Does your mission seem impossible?
“You spend too much time reading all those textbooks. Why don’t you read Harry Potter?” advised my mom.
“You don’t read much fiction do you?” observed my sister.
“Those topics would interest YOU,” my friend said to me with a hint of condescension. (We had just seated ourselves for a Relief Society meeting when I noticed three words written on the chalkboard and pointed them out to my friend. The words were: racism, doctrine, and politics.)
My mom, my sister, my friend–they all have a point when it comes to my reading material. Below is a sample of books I’ve read on my Ipad. (And not a fictitious work among them):
- The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray
- How Britain Created a Terror State Within by Melanie Phillips
- Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Nation by Shelby Steele
- The Intimidation Game by Kimberley Strassel
- Take No Prisoners by David Horowitz
- Liberty and Tyranny by Mark Levin
- The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel
- The Art of the Argument by Stefan Molyneux
- The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell
- Joseph Smith: Rough Rolling Stone by Richard Lyman Bushman
- Women of the New Testament by Camille Fronk Olson
- The Infinite Atonement by Tad Callister
- End of Discussion by Mary Katharine Ham
I don’t think I’ll ever get around to reading Harry Potter. And, admittedly, I feel a twinge of guilt knowing I’m the only one in my family who hasn’t read any of Jane Austen’s writings–even my brother has read Pride and Prejudice! (But I love the movies based on Austin’s novels). Historical and contemporary non-fiction and religious books will always be my reading staple.
Truthfully, it took me a long time to come to terms with my proclivities. I also had a hard time figuring out my seemingly inherent inclination to study philosophy and argumentation. As a younger woman, I honestly thought something was wrong with me because so many of my interests were outside traditional “girly” realms.
Many years of starts and stops accompanied by much prayer, contemplation, and scripture study, helped me to piece together crucial components concerning my mortal assignment. It was like assembling the pieces of a vast lifelong (or eternal) puzzle. These particular puzzle pieces pinpointed my careers as a mother to four children and as a college instructor. My college degrees and subsequent career in academia (teaching critical thinking, persuasion, and argumentation) have served to hone my skill sets in advocating, discussing, debating, and writing about various philosophies, ideologies, and world views. I have no doubt that divine intervention has led me to this point in my life where I am able to teach and write while utilizing various avenues and opportunities to influence and persuade.
Our Pre-mortal Existence Was a Battle of Ideas
“Julie, why do you care so much about all of this?” a friend recently asked me. I responded, “I think I’m supposed to care. I think it’s part of my life’s calling to care. I can’t remember not caring.”
Here’s what I care about:
- Cynical postmodernist theories coupled with critical theories that are intent (and succeeding) in deconstructing and dismantling the institutions of Western civilization in North America, Western Europe, and Australia. with its emphasis on “socially constructed truths,” identities, and its politics.
- Increased civil unrest and eventual war in America and Europe due to balkanized identity politics and tribalism. We can expect more violence; when we run out of words, we pick up weapons. (It’s all outlined in 3rd Nephi in the Book of Mormon.)
After that conversation with my friend, I thought about what she said. So, I asked myself for the millionth time, “Julie, why do you care so much about all of this?” The divine answer was swift and sharply clear: God had absolutely placed these sociological, philosophical, and spiritual concerns within my heart. He is the one who lit this fire in my soul while fashioning me into a sort of warrior–a spiritual and philosophical warrior to help fight in the ideological and spiritual battle of ideas. And surely, my career in academia has placed me on the front lines of battle.
The Bible’s Book of Revelation, along with the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, teaches us that our pre-mortal existence culminated in a battle of ideas to win the minds of our eternal souls. Michael, the Archangel led the charge against Lucifer’s authoritarian proposal of forced compliance devoid of individual free will. We rejected the idea of a micro-managed mortal existence and decided to put our faith in Jesus Christ’s ability to achieve perfection and atone for our sins during His mortal life. And He delivered! He willingly fulfilled His foreordained mission. And, hopefully, we, too, can deliver in our mortal missions.
There’s more to my spiritual epiphany. While pondering all of this, a “repressed” memory entered my mind–a partial remembrance of my pre-mortal existence; who I used to be, and what my pre-mortal role had been. In that spiritual realm, I had been a spiritual “warrior” and fought for the Plan of Salvation. I had used sound arguments in helping to persuade other souls to the philosophies of free agency, individual choice, the worth of each individual soul and the right to self-determination, and personal accountability. I had also worked diligently to persuade others to have faith in Jesus Christ, in His future mortal mission, and in His ability to atone for our sins. Furthermore, I had argued against Lucifer’s narcissistic philosophy of power and glory for himself while forcing compliance on the rest of us during mortality. Similar to a self-serving and power-hungry dictator or oligarchy who promises utopia while grinding the rest of us into tyrannical subjugation and bondage. We would have no knowledge or experience with choice, uncertainty, self-actualization, or faith. How can anyone achieve any sort of utopia or nirvana or celestial glory without these fundamentals?
My pre-mortal memory continued to unfold: I had persuaded many. I had also made enemies. Even more, I had had some knowledge of my future earthly assignment which I would be foreordained to accomplish. I knew my forthcoming mortal life would reflect and encompass my pre-mortal mission as an advocate and defender of the philosophies and doctrines of Jesus Christ. Now, as I connect these primeval dots to my present earthly assignment as a university educator in critical thinking, argumentation, and persuasion, I see clearly my pre-mortal existence as a “type and shadow” to my mortal assignment. Talk about a parallel universe. What’s more, I came to earth having already been tutored in the art of oral and written argumentation. It had all been “pre-packaged.” Growing into adulthood, I just needed to add the living water of faith and prayer.
Whenever I ponder this memory, I marvel that a loving God so willingly reveals significant truths to those who ask in faith. And revealed truths can come packaged as glimpses of our eternal memories. Indeed, a revealed memory of our eternal past can help us fulfill our earthly mission. My children’s patriarchal blessings admonish each of them to pray diligently to find out who they were, and what they did in pre-mortality.
When we know who we were, we can know who we are to be.
Have you too, dear readers, struggled with your life’s purpose or mission? Do you know where you’re going? Do you know where you’ve been? Do you know how to get to your destination? Have you ever wanted to give up? Have you run off course? Do you feel too old to “start again?” Perhaps your life’s map reads similarly to mine.
What does your life map look like?
My life’s map contains many detours and a couple of unfulfilled dreams (and that’s ok). I’ll share a few of the countless detours I’ve taken so far:
As a 20-year-old woman, I began my junior year of college at BYU Provo after having graduated from my local community college with an A.A. degree in English. Detour: After my first semester at BYU, I changed my major to history and worked toward a career teaching history. (I come from a family of educators. My father was a college instructor who taught English, and my four siblings work in education.) Naturally, a career in teaching made sense to me. Detour: However, during my second semester at BYU, my college plans took another turn when I met my future husband and got engaged. Marriage and four children became my new focus. When my youngest child entered kindergarten, I returned to school.
I once again changed my major to pursue my true love: watercolor painting. I had hoped to attain an M.F.A. (Master’s of Fine Arts) degree from San Jose State University and then set up my own studio and sell my beautiful paintings. Detour: Returning to school after a 12-year hiatus meant new G.E. courses in multiculturalism, science, and math. And with math came great anxiety. I loathed math. Changing to an art major also meant lots of lower-division art classes. Consequently, I was back at the community college level for another two and a half years. Detour: G.E. required that I pass an upper-division math course: algebra. Two weeks into the course, I was completely lost and had to drop it. Detour: I had to take remedial math courses in preparation for algebra. I’m talking re-learning basic fractions. (I honestly think I have a mental disability when it comes to anything math. To this day, I shudder when walking past a classroom and hear the professor lecture about math equations.) The math courses set me back three semesters. Still, I plowed through.
Armed with new knowledge of algebra, color theory, and painting styles, I was finally ready to transfer to San Jose State. I looked forward to honing my craft. I was especially intrigued by realistic floral paintings. I hoped to inspire others through my art. To this day, beautiful watercolors like these painted by Soon Y. Warren make my heart sing. I marvel at her skill in creating such beautiful imagery on a blank piece of paper!
Transferring to San Jose State
I will never forget that day. Sitting in his office, my advisor and I examined San Jose State’s (SJSU) catalog and course schedules. My hopes faltered while my dread surged. To earn one unit of credit, SJSU required my attendance for lab work two days a week (not counting class time) at three-hour intervals. In the afternoon. When my kids come home from school. For one lousy unit of credit. And that’s just for one art class. Why hadn’t I anticipated this before choosing art as a major?! On the verge of tears, I told my advisor, “I have four children. They have homework and after-school activities. There’s no way I can attend all these labs.” His shocked look was my answer. “So what do I do now?” Almost immediately, he answered, “Communications.” I’d never heard of communications as a major. Still, it was one of those light bulb moments. “And,” he said, “you already have the needed credits to transfer to SJSU.” Feeling a wobbly but growing peace, I said, “Ok, let’s do it.”
That was nearly 25 years ago. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since. And I have no regrets. I never did leave San Jose State. After earning my degrees and having been trained in teaching, I have taught at SJSU for 20 years. I’ve also taught at local community colleges and Santa Clara University.
Every now and then, I stare wistfully at beautiful paintings. I still would love to be a skilled watercolorist. But that would mean forgoing my abilities in persuasion and argumentation along with many opportunities to influence hundreds of students. I feel great peace and joy knowing that God has been “a lamp unto my feet, and light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105) in revealing my life’s purpose.
What were you foreordained to do?
BYU professor Jeffrey A. Thompson gave October’s BYU devotional talk entitled, “What Is Your Calling in Life?” His professional journey sounded like mine. Again, I emphasize this point: Our calling may be a professional and/or life’s calling.
What is your calling in life? If you don’t know yet, how do you find out? For many, deciding what to do with your life can feel like a personal crisis that doesn’t go away. I want you to understand that finding my calling in life was not easy. My career path was circuitous, and I often felt great anxiety. I wanted to care passionately about my work, but for years I had no idea what that work should be. Several times I felt utterly adrift, as if I had somehow missed the path I should have taken and could never get back on it. In hindsight, those moments are important parts of the tapestry of my career. Each thread that felt out of place at the time now provides structure to the pattern of my life. They helped me distinguish and define my calling. I learned to quote Romans 8:28, that all things do indeed ‘work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Professor Thompson continues by delving into the notion of our life’s calling:
“John Calvin [taught that] it wasn’t our position in the social structure that determined God’s calling for us. Rather, he argued that God endows each of us with particular talents and gifts, and that it is our calling to discover those gifts and to seek out ways to use them in the service of our fellowmen. So the very roots of the idea of a professional calling are distinctly religious. Ironically, the world still embraces the notion of a professional calling, but it has almost entirely abandoned the spiritual roots of the idea.”
He further discusses the scripture in D&C 58:28 regarding the “power within” to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause…”
“You personally are full of divine capacities to do good that you probably don’t even fully appreciate. These verses testify that you are not part of a lottery system for life callings. You have a calling in life: to pursue good causes. And you have been given power to do just that. But knowing that you have power to do good works is one thing; knowing specifically what you ought to do is quite another. How do you find your particular calling? That’s the burning question for many of us.”
Dr. Thompson describes some of the spiritual gifts illustrated in D&C 46: 11-12:
Note that there are many gifts, that they are distributed differently among us, and that they are given so we can bless one another. Finding our calling in life involves the same process as discovering our spiritual gifts. Elder Robert D. Hales has provided some insight on this process: ‘To find the gifts we have been given, we must pray and fast…I urge each to discover your gifts and to seek after those that will bring direction to your life’s work and that will further the work of heaven.’ We usually can’t predict exactly where our gifts will lead us. But in retrospect, we will see the hand of the Lord leading us from door to door and opportunity to opportunity as we exercise and hone our spiritual gifts. If you exercise faith in the Lord, follow His spirit, and see to amplify your gifts, you will be led gradually to a place where you are well equipped to serve.”
He closes with these words:
“I testify that our Heavenly Father is intimately involved in the doors that open for us and in the circumstances that lead us to the places we should be–the places where we are equipped with power, to serve. Have faith that your unseen Navigator will lead you gradually to your life’s calling. I also testify that, as with all important questions, when it comes to asking what our calling in life is, Jesus Christ is in the answer. The grace of Christ, that same power that helps us do things we otherwise couldn’t, is what will guide us to our callings and enable us to excel in them. You can call upon the grace of Christ to help you with your professional calling. In fact, He pleads with us to do so. In Alma, He invites us to pray over our flicks (see Alma 34:20). Even if we are not shepherds by trade, we all tend professional flocks, and he is mindful of them. Knowing that helps us expel anxiety.
Here’s the link to his entire talk: https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-a-thompson/what-is-your-calling-in-life/
The late Apostle Neal A. Maxwell talked more specifically about our pre-mortal mission:
There is another type of foreordination…labeled ‘foredesignation’ to distinguish it from a priesthood ordination. Mary, the mortal mother of Jesus, is an example of one who was foredesignated to a significant and sacred mission in life (see 1 Nephi 11:18). Many other women through the ages and throughout the nations of the earth have shaped the history of the world and furthered the works of God through their service to their families, the Church, and society. Surely many righteous daughters of God were foredesignated to missions of secular as well as spiritual significance. Though not ordained to priesthood callings, their foredesignations to such vital missions in mortality are no less important. President Spencer W. Kimball emphasized that ‘we had full equality as his spirit children. We have equality as recipients of God’s perfected love for each of us… Within those great assurances, however, our roles and assignments differ. These are eternal differences… Remember, in the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to.”
A BYU Idaho General Conference index offers some interesting perspectives from former LDS prophets:
In the October 1973 General Conference, President Harold B. Lee utilized D&C 121:34-36 to illustrate the point that earthly faithfulness is required for the fulfillment of pre-mortal foreordinations. He taught that ‘many are called [foreordained], but few are chosen [foreordination fulfilled]’ the revelation then asks, ‘And why are they not chosen?’ In other words, why are some pre-mortally foreordained and yet fail on earth to live up to the blessings, responsibilities, and missions that were conferred upon them? The scripture, President Lee explained, suggests two answers. First, ‘Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world,’ and second, because they ‘aspire to the honors of men’ (D&C 121:35). The doctrine of foreordination carries with it heavy responsibilities. We cannot neglect those responsibilities but must be constantly vigilant in living so that our foreordinations, whatever they may be, can be fulfilled and God’s work may be furthered.”
President Wilford Woodruff counseled:
“We have been raised up of the Lord to take this kingdom and bear if off. This is our duty; but if we neglect our duty and set our hearts upon the things of this world, we will be sorry for it. We ought to understand the responsibility that rests upon us. We should gird up our loins and put on the whole armor of God…then let us do our duty. Let us keep the commandments of God, let us be faithful to the end, so that when we go into the spirit world and look back upon our history, we may be satisfied.”To access the sources and footnotes, here’s the link: https://magazine.byu.edu/article/lds-general-conference-scripture-index-launched/
I love this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.
Here’s to making our “mission impossible” possible!