Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Own Mini Liberty Jail Experience This Morning at Seminary

Wow. This morning was the most profound seminary lesson of the year for me. We had a silent walk to Liberty Jail. 

The whole day was silent, up until the testimony meeting at the end. Instructions were given by silent slides on the screen. Even devotional was silent. We listened to How Firm a Foundation  and marked on our handout what phrases were important to us. Even prayer was silent. Each person said his or her own, asking to feel and be taught by the Spirit today. 

Then we silently divided into four group activities that rotated about every 12 minutes. (Our class meets every other day for 90 minutes.) 

Today we started a new tradition of each student writing down something that stuck with them today, and added it to a poster as they left class.  That's what the sticky note messages are throughout this post. 

Group one started in the hallway. 

The teens spread out down the hall and read from eight different stories, quotes, or scriptures about events like Liberty Jail, Haun's Mill, the Extermination Order, or Missouri Saints being kicked out of their homes in the cold winter. Each writing had a picture with it, and a question to write about in each person's journal. The feeling in the hall was sacred.


Group two started in our make-shift Liberty Jail. 

It was a small classroom made even smaller by a row of chairs and a crepe paper lower ceiling to help us feel the claustrophobia that Joseph, Hyrum, and the others must have felt. We opened the window to the cold air and left the lights off.There were six, sometimes seven, men living in a room that was 14x14 feet, and just over 6 feet high. Their only bed was some dirty straw on a hard, cold floor. Sometimes Joseph didn't even have a blanket during that freezing winter. Their only bathroom was a bucket. Their food was nasty and sometimes poisonous.  

In our little Liberty Jail we played a video of Elder Holland telling about Liberty Jail while the students sat on the floor, feeling a tiny taste of what Joseph and the others felt. Here you can read Elder Holland's whole BYU devotional or a summarized version of "Lessons from Liberty Jail."   

Here is the video we played, called "Trials: Look to the Light" by Elder Holland. Click it to play. 

Group three recorded Joseph's own testimony. 

The youth took turns recording a couple paragraphs at a time of Joseph Smith's own testimony as Elder Anderson recently counseled. My husband used his phone recorder app as the youth read aloud the The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith pamphlet. They read from the middle of the first page through page four.

 Mike wrote a list of students in each group so I can email them the right recording with their own voice reading Joseph's testimony aloud. I hope they will take the opportunity to record the whole pamphlet aloud and listen to it over and over, as Elder Anderson counseled. 

If I were to do this activity again, I would get each person their own pamphlet from the LDS Distribution Center and invite them to take it home to record the whole thing, and mark it up. I just brought a handful of printed copies that they left in the room for the next group, but it worked.

Group four enjoyed chapel introspection. 

Each student picked up a handout from the back of the chapel and found a place to sit. I played some sacred music in the background. The handout gave them several choices: 

  1. Read D&C 121-123
  2. Look up scriptures and write answers to questions on the handout
  3. Just quietly pray and ponder about what they had learned today. 

With only about six or seven in a group, they could spread out and have their own space to feel the Spirit. 

Then we all met back in the seminary room for a reverent 20 minute testimony meeting. 

With tears in my eyes, I shared that I had experienced my own mini Liberty Jail experience that morning, which was quite profound for me. 

That morning I had arrived later than I wanted to, knowing I had more set up that ever before. My husband, Mike, always sets up with me and stays through devotional. But for some reason he wasn't ready when I left. I kept thinking he'll show up any minute and help me. I literally ran here and there across the church getting various rooms ready. Where was Mike when I needed his help? (I don't believe in running in the church as it is a sacred place but I felt an exception was in order as I was racing the clock before my students arrived.)  My daughter and a couple students were helping do some, for which I was very grateful, but I still had so much to do. 

Where was he? 

Where was Mike? He is always my biggest earthly supporter. Where was he? Didn't he know I needed him a lot? Right now? Didn't he know the students needed him too? We were waiting in silence (thank goodness at least my phone was playing reverent music) because I had forgotten my laptop at home and Mike hadn't brought it yet to give the silent instruction slides to get class started. I felt a bit panicked. I checked outside several times hoping to see him heading our way across the parking lot (we just live around the corner). Still no Mike. I felt kind of abandoned. I felt alone. Where was my help when I needed help? 

When the students had all arrived, still no Mike. My students always enjoy visiting with each other, but the silence seemed awkward because there was no visiting and nothing to do yet. We couldn't start class until Mike came with the laptop. Suddenly a thought came to me. This was part of our mini experience today the Lord wanted us to have. I had been praying that every single person would have a spiritual experience today, and it was starting in an unexpected way. 

The idea came to write on the board, "How does it feel to wait and not to know how long you'll have to wait?"  

Waiting ten minutes for class to start is nothing compared to four months in Liberty Jail through a bitterly cold winter. 

Another idea came to me. This was MY small experience the Lord had for me today. 

I realized all the feelings of abandonment, impatience, and wondering why my supporter wasn't coming to my aid, were the very things Joseph Smith had been feeling in Liberty Jail.

Joseph's biggest supporter was the Savior Jesus Christ. Jeseph may have been thinking the same kind of thoughts I was. "Where are you? Are you hearing me?  I need you right now. My people need you right now. Don't you care that my wife and children are being driven from their home along with other Saints, that Saints have been brutally murdered in Haun's Mill, and that we need your help?  I feel abandoned. I feel alone. Please come help us!" 

This epiphany melted my heart. I started crying. I felt changed inside. I realized God was teaching me the same thing Joseph learned. That we are NEVER ALONE. Even when we feel that we are, we are not. The Lord is always there. There is purpose in our struggles, even when there is a long space between our pleadings and His answering or His rescuing. There is divine watching over, divine nurturing, and diving loving, even when we don't receive our answer yet, our rescue yet.  

I begged my students to remember Joseph when they have their own Liberty Jail experiences, because we all will, big or small, at some point. It's part of the plan. 

I begged them never to give up, never to give in, and even when they are tempted to feel abandoned, alone, or hopeless, to remember that God really is there, even if they can't hear him for a time. Keep pleading. Keep asking. Keep reaching up and moving forward the best you can. And remember that in the eternal scheme of things, our trials can be but a speed bump on the road that we look back on years later and think, "I'm glad that's done, but I lived through it."  

If trials serve God's purposes of deeply won lessons and heart changes and soul searchings and bringing us closer to Christ than ever before through our heartfelt pleading and studying, are they not worth it?  Of course they can be excruciating in the moment. But as Alma said, as deep was his pain, as deep was his joy (See Alma 36:20). 

Here is what one student, Dillon, emailed me after class: 

Sister Edwards, I had this insight that I tought I should share with you.
I was singing How Firm a Foundation (no one was home, haha) and I was thinking about the words and what I learned in Seminary today. I love verse 3 of this song. But I realize that I have always understood it from a very small perspective.  Thinking of this verse with an eternal perspective changes a lot.
Think of or read the 3 verse. Each of these, goes along with it's respective line: Line 1 & 2: We need not fear because the Lord is always with us. Not just now but always.  We don't need to feel crestfallen because of our trials because he knows who he wants us to become, and who we will need to be in the last days.  He has always been their helping us, and that truth isn't going to change.
Line 3: The Lord will help you through your trials yes, but he sees the big picture.  Maybe your trials are the way that he strengthens you for the future, helps you in the future, and causes you to stand in future—because your trial made you strong enough to stand.
Line 4 & 5: And we must remember and see His hand in all things.

Yes Dillon, eternal perspective makes a big difference, doesn't it?  

Elder Holland said,
"You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in any situation you are in. Indeed, you can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experiences with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.
"In one way or another, great or small, dramatic or incidental, every one of us is going to spend a little time in Liberty Jail—spiritually speaking. We will face things we do not want to face for reasons that may not be our fault. Indeed, we may face difficult circumstances for reasons that were absolutely right and proper, reasons that came because we were trying to keep the commandments of the Lord. We may face persecution, we may endure heartache and separation from loved ones, we may be hungry and cold and forlorn. Yes, before our lives are over we may all be given a little taste of what the prophets faced often in their lives." (Lessons from Liberty Jail, BYU Devotional, Sept. 7, 2008). 

Elder Scott said, 
"The Lord puts challenges in your path to mold your character. For your own personal growth He will often let you struggle with a matter for a while, even when you are pleading for help. But as you follow true principles, He will finally see you through. He intends that when you have reached your extremity, you will turn to Him for comfort, peace, and assistance. He will send it through the quiet prompting of the Spirit. He will give reassurance and guidance that are essential in correcting decisions in your life" (Making the Right Choices, BYU Devotional, Jan. 13, 2002). 

And Orson F. Whitney said,

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven” (cited in Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 98).

I love being a seminary teacher. 

I love each of my students. Every. Single. One. They are precious to me. And I know they are precious to God. 

And I love the principles I learn and experience as I prepare, teach, learn from my students, and have tastes of what God is trying to teach me along the way. 


Shauna said...

Becky, thank you for taking time to write this out. Beautiful!

Becky Edwards said...

Shauna, Thank you!

Eliseo Weinstein said...

What a powerful way to send a message. Sometimes no words is a stronger message than a thousand of them. I love that everything throughout the day was silent, even prayers. What a unique thing to accomplish. Going without words for an entire day was trying, I'm sure, so major kudos to you guys for sticking to your guns and getting your message across

Eliseo Weinstein @ JR's Bail Bonds