Having a Faith Mindset with the Stories we Tell Ourselves

robyn-budlender-112521On January 2, 2007, Wesley James Autrey, a construction worker from New York City was at the subway station at 35th and Broadway. He was there with his two girls, 4 and 6 years old. As they waited for the train, a young man nearby had a seizure which caused him to fall off the platform and onto the subway tracks. The man lay unconscious on the tracks with the train approaching 200 ft. away. Wesley said, he heard or felt a force out of nowhere say, “Don’t worry about your own. Don’t worry about your daughters. YOU CAN DO THIS!” And so he jumped down to try to help the man. Quickly he tried to grab his arm and pull him toward the platform, only for him to slip out of his reach. He tried a second time. Same thing.

Now, it’s one thing to jump onto Subway tracks as a train is approaching and attempt to save a man, but as Mr. Autrey realized that he wouldn’t be able to get the man on the platform, he did something at a whole other level of heroism. He pushed the young man, still seizing, down into the gaps between the tracks, grabbed the man’s arms, and lay on top of him as the train passed over them, with the screams of his girls ringing in his ears. The train grazed the back of Mr. Autrey’s leg and stopped with the second car above them. The young man came to with Mr. Autrey on top of him unaware of where he was. Mr. Autrey explained what happened, and he asked, “Are we in Heaven?” No, we’re very much alive, and Mr. Autrey yelled to the people on the platform that they were both, “OK.” (Carnegie Hero Fund – Wesley Autrey)

What an incredible act! I am not sure I would have had the faith to jump down there and leave my daughters alone on the platform. And I’m pretty sure I would have lacked the faith to remain down there on top of that young man as a Subway train ran over top of me? When Autrey and others like him that have exhibited selfless acts of heroism, have been asked, “How?” or “Why did you do it?” They are quick to mention that there wasn’t a lot of thought that when into it, they just had to act, and acted automatically. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out, such heroes follow the example of the Good Samaritan and reframe the question, from:

“If I stop to help this person, what will happen to me?” to “If I don’t stop to help
this person, what will happen to him/her?”

This is what I wish to speak about today, reframing the events and circumstances in our lives. To which side do we lean–the side of faith and action–or the side of fear and inaction? Fear has a tendency to keep us from action, to paralyze us towards not making positive or necessary changes.

I believe that one of the blessings and challenges of this mortal life is to be able to experience the gamut of human emotion. We will all experience fear, anger, sadness, joy, love, excitement, despair, anxiety, awe, and I believe that we should allow ourselves to feel these emotions. When we’re sad, acknowledge that sadness and let it pass through us, we don’t need to hang on tight to it and ask it to stay the weekend, but we also need not berate ourselves for feeling blue now and then. The same goes with fear. It’s kind of like in 2 Ne. 4, Nephi laments about his weaknesses, “Oh, wretched man that I am,” and he goes on a bit from there, but then he comes back to, “Nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. . . .” He feels the feels, but doesn’t wallow in the pit. The story of Nephi and his brothers going back to get the plates of brass illustrates the difference between how we interpret the circumstances or events in our lives and how leaning toward a faith vs. a fear mindset changes us.

Nephi vs. Laman’s Stories
Nephi, Laman, Lemuel, and Sam have gone back to Jerusalem to try to get the Plates of Laban. They cast lots, and the lot falls to Laman. Laman tries to go in and nicely ask for the plates, and he ends up having to run out for fear of his life. The scriptural account says, “And we began to be exceedingly sorrowful, and my brethren were about to return unto my father in the wilderness.” They think they’ve failed. I mean, they went in and asked for the plates, Laban called Laman a robber and Laman was able to escape with his life. But what does Nephi do? He tells a different story, and he does it pretty forcefully. In fact, he uses an unbreakable oath, “as the Lord liveth and as I live, we will not go down unto our father in the wilderness until we have accomplished the thing which the Lord hath commanded us.” He continues and basically says and I paraphrase,

“it’s a really wise and important thing to have these Plates of Laban with us in the wilderness, we can’t give up. Hey, remember all the money, dishes, and nice things we had to leave behind at our house when we left? Dad wasn’t very popular at the time, so we didn’t have a moving sale. So, why don’t we go back and get all of our valuables and see if Laban will trade us the plates for all those riches?”

Pretty reasonable, right? And this story or explanation that Nephi told was accepted by his brothers. And then, although the scriptures don’t say it, but I’m guessing they were no longer exceedingly sorrowful and set about trying option 2.

We are all familiar with the story, they go before Laban and show him all that they are willing to give him. And from the scriptural account it makes it seem like Laban would be a fool to not take this offer. There’s no way those plates are worth as much as what is being offered to him. But, Laban is greedy, he thinks he can have his cake and eat it too, and so he sends his servants to kill Nephi and his brothers and take their riches, and he’ll keep the plates as well. The scriptures don’t explicitly say it but it’s hinted that in the flee for their lives, Laban gets their loot. This makes Laman and Lemuel extra mad. They were already emotionally raw toward their father for making them leave all their great stuff, and perhaps they thought they could always go back and might be able to get it, but now, even though it was “already likely lost” to them, they’re worked up again over having “lost their riches for real” this time. And the interesting part is that Laman–this was Laman’s story–Laman interpreted the events and told himself a story that fueled anger towards his father and Nephi, and he shared this story with Lemuel. And Lemuel “hearkened unto the words of Laman.” And so Laman and Lemuel start beating Nephi and Sam with a stick–blaming their losses on them.

Then an angel appears and basically says, “Umm, what are you doing, Laman, Lemuel? You’re telling and listening to the wrong stories. However, Nephi is telling the right stories so God is going to work through him unless you shape up. Now go back and God will put the guy who just tried to kill you and stole all your stuff into your power.” I find this interesting because the brothers were to go back and get the plates, that was their purpose. But that’s not what the Angel promised Laman and Lemuel, he promised that God would deliver Laban into their hands. God was aware that Laman and Lemuel were mad. They just had everything they owned stolen, perhaps they felt stupid or ashamed for having tried option 2. Perhaps they wanted revenge on Laban. In some way, I feel like the angel was conveying one of today’s popular t-shirt messages by saying to the older brothers, “Keep Calm and Listen to Nephi” and yeah, you’ll be able to give Laban “what he deserves.” So how do Laman and Lemuel react to seeing this angel, here it is:

“How is it possible that the Lord will deliver Laban into our hands? Behold, he is a mighty man, and he can command fifty, yea, even he can slay fifty; then why not us?”

What? Did I miss something? How does Nephi react?

“And it came to pass that I spake unto my brethren, saying: Let us go up again unto Jerusalem, and let us be faithful in keeping the commandments of the Lord; for behold he is mightier than all the earth, then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty, yea, or even than his tens of thousands?”

Do you see the disconnect between how Laman and Lemuel and Nephi interpret the same circumstances that happen to them in entirely different ways? Do you see the difference in the types of stories that Laman and Lemuel tell themselves and the ones that Nephi, Lehi, and Sam tell themselves?

Jeffrey H. Larson, in a Speech at BYU taught:
Your feelings are created by your thoughts and not the actual events. All experiences must be processed through your brain and given a conscious meaning before you experience any emotional response.

We don’t usually just feel an emotion spontaneously; rather, we create our feelings from our thought processes. “Depending on our thoughts, we experience certain feelings.” –Jeffrey H. Larson

In high school and since, I have had a motto that I have attempted to live by: “Life is 10% what happens to me 90% how I react to it.” This thought and others have instilled into my mind the importance of mindset in my life. Mindset, or how we think about things and interpret them – or in essence the stories that we tell ourselves about our circumstances, is crucial to both our success in this life and our salvation in the next. Perhaps this is why faith, a scriptural component of mindset, is the first principle of the gospel. In 2 Timothy 1:7, Paul writes: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Having a sound mind reminds me of having the right mindset, interpreting what happens to us through the right lens. Realize that we can choose how we interpret the events in our lives, we can choose the stories that we tell ourselves, we can choose how we react. As Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of the horrific Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, said,

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

If we choose to react with faith and hope, with a calm assurance that the Lord will bless us, then as Pres. Monson has taught, ”The future is as bright as your faith.” Have hope, and the BoM teaches us to have hope that we will make it all the way: eternal life or bust! Don’t sell yourself short, tell yourself the stories that you will make it to the highest degree of the Celestial kingdom. And if you can’t in good faith tell yourself that, meaning you can’t take the sacrament and witness that you’re trying to always remember Christ and are willing to keep His commandments, then do what you know you need to do and get help in repenting so you can take the sacrament worthily and have this hope.

Neuroscience has taught us that the locus of fear in our brain takes place in the amygdala. The amygdala is part of what is called the midbrain. The midbrain essentially controls our reflex default settings. However, we also have a higher center, called the neocortex or frontal cortex. This area gives descending commands to the midbrain to interrupt, modulate or disregard the midbrain. In a reflex fashion we can feel fear—however—through active mental effort we have the capability to override or reinforce the midbrain.

In other words, our emotions, our suffering, is often determined more by the stories we tell ourselves and our interpretation of events in our lives, than by the actual circumstances themselves. So what stories are we telling ourselves? Are they faith-filled, Nephi-like ones? Does the Lord play a role in them? Or are they more like Laman and Lemuel’s, despite seeing an angel or the hand of God in our lives, we’re more focused on the problem or problems? We complain and despair, we give in to anxiety, we want to give up, because we already gave one or two efforts, that’s good enough, right? I mean, Laban, 50 servants, he’s a big kahuna. Laban vs. God, though (hands up like scales). This reminds me of a quote shared to me from an EFY counselor I had,

“Perhaps we need to stop telling God how big our problems are, and start telling our problems how BIG God is.”

Elder Bednar shared the following scripture story in which Alma was able to influence his people by helping them reinterpret the events that were happening to them and tell a story of faith rather than anxiety/despair: The setting here is that Alma and his people in the Land of Helam encounter an army of the Lamanites. The army has been lost after searching for the people of Limhi who have just escaped. As the Lamanite army comes upon Alma’s people, the people are terrified:

“But Alma went forth and stood among them, and exhorted them that they should not be
frightened, but . . . should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them.. . . Therefore they hushed their fears.” (Mosiah 23:27-28).

Notice that Alma did not hush the people’s fears. Rather, Alma counseled his people to remember the Lord and the deliverance only He could bestow (see 2 Nephi 2:8). And knowledge of the Savior’s protecting watch-care enabled the people to hush their own fears. The arrival of a hostile army is a scary thing, they were justified in being frightened. Yet as they remembered the Lord and His deliverance and reminded themselves of this, or interpreted their situation through this lens, they hushed their own fears. They changed their mindset. They chose faith over fear. Only we are able to change our stories we tell ourselves, others can’t change them for us, unless we believe them ourselves.

We read in Mark 4:37-41:

After teaching the masses, Jesus and His disciples set sail for the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was a dark night and the Savior rested on the ship. In time “there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship.” Terrified, the disciples woke Him up in fear stating: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” He calmly answered that: “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?” “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” He who had created the earth was again commanding the elements. In wonderment, His disciples asked, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?

Just as the Savior’s words brought peace and LIGHT to the Apostles in the boat during the great storm, the Savior and his teachings bring peace to us today and will help us develop a faith-based mindset:

And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.”–Mark 13:7.

And from D&C 38:30: “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” So, prepare antidotes & inoculations to a fear-based mindset.

Antidote No. 1
Elder Bednar in his talk, And They Hushed Their Fears gives principles as antidotes to the negative aspects of fear for helping to draft faith-filled stories that we can tell ourselves and use to re-interpret fearful, difficult, anxiety or despair-producing events in our lives: The first is to look to Christ and press forward with faith in Him. I’ll sum this up with Trust in the Lord.

Hel. 12:1-2 “The Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him . . . doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people . . . .

I love this scripture. It relates to parenting in so many ways. This is how I see the Lord trying to work in our lives, if we but let him.

Hard is Good
I read an article in the Ensign that took an enlightened look at anxiety and this person’s struggle with depression and highlighted the insight he gained from the account in Ether as the Jaredites built barges to cross the ocean to the Americas. I quote from this article:

“The Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind blow upon the face of the waters, towards the promised land; and thus they were tossed upon the waves of the sea before the wind.

“And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind.

“. . .When they were encompassed about by many waters they did cry unto the Lord, and he did bring them forth again upon the top of the waters.

“And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land while they were upon the waters; and thus they were driven forth before the wind” (Ether 6:5-8).

These verses became personal to me. I felt that I was in my own barge, with winds of anxiety beating upon me and waves of depression swelling over me and burying me in the depths of despair. When I was “encompassed about” and would cry unto the Lord, I would break through the surface but would then be buried once more. I read verse 8 again: “The wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land . . . and thus they were driven forth before the wind”. Then it hit me. The very wind that caused the mountainous waves to bury the barges also blessed the Jaredites on their journey. I had been pleading with Heavenly Father to calm the wind and waves, but without them, I might not reach whatever “promised land” He was leading me to.

These verses changed my outlook on life. My anxiety and depression had increased my reliance on Heavenly Father. Without the wind and waves, I might never have come to know God as I have–and the Jaredites might never have reached the promised land. For now, a few years after this experience, my winds of anxiety are no longer gusting and my waves of depression have ceased to bury me. But if and when the tempest returns, I will call upon the Lord and be thankful, knowing that calm seas don’t carry barges to the promised land–stormy seas do.”

Brothers and Sisters, sometimes the Lord may calm the winds and waves of our lives, but sometimes He uses those very winds and waves to bless us to reach our “promised land”– our righteous goals or desires. President Haymond referred to this same scriptural account and that these stormy seas were unable to sink the Jaredites because their barges had been made tight. Using this analogy, Pres. Haymond has counseled us to become a temple-tight, temple attending people.

How we look at our trials can help us face our fears and tell ourselves faith-filled stories of the circumstances of our lives: Jeffrey A. Thomspon, in a speech at BYU talked about how zookeepers saw their jobs helped them to deal with the negatives that job entailed:

“I chose to study zookeepers because they are passionate about the work they do, even though they make little money and have few opportunities for career advancement. Learning about what “calling” means to zookeepers was eye-opening. As you might expect, zookeepers find their work very meaningful. They care for their animals as if they were their own children, and they feel great satisfaction when they can enrich their animals’ lives and maintain their health. They believe deeply in conservation and see themselves as educators of the public about species preservation. By and large, they are almost outrageously satisfied with their work. But is every day fun for them? Hardly. When zookeepers talked about their work as a calling, they spoke not just about satisfaction but also about sacrifice–caring for sick animals in the middle of the night, doing unsavory work, foregoing a comfortable living, and the list goes on. I learned something tremendously important from my study of zookeepers. For them, the pain and burdens and sacrifice were not threats to their sense of calling–they were part of it. The work was meaningful because of the trials and burdens. That is an important lesson. We can’t expect deep meaningfulness from our calling unless we are willing to assume its burdens as well.”


The same is true in our lives, we can’t expect deep meaningfulness in our lives unless we are willing to assume its burdens as well. Dealing with struggle, burdens, and doing good despite inconvenience, goes back to Lehi’s sermon on opposition in 2 Ne. 2. Without the trials in life, without the times when the wind and waves evoke fear in our hearts, without the difficult, life would be less meaningful, our satisfaction at coming back into the presence of the Father having used the cleansing power of the atonement would be less rich without having had to overcome or struggle. It’s not going to be easy or convenient for anyone, and that’s probably a good thing because that means that it will be a big deal for anyone and everyone who makes it back. Truly a “great and terrible Day of the Lord”.

Inconvenience & Effort
Today in carrying out the work of the Lord we are often asked to sacrifice convenience. Visiting the homes of families who we have been asked to watch-over takes time away from our own families. Elder Vaughan J. Featherstone said,

“Opportunities for Christian acts of service do not always come at convenient times. . . . I promise you that most of the service you render to the Lord will come at times not convenient to you.”

Is it convenient to get up around 5:30 am to get to early morning seminary? It’s often not convenient to be asked to speak in church or to serve in a ward or stake calling. It’s not convenient to make priesthood ministering or visiting teaching visits. Has it ever been convenient to pull over to help someone on the side of the road? Is it convenient to serve a mission for 18 months to 2 years?

President Harold B. Lee said, “the true Church is intended not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.”

The second antidote to fear in our lives is Effort. We must put forth effort to overcome inconvenience. In a recent “Time Out for Women” in Salt Lake City where Sheri Dew spoke. Sister Dew cited President Russel M. Nelson as saying:

“The Lord likes effort! He could have said to Moses, ‘I’ll meet you halfway.’ But Moses had to go all the way to the top of Mt. Sinai. He required effort from Moses and Joshua and Joseph Smith.”

The Lord likes effort. He asked Lehi to send his sons back to get the plates after they’d already traveled 3 days’ journey into the wilderness. We must have faith and believe that our goals or what we must to do change, repent, or improve is possible, otherwise we will not generate the action and desire necessary to do the work to achieve our goal, make the change, repent, or improve. And Pres. Monson taught, “It is not enough to want to make the effort and to say we’ll make the effort. We must actually make the effort. It’s in the doing, not just the thinking, that we accomplish our goals. If we constantly put our goals off, we will never see them fulfilled.”

Effort Story
Pres. Monson shared the following story,

“In July of 1976, runner Garry Bjorklund was determined to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team’s 10,000-meter race which would be run at the Montreal Olympics. Halfway through the grinding qualifying race, however, he lost his left shoe. What would you and I do if that were our experience? I suppose he could have given up and stopped. He could have blamed his bad luck and lost the opportunity of participating in the greatest race of his life, but this champion athlete did not do that. He ran on without his shoe. He knew that he would have to run faster than he had ever run in his life. He knew that his competitors now had an advantage that they did not have at the beginning of the race. Over that cinder track he ran, with one shoe on and one shoe off, finishing third and qualifying for the opportunity to participate in the race for the gold medal. His own running time was the best he had ever recorded. He put forth the effort necessary to achieve his goal.”

If we will put forth the effort and overcome our fear of inconvenience, and Trust in the Lord and labor to come to know him, . . . Elder Holland taught, “as you labor to know him, and to know that he knows you; as you invest your time–and inconvenience–in quiet, unassuming service, you will indeed find that “his angels [have] charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding, in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.

Just remember that that path is strait (meaning narrow) and not straight (meaning un-turning) and narrow. So the scriptures emphasize the narrowness of the way, it may wind up and down and circle back and go through all sorts of unsavory times and trials and it may not make sense at times or be convenient, but I know our individual path if we stay on it and let the Lord guide us through where it takes us will be for our welfare and happiness. And this leads us to have Faith and Hope.

– 2 Ne. 31:20 “Wherefore ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.”

How do you strengthen faith? We’ve all heard this–church answers, right? By reading the scriptures or conference talks. By living the commandments. By praying and asking for faith. It is in using or flexing our “faith muscles” that our faith grows.


The Law of the Pendulum
A professor stood at the front of a class and said, “The Law of the Pendulum states that a pendulum cannot rise higher than the level at which it began.” He then asked the students if they understood the law. They said, yes. He stated it again, “The Law of the Pendulum states that a pendulum cannot rise to a higher level than where it began.” And then he asked, “Do you believe it?” One arrogant student said, “Duh, it’s only obvious.” The professor then asked this student to come forward. He asked him to stand on a chair at one end of the room against the wall. He then pulled back a curtain at the front of the classroom and there was an iron cable hanging from the ceiling with 3 45 lb. weights hanging from the end. The professor had constructed a very large and perfect pendulum. He grabbed the weights walked over to the side of the room with the young man standing on the chair and he positioned the weights with the cable tight such that they nearly touched the young man’s nose, and he said, “The Law of the Pendulum states that a pendulum cannot rise higher than the level at which it began. Do you understand this law?” Yes, the boy said with more tredipation. “Well, do you believe it?” Just then the Professor let go of the pendulum and the pendulum swung to one side and as it came back, that young man jumped from off his chair. The pendulum swung back and it didn’t hit the wall. The professor, on this day, “though wasn’t teaching the class about the Law of the Pendulum; he was teaching the class about a different law, the Law of Action. And the Law of Action says that it does not matter what we say we believe; our real beliefs are revealed by how we act.” (Take the Stairs by Rory Vaden)

The real evidence of our faith in Christ and our ability to overcome fear and inconvenience in our life is witnessed by our efforts–by how we act.

One aspect of fear that as human beings we are uncomfortable with, and perhaps especially so within the church, is uncertainty.

Elder Lloyd K. Newell taught,
“If you are fearful because you feel powerless, I invite you to turn to the Lord. Draw upon the power of the covenants you have made and are keeping. Trust in God’s power, for it is mightier than any power on earth. God’s words to ancient Israel are also His words to you: “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.” (Isaiah 41:13)

Erin Holmes, a professor at BYU recently spoke on uncertainty. She shared:

“Some of my students this semester shared a blog post with me titled “You’re Not Messing Up God’s Plan for You.” The author taught, “It’s tempting to think that God has some master plan that He’s measuring me against, and if I take one misstep I’ve missed my chance for happiness forever.”

Sister Holmes continued, “I can relate to that fear. When life doesn’t seem to match the ideals we envision, we may struggle just as this author did, worrying that we don’t measure up or fearing that we are disappointing God. The author of the blogpost continued: But you know what? As I’ve examined that mindset, I’ve learned that I need a better understanding of God and what the term “His plan for me” means.

“I’m learning that God is much less a divine dictator who demands perfect compliance to a predetermined plan for our individual lives and much more a co-creator with us of the kind of lives we want to live.”

Sister Holmes echoed, “We become co-creators with Him in our lives by making and keeping covenants. The author of this blog post then asked, “What is the source of fear?”

He answered: I think it is rooted in the assumption . . . that I must solve all my problems and face all my challenges alone, using my own resources. That is frightening, because deep in my heart I know how limited those resources are… Knowing that I am not capable of changing myself or my circumstances for the better, I stand frozen in fear.

Fear comes from the false belief that we are all alone. — (that we are fixed, stopped,

Sister Holmes taught, “Scripture says in D&C 90:24, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good”. This doesn’t mean all things are good, but for the meek and faithful, things–both positive and negative–work together for good, and the timing is the Lord’s. We wait on Him, sometimes like Job in his suffering, knowing that God “maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole” [Job 5:18]. A meek heart accepts the trial and the waiting for that time of healing and wholeness to come.”

I’ve talked about faith and fear and how we can interpret the events in our lives through a lens of faith. We can strengthen our faith by reading the words of Christ and Trusting in Him. We increase our faith when we put forth effort to overcome fear and inconvenience. We increase our faith when in the face of uncertainty we trust that we can co-create an abundant life with Christ by making and keeping gospel covenants. We become comfortable with taking a step or two into the darkness before we see the light that guides–we become comfortable with some uncertainty.

When it comes to interpreting the events of our life through a lens of faith, I really like this metaphor given by Elder Bruce C. Hafen. Level One he compares to people who are unaware of or refuse to see realities, while Level Two, focuses only on the pessimistic realities.

“Consider the metaphorical image of “lead, kindly light.” At level one, people either do not or cannot see that there are both a kindly light and an encircling gloom, or that if there are both, that there is no real difference between the two. At level two, the difference is acutely apparent, but one’s acceptance of the ambiguity may be so wholeheartedly pessimistic as to say, “Remember that the hour is darkest just before everything goes completely black.” How different are these responses from that calm but honest prayer at level three,

“Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
lead thou me on. . . .
I do not ask to see
the distant scene–one step enough for me.”
(Hymns, no. 112.)

So what’s the take home message? We all feel fear. Some are just better at not allowing it to stay around for long. We hush our fears, by looking to Christ, trusting in Him and using His Gospel to mold the stories we tell ourselves and to interpret the events of our lives. We combat fear through the Gospel Covenants that we make and keep thereby co-creating with Christ an abundant life. It is my prayer that we may choose faith and hope, rely on the Lord, and hush the anxiety and despair aspects of fear. Doing so will require us to ACT, to put forth real effort often when things are not convenient or comfortable.
We are blessed to have the restored fullness of the Gospel to guide our lives. Life is hard. I believe that each of us will be tested with trials that will bury us as it were in the depths of the ocean, that will try and test our faith and courage as Abraham’s of old was tested when asked to sacrifice Isaac.

Life is harder though, when the stories we tell ourselves aren’t the ones the Lord would have us tell ourselves–when our mindset is more toward doubt and fear than faith and effort and action. May we stay close to the Gospel, may we be quick to do good, to follow the heroic example of our Savior, be temple-tight, and stay on the old-ship Zion as the storms of life and the waves of the sea push each of us towards our own Promised Land. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Planting Christ in Our Hearts at Christmas

gareth-harper-175342I love the holiday season. I get anxious as soon as Halloween is over to get our Christmas decorations up and to put the Christmas music on. I love the decorations, the lights, the music, and I love to slow down and just soak it in. All the kids get excited. Drostan keeps asking each day if tonight is Christmas Eve and he has been praying ever since December started, “Bless that we’ll have a good Christmas Eve.” I remember one Christmas, after we’d read The Night Before Christmas and had put the kids down. After singing a bedtime song, and just as I was about to leave, Anela, then 4 years old called me over to her bed and said she couldn’t sleep. I asked, “How come?” And she said, “Because they’re dancing in my head!” Confused, I responded, “What?” “You know, the plums! Sugarplums are dancing in my head!”

At this last Stake Conference, Elder Taylor told us that the Brethren are suggesting that we simplify all that we can and get back to the basics of the Gospel. To focus on the essential and let the non-essential, unimportant drop out of our lives. Perhaps we look at how we celebrate this Christmas season and can evaluate whether we need to simplify and get back to the essential elements of Christmas. Traditions can be uniting and memorable, but we can also get carried away in the trappings of the holiday, causing us to miss out on the Silent Nights, the Still, Still, Still moments because we’re mentally Far, Far Away on Stress’ Plains.

Elder Taylor said, “we must plant the Word in our hearts and in the hearts of those we serve.” What is the Word? In the Gospel of John, he tells us: “For in the beginning was the Word, even the Son, who is made flesh, and sent unto us by the will of the Father.” When Christ visited the Nephites after His resurrection he explained His doctrine. The doctrine of Christ is “exercising faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.” (Brian K. Ashton, Oct. 2016). We can seek Christ and plant Him, the Word, and His doctrine into our hearts this Christmas by following the examples from that first Christmas.

The Shepherds


“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over
their flock by night.

Elder Uchtdorf opined, “The shepherds were more than likely quite ordinary people, like many commendable souls who go about their days earning a living.”

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,… And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. . . .

Elder Uchtdorf continued, “[These shepherds] could represent people who, at one time, may not have been actively seeking the Christ, but their hearts changed when the heavens opened and Christ was proclaimed to them.”

To these humble shepherds, tending to their flocks, was given a sign that the Messiah has been born. The baby is somewhere in Bethlehem, lying in a manger. Returning to the scriptures:

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

These shepherds immediately decide to “go unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass.” Do they just leave their flocks behind to seek after and find Jesus? Similar to how Peter and Andrew later leave their nets to follow Him? Whatever they decide to do, they decide to do it quickly.

And they came with haste,

I wonder how many stables they had to look in with Bethlehem being packed–and with no room in the inns until they “found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” My favorite aspect, though, is that after they found him they became missionaries that Christmas and made known the saying which was told them concerning this child: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people, For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.

The Wise Men

Elder Uchtdorf taught, “The Wise Men were academics who had been studying the advent of the Messiah, the Son of God. Through their learning, they identified the signs that pointed to His birth. When they identified them, they left their homes and traveled to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” Their knowledge of the Christ did not remain solely academic. Once they saw the signs of His birth, they acted. They set out to find the Christ.”

Both the shepherds and the wise men were given different signs of Christ, both had to take action to seek Him out and find Him. Both of them did so by holding fast to the words of God (the scriptures) and the words of the angel and then taking action.


Another example of planting the Word or Christ into our hearts is that of Mary. Interestingly enough, that first Christmas we have no record of Mary seeing the angel of the Lord or hearing the Heavenly choirs sing. Yet, I am sure that the shepherds shared with Mary and Joseph the vision and message the angel declared. And it is this simple testimony from the shepherds, that we are told, “Mary kept and pondered these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

We can plant the word in our hearts by pondering on scripture in our mind and in our heart. We can plant the word in our hearts by always remembering Christ, thinking of what He would do, remembering occasions when we’ve witnessed His hand in our own lives, and and trusting that He will yet help us through the grace of His atonement.

Best Christmas Ever
We can plant the word in the hearts of those we serve by serving and giving. President Monson said,

“Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things.”

2005 is up there as one of my best Christmases ever. My wife and I performed in the church’s production of The Savior of the World at the Conference Center Theatre. That Christmas season we were poor college students, just two years married and living in Provo, Utah. My wife was pregnant with our oldest daughter Anéla. We would drive up for shows every Wednesday night and Friday night, and we had a show on Saturday afternoons. The first act is all about the birth of Christ and the second about His resurrection. For one show we were told we would be performing for the deaf and blind. Someone in the cast knew American Sign Language, and taught the whole cast how to perform the finale number, Jesus Once of Humble Birth, in sign language. I remember as we began singing and signing that final number the spirit was electric. And as we finished, without a dry eye in the cast, the audience erupted in the silent applause of the deaf (holding both hands up in the air and waving/rotating the hands back and forth).  Because the whole cast had made an effort to make that audience feel special by learning the final song in sign language, that experience became a major highlight of that Christmas.

When we give of ourselves with people, and not things, in mind – we put Christ in our hearts.

The Book of Mormon: The Word
The Word is the also the words of God. And as we’ve been challenged recently by our prophet Thomas S. Monson and by Elder Nelson, we can plant the Word into our hearts by reading from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ every day. I quote President Monson:

“My dear associates in the work of the Lord, I implore each of us to prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day. As we do so, we will be in a position to hear the voice of the Spirit, to resist temptation, to overcome doubt and fear, and to receive heaven’s help in our lives.”

And as Bishop Wilde has shared with our ward, The Lord’s Promise to the Euclid Ward is that we will rejoice in reading The Book of Mormon. We will learn with joy. We will have many revelations. We will obtain a hope, and our faith will become unshaken.

Reading the Book of Mormon will help us to plant the Christ and His words into our hearts. The Lord declared to Jeremiah:

“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)

I love that imagery. This reminds me of similar imagery about planting the word in our hearts in the Book of Mormon. Alma taught:

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves–It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.(Alma 32:28)

Alma then goes on to teach, and I paraphrase, “But wait, this is just the beginning! You just know that the seed is good, but no one just plants a seed to know if it’s good, they plant it because they want the fruit!”

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.(Alma 32:41)

Tree of Life: Sacrament

Brothers and Sisters, this reminds me of another tree we read of in the Book of Mormon. Lehi and Nephi were shown a vision of a Tree. Lehi says that on the tree is a fruit desirable to make one happy. He says that the fruit is sweet above all that he’s ever tasted and was white to exceed all whiteness. That sounds an awful lot like big white lights on the tree, and from most pictures of artist’s depictions of the Tree of Life that I’ve seen, it looks almost as if the tree were or could be a temperate, non-coniferous Christmas Tree.
And how fitting!

Lehi sees multitudes holding on to a rod of iron (the Word of God) that follows a path through mists of darkness until it reaches the tree. It is this rod that helps the people find the tree. Later, when Nephi sees this same vision, the Angel asks Nephi what he wants, and Nephi says, “to know the interpretation thereof ” He wants to know what the dream means. Thereafter, the Angel intersperses Lehi’s dream with vignette visions of the life of Christ. He first shows Nephi Christ’s birth, that first Christmas, and testifies that this is the “condescension of God” literally the “coming down” of God and the angel testifies of Christ as the Son of the Eternal Father, and then asks Nephi, “knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?” And Nephi answers, “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.” Where is the love of God best manifest? We read in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son . . . ” So if the Tree of Life is the Love of God, and the love of God is best manifest in the gift of His Only Begotten Son, then the tree of life is Christ. And if the Tree of Life is Christ, then what is the fruit of Christ whose fruit is desirable to make one happy?  It’s the atonement of Christ! The opportunity to repent. The greatest and most desirable of the gifts of God is eternal life and we obtain that through virtue of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Said even more simply, we obtain eternal life by keeping our baptismal covenants which we renew every Sunday when we take the sacrament.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“Those who partake of the sacrament worthily thereby put themselves under covenant with the Lord:
1. To always remember the broken body and spilled blood of Him who was crucified for the sins of the world;
2. To take upon themselves the name of Christ and always remember him; and
3. To keep the commandments of God. . .
As his part of the contract, the Lord covenants:
1. That such worthy saints shall have his Spirit to be with them; and
2. That in due course they shall inherit eternal life.”

Elder James E. Faust taught,
“If we partake of the sacrament regularly and are faithful to these covenants, the law will be in our inward parts and written in our hearts.”

Christ himself taught the metaphor of the sacrament as a method by which we take upon His name but also internalize Him and plant Him in our hearts, “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”(John 6:56)

Seen in this way, Lehi’s dream is a view of multitudes of people clinging to the word of God, the scriptures, (which leads up to the tree–to Christ–and helps the multitudes to find Him, just as the sign from the Angel, or the Star for the Wise Men, helped those from the first Christmas find Christ. The multitudes then partake of the fruit of the tree: Christ – His atonement – which we do in remembrance of when we partake of the sacrament. So could Lehi’s vision really be all about people clinging to the scriptures to find Him, reading them every day, in order to survive the mists of darkness and temptations simply to get to sacrament meeting and partake every week?

So we’re back to Alma comparing the words of Christ to a seed that we’ve planted in our hearts, and we’ve nourished it by reading daily from the Book of Mormon and the scriptures and by partaking of the fruit of Christ by repenting and taking the sacrament.

Alma says: “And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.”

Into Our Inward Parts
Too often I can find myself living in my head, being too analytical, or simply understanding things intellectually. Stephen W. Owen, the Young Men General President, taught recently: “It is not enough just to know with our minds; we must understand in our hearts. Doctrine can’t just influence our thoughts; we have to let it change our very

Let me illustrate this with a story from the Church News shared by Elder James E. Faust:

“A group of religion instructors [were] taking a summer course on the life of the Savior and focusing particularly on the parables.

“When the final exam time came, . . . the students arrived at the classroom to find a note that the exam would be given in another building across campus. Moreover, the note said, it must be finished within the two-hour time period that was starting almost at that moment.

“The students hurried across campus. On the way they passed a little girl crying over a flat tire on her new bike. An old man hobbled painfully toward the library with a cane in one hand, spilling books from a stack he was trying to manage with the other. On a bench by the union building sat a shabbily dressed, bearded man [in obvious distress].

“Rushing into the other classroom, the students were met by the professor, who announced they had all flunked the final exam.

“The only true test of whether they understood the Savior’s life and teaching, he said, was how they treated people in need.

“Their weeks of study at the feet of a capable professor had taught them a great deal of what Christ had said and done. In their haste to finish the technicalities of the course, however, they failed to recognize the application represented by the three scenes that had been deliberately staged. They learned the letter but not the spirit. Their neglect of the little girl and the two men showed that the profound message of the course had not entered into their inward parts.”

Daily scripture study of the Book of Mormon, regular Family Home Evening, Just Serving!, Lighting the World, Giving rather than Getting, repenting, taking the sacrament,
magnifying our callings, thinking of Christ and what He would do, and then taking corresponding action, will plant the Christ into our hearts and we will experience greater joy and happiness–whether at Christmas or any time or circumstance–of the year.

As we do so, the Spirit will always be with us and we will experience the Lord’s whispering, guiding influence in our lives, described by Isaiah in this beautiful way: “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).

And so it is my hope this Christmas, that as visions of sugarplums dance in the heads of our children, that we seek Christ as the Shepherds and the Wise Men did, that we make room for Him in the inn’s of our hearts, that we ponder the words of Christ as Mary did, and that we take action to plant the word of Christ in our hearts to change our very natures and that we give our children the example and opportunity to do likewise. As we do so, I believe we just may have the best Christmas ever. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Just For You: Looking for and finding God’s tender mercies in your life

The story goes that a certain court jester one day went too far and insulted his king. Infuriated, the king sentenced the jester: Execution! Bewildered, the king’s court pleaded mercy for this man who had served him well for so many years. After a time, the king relented only enough to give the jester his “choice” as to how he would like to die. True to form, the jester replied, “if it’s all the same to you my Lord, I’d like to die of old age.”

Years following his mission of “Other Side of Heaven” fame, Elder John H. Groberg, as a general authority, was asked to hold two stake conferences in Lima, Peru. His wife accompanied him and the flights from Salt Lake to Lima had gone well and the plane landed in Lima on schedule. Elder Groberg related:

. . . when we pulled up to the gate and prepared to disembark, strange
delays began to happen.
First, it took an unusually long time to get the paperwork done before the plane’s door opened and we could exit. Then, in the hall to the Immigration checkpoint, one of the doors was locked. The entire group of passengers had another long wait until an officer came and opened the door. By the time we got to Immigration, two other international flights had disembarked and the lines were very long. We were tired and wondered what else could go wrong. Sure enough, there was another delay as our bags were literally the last ones off the conveyor belt. When we eventually got through Immigration and Customs it was close to midnight.


Finally, with bags in hand, we entered the congested waiting area where, despite the late hour, hundreds of people were milling around – greeting travelers, offering taxis and hotels or selling various items. We were met by a member of the Area Presidency and his wife who had been patiently waiting for us. Just as we crossed the crowded street and were melding into the throngs of humanity and cars, we hard the plaintive call: ‘Kolipoki! Kolipoki!’ The last thing I thought I would hear in Lima, Peru, at midnight was someone calling my Tongan name! Yet there it was, clearly, ‘Kolipoki!’ We turned around in amazement and saw a woman coming up to us, all out of breath from pushing her luggage cart, trying not to lose sight of us. ‘Kolipoki, Kolipoki, ’ofa o tokoni mai!’ (Elder Grober, Elder Groberg, please help me!) I responded, ‘Ue! Koe ha ’oku ke fai i heni?’ (Wow, What are you doing here?)

It turned out that a little earlier that evening this faithful Tongan sister had arrived in Lima. She had come to meet her daughter at the conclusion of her mission in Peru. The daughter had made arrangements with the mission president to fly from her last area in Cuzco so as to arrive in Lima about the same time as her mother’s plane did. Something went wrong, and mother and daughter had missed each other. The mother didn’t speak any Spanish and precious little English, but finally made it through Immigration and Customs. As she entered the passenger waiting area, she was pressed on every side by the mobs of people. She looked and looked but could not see her daughter. She kept asking where her daughter might be, but no one seemed to understand or even care; they just wanted to sell her something or get her
in a taxi. To all these requests she simply said, ’No,’ as she knew she must stay there to find her daughter.


She was worried, but with fervent faith she found a small corner, bowed her head, and prayed and prayed and prayed. She knew the Lord would help her. During the prayer she felt a sudden impression like a voice that said, ‘Open your eyes now!’ She obeyed, and lo and behold, passing a little way in front of her she saw Kolipoki! Upon hearing her story, we were able to contact the mission president by cell phone, and before long mother and daughter were safely together and on their way to a missionary apartment.

What are are the odds of such a thing happening on its own? There were millions of people in Peru, and probably no more than three or four who could speak Tongan. A faithful Tongan woman arrives in Lima, finds that she has a problem, prays in faith, listens, opens her eyes, and sees someone she knows who speaks Tongan and can help her!” (John H. Groberg, Anytime, Anywhere p. 86-88)

Wow. Think about that for a minute. Does that not demonstrate the tender mercies of a loving Father in Heaven?

From the very beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi is clear that one of his themes for reasons for writing on these metal plates is to document proof of “the tender mercies of the Lord”.

We read in 1 Ne. 1:20, “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

And in a divinely inspired concluding fashion, at the end of the Book of Mormon, Moroni hearkens back to Nephi’s theme about remembering the mercies of God:

Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” (Moroni 10:3)

Elder David A. Bednar taught,

“The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving-kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from and because of and through the Lord Jesus Christ. Truly, the Lord suits ‘his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men’ (D&C 46:15)”

When we take the sacrament we have the opportunity to remember and think of Jesus. I used to try to think of the stories of Jesus and his miracles written in the Gospels during the sacrament. Relatively recently though, I’ve come to believe that the most important things we can remember and think on about Christ during the sacrament are the stories of Jesus in our own lives–the fingerprints of the tender mercies of God specifically for us.
When Alma shares the story of his conversion with his son Helaman in Alma chapter
36, he urges him first,

I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.” (Alma 36:2)

Alma is exhorting Helaman to remember the tender mercies of the Lord in his life and the lives of his ancestors. Do you have specific tender mercies that you remember? Are there time’s when you can look back and recognize God’s hand guiding, delivering or sustaining you in His tender, merciful way? What about coincidences in your life? I’ve always felt that coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous. I’d like you to think and remember time’s when you’ve felt God’s coincidences or tender mercies in your life.

Recognizing the Lord’s tender mercies requires that we see with spiritual eyes, hear with spiritual ears, and understand with our hearts.

Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? (Mark 8:18)”

Sin can obscure our ability to see and hear with our spiritual senses and understand
with our hearts.

For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. “(Matt. 13:15)

Repent and change for the better and we’ll be better able to recognize tender mercies in our lives.

I’d like to share two quick stories that show my Heavenly Parents’ tender mercies in my life.

When my son, was 18 months old or so, my wife was pregnant with my youngest daughter. Wanting to get away from the house with the kids, and it being a beautiful Cleveland summer day, she had taken the kids to Fairport Harbor to spend a day at the beach. I was unable to go because of work. The two older kids were playing on the playground at the top of the beach, the 18 month old was contentedly playing in the sand maybe 25 yards away near some other mothers and youngsters in the ward.

My wife went up to the top of the beach to throw some garbage away in preparation for returning back home. On turning around, she sees our son making a b-line as fast as his little feet can carry him toward the water. She immediately screamed his name and took off run-waddling down the beach as fast as her pregnant feet could carry her. No one else in the group had noticed the little boy booking for the water. Halfway down the beach, my wife knew that he would trip in the water and fall head first into it. Uttering mental prayers that as soon as she’d reach him and pull him out, he’d breathe. My wife said it was the longest 5-8 seconds of her life as she saw him trip, fall head first into the water and assume the dead-man’s floating pose. Sure enough, as soon as she pulled him out of the water, he gasped, breathed, let out a couple cries and then was fine. This was a tender mercy in our lives–that my wife saw him and knew immediately what would happen, that she was able to reach him quickly, and that he hadn’t ingested any water and all was well.

Elder Bednar taught, “Faithfulness, obedience, and humility invite tender mercies into our lives, and it is often the Lord’s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings.

When I graduated with my PhD it was 2010 and the economy was still reeling from the 2008 financial collapse. I was having difficulty finding job opportunities in industry. My life plan had me working in the neurostimulation division of Medtronic, living in Minneapolis. But that wasn’t happening. All I’d been able to secure were opportunities as a post-doc either in Pasadena, California, Seattle Washington, or at the Cleveland Clinic. My wife and I sat down and did the whole pros-cons columns exercise and prayed over what we should do. And we waited for inspiration. And we waited. And then, with inspiration still not received, we made a decision best we could, largely based on what we thought best. Up to this point, our “Life Plan” had worked out – I’d gotten in to BYU and the U of U’s Biomedical Engineering PhD program while my wife completed her Master’s at BYU. But now, I didn’t really want to do a post-doc–-I had no desire to be a professor and work in academia which is typically the route or reason for doing a post-doctoral fellowship. I remember we visited the Historic Kirtland Visitor’s Center relatively soon after we’d moved to Cleveland. On one of the walls was the scripture from D&C 38:82, ”ye should go to the Ohio; and there I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high;” At that moment, the Spirit confirmed to my wife and I that “this is the right place.” And since then we’ve felt the Spirit guide us to our home where we now live. God answered our prayers and this became a testimony of His love for us and a proof of His tender mercy in our lives. As in this experience of mine, the Holy Ghost helps us to recognize and treasure tender mercies as important blessings.

Indeed, Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness and salvation has also been called the “Plan of Mercy.”

We read in Alma 42:15 “And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also.

Many times we are reminded that God’s work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. However, we seldom hear quoted the scripture that speaks of what our work is . . . . In D&C 11:20 it teaches, “Behold, this is your work, to keep my commandments, yea with all your might, mind and strength.

Is that an encouraging statement? Yes and no, right? Perhaps at times. We all come short of this though. Or perhaps we feel un-confident that we aren’t giving our entire might, mind, or strength to keeping those commandments. The gap between fulfilling that statement and where we are can sometimes be daunting or discouraging. And in those moments we need to remember the Lord’s mercy – that He’s designed the perfect answer to our perpetual shortcomings–repentance. Repentance is about change. Heavenly Father’s plan is about change. It’s about transformation. About changing or transforming us from fallen men and women, to Celestial ones. And it only works because of the atonement of Christ. The gap is filled, not because of all we can do or because of our efforts, but that through our efforts of repentance we can gain access to the unbounding and enabling grace of Christ to change and become better than who we could have ever hoped to be without repenting. We all are in need of making changes. Some of us may have large changes that we need to make, or perhaps we are in the middle of trying to make those changes. With others, perhaps we are as yet unaware of the changes that we need to make. Yet, I believe that the tender mercies of the Lord will put us in a position to have the opportunity to learn what we need to in order to change to continually improve and progress towards Eternal Life. He won’t give up on us, nor should we ever give up on ourselves.


I love this quote from President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.,

“You know, I believe that the Lord will help us. I believe if we go to Him, He will give us wisdom, if we are living righteously. I believe He will answer our prayers. I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of His children. I do not think He intends to shut any of us off because of some slight transgression, some slight failure to observe some rule or regulation. There are the great elementals that we must observe, but He is not going to be captious about the lesser things. I believe that His juridical concept of his dealing with His could be expressed in this way: I believe that in His justice and mercy, He will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that He can give, and in the reverse, I believe that He will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for Him to impose.”

And in a similar vein, Elder Holland taught,

“. . . surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.”

In conclusion, recently in a training meeting for new mission presidents Elder Holland related a story that demonstrates the mercy of God:

One night a young man from Southern Idaho stormed out of the house and set off to join an infamous motorcycle gang. He succeeded in that resolve and for 20 years became immersed in a culture “of temptations yielded to and degradations explored,” never contacting his parents, who feared that he was dead.

Eventually ending up in Southern California, he one day was sitting on the porch of a rented home when he saw two LDS missionaries making their way up the street.

“With a rush of memory and guilt, regret and rage, he despised the very sight of them,” Elder Holland recounted. “But he was safe, because he kept all visitors at bay by employing two Doberman Pinschers who viciously charged the gate every moment that anyone came near.” The dogs startled the missionaries as they passed by and continued on, “our man on the porch laughing at the lovely little drama he had just witnessed, wishing only that the gate hadn’t restrained his two dogs.”

Then, the two elders stopped, looked at each other, conversed a little, “likely said a silent prayer,” then turned around and approached the gate. “The Dobermans on cue charged the gate again, hit it, snarling, frothing, and then stopped in their tracks. They looked at the missionaries, dropped their heads, ambled back to the front steps and lay down.”

The man on the porch was speechless as the missionaries opened the gate, walked up the path and greeted him.

One of the elders said,“Are you from this part of California?”

The man said, “No. If you want to know, I’m from Pocatello, Idaho.”

There was a pause. “That’s interesting,” the elder said. “Do you know the [such-and-such] family in Pocatello?”

With a stunned look, the biker paused, and then, in very measured words, said, “Yeah, I know them. They are my parents.”

“Well, they’re my parents too,” the missionary said. “God has sent me to invite you to come home.”

The younger brother had been born after the older boy had left home. The elder brother did not even know of him.

“Mom and Dad have been praying for you every morning and night for 20 years,” the younger brother said. “They were not sure you were alive, but they knew if you were, that someday you would come back to us.”

The wayward son invited the two in, and they talked for the rest of the day and some of the night. He did return home, returned to Church activity and, in March 2015, was married and sealed in the Boise Idaho Temple.

Commenting on the account, Elder Holland said, “This is a story of the role of Almighty God, the Savior of the World, and the Holy Ghost involved in the work of the ministry to which we’ve been called. “The Holy Ghost prompted those parents to keep praying, to keep believing, to keep trusting. . . . The Holy Ghost inspired that rebellious boy to come to himself like the prodigal he was and to head for California.. . . The Holy Ghost influenced that younger son to serve a mission and be willing to accept a call to Southern California.. . .The Holy Ghost inspired one of my brethren in the Twelve, who was on the assignment desk that Friday, to trust his impression and assign that young man for service not a great distance from his native-born state. The Holy Ghost inspired that mission president to assign that young missionary to that district and that member unit. The Holy Ghost led those missionaries to that street, that day, that hour, with big brother sitting on the porch waiting, and, with Doberman Pinschers notwithstanding, the Holy Ghost prompted those to elders to stop, talk and in spite of their fear, to go back and present their message.. . .

“And, through the elders, the Holy Ghost taught repentance and brought true conversion to one coming back into the fold.”

Elder Holland said the young elder, without realizing it, gave the missionary speech of all time, when he said to his brother, “God has sent me here to invite you to come home.” (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865683974/The-divine-companionship-includes-the-Holy-Ghost-in-missionary-work-Elder-Holland-says.html)

God loves us. He sends us very personal and individualized blessings, protection, assurances, support, and spiritual gifts, because He is a merciful God who knows our circumstances, and the yearnings of our hearts and wants us to come back home to Him. Even when we do not recognize these tender mercies for what they are, He continues to send them. It is my prayer that we will do our work – to keep His commandments with all our might, mind, and strength– and when we inevitably fail to do so, that we will quickly humble ourselves and repent so that we might claim the mercy that God is so freely willing to give us if we but choose to do so. And then whether we die young or in our old age like the jester at the beginning of my remarks, we may be confident that we will stand before a much more Merciful King, our Father. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Why me? What now? And the Bitter Cup


 A talk I recently gave in Church:
I recently had some meetings for work in Ireland. We had taken a red-eye flight from Newark, New Jersey to Dublin. As the plane landed after the six hour flight, the passengers in the area towards the back of the plane where I was sitting, heard a little Irish three-year-old girl begin to break down and throw a fit. The little girl was obviously tired and sick of being in the plane and just wanting to be home. In an attempt to comfort her that the trip was over and they were home, her father said, “We’re here in Dublin!” She quickly responded bitterly in her adorable Irish accent, “No we are not, we’re not in Dublin!”
The exchange was cute and several people chuckled and grinned. Regardless of whether or not we were in Dublin, this little Irish girl just needed to vent her frustration at being cooped up on United Airlines. Given United’s recent mishaps where videos showed United security dragging a passenger out of his seat and off the plane that damaged their “Fly the Friendly Skys” brand, we joked, “Enterprise — we pick you up! United — we beat you up!”
Sometimes life leaves us feeling somewhat like this little girl, frustrated, cooped up, and wanting to yell out that we’re not where we want to be and “Why me!?”
When hardship or suffering befalls us, whether it be by our own decisions, the decisions of others, or the simple randomness of happenstance, it’s often one of the first questions that aches out of us… why me or why her? Why does Heavenly Father let bad things happen to good people?
It’s normal and not wrong to ask why. It can be helpful to know or bestow some meaning behind our suffering; ultimately though, I believe there is a more excellent way, a better question to ask that I’ll get to later.

Why does Father let bad things happen to good people?

  1. To teach us or drive us to remember Him.
We read in Helaman 12:2-3:
Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies…yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.
And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.

Why does Father let bad things happen to good people?

2. To test us — we come to earth to gain a body and TO BE TESTED.

Abraham 3:25: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

Why does Father let bad things happen to good people?

     3. So that He can show forth His power in delivering us and can visit us in our affliction:
Perhaps one of the most beautiful stories in all of scripture is that told in Mosiah 23 and 24. The story starts with a wicked priest named Alma. He’s essentially a “yes-man” in wicked King Noah’s court. But his heart is pricked when Abinadi teaches and testifies in front of King Noah and his priests. He believes, is thrust out of the court, and the king sends soldiers to kill him. Alma writes and teaches the words of Abinadi. Some people believe him. They repent and are baptized in the waters of Mormon. The king sends more soldiers to kill the people of Alma. They leave their homes and follow Alma into the wilderness. These are all good people. They are led to a beautiful land they call Helam. The Lord blesses and prospers them. This could be the “And they lived happily ever after” portion of the story — they believed, repented, sacrificed their homes and belongings and were led to their own little land of promise. Yet the story doesn’t end there and here Mormon inserts:
Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.  For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob. And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.” Mosiah 23:21-24.
The Lamanites come to Helam. They’re lost after chasing after Limhi’s people who –having suffered under severe taxation and defeats and the loss of many of their men in war in trying to escape this bondage by the Lamanites–had just been delivered by the Lord. Alma makes a deal with the Lamanites, I’ll show you how to get back home if you will leave us in peace. The Lamanites say, “Deal” and promptly renege on their part of the deal. They place Alma’s people in bondage and put task master’s over them to work them with heavy burdens on their backs. Yet Alma’s people are strengthened such that they cannot feel the burden’s upon their backs.
And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.” Mosiah 24:14
Eventually the Lord delivers Alma and his people by causing a miraculous and unnaturally deep sleep to come upon all of the Lamanites and Alma and his people are able to leave with their flocks and herds and their possessions right under the noses of the Lamanites.
The beautiful thing here though is that every one of those people KNEW in their extremity that it was the Lord God that delivered them and that HE visited them in their afflictions and that they came to know Him through that suffering.
This reminds me of the story of the old man in Sunday School who commented about his experience coming across with the Martin Handcart Company…
He said, “Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [difficulties].
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it. … I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company” (quoted in David O. McKay, “Pioneer Women,” p. 8; emphasis in original).
Sisters and Brothers, think for a minute about the toughest experiences in your life, through them did you become acquainted with God? Did He visit you in your afflictions?


My senior year of high school I fell in to a spiral of deep depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behavior. I would put on a mask that all was fine at school, but inside I was a wreck and I’d come home retreat into my room and just cry. I would wake up in the morning and literally feel a cloud of gloom and anxiety just descend over my mind. This continued for months with my angel mother being my heaven-sent source of support. I know my parents said many prayers on my behalf. I was hesitant to take any medication to help with my emotional and mental condition. I was afraid that if I did so, it would affect where I would be called to serve on my mission.
If I put on my mission papers that I had taken medication for depression, would they send me? Or would it limit where I would have been called if I hadn’t taken the medication?
So I foolishly held out continuing to plead for respite from my emotional and mental anguish. It wasn’t until one night as I read the letter of Moroni to Pahoran as Moroni chastised Pahoran for not making use of what was available to him that things began to change:
“Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” Alma 60:21
And the spirit spoke to me and in that moment I knew that I was just sitting upon my butt and wasn’t making use of the medication and means that the Lord had provided for me. And that was the beginning of the Lord helping to deliver me from bondage and was Him visiting me in my affliction.
Neal A. Maxwell taught beautifully. In fact, many times we might all be better off just reading one of Neal A. Maxwell’s talks as he had a wonderfully wise and rich way of teaching. He taught,
Certain mortal “whys” are not really questions at all but are expressions of resentment. Other “whys” imply that the trial might be all right later on but not now, as if faith in the Lord excluded faith in His timing. Some “why me” questions, asked amid stress, would be much better as “what” questions, such as, “What is required of me now?” or, to paraphrase Moroni’s words, “If I am sufficiently humble, which personal weakness could now become a strength?” (see Ether 12:27).(“Applying the Atoning Blood of Christ”  — Neal A. Maxwell)
Knowing why can be helpful, but as G.I. Joe taught as I grew up, “Knowing is half the battle.” The other half, perhaps the more important half is the question, “What now? Or better yet, What’s Important Now?” This is the more excellent question.
One of my favorite aphorisms to live by is “Life is 10% what happens to me 90% how I react to it.”
One of the most well known stories of this principle is the story of Viktor Frankl. A Jewish psychologist who endured the Nazi concentration camps of Auschwitz and Dachau. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl remarked, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  And “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
Understanding the Why can give us meaning to move forward in DOING what is necessary and important now and in the future.
One of the most powerful scriptures in all of Holy Writ in my opinion is where Christ describes in His own words His suffering at the threshold of the atonement:
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;  But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink— (D&C 19:16-18)
Neal A. Maxwell taught, “…As we confront our own lesser trials and tribulations, we too can plead with the Father, just as Jesus did, that we “might not … shrink”—meaning to retreat or to recoil (D&C 19:18). Not shrinking is much more important than surviving! Moreover, partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter is likewise part of the emulation of Jesus.”
I love this. It is so important and yet so hard to do. To partake of the bitter cup of suffering and yet not allow it to make me bitter. To go through life and to rid myself of accusing or negative feelings toward anyone –be that my wife or my children or colleagues at work or just that random English lady who told off a group of us to come down from exploring the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland because she didn’t want us in her pictures. Such negative feelings we often hold on to in order to help ourselves feel justified in feeling that way or in being right.
Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Mortality presents us with numerous opportunities to become more Christlike: first, by coping successfully with those of life’s challenges which are “common to man[kind]” (1 Cor. 10:13). In addition, there are also our customized trials such as experiencing illness, aloneness, persecution, betrayal, irony, poverty, false witness, unreciprocated love, et cetera. If endured well now, “all these things” can be for our good and can “greatly enlarge the soul,” including an enlarged capacity for joy (D&C 122:7D&C 121:42). Meek suffering often does the excavating necessary for that enlarging! My admiration goes to my many spiritual superiors who so exemplify for us all. In the world to come, to these, the most faithful, our generous Father will give “all that [He] hath” (D&C 84:38). Brothers and sisters, there isn’t any more!”
Elder Bednar shared a story of John and Heather. John and Heather were just recently married and shortly thereafter John was diagnosed with an agressive cancer. Elder Bednar became aware of their plight and visited them. In that visit he was prompted to ask them if they had faith NOT TO BE HEALED. Meaning did they have sufficient faith to accept if the Lord’s will was that John pass to the spirit world. Heather wrote:
This day was filled with mixed emotions for me. I was convinced that Elder Bednar would place his hands on John’s head and completely heal him of the cancer. I knew that through the power of the priesthood he could be healed, and I wanted so bad for that to happen. After he taught us about the faith to not be healed, I was terrified. Up to that point, I had never had to come to grips with the fact that the Lord’s plan might include losing my new husband. My faith was dependent upon the outcomes I wanted. In a manner of speaking, it was one-dimensional. Though terrifying at first, the thought of having the faith not to be healed ultimately freed me from worry. It allowed me to have complete trust that my Heavenly Father knew me better than I knew myself, and He would do what was best for me and John.
Elder Bednar taught,
“We recognized a principle that applies to every devoted disciple: strong faith in the Savior is submissively accepting of His will and timing in our lives—even if the outcome is not what we hoped for or wanted.” He continued, “Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains—if moving mountains accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, and lame—if such healing accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even if we have strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.”
Think for a moment about a time in your life when you’ve asked, “Why me?” Or “Why did this happen to so and so?” Think about an area of your life in which you may have drank the bitter cup and have shrunk to become embittered. Think of this area and then listen to the promptings of the Spirit in how and what you can do to move from a “Why me?-embittered” attitude to more of a submissive, “What’s important now?” attitude. Then Do it.
We’ve discussed in generalities why mortality comes with hardship, but sometimes that answer seems insufficient. The unfairness seems too blatant. I don’t know all the reasons or meaning behind the real or perceived inequalities of the mortal experience. But some things I absolutely do know.
I know that God lives and that He loves us. I know that his Gospel, His plan of happiness is the blueprint to true and lasting happiness and real success and growth in this life and in the life to come. I know that life is supposed to be hard. No one gets a free ride through mortality. We’re all going to have times of heartache or suffering.. I don’t believe we’d look back with any sense of gratitude toward our Savior or in accomplishment for what we will do in our lives if it were not hard and did not require “all we can do.” I know that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and I know that Jesus Christ suffered for the sins, infirmities, depression, anxiety, and suffering of each and every person who ever lived and will live on this earth. I don’t know how that all works.
I don’t know how the time aspect of suffering — of a person enduring years of a debilitating illness or handicap is summed up and experienced in several hours to a day by Christ in the garden and on the cross. But I know that Christ knows how to succor us according to our infirmities. And I know that with His help and with the spiritual gifts that our Father in Heaven is willing to grant us if we ask, we can experience all the hurt, suffering, and loss that mortality has or will offer us and not shrink and become bitter–but instead we can allow our will to be swallowed up in the Father’s– nevertheless not my will, but thine be done.
Brothers and Sisters, if you’re in a place in life where you feel like that little Irish girl after a long red-eye flight, –or worse–you might be thinking, “redeye flight, that’s a cakewalk compared to what I’m going through”–  you feel like breaking down and yelling out that life isn’t what or where or how you want it to be, it is my hope that you might remember just for a moment the why of the suffering and bad things in life–let that give you meaning and purpose–and then move on and ask, “What’s important now?” Pray for the enabling power of the atonement on your behalf and then act in a way that you will not shrink and become bitter. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Overwhelmed? What’s Important Now?


This last Sunday I had a 30 minute talk prepared. Originally, I was to be the final speaker with plenty of time, but then things were changed up and I would be the first speaker before a hard deadline that would be streamed as part of a conference. I would have 10–15 minutes. So, I went back through and minimized the font of some of my prepared talk. These areas were “if-there’s-time” sections. Sitting on the stand, I realize that by the time I get up to speak I’m going to have maybe 6 minutes. The irony hits me: my talk is on what is essential, the one thing that is needful. I realize that pretty much all I’m going to be able to share is the one ESSENTIAL point of my talk. I was calm and clear about it though, and I didn’t feel bad about having my time cut so short. I told a story, shared an experience, cracked a joke, people laughed, read a scripture, read a quote, and closed. As I sat down, I’d used all 6 minutes, no more, no less. The stake president leaned over to me and said, “That was perfect. Thank you.”

If there’d been more time though, this is what I would have shared. Read through it, what parts would you consider the key stories, thoughts, or take-home messages? The essential?

Growing up my family was not a “camping family.” I remember our first family camping trip. We were living in Michigan while my dad was doing his residency. I was 7 or 8 years old, my other brother was four, and my youngest brother was a baby at the time. My dad had borrowed a tent — being busy, he had the owner show him how to take the tent down and bought a lantern. We got to the campground, and I just remember that it was near a lake. We arrived close to six or seven and my dad started trying to get the tent up. Well, he knew real well how to take the tent down, but he couldn’t figure out how to get it set up. It started to get dark, so he grabbed the lantern out and starts to try to light the lantern. Somehow in lighting the lantern the lantern bags explode and the lantern glass cracks — now our new lantern doesn’t work.

Eventually, my dad gets someone to help put the tent up and we get our sleeping bags in the tent and fall asleep.

In the middle of the night the baby wakes up and my mom decides to feed the baby in the car. When she finishes, gets back in the tent with the baby, perhaps overwhelmed with everything she had done in packing and preparing for the trip and being low on sleep,

she realizes she forgot something — the keys, in the locked car!

So we wake up in the morning and it’s freezing cold. Good thing we brought sweaters and coats — in the car. And we have a scrumptious breakfast too — all in the car!

My dad walks several miles to the ranger station (this was before cell phones) and they call a locksmith. An hour or two later, the locksmith shows up, takes a look at the car and says, “Ok, now I know what I’ll need, I’ll be back in an hour or so.” What?!….Hours later the locksmith comes back. But at this point, I don’t remember if we even bothered to make the breakfast or if we just jumped back in the car and ended our ill-fated first and last “family camping” trip. We look back on this and laugh, but I think both my parents were a bit overwhelmed with how everything went wrong on this trip.

Recently my wife and I had our fifth child. He’s about four months old now. We’ve pretty much reached the limit of our mode of transportation. Going anywhere with 7 people is a production.

Getting to church with everyone in church clothes and with shoes on, which isn’t always successful, even if we’re walking in during the opening hymn is a major accomplishment!

Those of you with five or more children can relate. Those who can’t, in the words of comic Jim Gaffigan,

“Do you want to know what it’s like to have [five] kids? Just imagine that you’re drowning…. and someone hands you a baby.”


Have you ever felt like it’s just all too much?

Ever felt like you were just drowning in all the things that you have to do?

You’re overwhelmed. Before you even get out of bed you’re just dreading it all?

Have you ever felt like you’ve burned out?

You just can’t do it anymore?

My wife has recently lamented to me,

“It’s just so depressing. I clean the house on Friday and the next day it looks like this! It never stays clean. Why bother?”

Do you feel like your life is some endless Sisyphusian task where we must keep pushing a boulder up a hill only to get worn out and then watch it roll back down and have to do it again?

Groundhog day — same thing, over and over. Over-whelmed.

The etymology of the word overwhelm is from the Middle English word whelmen which means to turn upside, to overthrow, to submerge completely and may have originally been used to describe a boat being overwhelmed by large waves. I don’t know much about naval navigation, but I do know that a boat is better off when its bow is aligned perpendicular to oncoming waves than if the hull is misaligned to the wave.

In his book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson tells a story when after a time in which his wife had been under a lot of pressure, she had just burned out. It was like her spiritual lights went out. She was relief society president and asked to be released from her calling. When her counselors would call she’d say they could do whatever they wanted. He confronted her to ask what was wrong and she responded,

“All right. Do you want to know what’s wrong? I’ll tell you what’s wrong — I can’t do it anymore. I can’t lift it. My load is just too heavy. I can’t do all the things I’m supposed to. I can’t get up at 5:30, and bake bread, and sew clothes, and help the kids with their homework, and do my own homework, and make their lunches, and do the housework, and do my Relief Society stuff, and have scripture study, and do my genealogy, and write my congressman, and go to PTA meetings, and get our year’s supply organized, and go to my stake meetings, and write the missionaries. . . “ She just started naming, one after the other, all the things she couldn’t do or couldn’t do perfectly — all the individual bricks that had been laid on her back in the name of perfection until they had crushed the light out of her.”

Can you relate?

Do you feel like Moses who also was overwhelmed and said to the Lord:

I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in they sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” Numbers 11:14–15.

Have you had parent guilt and thought, I’m so wretched at this, I’m ruining my kids?

Take comfort in that you’re not alone, it sounds like Moses felt this way. I believe we all do at some point in our lives.

Christ came that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10) How can we find and enjoy this abundance?

Why do we often feel so overwhelmed?

Because feeling overwhelmed is the warning signal that we are trying to do too much, that our life is out of balance.

As a child I loved to play video games, I remember playing a football one on regular Nintendo. I think it was Tecmo bowl and the best player that you always wanted on your team was Walter Peyton. I wouldn’t even know who Walter Peyton was if it hadn’t been for Tecmo Bowl. When ever you got a first down the ref would appear on the screen, make the first down signal, and say, “Buzzon!” Then after you’d score a touchdown you’d have to kick an extra point. The game had an arrow that oscillated back and forth across the screen and you had to push and hold the A button down and then let go at the right time to adjust the amount of power that you kicked the ball and also let go at a time when the oscillating arrow would be in between the uprights — and you had to compensate for any wind. I remember writing in my journal how this was like life — yes as a teenager I was comparing life to Tecmo bowl — you had to learn how to balance all of these inputs and kick the ball through the uprights while compensating for the wind. If we’re doing too much it’s like the arrow in that video game begins to oscillate unpredictably or the wind begins to blow erratically changing direction and the stress rises and we become out of balance and we start missing life’s extra points.

Pres. Uchtdorf taught that when we feel this way, we need to SIMPLIFY.

“Brothers and sisters, if you ever think that the gospel isn’t working so well for you, I invite you to step back, look at your life from a higher plane, and simplify your approach to discipleship. Focus on the basic doctrines, principles, and applications of the gospel. I promise that God will guide and bless you on your path to a fulfilling life, and the gospel will definitely work better for you.” — Elder Uchtdorf

As King Benjamin counseled, “See that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).

In Doctrine and Covenants the Lord warned Joseph Smith, “Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength and means provided” (D&C 10:4).

Neal A. Maxwell taught, “Thus, the Lord has given us what might be called the “wisdom and order” and “strength and means” tests. Unwisely, we often write checks against our time accounts as we never would dare do, comparably, against our bank accounts.

Why do our lives get so busy, so over-scheduled, and so complicated?

I think it is because we have a tendency to always think that MORE is better. We tend to accumulate more than we cut. Perhaps it is easier to avoid confrontation and say yes to a non-essential request, than it is to say no.

In the story that Bro. Robinson shares in his book regarding his wife feeling completely overwhelmed, Bro. Robinson pointed out that his wife was trying to do it all on the mistaken belief that the requirements of the law of the Celestial Kingdom were all set out — the expectations were set — and she was doing her darnedest to fulfill them all and it had just become too much and so she was giving up. Perhaps we hold on to a mistaken belief that we too must “earn our way” into Heaven. We read in the Book of Mormon: “…And by thelaw no flesh is justified; or, by the law men are cut off. Yea, by the temporal law they were cut off; and also, by the spiritual law they perish from that which is good, and become miserable forever.” (2 Ne. 2:5) We can’t, nor are we expected, to be able to do it all on our own. (9:30)

Too often we let our quest for perfection overwhelm us and inhibit what should be a simple striving for progress. Christ said, “Be ye therefore perfect.” But then He has told us that becoming so is a process that occurs line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little (2 Ne. 28:30; Isaiah 28:10), grace for grace, one day at a time — starting over with each new week taking the sacrament, demonstrating our willingness to stick with the process of becoming a perfect disciple of Christ — we try, we fail (sin), we repent, — wash, rinse, repeat. And by taking advantage of the atonement via repentance, the gaping chasm between our best efforts and sinlessness is bridged by Christ’s grace. Being a disciple requires this discipline. Failure only comes in abandoning the process — given enough time (we have eternity) we’re guaranteed to get there.

Another reason why we may become overwhelmed — juggling too many balls in the air — in our lives is that we deny the existence of tradeoffs.

In economics this is the opportunity cost of a decision. Whenever we make a choice, we choose what tradeoffs we are willing to make. Essentially, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. A scriptural example of this is Alma the Younger, the first chief judge. After a time acting as both head of the state and head of the Church, Alma sees that his people are becoming wicked and he realizes that he cannot continue to remain as both the head of the church and go out and minister and teach his people and continue to run the government from the judgement seat. Alma had to make a decision, he recognized the tradeoff and the scriptures say, “the spirit of the Lord did not fail him.” And then he delegated the judgement seat to a wise man, and “this he did that he himself might go forth among his people…seeing no other way that he might reclaim them save it were in bearing down in pure testimony…” (Alma 4:15–20). Alma made the tradeoff of giving up the judgement seat to go teach and minister to his people. (11:30)

In his book Essentialism Greg McKeown, an LDS bishop in Silicon Valley, explains that a non-essentialist tries to be “All things to All People” and thinks: “It’s all important” and asks, “How can I fit it all in?” While an essentialist goes for

“Less but better”

and thinks: “Only a few things really matter.” And instead of asking how to fit it all in, considers “What are the tradeoffs?” What is essential? The non-essentialist lives a life of the undisciplined pursuit of more, while the essentialist lives a life of the disciplined pursuit of less but better. A non-essentialist, like the thorns that choke out the seed in the parable of the sower, is the story of the person that is caught up in the thick of thin things. A non-essentialist will say yes to people without really thinking and reacts to the most urgent thing, while an essentialist pauses to discern what really matters and will say no to everything except the essential. Going back to our botched camping trip, it wasn’t essential for my dad to learn how to take DOWN the tent, but perhaps learning how to SET UP the tent would have been.

Christ was an essentialist

He always chose and focused on what was truly essential. When he came in to Bethany, the sisters of Lazarus, Martha (the older sister?) received him into their home. Luke 10:39–42: “And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving.” She’s busy, she’s playing hostess, and she’s feeling a little perturbed because her sister is just sitting there listening to Jesus rather than helping. So Martha appeals to Jesus and says, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful” in essence he’s saying, “one thing is essential” and “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” In this case, Martha was trying to uphold tradition and the expectations of a hostess when a visitor comes, but Jesus here basically is saying, “Martha, it’s ok to drop the ball on that tradition. To let down the expectations of a hostess. Don’t worry about preparing a meal for us all. Let those other things go. You’ll not remember that meal preparation, but Mary and those who sit at his feet will remember that experience” — which would not be taken away from them. That is what was important/essential then. Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to do it all, he was teaching her about tradeoffs and urging her to choose the good part — that will last.

Jesus is also showing Martha that she has a choice in this matter — she can choose — and not making a choice and sticking with how things were in the moment — sticking with the status quo — would also be a choice. Greg McKeown said,

“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”

We need to be sure that as Ashley Montague said, “the things that matter most … are not at the mercy of things that matter least.”

So how do we determine the essential — the things that matter most?

One way we can do this is by taking time to slow down and pause to ask ourselves that question. We read throughout the Gospels that Jesus often made a point of finding time to slow down, go into the wilderness, or otherwise be alone:

“And he said unto [the Twelve], Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. (This sounds like a mother of children. You ever have “no leisure so much as to eat?”)

“And they departed into a desert place by ship privately” (Mark 6:31–32).

Here we see that Jesus clearly recognized the weariness of His disciples. Neal A. Maxwell taught, “informal, brief retreats can be fashioned by providing greenbelts of time between busyness, even if these are only a few minutes long.”(Wisdom & Order talk)

We need time and space to think.

To me this concept of slowing down and pausing to consider the essential reminds me of two similar concepts: Sharpening the Saw and Self-Care. In his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People, Stephen R. Covey’s 7th Habit is the renewal habit — the concept of self-care of rest and renewal. It harkens back to the concept of a bow — if a bow is constantly pulled tight, the bow will lose its spring and become useless. It is only in letting go that the bow can retain its spring. Parents take a reminder from the ever popular Disney Princess Elsa and “Let it Go.” Or take a reminder from the FAA and remember to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others. Jesus tells Peter — “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” or to Hyrum “seek first to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed”. Self-care before other care. We cannot raise those around us if we ourselves are sinking. Self-care is essential.

In the Book of Mormon there is a small story that one can piece together by reading between the lines, in Alma 2:29–31: the people of Nephi have gone to war against the people of Amlici. Alma and Amlici are caught in a sword duel.

“And it came to pass that Alma fought with Amlici with the sword, face to face; and they did contend mightily, one with another.” And then… it doesn’t say it but it seems to me that Alma must have been wounded. Alma then says a prayer, “being exercised with much faith, cried, saying: O Lord, have mercy and spare my life, that I may be an instrument in thy hands to save and preserve this people.” And here’s why I think he was wounded, because it then says, “Now when Alma had said these words he contended again with Amlici; and he was strengthened, insomuch that he slew Amlici with the sword. And in the very next chapter another battle commences between the Amlicites who joined with the Lamanites and the Nephites, except this time we read, “Now Alma himself being afflicted with a wound did not go up to battle at this time against the Lamanites;” (Alma 3:22). Alma recognized he couldn’t do it all, what was important then was to heal up. Alma couldn’t fully and effectively lead his men when he wasn’t fully recovered. Self-care is essential.

What’s Important Now?

Larry Gelwix was a Rugby coach in Highland Utah. He had an incredible record: 419 wins and 10 losses. When he was asked how he did it he said, “We WIN. W-I-N.” What’s Important Now? When you’ve made a mistake on the last play, What’s Important Now — get over it and do your best. — Make decisions now that support what you want in the future.

President Ezra Taft Benson said:

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love for the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities” (“The Greatest Commandment — Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988, 4).

As you are struggling to juggle all the demands of your life and responsibilities at work, home, and at church remember this counsel. By putting God first, the balls that you needn’t be juggling will naturally be dropped and fall out of our lives.

Because of tradeoffs we need to realize that when we choose God or Christ or the things that Matter Most — the things that are important now for what we want tomorrow- we’ll need to let other things go, cut them out, or drop those balls in order to ensure that the important things aren’t let go, cut out, or dropped.

Take the word decide. The root word of decide is the Latin cis or -cid/cide meaning to “cut” or “kill”. A decision, for instance, is a ‘cutting off’ of all possibilities except for one; if you are decisive you have ‘killed’ all other options. As one mission president said, “Too many goods leaves no room for the best.”

Decide to cut out the non-essential-

When my wife and I first moved to Cleveland we had 2 children. My wife loves theatre and was SO excited to have Playhouse Square nearby. We’d heard that one could volunteer to work as a Redcoat and usher at the shows. We volunteered and got the opportunity on Thursday nights to usher at Playhouse Square. Then, if there was a show we wanted to see, we could offer to usher that show, even if it wasn’t one of our “assigned” nights. We were able to see a bunch of shows just for the cost of $2 parking! We did this for just over two years swapping who watched the kids and working out different nights — occasionally getting a babysitter. However, eventually, my wife and I came together and we realized that our life was getting too crazy. We didn’t see each other very often — one night I’d be ushering, the next night she would be ushering, one night we’d be involved with mutual/church callings and we needed to decide whether ushering as a Redcoat at Playhouse Square was what was important now for our family. And with that- that season of our lives ended. We stopped ushering in order to focus on our family. Ecclesiastes 3 reads: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven,…” Perhaps someday we’ll enjoy volunteering at Playhouse Square again, but that’s not what’s most important to us now — that’s not a tradeoff we’re willing to make. (20:10)

It is essential that we listen to the Spirit.

What we may judge — or what others may think — is right or essential, may not be what the Spirit is telling us is right or essentia. Regardless of good or bad circumstances,

when everything else falls apart, family and the gospel of Jesus Christ are the essentials.

Remember Father Lehi (1 Ne. 2:4) where he “departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family.”

Additionally, make time for sleep and play — important aspects of self-care, and then focus on family and the Gospel.


Ask for help

Remember my family camping story? My dad finally realized that he needed help figuring out how to set up that tent, gratefully, he was willing to ask for and accept that help. We should not be ashamed to ask for and accept help. No man is an island, and it takes a village to raise a child.

If someone asks, “Anything I can do to help?” Think of something and be honest with what they could do to help lighten your load. There may even be things that you haven’t done in a long time because they haven’t been urgent or important enough to have been done — things you have willingly let drop for the time being — let them do one of these things.

Russel M. Nelson said, “Ask the missionaries, they can help you!”

I know that there are so many of us who are feeling overwhelmed, who perhaps feel like they can’t get the tents in their lives to set up, perhaps the lanterns are exploding, and the keys with all the answers are locked away. Maybe you feel a bit like God is acting like that locksmith who seemingly took his dandy time.

But, if this isn’t you, if you aren’t feeling overwhelmed then perhaps you may have the opposite problem: where you feel that you aren’t doing enough in your discipleship, in improving your talents and in magnifying your stewardship and influence. In that case — run faster, throw out the sails, align your boat to Christ — face the waves and paddle — be the Lord’s wind. Don’t run faster than you have strength, but run — after all you can do. Be anxiously engaged. Listen to the Spirit. Is it saying, run faster? or is it saying “sit a spell?” There may be areas in our life where we need to run faster and areas in another where we need to just “sit a spell”. I testify that by listening to the Spirit we can know what to cut out, which balls to let drop in order to focus on the essential — the good part that will not be taken away. There is but one thing that is needful — to align the heading of our boats with the Gospel of Jesus Christ — by doing this we will be able to breast the waves and storms in our lives and not be overwhelmed. Again as Ezra Taft Benson said,

“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”

and as Neal A. Maxwell taught,

“In the end, if you have not chosen Christ, it will not matter what you have chosen.”

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

How understanding the Stages of Change can make you a better missionary

A mormon missionary teaches in a Danish carpenter’s workshop. Painted by Christen Dalsgaard in 1856, just six years after mormon missionaries arrived in Denmark.

Antonia was in the elevator of the Hotel Utah, the modern-day Joseph Smith Memorial Building. She may have been feeling a bit out-of-place, a non-Mormon in the midst of the Mormon Capital. Then again, she attended Brigham Young University, a private university run by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so she was used to it. A nice little old lady walked in to the elevator, smiled and broke the elevator silence rule and began striking up a conversation. At some point in the conversation the little old lady invited Antonia to the top floor, “You should meet my husband.” That’s odd, she thought, but sure, why not? The little old lady walked Antonia down the hall and introduced her to a small balding man, he stuck out his hand, “Hello, I’m Spencer Kimball, what’s your name?” Antonia said it was like a bolt of electricity went through her as she shook his hand and that there was just an aura or a spiritual presence around the man. She could tell he was a man of God.

Fast forward twenty years, it’s a Saturday night. Antonia goes to bed and that night she has a dream where she remembers meeting Spencer W. Kimball, who was then the president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She wakes up crying, looks up the nearest LDS church, walks to church, meets some missionaries, gives them her name and address and says she would prefer the missionaries teach her in Spanish. A few days later, my companion and I, just a few days into my mission, get a referral with Antonia’s name and address.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change

It was during this same time when Antonia met Spencer W. Kimball that James O. Prochaska published his Transtheoretical Model of Change, or the Stages of Change Model. This model has been useful both in psychology but also within marketing and understanding it will help us to be better missionaries. Here’s what it looks like:1197px-Transtheoretical_Model_-_Stages_of_change

Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation

The first stage of change is pre-contemplation. This is early stage, so early that the person isn’t even thinking about change or perhaps even denies that change is necessary.  This is the stage that people are at when missionaries are only “planting the gospel seed” and “not harvesting the sheaves.” The pre-contemplation stage is the stage in which people are “blinded by the subtle craftiness of men” (D&C 123:12). By definition, someone in the pre-contemplation stage isn’t even yet an “investigator.” As missionaries and members the hope and goal in this stage is primarily to educate, to make people aware that the gospel is out there. In essence, the goal is to let them know here’s truth and here’s where you can find it. Examples include pass-along cards, the church’s advertisements, and simple invitations to “come and see.” Note though, that in this stage, many times the person will simply say, “No. Not interested.” It takes a lot of no’s to get to yes. When Antonia met Spencer W. Kimball she was in pre-contemplation, and she spent the next twenty years in that stage.

Stage 2: Contemplation

The second stage is contemplation. People in this stage are truly “investigators”. They are looking for answers, they have recognized a potential need for change and are actively seeking information. However, within the contemplation stage, people still aren’t ready To Act or Commit. The investigator in this stage does not yet have “real intent.” If the missionaries ask them to make a firm commitment to be baptized in this stage, they’ll be wishy-washy about the commitment, “Maybe…. If God’s answered my prayers and I’m super certain… then, sure. But that hasn’t happened yet.” It’s always important to teach with the Spirit, but especially in Stage 2 the goal is to create short opportunities for the Spirit to inspire the investigator to continue along the Stages of Change. Within Stage 2 inspirational and emotionally powerful content such as testimony, reading verses of scripture,  and teaching how to pray all create in the investigator opportunities to contemplate the new experiences, feelings, and information. As the missionaries/members teach and share, the investigator continues to learn, but it is the feelings and inspiration that impacts the investigator the most in this stage. It took her dream to push Antonia into the Contemplation stage, and it motivated her to start seeking answers.

Stage 3: Preparation

The third stage of change is preparation. Within this stage the investigator is making and keeping commitments. He or she is actively making plans, and likely has a goal or perhaps even a baptismal date for which he or she is preparing. Within this stage, people intend to act. Within this stage, were all things to remain unchanged, the person would follow through. In stage 3 the goal is to reassure. As Paul said and as Jeffrey R. Holland eloquently expounded in his sermon Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence,

Call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions… Cast not away therefore your confidence (Heb. 10:32,35)…. Don’t forget how you once felt. Don’t distrust the experience you had…. With any major decision there are cautions and considerations to make, but once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts.”

I remember teaching a wonderful family on my mission and each time after we would visit the mother would be all fired up and ready to go forward with baptism, but then after we’d leave and days later she’d start doubting what she had felt. I remember speaking to her on the phone one evening after we’d visited and she shared these feelings with me. I was able to pull out my small, mini laminated version of Elder Holland’s talk and share the reassuring truths–If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now! Beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. Cast not away therefore your confidence– This reassuring truth was what was needed and the baptism and teaching of this family was one of the jewels of my mission.

Teaching Antonia was another of the greatest experiences of my mission. She was incredibly well-educated and extremely fun to teach. But change is hard, and she definitely needed reassuring as she debated on giving up her gin and tonic or even turning down a marriage proposal that would have taken her life in a different direction than the one she was on.

Stage 4: Action

Stage 4 is Action. This stage is very similar to Stage 3: Preparation.  It’s almost like Late Stage 3, everything from when the action is decided on up until the action of doing is done is Stage 4. Again, reassuring spiritual experiences and continuing to educate and teach are parts of this stage. As a missionary, Stage 4 is the “harvesting” part. My wife and I have noticed that it seems that our family missionary work has tended to be more of the seed planting, rather than harvesting variety. We’ll continue to do so and hope that we plant good seeds and that others can reap a good harvest.

There were bumps along the road, but Antonia was baptized over twenty years since she’d recognized Spencer W. Kimball as a man of God. Change can be a long time coming, good thing God is exceptionally patient. 🙂

Stage 5: Maintenance/Advocacy

In stage 5 the investigator has become a new member via baptism. The action is complete. The early parts of this stage require that aspects of the earlier stages (educate, inspire, and reassure) continue in order to maintain the change. Gordon B. Hinckley taught this by saying that all new members require: nurturing by the good word of God, an assignment, and a friend. The later part of this stage is true conversion: advocacy. The Savior told Peter, “When thou art converted, strengthen they brethren (Luke 22:32).”

As we teach and share the gospel, if we can understand where people are in the Stages of Change we can use that understanding and the promptings of the spirit to know whether we should educate the pre-contemplating, inspire the contemplating, or reassure the preparing/doing investigators.

One of the most rewarding experiences of my mission was an opportunity I had to see Antonia speak at a devotional in which she shared her conversion story, beginning with her parents’ desire to send her to a school with high values that also wasn’t a party school –you can’t get more stone cold sober than BYU– then a simple ride in an elevator, having the courage to speak to the little old lady next to her, and then meeting the prophet of God, which planted a tiny seed in her heart. That seed then lay buried there for twenty years until it sprouted forth and was able to be harvested by a young, inexperienced 19 year-old missionary still trying to learn Spanish– me.



The Four Critical Relationships

This was a talk I gave at a singles church congregation in 2016.

When I was a graduate student, my wife and I lived in Salt Lake City. We had four close married friends. By the time I had graduated, one couple had divorced. Just this last Christmas my wife and I received a Christmas card that broke our hearts. It showed a picture of our friend, with just her and her kids. As great and as happy as they looked in that picture, my heart hurt for her and her children. That picture represented tears shed, dreams and covenants broken…. You know how when you go on a vacation to some place and you go sightseeing and you take pictures of the cathedral or canyon or whatever it may be…but there’s no one in the picture. When you look back at these pictures, you really only give them a cursory glance. It’s the pictures with the people in them that actually have the most allure, the most meaning. This Christmas card, and this concept caused me to ponder and was the inspiration for my topic today.

When John Rockefeller, a ridiculously wealthy Clevelander, died, someone asked his accountant, “How much did Mr. Rockefeller leave?”

The accountant replied, “He left all of it.”

So what do we take with us then when we die? When Jesus was on the earth, he taught:

3 Ne. 13

  • Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and thieves break through and steal;
  • But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”

What are some examples of treasures in heaven? When we pass on, we will take with us our memories, talents, knowledge/experience, and relationships.

Elder Hugh Pinnock, a General Authority from 1977-2000 said, “Relationships are to be never ending” — BYU Speeches

I think that among the most valuable treasures in heaven will be the strength of our relationships that we have forged while here on earth.

A senior missionary couple who have served four missions working on genealogical record preservation, Elder and Sister Lombardi agree, “I submit that in Heaven, wealth is measured in terms of human relationships. We build personal eternal wealth by taking the dead through the temple ordinances. Those dead souls become our friends in eternal bonds of friendship. This whole effort from the preservation of records to the end product of temple ordinances is a great eternal wealth building effort for all concerned. Human relationships are the treasures that thieves cannot steal and that moths cannot corrupt.”–Elder and Sister Lombardi

 Relationships are like plants, they need certain nutrients and they need them often in order for them to thrive and grow, otherwise they wither and die. In a speech at BYU in 1996, Adi Fuhriman, then the Dean of Graduate Studies and a psychology professor, taught how the ten commandments are all based on teaching mankind about the importance of relationships.

“God’s word to humankind is instructive as to the characteristics that define how we are to be in relationship with one another. Indeed, the old law, or the Ten Commandments, appears to exist in order to ground, at the very least, the foundation of a relationship (see Exodus 20:2–17). Breaking or not adhering to anyone of the commandments does, in fact, violate or injure a relationship. Encoded within each commandment is a sin against relationship.

The first four—thou shalt not have other gods before me, make no graven image, do not take the name of the Lord in vain, and keep the Sabbath day holy—all reflect upon and affect our relationship to the Lord. Breaking anyone of these sends a message of how we think about and how we feel toward the Lord—maybe even more important, it shows how we value who he is and our relationship with him. By keeping these four commandments, we are saying that who he is is important and our relationship with him is primary and will not be subservient to falsity or imitation; we will honor and uphold the sanctity of his name, his identity; and we will acknowledge and revere his role and relationship to us through a dedicated seventh of our time.

The remaining commandments concern our relationships with others. The commandment dealing with mothers and fathers is set apart from all others—due, in large measure, to their unique role and responsibility. We are to honor them, further underscoring the uniqueness of our relationship to them. Coveting, bearing false witness, stealing, committing adultery, killing, and dishonoring are all behaviors that, with their companion attitudes, thwart the establishment of a relationship, contaminate an already existing one, destroy a previously valued one, and, ultimately, negate the concept and value of our connectedness.” –Adi Furhiman, BYU Speeches, The Tie That Binds

The commandments are there to help us live according to the manner of happiness. And the manner of happiness is having full, positive, connected relationships—both with our Father in Heaven and with those around us.

I believe that there are 4 relationships or relationship categories that are critical. I believe that our actions or inactions, be they good or bad, ultimately manifest themselves as either benefitting or damaging one or more of these four basic relationships.

  • Our relationship with God
  • Our relationship with ourself
  • Our relationship with our family/loved ones
  • Our relationship with our fellowmen

Sin Damages at least one or more of the 4 Relationships

Whenever we do something bad or wrong or “sinful” we damage our relationship with God, we distance ourselves from God. Our wrong doing will damage our relationship with ourselves, even if we don’t consciously admit this at the time. Our sin may manifest itself as damage to our relationship with our spouse, children, or our parents. Finally, our wrong doing may come to affect how we treat or view our fellowmen.

Let’s say I’ve promised one of my kids that when I get home from work that I’d play Lego Harry Potter on the Xbox. But, then I end up working a bit later than normally, and so by the time I arrive home we need to eat dinner and then I help clean up dinner and do the dishes. By the time the dishes are finished, the food is put away, and the table is cleared, it’s time to start preparing my four kids for bed. Pajamas, teeth-brushed, and gather for scriptures and family prayer. Then I’m reminded, “But Dad! You said you’d play Lego Harry Potter on the Xbox with me.” And I had, but it’s close to 9 p.m. now and 6 a.m. rise-and-shine comes awfully early for a 4-yr-old and without sufficient sleep that 4-yr-old acts more like a gremlin than a toddler. And so with a hesitant frown I say, maybe tomorrow. And like that, I’ve broken a promise and distanced myself by even the smallest amount from God. I’ve damaged my relationship with myself because now I’ve planted guilt in my heart somewhat and I’ve created some doubt about whether I can trust myself to follow through on what I say I will do. I have inevitably hurt the relationship with my 4-yr-old boy. Now, being a toddler, he is remarkably quick to forgive and forget, but nevertheless I have hurt our relationship.

Here’s another example, let’s imagine that you have a private pornography habit. This habit will damage your relationship with God. There’s a reason you indulge in private — you feel bad about it. As much as the titillation of it is attractive, afterward you feel dirty. You come to think negatively of yourself, perhaps because your efforts to quit have been unsuccessful. This is the damage of pornography on your relationship with yourself. But, in this example, pornography doesn’t stop there. The salacious images in your mind create unrealistic and false expectations for sex and intimacy. Porn wreaks havoc on marital relationships and it’s a waiting cancer that can infest courtships and destroy the potential for an enriching, intimate marital relationship.

Finally, porn damages the way one views other men or women in general. It objectifies them.

The same thing happens when we do something else that is wrong or sinful or refrain from doing something good and right, it damages one or more of the four basic relationships.

Listen to the following quotes and see how selfishness and pride hurt relationships…

“Pride is a damning sin in the true sense of that word. It limits or stops progression. (See Alma 12:10–11.) The proud are not easily taught. (See 1 Ne. 15:3, 7–11.) They won’t change their minds to accept truths, because to do so implies they have been wrong. Pride adversely affects all our relationships—our relationship with God and His servants, between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, teacher and student, and all mankind.”– Ezra T. Benson

President Spencer W. Kimball declared: “Since the beginning there has been in the world a wide range of sins. Many of them involve harm to others, but every sin is against ourselves and God, for sins limit our progress, curtail our development, and estrange us from good people, good influences, and from our Lord” (Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], p. 174).

When we sin, we hurt our relationships.

Keeping the Commandments Prospers Relationships

The good news is that whenever we do good or whenever we change away from our sinful behavior and repent, this positive turning is also manifest in one or more of the four basic relationships. We shorten the distance between ourselves and God. We heal the hurt we’ve caused ourselves and our self-talk improves and our sense of self worth and confidence grows (D&C 120). When we change for the good and give up our wrong doing our relationship with our significant other, family, or loved one improves. Finally, as these relationships are improved our outlook on the whole world changes and we treat and view others in general in a more positive and hopeful light. As we have become more Christlike, we are more aligned to “the manner of happiness” (Alma 41:11). You want to find the one that you will want to spend eternity with? You want to prepare yourself to have a happy marriage? You want to have a rich relationship with your parents, siblings, friends or neighbors? Then simply become a more Christ-like disciple of Jesus Christ. This will bless all your relationships.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World reads: “Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

Sister Fuhriman further taught in her BYU Speech: “These imperatives (commandments), coming by way of counsel and example, extend a “hand” to us. They help us connect to one another. They help us be like him in our relationships with others: congruent in thought and action, in mind and heart, in intent and effort. These all point toward the fulfillment of a higher law and the blessing of a new commandment that he gave unto us, to all humankind: “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). This commandment makes crystal clear the value of our relatedness to one another and its important role—its fundamental and intrinsic role—in the plan of salvation. This new commandment then answers our question “How shall we live?” We shall live as he lived; and the reality of his plan is that we live in relationship to others.”

To summarize so far: We each have 4 basic relationships:

  • Our relationship with God
  • Our relationship with ourself
  • Our relationship with our family, spouse, or loved ones
  • Our relationship with our fellowmen and women

We take with us the memories and experiences from those relationships when we die. It is the tie that binds us in those relationships and that bestows the right to continue in those roles and relationships that the Temple blessings confer. We will remember those relationships but that right and binding tie of marriage, if not sealed by priesthood authority, will be dissolved at death. The strength of these 4 relationships is determined by who we are and who we are is determined by what we do, think, and feel. Stephen R. Covey taught, “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” If our eyes are such that it is as though we wear rose-colored glasses, we will see the world rosily. If our eyes are darkened, then we will see the world as dark and gloomy. When we are sinful, our relationships suffer. If our hearts are full of accusing feelings towards someone or others, we will see the world and seek to collect proof or data that our accusing feelings are justified. This leads to a dangerous cycle whereby we accuse, blame, provoke, accuse, blame, provoke…. But when we are righteous, when we experience a change of heart, our relationships prosper. As King Benjamin taught,

“I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual” (Mosiah 2:41)

Elder Francicso Vinas, a General Authority, taught, “The principles that we choose to incorporate into our lives will determine the spirit that we contribute in our relationships with others. When we adopt a principle, its influence radiates from us and can be felt by others.”

I feel that it is important to note that just because we are obedient or righteous, does not mean that automatically our family relationships will be perfect or even good. Relationships are two- way streets. The other party, regardless of our positive behavior, may yet choose to sever the relationship or continue to hurt the relationship through his/her sinful behavior. We have all heard of early pioneers in the church who lost family relationships because of accepting the gospel. Christ himself recognized that choosing to follow His gospel could “set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother.” (Matt. 10:35).

Richard Chidester, an associate area director for the Church Educational System in 1984 wrote:

The keys to peace and harmonious relationships are to be found within our personal application of the basic principles of the gospel.” In other words, in order to have peace and harmony in our relationships, we must first have peace and harmony within ourselves. Such peace comes when we are doing what we know to be right by following the still small voice of the Spirit.”

So what do we do if we currently have a strained or broken relationship? Fixing that relationship starts within ourselves. Brother Chidester continued:

“Both ecclesiastical and professional counselors regularly see people who want peace and harmonious relationships without repenting of unloving behavior. They want peace and a right heart through secularism instead of through the sanctifying influence of the Spirit of God.” – C Richard Chidester

It is when we focus on our own behavior, when we ask, “Am I in the wrong?” When we are humble, that we can see the world as it truly is, see situations without the bias of our own emotions, and therefore react in a more enlightened manner. Brother Chidester said it this way:

“When we are more concerned about our own attitude and behavior than those of others, improvements in relationships can begin to take place. We cannot force others to change, to be good, or to be more responsible; they have free will to act the way they want to. The real issue is how we react to them! Are we being compassionate, forgiving, and patient—or are we concentrating on whether they are being responsible or not? …. When we have the Spirit in abundance and are perceiving reality honestly and accurately, we realize that all mortals are a composite of strengths and weaknesses. Given our own weaknesses, we have little occasion to take offense at their mistakes. As we realize this, our hearts become broken and our spirits contrite, and we begin to treat others compassionately.” – C Richard Chidester (For more on this topic, read: The Bonds That Make Us Free: Healing Our Relationships and Coming to Ourselves by C. Terry Warner)

Notes on being Teachable

I love this! This is the other concept that I feel is key throughout this life, and that is the willingness to be humble or teachable.


Father Abraham is a great example of being teachable:

“desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, (and here is the key) and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” –Abraham 1:2

 It is in the willingness to continually recognize our need for instruction and the insight of others, to continue to be taught and to learn, that helps us to continue the lifelong pattern of repent, baptism (sacrament), purification by the Holy Ghost; repent, renew covenants of baptism, purification by the Holy Ghost. Repent, renew covenants of baptism, purification by the Holy Ghost. This is really what enduring to the end means. Why else would the scriptures say, “Preach naught but repentance” (D&C 19:21)? If people get held up somewhere in the Repent, Baptism, Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Endure to the End principles of the gospel, it’s really usually in the refusal to repent. Why? Because this is really the hard part—we need to acknowledge we were wrong. Repenting requires us to change our hearts and sometimes this requires that our heart break first and then we’re given a new one. And when our own hearts are new, our relationships with others will improve.

If we are having a hard time changing our hearts, we can pray and ask for help. President Howard W. Hunter taught, “Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter [2015], 150).

–Richard G. Scott taught, “As you center your home on the Savior, it will naturally become a refuge not only to your own family but also to friends who live in more difficult circumstances. They will be drawn to the serenity they feel there…. One of the greatest blessings we can offer to the world is the power of a Christ-centered home where the gospel is taught, covenants are kept, and love abounds.”

 So I just came to the single adult ward and gave a talk on relationships? You may think, “I’m not married or dating anyone.”  So here are some of my thoughts:

Relationship Triangle
Imagine a triangle with you on one end, your future spouse on the other, and God at the top. As you move up your side of the triangle closer to God, the distance between you and your future spouse decreases. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you get closer to your future spouse in a temporal aspect (meaning that you’ll find your spouse sooner), but I do believe that becoming more Christlike is universally attractive to good potential spouses. Like Joseph Smith taught, “A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world anxious to bless the whole human race.” Someone filled with the love of God is happy, and if you are going around blessing people you will make others happy and like Elder Uchtdorf taught this last conference about Great Aunt Rose, people like to be around happy people! Happy people are attractive! I do believe that by moving closer to God through thinking, feeling, doing, and being righteous we prepare ourselves to find a spouse who is at a higher or equal plane as we are.

Notes on Vulnerability:

In the book, The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism makes Sense of Life, by Teryl and Fiona Givens, I learned a valuable point. Because Heavenly Father loves us all so much and is 24/7 focused on Moses 1:39—This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man; He has made himself vulnerable to weep, to suffer sorrow for the sins that His children choose to commit. And the really interesting thing is that the scriptures teach that “we love Him, because He first loved us.” He chose to take the first vulnerable step. In the philosophy of Hitch, He came the 90%, we just need to come the remaining 10%. That, to me, is a fascinating lesson in how important it is to embrace vulnerability as the key to creating an abundant life. Honestly, I am not sure whether there is a time in life where one feels more vulnerable or where the need to embrace vulnerability is more evident than in the young single adult years. This is a time of big decisions: career, school, dating, marriage or the painful absence thereof, of establishing independence and trajectories that could be followed for years to come and that could impact the outcome of our lives.

So why do I bring up vulnerability? Because I want you to realize the importance of risking your heart getting broken. In the words of Lord Alfred Tennyson: “Tis better to have loved and lost, than to have never loved at all.” When was the last time you made yourself vulnerable by asking someone on a date? Don’t give up on being vulnerable. Is it easy. NO! It’s hard, but it’s worth it. Are you working on cultivating the 4 relationships in your life? (God, yourself, family (a special loved one?), and your fellowmen or women?)

Author Brene Brown shared a story on a podcast that I was recently listening to. Her daughter is a swimmer and in an upcoming swim meet her coach had asked her to swim the breast stroke.

Now, she was not a good breast stroke swimmer. She refused to swim it. She knew she would be the last one out of the pool, probably minutes after everyone else got out. She asked her parents to convince her coach that she couldn’t do it, and if that didn’t work she’d quit the swim team.

Her parents thought about it and realized that for her daughter the fear of swimming the breast stroke was huge. Swimming the breast stroke would make her feel incredibly vulnerable. So, in an effort to reward and recognize that vulnerability and the willingness to be vulnerable in doing this good thing, together they decided that for her daughter at that swim meet winning or success would not be winning that race or even getting a good time for that race. Regardless of when she got out of the pool, winning at that meet would be getting INTO the pool and just swimming the breast stroke. And that’s exactly what her daughter did, and yes, she was the last one out of the pool on that race and by a long shot, but she got out of the pool with a smile and went over to her mom and got a big hug because to her, she’d already won!

Maybe right now, success or winning for you doesn’t need to be courtship or marriage, maybe it’s in keeping faith in continuing the search, continuing to date. Or maybe winning is in strengthening your relationships with family, with yourself, or developing a deep relationship with your Father in Heaven. Maybe winning for you is in developing a new skill or overcoming a bad habit, deepening your knowledge of the scriptures, achieving a worthy goal, or just in reaching out to be more connected with your peers and serving those around you.


I bear testimony that the Lord wants us to have relationships so strong and so bound together by eternal temple blessings that they fill us up with joy—relationships like that of Ammon and the sons of Mosiah and Alma. I know that marriage and family is ordained of God. I know that the sacred expression of marital love when enjoyed within the bonds of matrimony strengthens and blesses marriages. I know that the Lord guides our lives IF we ask Him and are humble and teachable to listen to him. I know that if we will change our hearts and repent and rid ourselves of pride and accusing feelings towards others that as we are pure, we will see the world as it truly is—and we will be able to better choose our path and actions in such a way that our relationships are strengthened. I bear testimony that the best place to find and receive revelation for the big decisions in life is in the temple in a spirit of fasting and prayer.


Brothers and sisters, it is my prayer that throughout our lives that we will put our time and efforts into making sure that people and relationships are primary and present in the pictures of our lives, and that, heaven forbid, if we ever have to send out a Christmas card with a family member missing, it will not be because of poor, sinful choices. And if we find ourselves in that unfortunate, painful position that we make it temporary by taking advantage of the atonement of Christ—repenting, renewing covenants of baptism, and being purified by the Holy Ghost. I say that in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.