Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Primary Way to Find Peace (or The Parable of the Lunchbox)

Greetings. I realize it has been a while since I last blogged. I apologize for that—let’s just say this summer has been a bit of a blur. Family gatherings, trips, a new granddaughter, and reunions have kept us hopping.

Recently I was visiting with a family member and we were discussing the challenges of this current time—busy schedules, trials left and right, and the turmoil that exists in today’s world. We pondered what it takes to find peace in the midst of this. I suppose that’s why I began thinking of past adventures and how we survived. Bear with me as I share one of those events.

I was raised by goodly parents . . . but church attendance was not always a regular thing. I was given a certificate while quite young—something I was proud of at the time. It proclaims that I attended church 2 times that year. It was a pink color and it quickly became a treasure. I believe it was my first certificate. It didn’t dawn on me until later years that it was actually a statement of how many meetings I had missed that year. It still exists in a scrapbook of sorts that I kept. It’s a reminder of that often confusing time in my life.

My father worked most Sundays. He was a pharmacist for a drugstore chain, and they were open on Sundays. We owned one car, and since his job was 30 miles away from our home, he needed the car to go to work. We lived 5 miles from the nearest church house, so most Sundays were spent at home with our mother. My siblings and I (there were 4 of us) attended Primary on a regular basis. It was held during the week and since my younger brother & I were in grade school at the time, we rode the bus to the local church house after school. My mother served as the chorister for our ward Primary, and she often caught a ride with neighbors to attend Primary with my two younger sisters.
I loved Primary, and the feeling I experienced each time I walked into the chapel. That’s where our opening exercises were held. When we arrived from school to the church house, we would grab our coats and lunchboxes (The old school house didn’t have a lunch room. The new school we would later attend offered that novel approach to lunch) and hurry inside the church house. Then we would stand in line and wait until the chapel was opened for Primary. 

I hated standing in line. I was usually surrounded by girls my age who were quick to criticize and ask rude questions. Each week it was the same ordeal:

“Your family doesn’t come to church.”
“We come to Primary,” I would bravely answer.
“But you don’t come to church on Sunday!”
“My dad has to work on Sunday.”
“People aren’t supposed to work on Sunday. Your dad is a bad man.”
“No he’s not! He works hard.”
“What does he do?”
“He’s a pharmacist,” I would bravely answer.
“Oh yeah, well my dad is a farm-er!” (Emphasis on the last syllable.)

I remember gazing at this particular girl with a look of disbelief. I was raised to treat others with kindness, and to show respect. Each week I was treated to rude comments and teasing because of my less than stellar church attendance, something that was out of my control. I was continually raked over the coals and made to feel like less than dirt because I didn’t attend church as often as these pillar of the community evidently did with their families. I’m amazed I still loved attending Primary—but I savored the peaceful feeling that filled my heart each week as I walked inside the chapel. I knew in my child’s heart that this was a sacred place and I loved that brief weekly experience that was a spiritual boost. It helped me push aside the hurtful words and actions of those who should have known better. 

One Wednesday afternoon as I stood enduring the weekly taunting outside of the chapel, the girl who usually led the verbal assaults gave me a dirty look and proclaimed loudly:

“Well, my daddy went to college. He’s really smart.”
I sighed, then bravely stated that my father had attended college, too.
“No he didn’t, he’s stupid because he doesn’t come to church on Sundays!”

I guess that was the final straw. After weeks of harassment, my tender heart had endured enough. I hurled my Snoopy lunchbox at my tormentor. I’m ashamed to admit it smacked her upside her head. I regretted that small act of violence immediately. Not only was I in trouble, but I had broken the thermos inside the lunchbox. 

My parents were dismayed over my aggressive behavior. It was the first time I had stood up for myself, and I learned quickly that my reaction was unacceptable, although that particular girl did leave me alone for awhile after that incident.  I tried explaining why I had finally snapped and thrown the lunchbox, but my parents patiently pointed out that it was better to ignore people who said mean things. 

“You know in your heart that you are a good person and what they say doesn’t matter,” my dad stressed. He then told me of times when he had been teased and made fun of because he was one of the smartest kids in school.

“Some kids are mean-spirited and do and say things we can’t take to heart,” my dad added. 

I vowed to do better and never threw my lunchbox at anyone ever again. But there were still times when I gazed at my peers who attended church on a weekly basis and questioned their theory that they were so much better than I was because they went to church each Sunday. I watched at school as these same saintly types cheated, told dirty jokes, and picked on others who were different, for whatever reason. I had a hard time understanding how people who were taught each Sunday to be like the Savior, were less than Christ-like the rest of the week. I was far from perfect myself, but I did strive to be good—most of the time.   

Fortunately, the feeling of peace I experienced each time I attended Primary helped me push past the bad example set by those my age. I began to realize that you couldn’t judge the Church by those who attended. Instead, I began learning all I could about Jesus, and why His example was important.

By the time I was a teenager, we had moved. My dad had been given a chance to manage a drugstore in this small Idaho town. After I adjusted to that change, I was filled with a desire to attend the church meetings I could, and to gain my own testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I learned the importance of ignoring those around me who chose to be less than they could be. Even in this new place there were those who were nicer than others. It all boiled down to agency. Perhaps because I’d had to work so hard to learn about the gospel, it meant more to me than to some of my peers. I was saddened by the behavior of a handful of these people when we reached college age—they had leaned on their parents’ testimonies for years and when they had a taste of freedom, some went off the deep end, ignoring important standards and commandments.

I guess what I’m trying to say in this meandering post, is that we can’t allow the example of others to influence who we’re meant to be. People are people, they make mistakes, and even those who should know better will sometimes be mean, disrespectful, and less than helpful when we’re trying to find our way in a crazy world that has always been full of turmoil. It’s important to discover for ourselves what brings us peace, comfort, and happiness. The good news is that we’re never as alone as we sometimes think we are. I can look back now and see that I was guided by promptings that came from the precious gift of the Holy Ghost. He filled my heart with peace whenever I was somewhere (like the chapel) He knew I needed to be. That feeling of peace gave me the courage to keep coming back, even when it was a less than fun process to be there.

So when life seems to bog down in the mire, and you feel like throwing your lunchbox at someone’s head, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and offer a silent prayer for help. Our Father is very aware of us and what we’re enduring. He will help us find our way out of the mire and back on the path where we need to be. We’re all children of God, and we’re all important to Him. How He must love it when we finally reach that understanding and reach out with kindness to those who may seem a little different.

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