Monday, November 9, 2009

Prone to Wander

Everyone should wear a blindfold once in a while. You learn to trust your remaining senses when you can’t see with your eyes. You discover new things. Just be careful where you go when you choose not to see. I will never be able to think about blindfolds again without thinking about Washington Lake.

Years ago, when I was a Scoutmaster, I took a troop of Boy Scouts on a camping trip in the Uinta National Forest in Utah. One activity, a simple five mile hike, will always be a favorite Scouting memory for me. The hike involved maps, compasses, and blindfolds. The Assistant Scoutmaster, who was a good friend of mine, assisted me in tying blindfolds on each of our Scouts. We then drove to our starting point and helped the boys get out of the vehicle. With compasses and maps in hand, we led them through a grassy meadow in the forest until my vehicle was no longer in sight. That is when the blindfolds came off.

The instructions that followed were simple. “Okay, find your way back to camp.” That was it. We told them that our camp at Washington Lake was about five miles away, but no more. Like a boomerang, this retrieved some looks that varied from incredulity to worry, and then to something that conveyed the meaning, “You are joking, right?” Nope. It was no joke. We stayed with the boys to make sure they didn’t do anything stupid (not that boys would do such a thing if left to their own devices.) We didn’t offer much help.

The first few attempts at trying to figure out what to do weren’t very fruitful. We went a few paces this way, followed by a few paces that way, and then the boys did a few paces in their minds before coming to a complete stop. In addition to temporarily losing sight, some lost their confidence. Things were topsy-turvy. Those that were used to leading by popularity were suddenly confused, while those who liked to think emerged as new leaders.

Without giving anything away – and we were pretty stingy with our advice – we suggested that they look for landmarks they might recognize on the map. At that point they couldn’t see any landmarks because we were still surrounded by forest. So, we gave one more suggestion. “Why not climb some place higher where you might be able to see better?” That was the first principle that got things started.

On higher ground, the boys identified some small ponds, streams, and mountains that might be on their maps. They were guesses to start with, but they were at least attempts to see how they fit into the context of the map. This was the second principle we wanted them to learn.

From there, the guess work continued. They deduced that this pond and that stream next to that mountain could either be this place on the map or that one. Believing that the map was valid, they took some risks to see if their guesses were right. This was the third thing we hoped they would learn, and it worked. Some of their guesses were better than others. Occasionally we would have to back track because of an error. For the most part, though, they did pretty good.

Our boys learned how to use their tools with a little intuition, which I think is a really good combination. The compasses were generally helpful to make sure that we were still going the right direction when we had to descend back into the trees of the forest. The maps gave us some indication of how far we might have to go before finding the next landmark. Our intuition gave us the drive to keep going when we weren’t quite sure if we were still on track.

Fortunately, the fourth thing we hoped they would discover worked out as well. After a few hours of walking with nosebleeds, scratches, and mild dehydration, we successfully arrived back at our camp. They had a new appreciation for Washington Lake. It was nice to be some place with more certainty, comfort, and of course, food.

I have often looked back at that experience with gratitude. It was definitely one worth keeping in my pocket. There was really only one thing we wanted the boys to discover when we started, and that was how to get back to camp. The other three things sort of came up as we went along. While they were principles that my friend and I had learned when we were younger, we hadn’t identified them as specific things we hoped to teach. You might say that we learned to teach by doing, just as our Scouts learned to hike through their own experience. Perhaps that is another reason why that trip was so memorable. Both the teachers and the learners were edified.

Reflecting on this story caused me to think of the words from one of my favorite hymns, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Transposing a couple of the lines from the second verse, it says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love…” “Let thy goodness, as a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to thee.”

Like my Scouts, I wonder how inclined I am to wander when I don’t’ take an appropriate guide. It is in our natures to choose things that are often not in our best interest. Left to our own devices, we seem to be attracted and enticed by things that will do us harm. I am learning that it is not because the things we choose are always wrong, as much as how we try to meet our needs. We are learning to make appropriate choices, which often involves some risk. When I make mistakes by choice, I am often prone to wander.

Moses led the ancient Israelites out of Egypt, just so they could experience what it is like to wander for forty years. I’m sure that isn’t quite what he had in mind when he told Pharaoh, “Let my people go,” but there they were. Moses was weary, and the people were weary, and it took a long time to do it. They had two choices, to wander or not to wander. They chose to harden their hearts against their guide, the Great I Am.

On one occasion when the Israelites were whining about wandering, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people,” and many of them died. They repented a little and asked Moses to pray for them, so he did. The Lord then told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole” so that “every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:5-9) Sadly, because of the hardness of their hearts, in spite of the easiness of the way, they did not believe and would not look and live, therefore they perished.

Sometimes we blindfold ourselves without meaning to. We become blinded by our appetites, our desires, and our ambitions. We set our hearts upon the things of this world so much that we fail to recognize the voice of the Master. Then, before we are aware, we are left to our own devices, “to kick against the pricks… and fight against God.” (D&C 121:35, 38)

It is hard to see afar off until we get to higher ground. When we elevate our thoughts to be more in line with Father’s, we can see much clearer. We begin to recognize where we are because of landmarks that were meant to be familiar. If we are wise, these landmarks will encourage us to look for the Savior in the symbols, and then act.

Until I become perfect, I am still growing and learning. I am still like a little child that needs to depend on my Father for direction, because I know that He knows all things. Until I can see further past the forest, I am learning to trust His all-seeing eyes. In those moments when I forget, I wonder just how long I wander. Hopefully it is not forty years.

The ancient American prophet, Alma, taught us to “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.” (Alma 37:37) Similarly, the prophet Jacob taught, “seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” (Jacob 4:10)

Like the Scout hike in the Uintas, each of us can remove our blindfolds and use the tools we have been given. We have the prophets who can see afar off and will give us direction. Thankfully, they are not very stingy, but prefer to share with the whole world. We also have good maps of scripture that help us identify landmarks for our faith. We have a moral compass which is enhanced by the Gift of the Holy Ghost to point us in the right direction. And finally, we have our agency that can be applied intuitively to our circumstances.

Whether it is living prophets, the scriptures of old, or the Holy Ghost that speaks to our hearts, they all speak the words of Christ. Our intuition is only as good as our faith, heed, and diligence in following His voice.

Alma continues by telling us that these things are not without a shadow. For, “it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to [us] a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for [his] fathers” to follow the Liahona, or for a troop of Scouts to follow their compasses. If it was easy for the Israelites to look at a serpent on a staff and live, can it be any easier for us to pick up the scriptures and read so we might live? Or perhaps we prefer wandering, merely because we are prone to do so. As Jesus said, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)

If I choose not to blindfold my eyes, I hope it is so that I can use the tools I have been given. When I choose to wear a blindfold once in a while, hopefully it is so I can trust Father’s eyes all the more.

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