After finishing my time at Southern Virginia last year, I returned home to New England with little more than a time limit – I would spend a year in Connecticut, I told the Lord. I knew part of the pull to return was the Hartford Temple. I knew that if nothing else, I needed to be there for the dedication of that building, and figured I’d just tuck away and maybe hold a small calling in nursery or Primary at Church, work, and finish up a few classes.
I should know by now that the Lord’s plans are often far different from my own.
By the time I left New England a few weeks ago for Virginia, I had held four very distinct callings: Gospel Principles teacher (teaching new members, returning members, and anyone wanting to return to the basics of the gospel), second counselor in the Young Women’s presidency, seminary teacher, and temple worker.
So much for flying under the radar.
I loved each of my callings – they gave me opportunities to work with people who truly changed the way I saw the world and the Gospel, who loved me, and who made me laugh when the days were dark. I grew as a teacher, as a person, and most importantly (to me, anyway), as a kingdom builder.
Just as I loved my callings, I was completely blindsided by them when they were offered to me. I didn’t expect them, and to be honest, I didn’t necessarily want them (let’s not talk about how I got released as a gospel principles teacher and went home and bawled), but I felt that they were calls that I ought to accept.
As I was finishing my last shift as a temple worker earlier this month, I recognized a powerful lesson that the Lord had been teaching me all along.
“…act upon this land as if for years.”
That was the verse that came to my mind with such clarity and force that it gave me pause.
A bit of background:
In the spring of 1831, the prophet Joseph asked the Lord about the length of time the Colesville Saints would spend in Ohio – a practical question, given the amount of persecution the members of the early church faced as they gathered together in the east. They were given the instruction to practice the laws of consecration and stewardship, two important principles in the kingdom of God, as well as the promise and counsel of the Lord that the He would “consecrate unto them the land for a little season, until I, the Lord, shall provide for them otherwise, and command them to go hence; and the hour and the day is not given unto them, wherefore let them act upon this land as for years, and this shall turn unto them for their good” (Doctrine & Covenants 51:16-17).
As a missionary in California, I had stumbled upon these verses and they proved to be a powerful reminder to work in the areas and wards to which I was assigned with all my heart, no matter how short or how long I would be assigned there or who I was assigned to labor alongside.
But coming home, I had promptly forgotten that counsel until that afternoon in the temple.
There are times in our lives when we are transient – we are in a temporary, “in-between” place. Returning to New England was temporary, but that didn’t mean the Lord would allow me to rest on my laurels and allow the world to keep turning as I idly watched. The Lord wants us to be in the thick of things, hip deep in the work as we move towards the next phase of our lives. Some of the greatest lessons He has in store for us are the ones we unearth in our temporary abodes – He doesn’t wait until we are settled comfortably in our new home to say, “here, here you may work. Here you may learn.”
Instead, He guides us and says, “work in this part of my vineyard for a little season.”
Just because it’s a little season, doesn’t mean it’s an easy season. Some of the hardest parts of our journey are the ones where we don’t have the chance to settle, the ones where our sojourn is short and uncertain. Humans live in varying states of uncertainty – that’s what mortality is. But the fact that mortality is all about uncertainty doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable.
Then again, isn’t the very point of mortality to be uncomfortable?
Discomfort and movement facilitate change, and change precedes progression. Throwing our hearts into the work of the Lord, especially when we don’t know how long we’ll labor in that acre, is what stretches us, tests us, and helps us to keep an eternal perspective. Little seasons, and learning to lean into those little seasons, are the little lessons that often turn into the big cruxes of our journeys.
When the Saints arrived in Ohio, they were instructed to build a temple, even as persecution mounted. Countless Old Testament stories illustrate the command to stop and build an altar or a tabernacle, even as they traveled. Christ taught His most powerful lessons when He was in an “in-between” place (the road to Emmaus, the road to Damascus, the road to Jerusalem). Even when He allows His children to physically rest and seek refuge, they are still expected to be learning and making covenants.
And when you look at eternity, isn’t our life here on the earth just a short sojourn, a ‘little season’ in the Lord’s infinite and perfect plan for us?
When we work upon the land ‘as for years,’ we learn to have greater trust in the Lord, to appreciate those around us more fully, and gain a greater understanding of what it means to be a kingdom builder. We work with all our might, mind, and strength. No matter how long or short our time in that little bit of vineyard is, how peaceful or painful, the Lord has promised that He will consecrate it to us, to our progression, to our understanding. The blessings of the little seasons often far out last the seasons themselves. We throw our hearts into the work, not expecting to see the fruit of our labor, but knowing that our labor will bear fruit.
The work the Lord calls us to do for that little season is different for everyone – sometimes it’s work in a community or in a congregation, within a family, or even work within our own selves. Sometimes it’s easy and pleasurable, other times it is hard and full of sorrow. Most times, it’s a mixed hand. But that work for a season of sojourn always proves crucial in some way to our longer journey, to our bigger story, to the more eternal perspective. And not only for our own story, but for others as well. We don’t know how our little seasons coincide with the little seasons (or long seasons) of others.
Sometimes we don’t even recognize our “little seasons” until they are well behind us, when we climb a little higher or walk a little further, we are able to see the acre of vineyard the Lord had placed us in with a clearer and wiser eye, and recognize that He was beside us all along.
At times we actively fight our little seasons, and our little patch of vineyard to work, driven either by pride or by pain – or even by a simple lack of understanding – until we are reminded (or chastened, as the case may be) that our little patches of vineyards have greater significance, and remember the wisdom of the poet Meade MacGuire:
“Father, where shall I work today?”
And my love flowed warm and free.
Then he pointed out a tiny spot
And said, “Tend that for me.”
I answered quickly, “Oh no, not that!
Why, no one would ever see,
No matter how well my work was done.
Not that little place for me.”
And the word he spoke, it was not stern; …
“Art thou working for them or for me?
Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”*
President Uchtdorf observed that “often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Continue in Patience,” May 2010 General Conference)
In the little season I spent in New England, I met and reconnected with so many who labored beside me “as for years,” whether it was for a few hours, a few weeks, a few months, or for the whole of the time I was there. I saw the creation of new stake of Zion, the dedication and celebration of the first temple in Connecticut, the graduation of joyful and dedicated students, countless personal victories and heard the most powerful of testimonies borne in formal and informal settings.
Time and time again, I was reminded of the words of John Ruskin:
When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for; and let us think, as we lay stone upon stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, “See! This our father did for us.”
Recognizing that we build forever in our little season isn’t easy. It takes a little patience and even more faith – faith in the Lord, faith in His timing, faith in His purpose, and faith in His faith in us.
The most important lesson I learned was that as I leaned into my little season, as I learned to “work as for years” even as I turned the pages of a numbered calendar, was that the Lord worked beside me. There was no calling I received, no opportunity extended, that didn’t bear the mark of His hand, and that didn’t require me to rely on the strength of the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, to accomplish.
Our little seasons are varied in length and circumstance, but adhere to the same purpose: to strengthen us and to draw us closer to the Lord, to give us the opportunity to grow and to become more refined instruments in the hand of God, and to bind us together.
He has led us to these little acres knowing what lies in store, what He needs in our short time there. He knows what our season holds, what we have to offer as we labor. He reminds us of the purpose and timing of our seasons in the book of Ecclesiastes:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
And so, like the Colesville Saints, we work as for years upon the land the Lord has led us to for a little season. We lean in, we learn, and we grow, knowing that the blessings will come and that the Lord is by our side in our little acre of vineyard.
*Meade MacGuire, “Father, Where Shall I Work Today?” in Best-Loved Poems of the LDS People, comp. Jack M. Lyon and others (1996), 152.