out of bed with the smell of cinnamon rolls baking (or slightly stale sacrament bread, as the case may be), and the sound of laughter coming from the kitchen. He actually does know what’s right for us, and even with that perfect knowledge, he leaves us with our full agency. He lets us make mistakes, all the while standing at the door  waiting to give us directions whenever we’re ready to ask. It’s hard for me. Really, really hard sometimes. But I want to be more like Him. I want to cultivate the humility to understand that God knows my spiritual siblings’ needs better than I do, and the charity to love without judgment, the way Jesus loves them. I want to be a friend, support, and good example to everyone. And I want to let Him be the Savior.

Image: Christus bei Maria and Martha. Jahrhunderts under Mitwirkung von Jan van Kessel. [public domain]