I remebered as I listened to Elder Eyring speak today (from a conference a couple of years ago) the importance of our motivation in determining the impact of our actions in the spiritual life.
I witnessed the importance of motivation most dramatically when I returned from my mission. I left for Mexico after a year at BYU. During that year, I had begun to delve into religious philosophy and to fancy myself quite the intellectual. I was asked before I left to speak about the importance of the Atonement . I very much wanted that talk to leave the ward abuzz. Having lived there my whole life, I knew most of the ward members as well as I knew my grandparents. Many had lived in their homes since the time my home was an empty lot and most of them were deeply-rooted Mormon folk who could reach easily back to pioneer ancestors. I wanted to wow them; and wow them I did. I spoke about one of Bertrand Russell’s essays on the nobility of atheism and how my faith in Christ solved the vexing problems Russell posed. It was an articulate and capable treatise and my family and I received cards along the lines of “that was the best Easter sunday meeting we have ever had.”
Six months into my mission I found the talk among my few papers and in the midst of very different circumstances. I had traded my comfortable Provo environs for the dusty streets of Cuatitlan Iscalli where I labored with a series of companions I didn’t get along with. I had just passed my first Christmas in the field and was convinced that the oft-heard aphorism that your mission Christmases would be your best were rubbish–I spent mine more homesick and glum than I had ever been. Still sad a few days thereafter I read the talk and was baffled by the pretentiousness, the calculated attempt to impress. It was disturbing and struck me as poor motivations with a spiritual sheen.
Eighteen months into my mission, with my farewell talk all but forgotten, I had waded my way through much more difficulty and sorrow and had found myself humbled first by circumstance and then by desire. At that time, I found that my prayers took on a new feeling: Dear Father, please help me not to care about leadership or about prestige or about what other people think about me, please help me not to care about seeming “spiritual,” just help me to care about other people and about being like Jesus. Help me only care about what Thou wouldst have me do. Please.
And I did. Miracles followed. Events I now can hardly believe flowed freely. And, in that context, I finished my time in Mexico.
While there, in addition to my love for the people in Mexico, I came to love the people in my ward back home more. This was because I realized each scoutmaster and Bishop and primary teacher and even custodian (they would come see us when we were playing basketball till all hours of the night) had taken a turn molding the clay of my character and so the fruit I harvested in Mexico bore the imprint of those who raised me in Salt Lake. As I sat down at my computer to type my homecoming talk, I was overcome by a very different prayer than the one I gave (if I did) before left: Father, I don’t care what anyone thinks about me or this talk, but please let everyone know how much I love them and what a wonderful wonderful thing they have done in Mexico. Please let them know what wonderful people they are and what a difference they made in Mexico.
I will never forget the speech. It was dramatically different in both form and content from my farewell: gone was the alliteration, the imagery, the philosophy, the craft, the art–replaced instead by stories of people I knew and by a love I felt overflowing from within toward the members of my ward and my mexican friends.
I gave the talk by mentioning, by name, those in my ward who had touched me and the specific lessons they taught me: Bishop Ward about faith, Scoutmaster Skankey about stick-to-it-iveness, Krista Tucker (a lame, deaf, dumb, mentally retarded girl) about loving without words, and on and on. And then I shared the story of one person I had been able to touch because of each lesson: the woman whose house we found by following a prompting after sincere prayer, the girl whose house came at the end of the last street on the last hill just before the time to retire, and the family I taught practically through pantomime before I learned Spanish.
During the talk the congregation looked at me with a kind of rapt attention I don’t ever remember seeing before or since. But I know it wasn’t me they were seeing; they were meeting, through my words, the people they had touched in Mexico, people they loved though they’d not yet met them. We were wrapped together, in that moment, in a buoying spirit which left a hush and a glow on the congregation. When I sat down, silence spread like peace over the room and we basked in the love that still hung in the air like dew.