I hate to move. I hate change. When change is coming or we have to move, which we do often, I have developed the habit of praying and asking God to show me why I had to make the move. What would I get from it? Once, the Holy Ghost told me I had ancestors in the place I was moving to. I protested and He said, “Go look.” (Wow! An ordinary sort of conversation with Him!) I did, and there they were. I had a great time for the few years we were there, tracking them down and getting to stand where they had stood. More often, I was told God needed me to do something for someone there—often a Primary child He wanted me to teach.
One day, however, I was frustrated. I absolutely did not want to leave the ward I was in, a soothing ward I had badly needed when we arrived. I struggled with the entire idea and began going to the temple once a week with my friend, who was a temple worker. After my session, I’d spend quiet time alone, praying about the move.
Despite all this, I was not getting an answer. One day, at home, I prayed in a rather upset tone, “You aren’t answering me. What am I going to get from this move?” The words entered into my mind, so clearly it was as if I could hear the Holy Ghost’s own voice. “It’s not always about you.”
I was stunned. Although the tone had been loving, I felt as though I’d been firmly scolded. The Holy Ghost had never talked to me that way before. I couldn’t decide whether to be offended or humbled. After a while, I decided humbled was the better path. As I thought about that response in the days following, I realized I had become rather self-centered in my requests for information. Although I always tried to word it the way I thought God wanted me to by asking if there was someone there I could help, I had not been asking unselfishly. I had really been asking, “What’s in it for me?” I knew the callings He sometimes prepared me for were things I loved to do and that I was looking for reassurance my personal life would be better in the new place.
But sometimes life isn’t about me. Sometimes, the move is for someone else in the family. Sometimes, someone else will benefit from something that happens to me. It may be something good for me or it may not. I may lose out on something I wanted to do because someone else needed it more than I did. Possibly my being somewhere or doing something would make life harder for another person so I needed to leave. Maybe I was needed to do something I didn’t want to do, but that someone else needed me to do for them.
Over time, I have reminded myself often that everything in life isn’t about me. God sees the big picture in a way I cannot. He has to juggle the needs of every person who will ever live and the needs of the gospel and that means sometimes what we want can’t be the priority.
I’ve come to apply this to the gospel as a whole, as well. I admit, sometimes there are things in the gospel I would like to be different. There are some commandments I would love to see not be in place. I would be happy if somehow all you had to do to get to the Celestial Kingdom was to read.
I don’t always understand why God sees things the way He does, or why He makes the choices He does. I have come to realize I don’t have to understand all the time. I’d like to—I am not a person who likes to guess. But sometimes, maybe it’s even good for me not to know. Maybe I need to learn how to accept something without knowing why I have to. Just maybe…that’s what is best for me in the eternal scheme of things.
I trust God. Trust hasn’t come easily for me, but over the many years since I joined the Church as a teenager, I have learned to trust God. Often the times I was most sure He was wrong turned out to have the most powerful lessons in why He was right. I have come to a place in my life where, if I am really uneasy with a doctrine or even a practice, I pray. Instead of coming to the prayer with a request that He back up my preferences, or feeling that longing in my heart, I have learned to come with a really open heart. I have learned to say, “I don’t understand. Help me, as I study, to find out what the answer is. Help me to get it.” Sometimes I get a personal understanding of the doctrine or situation I don’t understand, and sometimes I don’t—but I always get reassurance that it is as God planned it.
I can live with that—and I’d be too scared to live any other way. I don’t want to rule the world anymore. I want God in control.
I never expected to become inactive, but I allowed it to happen. I was in college, and I had taught in the Nursery and then the Sunbeams two years in a row. That was almost three years of being in Primary right out of High School. I loved it, but the last year and a half, I had been going to church for about five hours each Sunday. I’d teach two hours in my home ward, and then go to the Young Single Adult ward. My close friends went to school one and three hours away. I was shy and almost every week, sometimes even from the same people, I’d get reintroduced. “Are you new here?” It became insulting. But that still isn’t what caused me to become inactive.
I met a non-member young man that I believe I settled for. I hadn’t had anyone show any interest in me, even at church dances and activities. I wanted a date! I had never had one. So, it started with an innocent comment, and then it became a relationship. I chose to be with him, instead of being at church. It was like I threw my beliefs out the window. In hindsight, I can’t believe I’d lost so much faith in myself to not have stayed on the straight and narrow.
Time passed and we eloped in Vegas, not telling anybody, including our friends. We eventually moved to Utah to be with my parents as his family was moving and it would have been too far to travel to our jobs at that time. We had also determined that the cost of living in Utah was much less compared to California. I went to church part of the time, and he attended a few times. After we had our twin boys, which were a surprise pregnancy, almost upon arrival to Utah, he refused to come to their blessing. I took that hard. To me, that meant, he would never become a member of the church. Not that I wanted to force him into it, but I was sad that window was closed.
I often found that when I wanted to attend church, something always came up. It was frustrating. I wanted so much to find my old self again. My love for the church never went away; I believe it was just buried deep inside. I had great faith in blessings and prayer, even tithing! I often times in my darkest hours have cried out unto the Lord and begged for forgiveness and peace. I had learned years before to always humble yourself before each prayer. At those times, I had certainly humbled myself. I was but a meek child asking my Father for forgiveness for things I knew was wrong. I was taught the values, I believed them, but I was a hypocrite unto myself.
I was able to attend church for a time, but then found another young man, years after my first divorce, that was a member. I’ll state this right now; my first non-member husband had a better grasp on religion than this person. Yet again, I followed the same pattern. The physical pain and mental anguish this man has caused me and my family is something I relive nearly every day. I still cry unto the Lord to bless me with peace and comfort. I don’t know why, yet I am unable to get over this. Sadly I am not the only one. Perhaps I still need time. I have begun piecing together a few things, and by attending church and reading the scriptures, it has helped to put things into perspective.
I sometimes feel like I have failed. I have failed my parents, my children, my Father in Heaven. My self-worth has been next to nothing a few times. But one thing remains the same; I know my Heavenly Father loves me. I know that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). He has given us the Atonement to repent for our failures, or shortcomings. It’s never too late to start on our path back to righteousness. He is there to guide you. He has given us so many tools to help us come back to Him. Of course the fewer detours you have, the less of a trek it is on your way back. If you know you need direction, humble yourself and discuss it with Him. I know from experience, that He is always there to listen. Even when you feel as though you have failed him.
“If we repent and accept correction, these experiences will allow us to humble ourselves, change our actions, and once again draw closer to Heavenly Father.” Elder Claudio D. Zivic, April 2014 Conference Talk
A life long member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have forgotten how many times I have begun to read the Book of Mormon. Consequently, Nephi and his family have a very dear place in my heart. With a family full of brothers of my own, it is easy for me to imagine the daily life of Lehi and his family.
As in most stories, the reader often follows with interest the path of the main character, while the supporting cast of foils and antagonists often fall into the shadows. And rightly so, for who would choose Laman and Lemuel as heroes over Nephi? Nephi was such a great guy, he even got a sequel.
But are there still lessons to be learned from a study of Laman and Lemuel, two supporting characters vying for the role of villain of the year?
Laman and Lemuel aren’t just the customary bad guys, relegated to the role of stock character villians. There is a depth to their characters that is often overlooked, yet relevant to our own lives and to our relationships with others and with our Savior, Jesus Christ.
A LOT LIKE US
Like most of us, Laman and Lemuel, in the beginning of the first book of Nephi, are casually going about daily life. Life is good. It is convenient. And it is comfortable. Isn’t that how most of us want our lives to be? We hear nothing about Laman and Lemuel murmuring or complaining at this point in their lives.
However, when disaster strikes (in their opinion), in the form of their very vocal father and younger brother, suddenly their comfortable existance is shaken up. Their very reputations hang on the line as Lehi and Nephi share their very socially unacceptable opinions.
Think of it now. You are a well-to do member in your community. Well-loved and respected, you are involved in many facets of social life. Perhaps you run a successful business, are a member of the school board, or volunteer at the library. How do you feel when your dad and younger brother share their out-dated feelings within that comfortable space? And then proceed to judge and discredit your friends?
How do you feel when your friends and associates gossip and belittle those closest to you? Do you fear for your own reputation? Will it be sullied by your close connections?
Should you seek to find out what your family says is true? But what if it shatters your quality of life?
When put this way, it is easy to understand Laman and Lemuel’s level of discomfort. They want life to remain the same. They cannot forsee how it could get any better than this. They can only see how things could get drastically worse.
Because, for Laman and Lemuel and the rest of us, we do not share the same perspective as our Father in Heaven. We cannot forsee how, through discomfort and discord, things could get better. We can only see how the plot could thicken. For Laman and Lemuel to accept what Lehi and Nephi prophesed to be true, it would take a huge leap of faith.
Leave your comfortable home and go sleep in a tent in the middle of nowhere? Check.
Leave behind your beloved collection of treasured items? Check.
Leave behind friends and associates? Check.
Leave behind all modern conveniences and wi-fi? Check.
If someone asked this of us nowadays, we might consider them mentally unstable.
For, who in their right mind, would turn their back on all that modern society has to offer and venture off into an uncertain future?
Honestly, no one that I know.
And as I sit here contemplating myself this huge responsibility, I cannot say for certain what I would do. Ah, but then it hits me. There is one act alone that sets Nephi apart from Laman and Lemuel. And one act alone.
Honest. Heartfelt. Prayer.
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: We have not, for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.”
(1 Nephi 15:8-9)
WHAT KEEPS US FROM PRAYER?
What is it that kept Laman and Lemuel from prayer? And I’m not talking about your average prayer on the food that can be uttered in 5 seconds flat before the food gets cold kind of prayer, or the kind that ends with you face down and a puddle of drool adorning your pillow at the end of the day.
I am talking about the kind of prayer that leaves your soul gutted and sobbing. The kind that finds you on your knees and begging the Lord if he is really really there.
In an article entitled Laman and Lemuel: A Case Study in “Not Becoming”, Micheal A. Goodman gives four weakness exhibited by Laman and Lemuel that drive them away from this one game-changing factor—prayer.
So here goes, lets analyze this list.
Let us not doubt for a moment that Laman and Lemuel were great men. Great worldly men, that is. If Nephi was learned in the langauge and writing of his father, you can bet, that as the older brother and heir to all that his father had, Laman was just as on top of things. Lemuel too. They were leaders in society, and they knew it.
What they lacked was humility.
They could not understand why God would communicate to their father and their younger brother, and not with them directly. They refused to admit that they might not be adequately prepared for personal revelation. And in so doing they chose not to inquire of the Lord.
I have always thought it most telling that, when faced with the dilemma of rescuing the Brass plates from Laban’s clutches, Laman and Lemuel’s mind turns to gold. Like calls to like, and they know that Laban’s interests would be peaked in exchanging the Brass plates for riches.
And why not, they would probably do the same.
When our focus remains on our treasured collection of worldly goods, it is hard for us to see beyond to the what-if’s. If we are scared of losing what we have now, we keep our spirit bound and our perspective blunted. We fail to recognize the blessings that come to us that are not of a worldy or material nature.
And by not recognizing those blessings, we fail to see the Lord’s hand in our lives. It becomes hard to pray when we cannot “see” the reason for it.
It is all too easy to play the victim. Laman and Lemuel had that role down to an art. Why is it that, when hunting for food in the wilderness and their weapons break, they round on Nephi and blame him? Had they not ruined their own chances for survival too? Was not Laman the eldest brother, a status that he held most dear? The responsibility should have fallen to him to solve the problem. And yet, we read that it was Nephi who took himself apart from the camp, into the darkness, and sought out divine revelation through prayer.
Laman and Lemuel opted to remain at camp, surrounded by the glow and warmth of the fire, to grumble and complain and blame.
Sometimes, do we find ourselves unwilling to put forth the effort that would enable the Lord to bless us? It is not that God will make the path easier, it is that he will help us bare the uneasy path. He will give us the courage to face what we would rather not face.
Not understanding this keeps us from prayer when we need it the most.
Let’s face it, not many people take criticism well. So can we really blame Laman and Lemuel for acting like everyone else? No one wants to be told that their actions are less than impressive, even when the assessment is true.
Sometimes our ‘righteous’ anger stands in our way of changing for the better. We feel as though we have been wronged, and not done wrong. Therefore, there is no need to pray for forgiveness, right?
Responding negatively to each and every “helpful” comment, whether utterly false or unfortunately true, and not turning the other cheek erodes our self-control. We begin to feel like it is our right to mete out judgement and that can escalate if we are not careful.
Just count how many times Laman and Lemuel tried to kill Nephi in their journeys, ultimately leading to fruitless wars and loss of life later on in the Book of Mormon.
KNOW IT TO BE TRUE
And so it is in our day too. Heartfelt and honest soul-wearying prayer can dispell much of the confusion we are faced with today. The answers to our prayers may not always be to our liking. Although Nephi and Lehi submitted to leaving all that they knew behind, it is entirely possible that they did not like the idea of actually having to go. The difference was, they had gained their testimony through prayer and they knew it to be true.
It could have all been different. If only Laman and Lemuel had sought the Lord in prayer they could have gained a testimony for themselves that the words of a prophet were true. But they let pride, worldliness, slothfulness, and anger stand in their way of obtaining unshakeable knowledge. It was this climactic point in their story that led to their ultimate downfall.
But it doesn’t have to be ours. If you have questions, doubts, concerns, seek out the author—God himself. Who knows, you might find a deus ex machina ending of your very own.
We all want to change people. Sometimes it’s a passing feeling, but most frequently it starts to invade our lives…a desperate desire to change someone we love.
Having been married over 20 years and with 10 children, I have learned a few things about how to change people.
1. The Tevye principal
The Tevye principal comes from the movie Fiddler on the Roof. When Tevye has a problem with himself, he struggles to change. When he has a problem with others…he prays. Then he chooses again and again to leave it in God’s hands.
Because nothing works. Perhaps this isn’t what you expected for a “how to” column. But it is true. Absolutely nothing works. Nothing. We cannot change anyone else. It’s impossible. The sooner we accept that the better.
The only person we can change is ourselves. Start there. Change yourself. Change your desire to change other people! Focus on what you need to do. We all know our own weaknesses. It’s not easy and we have plenty to do. It’s the beam in our own eye. It’s a way to recognize just how hard it is to change. Sometimes we attempt to change other people to avoid facing our own complex issues. It is easier to focus on the tiny part of the iceberg we see, instead of the iceberg under the water we know about ourselves.
Nothing works. Only God and that individual can work out change. Focus on changing yourself and leave everything else in God’s hands. He created the world, he can handle this.
2. Lean in to your own inspiring mission.
Do not try to inspire others…just lean in to your own mission, your own unique purpose in life.
Sometimes we use our desire to fix others as an excuse to stop doing the hard, wonderful things we need to do. To fix other people’s lives we can pretend one comment on the internet is enough, or a conversation. To lean into our own mission we may need everything we have and are. We may need our free time, our play time, our pride and our attitudes…all to be sacrificed. We may need to make some massive decisions and changes.
It may put us out of our comfort zone. It may not be what we anticipated your life to be like. It may not be popular. But it will be amazing. You are an adult, do the hard, right thing, not the easy thing.
3. Learn to love people as they are.
Sometimes when we begin our missions, we feel a bit lonely. We wish people would join us. We wish people would start working on their own missions.
Focus on the good. If it’s your husband focus on why you fell in love in the first place. Focus on every positive thing they do. Choose to fall in love again. Forgive them. Let them work out their lives with God, just as you need to. Love them because God already does, and he knows more about them than you do.
If it’s your child, catch them being good. Most children do what their parents notice. If they are acting out for attention, give them attention for good. Look hard for any little thing they do right. Anything. Not to make them do it more, but because they are amazing people doing wonderful things. Try to understand them. Consider how drastically different they may be than you. Love them as they are. Reconsider their interests, even the things you don’t like. Find some common ground.
I know it’s difficult. I know watching someone make choices that may be devastating and lasting in their lives is so it’s heartbreaking. I know some choices made so early can be so life changing. I know it hurts so much.
We will all only be able to work out our lives with God. Nothing else works. Love is our best option for putting them in a place in which they may change. Love is our best option for feeling peace and hope ourselves. Love is our best option for recognizing what God really feels for those around us.
I find it fascinating that Jesus heals the blind and the lepers, He walks on water, He fed 5,000. He fixed people throughout his life. BUT He left people be until they wanted to change. His disciples made countless mistakes. He let them. His parents made mistakes. He honored them. He even left Judas to be…Judas. He loved him anyway.
All of us have baggage. Things we learned from our family or our culture that aren’t good. Some of these behaviors or attitudes have been passed down from parent to child for generations. How do you change something that seems to be in your dna, your earliest memories and infused through your life. How do you become a cycle breaker?
Babies and bathwater
It can be very difficult when we discover that someone who is meant to love us has also treated us horribly or taught us horribly for years. Perhaps the very culture and community we live in has given us an awful concept of what should be. When we face this reality there is a mourning process. First denial then anger. Sometimes in that anger phase we throw out everything. The good with the bad. It is too painful and too difficult to separate thread by thread what is wrong and what is right. We frequently, at least initially throw the baby out with the bathwater. If in the stress and instability of the moment we cannot emotionally systematically analyze the situation, at least give it space and time. Try not to speak or act in black and white ways. Let it be.
How we react under stress
Just as we are attempting to change our behavior, we also find ourselves completely unmoored. We are under a lot of stress. When we are stressed we tend to do what we are used to and what we have experienced, NOT what we know is right. We do this no matter how much we know it’s right. Be patient with yourself until your new knowledge becomes a part of you enough that it spills out into your behavior. Let yourself slowly slowly change. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes. It does not mean you are stuck forever.
Somehow we assume that we can suddenly handle emotional whiplash. We think we can flip years of experience on it’s head in an instant. We feel horrible for all of the years we have lived the only way we knew how. In our new state we start assuming we should suddenly be perfect. In this process we compare ourselves with the teensy bit we know about other people. Maybe it’s their Facebook page, or the 5 minutes we see them at church. We think we know. We think that we should be able to compare our worst in a stressful formative situation with pintrist. Stop. Do NOT measure too early. If you can, don’t measure at all.
Guilt over ripples
When we are facing our past selves and our past we start to notice all of the effects of our past behavior we feel guilt in spades. We see in our children waves of behavior from our influence.
Trust that you and your ability to change are an incredible example. An example your children will need always. The humility, fragility and honesty of changing are beautiful. They are painful. They are lonely and difficult but your children will have moments in which they will have to change in some way. The hope that you will have given them in your courage to try is overwhelming. Let God heal your children. Let Him be their perfect example. Let your apology and willingness to change stand for itself.
Do not assume you can reinvent the wheel by yourself today
When you are in the process of completely adjusting the way you see the world and how you act in it, it takes time. Yes that’s really frustrating. You are mountain climbing on the inside. That takes work. Lots of work. Years of work. There will be progress. You cannot change generations of foundation in an instant. You may have to pull up mountains of ivy to plant cherry trees. It will take decades before you see fruit. Great decisions are not measured in minutes but in eons. Much of your work, after the initial destruction will be unseen. You will be hesitant to borrow from other systems and families and cultures. You are already doing many good things. What you have done brought you where you are. You will continue to grow and change and progress. Just as you can’t throw away everything about your culture and your family…don’t throw away yourself. Love the people where you are today.
Enjoy the view
Cycle breakers amaze me. They tend to be idealistic and in that they can be very hard on themselves. With all of their mountain climbing they tend to focus hopefully on the future and sometimes get discouraged. Instead of enjoying their progress and taken a few moments to enjoy the view from where they are, they see the seemingly endless slope ahead of them. Stop. Be in the moment. The imperfect, incomplete moment.
Jesus Christ has risen today! Let me share a story of how I was raised from spiritual death.
Putting Our Trust in the Savior
We were a new congregation and I was asked to be the leader for the teenage girls’ organization. The Bishopric (what we call our local clergy over the congregation, consisting of a Bishop and two counselors) held a “Getting to Know You” fireside for the youth and their new leaders. In concluding the evening, the Bishop surprised me by calling me up to help demonstrate the concept of trust. He blindfolded me then asked me to fall straight backwards without bending my knees—he promised he would catch me. He and the leaders then began to joke. “Maybe you should move the end-table so she doesn’t hit her head.” “Quiet, or she’ll hear the Bishop sneak out.” “This is a plush carpet—she should be fine.” The kids found this quite amusing, but I was terrified.
While many people I know have been involved in trust-building activities in the past, I had not. I learned early on to trust only myself when it came to matters in life. Even as I gained a love for the Savior and I knew in my heart that we should “trust Him”, I never had to rely on that depth of trust in a live situation—until now.
In darkness, I froze with fear. Ridiculous thoughts kept running through my head—what if the Bishop doesn’t mean it? What if he won’t catch me? Then my head began to spin with crazy notions of spiritual symbolism, like falling away from the Savior or falling into a pit of emptiness never to be found. The kids were getting impatient with me, (“Come on, do it already!”) and it made my heart race faster. They’re mocking me, now, I thought.
I tried to fall—but it didn’t count, the Bishop said. I bent my knees. He made me do it again while everyone encouraged me to go for it. I locked my knees, spread my arms and let go. It felt like time had stopped, sound had ceased, and I was giving up the ghost. Then time resumed as I felt myself drop into his arms and he guided me gently to the carpet. I think people were cheering, but I couldn’t hear them. I took off the blindfold, looked up at my smiling Bishop and never again thought about falling in the same way.
No one wants to be vulnerable. Ever. To be vulnerable means you are weak, to admit you can’t do “it” on your own—whatever “it” is. Women especially hate to appear weak because that implies they are powerless and can be abused or controlled. If you are a woman who has ever been subjected to dominance, you especially fear vulnerability. A side effect of this fear is independence, which is good. But another side-effect is mistrust, which is not good at all—especially if you don’t trust the person who has the power and authority to save you.
I was profoundly affected by this little object lesson, probably more so than the youth. I stood face to face with a spiritual mistrust I didn’t even realize I had—a mistrust of the redemptive power of the Savior. I knew of His love, His miracles, His sacrifice and resurrection, all for humanity’s sake, but I didn’t believe His redemptive power was enough for me. I still thought I had to do “it” on my own. In this case, the “it” stood for saving myself.
Which ladder are you climbing?
Remember the parable of the man and the ladder from several weeks ago? The man was Christ and the ladder was the Atonement. The two planks of the ladder represented what He did for us—how He saved us from sin and death. The rungs represented what we do for Him—following the laws and ordinances of the gospel—in order to make it out of the pit and back to His presence again. As I looked back over my struggle with the trust activity, I realized I had been climbing up the wrong ladder.
Have you ever gotten on the wrong ladder? It may have the same two planks—what Christ did for us—but the rungs are all wrong. My rungs were based on my own independence, my own desire to save myself, my unwillingness to be vulnerable to the Lord. Pride in thinking I can save myself left no room for humility. Suspicion of others who say they are there for me left me alone—even void of the spirit. Being too independent, liberated from assistance when aid was most needed, left me in a state of helplessness—the very thing I feared most.
There are many ladders out there with the wrong rungs. The ladder of popularity, for instance is one. Do you do your good works to be seen of man rather than God? Christ warned of this when he described the hypocrites who prayed in public.
What about the ladder of keeping up appearances—when you think doing “good works” means doing “every good work known to mankind, all day long, every day, without rest”? This is a particularly destructive ladder. When you are on it, you don’t realize you are burning yourself out rather quickly. I know women who have left their faith because they were on this ladder so long; they thought they could never live up to impossible standards of perfection. They misunderstood—they were on the wrong ladder.
The rungs on the right ladder—Christ’s ladder—are meant to cleanse, purify, and bring you closer to the Savior. If your rungs are causing you to compare, compete, or become encumbered, you are on the wrong ladder. Unhealthy comparisons make for a divided congregation, family, and self. Repentance and the laws of the gospel are designed to heal, comfort, strengthen, and ultimately move us up the ladder to our heavenly home.
Today is Easter. All the Christian world is celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. I invite you to take a moment and reflect on your beliefs. If you believe in Christ, if you believe He is who He says He is, if you believe He has the power to save you, then will you let Him? Will you look down at the ladder you’re on? If you are on the wrong ladder, will you trust Him to catch you when you step off and fall back into His arms?
Let this Easter be the starting point in your journey to trust Him again.
“How do you repay someone who saves your life? You never forget him.”
I have often thought of those who’ve been saved from a burning building or any other perilous situation. How do they repay their hero? Of course they are grateful, but no amount of money could ever be sufficient. Unless they follow their hero around for the rest of their lives in order to be there at the exact time he might need saving, they can never repay their champion fully. One story I heard involving a mountain climbing expedition where a hiker was saved by one of his fellow mountaineers was related in this way. The hiker said, “You never forget him.”
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” As the Third Article of Faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I consider this a two-way covenant. The first half outlines what our Savior promises to do—to save us through His sacrifice, mercy and grace. The second half is our part—to be obedient to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Some may wonder if this means we are instruments in our own salvation. I would rather think of it as a debt of gratitude to an otherwise unrecompensable act of mercy. Or more simply put, a way to never forget Him.
There is no question in the heart and mind of every true follower of Christ that the atoning sacrifice He made for all mankind was the most supreme act of saving grace. The question does arise, however as to whether or not mankind must do something in return for this gift. It is obvious that we cannot repay the Savior—what He did was something no one else could have accomplished. But does He expect anything from us in return? I believe the Bible points to numerous examples of what He asks of us. A prophet and apostle of the Lord in these latter days, Dallin H. Oaks, stated it this way. “We receive God’s grace because of the Atonement. We can’t raise ourselves from the dead, so the Resurrection is an example of His grace. We can’t purify ourselves from sin, so the Lord’s forgiveness is another example of grace. But before He will forgive us, we must repent—that’s our part, our works.
“Besides repentance, our works also include receiving ordinances, keeping covenants, and serving others. While these works are necessary for salvation, they aren’t sufficient. They are not enough because we can’t live perfect lives, but we can do our best to live righteously. By doing so, we invite the Lord’s grace into our lives and qualify for the gift of salvation.” (March 2005 Ensign)
A Christian author, C. S. Lewis, compared grace and works to the blades of a pair of scissors. Both are necessary. To ask “Are you saved by grace or works?” is like asking “Do you cut with this blade or that one?” We need both blades to make a perfect cut. So as the Lord provides the grace of His atoning sacrifice, we show Him our dedication through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel—a two-way covenant.
No one can comprehend the suffering Christ had experienced both in Gethsemane and on the cross. It is a debt we cannot possibly repay. But like those who have experienced the heroic acts of being rescued from a burning building by a fire fighter or from the grips of a terrorist by a soldier, something changes inside of you when you realize you’ve been saved. You are not the same person you once were. You value your life much more because you have faced death more closely. You never forget your rescuer. You do not look at life the same anymore because of the perspective you have been given. And I would venture to say, you make wiser choices in your everyday life based on your change of heart.
So, too, does a true convert to Jesus Christ have a change of heart, and thus a change of behavior. To become truly converted to Jesus Christ requires that depth of change. To feel an eternal bond that connects your spirit to His is a life-altering experience. Ask anyone who has felt the promptings of the Holy Ghost testify to them of the forgiving power of the Savior’s atonement, the truthfulness of the restored gospel, the saving grace of His mercy and love. Their experiences are personal and undeniable. They are as real to them as the act of being physically saved by a fire fighter or a soldier. More so, even, because the saving power of Christ is eternal.
It is only natural to want to give back to the person who saved your life. In the case of Jesus Christ, we could not possibly make up for what He did. But we don’t have to. He only requires we remember Him in small ways. His life was an example of how we should live—we can remember Him by being more like Him. He demonstrated how we should act—what manner of men or women we should be—even as He is. He led by example in His teachings. His parables were stories of how we should treat our brothers. If He did not mean for us to change our ways, why would He have spent three years of His life in ministry teaching repentance, forgiveness, kindness, and to keep the commandments of God? He even received baptism—a remission of sins—when He had never sinned at all. He was baptized out of obedience, not necessity. He knew baptism was an ordinance that was required for salvation, and so he complied with this ordinance.
In comparison to what He did for us, the Savior does not require much. And when we think how He gave His life for us, the least we can do is remember Him. His end of the covenant was the hard part. Ours is easy—it’s also renewable, each Sunday when we partake of the sacrament. We promise to always remember Him, so that we can have His spirit to be with us. What a beautiful gift He gives us, one we can deeply appreciate if we truly have a change of heart.
“Get on the ladder—otherwise the parable goes nowhere” - the Atonement - Part Three
We have been engaged in a parable of sorts, one that involves a lone man and a ladder. You can catch the details from the last two blogs of Morning Devotional. But here’s the main point: the parable is about the Atonement of Christ and how we are saved.
Last week we saw in the parable that one man alone had the proper ladder. He lowered it from above and climbed down to help us up. Christ is the one man and the ladder is a symbolic representation of His atoning sacrifice and ultimate resurrection. The ladder has two long planks, each of equal importance; each representing what Christ did when he partook of the Atonement.
The Importance of the Two Planks
The first plank represents the suffering he went through for each of us, both in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. The weight of all the sorrows, sufferings, sins, and pain of mankind pressed on Him for three hours during the night before His crucifixion. It caused Him to bleed from every pore. And yet he survived. He was the only one who could have, being divine in nature from His Father in Heaven. And the reason for this suffering? So that our weak and mortal bodies would not have to go through the agony. We would not have survived it. He was divine, he had the added strength and help from above. And his flawless life made Him the only one qualified to endure.
The second plank represents his ability to overcome death. While Christ had the power to remain alive, He was willing to lay down His life. He suffered on the cross for three hours before he gave up the ghost. This He did so that He could take up His life again for our sake, which He did when after three days in the tomb, His spirit was reunited with His body and He became a perfected being. Mary was the first to witness this event. She came to His tomb on the morning of the third day to dress and care for his body. She was met by an angel who told her He had risen. She was the first of many to witness the resurrected Savior. He visited His twelve apostles, ate with them, and allowed them to feel the wounds in His hands and feet so they knew of a surety that He had indeed overcame the sins, suffering, and mortality of the world.
We Must Climb the Ladder One Rung at a Time
This is the story of the Atonement. But our story with the ladder is left unfinished. We last saw the entire human race down in the pit with their Savior and the ladder. The people knew this man was the only one with the right ladder to save them. But what good is the correct ladder if you won’t start to climb?
Taking a step on the first rung of the ladder is an act of faith. We are taking his word for it at this point. How can we be sure? Sometimes we need to act in faith before a witness of truth can be seen. The first rung is faith—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith that He is who He says He is. Faith that He will do what He says He will do. We may not have much to go by, but we can exercise faith, for at least one step. And that’s where the miracle begins.
We see He is there with us, right behind us, guiding our steps. If we are injured He helps us along the way. Some people are too weak to make it on their own. That’s alright. He will carry us when we need it. He does this for each and every one of us.
Now it’s your turn to get on the ladder. Do you hesitate or do you take the leap of faith and begin the climb? Christ is there for you just as he had been for the others. Your heart softens and you take another step onto the next rung—the rung of repentance.
I don’t know how anyone can begin the climb toward our heavenly home and not stop to give gratitude to our Savior who provides the way. If it were not for his suffering, we would never make it. If it were not for His crucifixion and resurrection, we would not be promised the same glorious outcome. Repentance is the perfect way to show our Savior the gratitude in our hearts for what He did for us. And the beauty of the matter is, each rung up the ladder represents other things we can do to show our gratitude, too.
The next rung is baptism—an ordinance of the gospel that even Jesus participated in. Baptism is an outward expression of our commitment to the Savior. Christ set the example by being baptized, and the practice continued from that point on. Babies and small children are innocent and do not require baptism, but those who are older need it. When people die without it, we should not worry for them. In Christ’s church, even back in Paul’s day, the practice of baptism for the dead by proxy was a common occurrence (1Corinthinas 15:29). Christ would not set up his church in such a way as to exclude some of His children simply because they died before baptism. He had a back-up plan because He is perfect.
The next rung is to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost, another ordinance given to us when we decide to climb the ladder, or when we commit to the plan of the Savior. The gift of the Holy Ghost provides comfort, promptings, and clarity of mind to help us through our daily lives.
Most Important Rungs – Faith and Repentance
There are more rungs to climb, but what I love to remember is that two of these rungs come up more frequently than others—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance. Faith is an action word that drives us daily to make good choices which align our will to the will of our Savior—to stay on the ladder, so to speak. Repentance is a cleansing of the heart that can and should be done daily because we make mistakes along the way.
One more rung that comes up regularly is partaking of the emblems of the sacrament (or communion as it is called in other Christian denominations). Taking the sacrament is like being baptized again—we are washed clean of sin and we can start fresh. So while the “baptismal rung” comes up once, the “sacrament rung” acts in the same manner as the baptismal rung, but it comes up weekly as we attend church. This allowing us to climb one step further up the ladder toward Heaven.
Stay on the Ladder
The key is to stay on the ladder. Your Savior is right behind you. If you fall off, he’ll come down and help you back on, no matter how many times this might happen. He’s not going to pull up the ladder without you. Remember, no one will be left in the pit.
If we remember that the two planks of the ladder represent Christ’s part in the Atonement, and the rungs are like the ordinances and laws of the gospel, we’re ready to understand how this entire system is a two-way covenant between us and the Lord—the topic for next week.
There once was a woman named Petra, who lived in a land actually very near to your own. She was a happy soul, and had many friends. Life was good, and the cares of the world seemed like something that belonged to other people, but not Petra.
To get to Petra’s house you had to walk down a long path, lined with flowers, trees, bushes, and small patches of lawn. It was relaxing and beautiful, and everyone loved to visit Petra’s property almost as much as they enjoyed her company.
On this particular night Petra was just finishing up an evening with some new friends. There had been food and drink for more than enough people, and she decided that she was too tired to clean it all up that night. It could wait until morning. She had thoroughly enjoyed all her friends, and had laughed until it hurt. Sleep was a welcome release after that much exertion laughing the night away.
The next morning when she awoke, she had the aftermath of her night’s reveling to deal with, but she really didn’t want to deal with having to be thorough about cleaning, so she just pushed all the leftovers and party favors into bags, and walked the distance to the lane where she lived and left the bags on the curb. When she returned to the house her new friends were calling her, wanting to have another get-together. They had enjoyed themselves as much as she had.
This new batch of friends enjoyed themselves more than her old friends had. She felt oddly liberated by their willingness to abandon themselves to the pleasures of each other’s company. The more time she spent with them, the more she forgot other duties and responsibilities. One such responsibility was the waste that was produced by her now consistent partying. She managed to haul it to the lane, but the pile kept growing.
By now the smell was becoming uncomfortable to be around, so she would drop the garbage off at the edge of the pile closest to the house, and retreat to her home so she wouldn’t have to deal with the growing mound. Day after day, week after week, and month after month she added to her trash heap. The smell intensified, and the flies came, but she quickly retreated to her home where she didn’t have to look at it or think about it, and could continue to enjoy her parties with her friends.
As with all actions in life, there comes a time of reckoning. Petra had been avoiding dealing with her ever growing trash heap for so long that it now stretched from the lane all the way to near the house. Not only was the walk to the house becoming increasingly problematic for her guests, who had to deal with the flies and the smell, but she started to have the attendant mice and rats entering her home, chewing on her furniture, and eating her food. And if the breeze blew in just the right direction, she had to endure the stench of the rot her trash had created.
The day came when she could endure what she had created no longer. It had become a plague in her life. Petra’s friends would no longer come to her house, and people mocked her and ridiculed her for the slop she now lived in. Instead of the beauty she was once proud to show off, she was filled with shame for the blight she had created.
You say, “But all she had to do was get rid of the garbage!” And you are right. That was all she had to do, but she was too distracted by her new playmates and her activities to deal with what it took to clean up her life. Now she was surrounded by mountains of her own makings, and all the attendant discomfort such things bring. The garbage seeped and oozed into the ground, poisoning her plants and lawns, killing them and causing even greater blight on her land. Holes were opening up in the most unexpected places in her walls and cupboards as the mice and rats increased in numbers. This could not go on much longer.
Petra finally looked herself in the mirror and was not happy with what she saw. Her life of waste and reveling had produced nothing worth having. Her friends only loved her as long as she provided for their pleasure, and they did not have to deal with the aftermath of her entertaining. They all got to go home to clean rooms, while Petra had all the work to do to pick up after them. She admitted that change was now necessary.
All she needed to do was call the regent of the city and petition to have her garbage hauled away, but she had become so focused on her worldly pleasures that she had never gotten around to it. Now the task was so enormous that the trash could only be cleaned up a little at a time. She paid for every bit of it, too, and the cleanup cost her dearly. Weeks and months went by, but little by little the trash in her life was removed by the regent.
As the garbage began to disappear, so too did the rats, mice, flies, and other side effects of having that much garbage in her life. Over time the ground began to heal as the cleansing rains washed away the muck and ooze from the trash she had heaped upon it. As the seasons passed, her once beautiful property, with care and diligence on Petra’s part, returned to its former glory.
What did not return was Petra’s negligence. Now the city’s regent was her best friend. She knew now what happens when the garbage in our lives is not removed and our lives kept clean. Petra now knew that her choice of company had not been wise, and she returned to those who had valued her for her own sake, and not for the entertainment she could provide. The air was sweet no matter which way the wind blew, and now when Petra laughed, it was with satisfaction from living a wholesome life.
What can we learn from Petra? She wasn’t committing any great sin, but she was certainly negligent in some of life’s weightier matters. She allowed nonessentials to clutter her life, which led to a slow dissolution or breakdown of what had been beautiful and orderly.
All it took to repent and change her life was to work with the regent of the city (read priesthood leader or friend) who could help her clean up her mess. It took time, and fortunately, nothing was beyond repair. She learned some good lessons about her priorities in life. She learned that who her friends were made a difference in her life. She learned that it sometimes takes a long time to clean up the messes we make. Working with our leaders can help us get our lives back in order, but once we have let ourselves go to such an extent as she had, the price of cleaning ourselves up can be dear. She also learned that once we let distractions into our lives, they invite additional distractions which make it more difficult to see clearly what we need to do.
I leave you with a quote from Sister Julie B. Beck’s October 2009 Conference talk:
“What are the nonessential things that clutter your days and steal your time? What are the habits you may have developed that do not serve a useful purpose? What are the unfinished or unstarted things that could add vigor, meaning, and joy to your life?”
We all produce clutter (garbage) in our lives. It is only when we do not get rid of it that it becomes a burden to us. If we are consistent in our efforts to keep our lives free of needless distractions, we will be able to enjoy, to a much greater extent, the simple pleasures of life that will contribute to our lasting happiness.
Business speakers often give scenarios to help you discover what motivates you. They essentially ask, “What would you cross through fire for?” or in other words, what are you willing to risk your life or die for? It is an interesting question. I wondered what I would be willing to risk my life or die for. My answer was incredibly revealing to me about myself. But for now I’ll keep it to myself and give you room to consider it. What would you risk your life or even die for?
Dave Ramsey tells about how wonderfully fun it is for him to be rich. He shares why it was worth it to him to make the sacrifices to become rich. Hint: it isn’t about the money itself. He said that he enjoyed “borrowing” a single-parent’s old car and secretly getting the oil changed, putting new tires on it and then returning it. This person thought they were doing him a favor. What a fun surprise! His experience lit me up inside. I want to do that! I was so excited! I was convinced I wanted to be a millionaire. What would it be like to gift someone in need with such useful things? That parent really did do him a favor, and me, too. It made his day, and just in the retelling, it made my day. I have since decided that millionaire status is probably not the aspect of this story that fired me up. So, if you think money is what you really want, you might consider why. Why do I want money? What would I do with it? Why is that important to me?
My inner fire is knowing why. If I can link into the most important reasons for me why I am doing something, it becomes clear if it is worth the effort later when problems always come. Like a North Star, why guides what I’m actually trying to accomplish and prevents getting side-tracked. My high school English teacher taught us to ask ourselves, “So what?” about every paper.
You didn’t get the dishes done this morning, so what? You weren’t on time to work, so what? You are overweight, so what? I call it “the so-what factor.” If I have no answer, I stay unmotivated to change. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Some things aren’t worth the struggle. This is a great place to ascribe to the attitude, “don’t worry, be happy.” Or is it?
The world of actions can be a very confusing place. For example, there are very good reasons to do the dishes. For years, I couldn’t see why they needed to be done early or quickly. So every day they were always a big pain–dried on, making an embarrassing kitchen, always haunting me with what I still needed to do. Would I do the dishes early and quickly because someone else thinks it should be done that way? No! But, I won’t not do them now because it is easier, sets me free for the rest of the day, makes me feel welcoming to friends, I feel calmer, and my husband really appreciates it. You see, it isn’t about the dishes at all. My personal freedom and showing love to my husband in ways he feels and appreciates are way more important to me than any thing. Knowing why has been like learning to put my foot on the gas pedal and stop driving around with my emergency brake on. It gets me out of my own way.
As I’ve come to understand how this power works, I’ve been able to control it better. For example, I know that I love to help people, hate to let others down, and love to help people care well for themselves. I, personally, have never been very good at keeping an even pace, or keeping a schedule. I get easily bored of routine. I need a lot of challenge and variety. So, knowing these things about myself, I decided to teach group fitness. This would help me love doing it for others and also help me pace and persist for myself. It is a beautiful win/win solution. I love my work, and I have had a consistent workout schedule for over three years without injuring myself. That has never happened before and would never have been possible until I found and understood my fire.
You may have things you value or believe that are so strongly intertwined with who you are that they are invisible to you. I searched and searched for years and never saw my strongest motivation of all. I recently found it, and it powers all I do. It also explains my driving, persistent and deep happiness that I have never before been able to explain. My sister once accused me of constantly wearing “rose colored glasses.” But, it isn’t my glasses. I know that now. I have always spoken the truth for me. It is way more than just a positive attitude.
Even in the darkest times, I have been deeply happy. I have not been able to communicate this to others, unable to understand why they didn’t have it, too. But, it is a belief, a desire, a why I have that is so core to me that I am very internally buoyant.
It is gratitude. In particular, gratitude to God, my Heavenly Father. I am so thankful to be alive. I am so thankful to learn and live and experience. I am thankful to be free. I am thankful to be me. It is this deep fire gratitude that gives me a pioneer spirit in adversity. And, it is a mighty faith and knowledge that I am loved and not alone. There is nothing I want more than to live well to show my love and gratitude to God.
What is worth risking your life by living for it?
Best wishes in your quest, no matter how long it takes, to find and use your unique answer to
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