August 2015 Visiting Teaching: Divine Attributes of Jesus Christ—Meek and Humble
Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:26–27).
One of the first times I can recall that I really learned about the term, “meek,” was when I was in Young Women. I was a Mia Maid, and a Laurel gave a talk about the epistemology of the terms “meek” and “humble.” Like me, she had previously thought of the term meaning weak and quiet, maybe even a person who is frightened. But she had discovered that the term really meant more, especially in a religious sense. Sure, one of the thesaurus.com synonyms is “weak.” But we don’t think of Christ as weak. Indeed, as Christ sweat blood and experienced all He did in His life, He was the epitome of strength as much as He was the epitome of meekness and humility. So it is a mistake to think of ourselves as weak. We are not weak when we are being humble. We are powerful when we are meek and humble, because we have the force of God with us.
But then I had a problem. You see, I thought *I* was meek. I thought this because I was and am, Mormon. I thought somehow because I knew that meekness meant more, that I was among the meek. But I wasn’t. Not really. Not then, and not even now. You see, although this month’s message is aimed at being meek and humble, I still felt it lacked because its attribution of these characteristics was focused on doing as God would have us, perhaps because so often, as Mormons, we think we are doing what God asks us to when we are really doing what we, or what church culture, tells us is most important.
For me as a youth, and well into adulthood, I attributed ‘Mormon meekness’ to myself because of my faith, my sacrifice of time inc doing church callings, my paying tithing on a pinched budget, and in a general sense, my membership in the church. I convinced myself that because testimony was strong, and because I was suffering through a number of problems (death of a parent at 18, dating woes at 20, mac-n-cheese AGAIN for dinner, etc.)– I had great meekness and humility. I began to see myself in Matthew 20:16, as chosen—and I believed I would be the first in the next life to obtain all the righteous desires of my heart. In my heart of hearts, I believed myself to be suffering, and I was. Life is not easy for anyone, and some of the obstacles in my life were and are— too complicated and personal to even think about.
But that all changed for me in India.
My husband and I went to India with the intention of completing fertility treatment and hiring a surrogate. I could not carry a pregnancy: my “oven” could not carry a “bun.” So my husband and I planned to go to India for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). We needed to do this for gestational surrogacy, i.e. my husband’s “sugar” + my “eggs” mixed by scientist “bakers” to create a “bun.” This “bun” would then go into the gestational surrogate’s “oven” for 9 months of “baking” (in layman’s terms). All fertility treatments are a long shot, but this was still lower– only about a 30% chance. We were desperate, and hopeful. We chose India because of the significantly more affordable cost for IVF and surrogacy.
It was hot and humid when we arrived, and I had begun hormone injections intended to prepare my body for IVF. My hormones were all over the place—I loved my husband, but was considering divorce, then suicide, then I was utterly happy, in various rotations throughout the day. I was on an emotional roller coaster, and had my legs in stirrups more times than anyone should. What’s more, often the doctors spoke in other languages.
The fertility clinic was but a few blocks from an orphanage—the kind where one could anonymously leave a baby in the basket out front, ring the bell, and leave- no questions asked. The concept of child abandonment in the place that forbade adoption nearly drove me to madness. I had begged God for decades to let me be a mother—but on this trip, I begged with every last ounce of my dwindling sanity—to not hear that bell ring when we were in India. I could not stand the thought that a child might be abandoned when I was doing everything possible to become a mother, and my sanity seemed on edge.
God heard me. That bell did not ring when we were there. But I was still miserable. My body was not responding to the medications, and I was becoming more and more desperate. Why did everyone else get to be a mother but not me? Why did I have to be in this situation? I felt utterly useless as Mormon woman. I despised the fact that we were in India—too poor for the price tag associated with surrogacy in the US, and living in the restrains of Commonwealth anti-adoption legislation. “Why can’t I be among ‘the first,’ just this once…” I would pray begging, thinking I was among the “last” as described in Matthew 20:16. I was impatient and broken, feeling like I was selling my body to science to somehow have a baby.
The poverty in India is overwhelming, and I was not immune to it. But amid my own angst, I struggled to process it. However, that last prayer; my prayer of “..just this once….” And then, I saw a family. I had noticed them before, and given them food. A mother, occasionally a father- and 3 children: 2 daughters and a son. The eldest was maybe 4 years old. They lived on the street not far from our hotel. The more I saw of them, the more I began to really see them. Between the 3 children they owned 2 tops, 1 skirt and 2 pairs of underwear. The girls took turns wearing the skirt, and the 3 children took turns wearing the underwear and shirts. Because of the sparsity of their clothes, one child was always naked from the waist down, and another was always naked from the waist up. Like so many others in India, clean water was obtained from a community fountain, and the roadside gutters were toilets. Having no fear of germs, the children welcomed half-eaten food from anyone, including me.
But this was the difference between them and me: they never had their hands out. The children were always smiling. They were happy to see me because I might give them a bruised banana that I did not see fit to eat; they never asked for anything from me, from God, from anyone… and yet, I prayed daily with a long list of things I felt I deserved. I justified this thought my citing the Mormon mythology that I was *calleded* to be a mother in order to be a “real woman” in the church.
The eldest child in this family had lost many of her teeth, not from age or abuse, but malnutrition. Yet she still smiled with a toothless love that bewitched and haunted me all at once. She smiled as though she and I were the best friends in the world … and I could not help myself from loving her instantly. She never had her hand out, nor did she say thank you. But she and I were best friends- our spirits spoke, where language, food, culture and economics failed. Our spirits spoke.
This family was what I needed to see to understand that I was not meek. Before that moment, I had never been grateful to own my own underwear. Not only that, I had more than one pair of underwear. Compared to them, I was extremely rich if only in consideration of underwear supply. But in my angst to be a “Mormon woman,” I had forgotten to be a disciple of Christ. I had forgotten to see beyond my own eyes, and I had forgotten to recognise the blessings I had. I had failed to see the extravagance in which I lived –if only because I owned a whole drawer my own Mormon underwear.
The IVF failed. So I would not be a mother. But I thanked God, because I had my own underwear. And food to eat. And less than a year after our visit, when terrorists bombed the restaurants we ate at and destroyed some of the sites we visited, I realised that God knew that I loved art. In this, Gid allowed me to enjoy a part of the art in India shortly before it was wiped from the earth. This visit feels like a lifetime ago, and yet… that family, that smile, and the art are with me. Our spirits spoke. And I was ashamed of my foolishness in thinking I was humble and meek, just because I was a believing Mormon.
Do I still think I will be amoung the “first” in the “last shall be first…” scripture? No. Not even a little. That beautiful family and millions like them will go before me. And I am grateful for a wise and knowing God who taught me this in such a way.
From the Additional scriptures section: Helaman 3:35: Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
Are you among the meek and humble? Because I am not. But I am working on it.