Monday, February 22, 2021

Stand As A Witness

Last week we read in Doctrine and Covenants Section 14:

If you shall ask the shall receive the Holy Ghost...that you may stand as a witness of the things of which you shall both hear and see...

Since then I've been pondering what it means to stand as a witness, and this experience came to mind: 

Several years ago I had the opportunity to teach a week-long plein air painting course in Capitol Reef for the first time. I was very excited about the opportunity, but also a little stressed. I had never been to Capitol Reef before, and didn't know where the best places to paint might be, or how to find them. I had to build a visual curriculum around a place I'd never seen. I would be in charge of up to 20 students, of various ages, and didn't know how well their different personalities might mesh. I would also be in charge of food for these 20 students for the week, on a limited budget. The more I tried to wrap my mind around all the details, it became completely overwhelming.

I asked my husband, Jeff, for a blessing. I let him know a little of what was bothering me. I needed clarity. I needed to let go of anxiety. I needed peace. 

For some reason I naively thought that through this blessing I might receive heaven-sent curriculum guidance, a roll-out of the meal plan, or a vision of how the entire week would look. Instead, I got one unforgettable piece of advice: Your primary purpose while there is to be a witness for the Savior. 

My mind launched a litany of the impossibility of this task, teaching for a state-sponsored school where the separation of church and state is very clear and I am careful not to use language that might be considered "religious" in nature.

Then I received even more specific instruction: Your witness will be expressed in the way you treat the students, by showing respect for the beauty of the land, showing respect for each other as sons and daughters of God, and by serving others as He would serve.

Well, that didn't sound impossible at all! Suddenly a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. I could do this. My new perspective changed everything. It wasn't about me; it was about Him. It wasn't about the curriculum, it was about the Creator. 

With that single focus in mind, everything seemed to come together effortlessly. My mind was relieved and my energy renewed. It ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, creating deep friendships that I reflect on with gratitude and joy. 

The residence was far more beautiful and perfect than I could have imagined. It was situated on a hilltop, surrounded by natural beauty in every direction: Rugged cliffs, heavy clouds, distant hills, a winding stream, and even a little pioneer homestead in a valley below. Students worked night and day, inspired by the beauty of the landscape and their new palettes with mineral pigments ground straight from the earth. Not coincidentally, several students said it was the best educational experience in their entire time at the university. It ended up being a haven of creativity and productivity for me as well.

As we boarded the bus to return home, one student said, "When we get to the final judgment, I want to be a witness for you." I was stunned. I hadn't breathed a word to anyone about my assignment to witness. But I guess, to those with ears to hear, my witnessing for the Savior had been loud and clear. "Will you witness for me?" she then asked, and I nodded my approval. 

At the end of Section 14 it says, 

Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who created the heavens and the earth, a light which cannot be hid in darkness...

And behold, thou art [Jana] and thou art called to assist; which thing if ye do, and are faithful, ye shall be blessed both spiritually and temporally, and great shall be your reward. 

I replaced the name David with my own in the last verse, to underscore the deeply personal instruction in these verses. Based on my own experience with witnessing in this way, it's true that the Savior's light is so bright it cannot be hidden, but speaks for itself if we merely point the way. I also have to add that I know the promised blessings are real. At least they were for me. 

I hope I can remember and be ever mindful of our constant responsibility to stand as a witness. And that when I remove myself from the equation and focus singularly on that ideal, amazing things result.

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