July 24th is celebrated by the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “Pioneer Day”. It is a day we honor those who were the first members of the LDS Church in this time period. These were the people who felt the Spirit and were willing to step outside of their comfort zone to follow the whisperings of their heart about a vision given to a young farm boy and an additional book of scripture. They joined the church in its youngest phases and though their blessings were numerous, so were the challenges they faced.
For some of us it’s easier to declare your religious affiliations than it is for others. There are still many people who don’t want their friends and family to experience the freedom of choosing a religion that is different than their own or simply unfamiliar to them.
This is the problem many of the early church members faced, except often to the furthest extremes such things can be taken. Eventually, many set forth on a new quest for someplace to call their own. They wanted someplace to build up their faith in God while avoiding conflict with their fellow man. Like many of that time, their desire for someplace different, and hopefully better, lead them to journey across an American continent that was wild and, at times, unfriendly as well. Not all of them chose the best times, supplies or circumstances to travel in, making the journey all that more difficult. Even those who the best prepared would not find the journey easy. Many would not even make it.
I think of the many days I fall into bed exhausted from my meager labors and wonder if my spirit and stamina would have allowed me to follow my new faith across the continent. My soul and confidence shrink away in wimpy fear of such thoughts. There is something I have learned from pondering these events, however. I learned that just as God knows and watches over each of us in today’s world, He knew and watched over each person who set his feet on a Westward track. He knew their weaknesses and strengths. He knew what they were capable of better than they. He never gave them more than they were able to handle.
I am amazed at how much they were able to handle under God’s watchful hand. I wonder what I have allowed my own weaknesses to let me shrink away from that seem too difficult when the Lord needed me to reach the other side of to reach a greater state of peace. Sometimes I simply fear the journey.
There is something else I’ve learned. It’s not ly that these men and women were looking for the types of trials they would face; they were simply looking to follow God’s will for them. That, I think, is a whole different matter. That, I would hope, my spirit would not shrink from. Yes, the journey was difficult. But that isn’t really the point sometimes. Mostly the pioneers were just doing what they had to for two reasons- to survive and to serve God.
In that way, I think many of us are still pioneers. We go and do things every day that serve these two purposes. Maybe not as distinctly but our main focuses are often, “What do I and my family need to meet our basic needs?” and second, “what does God need me to do today?”
Where can those two questions take us? Often outside of our comfort zone. We make sacrifices to help, protect, and serve those we love. Sometimes we make even greater sacrifices to follow Jesus Christ. Many can not find time in their busy modern lives for God. The disciple makes time for Him first. We often find our feet walking paths that we would not choose for ourselves. We are often tried and tested beyond what we think we can bare. We are each doing the best we can with the knowledge and love for God given to us. We open those same paths for those around us.
This pioneer day, think about the ways you bring God into your life every day. Think about the things you do in His name. What part of your own spirit follows the example of those who have gone before you? What part of your own family history represents a milestone that allows you to enjoy more of the life you have today? Pioneer day is for all of us. It’s about sacrifices and actively following Christ, no matter where the path leads.