The Faith of My Father

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the prophets have taught that children are not accountable before God for their actions until the age of 8. Of this time, President Ezra Taft Benson said:

When the Lord declared that “power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable,” He revealed that this period of childhood and unaccountability was given to children so that “great things may be required at the hand of their fathers.” (See Doctrine & Covenants 29:47–48.)

 

“That great things may be required at the hand of their fathers”! What confidence the Lord has in fathers, and what a responsibility He has placed on fathers! Great things are required of fathers today.

And there are great fathers who are living up to their responsibilities. In middle school, I had a friend who was a pastor’s daughter. She took this very seriously and tried to always choose the right not only for herself, but to honor her father. I was always impressed that she thought so highly of her dad that she didn’t want to disappoint him. The faith of her father was very important to her. His unwavering faith in God helped to shape hers. This has always illustrated the great impact that the faith of a father has on his children. It also reminds me how the faith of my father has helped to shape my own beliefs.

 

An Example of the Believers

 

 

One of the things that I have always loved about my father is that he lives what he believes. In the New Testament, the ancient Apostle Paul counseled Timothy:

… Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12)

This scripture reminds me of my dad. Much of what I learned from my father was through his example. President James E. Faust said:

… Noble fatherhood gives us a glimpse of the divine attributes of our Father in Heaven. A father should be many things. He should magnify his priesthood and be an example of righteousness. In companionship with his wife, he should be the source of stability and strength for the whole family. He should be the protector and the provider and the champion of the members of his family. Much of his love for his children should flow from his example of love, concern, and fidelity for their mother. By his uncompromising example he should instill character into his children.

My dad set an uncompromising example for his children. He was the first to admit his mistakes and was open and honest in all that he did. He wasn’t perfect, but he tried his best to set a pattern of righteous living and generous service for his kids.

 

Love for Family

 

Happiness father with kids

 

Growing up there were two things that I knew—my mom loved being a mother, and my dad loved being a father. In speaking of defending The Family: A Proclamation to the World, Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson said:

The next principle which calls for our defending voices is elevating the divine roles of mothers and fathers. We eagerly teach our children to aim high in this life. We want to make sure that our daughters know that they have the potential to achieve and be whatever they can imagine. We hope they will love learning, be educated, talented, and maybe even become the next Marie Curie….

 

Do we also teach our sons and daughters there is no greater honor, no more elevated title, and no more important role in this life than that of mother or father?

As a grown woman with a family of my own, I can say that my mom and dad taught us all of these things. They encouraged us to attend college and receive an education. They taught us to aim high but to remember that family must always come first. They showed this through their words and their deeds. When we were little, my dad would give us airplane rides and basically let us use him as a human jungle gym. As we grew older, he was at every concert, sporting event and award ceremony that we had. My parents had 8 children, and my dad made each one feel loved and special. We never felt like a burden but always felt like a blessing.

Elder Larry M. Gibson said:

Fathers, I am sure you have heard the saying “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words” (attributed to Francis of Assisi). Every day you are teaching your children what it means to be a father. You are laying a foundation for the next generation. Your sons will learn how to be husbands and fathers by observing the way you fulfill these roles.

One of the things that my dad taught was love and respect for each of my siblings. He would not tolerate his children disrespecting my mom or each other. He and my mother cultivated the pattern that President Benson presented on how to be a successful family. President Benson said:

Successful families have love and respect for each family member. Family members know they are loved and appreciated. Children feel they are loved by their parents. Thus, they are secure and self-assured.

 

Strong families cultivate an attribute of effective communication. They talk out their problems, make plans together, and cooperate toward common objectives. Family home evening and family councils are practiced and used as effective tools toward this end.

 

Fathers and mothers in strong families stay close to their children. They talk. Some fathers formally interview each child, others do so informally, and others take occasion to regularly spend time alone with each child.

 

Every family has problems and challenges. But successful families try to work together toward solutions instead of resorting to criticism and contention. They pray for each other, discuss, and give encouragement. Occasionally these families fast together in support of one of the family members.

 

Strong families support each other.

My father’s teaching of this was so powerful that we continue to this day helping each other whenever possible. We love and support one another across the miles that separate us. And we still love to visit with each other as often as we can.

 

The Power of Scripture Study

 

Father studying scriptures with his children

 

My father taught us by example the importance of scripture study. Every morning he would get us up at 5 a.m. to read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ as a family. And then he would read his scriptures for his personal study. He would rotate through all four scriptures in the Latter-day Saint canon—the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. As soon as he finished the books, he would start all over again. He didn’t read his scriptures out of obligation, but out of love for them. He loved all of the stories and would tell us about them. Elder Richard G. Scott said:

Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high. They can become the key to open the channel to communion with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ. …

 

Scriptures can communicate different meanings at different times in our life, according to our needs. A scripture that we may have read many times can take on nuances of meaning that are refreshing and insightful when we face a new challenge in life.

This was true for my dad. But he didn’t keep these insights to himself, he shared them with us. And as he shared his love of the scriptures with me, I too gained a love and respect for the scriptures that continues as I read them.

One of the lessons that my dad taught me through the scriptures was the power of prayer. In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma had a wayward son, Alma the Younger. Alma the son was visited by an angel, who told him:

Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. (Mosiah 27:14)

My dad took comfort in the fact that the Lord heard the prayers of Alma the father—and my dad knew the Lord would hear his prayers in behalf of his children, too. This was just one of many lessons that my dad taught me through his love for and study of the scriptures.

 

Love of Learning

 

Father helping daughter with homework

 

My father loved to learn—a love that he inherited from his father. My grandfather didn’t have the opportunity to attend college in his youth, so he read as many books on as many subjects as he could. My grandfather read for the love of reading and the love of learning, and so did my dad. And as my dad discovered new things, he would—and still does—excitedly tell us about them.

Through their example, my father and grandfather taught the importance of learning—which is an essential aspect of life here in mortality. Elder David A. Bednar said:

Learning to love learning is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ…. The overarching purpose of Heavenly Father’s great plan of happiness is to provide His spirit children with opportunities to learn. …

 

You and I are here on the earth to prepare for eternity, to learn how to learn, to learn things that are temporally important and eternally essential, and to assist others in learning wisdom and truth (see Doctrine & Covenants 97:1). Understanding who we are, where we came from, and why we are on the earth places upon each of us a great responsibility both to learn how to learn and to learn to love learning.

I’m grateful to my father and his father for showing me the importance of—and love for—learning.

 

Importance of Family History

 

Father and daughter working on family history.

 

My dad has always loved family history. For as long as I can remember, he would tell me stories about my ancestors. Where they lived, what they did, how they showed their faithfulness to God. He made names like John Borrowman and Austin Hammer come alive and become real heroes for me. Their courage in the face of adversity has inspired me in times of trouble. But they also help to give me an identity, a legacy of faith to pass on to my own children.

But learning about family history is not just about discovering the past. It’s also about binding the generations together. President James E. Faust explained:

Searching for our kindred dead isn’t just a hobby. It is a fundamental responsibility for all members of the Church. We believe that life continues after death and that all will be resurrected. We believe that families may continue in the next life if they have kept the special covenants made in one of the sacred temples under the authority of God. We believe that our deceased ancestors can also be eternally united with their families when we make covenants in their behalf in the temples. Our deceased forebears may accept these covenants, if they choose to do so, in the spirit world.

 

The great vicarious work for our kindred dead in our temples demonstrates both the justice and the fairness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Prophet Joseph Smith explained the terrible dilemma which would face God’s children without temple work for our dead. Said he: “One dies and is buried, having never heard the Gospel of reconciliation; to the other the message of salvation is sent, he hears and embraces it, and is made the heir of eternal life. Shall the one become the partaker of glory and the other be consigned to hopeless perdition? Is there no chance for his escape?” Fortunately our ancestors will have the opportunity to receive and accept the saving ordinances as we identify them and complete these sacred ordinances for them by proxy. We do for them what they cannot do for themselves. It is a very satisfying experience.

My dad didn’t stop with those who joined The Church of Jesus Christ. He has researched our family lines back centuries—through the Revolutionary War in America and beyond to the clans of Scotland and the Norse Vikings.  His love of family history helped create my own love of family history. President Faust said:

Some who are interested in family history try to enhance their own image by linking up with prominent people. In my own experience it has been quite different. I have been fascinated by learning of some of the unknown, ordinary people whose records tell of heroic lives.

I agree. Brigham Young University has a site called Relative Finder that links to the LDS Family Search site. Together, they tell you to which famous people you are related and how you are related to them. I am related—distantly—to some prominent names. But my favorite ancestor on Relative Finder is John Borrowman, who is my fourth great-grandfather. He may not be famous to the world, but he was famously popular with my dad—who made him famously popular with me.

 

Fathers Are Special

 

 

My dad taught me that fathers are special— because he is special to me. He taught me that there is nothing like the bond between a father and his daughter (or daughters). My dad had 6 girls, and each of us would swear that we are my dad’s favorite. President Benson said:

One great thing the Lord requires of each of us is to provide a home where a happy, positive influence for good exists. In future years the costliness of home furnishings or the number of bathrooms will not matter much, but what will matter significantly is whether our children felt love and acceptance in the home. It will greatly matter whether there was happiness and laughter, or bickering and contention.

 

I am convinced that before a child can be influenced for good by his or her parents, there must be a demonstration of respect and love.

 

President Joseph F. Smith said: “Fathers, if you wish your children to be taught in the principles of the gospel, … if you wish them to be obedient to and united with you, love them! and prove to them that you do love them by your every word or act to them.” (Liahona, The Elders’ Journal, 17 Oct. 1911, pp. 260–61.)

My father showed that he loved each one of his children through his words and his actions. By his example and through his teachings, I learned the faith of my ancestors, a love for learning and the scriptures, the importance of family. He was—and still is—an example of the believers for his children and grandchildren. He and my mother illustrate for me the truth of what Elder L. Tom Perry said:

The most powerful teaching a child will ever receive will come from concerned and righteous fathers and mothers.

The lessons are the most powerful because they last the longest. The truths I learned from the faith of my father continue as I teach my own children. I am grateful to my dad taking the time to pass on his legacy of faith.

Putting Doubt into Perspective, Part 2

This [tooltip content=”Putting Doubt into Perspective” text=”Putting Doubt into Perspective” url=”http://ldsmag.com/article-1-13418/”]article[/tooltip] was originally published in Meridian Magazine.

Read Part 1 of this article.

Nowhere in the scriptures are we told that we should choose to doubt. In fact, we are repeatedly told that we should avoid doubt. Christ said to his disciples: “Neither be ye of doubtful mind.” (Luke 12:29. See also Matthew 21:21 and Mark 11:23.) The Lord told Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (Doctrine & Covenants 6:36). And Moroni counsels all of us to “Doubt not, but be believing” (Mormon 9:27). More recently, President Thomas S. Monson said,

Do not yield to Satan’s enticements; rather, stand firm for truth. . . . Vice never leads to virtue. Hate never promotes love. Cowardice never gives courage. Doubt never inspires faith.

In other words, as between doubt and faith, we should choose faith. (See also Helaman 5:49 and Mormon 9:21 & 25.)

That is not to say that we should not be inquisitive or that it is wrong to ask questions, or wonder about things. In fact, we are admonished to ask, seek and knock (3 Nephi 14: 7 & 27:29; Matthew 7:7; Doctrine & Covenants 6:5). We are to worship God not only with our heart, but also with our minds (Mark 12:30; 2 Nephi 25:29; Moroni 10:32). We are told “with all thy getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). President Dieter F. Uchtforf has said:

Inquiry is the birthplace of testimony. Some might feel embarrassed or unworthy because they have searching questions regarding the gospel, but they needn’t feel that way. Asking questions isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a precursor of growth. …

 

Fear not; ask questions. Be curious, but doubt not! Always hold fast to faith and to the light you have already received. Because we see imperfectly in mortality, not everything is going to make sense right now. In fact, I should think that if everything did make sense to us, it would be evidence that it had all been made up by a mortal mind. Remember that God has said: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. …”

We are also told that some kinds of revelation come only after we have studied things out in our minds. (See Doctrine & Covenants 9:8.) Alma taught us to use both our intellectual as well as spiritual faculties to experiment upon the word (Alma 32:27). John taught us to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 John 4:1). Similarly, Paul taught us to “Prove all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are told to diligently teach and seek “out of the best books words of wisdom.” We are to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:118; Doctrine & Covenants 109:7 & 14.) So as we ask, seek and knock, we are to do so in a spirit of faith, not in a spirit of cynicism, bitterness or doubt (James 1:5-6).

 

Nourishing Your Testimony

Nourishing faith
Just as a little plant must be nourished to grow, so our testimony also must be nourished by faith.

Nevertheless, although we should try to avoid complacently accepting doubt, it is not a sin to be tempted by doubt. But thoughts and feelings of doubt do not need to be indulged. It has been said that a bird may land on your head, but you don’t need to let it build a nest there. So, like other temptations of the mind, thoughts of doubt about God and His Church may enter our heads, but there is no sin in that unless we choose to cultivate, embrace or act on those thoughts.

A helpful analogy in this regard is that of Alma’s garden in Alma 32:27-43. Alma teaches us to plant the seeds of faith in the garden of our hearts and nourish and cultivate the seeds to see if they will bear good fruit and prove themselves to be good seeds. We move from faith to knowledge as the seeds grow, enlarge our souls, enlighten our understanding and expand our minds (Alma 32:33-34).

However, bad seeds, seeds of doubt and apostasy, can also fall into our gardens. So, just as it is important to nourish the good seeds, we should avoid nourishing the bad seeds so they do not choke out the good seeds. If we cultivate seeds of faith, we will reap the fruits of faith: knowledge and eternal life. If we cultivate seeds of doubt, we will harvest the fruits of apostasy.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell similarly applied this analogy [Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 6.]:

Lack of intellectual humility is there among those who have deliberately cultivated their doubts in order, they think, to release themselves from their covenants. Some nurture their grievances assiduously. Were their grievances, instead, Alma’s seed of faith, they would have long ago nourished a mighty tree of testimony.

Much of the work organizations such as FairMormon do are to provide ways for people to identify the bad seeds and to give people the tools they need to pull the weeds from the gardens of their hearts.  Of course, it is not possible for FairMormon to destroy all the seeds of doubt. If it were, as Professor Terryl Givens points out, people would not be free to choose faith as they would have no options. Furthermore, while FairMormon can help give people the tools they need to remove the weeds from their gardens, a garden will still not bear fruit if no one has made an effort to plant good seeds and diligently nourish them. As Alma indicated, once the tree of testimony begins to grow, we must continue to exercise faith by nourishing the tree so that we may one day eat the fruit of the tree, which is everlasting life (Alma 32:36-43). Elder Neil L. Andersen discussed how we can strengthen our testimonies in the face of trials:

How do you remain “steadfast and immovable” during a trial of faith? You immerse yourself in the very things that helped build your core of faith: you exercise faith in Christ, you pray, you ponder the scriptures, you repent, you keep the commandments, and you serve others.

When faced with a trial of faith-whatever you do, you don’t step away from the Church! Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view.

Elder Quentin L. Cook further taught us what to avoid:

Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.

 

Avoiding the Seeds of Doubt

Also, in trying to avoid doubt, it can be helpful to avoid those who sow the seeds of doubt. Excessive exposure to people who are bitter, cynical and angry is corrosive and has a tendency to erode faith. Elder Maxwell observed that as we read in the Section 46 of the Doctrine and Covenants, “to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God… to others it is given to believe on their words…” The dark side of that coin, of course, is that doubts can be pooled, too, and anxieties shared with the wrong people so that this wilts such few tender sprouts of certitude as exist. The point is not that we should refuse to share our concerns, but that sincere doubters really seek for answers, while it is often the insincere doubter who wants to play “Can you top this?” in a frenzy of doubt for doubt’s sake. [Neal A. Maxwell, For the Power is In Them…(Mormon Musings) (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1970), 31.]

Of course, as we try to cast the seeds of doubt out of our lives, we should not be too quick to cast out the doubters. Some, through no fault of their own, experience doubt and ask questions more than others. Elder Maxwell described different types of doubters in the following way:

You are quite right to be lovingly concerned about doubters, who come in such various shapes and attitudinal shadings. Some doubters truly seek answers. These give the Brethren the benefit of the doubt, and, for them, doubt becomes a useful spiritual spur. There are others who doubt and hold back simply because they are so afraid of being “taken in.” There are still others who are embarrassed because of their inability to defend their faith; for these, doubt is a refuge. Yet other doubters are stubborn, because they feel God has not responded to them on their terms. There are even doubters who come to enjoy their roles and the associated attention and who set themselves up “as a golden calf for the worship” of people in the Church (Doctrine & Covenants 124:84). A variation of the latter is seen in those who are “professing and yet [are] not of God” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:27; see also Doctrine & Covenants 136:19). “He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2 Nephi 26:29).

 

These latter individuals have their own agendum and have apparently long since concluded that, if they can’t be a leader, then they will be a critic.

 

Absent sufficient meekness in the doubter, I am not sure that much can be done. Experience can either soften or harden doubts, depending on the person’s supply of meekness. Clearly, however, our love should include all doubters, whatever their motivation, “for ye know not but what they will… come unto me with full purpose of heart” (3 Nephi 18:32). [Neal A. Maxwell, That Ye May Believe, Kindle edition, 2026.]

As we strive to spread the gospel and build faith in others, patience and love are necessary if we are to reach those who are struggling, but have not yet surrendered to and embraced doubt. As Elder Maxwell has written:

The ability to create a climate around us in which people, as in the case of the man who approached Jesus, feel free enough to say the equivalent of “Lord, help Thou my unbelief,” is a critical skill. If we can deal with doubt effectively in its nascent stages, we can assist people by a warmth and love which frees them to share the worries that they may have, and increase the probability of dissolving their doubt. But, if we over-react to dissent or to doubt, we are apt, rather than inculcating confidence in those we serve, to exhibit what, in the eyes of the rebel, may seem to be a flaw in our inner confidence in what we say.

 

We need to relax to be effective in the process of helping people who are building testimonies. Over-reacting and pressing the panic button when doubt first makes its appearance can render us ineffective. This is one of the reasons why parents are often in a temporarily poorer tactical position to deal effectively with a rebellious son or daughter— the anxiety is too real to relax. In these circumstances, bishops, teachers, and friends can be helpful— not because they are clinically detached, for their love and concern should be honestly communicated— but rather because third parties sometimes can listen a little longer without reacting, can prescribe with a clear-headed assessment, and most of all, can be a fresh voice which conveys care and concern, a voice which has risen above similar challenges. [Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way: Essays on Leadership for Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1967), 62.]

Doubt is necessary, in the cosmic scheme of things, if we are to experience an authentic test of our true desires, retain our moral agency, and have the kind of full experience we need that will help us to become more like Christ. However, as we better come to appreciate the necessity of doubt, we should be careful to speak of doubt in its proper place. Doubt is a condition to be overcome and not a virtue to be embraced.

Putting Doubt into Perspective, Part 1

This [tooltip content=”Putting Doubt into Perspective” text=”Putting Doubt into Perspective” url=”http://ldsmag.com/article-1-13418/”]article[/tooltip] was originally published in Meridian Magazine.

An unavoidable part of life is that we routinely experience doubt, confusion and uncertainty. These feelings are always troubling, but they can be especially disconcerting when they relate to our feelings about God. During those times, I like to think about two different episodes in the scriptures.

The first event involved Christ and a great number of his followers. In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, Christ gave what has become known as “The Bread of Life Sermon” in which he stated that He is the Bread of Life and that unless we eat of his flesh and drink his blood, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Most of those who were listening were so upset by the notion that we must eat the flesh and blood of Christ to go to Heaven that they stopped listening then and there and left the Savior.

Only his most loyal disciples, the Twelve, remained. Christ did not run after those who left to apologize for offending them, or to try and explain that it was merely a metaphor. He merely turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:67.) It was Peter who replied. He did not say, “Of course we’re going to stay. We understand that you are only speaking metaphorically.” Instead, he said “to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6: 68). Peter and the Twelve may have experienced the same kinds of doubts, confusion and uncertainty that were felt by those who left, but the Twelve set those feelings aside and stood by the Savior. Rather than act upon whatever doubts they may have had, they acted upon their faith. And because of this decision to act with faith, and continue following the Savior, their faith was eventually transformed into knowledge.

The second story involves a great miracle and a man of imperfect faith. The anguished man had sought a blessing from the disciples of Christ for his son, who had been afflicted with convulsions since he was a child. When the disciples were unable to heal the son, the scribes, perhaps seeing an opportunity to embarrass the disciples of Christ, started arguing with the disciples. At this point, Christ entered the scene and asked what the argument was about. The man stepped forward and explained how he had brought his son to the disciples to be healed, but they had failed. Christ told the man that “all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). Of course, the man had just witnessed how Christ’s disciples had fallen short and were now being challenged by critics of the Church. The conclusion the man might have drawn was that not even the disciples had sufficient faith. Under these circumstances, it would be understandable if the man gave up and surrendered to doubt. Instead, the man gathered all the faith he could, and said “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). In other words, he was not certain that Christ could heal his son. But he would set aside what uncertainty he had and ask for a miracle. In doing so, his faith turned to knowledge once Christ healed the son.

 

Counsel for Those Wrestle with Doubts

Clearly, we can be blessed and even witness miracles even though we experience confusion and doubt. Nevertheless, we may become discouraged when we find that our leaders are imperfect. We may become upset at some difficult doctrine or find some Church historical events impossible to fathom. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf acknowledged that leaders of the Church have made mistakes and that with respect to the history of the Church, “there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.” His counsel was to be patient while we gather more information, consider looking at things from a different perspective, and to “first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” [See F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer (1924), 23.]

Yet, one does not need to spend much time on the Internet today to find people who speak of doubt as if it is something to be proud of. It seems that for some, a person is not truly thoughtful if that person does not regularly experience doubt about the Church and its leaders. For such people, doubt is a badge of honor and a symbol of intellectual maturity rather than a burden and trial to be overcome. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has observed,

“Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!”

Of course, as people speak of “doubt,” it is sometimes difficult to know what they mean. The word “doubt” may be used when all that is meant is mere confusion, uncertainty or a reservation of judgment. Other times the word “doubt” may be used to describe bitterness, cynicism and distrust. One can temporarily “doubt” certain things in the first sense, and still generally see with an “eye of faith” (Alma 32:40). However, “doubt” of the second kind erodes and undermines faith. And even when doubt begins as mere questioning or uncertainty, if left unresolved, it can eventually devolve into cynicism and bitterness.

 

Approaching Doubts

 

Woman praying

Usually, when we speak of doubt in a religious context, it denotes a condition that is antithetical to faith. For example, when the scriptures or general authorities speak of doubt, it is almost always of the more negative variety.

So we are understandably concerned when a friend or family member admits to having “doubts.” And it can be especially confusing lately to hear so many speak of doubt as something useful or even desirable.

Whether doubts end up as a positive or negative thing for us depends to a large degree upon how we look at them and what we do about them. Elder John A. Widstoe examined the different approaches to doubt as follows:

The strong man is not afraid to say, “I do not know”; the weak man simpers and answers, “I doubt.” Doubt, unless transmuted into inquiry, has no value or worth in the world…. To take pride in being a doubter, without earnestly seeking to remove the doubt, is to reveal shallowness of thought and purpose. …

 

Doubt of the right kind— that is, honest questioning— leads to faith. Such doubt impels men to inquiry, which always opens the door to truth. The scientist in his laboratory, the explorer in distant parts, the prayerful man upon his knees— these and all inquirers like them find truth. They learn that some things are known, others are not. They cease to doubt….

 

On the other hand, the stagnant doubter, one content with himself, unwilling to make the effort, to pay the price of discovery, inevitably reaches unbelief and miry darkness. His doubts grow like poisonous mushrooms in the dim shadows of his mental and spiritual chambers. At last, blind like the mole in his burrow, he usually substitutes ridicule for reason, and indolence for labor….

 

Doubt which immediately leads to honest inquiry, and thereby removes itself, is wholesome. But that doubt which reeds and grows upon itself, and, with stubborn indolence, breeds more doubt, is evil. [John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991), 31-33.]

Elder Holland has added:

Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.

While it is possible, as Elder Holland suggests, to have questions, but still have faith, it is also becoming increasingly common for people to talk about doubt as being essential to faith in a way that might lead one to conclude that if one does not carefully preserve and cherish one’s doubts, one might just lose one’s faith. While it is true that experiencing and overcoming doubt can strengthen faith, God does not expect us to cling to our doubts. Ultimately, doubt is not the friend of faith, but rather its enemy. As we learn from the Lectures on Faith [Lectures on Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985, p. 46.]:

Where doubt is, there faith has no power.

 

The Choice Between Doubt and Faith

Mormon scholar Terryl Givens, professor of religion and literature at the University of Richmond, gave a fireside presentation titled “Letter to a Doubter.” This insightful piece has had a dramatic impact on the way in which many of us view doubt and doubters. Of course, as with many ideas that garner great enthusiasm, we can begin to carry an idea to an extreme that starts to undermine the very reason for communicating the original idea.

Obviously, Professor Givens did not intend to foster greater doubt. Rather, he hoped to help build faith. Yet, if we are not careful, we may mistakenly take his arguments as justification for not only defending, but encouraging doubt. Professor Givens says that we should be grateful for our doubts. However, this is only true in the same sense that we should be grateful for our temptations, suffering and afflictions. There must be an opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11). It is in resisting temptation, enduring suffering and overcoming affliction that we progress and grow. It is through the test of our adversities that we manifest our true desires. We should no more seek out and celebrate doubt than we should seek out and celebrate temptation, suffering, or affliction. As Professor Givens explains:

I know I am grateful for a propensity to doubt because it gives me the capacity to freely believe…. There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore more deliberate and laden with more personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads…. What we choose to embrace, to be responsive to, is the purest reflection of who we are and what we love. That is why faith, the choice to believe, is, in the final analysis, an action that is positively laden with moral significance.

So doubt is necessary for the way in which it helps to reveal our true desires. Doubt can also help us to grow, to gain experience, and to maintain our moral agency. But it is not a condition that we should seek after or complacently maintain. Just as we can choose to believe, we can also choose to doubt. Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed that for some, this is a serious temptation:

Why are a few members who somewhat resemble the ancient Athenians, so eager to hear some new doubt or criticism? (See Acts 17:21.) Just as some weak members slip across a state line to gamble, a few go out of their way to have their doubts titillated. Instead of nourishing their faith, they are gambling “offshore” with their fragile faith. To the question “Will ye also go away?” these few would reply, “Oh, no, we merely want a weekend pass in order to go to a casino for critics or a clubhouse for cloakholders.” Such easily diverted members are not disciples but fair-weather followers. Instead, true disciples are rightly described as steadfast and immovable, pressing forward with “a perfect brightness of hope.” (2 Nephi 31:20; see also Doctrine & Covenants 49:23.)

So, although we may experience feelings of doubt, and feel tempted to embrace doubt, we should vigorously resist that choice. Among our deepest desires should be one in which we long to move beyond doubt, through faith, and into the realm of knowledge.

Read Part 2 of this article.

Coming to Know the Personal Nature of the Savior

As a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have been taught of the Savior’s love for us and the power of His Atonement for as long as I could remember. But as I journey through life, my appreciation and understanding deepens as I rely more fully upon the Savior. There is a truth that I am just beginning to grasp hold of, and it is this: To the Savior, our pain is personal. The late President James E. Faust said:

Our Redeemer took upon Himself all the sins, pains, infirmities, and sicknesses of all who have ever lived and will ever live. No one has ever suffered in any degree what He did. He knows our mortal trials by firsthand experience. It is a bit like us trying to climb Mount Everest and only getting up the first few feet. But He has climbed all 29,000 feet to the top of the mountain. He suffered more than any other mortal could. (Italics added.)

Jesus Christ took upon Himself our heartaches, trials, tragedies and triumphs—and in doing so they became personal for Him. It is often through these experiences that the Savior becomes personal for us. When we begin to understand this, we begin to more fully understand the Savior Himself. And when we more fully understand the Savior, we gain a greater appreciation and a greater ability to apply these lessons in our own lives. Here are four truths that helped me more fully understand the love that the Savior has for me, personally.

 

Jesus Christ is Concerned with the One


The scriptures teach that Jesus Christ “numbereth His sheep, and they know Him” (1 Nephi 22:25). It must follow that the Savior knows each one of His sheep—how else could He know if one was lost? For me, this is hard to comprehend. It’s easy to believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us—as in all of Our Heavenly Father’s children— but do They really know and love me? After all, with the billions and billions of people who have ever lived, live now or will ever live, how can They have a personal knowledge of one individual? Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

Sadly, in today’s world, a person’s importance is often judged by the size of the audience before which he or she performs. That is how media and sports programs are rated, how corporate prominence is sometimes determined, and often how governmental rank is obtained. That may be why roles such as father, mother, and missionary seldom receive standing ovations. Fathers, mothers, and missionaries “play” before very small audiences. Yet, in the eyes of the Lord, there may be only one size of audience that is of lasting importance—and that is just one, each one, you and me, and each one of the children of God. The irony of the Atonement is that it is infinite and eternal, yet it is applied individually, one person at a time.

This statement brings into focus how profoundly individual the love of the Savior is for each one of us. The scriptures also teach us of the love that the Savior has for us. The New Testament records that “Jesus wept” after seeing the despair and sorrow of Mary and Martha upon the death of their beloved brother Lazarus. (See John 11:1-45.) Of this story, Sister Linda S. Reeves, at the time a counselor in the General Relief Society presidency, said:

Apostle James E. Talmage wrote, “The sight of the two women so overcome by grief … caused Jesus to sorrow [with them] so that He groaned in spirit and was deeply troubled.” This experience testifies of the compassion, empathy, and love that our Savior and our Heavenly Father feel for each of us every time we are weighed down by the anguish, sin, adversity, and pains of life.

 

… Our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, know us and love us. They know when we are in pain or suffering in any way. They do not say, “It’s OK that you’re in pain right now because soon everything is going to be all right. You will be healed, or your husband will find a job, or your wandering child will come back.” They feel the depth of our suffering, and we can feel of Their love and compassion in our suffering.

One experience that has helped me feel the individual love of the Savior is in the partaking of the sacrament during our Latter-day Saint Sunday worship services. The Savior instituted the sacrament during His Last Supper in Jerusalem, when he blessed and passed the bread and wine to His Apostles. It is an individual renewal of the covenants made at baptism, one of which is that we will always remember the Savior. But in the last year and a half, this has become even more personal for me. Because now, I can’t have regular bread. So during the passing of the bread, one of the young men must make a special trip back to the table where the bread is blessed and bring me the tray with gluten-free bread. Every time this happens, it is a symbolic reminder to me that the Savior knows and loves me. And each time, I feel the special love that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father have for specifically for me.

 

Prayer is Our Individual Communion with God

A teen is praying

When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He taught us how to pray. (See Matthew 6:9-13.) Why is this? Because prayer is our personal communication with God in the name of His Son. Elder Richard G. Scott said:

Prayer is a supernal gift of our Father in Heaven to every soul. Think of it: the absolute Supreme Being, the most all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful personage, encourages you and me, as insignificant as we are, to converse with Him as our Father. Actually, because He knows how desperately we need His guidance, He commands, “Thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private.”

 

It matters not our circumstance, be we humble or arrogant, poor or rich, free or enslaved, learned or ignorant, loved or forsaken, we can address Him. We need no appointment. Our supplication can be brief or can occupy all the time needed. It can be an extended expression of love and gratitude or an urgent plea for help. He has created numberless cosmos and populated them with worlds, yet you and I can talk with Him personally, and He will ever answer.

Through our individual prayers, we can commune with our Father in Heaven in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and come to know Them as They know each one of us. Often we are the ones who distance ourselves from Them—because sometimes it’s difficult to imagine Them always reaching out for us. But They are. Elder Scott said:

Don’t worry about your clumsily expressed feelings. Just talk to your compassionate, understanding Father. You are His precious child whom He loves perfectly and wants to help. As you pray, recognize that Father in Heaven is near and He is listening. …

 

Should you ever feel distanced from our Father, it could be for many reasons. Whatever the cause, as you continue to plead for help, He will guide you to do that which will restore your confidence that He is near. Pray even when you have no desire to pray. Sometimes, like a child, you may misbehave and feel you cannot approach your Father with a problem. That is when you most need to pray. Never feel you are too unworthy to pray.

 

I wonder if we can ever really fathom the immense power of prayer until we encounter an overpowering, urgent problem and realize that we are powerless to resolve it. Then we will turn to our Father in humble recognition of our total dependence on Him.

We pray to the Father in the name of His Son because Jesus Christ is the intermediary between us and our Heavenly Father. Prayer bridges the spiritual gap between us and God. As we do so, we strengthen our relationship with both the Father and the Son.

 

Coming to Know and Love God Through Our Suffering

I often wonder at the purpose of trials in our lives. Sometimes the hurt and heartache just seem mean. But the Savior said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). Not only are we all sinners, but we are also all sick, to one degree or another. Sin, pain, weakness, hurt, heartache, tragedy—all are part of the human experience. And all require the Great Physician, Jesus Christ Himself, to heal us.

In the New Testament, the Savior tells of a creditor who had two debtors. One owed 500 pence and the other 50. When they had nothing to pay, the creditor forgave them both. Then the Master asks the question, “Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” (See Luke 7:41-42.) The same is true of us. The more we come to realize our dependence on our Savior, the more we will appreciate and love Him. Often, nothing brings this complete reliance into focus like our trials and challenges.

The late President Gordon B. Hinckley told a story many years ago about a little one-room schoolhouse in the Virginia mountains where the boys were so rough that no teacher had been able to handle them. Then one day an inexperienced young teacher applied for the position. He was warned about the unruly nature of the boys, but the young teacher accepted the risk. On the first day of school, the teacher asked the class to come up with ten rules and consequences for breaking the rules. They did so, and the penalty was 10 lashes across the back with no coat on. Not too many days later, someone stole the lunch of a big boy named Tom. The thief was located, and it was a scrawny little 10-year-old boy named Jim. As little Jim came to take his licking, he pleaded to keep his coat on. But the teacher said, “You helped to make the rules, and you must abide by them.”

So little Jim took his coat off, revealing no shirt and a bony, crippled body. As the teacher hesitated, Big Tom jumped up and offered take the beating instead. The teacher said, “Very well, there is a certain law that one can be a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?” All agreed, and Big Tom removed his coat. The teacher began hitting Big Tom with the rod, but the rod broke after the fifth strike. The class was sobbing. President Hinckley concluded:

Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. “Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!”

Then President Hinckley quoted Isaiah:

“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrow: . . . He [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5.)

Each one of us is, at one point or another, Little Jim. We need something that only the Savior can give. And He has willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice for us. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

That first Easter sequence of Atonement and Resurrection constitutes the most consequential moment, the most generous gift, the most excruciating pain, and the most majestic manifestation of pure love ever to be demonstrated in the history of this world. Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, suffered, died, and rose from death in order that He could, like lightning in a summer storm, grasp us as we fall, hold us with His might, and through our obedience to His commandments, lift us to eternal life.

As we more fully appreciate what the Savior did for us, we become—in our limited capacity—more like Him. And in doing so, we love Him even more. Elder David A. Bednar said:

There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens.  And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power.

 

Service—Following in the Footsteps of the Savior

LM-Love-Savior-Ballard

Jesus Christ taught that the two great commandments are to love God and each other. Elder Ballard said:

It is only when we love God and Christ with all of our hearts, souls, and minds that we are able to share this love with our neighbors through acts of kindness and service—the way that the Savior would love and serve all of us if He were among us today.

 

When this pure love of Christ—or charity—envelops us, we think, feel, and act more like Heavenly Father and Jesus would think, feel, and act. Our motivation and heartfelt desire are like unto that of the Savior.

In our journey to come to know God, we cannot forget to serve one another. That is how our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know us so well—because They have served us. And when we serve others, we are following in Their footsteps. Elder Ballard said:

I believe that if we could truly understand the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would realize how precious is one son or daughter of God. I believe our Heavenly Father’s everlasting purpose for His children is generally achieved by the small and simple things we do for one another. At the heart of the English word atonement is the word one. If all mankind understood this, there would never be anyone with whom we would not be concerned, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or social or economic standing. We would strive to emulate the Savior and would never be unkind, indifferent, disrespectful, or insensitive to others.

 

If we truly understood the Atonement and the eternal value of each soul, we would seek out the wayward boy and girl and every other wayward child of God. We would help them to know of the love Christ has for them.

It’s one thing to have a personal knowledge that the Savior lives and loves us. But it’s another to know that He lives and loves me personally. When we understand these truths, we can more fully understand and appreciate that Jesus Christ is not a distant being but a close and personal Friend—and Savior.

Cinderella and the Power of Kindness

I have to admit, I’m a girl who loves princess movies. As a kid I saw every Disney princess movie ever made. But I think the recent release of Disney’s live action Cinderella is one of my favorites, because it illustrates the power in kindness, courage, work and forgiveness in this fairy tale. The simplicity in these virtues often causes them to be overlooked and underappreciated in the world today. But they brought out the best in Cinderella and helped her to stay strong and true to who she was even when those around her were lost in their grief and sorrows.

These virtues aren’t just powerful in the movies—they are superpowers in the real world, too. The scriptures as well as modern prophets and Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provide excellent examples of these virtues in action. But at the end of the day, do we really understand how powerful these virtues are in our own lives?

 

Kindness—Not Just for Cinderella

Child bringing flowers to mother.

Cinderella is famous for her friendships with the mice in her house and other animals around her. She is kind to everyone, even when that kindness is not reciprocated. Cinderella’s mother, on her deathbed, told Cinderella that kindness is a power that few people truly understand. The late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin agreed. He said:

Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes.

 

Kind words not only lift our spirits in the moment they are given, but they can linger with us over the years. … Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes.

Jesus Christ set the example of kindness for us. Elder Wirthlin said:

Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion. He healed the sick. He spent much of His time ministering to the one or many. He spoke compassionately to the Samaritan woman who was looked down upon by many. He instructed His disciples to allow the little children to come unto Him. He was kind to all who had sinned, condemning only the sin, not the sinner.

Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

The love the Savior described is an active love. It is not manifested through large and heroic deeds but rather through simple acts of kindness and service. There are myriad ways and circumstances in which we can serve and love others.

One way that we can show kindness is in the way we speak to others. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

… In this long eternal quest to be more like our Savior, may we try to be “perfect” men and women in at least this one way now—by offending not in word, or more positively put, by speaking with a new tongue, the tongue of angels. Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today.

Another way that we show kindness is in the way we treat others. Elder Wirthlin said:

Each one of us will travel a different road during this life. Each progresses at a different rate. Temptations that trouble your brother may not challenge you at all. Strengths that you possess may seem impossible to another.

 

Never look down on those who are less perfect than you. Don’t be upset because someone can’t sew as well as you, can’t throw as well as you, can’t row or hoe as well as you.

 

We are all children of our Heavenly Father. And we are here with the same purpose: to learn to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

 

The Courage of a Queen

The other piece of advice that Cinderella’s mother gave her as she lay dying was to have courage no matter what. Courage is another virtue that carries a lot of power. Elder Lynn G. Robbins said:

Courage is not just one of the cardinal virtues, but as C. S. Lewis observed: “Courage is … the form of every virtue at the testing point. … Pilate was merciful till it became risky.” King Herod was sorrowful at the request to behead John the Baptist but wanted to please “them which sat with him at meat” (Matthew 14:9). … Many of the New Testament chief rulers “believed on [the Lord]; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42–43). The scriptures are full of such examples.

The scriptures are also full of examples of those who showed great courage in the face of adversity, such as Queen Esther in the Old Testament. Esther was raised by her cousin Mordecai, who worked for the king, after her parents passed away. She pleased the king, and he made her his queen. (See Esther 2:17.) She never disclosed that she was Jewish, per Mordecai’s instructions. Not long afterward, Mordecai angered Haman, one of the leader’s in the king’s court, by refusing to kneel before him. In retaliation, Haman plotted to destroy not only Mordecai but all of the Jewish people.

Sister Mary Ellen Smoot, at the time the LDS General Relief Society President, said:

Realizing the grave danger which loomed over his people, Mordecai pled with Esther to seek help from the king: “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

 

Consider Esther’s dilemma: It was against the law to approach the king without being summoned. Such an act was punishable by death. If she were to remain quiet, she would likely enjoy a life of luxury and ease. She could live the life of a queen or risk her life to save her family and her people. She counted the cost and chose to heed the longings of her people and of her heart.

Esther asked Mordecai and the Jews to fast for three days, and she and her handmaids did the same. She declared:

… So will I go into unto the king, which is not according to law: and if I perish, I perish. (Esther 4:16).

President Thomas S. Monson said:

Esther had gathered her courage and would stand firm and immovable for that which was right.

 

Physically, emotionally, and spiritually prepared, Esther stood in the inner court of the king’s house. When the king saw her, he held out his golden scepter, telling her that he would grant whatever request she had. She invited the king to a feast she had arranged, and during the feast she revealed that she was a Jew. She also exposed Haman’s underhanded plot to exterminate all of the Jews in the kingdom. Esther’s plea to save herself and her people was granted.

 

Esther, through fasting, faith, and courage, had saved a nation.

Esther could truly be described as a scriptural Cinderella (minus the wicked relatives). Raised as the daughter of someone who worked for the king, she found favor with the king and was chosen to be his queen. But her greatness came not in being elevated to the status of royalty but in being willing to sacrifice her status to help save a nation—her people—from destruction. President Monson said:

The call for courage comes constantly to each of us. Every day of our lives courage is needed—not just for the momentous events but more often as we make decisions or respond to circumstances around us. Said Scottish poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson: “Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats for you and no crowds shout your name.”

 

The Magic of Work

Cinderella’s stepmother put her to work in the house, saying that it would help keep her mind off of her sorrow. Ironically, Cinderella’s stepmother was absolutely right. I have to wonder how differently Cinderella’s stepfamily would have turned out had they heeded their own advice. Bishop H. David Burton said:

Today, many have forgotten the value of work. Some falsely believe that the highest goal in life is to achieve a condition in which one no longer needs to work. President David O. McKay (1873–1970) was fond of saying, “Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, that power to work is a blessing, that love of work is success.”

 

Work is not a matter of economic need alone; it is a spiritual necessity. … To work—honestly and productively—brings contentment and a sense of self-worth.

Work is not just doing things for ourselves but also reaching out to help others. This is another example that Jesus Christ set for us. Elder James B. Martino said:

Christ was the epitome of service. His life was filled with examples of helping and serving others, and His greatest gift of all was what He did for us. … When we serve others, we forget our own problems, and by working to relieve the pain or discomfort of others, we strengthen ourselves.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said:

God has designed this mortal existence to require nearly constant exertion. I recall the Prophet Joseph Smith’s simple statement: “By continuous labor [we] were enabled to get a comfortable maintenance” (Joseph Smith—History 1:55). By work we sustain and enrich life. It enables us to survive the disappointments and tragedies of the mortal experience. Hard-earned achievement brings a sense of self-worth. Work builds and refines character, creates beauty, and is the instrument of our service to one another and to God. A consecrated life is filled with work, sometimes repetitive, sometimes menial, sometimes unappreciated but always work that improves, orders, sustains, lifts, ministers, aspires.

Cinderella benefitted from the magic of work while her stepmother and stepsisters languished in vanity, misery and spiritual poverty. She lost herself in the work of serving others, and thus in so doing rose above her circumstances.

 

Forgiveness is Freeing

Jesus Christ with the woman at the well.
Through the love of the Savior, Jesus Christ, we can find the strength to forgive those who have trespassed against us.

In the end, Cinderella frankly forgave her stepmother and stepsisters of their trespasses. She didn’t want to be burdened by the weight of animosity and bitterness that beset her stepfamily. They were ravaged by resentment, disappointment, grief and pride. Unable to see beyond their own circumstances, they sought to elevate themselves by destroying Cinderella. In the end, they did just the opposite. This is true in our own lives as well. If we seek to elevate ourselves by ruining another, we will only succeed in destroying ourselves.

President Boyd K. Packer told the story of a man who lost his wife after the birth of their first child due to the negligence of the traveling country doctor. The man was grief-stricken and angry at the doctor. President Packer continued:

A grieving, heartbroken young man went to see his spiritual leader. … The counsel from this wise servant was simply: “John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.”

 

My friend told me then that this had been his trial, his Gethsemane. How could he leave it alone? Right was right! A terrible wrong had been committed, and somebody must pay for it.

However, the man finally decided to get hold of himself and follow the counsel that he had been given. President Packer said:

Then [the man] told me, “I was an old man before I finally understood. It was not until I was an old man that I could finally see a poor country doctor—overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient to patient, with little proper medicine, no hospital, few instruments. He struggled to save lives, and succeeded for the most part.

 

“He had come in a moment of crisis when two lives hung in the balance and had acted without delay.

 

“I was an old man,” he repeated, “before finally I understood. I would have ruined my life,” he said, “and the lives of others.”

 

… And that is my counsel to you. If you have festering sores, a grudge, some bitterness, disappointment, or jealousy, get hold of yourself. You may not be able to control things out there with others, but you can control things here, inside of you.

In life it is easy to see things from our own points of view, but we can’t always see the whole picture. However, our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ can. It is for this reason that the Savior said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine & Covenants 64:10). Elder David E. Sorenson said:

This is not to say that forgiveness is easy. When someone has hurt us or those we care about, that pain can almost be overwhelming. It can feel as if … we have no choice but to seek vengeance. But Christ, the Prince of Peace, teaches us a better way. It can be very difficult to forgive someone the harm they’ve done us, but when we do, we open ourselves up to a better future. No longer does someone else’s wrongdoing control our course. When we forgive others, it frees us to choose how we will live our own lives. Forgiveness means that problems of the past no longer dictate our destinies, and we can focus on the future with God’s love in our hearts.

This is the beauty and miracle of forgiveness. And it is found only in and through the example and Atonement of Jesus Christ. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

The pure love of Christ can remove the scales of resentment and wrath from our eyes, allowing us to see others the way our Heavenly Father sees us: as flawed and imperfect mortals who have potential and worth far beyond our capacity to imagine. Because God loves us so much, we too must love and forgive each other.

 

Our Choices Define Who We Are

At the end of the day, our choices define who we are. Like Cinderella’s wicked stepfamily, we can choose to be miserable in our circumstances. Or we can choose to be happy, as did Cinderella. Into each life, some rain will come. But it’s how we choose to deal with the rain and mud that defines our character. Elder L. Tom Perry said:

Those of us who have been around a while … have recognized certain patterns in life’s test. There are cycles of good and bad times, ups and downs, periods of joy and sadness, and times of plenty as well as scarcity. When our lives turn in an unanticipated and undesirable direction, sometimes we experience stress and anxiety. One of the challenges of this mortal experience is to not allow the stresses and strains of life to get the better of us—to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic. Perhaps when difficulties and challenges strike, we should have these hopeful words of Robert Browning etched in our minds: “The best is yet to be” (“Rabbi Ben Ezra,” in Charles W. Eliot, ed., The Harvard Classics, 50 vols. [1909–10], 42:1103).

Each of us has a little bit of Cinderella in us—and some of her stepfamily, too. But ultimately, it’s up to each one of us to decide how our fairy tales will end. As President Monson said:

It has been said … that history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives. Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make—for decisions determine destiny.

The Truth about Mothers

May is the month that we celebrate mothers. Each of us comes from a long line of mothers that extends all the way to Eve. Mother Eve was the crowning creation of our Heavenly Father. She set the example of womanhood and motherhood for all of her daughters to follow. Sister Patricia T. Holland said:

Eve was given the identity of “the mother of all living”—years, decades, perhaps centuries before she ever bore a child. It would appear that her motherhood preceded her maternity, just as surely as the perfection of the Garden preceded the struggles of mortality. I believe mother is one of those very carefully chosen words, one of those rich words—with meaning after meaning after meaning. … I believe with all my heart that it is first and foremost a statement about our nature, not a head count of our children.

Through her example, we learn many things about mothers—including our own. We learn about the truly divine nature of women and womanhood. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have heard the stories of Eve my whole life. But I have gained a greater appreciation for Mother Eve as I more fully realize the powerful example she set for her daughters is still applicable thousands of years later. Here are 5 truths about mothers (and women) that I learned from Eve.

 

Woman is God’s Crowning Creation

adam-eve-39458-gallery

Adam and Eve were the first people on earth. Theirs was truly a love story crafted by God Himself. After God created the heavens and the earth and placed all manner of plants and animals upon it, He created man and placed him in the Garden of Eden. But God was not done. The scriptures teach:

And I, the Lord God, caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam; and he slept, and I took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh in the stead thereof;

 

And the rib which I, the Lord God, had taken from man, made I a woman, and brought her unto the man.

 

And Adam said: This I know now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of man. (See Moses 3:21-25.)

The symbolism of the rib illustrates the importance of Eve—and all women—in the world. Elder Russell M. Nelson said:

From the rib of Adam, Eve was formed (see Genesis 2:22; Moses 3:22Abraham 5:16). … I presume another bone could have been used, but the rib, coming as it does from the side, seems to denote partnership. The rib signifies neither dominion nor subservience, but a lateral relationship as partners, to work and to live, side by side.

The late President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

Woman is God’s supreme creation. Only after the earth had been formed, after the day had been separated from the night, after the waters had been divided from the land, after vegetation and animal life had been created, and after man had been placed on the earth, was woman created; and only then was the work pronounced complete and good.

 

Of all the creations of the Almighty, there is none more beautiful, none more inspiring than a lovely daughter of God who walks in virtue with an understanding of why she should do so, who honors and respects her body as a thing sacred and divine, who cultivates her mind and constantly enlarges the horizon of her understanding, who nurtures her spirit with everlasting truth.

Elder Richard G. Scott said:

… Women are the compassionate, self-sacrificing, loving power that binds together the human family.

Eve truly was God’s crowning creation. When we as women understand our own divine power, we can more fully use it as an unstoppable force for good in the world today.

 

Motherhood—Eve’s Divine Choice

Eve showed us that motherhood truly is a divine choice. In the beginning, Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. Of this time, Elder Scott said:

When Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, all that they needed for daily sustenance was abundantly given to them. They had no difficulties, challenges, or pain. Because they had never experienced hard times, they did not know they could be happy. They had never felt turmoil, so they could not feel peace.

But something was missing. God gave Adam and Eve two conflicting commandments. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:

To the first man and woman on earth, the Lord said, “Be fruitful, and multiply” (Moses 2:28; see also Genesis 1:28). This commandment was first in sequence and first in importance.

Of the second commandment, the late President James E. Faust explained:

In the Garden of Eden, she and Adam were instructed not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, they were also reminded, “Thou mayest choose for thyself.”

Elder Oaks said:

When Adam and Eve received the first commandment, they were in a transitional state, no longer in the spirit world but with physical bodies not yet subject to death and not yet capable of procreation. They could not fulfill the Father’s first commandment without transgressing the barrier between the bliss of the Garden of Eden and the terrible trials and wonderful opportunities of mortal life.

 

For reasons that have not been revealed, this transition, or “fall,” could not happen without a transgression—an exercise of moral agency amounting to a willful breaking of a law (see Moses 6:59).

Thus, Adam and Eve had a decision to make. President Faust explained:

The choice was really between a continuation of their comfortable existence in Eden, where they would never progress, or a momentous exit into mortality with its opposites: pain, trials, and physical death in contrast to joy, growth, and the potential for eternal life. In contemplating this choice, we are told, “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, … and a tree to be desired to make her wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and also gave unto her husband with her, and he did eat.” And thus began their earthly probation and parenthood.

Eve is sometimes infamous in our day and age for her choice to partake of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and for convincing Adam to do the same. But, President Faust said:

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Eve. … Eve made an even greater statement of visionary wisdom after leaving the Garden of Eden: “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” If it hadn’t been for Eve, none of us would be here.

Eve had made the divine choice to become a mother. She may not have fully understood the consequences of her actions, but she knew that she wanted to be a mother. It is a choice for which we owe a great debt. President Thomas S. Monson said:

Mother, who willingly made that personal journey into the valley of the shadow of death to take us by the hand and introduce us to birth—even to mortal life—deserves our undying gratitude. One writer summed up our love for mother when he declared, “God could not be everywhere, and so He gave us mothers.”

 

Motherhood is a Partnership

Adam and Eve teaching their children

As President Monson’s quoted writer so eloquently declared, motherhood is truly a partnership with God. And motherhood is a partnership with fatherhood. They are inextricably intertwined. Elder Nelson said:

Marvelously, it takes a man and a woman to make a man or a woman. Without union of the sexes, neither can we exist, nor can we become perfect.

Mothers and fathers, women and men, have their own divine roles in this partnership. Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

God has revealed through his prophets that men are to receive the priesthood, become fathers, and with gentleness and pure, unfeigned love they are to lead and nurture their families in righteousness as the Savior leads the Church (see Ephesians 5:23). They have been given the primary responsibility for the temporal and physical needs of the family (see Doctrine & Covenants 83:2). Women have the power to bring children into the world and have been given the primary duty and opportunity as mothers to lead, nurture, and teach them in a loving, spiritual environment. In this divine partnership, husbands and wives support one another in their God-given capacities. By appointing different accountabilities to men and women, Heavenly Father provides the greatest opportunity for growth, service, and progress. He did not give different tasks to men and women simply to perpetuate the idea of a family; rather, He did so to ensure that the family can continue forever, the ultimate goal of our Heavenly Father’s eternal plan.

Eve taught us that her role was complementary to her husband. She was not in competition with him. Sister Linda K. Burton explained:

… The phrase help meet means “a helper suited to, worthy of, or corresponding to him.” For example, our two hands are similar to each other but not exactly the same. In fact, they are exact opposites, but they complement each other and are suited to each other. Working together, they are stronger.

 

In a chapter about families, the Church handbook contains this statement: “The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.” Please note that it does not say “compete with each other” but “complete each other”! We are here to help, lift, and rejoice with each other as we try to become our very best selves. Sister Barbara B. Smith wisely taught, “There is so much more of happiness to be had when we can rejoice in another’s successes and not just in our own.” When we seek to “complete” rather than “compete,” it is so much easier to cheer each other on!

Adam and Eve illustrated the power that comes from partnering with each other and God. Sister Sheri L. Dew explained:

The Lord’s pattern for couples … was established by our first parents. Together Adam and Eve labored, mourned, were obedient, had children…. Repeatedly the scriptures about Adam and Eve refer to the pronoun they.

 

… Their unique roles were interconnected. They counseled with one another, lifted burdens neither could have lifted alone, and then faced the wilderness, with all of its uncertainty, together.

God did not intend for us to walk alone in this journey through life. He intended us to walk side by side, husband and wife, to navigate the storms together. For those who, for one reason or another, walk alone with no spouse, God has not left us alone. We can always turn to Him, as His beloved daughters, to carry us through the challenging times.

 

Motherhood is a Divine Responsibility

LM-Nurturing-Mothers-Dew

Motherhood is a God-given responsibility for all women. But what exactly does this mean? Sister Dew said:

Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.

Sister Holland said:

Some women give birth and raise children but never “mother” them. Others, whom I love with all my heart, “mother” all their lives but have never given birth. And all of us are Eve’s daughters, whether we are married or single, maternal or barren. We are created in the image of the Gods to become gods and goddesses. And we can provide something of that divine pattern, that maternal prototype, for each other and for those who come after us. Whatever our circumstance, we can reach out, touch, hold, lift, and nurture—but we cannot do it in isolation. We need a community of sisters stilling the soul and binding the wounds of fragmentation.

 

I know that God loves us individually and collectively as women, and that he has a mission for every one of us.

The truth about mothers, then, is that every woman has the capacity to be a mother. Sister Dew said:

… All around us are those who need to be loved and led.

 

Eve set the pattern. In addition to bearing children, she mothered all of mankind when she made the most courageous decision any woman has ever made and with Adam opened the way for us to progress. She set an example of womanhood for men to respect and women to follow, modeling the characteristics with which we as women have been endowed: heroic faith, a keen sensitivity to the Spirit, an abhorrence of evil, and complete selflessness. Like the Savior, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,” Eve, for the joy of helping initiate the human family, endured the Fall. She loved us enough to help lead us.

 

As daughters of our Heavenly Father, and as daughters of Eve, we are all mothers and we have always been mothers. And we each have the responsibility to love and help lead the rising generation.

Eve truly did set the example of mothering for all women to follow. My mother set this example for me. Not only did she mother and raise her own 8 children, she also brought in other children who, from time to time, needed help. Now that her children are grown, she continues to love, nurture and mother as a teacher’s aide in a special needs classroom. One of my sisters has not yet had the opportunity to marry, but she mothers friends, neighbors and all other fellow travelers on the road of life who need her help. Another friend has had no children of her own, but lovingly cares for those of all ages who are in need of her talents as a speech pathologist. Another friend and her husband have yet been unable to have children of their own, but are now foster parents (and adopted a teenager).

My mom and mother-in-law both live thousands of miles away, but I have surrogate sisters, mothers and grandmothers who still love, nurture and care for me and my family both in times of need and in times of joy. All of these women are powerful examples of mothers, daughters of Eve who have followed in her footsteps. As we celebrate mothers—our own as well as those around us—let us remember the words of Sister Dew:

Few of us will reach our potential without the nurturing of both the mother who bore us and the mothers who bear with us.

General Conference: A Modern Manifestation of Living Prophets

Mormon General Conference
LDS General Conference is held in the 21,000-seat Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

The concept of continuing revelation—that God speaks to living prophets and Apostles in our day—is a fundamental doctrine in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the semi-annual general conferences, which take place the first weekend of the months of April and October. During these meetings, the living prophets and Apostles address the worldwide body of The Church of Jesus Christ. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

A general conference of this Church is a remarkable occasion indeed—it is an institutional declaration that the heavens are open, that divine guidance is as real today as it was for the ancient house of Israel, that God our Heavenly Father loves us and speaks His will through a living prophet.

Elder Robert D. Hales said:

Conferences have always been part of the true Church of Jesus Christ. Adam gathered his posterity and prophesied of things to come. Moses gathered the children of Israel and taught them the commandments he had received. The Savior taught multitudes gathered both in the Holy Land and on the American continent. Peter gathered believers in Jerusalem. The first general conference in these latter days was convened just two months after the Church was organized, and conferences have continued to this very day.

 

These conferences are always under the direction of the Lord, guided by His Spirit. We are not assigned specific topics. Over weeks and months, often through sleepless nights, we wait upon the Lord. Through fasting, praying, studying, and pondering, we learn the message that He wants us to give.

For Latter-day Saints, these worldwide gatherings are unifying, edifying, uplifting and instructional. They are a significant part of the modern Church of Jesus Christ.

 

Conferences Create Unity

Watching Mormon General Conference on
General Conference is available to watch on the Mormon Channel on YouTube and other media platforms.

The Church of Jesus Christ is a global organization with more than 15 million members. General conference is broadcast in more than 90 languages in over 200 countries across the world. Twice a year, Mormons gather as one. It is a heritage that began in the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ. Mormon historian Kenneth W. Godfrey explained:

The first general conference was held in Fayette, New York on 9 June 1830, two months after the Church’s organization. Only seven elders were present; the entire Church had fewer than a dozen priesthood holders. Joseph Smith read the articles and covenants (Doctrine & Covenants 20) which were received by the unanimous voice of the whole congregation. Oliver Cowdery ordained Samuel Smith an elder; then Joseph Smith, Sr., and Hyrum Smith were ordained priests. Thus began the general conference heritage of the Church.

 

Those early conferences were more like church business meetings. Men were proposed for and sustained in the priesthood. Members of the Church made suggestions and presented resolutions from the floor. Church members were tried, disfellowshipped, excommunicated, chastised, praised, and reinstated.

 

At first, conferences were convened at the First Presidency’s request at different times of the year and in different places. The 6 April 1833 general conference was held at the ferry on the Big Blue River in Jackson County, Missouri. It was not until Church headquarters moved to Illinois that the pattern was set of holding conferences in each April and October.

Conference took on new meaning after the Latter-day Saints came to the Salt Lake Valley. Godfrey wrote:

After the Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, general conference became a time of reunion and spiritual growth. Mission calls often came from the pulpit with no prior warning. … Others were sent to colonize the more than 350 places settled under Brigham Young’s direction…. Such calls added to the excitement of attending a general conference. During those first few years in the Salt Lake valley, fall conference was often held in August or September so that the newly called missionaries could leave before winter storms closed the mountain passes.

But it wasn’t just a time to conduct Church business. The late President Howard W. Hunter said:

Many years have passed since settlers came in covered wagons into this valley in the tops of the Rockies. Conference was an important occasion in their day, and it continues to be a significant occasion in ours as people of faith and devotion come together to renew and strengthen that faith.

It is this spirit of unity, strengthening and faith that continue today. LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson said:

We can’t all be together under one roof, but we now have the ability to partake of the proceedings of this conference through the wonders of television, radio, cable, satellite transmission, and the Internet—even on mobile devices. We come together as one, speaking many languages, living in many lands, but all of one faith and one doctrine and one purpose.

 

A Time to Sustain the Prophet & Apostles

Sustaining the prophet in April 2013 General Conference
During the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference, Latter-day Saints have the opportunity to raise their right hands to sustain— or not sustain— the prophet and Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ. Known as the law of common consent, it is not a democratic vote but rather an opportunity to accept or reject those whom the Lord has called to lead His Church.

General Conference is also a time for Mormons to publicly show their love and support for the Lord’s prophet on the earth today—President Thomas S. Monson—and His Apostles. Living prophets are a hallmark of the Lord’s Church. Elder Russell M. Nelson taught:

A prophet has stood at the head of God’s Church in all dispensations, from Adam to the present day. Prophets testify of Jesus Christ—of His divinity and of His earthly mission and ministry. We honor the Prophet Joseph Smith as the prophet of this last dispensation. And we honor each man who has succeeded him as President of the Church.

In the Saturday afternoon session, each member of The Church of Jesus Christ has the privilege of raising his or her right hand to sustain—or not sustain—those whom Christ has chosen to lead His Church. It is an individual act, but it is also a unifying show of love and support. Elder Nelson explained:

All leaders in the Lord’s Church are called by proper authority. No prophet or any other leader in this Church, for that matter, has ever called himself or herself. No prophet has ever been elected. The Lord made that clear when He said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you.” You and I do not “vote” on Church leaders at any level. We do, though, have the privilege of sustaining them. …

 

Our sustaining of prophets is a personal commitment that we will do our utmost to uphold their prophetic priorities. Our sustaining is an oath-like indication that we recognize their calling as a prophet to be legitimate and binding upon us.

Wherever they are across the globe, Latter-day Saints have the opportunity to sustain the prophet in this meeting. The late Elder David B. Haight said:

In my mind’s eye, I thought of the gatherings of our own family, which is scattered across America—in Georgia; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Pennsylvania; Texas; California; and here in Salt Lake City. Of those little families in whatever the setting might be, there in their home or in the chapel, I thought I could see some of those little ones being taught to raise their hands and to be in harmony, perhaps their parents teaching them what we were doing. When we raised our hands, we not only just did it in motion because it looks like everybody’s doing it, but because we accept and we’re bearing witness about the knowledge we have and the testimony we have that [then] President Hinckley is our prophet and our leader. We not only raise our hands in saying we sustain but that we follow his direction, that we listen, that we counsel, that we pray about it, that we’re mindful of what comes from the lips of the prophet.

 

A Time of Instruction

Mormon President Monson at General Conference

General conference is a time of instruction, when the Lord’s servants speak. President Monson said:

We meet each six months to strengthen one another, to extend encouragement, to provide comfort, to build faith. We are here to learn. Some of you may be seeking answers to questions and challenges you are experiencing in your life. Some are struggling with disappointments or losses. Each can be enlightened and uplifted and comforted as the Spirit of the Lord is felt. …

The messages of General Conference are at once broad and personal—and run the gamut of topics. Elder Holland said:

Most of our congregation … is made up of members of the Church. However, with marvelous new methods of communication, ever larger proportions of the audience for our conferences are not members of the Church—yet. So we must speak to those who know us very well and those who know us not at all. Within the Church alone we must speak to the children, the youth and young adults, the middle-aged, and the elderly. We must speak to families and parents and children at home even as we speak to those who are not married, without children, and perhaps very far from home. In the course of a general conference, we always stress the eternal verities of faith, hope, charity, and Christ crucified even as we speak forthrightly on very specific moral issues of the day. We are commanded in the scriptures to “say nothing but repentance unto this generation,” while at the same time we are to preach “good tidings [to] the meek … [and] bind up the brokenhearted.” Whatever form they take, these conference messages “proclaim liberty to the captives” and declare “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” In the wide variety of sermons given is the assumption that there will be something for everyone. In this regard, I guess President Harold B. Lee put it best years ago when he said that the gospel is “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the [comfortable].”

But each person who watches can be personally instructed by the power of the Holy Ghost. Elder Hales said:

In conferences we can receive the word of the Lord meant just for us. One member testified: “As I listened to your address, I was astounded. … Your talk was personal revelation directly from the Lord to my family. I have never experienced such a strong manifestation of the Spirit in my life as those minutes when the Holy Ghost spoke directly to me.”

 

Another said, “I have never before felt so profoundly that a talk was being given to me.”

 

This is possible because the Holy Ghost carries the word of the Lord unto our hearts in terms we can understand.

And, for Mormons, this is one of the greatest blessings of conference—personal guidance and direction.

 

A Call to Action

Implicit in the messages of conference is a call to action. Elder Hales said:

The greatest blessings of general conference come to us after the conference is over. Remember the pattern recorded frequently in scripture: we gather to hear the words of the Lord, and we return to our homes to live them.

President Hunter said:

Conference time is a season of spiritual revival when knowledge and testimony are increased and solidified that God lives and blesses those who are faithful. … Conference is the time when our leaders give us inspired direction in the conduct of our lives—a time when souls are stirred and resolutions are made to be better husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, more obedient sons and daughters, better friends and neighbors.

And these messages are available for further study in myriad formats—including online and in the Church magazines following the broadcast. Elder L. Tom Perry said:

Technology has blessed us with many new innovations to spread the message of the gospel through satellite systems, our own network Web site, television, radio, as well as the written text in our magazines and newspaper. All of these add to our delivery systems, which greatly increase our ability to receive the messages that are delivered.

 

But the bricks and mortar and the continued expansion of technology will only bring the messages to us. One challenge remains the same from the time of King Benjamin [in the Book of Mormon] … to today—that is, the challenge of each individual and family, through personal and collective study, to internalize the messages of the gospel of our Lord and Savior. Salvation is not in facilities or technology, but in the word. Only in the power of the word will it impact our lives and help us to live closer to our Father in Heaven.

The messages of modern prophets, Apostles and other Church leaders are given through inspiration of the Lord. Elder Hales said:

We may not know all the reasons why the prophets and conference speakers address us with certain topics in conference, but the Lord does. [The late] President Harold B. Lee taught: “The only safety we have as members of this church is to … give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet. There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes from the authority of the Church. It may contradict your [personal] views. It may contradict your social views. It may interfere with some of your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, with patience and faith, the promise is that ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; … and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory’ (Doctrine & Covenants 21:6).”

 

How did President Lee know what we would be facing in our day? He knew because he was a prophet, seer, and revelator. And if we listen and obey the prophets now, including those who will speak in this very conference, we will be strengthened and protected.

 

What is General Conference?

General conference is a series of two-hour sessions for the general membership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The spring meeting is called annual and the fall meeting semiannual. They are held Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. mountain time in the 21,000-seat Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Included in the sessions is the general women’s meeting and the priesthood meeting. The general women’s meeting, for girls and women ages 8 and older, is the opening conference meeting and is held on Saturday evening the weekend before General Conference. The priesthood meeting, held Saturday evening between the general Saturday and Sunday sessions, is for young men and men ages 12 and older who have been ordained to the priesthood.

Latter-day Saints travel from all over the world to attend the conference sessions. Free tickets are distributed for each session, but standby lines are also available for those without tickets. Overflow facilities—including the old Tabernacle, the former location for general conference—are located nearby on Temple Square.

Click here to find out how to access the messages of General Conference.

 

Who Resurrected Jesus?

Sometimes you find things in the gospel that you have just taken for granted, but have never researched for yourself. It is just what you were taught, so you assume it to be true. For some, this is the case with the idea of the resurrection of Christ. I had been taught that Jesus resurrected Himself. It never occurred to me to go and find the references for that event on my own.

What I discovered when I did go hunting was a tangle of beliefs that are scattered all over the spectrum. Christians have such varying beliefs that I was astonished by the diversity of belief I found. I learned that much of their belief is based on their definition of God and their interpretation of the Bible. Even among Protestants belief in Christ and what He did varies widely.

I have included here quotes from a couple of Christian sources. One states there is no way Christ could have resurrected Himself, and the other claims uncategorically that Jesus raised himself from the dead. I have also included a list of resurrection verses from the scriptures and several references from Church leaders who have differing methods of discussing the subject.

resurrected christ

Christianity Divided

The Good News – A Magazine of Understanding is published by the United Church of God. The first paragraph is only one of several reference paragraphs where they list verses that claim that someone other than Jesus resurrected him. The second paragraph explains the verses in John that “implies” that Jesus would bring himself back to life.

No dead person can resurrect Himself. Death is the complete absence of life and consciousness. Only someone alive and gifted with supernatural powers could have performed such a wondrous deed. The New Testament plainly reveals in many passages that it was God the Father who raised Jesus from the dead.

For example, the apostle Peter stated in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost: “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses” (Acts:2:32). Not long after, Peter repeated this vital testimony. He told the audience that they had “killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses” (Acts:3:15). …

Yet Jesus did say, “Destroy this temple [referring to His body being slain], and in three days I will raise it up [implying His resurrection]” (John:2:19; see verse 21). Jesus did not mean by this that He would come back to life on His own, contradicting the other verses in this regard. Rather, He was referring to the fact that once God the Father made Him alive again in His tomb, He would stand up from where He lay dead—raising Himself from His lying position to then ascend from the grave.

The following two paragraphs come from an article from Come Reason Ministries. This is an apologetics article. They clearly believe that Jesus raised himself from the dead. They also include the belief that the other members of the Trinity (Godhead) had a hand it the process.

There are a couple of key verses where Jesus explicitly claims that He has the power over His own life. In John chapter 2, Jesus drives out the merchants and the moneychangers from the Temple and the Jewish religious leaders were incensed. They demanded to know what proof Jesus could offer to justify His judgment of spiritual propriety. Jesus responded “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John then clarifies Jesus’ statement and writes, “But He was speaking of the temple of His body.” Jesus reiterated His power over His own life and death in John 10:17 – 18 when He says, “My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

It is clear that Jesus claimed to have the power to resurrect Himself. The Bible also claims that God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, (see Acts 5:30, Galatians 1:1 among others) and that God’s Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11, 1 Peter, 3:18). So we have all three persons of the Trinity involved in Jesus’ resurrection. Given the crucial aspect of the Resurrection to God’s plan, that is no surprise.

Christ appears to Mary

Relevant Verses

Before I list comments on Christ’s resurrection from modern apostles and get into a commentary about the issue, I think it would be good to read a few verses that talk about Christ’s resurrection. Notice that some have already been referenced, and there seem to be some contradictions as to who should get credit for the resurrection of Christ.

2 Nephi 2:8:

Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, being the first that should rise.

Here we are told that Jesus used the power of the Spirit to resurrect Himself. In the verse below we are told that it was Jesus who broke the bands of death.

Mosiah 15:23:

They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.

2 Timothy 1:10:

But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel:

The verse in 2 Timothy is a little vague as to who actually did the resurrecting. All it says is that Christ “brought life.” This doesn’t help us solve anything. In the next verse from the book of Romans, all we know is that “the glory of the Father” raised Christ. It doesn’t say who actually performed the resurrection.

Romans 6:4:

Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Revelation 1:18:

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

From our understanding of priesthood keys through modern revelation, we know that he who has the keys controls all the rights of administration to the ordinances and powers of that thing. If Christ has the keys of death and hell then he has control over life and is the ultimate judge, because only the one who holds those keys can consign someone to hell. This verse is a pretty reasonable indication that Jesus could have resurrected himself.

Luke 24:46:

And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day:

This verse makes it sound like Christ was in control of both his death and his own resurrection.

Jesus Christ Mormonism

Words of the Prophets

In his Conference talk from April, 1982, entitled The Resurrection of Jesus, Elder Marion G. Romney states very clearly that Jesus “brought forth his own glorious resurrected body.” Yet in the next reference from the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce R. McConkie, he left the reference vague, saying that it was done “by the power of God.”

When we speak of Jesus being resurrected, we mean that his premortal spirit, which animated his mortal body from his birth in the manger until he died on the cross, reentered that body; and the two, his spirit body and his physical body, inseparably welded together, arose from the tomb an immortal soul.

Our belief is, and we so testify, that Jesus not only conquered death for himself and brought forth his own glorious resurrected body, but that in so doing he also brought about a universal resurrection. This was the end and purpose of the mission for which he was set apart and ordained in the great council in heaven, when he was chosen to be our Savior and Redeemer (Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, p 639).

Christ was the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23), and because of his resurrection, “by the power of God,” all men shall come forth from the grave (Mormon 9:13).

Doctrines of Salvation, Vol 1, p 31 by Joseph Fielding Smith states very clearly that Jesus resurrected Himself. Actually, it doesn’t, but it does say that He had the power to do it by Himself. What it does appear to state is that Jesus was commanded of his Father to resurrect Himself. This ability to raise Himself from the dead is the ultimate proof that Jesus was divine.

Christ Had Power over Death. This being true, what then did Paul mean by saying to Timothy, according to the King James Bible, that the Son of God “only hath immortality”? Simply this: That of all who have dwelt upon this earth, the Son of God stands out alone as the only one who possessed life in himself and power over death inherently. Christ was never subject unto death, even on the cross, but death was ever subject unto him. “As the Father hath life in himself,” the Savior said, “so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” Again, he said: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 5:26; John 10:17 – 18).

In the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell (from the same talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson referenced below) the victory over death belongs to Christ.

“Christ’s victory over death ended the human predicament. Now there are only personal predicaments, and from these too we may be rescued by following the teachings of him who rescued us from general extinction.”

In the April, 2014 General Conference Elder D. Todd Christofferson gave a talk entitled, The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is also pretty clear that Jesus had the power within himself to raise himself from the dead.

Christ’s Resurrection shows that His existence is independent and everlasting. “For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself.” Jesus said:

“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.

“No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”

The Savior is not dependent on food or water or oxygen or any other substance or power or person for life. Both as Jehovah and Messiah, He is the great I Am, the self-existing God. He simply is and ever will be.

… Consider for a moment the significance of the Resurrection in resolving once and for all the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth and the great philosophical contests and questions of life. If Jesus was in fact literally resurrected, it necessarily follows that He is a divine being. No mere mortal has the power in himself to come to life again after dying. Because He was resurrected, Jesus cannot have been only a carpenter, a teacher, a rabbi, or a prophet. Because He was resurrected, Jesus had to have been a God, even the Only Begotten Son of the Father.

resurrected Christ

The Importance of Unity of the Godhead

If you have spent any time in the scriptures you have probably read passages where Jesus speaks as though He is the Father. You have also read passages where the Holy Spirit has spoken as though He were either Christ or the Father. My point is the degree of unity in the Godhead. They speak and act for each other.

I have shown you verses that claim the Spirit raised Jesus, verses that say the Father raised Jesus, and verses that say Jesus raised Himself. As part of the Godhead, does it really matter who did it? I don’t think so. Most of the modern prophets rely on the reference that Jesus had the power over life and death within Himself.

Whether Jesus was raised by the Father, used the power of the Spirit to raise Himself, or had sufficient power to raise Himself without any assistance, it doesn’t change my view of the divinity of Jesus. He was dead, yet lives again. Because of Him all of us will live again. Life has meaning of an eternal nature because of His resurrection. I think that is all that truly matters.

What about you? What were you taught about the resurrection of Jesus? Can you allow that though we don’t have all the answers as to exactly how the resurrection took place that what really matters is that He lives? As you think about what the risen Lord means to you, does it really matter who had a hand in it? Jesus died, yet He lives again. This is the glorious message of the gospel. This is the good news of our salvation and redemption.

The Lord has never given us details about important spiritual events and processes. In this life we are required to walk by faith. How Jesus was resurrected is one of those details He hasn’t shared with us. But we live by faith that because of his resurrection we will live again as well. This means we will have the opportunity for eternal progress and growth, and eternal families. His atonement and resurrection were the most profound events in our existence.

5 Things to Remember When a Loved One is Incarcerated

Most people, including members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, don’t anticipate having to visit their spouses behind bars. It’s just a foreign concept for us. Unfortunately, we are all human, and we all make mistakes. And, as one woman said, some people’s mistakes are bigger and more visible than others.

My friend who said this has firsthand experience with high-profile errors, because her husband is serving time in federal prison on a case that was well-publicized in their former community. He is appealing his conviction. The husband of another friend of mine is also incarcerated, and his case is winding through the legal system.

I am a second-hand observer to their situations, and I don’t pretend to know how they feel. But I can imagine that the road is lonely and a little scary. My purpose in writing this is to help others who might be in a similar situation see that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and they are not alone. From the experiences of these two ladies, here are 5 things to remember when a loved one is incarcerated.

 

1. Heavenly Father loves us, and everything will be OK in the end.

One of my friends said that, from the beginning, she needed to know that Heavenly Father loves her and her husband, and that everything would be OK. The late President Gordon B. Hinckley was fond of saying, “Things will work out.” In times of distress, sometimes it’s hard to see that.

Sister Elaine S. Dalton said:

The Lord has promised us that as we “search diligently, pray always, and be believing, … all things [will] work together for [our] good” (Doctrine & Covenants 90:24; emphasis added). That doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect or that we will not have any trials, but it does mean that everything will be okay if we just “hang in there.”

Sometimes the trials are of our own making, and sometimes they are a result of another’s choices. But if we focus on doing what’s right—or repenting of our wrongs, if need be—then, in the end, everything will be OK.

Above all, we must remember that the love of God transcends all of our weaknesses and our sins. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught:

God does not look on the outward appearance. I believe that He doesn’t care one bit if we live in a castle or a cottage, if we are handsome or homely, if we are famous or forgotten. Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely.

 

He loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

 

What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.

My friend said that knowing everything will work out in the end, she can be OK now. Her faith in Heavenly Father’s love and guidance gives her courage to face her trial with faith. And she knows that as long as she is on the right path, that she will be OK—and so will her husband. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting. And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal.

Not only do these women need to know that Heavenly Father loves them no matter what, their husbands need to know that as well. And, though we might need to make some course corrections, “all things will work for our good” if we trust in Heavenly Father and try to do what’s right.

 

2. The situation calls for compassion and mercy, not judgment.

Savior Compassion

Easter 2013, my friend’s husband asked my husband, who was his bishop, for a blessing. His trial was coming to an end, and he and his family were scared of what the outcome would be. The Spirit was strong as my husband and other priesthood holders administered to this man. He was convicted shortly thereafter, with harsh words from the judge. However, he and his family continued to feel the peace that they felt during his blessing. I’m not trying to say that it has been easy for them, but they were comforted by the words spoken in his blessing.

It would be easy for me to pass judgment on him in this case—after all, he was found guilty. But I don’t think I have enough information to do so. And I don’t feel like I can. The Prophet Joseph Smith said:

Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive. … God does not look on sin with [the least degree of] allowance, but … the nearer we get to our heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs. [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 257, 240–41.]

It is for this reason that we are taught to not judge others. This concept can seem confusing. The Savior taught that we should “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1). At another time, He taught that we should “judge which is right” (Luke 12:57). Elder Dallin H. Oaks clarified:

We must, of course, make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency, but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final.

In other words, we must decide if a person’s actions are wrong, but we must not condemn the person—meaning that there is no more hope of divine forgiveness for that person. President Uchtdorf said:

I am not suggesting that we accept sin or overlook evil, in our personal life or in the world. Nevertheless, in our zeal, we sometimes confuse sin with sinner, and we condemn too quickly and with too little compassion. We know from modern revelation that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” We cannot gauge the worth of another soul any more than we can measure the span of the universe. Every person we meet is a VIP to our Heavenly Father. Once we understand that, we can begin to understand how we should treat our fellowmen. …

 

With this in mind, let our hearts and hands be stretched out in compassion toward others, for everyone is walking his or her own difficult path. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn.

We don’t always know the thoughts, intents and struggles of another person, and we don’t always know what is in his or her heart. But the Savior does. That is why those who are incarcerated—and the loved ones they left behind—need love, support and encouragement instead of judgment.

President Henry B. Eyring told a story about a friend’s grandmother who had a wayward grandson. This grandson chose a life of crime and eventually was sent to prison. President Eyring said:

My friend recalled that his grandmother, as she drove along a highway to visit her grandson in prison, had tears in her eyes as she prayed with anguish, “I’ve tried to live a good life. Why, why do I have this tragedy of a grandson who seems to have destroyed his life?”

 

The answer came to her mind in these words: “I gave him to you because I knew you could and would love him no matter what he did.”

 

There is a wonderful lesson for us all. … Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son love all of God’s children no matter what they choose to do or what they become. The Savior paid the price of all sins, no matter how heinous. Even though there must be justice, the opportunity for mercy is extended which will not rob justice.

(Maybe it’s just me), but I always thought that the prisons were full of bad people who deserved to be there. Through this experience I have realized that although some might deserve to be there, that doesn’t mean that they are bad people. President Uchtdorf said:

In truth, we “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” We are all in need of mercy. In that last day when we are called to the judgment bar of God, do we not hope that our many imperfections will be forgiven? Do we not yearn to feel the Savior’s embrace?

 

It seems only right and proper that we extend to others that which we so earnestly desire for ourselves.

 

3. The Church of Jesus Christ offers resources for those who are incarcerated.

Book of MormonWhen my friend’s husband was arrested nearly two years ago, they wondered how they could get him scriptures, a subscription to the Ensign magazine or other materials from The Church of Jesus Christ. At least in the experiences of my friends, inmates are only allowed to have soft-cover books that come directly from the distributor.

But the Church does offer resources for those who are incarcerated:

In collaboration with Welfare Services at church headquarters, LDS Family Services is responsible for materials and professional resources to assist those in correctional institutions and their families. For assistance, contact LDS Correctional Services at 800-453-3860, ext. 2-2644, or [email protected]

In addition, some corrections institutions have bishops assigned to assist members there. When permitted, The Church of Jesus Christ will organize programs and other services at facilities—including worship services with prayers, talks and fast and testimony meetings. The sacrament is not administered, but the Spirit of God is often there. S. Brent Scharman, who has served as an ecclesiastical leader in correctional institutions, wrote:

I have come to discover that prisons are places of paradox: harshness combines with opportunities for spiritual growth. I’ve had the chance to observe what happens when inmates choose to participate in the Church where it is available. …

 

I’m not sure I’ve ever felt the Spirit more strongly than in a meeting where approximately 100 inmates were celebrating Easter. The choir was surprisingly capable and demonstrated genuine emotion and sincerity. Inmates gave from-the-heart testimonials about their need for the Savior’s help in bringing about real change. The feelings in the meeting that day were of hope, optimism, and love.

 

4. The power of forgiveness and the Atonement are real.

Forgiveness Hinckley

One of the most comforting doctrines for those whose loved ones are incarcerated is that of forgiveness and the Atonement. President Boyd K. Packer said:

… Save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the atonement of Christ.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of hope, even when all seems lost. To claim the blessings of the Atonement, we must repent of our sins. President Uchtdorf taught:

True repentance brings us back to doing what is right. To truly repent we must recognize our sins and feel remorse, or godly sorrow, and confess those sins to God. If our sins are serious, we must also confess them to our authorized priesthood leader. We need to ask God for forgiveness and do all we can to correct whatever harm our actions may have caused. Repentance means a change of mind and heart—we stop doing things that are wrong, and we start doing things that are right. It brings us a fresh attitude toward God, oneself, and life in general.

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is what makes this possible. President Packer said:

Your repentance cannot be accepted unless there is a restitution. If you cannot undo what you have done, you are trapped. It is easy to understand how helpless and hopeless you then feel and why you might want to give up….

 

…Restoring what you cannot restore, healing the wound you cannot heal, fixing that which you broke and you cannot fix is the very purpose of the atonement of Christ.

 

When your desire is firm and you are willing to pay the “uttermost farthing,” the law of restitution is suspended. Your obligation is transferred to the Lord. He will settle your accounts.

Repentance is available to all, even to those who are serving time in prison or jail. President Hinckley said:

I know this is a delicate and sensitive thing of which I am speaking. There are hardened criminals who may have to be locked up. There are unspeakable crimes, such as deliberate murder and rape, that justify harsh penalties. But there are some who could be saved from long, stultifying years in prison because of an unthoughtful, foolish act. Somehow forgiveness, with love and tolerance, accomplishes miracles that can happen in no other way.

My friend sees one of these miracles in her husband’s life. He is pleading guilty in his case. My friend said to me after one of his hearings, “I am so grateful that the prosecutor isn’t out to destroy my husband. She’s trying to be fair, but she’s not trying to ruin his life.” Mercy cannot rob justice. But sometimes, in the pursuit of justice, we can find mercy as well.

 

5. We can be an instrument in the Lord’s hands wherever we are.

Jesus Christ

President Uchtdorf told a story several years ago about a group of men who were trying to move a grand piano. The men tried all sorts of configurations but could not get the instrument balanced enough to move it safely. Finally one man suggested that they all stand close together and lift where they were standing. President Uchtdorf said:

Although it may seem simple, lifting where we stand is a principle of power.

My other friend and her husband are amazing examples of this principle. From the beginning, her husband has befriended and worked to help and lift his fellow inmates. At times he has also enlisted his wife’s assistance in aiding other inmates and their families.

She said that she often receives texts from former inmates. One said, “Tell your husband that I’m praying every night and reading my scriptures.” Another said, “Tell your husband that I’m doing fine and I’m going to church.”

As ironic as it sounds, she and her husband feel that he has been called on a mission to prison. Elder Oaks said:

… The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.

While he is appealing his conviction, my friend’s husband is working to help others realize what they can become. Both of my friends are also lifting where they stand. First and foremost, they love and support their husbands and continue to see the good in them—even when others don’t. Both women are strengthened by their faith in Heavenly Father and the knowledge that their families are bound by temple covenants.

Although they are dealing with their own trials, they are reaching out to others around them. One friend said, “I feel like I have been so blessed throughout this trial that I just want to be helping and serving others whenever possible.”

They are both examples of this quote by Elder Holland:

May we all believe more readily in, and have more gratitude for, the Lord’s promise as contained in one of President Monson’s favorite scriptures: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, … my Spirit shall be in your [heart], and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”  In the process of praying for those angels to attend us, may we all try to be a little more angelic ourselves—with a kind word, a strong arm, a declaration of faith and “the covenant wherewith [we] have covenanted.” Perhaps then we can be emissaries sent from God when someone … is crying, “Darkness … afraid … river … alone.”

 

Christmas is the Season of Hope

Christmas is coming, and the geese are getting fat. But life is still going, and for some people, it’s still really hard. For one family in our community, there will be one less place at the table—a place formerly filled by a beautiful 6-year-old girl who died suddenly last month. Another family will celebrate the second Christmas season with their husband and father incarcerated. And another wife will be missing her husband who is also in jail. And the list could go on. Rather than being the worst time of year for these trials, it’s the best.

Not that the trials are lessened, but the entire season is a celebration of the birth of the one perfect person who could deliver us—the Promised Messiah, our Redeemer Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our hope and our salvation. Through our trials, we gain a deeper appreciation of the life, mission and ministry of Jesus Christ—and a greater understanding of just how powerful His love can be in our lives. And through our understanding of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and His mission and ministry, we find the peace and comfort that we need in our darkest nights. Interestingly, many of the symbols of Christmas—as well as the holiday itself—point us to the true blessing of Christmas—the Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

The Guiding Star

 

Wise Men followed the new star to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus.

For centuries, prophets foretold of the coming of the Messiah and the signs and wonders that would precede His birth. Samuel the Lamanite, a prophet on the ancient American continent, prophesied:

And behold, this will I give unto you for a sign at the time of his coming; for behold, there shall be great lights in heaven, insomuch that in the night before he cometh there shall be no darkness, insomuch that it shall appear unto man as if it was day.

Therefore, there shall be one day and a night and a day, as if it were one day and there were no night; and this shall be unto you for a sign; … and it shall be the night before he is born.

And behold, there shall a new star arise, such an one as ye never have beheld; and this also shall be a sign unto you. (Helaman 14:3-5)

President Henry B. Eyring taught:

One of the most beautiful symbols of the birth of Jesus Christ into this world is light. The appearance of the long-promised Messiah brought light to a darkened world.

The late President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

Christ is the light to all mankind. He has “pointed, marked out and lighted the way. ‘Sadly, many individuals and nations have extinguished that light. They have attempted to supplant His gospel with coercion and the sword.’” (Church News, 4 Dec. 1982, p. 10.) But even to those who reject Him, He is “the light [which] shineth in darkness.” (John 1:5.)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained:

Jesus Christ is the light of the world because he is the source of the light that quickens our understanding, because his teachings and his example illuminate our path, and because his power persuades us to do good.

Thus, the Christmas lights that illuminate and adorn our trees, lights, homes, neighborhoods and cities all remind us of the Savior and the Light that He brings to the world—just as the Star in Bethlehem guided the shepherds and Wise Men to the Baby Jesus two millennia ago.

 

The Lowly Stable

 

Christmas Humble Uchtdorf

It is also significant that Jesus Christ was not born in a palace among the wealthy or noble, but in a stable to a fair virgin and her husband, who was a carpenter. Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught:

We find it remarkable that the very Son of God, the great Jehovah of old, should be born into this mortal world in the humblest of circumstances. An inn would have been lowly enough, but it was not even an inn. Rather it was a stable, and the babe was laid on the hay of a manger where common animals fed.

But the greatest condescension is that Jesus Christ was born into mortality. Elder Christofferson continued:

How is it that He who ruled on high in the heavens, the very Creator of the earth, should consent to be born “after the manner of the flesh” and walk upon His footstool in poverty, despised and abused and, in the end, be crucified? Why this near inconceivable degradation? Jesus explained: “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. … And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” Faithfully, Jesus endured all that was necessary in life and in death to atone, redeem, and establish a celestial pattern for the children of God—for us.

It was essential that the Son of God be born in the flesh and descend below all things that He might “redeem all things.”

And President Eyring added, He experienced mortality so that He would know how to succor His people in their times of trial. President Eyring said:

It will comfort us when we must wait in distress for the Savior’s promised relief that He knows, from experience, how to heal and help us. The Book of Mormon gives us the certain assurance of His power to comfort. And faith in that power will give us patience as we pray and work and wait for help. He could have known how to succor us simply by revelation, but He chose to learn by His own personal experience.

And this experience began when the King of Kings was born in a humble stable because there was no room in the inn for his mother.

 

The Shepherds

 

Shepherds watch their flocks by night.

The scriptures teach that “there were in the same country shepherds … keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). And an angel came to them, announcing the birth of the Baby Jesus:

For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

But this is not all that the shepherds saw; they also saw “a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14)

There is much symbolism in the experience of the shepherds. Elder Russell M. Nelson explained:

At the birth of Him who is called the “good shepherd,” shepherds were the first to receive the announcement of His holy birth. Uniquely, He was the Heavenly Shepherd who later became the lamb.

The late President Ezra Taft Benson explained the significance of Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd:

In Jesus’ time, the Palestinian shepherd was noted for his protection of his sheep. Unlike modern sheepherders, the shepherd always walked ahead of his flock. He led them. The shepherd knew each of the sheep and usually had a name for each. The sheep knew his voice and trusted him and would not follow a stranger. Thus, when called, the sheep would come to him. (See John 10:14, 16.)

At night shepherds would bring their sheep to a corral called a sheepfold. High walls surrounded the sheepfold…. Sometimes, however, a wild animal driven by hunger would leap over the walls into the midst of the sheep, frightening them. Such a situation separated the true shepherd—one who loved his sheep—from the hireling—one who worked only for pay and duty.

The true shepherd was willing to give his life for the sheep. He would go in amongst the sheep and fight for their welfare. The hireling, on the other hand, valued his own personal safety above the sheep and would usually flee from the danger.

Jesus used this common illustration of his day to declare that He was the Good Shepherd, the True Shepherd. Because of His love for His brothers and sisters, He would willingly and voluntarily lay down His life for them. (See John 10:17–18.)

The shepherds are symbolic of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who loved His sheep so much that He died for them.

 

O Little Town of Bethlehem

 

Mary and Joseph entering Bethlehem

The little town of Bethlehem is also symbolic of the life and ministry of the Savior. In Hebrew, beit lehem means “house of bread.” Jesus Christ himself said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35). Elder Christofferson said:

Jesus teaches us, His disciples, that we should look to God each day for the bread—the help and sustenance—we require in that particular day. The Lord’s invitation … speaks of a loving God, aware of even the small, daily needs of His children and eager to assist them, one by one.

Elder Nelson explained:

How significant it is that He, the “bread of life” would come from the “house of bread.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

… The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to satisfy ultimate spiritual hunger and slake definitive spiritual thirst. Only He who was so mortally wounded knows how to heal our modern wounds. …

Now, if you feel too spiritually maimed to come to the feast, please realize that the Church is not a monastery for perfect people, though all of us ought to be striving on the road to godliness. No, at least one aspect of the Church is more like a hospital or an aid station, provided for those who are ill and want to get well, where one can get an infusion of spiritual nutrition and a supply of sustaining water in order to keep on climbing.

In spite of life’s tribulations and as fearful as some of our prospects are, I testify that there is help for the journey. There is the Bread of Eternal Life and the Well of Living Water. Christ has overcome the world—our world—and His gift to us is peace now and exaltation in the world to come. Our fundamental requirement is to have faith in Him and follow Him—always.

The Greatest Christmas Gift

 

 

Jesus Christ Himself was the greatest Christmas gift in the history of the world. His birth, life and ministry are all signs that God loves us. President Eyring said:

This little child, born in a stable and cradled in a manger, was a gift from our loving Heavenly Father. He was the promised Redeemer of the world, the Savior of mankind, the Son of the living God….

He worked as a boy and a youth in the carpenter’s shop of Joseph in Nazareth. In His mortal ministry He walked the dusty roads of Palestine, healed the sick, raised the dead, taught His gospel to people who rejected Him, gave His life on Calvary’s hill, and rose on the third day in what began the Resurrection to break the bands of death for us all and so became “the firstfruits of them that slept.”

Above all, the Savior whose birth we remember this season of the year paid the price of all of our sins.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said:

The simplicity of that first Christmas foreshadowed the life of the Savior. Though He had created the earth, walked in realms of majesty and glory, and stood at the right hand of the Father, He came to earth as a helpless child. His life was a model of modest nobility, and He walked among the poor, the sick, the downcast, and the heavy laden. …

Jesus the Christ, who knew perfectly how to give, set for us the pattern for giving. To those whose hearts are heavy with loneliness and sorrow, He brings compassion and comfort. To those whose bodies and minds are afflicted with illness and suffering, He brings love and healing. To those whose souls are burdened with sin, He offers hope, forgiveness, and redemption.

He is the gift of Christmas. And emulating Him is the greatest gift that we can give to others.

 

Finding Hope in Tragedy

 

 

It’s often easier to counsel others to find hope in the midst of tragedy than to do so in the midst of your own. Even at Christmastime. But my mother taught us by example how to do just that. When I was 10, our family—my parents and their 7 kids—moved from Kentucky to Virginia the week before Christmas. My aunt, uncle and infant cousin came to celebrate the holidays with us.

It was to be their first Christmas with their first child, a 2-month-old baby boy. But all of a sudden, everything changed. My cousin stopped breathing while he was taking a nap.

I only remember bits and pieces of the chaos. My mom sent a group of us kids running down the street to find our LDS bishop, who lived nearby—the first house on the left out of the cul-de-sac. Instead, we went to the first house on the right and knocked on the door. The girl who answered said her dad wasn’t a bishop, but he was a doctor. He grabbed his bag and ran down the road to help. Neighbors, who had not yet met our family, came over and asked if they could help. So they took all seven of us kids to their house to play. They even fed us fried chicken.

Unfortunately, my cousin could not be revived. And on Christmas Eve, he was buried. I don’t remember much about that Christmas, except how sad we all were.

My mother, however, was so touched that every December after that she would remind us that these strangers taught her what Christmas is all about. It’s not about the tinsel or the tree, but the love and kindness that we show to others. Sister Bonnie Oscarson, Young Women general president, said:

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ this season, let us also celebrate all that His birth symbolizes, especially the love. When we see shepherds, may we remember to be humble. When we see wise men, may we remember to be generous. When we see the star, may we remember the Light of Christ, which gives life and light to all things. When we see a tiny baby, may we remember to love unconditionally, with tenderness and compassion. May we open the doors of our hearts and reach out to those around us who are lonely, forgotten, or poor in spirit. As we contemplate the example and infinite sacrifice of the Savior, may we also consider how we can be more Christlike in our associations with family and friends, not just during this season but throughout the year.

Whether we are the poor in heart being helped—or the ones serving those in need—both are symbolic of the Savior’s pattern of love and service. And both experiences help us to gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the real meaning of Christmas.