“ . . . and the APs will put your passport in the safe.”
My first evening in the mission home, I was introduced to so many new rules, inspirational thoughts, pieces of advice, and types of raw fish that I hardly heard this. In fact, by the time I left for the chilly reaches of my first area, in northern Japan, the APs and I both had forgotten all about locking up my passport.
After a few weeks, someone from the mission home finally remembered and told my district leader that I should take my passport with me to the next zone conference so they could put it in the safe.
I forgot, again.
So did everyone else, apparently, because no one asked again. I kept the passport tucked away and didn’t think much about it.
I didn’t think about it until the night my companion and I had an emotional disagreement. I lay stewing in my futon, wondering how I was to bear the pain and frustration, when suddenly I realized I didn’t have to bear it. I had my passport.
The idea mushroomed in the dark. Not only did I have my passport, I also had my parents’ MasterCard. I could pull on some clothes, slip down the street to the bullet train station, buy a ticket—the part where I couldn’t read the train schedule slowed me down for a minute, but surely the lady at the ticket office would help me—and I’d be home before anyone even knew I was gone. My parents, who were not members, would welcome my “dishonorable” return, and the pain would end.
I breathed a sigh of relief, rolled over, and went to sleep.
I only had to “use” my passport a few times on my mission, but it worked perfectly each time, convincing me that I really did have a way out of the impossible situation of the day; that I had voluntarily chosen my trials and could walk away from them if my choice changed. One corner of my mind politely pointed out that a jittery blonde lady would stand out among Japanese bullet train riders, and that the proper authorities would undoubtedly track me down.
But I didn’t care. I had my passport.
Concerning Ananias and Sapphira who sold their possessions but “kept back part of the price” (see Acts 5:1€“11), Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “So many of us cling tenaciously to a particular €˜part,’ even treating our obsessions like possessions.” On the mission, that “part” was my passport, and twenty years later, I still find myself clinging to passport-like “parts,” hesitant to completely trust in the Lord.
When I ran an unexplained fever recently, I prayed, “Please help me to feel better in the morning . . . if it be Thy will.” When “Thy will be done” trips lightly off my tongue, it’s usually a warning sign that I’m using it as an escape clause, rather than as an act of submission. I didn’t expect that a simple virus would take long to heal, so in effect, I’d given the Lord two choices, both of them easy on me—make me better by tomorrow, or else let me tough it out for another couple of days. If I’d considered some dread disease, or even the lingering bronchitis that the fever eventually turned into, I would have had a much harder time “giving” Him that option. Thus “Thy will be done,” for me, often translates, “I’ll understand if this one is just too big for Thee, Lord, or else beneath Thy notice. Don’t worry. I can take care of it myself.” Then, when the fever improves, I can thank the Lord, but if it doesn’t, I can cling to the knowledge that I’ve already preauthorized Him to “fail.” I brace my faith against betrayal by keeping back that “part.” My passport is safe.
For example, during my mission I found myself facing a challenge that I couldn’t shrug off. My best friend was also serving a mission, in the Caribbean. The total time for one of us to send a letter and receive a reply was six weeks or more. She wrote one day that she was in the hospital with a 104-degree temperature and a zone leader who was telling her to stop faking and get back to work. I fell to my knees to pray for her and realized that everything I’d just read had happened three weeks earlier—and that she’d be dead or well by the time any comfort or encouragement I could send arrived in another three weeks. It stopped my prayer short, as I wrestled simultaneously with faith and grammatical tenses. At last, I gracelessly tossed my “passport” at the Lord and mentally cried, “Please bless her to have been okay. And make sure that You took care of her as well as I would have if I’d been there!” Too often, I’m willing to acknowledge His complete control in a situation only when I’ve completely exhausted ways to control it myself. Funny thing was, she assured me later that the Lord had answered that prayer.
My passport-keeping tendency creeps into my family life, as well. I married a man so kind and thoughtful that the women in his carpool declared him an “honorary woman”—and he brags about it! So when I asked for more personal time, he instituted “Four Musketeers” trips. On Saturdays, he whisks away the three kids to stomp around the university campus, hang out at the computer store, and hike mountain trails, for an hour or an afternoon. Now that they’ve been at it for a couple of years, I’m specifically not invited because, I’m informed, I mess up their rhythm.
So I pack them peanut butter sandwiches and cookies and stand waving on the porch until the car’s out of sight. Then, for a couple of lovely hours on end, I sink luxuriously into trimming tomatoes or sewing curtains or reading novels. I have to watch the clock, though. If the car pulls in when I’m up to my elbows in potting soil or bobbin thread, my sanity time suddenly turns into another form of insanity, with the passport-gripping part of me wishing my own family would turn around and leave me alone! I have to make a very conscious effort to turn away from the tomatoes, wash my hands, open up my arms, and tell everyone how much I missed them.
President James E. Faust spoke frequently of a “simple faith” he’d had since he was a child. Maybe it’s because I came later to faith, as a teenage convert, but mine has always been a complicated faith that takes long, tortuous paths to simple conclusions. But a few shredded pieces of my passport, soaked in the sweat of my palms, have eventually found their way into the Lord’s safe.
Elder Maxwell states in the same talk: “Frankly, it is our prospective selves we betray by holding back whatever the ‘part.’ No need therefore to ask, ‘Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22). Rather, let us inquire about our individual stumbling blocks, ‘Lord, is it this?’”
The APs would have given back my passport. After all, I needed it to return home.
1. Neal A. Maxwell, “Consecrate Thy Performance” Ensign, May 2002, 36.