ONE DISCIPLE’S JOURNEY
A WRENCHING, STRETCHING JOY
Lawrence M. Barry
I believe in the power of storytelling to capture the ideas, principles, values, and beliefs of an individual, a family, a community, or a nation. What follows are some highlights of my spiritual journey.
Upbringing and Early Experiences
My family was affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church or the LDS Church. In this autobiographical summary I will most often refer to it as “the Church.”
My mother was raised in an LDS family that was minimally involved in the community of faith. My father was raised a nominal Catholic but was never a practicing member of the Roman church. When I was eight or nine Dad converted to the Mormon religion thus ensuring that all my siblings and I were raised as active members of the Church. As of this writing my two brothers are no longer affiliated with the LDS religion while my two sisters and I actively associate with our respective Mormon congregations. I am the oldest of the five children.
I was baptized at age eight according to the Mormon belief that infants need not be baptized only those who have reached “the age of accountability” which my church places at age eight.
Throughout my life I attended and participated in various church meetings and activities such as worship services, Sunday school, Primary (for ages 4 – 11) and Young Men programs for youth 12-17. At age 20 I left home to serve for two years as an LDS missionary in Argentina.
A Rooted Yet Evolving Belief
As far back as I can remember there has been something deep within me that whispered of things spiritual, enticing me toward God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Somehow, I knew that they were real and that my life would be best lived by following the teachings and example of Christ.
In my younger years this “testimony” or “witness” was undeveloped and dependent, at least in part, on my parents’ own belief system. I knew that eventually I had to make up my own mind about these things and grow my own testimony.
This might be a good place to mention that part of an active LDS member’s testimony is the belief that not only do Christ and the Father exist but that Christ’s Church has been restored to the earth in these “latter days”, hence the last part of the official name of the Church i.e. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
My walk as a Christian disciple hit its first (and only) “speed bump” when I was working on my undergraduate degree in sociology at Fresno State College. As so many young college students I became enamored of the secular theories and teachings found in so many college classrooms. One semester was particularly challenging as I tried to measure my church and its teachings against the philosophies of the sociological world and began to find my faith wavering.
For about three months an internal struggle waged inside of me. I prayed and studied and pondered both sides of this conflict. Finally, it dawned on me that I could not measure the things of God by the yardstick of secularism. Instead, I realized that it is the gospel of Christ that must supply the standard against which to measure all other things. Once I reached that conclusion my crisis of faith was resolved, never to return again.
One point of clarification: this is not to say that I am anti-science or anti-secular education for I am not. On the contrary—I love science and the humanities. For years I was a marriage and family therapist and saw great good come from the application of the principles and theories developed in the fields of psychology and family sciences.
However, none of that compares with my experiences in watching people grow spiritually—as they come to know that God loves them and that they are special to Him. That awareness does more to heal marriages and improve lives than any therapies can provide.
The U.S. Army Chaplaincy
In 1981 I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to change direction in my professional life. Up until that time I had worked as an adjunct teacher at the local colleges and university while maintaining a private practice in marriage and family therapy.
Back in 1966, during the Vietnam War, I had been drafted into the Army where I was fortunate to serve two years as a chaplain’s assistant. I began to feel the promptings of the Spirit moving me toward serving again in the armed services, this time as a chaplain.
In 1982 I received an endorsement from my church to serve as a military chaplain. Shortly thereafter I was commissioned a Captain in the U.S. Army and began what was to become the perfect career/vocation for me. During the course of the next 23 years we moved extensively and my career prospered finalizing with my retirement in 2005 at the rank of Colonel.
During my tenure as a chaplain my personal spiritual journey took on new dimensions as I associated with and ministered to men and women of many faiths and of no faith. I learned to love and respect the rich traditions of different churches. More importantly I saw how the Lord works His wonders through many diverse avenues and people.
My connection with my own Church and its teachings deepened as I studied my own religious tenets as well as those of other churches. As I grew spiritually my sense of awe in the Divine magnified and I noticed that my perspective on people and things around me was imperceptibly being altered. I judged less and appreciated more. I was less inclined to anger and more touched by the imperfect humanity we all are. I still struggle with my own frailties but no longer out of fear of God’s judgment but rather out of a growing love I have for Christ and His atoning sacrifice. Interestingly, the more I come to love Christ the more love I seem to have for my wife, my children, my extended family and people in general.
The Road Ahead
Now in my 73rd year I am more at peace spiritually than ever before. While this phase of our lives has brought many different challenges, primarily health related, I am confident that God is with us and that He will shepherd us through the remaining time we have left in mortality.
Not content with “coasting” in our retirement we remain as active and involved as circumstances permit. I serve on the JBLM (Joint Base Lewis McChord) Retiree Council. My wife and I recently concluded a year serving as part-time Military Relations Representatives for our Church. In that capacity we taught emotional and spiritual resiliency classes to LDS military families who were facing the deployment of a family member. We also do a fair amount of genealogy research.
In summary, then, my journey as a disciple of Christ has been what I call a “wrenching, stretching joy” and I suspect it will continue to be throughout my life…and beyond!