92950_000_003With Chris, my life was complete. So where did a mission fit in?
In my heart of hearts I wanted to serve a mission. But I was in love. Sure I know guys usually leave girlfriends behind, but Chris was different. She was a cheerleader in our high school, blonde, beautiful, with a clever personality, and not stuck-up. I had a crush on her when we went to high school in Nebraska but didn’t have the courage to ask her out until we met in college. She was a year older than I.
For a guy in high school to win an older woman is nearly hopeless. It gets easier in college where you can’t tell how old a guy is by the books he carries. So I asked her out. My heart raced when she agreed to a date. Friendship quickly blossomed into romance. I felt my life was now complete and nothing else much mattered, even a mission call.
Then we argued about something really important. I can’t remember what right now, but I know it was life-or-death because of how angry I felt about it. I did not sleep that night. I continued to sulk without relief. Something had to change, and I was pretty sure it was not me.
In a physics class the next day, as Professor Hill talked about light, I wanted to collapse with some distant galaxy into a black hole. Maybe light was what we had lost. Radiant, burning light. This is how I had felt in the beginning when I was with her—like stars exploding in the skies. But now I felt uncertainty, darkness even. For the first time I longed for what I had been hearing about in religion class—pure love, selfless but fervent caring. I thought of Christ and how he felt for the little children. I knew he was the source. And I knew prayer would help.
I had always said my prayers at night. It was a childhood habit. But, unfortunately, they had become routine. It was more like brushing teeth than communion with deity, a way to prevent spiritual cavities. Please bless … please bless … please bless. Night after night I had been describing to the Lord exactly how I thought my world should be ordered.
But that day in physics I realized my whole world was turned inward. I knew that to escape the confusion I must find a way to reach out to other people. But how? I could not even reach out to my girlfriend. Instead I had tried to annex her personality into my own, to possess it, to lock her up inside me. The problem needed more maturity and strength than I had. All of the routine prayers in the world wouldn’t be adequate. I needed a prayer of faith like Enos offered in the wilderness.
So there in the wilderness of 200 physics students, I looked down as if at my textbook, and with one hand shielding my eyes, offered a simple, heartfelt prayer. My idea was to prepare the Lord for what I would be asking later, to humbly and sincerely bring him up to speed on what I had been feeling. But as I opened my heart the feelings gushed out. I told him everything. Tears trickled from my chin and wet the book. Then, suddenly, a profound peace washed through me. And with it came light, illumination, an unmistakable understanding.
I knew missionary work was the key. I needed a mission more than the Lord needed me to be a missionary. I needed to put aside my own problems and help those who were wandering in darkness worse than my own. I had learned to pray about problems. But those who lived in the dark did not pray because no one had told them they could.
After class I called my bishop.
That evening I met Chris to study in the library. I felt calm as I explained the events of the day and my determination to go on a mission. She was supportive and complimentary. As I looked at her, I considered the real possibility that she would not be waiting when I returned. But peace replaced jealousy. I knew nothing could keep me from my mission.
For two years I wrote to her. Weekly at first, then less often. When I returned, we visited. I told her of the people I had met and the lives I had watched change. She told me about her studies of South and Central America. She had developed such a love for the people of those countries that she now wanted to serve a mission. It was the last time I saw her for several years.
The selfish emotions which had consumed me before were gone, replaced by a desire for service, a love for others, and a powerful new faith in the Savior.
Back in school, I met Julie. She was blonde, beautiful, clever, and someone who cared about other people. More surprising, she was attracted to me. We were married in the spring. I can say with conviction that the Lord knows better than we do how our lives should be ordered. The self-centered existence I would have chosen for myself cannot compare with the blessings that have followed obedience and service.