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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Why me? What now? And the Bitter Cup

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 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?

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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.
The_Garden_Tomb_2008
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?

sisyphus

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.”

Overwhelmed

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.

(https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/02/dealing-with-stress-and-discouragement?lang=eng)

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

Mormons_visit_a_country_carpenter
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

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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.

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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.

Testimony

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.

Conclusion

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.

Mistakes, Sins, Failure, & Grace

 

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A talk I gave in Church in October 2016:

A new business was opening and one of the owner’s friends wanted to send flowers for the occasion.

They arrived at the new business site and the owner read the card; it said “Rest in Peace”. When the friend found out, she became angry and called the florist to complain. After she had told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry she was, the florist said.

“Madam, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry you should imagine this: somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note saying, “Congratulations on your new location”. (http://www.jokebuddha.com/Mistake#ixzz3zjoTkFpO)

This brings to mind something that the comedian Red Skelton said and may actually hint at one of the more hidden refining benefits of marriage, “All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.”

On a more serious note, what do the scriptures say about mistakes? In Doctrine and Covenants 1:25,27 it reads: “And inasmuch as they have erred it might be made known.…And inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent.” In a speech given at BYU, Elder Dallin H. Oaks pointed out the difference between erring or making a mistake and sinning. He said,

“Both can hurt us and both require attention, but the scriptures direct a different treatment. Chewing on a live electrical cord or diving headfirst into water of uncertain depth are mistakes that should be made known so they can be corrected. Violations of the commandments of God are sins that require chastening and repentance. In the treatment process we should not require repentance for mistakes, but we are commanded to preach the necessity of repentance for sins.” (BYU Speeches, Sins and Mistakes, Dallin H. Oaks April 1994)

Elder Oaks went on to define both mistakes and sins:

“Sins result from willful disobedience of laws we have received by explicit teaching or by the Spirit of Christ that teaches every man the general principles of right and wrong. For sins, the remedy is to chasten and encourage repentance.

 Mistakes result from ignorance of the laws of God or of the workings of the universe or of people he has created. For mistakes, the remedy is to correct the mistake, not to condemn the actor.”

 I believe that we need to have a proper understanding of the difference between sins and mistakes. Now, not all sins are weightier than any mistake. For example, it may be a mistake and not a sin to step out in front of a moving car or to post mean things about your boss on Facebook, but certainly these BIG mistakes can have irreversible or long-term consequences over a small sin.

We must always eschew sin and seek to quickly repent when we do willfully disobey a commandment we know that we should keep. Perhaps the most difficult part of this repentance, this change, is the humbling of ourselves to acknowledge our incorrectness and need for change/repentance. When it comes to mistakes, though, Elder Oaks taught:

“We should seek to avoid mistakes, since some mistakes have very painful consequences. But we do not seek to avoid mistakes at all costs. Mistakes are inevitable in the process of growth in mortality. To avoid all possibility of error is to avoid all possibility of growth.”

 Avoiding mistakes at all costs can lead to analysis paralysis or all the negative anxiety that we have heard of that can accompany a debilitating obsession with perfection. Too often the enemy of doing something good is the desire to wait further until the good is perfect. However, as the the Savior himself taught with the parable of the talents, at some point, not doing something good for fear that our good isn’t good enough or isn’t perfect, makes us unprofitable servants.

In Matthew 25:4-30, the Savior tells the parable of the talents. The Lord gives 5 talents to one servant, 2 talents to another, and one talent to a third. The first two servants take their talents and when the Lord returns, they return double what the Lord gave them. When the Lord asks the third servant, he says, “…I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo here that is thine.” When it comes to doing good things, are we afraid? Are we too afraid of making mistakes? Are we afraid that we might fail?

In July 2011, Brad Wilcox gave what may be the best talk on Grace and explaining the atonement and how grace works that I have ever heard or read. In it, Brother Wilcox tells of a young BYU student who approaches him and says that she doesn’t understand grace. The conversation went like this:

“She said, “I just don’t get grace.”

I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”

She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.

She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”

She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.

Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.”

Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead.

Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”

She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.

I said, “Wrong.”

She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”

I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

 Brother Wilcox then gives an analogy of grace and practicing the piano.

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher…. Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No.

Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

 Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.”

 Brother Wilcox goes on to remark that we are here on earth and in families trying to “learn Heaven,” we are practicing and preparing for it. It would be completely unrealistic for either me to expect my daughter or my daughter to expect herself to be able to sit down and play a new piano piece without mess ups. And if she did mess up, it would be completely ridiculous for her to throw up our hands and declare, “I can’t do this piano thing. I’ve failed. I’m just not cut out for it.” While she may have certainly felt that way, it wouldn’t be true. So then, what would failure in this case be? Failure would be giving up. Throwing in the towel. The timeframe for which we consider failure is much too short. We may wish to go a day without yelling at our kids, and we fail to do this. But have we failed in the long run? Will we let our short term failures, define our long term? Do we believe in defeat or only temporary setbacks?

In high school I went through a series of trials and depression that was extremely difficult for me, my parents got me a talk on tape that spoke on persistence and diligence and keeping on trying. The speaker read 2 Peter 1:4-8,10:

  • Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
  • And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ….

10 Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:”

And that last “fall” he said, imagine that as “fail.” Basically, be diligent or keep trying and you shall never fail. And then the kicker: “I’m not judged by the number of times that I fail, but by the number of times that I succeed, and the number of times that I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times that I fail, but keep trying.” We only really fail if we’ve given up and then only for as long as we continue to give up. We only fail to become pianists by giving up on our daily practice regimen. We only fail to become Celestial by giving up on our daily “learning Heaven” regimen of Gospel living.

Brother Wilcox puts this beautifully and so I will quote from his words:

“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?

 Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.

 There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace.

 There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it.

The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.

I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, “Well, I’ve blown it. There is no use in even trying any more.” Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don’t understand grace.

 I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace.

 In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No.

Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).

 My wife and I are trying to teach my daughter the piano. We’ve employed a piano teacher and we have implemented the conditions of practice and we’ve resorted to all sorts of various kinds of external motivations to ensure that that practicing occurs. But I will tell you one challenge that my daughter is having to overcome, and that is her own unrealistic expectations regarding her abilities to play the piano perfectly or at least very well without first putting in the time to practice. This has made me realize that when our expectations our misaligned with our abilities, we cause ourselves grief. I feel that this is important enough to repeat: when our expectations our misaligned with our abilities, we cause ourselves grief. I have heard this concept referred to as our stories. When the stories we tell ourselves are not true stories that reflect how things actually are, we cause ourselves grief. There are two ways to remedy this situation to relieve our grief: to adjust our expectations or change the stories we tell ourselves in order to match our abilities—or to change our abilities and the way things are.

Sometimes it is our stories/expectations that are off, other times we really just need to improve our abilities and change the way things are. Sometimes it may be a mix of both that is necessary.

When Heavenly Father thought up his Plan of Happiness, as a part of that, from the very beginning He knew this would require a Savior. He knew that we would make mistakes AND He knew that we would sin. And even now, we’re all going to make more mistakes in the future and we are going to sin in the future. So He provided a way for us to get over those and He defined and taught a process, repentance, that could and will change us gradually over time to become like Him. And then He gave us the power to act, the power to choose. And while He does want us to become like Him and He wants our ultimate, eventual perfection, He does not want us worrying about it to the point that the fear of imperfection paralyzes us (for which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his statute?) (Matt. 6:27). In this scripture, the Lord tells his disciples to go out into the mission field and not worry about purse or scrip and that the Lord will provide. In our efforts for implementing positive change in our own lives we should likewise be quick to choose to act, to move forward, quick to do.

Slight Edge

I recently read a book called The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. The gist of the book was basically the concept that is taught in Alma 37:6: “By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass.” The idea being that small, simple easy-to-do things compounded over time leads to greatness and happiness and success. If this is the case, then why don’t so many people do these small, simple, easy-to-do things? Because if something is simple and easy-to-do, it’s also easy- not-to-do. For example, it’s easy to read at least a scripture a day, it’s also easy not to do this.

But over a period of years, the practice of daily scripture reading can make a world of difference in one’s spiritual development and knowledge of the scriptures. If we’ve chosen to do the easy- to-do, but easy-not-to-do things and read our scriptures daily then we’ll have reaped the compounded benefits of this daily practice. But if we haven’t then we’ll have missed out on the compounded, consistent benefits. The problem is that initially the easy-to-do, simple, small things may start out as slightly uncomfortable or slightly inconvenient, while the easy-not-to-do things require no such effort. However, following the easy-not-to-do path over time leads to regret and greater discomfort, while the easy-to-do, but slightly uncomfortable efforts over time lead to greater comfort freedom, happiness, and success. One last example, it’s easy not to eat healthy and to not exercise and initially is probably more comfortable, but compounded over time this will lead to great discomfort in obesity and related health problems. However, if one starts with an easy effort to do just one small thing to exercise or increase movement and healthy eating and then compounds this daily effort over time, then that person will eventually be healthy, trim, and more comfortable. Each of us faces each day with choices, one choice compounded over time leads to unhappiness, the other to happiness. “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

If up ‘til now we’ve been traveling the road most traveled by, each day we get to choose anew. That’s what’s great about the atonement and grace. We can repent. We can change, we can acknowledge mistakes and start again. Repent and we’re not judged by the number of times that we fail, but by the number of times that we succeed, and the number of times that we succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times that we fail, but keep trying! And as we’re successful in keeping trying, in practicing and learning Heaven, and doing the simple, easy-to-do efforts that may be slightly inconvenient or uncomfortable but that improve our lives, over time we’ll find that these small, simple things have brought great positive changes to our lives. We only truly fail when we’ve stopped trying or we’ve put off trying until it’s too late. And if you’re human and breathing, you can change and it’s not too late.

Are you feeling like you’re failing? Are you feeling like you’ve just made too many mistakes? Do you have a sin that you keep going back to again and again? Do you feel bad when you keep praying and asking forgiveness for the same thing? Have walls gone up in your marriage? In the words of Winston Churchill, “never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” Don’t give up! Do you understand grace? Are two roads diverging in a yellow wood in your life? Take the one less traveled by! It will make all the difference!

We’ve talked about mistakes, about sin, about failure, and about grace. But what is success? Again I quote from Brad Wilcox’s talk:

In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.

 Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”

 Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it.

 But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.”

 The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there.

 And that is success. To have used grace and practiced and learned Heaven by doing the easy-to- do, but also easy-not-to-do, daily gospel efforts compounded over time until we’ve changed and we feel at home in our home in Heaven. And then when our time to go does come, it will not matter if the funeral home makes a mistake and sends us flowers that read, “Congratulations on your new location!”

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

How I made journaling a habit and use it to improve my life

#HashtagJournaling

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September 19, 2015. This is the day that I started journaling on my phone. I’d kept a journal before. In the past I had done so in an actual, physical journal. I’d had some cool ones. One had a Japanese bonsai tree theme– an orange, open bound style book. I did OK with this before I was married and in college. But ultimately my hand would either start hurting from writing so much, or I would get frustrated that it would take so long to get my thoughts down on paper. So I switched to typing my journal. This worked OK as well. I used My Publisher for a while and even printed out and bound a year of my journal. The problem here was that My Publisher’s processor for typing couldn’t keep up with me.That’s not a compliment to me, that’s more of a diss against My Publisher. If I didn’t use My Publisher and tried to just type on a Word document, then I’d need to keep my journal documents organized in some location–which never happened.  This method of journaling also had the difficulty in that I felt like I needed to sit down at a computer to write in my journal and I didn’t always have a computer with me when it was convenient to journal. Hence, I didn’t journal as often as I would have liked.

Sometime in September of 2015 I came across a friend from church who was using a simple, free note taking app for keeping a journal. I was intrigued and thought that I would try it out. I looked on the app store for the best journaling apps and ended up deciding on a different app. The app I chose cost a couple bucks, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s been money well spent.

I chose Day One. Day One allows you to easily type in an entry. You can add a photo if you want. You can do voice entries. It documents the date and time of the entry and even includes the weather. One thing I’ve really enjoyed is the use of hashtags in my journaling.

January 28, 2016, I finished reading Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage (great book, I highly recommend it. Take Home Message: Happiness is less about peoples’ circumstances and more what they think about their circumstances). Since then, I’ve used the hashtag #3GoodThings and have sought to write down 3 Good Things that happened that day. Perhaps its something I’m grateful for or maybe it’s just something awesome that happened that day.

Then I read an article from Henry B. Eyring and he mentioned that he had started trying to notice the hand of God in his life. So, I’ve also sought to notice the hand of God in my life and document it in my journal with #GodsHand.

But perhaps my favorite hashtag has been #FindTheFunny. I listened to David Nihil’s book, “Do you talk funny?” And decided that I needed to look for and document the funny that happens in my life. I wanted to do this so that I would remember these times, but also because I wanted to share them when I speak in public or just to share funny stories with my friends.

Here’s one I’ll share here:

One night after a Christmas concert at my son’s school, my son Wyatt (8 years old) was explaining who in his class spoke other languages, “So-and-so speaks Russian and so does someone or other. Adekami and I are the only ones who can speak Spanish besides counting (that was news to me 🙂 ).” And then as though he didn’t want me to think that he’d been outdone, he remarked, “And Gio and I are the only ones in the class that can speak Minion.” #FindTheFunny

I love it! It’s pretty cool to be able to just search through all my journal entries by hashtag and read all the funny occurrences that have happened.

Since I’ve started I’ve made 414 entries on 332 different days! I’m keeping a journal again.

Best of luck in your #HashtagJournaling!