Stilling the storms of life: The time I was put on church probation

Isaiah 1.18 bigIt’s been a long, and noisy week here in the Bloggernacle, hasn’t it?

I have to admit I am tired of all of the back and forth, the sides, the contention, the news stories, the blog posts … so very tried. I didn’t realize how tired I was until I stepped into Church on Sunday. I sat down on the chair with my kids and our stuff and waited for Sacrament Meeting to start. The organist started playing some of my favorite hymns and I just sat and listened and quietly sang along,

“Jesus lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high. Hide me O my Savior hide, till the storm of life is past. Safe into thy haven guide, oh receive my soul at last.”

“Precious Savior dear Redeemer, Thy sweet message now impart. May thy spirit pure and fervid, enter every timid heart. Carry there the swift conviction, turning back the sinful tide. Precious Savior dear Redeemer, may each soul in thee abide.”

“Jesus Savior pilot me, over life’s tempestuous sea. Unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treach’rous shoal. Chart and compass came from thee: Jesus Savior, pilot me.”

“Master the tempest is raging! The billows are tossing high! The sky is o’er shadowed with blackness, no shelter or help is nigh. The wind and the waves shall obey thy will, peace be still. Whether the wrath of the storm tossed sea, or demons or men or whatever may be. No waters can swallow the ship where lies the master of ocean and earth and skies. They all shall sweetly obey thy will, peace be still, peace be still. They all shall sweetly obey thy will, peace, peace, be still.”

I needed to hear those particular hymns and have those words going thru my mind as I began my Sunday worship. Those songs and those words melted a lot of my fatigue away. The words of the Sacrament prayers were especially powerful to me as well, and I felt very refreshed as these prayers were spoken. I also thought a little deeper about what it meant to take upon me the name of Christ, and the promise to always have His spirit to be with me. It was a comfort and a blessing to think of the atoning blood of Christ washing away my scarlet sins – making them white as snow.

My thoughts turned very briefly to many years before, as I sat in my bishop’s office confessing my sins and asking for help. That was a hard day, one of the hardest in my life. The decision to go to him for help was one that I knew I needed to make, but was afraid to make; I was embarrassed – for all of the reasons you might expect. But I made the choice to go and to ask for help.

In that meeting I was put on probation.

Bishop was not angry, or judgmental. In fact, he was quite the opposite, and full of love and concern for me and my spiritual well being. As part of my probation he asked that I refrain from taking the sacrament, and that I not comment in meetings or say prayers in the course of the church service. He encouraged me to come to Church and to stay for the full 3 hours and to sit in the chapel during Sacrament Meeting. He gave me some homework to do as well – passages of scripture to read and think about. He asked me to keep a journal of my experiences, but that he would not ask me to share that with him. He asked me to pray for specific things: forgiveness, and to be able to feel the Atonement and the love of Christ as I worked thru my problems. We met together a few more times during my probation and each meeting was a blessing. I could feel the grace of the Lord and the Atonement working in me and on me, to change me into something better. As Bishop prayed for me and as I prayed for myself in those meetings, I could feel the tremendous love that my Heavenly Father had for me, just for me, pouring down on me, healing me, cleaning me, and making me whole again.

If life had a rewind button, I wouldn’t make the choices again that landed me in that bishop’s office and on probation. However, that probation taught me so much about what is important. Not being able to fully participate at church was a humbling experience. It taught me to appreciate the full fellowship of my membership in the Church. It taught me, as the words of the hymns suggest, to fly to the bosom of my Savior for help. It taught me to abide in the Lord. It provided me a course correction back to Jesus Christ, and it showed me that truly He is the one who stills the storms of life. The beauty of The Plan of Salvation is that we do have a Savior provided for us. He has already done the hard work, and asks that we come to Him with our weaknesses, our trials and our sins to be healed, to be forgiven and to have the storms of our lives stilled. He can do these things. He wants to do these things for us, but we have to be willing to humble ourselves and to take Him up on His offer.

31 thoughts on “Stilling the storms of life: The time I was put on church probation

  1. Joyce,

    You shared a sweet and very personal story. You’re a remarkable woman.

    I remember knowing a man who served as bishop in his ward for ten years. Normally they serve 3-5 but for some reason the stake president wouldn’t release him. He ended up being released after the stake president died!

    Anyway, he saw and heard a lot of confessions in his time. But he said that after his release he really had a hard time remembering all those details that he was privy too. Seemed as if the Lord sort of took those details from him in a way.

    I like that. If bishops can lose those memories then truly the Lord means what He says when He says that He will remember our sins no more, after repentance.

  2. Thanks Michael.

    I have been debating whether to post this or not. Last night, the Spirit spoke to me, very strongly and said yes I should go ahead with it. It is something very personal, and something that only 2 or 3 people knew about till today. But I think it is important to share in light of all of the commotion going on about the subject right now.

    I encourage those facing Church Discipline to just take the leap and go in to your bishop and just see how it goes. I promise you will come out better for it.

  3. I will echo what Michael has written. I’ve participated in maybe 15 – 20 disciplinary councils, 4 reinstatements, etc. I recall vague things but not much detail. In part, I think it’s because what someone did doesn’t really matter to me in the long run. People make mistakes. It wasn’t as if I dwelled on those mistakes during my subsequent interactions with the member. I had a close friend who, a couple of years after his mission, was excommunicated for some transgressions that occurred before his mission (and possibly during his mission) that went unconfessed and unresolved. I say before and/or during his mission because I never felt the need to ask him about those transgressions. We talked about all sorts of things, shared a lot about our failures and victories, but we never talked about those transgressions. Maybe he assumed I knew. Other people probably knew, probably even asked him. Thirty years later and I still don’t know what happened, and I still don’t need to know. It wouldn’t have changed how I felt about him as a friend and brother in the gospel. (He was reinstated a couple of years later and had his blessings restored.) Confession is probably the single most difficult thing for us to do because of fear. We fear the consequences of our actions, we fear what people might say about us. We fear the arm of flesh. I am no different in this regard. If there is one benefit of having served in those councils, it’s been to examine my own life, learn from the mistakes of others, and re-double my efforts to avoid the traps that ensnared those individuals. But for the grace of God go all of us.

  4. Thank you Joyce! I had no idea that you went through this. I think we would all be surprised at how often people in the church actually go through some sort of probation. I love how you said “He wants to do these things for us, but we have to be willing to humble ourselves and to take Him up on His offer.” Christ truly is there to help us through all the trials of our lives… I think we all need to remember that we need to “humble ourselves” and remember that the leaders in our church are called by God. They are human, and therefore make human mistakes, but if we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His gospel we have the responsibility to humble ourselves and have faith that those in leadership position are doing the best they can to help lead the church and we shouldn’t fight against that.

    I too am very tired with all the media surrounding those who are currently facing church discipline. I know that they are facing a difficult situation, however I hope one day they realize that maybe the Lord is trying to humble them and teach them a deeper faith. No matter what becomes of those in these positions of probation in our church (those who have made themselves known in the media, our friends, or the man or woman that sits across from us in sacrament), I hope we remember that they are still our brothers and sisters. I hope we remember to love them.

    Thank you for posting such a personal experience… I hope your words help to soften someone’s heart, and to realize, as you said, that these experiences “taught me to abide in the Lord. It provided me a course correction back to Jesus Christ, and it showed me that truly He is the one who stills the storms of life.”

    LOVE YOU!

  5. Joyce,
    Thank you so much for sharing your personal and positive experience. I think some of what has been discussed previously had to do with semantics. It is obviously so much more than that, but we just hear less of these positives because church leaders involved obviously don’t share and most don’t share their personal stories- with good reason.
    I am grateful you felt prompted to share and you had the courage to do so. May you be blessed.

  6. ::hugs::

    Those of us who have been reinstated to full fellowship after a fall know how sweet it is to be back.

  7. It takes a lot of courage to share this. Thank you.

    I have a very dear person in my life (I won’t say who) who was excommunicated. When that person told me about it, I was in a position to do a lot of hurt (as I was going through my divorce when this came out, I was in the mood to lash out at people, one reason I took a hiatus from the ‘Nacle during that time), and I could have rejected or otherwise made life hard for this person.

    However, all I did was ask “are you working with the bishop?” and the reply was yes. Rebaptizing that person a little over a year later was a very sweet experience (and it was just me, the other person, and the other person’s bishopric at the baptism).

    Being a part of that helped me overcome some of the issues with my divorce and my anger over it, so church discipline can often bless others than just the ones disciplined.

  8. You are phenomenal. Joyce and I love you. I think in all the hoopla you have given a very important perspective of the process of fear, embarrassment, love, forgiveness off others and self and the wonder of the atonement.

  9. You are incredibly brave and courageous Joyce. Nothing but admiration and love to you from me. Most importantly, you have spoken to a lot of folks about this and given them hope and knowledge that a person can take the course correction they need, and be where there is true happiness. Jesus Savior Pilot Me is one of my favorite hymns. Everyone of us need change in our lives at some point, need to experience repentance, and to humble ourselves enough to be on the Lord’s side and stay there. The only safety any of us can find is in the Lord. Thank you for such a beautifully written article.

  10. It shows humility and bravery to admit our sins. Good job Joyce and thank you for sharing.
    Is it possible in some cases there are mistakes made in disciplining a member? Are all who are sent to prison guilty?

  11. KingLamoni … thank you, and to answer your question. I don’t feel like I can answer that question. It’s between the leader, who I trust is being led by the Holy Spirit — and the person. I trust that bishops are led by the Lord and for the most part do a good job. In the case of certain people in the news right now, I don’t think it would hurt either of them to go in and meet with their priesthood leaders, and then not talk about it publicly. They are doing themselves more harm than good by not taking advantage of all the Lord has to offer them.

  12. Hi kinglamoni,

    Obviously there are cases where discipline is wrongly administered.

    In my experience, the meting out of discipline errs at least as often in not being adequately sever as it is in being too severe.

    Church discipline is like surgery. It can be just as harmful to avoid cutting as it is to cut too deeply. Almost never is the surgery “perfect” in execution. So when folks are looking for deviations from perfection, there will always be many examples that could be dredged up.

    Back in the September Six days, I came to the conclusion that were I ever to be disciplined in a manner I felt was incorrect, I would decide that God was the ultimate “Amen” to my status. And as we all know, excommunication or disfellowshipment or probation doesn’t prohibit us from attending Church. So there would be no reason one couldn’t continue to attend.

    Years ago the gospel doctrine teacher effectively decided I didn’t need to participate in his class. I had the audacity to contradict something he had said (he’d made a speculation about use of priesthood in the Book of Mormon, not realizing the folks he was talking about were descendants of Lehi).

    For two years this teacher refused to call on me. Every Sunday I was there in his class. Every Sunday I raised my hand, often multiple times. This fellow never, ever, called on me.

    Then the world turned a few times and this fellow became our home teacher. And he found out I was struggling with writing my thesis. He worked with me for hours each week, and I well might not have finished my thesis but for his assistance.

    Likewise, we as those being disciplined would be well-advised to keep our hearts open to those meting out the discipline. The forgiveness commanded in D&C 64 blesses us and keeps us blameless, independent of the blame or lack thereof on the part of the one who we think we need to forgive.

  13. It’s also worth pointing out that there is a wonderful judicial aspect to church discipline, and to church service in general. It is this: the Lord holds folks accountable. The leaders and the folks who haven’t been called to lead.

    There will be adequate recompence in the worlds to come for any injustice we receive here in morality. Because of this, those who preside really do try to get it right. Eternal perspective, kinglamoni.

  14. Thank you for sharing your testimony Joyce. I admire your courage and can feel the spirit of the principles you are teaching here. You are likely stronger than ever because you went through this process with humility and a desire to change and use the Atonement and your Bishop. This is the perfect pattern! Thank you so much for sharing. We love you!

  15. Years ago one of my daughters (I had 7 which to some extent protects her privacy) wanted to serve a mission but felt unworthy for some reason that I had no interest in discovering. She went through the process of meeting with her bishop for confession but after some time she still felt unforgiven. I asked her if she had taken the prescribed steps of repentance and she affirmed she had. I then ventured the opinion that she had failed to forgive herself. After thinking about it for a while her spirit lifted and in time she proceeded with her plans. God has stated that he is eager to forgive and any true disciple will follow His example, even if is themself they must forgive. The Gospel Plan includes an orderly process to achieve this end and I would venture to say that all have need of some degree of it now and then. I am greatful that I can repent as needed.

  16. Pat … Seven daughters? WOW! What a family!

    I think forgiving myself is one thing that I still struggle with in regard to many areas. It’s a constant work, isn’t it?

  17. Pat also has three sons. Just wanted the sons to get a chance to be included in that “WOW” response.

  18. Um yes … 10 kids. I can’t even think of that many people in one family! That’s great though.

  19. Having grown up around several large families (I think the ward I grew up in had several families with ten kids), I sometimes see the Church as like one of those large families.

    You love each member of the family. And you love the additional people who come into the family through marriage and the bearing of granchildren.

    But every once in a while, there is someone who is behaving in a manner that isn’t consistent with the unalloyed happiness of the other members of the family.

    The severity of this behavior varies. Expanding this to families I have known (not just those with ten children) I’ve had the chance to see various situations. In one case, a son-in-law murdered a daughter of the family. In another case, three brothers were hunting, and one accidentally shot and killed another. In a third case a daughter became pregnant out of wedlock. Obviously not all these are of the same severity or impact. I’m old, so I could go on and on, telling of family situations of which I am personally aware that caused trauma to the family in question.

    When a member of the family causes trauma, it is not necessarily a lack of love that causes the family to react towards the erring individual.

    I’m reminded of one particular case I learned of. My friend found out that her brother had sexually abused her female toddler. The rest of her family gathered around the son in solidarity. When my friend refused to allow her daughter to be left alone with the abusive brother, she was the one who was criticized. “He’s said he’s sorry,” her family maintained. [By the way, this was not a Mormon family.]

    There is a time for forgiveness, and there is a time when one can love but still choose to act to prevent future harm.

    God (and the Church) are like the parent who wants to gather the erring child, but needs to temper open acceptance with the damage the erring child is doing. No decent parent will forever bar their child from home. But as God’s time stretches from eternity to eternity, God’s discipline, though finite, may seem like an eternity to the earth-bound soul.

    Of the four stories I’ve told, I think the most tragic was the story of the hunting accident. Three brothers left home that fair morning – mature men with families. Two brothers came home that night, and the one of the two survivors who had caused the death of the third never forgave himself. He did not die, but gave up on life. The brother who had neither shot nor been shot was left to care for three families of children. He made it so the fatherless and the abandoned could go to college. And all the while the true story of what had happened in the wild was kept quiet, so there would be no resentment, so the damage done by that one bullet would not continue to rip the souls of the survivors any more than it had already done.

    The Church prefers to handle matters like that heroic brother. The Church will not publicize disciplinary actions. But there are times, as in this case with Joyce, when it is mete to mention the effect loving discipline has had.

    Many decades after the hunting accident, a son of the dead man learned the truth of what had happened. This son is the one who told me the story. By then the decades had made wise men and women of all the children of those brothers. In their old age, they were able to know of the tragedy and yet love all three men who had gone into the wild that terrible day.

    I expect there will be a day in the presence of God when we will all acknowledge our Savior and our Father. We will be made to know how our lives impacted those we will then know we have loved from all eternity. The pain of the harm we have caused others will rip our hearts. I believe at that time we will wish to see all embrace Christ’s mercy and return to God.

    At that last day I suspect there will be two sorts who will refuse to return to God. The first sort are those who cannot forgive themselves. The second sort are those who cannot humble themselves enough to accept Christ’s atonement, those angry at God for making give up their sins as a pre-requisite for heaven.

    I don’t know how long we will be allowed to entreat those who refuse to forgive themselves.

    But I’m not sure any entreaty will sway those angry with God. But I will strive with these last until it is no longer possible or merciful to keep them so close to the God they hate.

  20. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:

    Meg’s comments are often so good they deserve to be main posts of their own.

    That last one meant a lot to me, but I won’t go into detail why. Thanks.

  21. I was particularly struck by this line Meg, “But as God’s time stretches from eternity to eternity, God’s discipline, though finite, may seem like an eternity to the earth-bound soul.” … I think you can apply this to many things: God’s timing, our trials. Mortality is such a small blip when we really think of ALL eternity.

  22. Hi kinglamoni,

    My great great grandfather was wrongfully excommunicated from the church back in 20′s or so. Thankfully, he didn’t let it affect his faith. Several years later he happened to be on a train with Pres. George A Smith, I think. He explained his situation and his blessings were restored on the spot. Neither he nor his children left the church and remained active through this entire mess.

    rc

  23. “his blessings were restored on the spot”

    That’s pretty freakin’ sweet. But what about the paperwork?! We have forms!

  24. Thank you Joyce and the rest of you for all your comments. This was a great read!

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