The strangest thing happened at a recent Stake leadership training meeting on a beautiful Saturday. I had settled down in the remote back corner of the crowded Relief Society room with my stack of books, ready to split my time between reading Nibley’s One Eternal Round, studying Mandarin from a recent Liahona and a Chinese dictionary, and perhaps nodding occasionally and even taking a few notes from the meeting I was attending, sort of. If I had to spend much of a Saturday in meetings–Saturday, one of my only times to get my stuff done–at least I was going to walk away knowing a little more in some areas that mattered to me.
And then came the opening prayer that changed everything and foiled all my plans, resulting in a “less productive” day that was inspiring and even joyous instead of a grudging sacrifice and waste of time. It came from a High Council member whom I deeply respect as a faithful Latter-day Saint and highly admired corporate leader as well. Near the beginning of his prayer, he said, “Father, help us that we may be present. . . .” Flush. With that phrase, my plans and selfish intentions began swirling and then swiftly descended into the great drain of reconsideration.
“How can you learn if you don’t listen? How can you be guided if you don’t pay attention? Whom are you here to serve anyway?” Ooops. Uh, right. So I set down my stack of books, got out my notebook, and began paying attention to what was said. A difficult exercise, one that I’m not ready to commit to as a pattern for the future, but one that brought remarkable results that day. I found that the messages that had been prepared really had some meat to them.
The words of our Stake President especially opened up some new things for me and strengthened me in a variety of ways. I found that there were promptings and small bits of guidance that came as I paid attention and allowed the Spirit to influence my reaction to what was taught. My testimony was strengthened by several of the stories and principles shared, and I was faced once again with overwhelming evidence of what really motivates and drives the leaders in this Church: a desire to follow Jesus Christ, to love and bless others, and to bring the joy into the lives of people that only comes from following Christ. It’s not about self-aggrandizement, control or power, but about humble service and love. It’s a privilege to be part of that, even if it means occasionally losing a precious Saturday morning to study and do things that aren’t on my personal to-do list.
Almost five hours after that prayer, as I drove home, I realized that I had experienced a wonderful and joyous day, much better than what would have happened if I were always drifting in and out of the flow, trying to study my own stuff without being present. Thank heavens for that inspired opening prayer with that day-changing line, “that we may be present.” I might even try it again next time.
UPDATE, MAY 14: Before people get too offended by my attitudes about attending meetings, I should clarify that my attendance was not required at this meeting. It was a bishopric training meeting, and since I am not a unit advisor to any specific unit, there was no need for me to be there, but it was OK to attend. I was there voluntarily because I wanted to attend to learn more about ward councils since the Young Women’s president had asked me to give her group a little training in that area later in the day. So to fulfill my duties later in the day, I felt that I should attend this earlier meeting, but it was hard to completely give up that time without trying to get some extra things done at the same time. But I admit it’s a temptation that doesn’t go away even in meetings where I am expected to be there. I won’t admit to any further sins along these lines, especially not sneaking in foreign language materials to Priesthood meetings. That would be going totally apostate.