My ward choir sang in sacrament meeting today. I am the director, and we are by no means a spectacular ensemble. In fact, we are a little bit less spectacular than the average ward choir, and frankly, this is a calling that I dread for that very reason. Its a pride issue. But sacrament meeting today took on a different sort of meaning.
There were 3 speakers: Youth, regular, and high council rep. The youth speaker would normally go first, but the bishop switched it, because the next speaker is a private in the army, just returned from basic training. Our meeting schedule is pretty late in the day, sometimes making it difficult to attend family functions, and the Private needed to spend time with his family before his impending deployment. It's one of those situations where everyone knows, the political climate being what it is, the elections in Afghanistan being as precarious as they are, the president being faced with decisions about troop increases, we can't be sure that Private J will be here next week. There is that unspoken fear that makes it so that when a Private says "I need to spend time with my family" everyone understands and backs off.
This soldier stood up and you could tell he was a soldier. It's not just the haircut or the stance. It's something about the way he carries himself and responds to those around him. He gave a beautiful talk on adversity. He spoke about basic training, and about how our afflictions are but for a small moment. He bore a beautiful testimony of that verse and of the prophet Joseph Smith and the adversity that he faced. But the primary focus of his talk was not on how life was hard, but how his friends, fellow privates and others around him had helped him through adversity with a kind word and an encouraging moment. He gave a specific example of a particularly grueling exercise, when he didn't think he would make it through, a friend came from behind and pushed him just enough to get him through to the end of the exercise. He spoke about how he learned to give such encouragement, and he spoke about that in the context of the prophet Joseph Smith as well. He mentioned how opportunities to both teach the gospel and learn better ways to live it came through moments of adversity, and while he was speaking I just kept thinking how proud his mom must be. It was a really good talk. And when he finished, he quietly left the stand and slipped out of the chapel while the youth speaker stood to speak.
The youth speaker is a 13 year old boy who I do not know very well. When this boy began to speak, we could hear that he was terrified. His voice shook for the first few words and then it was gone completely. There was silence, from him and the congregation. As the silence grew, the microphone began to pick up his choked sobs, and I began praying for someone to intervene.
But for a 13 year old boy to save face, it can't be just anyone who intervenes. His mom can't come tearing up out of the congregation, that would destroy him more than the sobs. And I certainly couldn't, as the stranger and music director sitting behind him. I was looking at the bishopric, wondering what they could do, when the soldier came striding up the aisle and back to the stand. He put his arm around the boy and whispered a few words in his ear, and the boy began again to speak. His voice was still just as shaky, but this time with a soldier by his side he gained momentum instead of losing it. As he got farther into his talk, the soldier took his seat behind him and stayed until amen's were said. He slipped away again just as I was standing up to direct the choir: "Come Follow Me" and "I'm Trying to be Like Jesus".
I don't know what those whispered words were, but he certainly preached one of the most powerful sermons I have seen or heard in my entire life. And I don't know how much of the family dinner he missed, but I do know that the one person in the congregation who could give a 13 year old boy the strength to finish a tearful talk was a soldier, coming up from behind, offering just the right words of encouragement. And I don't know how proud his mom was of the talk, but I know another mom whose gratitude is running over for the soldier that saved the boy on the stand.
And I'm not much for tears and emotion, particularly in public, but I didn't miss the significance of the text when the choir sang "For these are the things Jesus taught; 'Come follow me'"
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