Many of you have probably already read (and pondered) this talk, printed in the ENSIGN, July 2014. I thought I’d share it again now that he has been named one of the two new Apostles. ENJOY!!!

BECOMING PERFECT IN CHRIST – By Elder Gerritt Walter Gong

We sing with our children, “I feel my Savior’s love, the love he freely gives me.”1  His atoning love, freely given, is as “milk and honey, without money and without price” (2 Nephi 26:25). Infinite and eternal (see Alma 34:10), the Atonement invites us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32).  Understanding the Savior’s freely given atoning love can free us from self-imposed, incorrect, and unrealistic expectations of what perfection is. Such understanding allows us to let go of fears that we are imperfect—fears that we make mistakes, fears that we are not good enough, fears that we are a failure compared to others, fears that we are not doing enough to merit His love.

The Savior’s freely given atoning love helps us become more forgiving and less judgmental of others and of ourselves. This love heals our relationships and gives us opportunities to love, understand, and serve as our Savior would. His atoning love changes our concept of perfection. We can put our trust in Him, diligently keep His commandments, and continue in the faith (see Mosiah 4:6)—even as we also feel greater humility, gratitude, and dependence on His merits, mercy, and grace (see2 Nephi 2:8).

In a broader sense, coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him places perfection within the eternal journey of our spirit and body—in essence, the eternal journey of our soul (see D&C 88:15). Becoming perfect results from our journey through physical life, death, and resurrection, when all things are restored “to their proper and perfect frame” (Alma 40:23). It includes the process of spiritual birth, which brings “a mighty change” to our hearts and dispositions (Mosiah 5:2). It reflects our lifelong refinement through Christlike service and obedience to the Savior’s commandments and our covenants. And it recognizes the perfecting relationship between the living and the dead (see D&C 128:18).

The word perfection, however, is sometimes misunderstood to mean never making a mistake. Perhaps you or someone you know is trying hard to be perfect in this way. Because such perfection always seems out of reach, even our best efforts can leave us anxious, discouraged, or exhausted. We unsuccessfully try to control our circumstances and the people around us. We fret over weaknesses and mistakes. In fact, the harder we try, the further we may feel from the perfection we seek.

In what follows, I seek to deepen our appreciation for the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and for the love and mercy the Savior freely gives us. I invite you to apply your understanding of the doctrine of the Atonement to help yourself and others, including missionaries, students, young single adults, fathers, mothers, single heads of households, and others who may feel pressure to find perfection or to be perfect.


Prepared from the foundation of the world (see Mosiah 4:6–7), our Savior’s Atonement allows us to learn, repent, and grow by our own experiences and choices. In this mortal probation, both gradual “line upon line” (D&C 98:12) spiritual growth and transformative “mighty change” of heart (Alma 5:12, 13Mosiah 5:2) spiritual experiences help us come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. The familiar term “endure to the end” reminds us that eternal growth often involves both time and process. In the concluding chapter of the Book of Mormon, the great prophet Moroni teaches us how to come unto and be perfected in Christ. We “deny [our]selves of all ungodliness.” We “love God with all [our] might, mind and strength.” Then His grace is sufficient for us, “that by his grace [we] may be perfect in Christ.” If we “deny not” the power of God, we can be “sanctified in Christ by the grace of God,” which “is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of [our] sins,” that we can “become holy, without spot” (Moroni 10:32, 33). Ultimately, it is the Savior’s “great and last sacrifice” that brings about “mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance” (Alma 34:14, 15). Indeed, our “faith unto repentance” is essential for us to come unto Christ, be perfected in Him, and enjoy the blessings of “the great and eternal plan of redemption” (Alma 34:16).

Fully accepting our Savior’s Atonement can increase our faith and give us courage to let go of constraining expectations that we are somehow required to be or to make things perfect. Black-and-white thinking says everything is either absolutely perfect or hopelessly flawed. But we can gratefully accept, as God’s sons and daughters, that we are His greatest handiwork (seePsalm 8:3–6Hebrews 2:7), even though we are still a work in progress. As we understand our Savior’s freely given atoning love, we cease fearing that He may be a harsh, faultfinding judge. Instead, we feel assurance, “for God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). And we understand that time and process are needed for growth (see Moses 7:21).


Only our Savior lived a perfect life, and even He learned and grew in mortal experience. Indeed, “he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness” (D&C 93:13). He learned through mortal experience to “take upon him [our] infirmities … that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people” (Alma 7:12). He did not succumb to temptations, sins, or daily pressures, but He descended below all of mortality’s trials and challenges (see D&C 122:8). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior commands us: “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The Greek word for perfect can be translated as “complete, finished, fully developed” (in Matthew 5:48, footnote b). Our Savior asks us to become complete, finished, fully developed—to be perfected in the virtues and attributes He and our Father in Heaven exemplify.2  Let us see how applying the doctrine of the Atonement may help those who feel they need to find perfection or to be perfect.


A misunderstanding of what it means to be perfect can result in perfectionism—an attitude or behavior that takes an admirable desire to be good and turns it into an unrealistic expectation to be perfect now. Perfectionism sometimes arises from the feeling that only those who are perfect deserve to be loved or that we do not deserve to be happy unless we are perfect. Perfectionism can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, procrastination, discouragement, self-justification, and depression. These feelings can crowd out the peace, joy, and assurance our Savior wants us to have.

Missionaries who want to be perfect now may become anxious or discouraged if learning their mission language, seeing people baptized, or receiving mission leadership assignments do not happen fast enough. For capable young people accustomed to accomplishment, a mission may be life’s first great challenge. But missionaries can be exactly obedient without being perfect. They can measure their success primarily by their commitment to help individuals and families “become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.”3

Students beginning a new school year, especially those leaving home for college, face both excitement and concerns. Student scholars, athletes, artists, and so forth go from being a “big fish in a little pond” to feeling like a minnow in an ocean with unfamiliar tides and swift, unpredictable currents. It is easy for students with perfectionist tendencies to feel that, no matter how hard they try, they have failed if they are not first in all things. Given life’s demands, students can learn that it is sometimes perfectly fine to do all they can and that it is not always possible to be the very best.

We also impose expectations of perfection in our own homes. A father or mother may feel compelled to be the perfect spouse, parent, homemaker, breadwinner, or part of a perfect Latter-day Saint family—now.

What helps those who battle perfectionist tendencies? Open-ended, supportive inquiries communicate acceptance and love. They invite others to focus on the positive. They allow us to define what we feel is going well. Family and friends can avoid competitive comparisons and instead offer sincere encouragement.

Another serious dimension of perfectionism is to hold others to our unrealistic, judgmental, or unforgiving standards. Such behavior may, in fact, deny or limit the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives and in the lives of others. For example, young single adults may make a list of desired qualities in a potential spouse and yet be unable to marry because of unrealistic expectations for the perfect companion. Thus, a sister may be unwilling to consider dating a wonderful, worthy brother who falls short on her perfectionist scale—he does not dance well, is not planning to be wealthy, did not serve a mission, or admits to a past problem with pornography since resolved through repentance and counseling. Similarly, a brother may not consider dating a wonderful, worthy sister who doesn’t fit his unrealistic profile—she is not a sports enthusiast, a Relief Society president, a beauty queen, a sophisticated budgeter, or she admits to an earlier, now-resolved weakness with the Word of Wisdom. Of course, we should consider qualities we desire in ourselves and in a potential spouse. We should maintain our highest hopes and standards. But if we are humble, we will be surprised by goodness in unexpected places, and we may create opportunities to grow closer to someone who, like us, is not perfect. Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.

Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received.4 In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple. The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.

For those who may feel chronically burdened or anxious, sincerely ask yourself, “Do I define perfectionand success by the doctrines of the Savior’s atoning love or by the world’s standards? Do I measure success orfailure by the Holy Ghost confirming my righteous desires or by some worldly standard?” For those who feel physically or emotionally exhausted, start getting regular sleep and rest, and make time to eat and relax. Recognize that being busy is not the same as being worthy, and being worthy does not require perfection.5  For those prone to see their own weaknesses or shortcomings, celebrate with gratitude the things you do well, however large or small.  For those who fear failure and who procrastinate, sometimes by overpreparing, be assured and encouraged that there is no need to withdraw from challenging activities that may bring great growth!

Where needed and appropriate, seek spiritual counsel or competent medical attention to help you relax, develop positive ways to think and structure your life, reduce self-defeating behaviors, and experience and express more gratitude.6

Impatience impedes faith. Faith and patience will help missionaries understand a new language or culture, students to master new subjects, and young single adults to begin building relationships rather than waiting for everything to be perfect. Faith and patience will also help those waiting for temple sealing clearances or restoration of priesthood blessings.

As we act and are not acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14), we can navigate between complementary virtues and achieve much of life’s growth. These can appear in “an opposition,” being “a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11).  For example, we can cease to be idle (see D&C 88:124) without running faster than we have strength (seeMosiah 4:27).  We can be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) while also periodically pausing to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10; see also D&C 101:16).  We can find our lives by losing our lives for the Savior’s sake (see Matthew 10:3916:25).  We can be “not weary in well-doing” (D&C 64:33; see also Galatians 6:9) while taking appropriate time to refresh spiritually and physically.  We can be lighthearted without being light-minded.  We can laugh heartily with but not haughtily at.

Our Savior and His Atonement invite us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” As we do so, He promises that His grace is “sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).  For those burdened by cares to find perfection or to be perfect now, our Savior’s freely given atoning love assures us:  “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  “… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30).7


  1. “I Feel My Savior’s Love,” Children’s Songbook,75.
  2. See also Russell M. Nelson, “Perfection Pending,”Ensign,Nov. 1995, 86–88.
  3. Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service(2004), 10.
  4. See Lavina Fielding, “Camilla Kimball: Lady of Constant Learning,”Ensign, Oct. 1975, 62.
  5. See, for example, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Four Titles,”Ensign,May 2013, 58–61. President Uchtdorf also cautions, “Some might even think that their self-worth depends on the length of their to-do list” (“Of Things That Matter Most,” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 20).
  6. This insight comes from Carlos F. and Alane Kae Watkins, mental health advisers in the Asia Area, assigned in Hong Kong. Other insights for this article came from Susan Gong, Larry Y. and Lynda Wilson, Randy D. and Andrea Funk, Janet S. Scharman, and missionaries in the Indonesia Jakarta Mission.
  7. See also Cecil O. Samuelson, “What Does It Mean to Be Perfect?”New Era, Jan. 2006, 10–13; Janet S. Scharman, “Seeking Perfection without Being a Perfectionist,” in Virtue and the Abundant Life: Talks from the BYU Religious Education and Wheatley Institution Symposium, ed. Lloyd D. Newell and others (2012), 280–302.

Why I Love the Brethren

Here’s Alice’s talk which I promised to post today.

“WHY I LOVE THE BRETHREN,” ALICE A. WARNER – BYU WOMEN’S CONFERENCE – 1995   (Susette Fletcher Green, Dawn Hall Anderson, and Dlora Hall Dalton, eds., Hearts Knit Together: Talks from the 1995 Women’s Conference, p.21)  Alice A. Warner graduated from Brigham Young University and is president and CEO of an international management consulting firm. Alice served a mission in Taiwan and enjoys her calling as choir director. (There’s a LOT more that could be added, especially since this was over 20 years ago).

Like you, I have had occasion to think about the way Christ governs his Church and the Saints who belong to it. I am not in a position to correct or to preach. I intend simply to offer my testimony, to tell you why I love the Brethren as I do.


History proves over and over the dangers of succumbing to those who desire power over others. The quest for control has brought about the world’s greatest evils in nations, in schools, in homes. These devastating evils have given rise to many prevailing social ideas such as these: Life is what you make it, so take control of your life; you’re in charge. To be happy, be yourself. Honor your own feelings, whatever they may be. You will lose your identity, your true self, if you defer to the authority or direction of others. So assert yourself, defend yourself, stand for yourself.

This is not a new philosophy. Korihor, the great anti-Christ of the Book of Mormon, advocated this position very convincingly  (Alma 30:12-28).  He warned believers not “to bind themselves down under the foolish ordinances” (v. 23). He said the priests would try to “usurp power and authority over them, to keep them in ignorance” (v. 23). So, he admonished, don’t be taken in by the idea of an atonement-a grand design in which we prosper through obedience, humility, and submission. Instead, Korihor taught, everyone will fare in this life according to his or her own genius and strength; in effect, assert yourself, defend yourself, stand for yourself.

Korihor’s doctrine makes perfect sense in a world without a loving Heavenly Father, a redeeming Savior, or a divine order ordained and authorized by them for the purpose of saving us. But in a world with a Father, a Savior, and their holy Church, bending our will to a higher order will indeed save us, not endanger us.

The Lord’s order is different in nature from any earthly system of governance or authority. This order is reflected in Christ’s relationship to his Father. “For I came down from heaven,” he said, “not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me”  (John 6:38).  In this and other scriptures like it, Christ made clear that he has a will of his own, but his choice-for him a life choice-was to turn his will over to the Father. In other words, then and now his position of authority derives not from the pursuit of power but from the spirit of submissiveness.

This divine order extends to special witnesses, revelators, and seers. Like the Savior’s position with the Father, their position is one of submission and discipleship. They, too, are called upon to say, “Not as I will, but as thou wilt”  (Matt. 26:39).  They have no authority or power independent of their personal willingness to submit, heart and soul, to those who direct and guide them. For this reason, their authority differs fundamentally from all other forms of authority in any institution or society on earth of which I know. Their authority is not born of a quest to dominate; it is a by-product of their quest to obey.


It is easy to minimize the connection between submitting ourselves to Christ and obeying the Brethren. “Christ,” we may say, “was perfect, but the Brethren are just human.”

Many of us are now parents or someday will be. This is a very serious responsibility. The physical and spiritual lives of pure little children are or will be entrusted to us as parents. Perhaps perfection should be a prerequisite for such a lofty undertaking. Suppose that is what our children expected of us. The moment they believed we had made a mistake, they would feel no obligation to honor or sustain us anymore. Furthermore, they would feel compelled to advertise our shortcomings, convincing the other children that they need not obey either. It would be impossible to have a family under such circumstances.1

I was fifteen when I discovered my mother was not perfect. (I gave my dad a slightly longer grace period.) As I get older, I see more clearly their weaknesses and their defects-in part because I share so many of them. Did their humanness make them unworthy parents? Of course not. In fact, that they did what they did for me, in all of their humanness, affirms in my mind that Heavenly Father called them to oversee my upbringing. He upheld them, he taught them, and he compensated for their frailties. PERFECTION IS NOT A PREREQUISITE TO PARENTHOOD.

We may feel inclined to make the Brethren’s perfection a condition of our loyalty, to lay hold upon perceived shortcomings as an excuse for disobedience. On occasion, we may even be tempted to share a morsel of gossip or levy a criticism or spread a rumor that would diminish one of them. Whether the tidbit is true or not (and how would we know anyway?) is irrelevant. For if our hearts are right, we may discover that we are trying to justify our own sins. It’s as though casting doubt on their worthiness relieves us of our obligation to obey. But it doesn’t. Their defects, real or perceived, do not weaken the covenants we have made to follow them.

The Savior himself instituted the plan that authorizes certain human beings to represent him. He who is perfect must have noticed that they aren’t. And still he called them. Far from making the Lord’s plan questionable, this fact-that he anoints human beings to lead us-is a testament of his power to sanctify and to enlarge. That the Brethren do what they do for us, in their humanness, affirms in my mind that the Lord stands by them. He upholds them, he teaches them, and he compensates for their frailties. Perfection is not a prerequisite to ordination.


I have managed a consulting company for the past several years [Arbinger Institute]. Recently, in a reflective moment, I was struck by the virtue and nobility of my extraordinary colleagues. How absurd that I was trying to lead them! Overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy, I considered resigning. Only two days later, I happened upon the following: “We who have been called to lead the church are ordinary men and women with ordinary capacities. . . . Some are disposed to find fault with us; surely that is easy for them to do. But they do not examine us more searchingly than we examine ourselves. . . . We are sorry for our inadequacies, sorry we are not better than we are.”2  I don’t want to trivialize the holy position of the Brethren by comparing it with my own, but it is the closest I can come to identifying, even in a small way, with what they must feel.

How would I feel if the next time I accepted a call, my bishop said, “Now, there are nine million good-hearted people depending upon you, Alice. Your every word and action will be thoroughly scrutinized. They will look to you for guidance about the conduct of their lives. If you make a mistake, it may adversely affect their devotion and faith. And, by the way, I hope you haven’t made any mistakes up to this point in your life-no gold-digging, no careless word, no giving of the slightest offense-or you may be roundly criticized. Your effectiveness in this role will depend upon your humble receptivity to inspiration and revelation. Thus, every choice you make must enhance your worthiness in every way. You will spend the rest of your life working full time under this burden, going where you are asked, when you are asked, doing exactly what you are asked.” What kind of person would the Lord entrust with such a challenge? What kind of person could meet it?


In answer, I would like to share a few stories about the lives of the Brethren. These are sacred stories, and I tell them with reverence.

A few years ago, I worked in a large, high-profile, international company on the East Coast. My boss, the founder and CEO of the company, was brilliant, eccentric, argumentative – and typically impervious to what is spiritually discerned. Twice he had occasion to meet with Elder Henry B. Eyring. After the first meeting, he reported that he had never met such a humble person and that he felt honored to be in Elder Eyring’s presence. He said, “It never occurred to me, Alice, that humility could be impressive.” After the second meeting, he told me in a quiet moment that Henry Eyring’s goodness made him want to be good. Yet, despite a long track record of affecting people in this way, when Elder Eyring was called to the apostleship, he seemed taken by surprise. He told us in his conference address, weeping, that during the hours between his private call and his public sustaining, he had “learned some things about [humility].”3  “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God” (Hebrews 5:4). “And before honour is humility” (Proverbs 15:33).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell performed the marriage of my brother and his wife. He knows neither of them well, yet when he heard years later about their struggle with infertility, he offered to travel to their home to give a priesthood blessing. When asked how he could find time in his heavy schedule to visit distant acquaintances in need, he explained that he was called to minister and was merely fulfilling that call. “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:27).

Elder Marcus Helvécio Martins, the Church’s first black General Authority, was living with his wife in Brazil when plans for the São Paulo temple were announced. Because of his lineage, Elder Martins was not permitted to hold the priesthood at that time. His devoted service to the Church during those years is miraculous to me. But there is more. He and his wife sold their jewelry to contribute to the building of a temple they could not enter. “And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith” (Alma 13:4).

Not many years ago, President Howard W. Hunter lost the use of his legs. The loss, he was told, was permanent. But he felt he could not carry on effectively if he couldn’t walk. So, against advice, he began an intensive rehabilitation program that a family member described to me as physically excruciating. This he did so that he could serve us better and longer. This he did in behalf of our salvation. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls”  (Heb. 13:17).

Can I resist such love for me? Can I criticize such devotion? Must I worry about defending myself in the face of such goodness?


I have noticed that despite clear scriptural warnings about its consequences, Korihor’s beguiling doctrine has a way of sneaking up on us. We get nervous about being in charge of our lives. We worry that followership will strip us of our identity, that submission may rob us of our intellect. Such self- concern draws us away from the warmth of the Lord’s light.

About four months before the end of my mission in Taiwan, I was working in an area where we had many baptisms, many who had committed to baptism, and a promising pool of investigators. I expected to finish my mission in this spot. We had planned a wonderful Christmas Nativity program with the ward members and our many investigators, complete with costumes and readings and music. On the afternoon of December 24, my mission president called. An elder who had developed feelings for a sister missionary had requested a transfer. But, my president explained, Elder William R. Bradford, our area president in Hong Kong, felt that the elder should not leave his important leadership position. So, rather than transfer the elder, he requested that I and another sister switch places. I was to board a train that very evening, unaccompanied, to the most unproductive part of the mission, where I would finish out my service. I was shocked and discouraged. My roommates and companion were downright angry. Our mission president was provincial, they said. And what about Elder Bradford – what was he doing interfering like that? These men marginalize women! Just because we don’t have priesthood callings-does that make us completely interchangeable? What about the ward Christmas program? I was responsible for the music and piano accompaniment. What about my investigators? I couldn’t say good-bye or explain. I would just disappear, and some other sister would step in-as if no one would notice or care! With a heavy and confused heart, I packed my clothes, books, and a copy of our little Nativity script and boarded the train. I didn’t want to feel bitter, but this turn of events was just too much to swallow with a smile on my face.

My new companion and two elders greeted me at the station when I arrived that evening. The first thing they asked was if I knew anything about music. The next day was Christmas, and the branch members wanted to stage a Christmas program like ones they had heard of in the established city wards. But neither they nor the other missionaries had any idea how to do it.

We went immediately to the small branch meeting rooms. All twenty branch members and some investigators were gathered, looking in library books to see what people in Israel wear. But discouragement was setting in, for the Israeli attire didn’t resemble anything they might pick up at the local Chinese clothing market! Drawing on my years as the orchestrator of the Warner family Christmas pageant, I helped the members and investigators round up robes and towels, shepherd canes, and cardboard crowns. Copying the little script I had tucked in my suitcase didn’t take long. We practiced our songs-even learned parts-and on Christmas shared the most worshipful evening of praise and remembrance I have ever experienced. Thus began the best months of my mission and some of the happiest of my life.

It doesn’t always turn out this way; I don’t always so readily see purpose in what I am asked to do. In fact, I have received-and followed-instructions about my life from Church leaders that still don’t make perfect sense to me. But even when I don’t fully understand why the instruction has come or what its consequences might be, I believe that humble obedience is still the right course.

I’ve heard people say, “Well, that’s just blind obedience.” Blind obedience. Those words imply following with no thought, no consideration, no inspiration, no insight. For me, to dismiss obedience as blind is to misunderstand what obedience  is.  Every moment a choice is presented to us: “How will I use my agency in this moment?” When I choose to obey or to submit, I have not blindly abdicated my freedom to choose. Rather, I have used it to choose the Lord.

In my experience, obedience to Church leaders requires more insight, wisdom, and thought than resistance. I obey because I see that there is a Christ who lived to redeem me. I obey because I see that my redemption, from moment to moment, depends upon giving myself to him and to his servants. I obey because I see that there is an atonement and that I stand in need of its purifying power. I obey because I see that this purifying power flows through his divine priesthood order, of which obedience makes me a part. I obey because of what I see, not because of what I am blind to.


It is easy to confuse worldly rhetoric with eternal truths. We may fear that if we obey in meekness and humility, our heads will be kept down, as Korihor said, and the flame of our identity will be snuffed out (see  Alma 30:23).  So we go about trying to create our own light-in the name of individual rights, or intellectualism, or self-assertiveness, or some other cause independent of the great cause of Christ. But the very act of trying to kindle our own light separates us from the Lord’s, convincing us further that there is not enough for us in his divine order.

Here’s how  Isaiah  said it: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow”  (Isa. 50:11).

Walking in the light of the Lord’s divine order requires that we abandon the security of our own meager flame. President Harold B. Lee taught that to find the Lord’s light, we must walk to the edge of ours and even a few steps into the darkness. We cannot at the same time stand in the flicker of our own willful sparks and bask in the warmth of his magnificent light.

The times in my life when I feel most whole, most liberated, most free, most me, are the times when my whole being is filled with the desire to stand not for myself but for and with the Brethren. I give up only my self-concern, my resistance, and my pride-and they aren’t me. Gentleness, peace, and a willing heart take their place.

When I stand squarely in the light of the Lord’s direction, it’s as though all of my faculties, enhanced by the Spirit, come alive with insight and vision and clarity. There is no longer a distinction between the intellectual and the spiritual. That is the closest I have come to experiencing what Paul calls having “the mind of Christ”  (1 Cor. 2:16).  That is the closest I have come to feeling my body full of the light, pure and penetrating, that comes when my eye is single to him (see  Matt. 6:22).

As Mordecai explained to  Esther  when what she was asked to do seemed too difficult for her, if we refuse to obey, the Lord will find other ways of carrying out his purpose. Our soul, not his work, will suffer. Who knows but what we were come “for such a time as this”  (Esth. 4:14)-a  time of great divisiveness and very tempting ideas, a time when obedience and submissiveness are derided as weak and unthinking, and a time when our salvation will depend upon our willingness to follow anyway. May we not be deceived. May we see and think as clearly as Christ when he yielded his will to his leader. May bending our will to our leaders, those chosen of the Lord and upheld by him, be our quest, and may our hearts be drawn out to them in submission, loyalty, and love.


  1. I am indebted to my friend and colleague Duane Boyce for suggesting this analogy in his article “The Brethren and the Lord: A Letter to My Children,” This People, Fall 1995, 34-46. Both his article and his friendship significantly influenced this essay.
  2. Boyd K. Packer, “Revelation in a Changing World,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 16.
  3. Henry B. Eyring, “Always Remember Him,” Ensign, May 1995, 25.





CHRISTMAS EVE. I think we’re going to get a bunch of snow today (for a genuine “white Christmas,” but no matter what the weather is like or what’s going on in the world (including some very SAD things), this is the time when we commemorate the birth of the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD… JESUS CHRIST. Oh, what a beautiful thing it is to be reminded of Him – His life, His mission, His atoning sacrifice, His example of all that is good and pure and true and holy. I’m sharing two poems which I’ve loved and pondered for at least 30 years. They may be familiar to you, or perhaps not. Either way, let them add to your thoughts and gratitude on this CHRISTMAS EVE.


SAVIOR   (By Margery S. Stewart)

So should I, Lord, Have hung upon that cross

Which I had fashioned, year on unthinking year,

And felt the nails’ torment,

The bitter burn of thirst

And life’s slow falling loss.

Save that upon a day thou

Didst quietly take my place,

And died, thorned there, between the thieves,

While angels wept

And earth in darkness mourned

The winnowed stillness of thy holy face.

And on what desolate crosses

Men have died

Rejecting thee, thine offer and thy love…

For who is there to listen In that dark. . .

Or be in a lighted instant at his side?

For if the thief could know

He steals to build the beam

On which he will be nailed by and by,

How fiercely he would strive

To find thee past the dark deceptive dream.

The cross, compassionate Lord, was never thine

But composite of all crosses, such as mine.




It is not the heaven that thou promised me,

My Lord, that moves me to love Thee;

Nor is it the hell that I so fear

That moves me to cease sinning against Thee.

Thou movest me, Lord; it moves me to see Thee

Nailed to the cross and despised;

It moves me to see Thy body wounded;

The insults Thou suffered and Thy death move me.

Finally, Thy love moves me so much

That even if there were no heaven,

I should love Thee;

And even if there were no hell

I should fear Thee.

Thou needest not give me a reason to love Thee

For though my present hope were all despair,

As now I love Thee, I should love Thee still.






Today is the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith, so I want to share some thoughts and feelings about him. I shared something similar last year, and on my Blog comments yesterday were two which were VERY disturbing and unwelcome. Someone had gone back to what I posted a year ago and made blasphemous comments about Joseph Smith. Ouch! It moved me to re-post some of what I had shared. I love the Prophet Joseph Smith! I feel so thankful for his sacrifices and his willingness to be an instrument in God’s hands for restoring so much that means everything to me. I love it that his birthday is so close to the time when we celebrate the birth of the Savior. The Beloved Son of God, and another of God’s sons who was and is also greatly loved. One early morning I was reading Joseph Smith’s history from The Pearl of Great Price. It’s a story I’ve read many times, and it’s a story I’ve shared with others many, many times. But I wanted to go slowly and pay attention (with no “been there, done that” feelings). As I did, some thoughts came to my mind.  I’ll share them the best I can. Joseph had questions. Perhaps he even had doubts. He was wondering which church he should join. Some family members had joined a church. But he was confused at all the contention. As he described it, those who had been so loving at one moment were the opposite the next (when some of their members began to join other sects). You know what happens. Joseph realizes he lacks wisdom and needs to ask God. I wish I could and would turn that direction more often. I sat really thinking about it. Do I have faith that I’ll receive an answer if I lack wisdom? Do I have enough faith to ask Him? The father of evil tried to keep Joseph from receiving an answer, because he knew it would change everything. EVERYTHING! Maybe sometimes when we feel like asking questions we will feel some opposition, some darkness, some negative influence. I’m so thankful a young boy didn’t give up. I don’t want to give up either. I know we’re all surrounded by those who are no longer believers. I know they dig up negative things about the Prophet Joseph Smith. Once they doubt him, the other dominoes fall—they no longer believe that The Book of Mormon is the word of God. And although they may say they still believe in and follow Christ, how is that possible when HE is the One Who appeared to Joseph, and HE is the One Who has continued to provide guidance and revelation to every Prophet who has followed Joseph. Joseph was told by Moroni that his name “should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people.” (JS-H 1:33).  I always thought that would happen because of enemies of the Church, enemies of righteousness and of God.  I mourn (I really do mourn) that so many of those who have believed no longer believe, and that they speak evil of the Prophet Joseph Smith.


I’m deeply thankful for how I feel about Joseph Smith.  I love him.  Sometimes when I’m thinking about him and praying about him – thanking Heavenly Father for him and all the others who remained true and faithful at great sacrifice – I have feelings come into my heart. One of the strong ones is this: “Millions shall know Brother Joseph again!” And yes, it is usually accompanied by “Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!”  It is a strong, deep desire of my heart that I can be one of those millions – that when I see him again I will KNOW HIM.  I will know that he IS all that he said he was, that he DID experience ALL that he said he did… that I can look on him with JOY, knowing that I never doubted.  Never.  I love this message which was carved in a hearthstone from the old Solomon Mack home years after Joseph’s birth:  AROUND THIS HEARTHSTONE AND ITS GLOWING FIREPLACE, TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1805, THE SMITH FAMILY WASHED, DRESSED, AND CUDDLED THE FUTURE ORGANIZER OF “GOD’S KINGDOM RESTORED.”



Live in THANKSGIVING daily



I love to be among the youth of the Church. I love your energy, your optimism, your faith. I have heard others say they always feel younger when they spend time with young people. This has always been my experience. It is good to be here today. I felt a certain thrill as I watched you enter this great Marriott Center. I noticed the beautiful smiling faces, the well-kept hair, the appropriate dress. I thank you for being here today. Think for a moment, if you will, of someone you know who is truly happy. We’ve all met those who seem to radiate happiness. They seem to smile more than others, they laugh more than others—just being around them makes us happier as well. Now think of someone you know who isn’t happy at all. Perhaps they seem 10 years older than they are, drained of energy—perhaps they are angry or bitter or depressed. What is the difference between them? What are the characteristics that differentiate the happy from the miserable? Is there something that unhappy people can do to be happier? I believe there is.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate this observation. A long time ago in a faraway village lived a man who everyone did their very best to avoid. He was the type of person who believed that there was only one competent person in the world, and that one person was himself. Consequently he was never satisfied with anything. His shoes never fit right. His shirt never felt comfortable. When his food wasn’t too cold, it was too salty, and when it wasn’t too hot, it was too bland. If a field wasn’t sowed by himself, it was not sowed well. If he didn’t close the door, the door was not closed properly. In short, he made a career of frowning, lecturing, criticizing, and mumbling about the incompetencies of every other person in the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the man was married, which made matters all the worse. No matter what his wife did, in his eyes it was wrong. No matter what the unfortunate woman cooked, sewed, or cleaned, or even when she milked the cow, it was never satisfactory, and he let her know it. She tried very hard to be a good wife, but it seemed the harder she tried the less she pleased him. Finally, one evening she could take no more. “I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” she told him. “Tomorrow I will do your chores and you will do mine.” “But you can’t do my chores,” the man replied. “You don’t know the first thing about sowing, hoeing, and irrigating.” But the woman was adamant. And on top of that, she was filled with a righteous anger that frankly astonished and frightened the man to the point where he didn’t dare disagree. So the next morning the wife went off to the fields and the man began the domestic chores. After thinking about it, he had actually convinced himself he was looking forward to it. Once and for all, he would demonstrate to his wife how things should be done. Unfortunately, not everything went according to plan. In fact, nearly everything the man touched turned into disaster. He spilled the milk, let the pig get into the house, lost the cow, burned the dinner, and ultimately set the house on fire, narrowly escaping with his own life. When his wife returned, she discovered her husband sitting on a pile of ashes, smoke still rising from his clothes. But the woman wasn’t the type to rub things in. She helped him up, wiped the soot from his beard, fixed him a little something to eat, and then prepared a bed of straw for them to sleep on. From that day forward, the man never complained about anyone or anything else for as long as he lived. What do you suppose this story teaches us? For one thing, it teaches that those who complain make their own and others’ lives miserable. The story also teaches humility. It reminds us that “pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). It teaches us not to judge others until we walk in their shoes for a while. In addition, the story illustrates a quality that the Roman orator Cicero claimed was “not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others” (Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Plancio, 54 B.C.). It is a quality I have found in every happy person I know. It is a quality that instantly makes a person more likable and more at peace. Where there is an abundance, there is happiness. Where there is an absence, there is often sadness, resentment, and futility. The virtue I am speaking of is GRATITUDE. In our story, it was the absence of gratitude that made the man miserable. His inability to appreciate others caused him to be critical of their efforts. Not only did he not empathize with them, he could not allow himself to acknowledge their contributions. The disasters that confronted him surely made him humble, but, more particularly, they made him appreciate and be grateful for his wife.

Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character. We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likable. You might be surprised to know that gratitude is a commandment of the Father. “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things” (D&C 59:7), the Lord has commanded in these latter days. Even further, He has admonished that “in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21).  In the Book of Mormon we learn that we should “live in thanksgiving daily” (Alma 34:38). Isn’t that a wonderful thought? To live in thanksgiving daily? Can you imagine how your life would improve if you lived in thanksgiving daily? Can you imagine how your life would improve if others did the same? Do you think the world would be a happier place? Less stressful? Less angry? More spiritual?


President Joseph F. Smith proclaimed: The grateful man sees so much in the world to be thankful for, and with him the good outweighs the evil. Love overpowers jealousy, and light drives darkness out of his life. Pride destroys our gratitude and sets up selfishness in its place. How much happier we are in the presence of a grateful and loving soul, and how careful we should be to cultivate, through the medium of a prayerful life, a thankful attitude toward God and man! [GD, 263]

A few minutes ago I asked you to think of someone you knew who was truly happy. Think of the person again, if you will, and grade on this principle: Does he or she live in thanksgiving daily?  Now think of someone you know who is unhappy or resentful. Does this person live in thanksgiving daily? It is difficult to even imagine a resentful person who is grateful or a grateful person who is resentful. President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: Absence of gratitude is the mark of the narrow, uneducated mind. It bespeaks a lack of knowledge and the ignorance of self-sufficiency. It expresses itself in ugly egotism and frequently in wanton mischief. . . . Where there is appreciation, there is courtesy, there is concern for the rights and property of others. Without it, there is arrogance and evil. [CR, October 1964, 117]  I believe that many people are unhappy because they have not learned to be grateful. Some carry the burden of bitterness and resentfulness for many years. Some pass their days as though suffering a deep sadness they cannot name. Others are unhappy because life didn’t turn out the way they thought it would. “If only I had money,” some might say to themselves, “then I could be happy.” “If only I were better looking.” “If only I were smarter.” “If only I had a new car, a college degree, a job, a wife, hair that wasn’t so frizzy.” (Or, in my case, if only I had more hair or I was 12 inches taller.)  If we only look around us, there are a thousand reasons for us not to be happy, and it is simplicity itself to blame our unhappiness on the things we lack in life. It doesn’t take any talent at all to find them. The problem is, the more we focus on the things we don’t have, the unhappier and more resentful we become.


Over the course of my years, I have met thousands of people. I have dined with the prosperous as well as the poverty-stricken. I have conversed with the mighty and with the meek. I have walked with the famous and the feeble. I have run with outstanding athletes and those who are not athletically inclined. One thing I can tell you with certainty is this: You cannot predict happiness by the amount of money, fame, or power a person has. External conditions do not necessarily make a person happy. The brethren who have had assignments in Africa report that despite the abject poverty, the people are very happy. The fact is that the external things so valued by the world are often the cause of a great deal of misery in the world. Those who live in thanksgiving daily, however, are usually among the world’s happiest people. And they make others happy as well.


Years ago Elder J. Golden Kimball was traveling with one of the presiding brethren in southern Utah. In those days meetings often didn’t have a time limit; they went on as long as the speaker wanted to speak. For those of you looking for something to be grateful for, perhaps I’ve just given you one idea. One fast Sunday they had been preaching nearly all day. Everyone was hungry, especially Elder Kimball, who felt that he “was pretty nearly dead.” Finally, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, the presiding apostle turned and said, “Now, Brother Kimball, get up and tell them about the Era.” The Era magazine had just been launched, and the Brethren wanted to encourage subscriptions. Elder Kimball approached the pulpit and then, after a short pause, said,  “All you men that will take the Era if we will let you go home, raise your right hand.”  There was not a single man who did not raise his hand that day and subscribe to the Era. (In J. Golden Kimball, CR, April 1932, 78.) You see, the power of gratitude is immense.

Rulon Gardner grew up in the small town of Afton, Wyoming. He is one of nine children. His mother and father are faithful members of the Church and instilled proper values in their children. But because Rulon was so large, his classmates teased him. The taunts and name-calling troubled young Rulon, but he never became angry or resentful. He could have withdrawn and become bitter. Like so many others, he could have counted all the things that were going wrong and simply given up. Instead, he used the insults as motivation. He determined he would use his size to his advantage. He would make something of himself. “I would go out, as a kid,” Rulon said, “and I could barely pick up a bale of hay. By the time my senior year came around, I was grabbing four bales of hay at a time, each 100 pounds. Just grabbing them and walking with them and seeing how physically strong I could be” (in Alan Robinson, “Wrestler’s Magic Moment,” Associated Press, Sydney, Australia, 28 September 2000). He milked cows twice a day, often in subzero temperatures. He lifted frozen bales of hay to feed the cows. At times he would carry a newborn calf into the safety of a warm barn. He got up early in the morning, did his chores, then went to school. After school he either went to wrestling or football practice, then back to the farm to do more chores. Rulon found that his size wasn’t a disadvantage for him as an athlete—in fact, it was an asset. Wrestling particularly came easy to him, and he became the Wyoming state champion. After graduating from high school he decided that perhaps he might be good enough to compete in the Olympic games. In Atlanta in 1996, due to a miscommunication, he arrived at the weigh-in 22 seconds too late and missed his chance to compete. Again Rulon could have despaired. He could have cursed his luck. He could have become embittered and resentful. But do you know what he did? He worked harder. Instead of burying himself in self-pity, he began speaking at youth firesides about his experience. “I missed the Olympic games by 22 seconds,” he told his eager listeners. “Don’t you let anything keep you from your goals.” After four years of hard work, Rulon Gardner wanted to compete in the 2000 Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. The only trouble was, he couldn’t afford the trip. That’s when the members of his hometown rallied to his side. They held bake sales and potluck dinners and raised enough money to allow Rulon and his family to make the trip to Sydney. This time he did not miss the weigh-in. He advanced through the preliminary rounds until he reached the final obstacle to his gaining a gold medal. That obstacle was a man the world called the Siberian Bear, Alexander Karelin. This Russian bear is considered by most as the greatest Greco-Roman wrestler in the history of the sport. Not only had he not lost a single match in 13 years, but no one had scored a point on him in more than a decade. Karelin had won the gold medal in three previous Olympic Games and was the heavy favorite to win an unprecedented fourth gold medal. But at the end of the gold-medal match, it was the farm boy from Afton, Wyoming, who stood triumphant in what many consider the greatest upset of the summer Olympic games. “The reason I think I won,” Rulon said, “is because I work harder than anyone else, train harder. And every day I live my life, I do everything I need to do to put my life in order” (in Alan Robinson, Associated Press). Waving an American flag, a grateful Rulon Gardner thanked his family, his God, and his hometown of Afton, Wyoming, for their helping to make the moment possible. Winning the gold medal in such a stunning way made Rulon an instant celebrity. Sometimes this sort of attention changes people. Sometimes people become more calloused. Sometimes they forget those they owe the most to. But not Rulon Gardner. Recently, while a guest on an evening talk show, the host invited Rulon to watch some highlights from his Olympic victory. Without warning, the picture changed to a live shot from Afton, Wyoming. It seemed that the entire population of the town had assembled in the high school gymnasium. They cheered and shouted and held up signs that said, “Rulon’s got milk!” and “My uncle rocks!” As this man—one of the strongest men in the world—looked into the television monitor at the faces of the people he loved, tears of gratitude came to his eyes. In a letter written to his stake president, Rulon Gardner said: The Lord has given me the chance to work for all my dreams. I feel the Church has helped me to focus and live my life in the ways that have helped me to train and become an Olympic champ. . . . I am blessed . . . to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [Letter to President Val J. Call, Afton Wyoming Stake, 20 October 2000]  Rulon Gardner knows what it means to be grateful.

Gratitude turns a meal into a feast and drudgery into delight. It softens our grief and heightens our pleasure. It turns the simple and common into the memorable and transcendent. It forges bonds of love and fosters loyalty and admiration. Living in thanksgiving daily is a habit that will enrich our lives and the lives of those we love. But how do we make this part of who we are? May I suggest three things that will help as we strive to live in thanksgiving daily? First, we must open our eyes. I agree with Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote, “The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life” (Quotationary, electronic quotation dictionary). Unfortunately, because the beauties of life are so abundant, sometimes we take them for granted. Our minds have a marvelous capacity to notice the unusual. However, the opposite is true as well: The more often we see the things around us—even the beautiful and wonderful things—the more they become invisible to us. That is why we often take for granted the beauty of this world: the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds—even those we love. Because we see things so often, we see them less and less. Those who live in thanksgiving daily, however, have a way of opening their eyes and seeing the wonders and beauties of this world as though seeing them for the first time. I encourage you to look around you. Notice the people you care about. Notice the beauties of this campus. Notice the fragrance of the flowers and the song of the birds. Notice and give thanks for the blue of the sky, the red of the leaves, and the white of the clouds. Enjoy every sight, every smell, every taste, every sound.


When we open our eyes and give thanks for the bountiful beauty of this life, we live in thanksgiving daily. The second thing we can do is open our hearts. We must let go of the negative emotions that bind our hearts and instead fill our souls with love, faith, and thanksgiving. Anger, resentment, and bitterness stunt our spiritual growth. Would you bathe in impure water? Then why do we bathe our spirits with negative and bitter thoughts and feelings? You can cleanse your heart. You don’t have to harbor thoughts and feelings that drag you down and destroy your spirit. You can repent of uncleanliness. That is the miracle of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. You can become clean. You can cleanse your heart of impurity. Begin the process today. Repent of those things you should repent of. Drink deeply of the living waters of the gospel. These latter days are a time of great spiritual thirst. Many in the world are searching, often intensely, for a source of refreshment that will quench their yearning for meaning and direction in their lives. The Lord provides the living water that can quench the burning thirst of those whose lives are parched by a drought of truth. Pray with all your heart. Consider the love your Heavenly Father has for all His children. Open your hearts to His cleansing word. Feast on the words of holy writ. Cherish the messages of modern-day prophets and apostles. Forgive others who have offended you. Don’t waste another moment feeling self-pity. Every day drain from your heart the feelings of resentment, rage, and defeat that do nothing but discourage and destroy. Fill your heart with those things that ennoble, encourage, and inspire. The great Book of Mormon prophet Nephi certainly had reason to be resentful. Hated by his brothers, bound and beaten and nearly murdered, he had plenty to be bitter about. After his father died, Nephi must have felt completely alone. He surely felt threatened. He surely felt discouraged. He surely felt troubled. But when it came time for him to communicate his feelings, what did he write? Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard. [2 Nephi 4:16] Yes, his path had been difficult. Yes, his heart groaned because of mistakes he had made, but he did not allow himself to linger in negativity. Instead, he told himself: Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul. Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions. Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee. [2 Nephi 4:28–30]

The third thing we can do to live in thanksgiving daily is open our arms. One of the best ways we show our gratitude is by blessing the lives of those around us. The great King Benjamin taught his people: If you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice . . . — . . . If ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. [Mosiah 2:20–21] And how do we render thanks unto God? King Benjamin told us that as well: And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. [Mosiah 2:17] We can live in thanksgiving daily by opening our arms to those around us. When was the last time you told someone you love how much they mean to you? When was the last time you expressed your gratitude to someone who has always been there for you, someone who has sacrificed for you, someone whose heart has always been filled with hopes and dreams for you? When was the last time you unselfishly reached out to help another in need? Every time we cheer another’s heart, every time we ease another’s burden, every time we lift a weary hand, we show our gratitude to that God to whom we owe all that we have and all that we are.


Not long ago a mother and father from the Republic of Georgia faced a terrifying reality. The doctors told them their baby had a heart condition, and unless he had surgery he would die. Because they did not have adequate facilities in Georgia, the mother and father walked across their country and all the way to Yerevan, Armenia, seeking medical help. The Armenian doctors examined the child and agreed that the baby needed heart surgery. They knew how to perform the surgery and they had the necessary facilities, but they couldn’t perform the operation because they didn’t have the right tubing. As much as they wanted to help, there was nothing they could do. They told the couple to take their baby home to die. As you know, the Church—through its Humanitarian Service arm—sends millions of pounds of food, clothing, and medical and educational materials throughout the world each year. As it so happened, Elder and Sister Sangster were serving a humanitarian mission in Armenia, and they had just received a container of medical supplies. You may have already guessed that tucked away in this container of medical supplies was a box of precisely the kind of tubing needed for this child’s operation. When the doctors discovered the tubing, they rushed the baby into surgery and performed the operation. That’s a wonderful story and one that repeats itself daily as a result of the tremendous humanitarian help that is given to many nations in the world. The great welfare effort given by the Church benefits members and nonmembers during times of need. It reaches out to care for others. But what happened later makes it an even better story.  One day, soon after the operation, Elder and Sister Sangster heard a knock at their door. When they opened it, this loving mother and father fell to their knees and wept as they thanked the Sangsters and their church for supplying the precious tubing that had saved the life of their child. The blessings that come from opening our arms to others are among the choicest this earth has to offer.

As we strive to open our eyes, hearts, and arms, our step will become a little lighter, our smile will become a little brighter, and the darkness that sometimes broods over our lives will become a little whiter. Don’t be discouraged if you haven’t been an especially grateful person. Rejoice and think of what an impression you will make on those who thought they knew you. Think of how delightfully surprised they will be. Be grateful. Every day is a new canvas—a new opportunity. Our beloved President Gordon B. Hinckley has said: My plea is that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life, we “accentuate the positive.” I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment and endorse virtue and effort. [Standing for Something (New York: Times Books, 2000), 101]  Choice blessings await those who live in thanksgiving daily. “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness,” the Lord has promised, “shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (D&C 78:19).  Don’t wait to start. Open your eyes, open your hearts, and open your arms. I promise that as you do so, you will feel greater joy and happiness. Your life will have a new level of meaning. You will forge relationships that will transcend this life and endure through the eternities.


My dear brothers and sisters, I am grateful to be here with you. I am grateful for this experience of mortality. I am grateful for the gospel and for the life and testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I am grateful for my wonderful wife, my dear children and grandchildren. I am grateful for the support and love shown to me by countless friends and members of the Church throughout the world. I am grateful for life and even more grateful for the glorious promise of eternal life to come. Not everyone can be a star quarterback; not everyone can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company; not everyone can win a gold medal at the Olympics; but everyone—everyone—can live in thanksgiving daily.  As a special witness, I bear solemn testimony that Jesus is the living Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. He asks that we believe in Him, that we learn of Him, that we strive to follow His teachings, and that we adhere to the teachings of our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley. He inspires him in the direction needed for this life and life eternal.  May we follow Him in all we do is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

More meekness and patience

As I finished working on and then teaching today’s lesson in our stake religion class, I felt a desire to share it. It’s long (maybe I post less often because I make things too long)… but I hope if there are things which lift your spirits or help you in some way…that you won’t mind that it is so long. In our class this semester (we don’t know what else to call them), we are studying phrases from the incredible hymn by Philip Paul Bliss, “More Holiness Give Me.” We’re endeavoring to become more like the Savior (and to understand and know Him better), and this hymn is like a “recipe” for becoming more Christ-like. Today we did our best to cover “More patience in suffering” and “More meekness in trial.” (It is IMPOSSIBLE to crunch everything into an hour … but one of the things which is so enjoyable about our class is that we’re never in a hurry …at least we try not to be). That is SO pleasant. We have wonderful discussions. (And you’ll have to pretend you’re in class – and you can respond to the questions if you’d like).




How many of you have experienced some trials, some adversity, some suffering?  (Well… if you don’t think you have, you probably haven’t been paying attention … ha ha) One of my favorite hymns about trials, adversity, and suffering is Hymn # 85: “How Firm A Foundation.” (We sang all 7 verses; I wish we’d do that more often in our gatherings; it’s a shame to leave any of them out). DID ANYTHING STAND OUT TO YOU MORE THAN USUAL? Probably EVERYONE has some DEEP WATERS and FIERY TRIALS…. But we’re promised that in EVERY CONDITION – as we FLEE to the SAVIOR for REFUGE – “as thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be!” Some days demand MORE than others, don’t they…. And some “SEASONS” of our life demand more. “I am thy GOD and will still give the aid! I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to STAND!” He will SANCTIFY to us our DEEPEST DISTRESS. Our FIERY TRIALS are meant to refine the GOLD that is in us. And He will NEVER, no NEVER FORSAKE US!!!… even if ALL HELL endeavors to shake us!!


WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO HAVE PATIENCE IN SUFFERING, AND MEEKNESS IN TRIAL?  Now… if you’re someone who NEVER has trials or suffering – if you NEVER feel “BLUE” or depressed … I’m going to HELP YOU!  n Take everything personally – endeavor to make everything that goes wrong your fault.  n Do as much criticizing as you can – of yourself, your spouse, your kids, your parents, your neighbors, leaders, people In the news, people you don’t even know… find fault and promote contention.  n Eat all you possibly can – set goals, like 300 lbs by the end of the year! – eat things that make you feel tired, give you a headache, make you sick.  n Plan a ski trip to Las Vegas (plan that which is unrealistic, impossible).  n Spend a lot of time dreaming about things that may never come true.  n Compare yourself to others; don’t let one person represent more than one or two talents or categories, though – and don’t find out too much about them except for the ONE thing in which they are better or more skilled than you are (if you find out more about them it may begin to decrease your stress and depression).  n Spend all the money you can – get a lot of credit cards and get out there to those malls and haul all the stuff away (CAUTION: There may be some initial euphoria before the depression sets in…but it’ll come!! – like with the BILLS….).  n Don’t plan your day – just let it happen.  Be surprised, be shocked, be caught off guard, be frustrated.  Don’t do the dishes or the laundry.  n When you feel angry, scream and throw things – don’t stop to figure out WHY you’re upset or why you feel bad, just let it all out as fast and noisily and with as much drama as you can.  Break things you can’t replace, and say and do things which you’ll regret and feel embarrassed about later on.  n Don’t sing or whistle or hum or play the piano or any other musical instrument.  n Don’t socialize!  Lock yourself in your room!  Don’t call people on the ‘phone, don’t go outside if there’s a chance you might run into someone.  Don’t eat with your family.  n Say YES to everything anyone even hints that they want you to do, whether you’d enjoy it or not, whether you have time for it or not, whether it’s something you feel you can do or not.  Call up people to get more things to do.

OK… that’s just plain SILLY – but I think sometimes we mistakenly add FUEL to the fires of adversity….  I actually DO (and have DONE) some of the things on this RIDICULOUS LIST!!  HOW DO YOU RESPOND TO THE HARD THINGS IN YOUR LIFE? WHAT KEEPS YOUR HEAD “ABOVE WATER?” Sometimes we ask QUESTIONS like “If God really loves me, why am I having so much trouble in my life?”  “Why would a loving God allow such suffering?” Likely we can ALL think of examples of things which have happened to us and loved ones (and strangers) which “didn’t make sense.”  I strongly feel that we shouldn’t “COMPARE” our trials or suffering with ANYONE ELSE’s… but at the same time I think it helps to know how others HANDLE their trials – how they RESPOND to suffering.  I love the book by Rabbi HAROLD KUSHNER: “WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE.” He lost a son to cancer. His book is full of LIGHT and HOPE. He explains that SUFFERING IS ONE OF OUR GREATEST TEACHERS, and that NO ONE is exempt. A life without suffering is a life without GROWTH, without a need to draw close to HEAVENLY FATHER for COMFORT, for PEACE, for UNDERSTANDING… and for meekness and patience.


If we were never going to have hard things happen, why would our BAPTISMAL COVENANT include BEARING ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS THAT THEY MAY BE LIGHT – MOURNING WITH THOSE WHO MOURN – COMFORTING THOSE WHO STAND IN NEED OF COMFORT? If the plan included nothing but SMOOTH SAILING and HAPPY DAYS, why would there be SCRIPTURES like these:  REVELATION 21:4 – And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And why would we have HYMNS such as the one we sang, with words of comfort and kindness and Heavenly Help – without MERCY?? And, indeed, why would we need the ATONEMENT if we had NO INFIRMITIES, and if NO ONE EVER DIED? ALMA 7:12 – And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.

Have even PROPHETS experienced TRIALS and SUFFERING? Even, currently, PRESIDENT MONSON? How about PRESIDENT KIMBALL? ELDER HALES referred to President Spencer W. Kimball as “being a righteous man like Job,” who endured many trials-cancer of the throat, heart surgery, boils, cranial surgery, and numerous other afflictions. He said that President Kimball’s experiences served “as an example of how we should meet similar adversity and suffering in our lives.” (President Kimball Endured His Trials with Faith, Courage, LDS Church News, 1998, 07/25/98)  And how about ELDER HALES?? . . . . How about PRESIDENT HUNTER? Those who have had to endure much of suffering and trials will find President Hunter is one who can relate and offer answers from his own suffering. Concerning this aspect of President Hunter’s life, President Boyd K. Packer humorously remarked, “I once asked President Hunter if he had a doctor’s book, and if so I wanted to borrow it. He asked why. I said, ‘I want to keep it. It seems to me you read through it looking for some major affliction you haven’t had, wonder what it would be like, and decide to try it.'”  (“President Howard W. Hunter – He Endured to the End,” Ensign, April 1995, p. 28.)  President Gordon B. Hinckley declared, “I believe that [his suffering] went on longer and was more sharp and deep than any of us really knew. He developed a high tolerance for pain and did not complain about it. That he lived so long is a miracle in and of itself.  His suffering has comforted and mitigated the pain of many others who suffer. They know that he understood the heaviness of their burdens. He reached out to these with a special kind of love.”  (“A Prophet Polished and Refined,” Ensign, April 1995, p. 33.) President Hunter himself said: “Our detours and disappointments are the straight and narrow path to Him” (“The Opening and Closing of Doors,” Ensign, Nov 1987). Can we find MEEKNESS and PATIENCE in President Hunter’s life??

What about THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH?  Was HE MEEK and PATIENT? He, who experienced SO much adversity and suffering, taught this: … all the Saints . . . [including] prophets and apostles have had to come up through great tribulation..  (Teachings .. Prophet Joseph Smith 1938 ed., pp. 260-61) BROTHER TRUMAN MADSEN helped me when he shared this: From his own experiences, the Prophet Joseph was eminently qualified to talk about affliction…   President Brigham Young is quoted as observing that the Prophet was more perfect in 38 years, with the severe tribulation through which he passed, than he would have been in a thousand years without it. (Truman Madsen, Eternal Man [Deseret Book Company, 1966], p. 57-59.)


And how about the SAVIOR? Does HE teach us about MEEKNESS and PATIENCE in TRIALS and SUFFERING??  I want to share something that Bishop Glenn L. Pace taught: Part of the reason the Savior suffered in Gethsemane was so that He would have infinite compassion for us as we experience our trials and tribulations. Through His suffering in Gethsemane [and beyond], He became qualified to be the perfect judge. Not one of us will be able to approach Him on the Judgment Day and say, “You don’t know what it was like.” He knows the nature of our trials better than we do, for He “descended below them all.”  (Glenn L. Pace, Spiritual Plateaus, p.89)


So WHAT ABOUT US?? Can WE become increasingly MEEK and PATIENT? I found a wonderful thought from PRESIDENT LORENZO SNOW: Do not compromise to avoid suffering. Some of our brethren have queried whether hereafter they could feel themselves worthy of full fellowship with prophets and Saints of old, who endured trials and persecutions; and with Saints of our own times who suffered in Kirtland, in Missouri, and Illinois. The brethren referred to have expressed regrets that they had not been associated in those scenes of suffering. If any of these are present, I will say, for the consolation of such, you have to wait but a short time and you will have similar opportunities, to your heart’s content. You and I cannot be made perfect except through suffering; Jesus could not. In His prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He foreshadowed the purifying process necessary in the lives of those whose ambition prompts them to secure the glory of a celestial kingdom. None should try to escape by resorting to any compromising measures. “All who journey soon or late, Must come within the garden gate, And kneel alone in darkness there, And battle hard, yet not despair.”   (10 January 1886, JD, 26:367)


It is by our meekness and patience in our suffering that our natures are perfected. As we OVERCOME OBSTACLES and FACE TRIALS, there are STRENGTHS added to our WEAKNESSES….  Is it possible that this is ONE WAY in which GOD turns our WEAKNESS into STRENGTH??  Severe trials bring PERFECT FAITH… COMPLETE TRUST in our HEAVENLY FATHER and in our SAVIOR and REDEEMER.

MEEKNESS rhymes with WEAKNESS but is the EXACT OPPOSITE!  PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG: God never bestows upon His people, or upon an individual, superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them, to prove that individual, or that people, to see whether they will keep their covenants with Him and keep in remembrance what He has shown them. Then the greater the vision, the greater the display of the power of the enemy(JD, 3:205)  Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.  (JD, 8:150) The people of the Most High God must be tried…..  I think there is a prospect for the Saints to have all the trials they wish for or can desire. (Discourses of Brigham Young. Compiled by John A. Widtsoe. SLC: Deseret Book, 1978, p. 345)  4:369).  (I don’t know that I have ever wished for or desired trials….)

In my experience NO ONE IS EXEMPT! But NO ONE is EXCLUDED from RELIEF from suffering through FAITH, through CHRIST’s ATONING SACRIFICE… through His GRACE…. I love the truths in a verse from GALATIANS 5:22 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith….  What if we had a CONTEST to see Who had suffered the MOST, and Who had suffered the LONGEST . . . WHO WOULD WIN?? THE SAVIOR!  (It really is NO contest!) And He’s aware of how much we LEARN, how much we GROW, how much we are SANCTIFIED by our hard experiences. From the hymn we sang: He will SANCTIFY to us OUR DEEPEST DISTRESS. HE SAID: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”   (Matthew 11:28)


WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR ADVERSITY? (This is something for each of us to think about)   Here are just a FEW ideas which came to my mind about increasing our MEEKNESS and our PATIENCE  (Nothing NEW….) AVOID COMPLAINING and SELF-PITY  / DON’T WHINE – “WHY ME???” BE GRATEFUL / PRAY FOR PEACE  / PRAY TO LEARN LESSONS / FOCUS ON THINGS WHICH BRING COMFORT AND JOY / REACH OUT TO OTHERS / DON’T LOSE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR / SEEK TO BE MEEK AND HUMBLE – HUMILITY is the NATURE of MEEKNESS!  The Savior taught: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”  (Matthew 5:5) GORDON B. HINCKLEY: “I cannot escape the interpretation that meekness implies a spirit of gratitude … an acknowledgment of a greater power beyond oneself – a recognition of God and an acceptance of his commandments. This is the beginning of wisdom.” (October 1964) Elder VAUGHN J. FEATHERSTONE: “Those who are meek are absolutely submissive to God. They are teachable and have humble hearts. They are modest in their dress, speech, and service…. The meek feel no need to receive credit; rather they desire to give it to those who may need it.  (The Incomparable Christ: Our Master and Model, p. 126-127) Elder NEAL A. MAXWELL: The ultimate model of meekness is Jesus . . . Meekness, then, is a saintly quality, and therefore of Deity. When we take his yoke upon us, in our small ways we can best learn of Jesus and of His meekness and lowliness. Then, as divine attributes are painfully and slowly developed in us, we marvel the more at His having perfected these attributes. Appreciation of Him yields to adoration and emulation of Him!  (Men and Women of Christ, p. 60) … Meekness can be a great help to us all in coping with the injustices of life and also in avoiding the abuse of authority and power, to which tendency most succumb – except the meek.  (Even As I Am, p. 20)

It seems that there are PLENTY of TRIALS ahead, doesn’t it . . . for ALL of us and for EACH of us . . . . LORENZO SNOW taught a POWERFUL truth:  If a stormy cloud sweep over the horizon of your course in this land, as in America … if the cup of bitter suffering be offered and you be compelled to partake … if Satan is let loose among you, with all his seductive powers of deceiving and cunning craftiness …if the strong relentless arm of persecution is against you, then, in that hour lift up your heads and rejoice that you are accounted worthy to suffer with Jesus, the Saints, and holy prophets, and know that the period of your redemption approaches. (1 December 1851, MS, 13:364; BLS, pp. 196-97)   May we increase our MEEKNESS and our PATIENCE, and may we find REST … not in blaming God for our troubles, but in the love of God which brings hope and the strength to bear our burdens and sorrows, along with helping our neighbors to bear theirs . . . .



Who’s on the Lord’s side?

With all that’s going on in the world – and especially in this country of America – I’ve been thinking MUCH about the promises made, for blessings to come IF we are obedient to God’s commandments –IF we have no other gods before Him. It feels like there are too many things being put first, and many more being put “higher” than God. The hunger for power is one that I’m noticing. I’ve noticed a lack of integrity and diminishing patriotism. As I was letting such thoughts drift through my mind, the words of one of our hymns came to mind: “Who’s on the Lord’s side, who?” Isn’t that an amazing, important question! And the phrase which follows caught my attention instantly: “Now is the time to show.”  The text was written by Hannah Last Cornaby, who lived from 1822-1905, so we can safely say that these words are over 100 years old. If the question was relevant then – so long ago – it is even more relevant and urgent right now. “NOW IS THE TIME TO SHOW … that we are ON THE LORD’s SIDE.”

And the question is even OLDER (and implies “now is the time to show”). I’m reading in the Old Testament, and in Exodus 32:26 (JST) we read: “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.”


Are we being called? Are we needed?  How do we go about responding – how do we show that we’re on the Lord’s side? You’ll think of much which I haven’t thought of, but a few things that have come to my mind as I’ve been pondering all of this include:  – Being true and faithful – Following the Prophet (and all 15 whom we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators) – Holding fast to that which matters most – Holding tightly to the iron rod – Praying with increasing feeling and strong intent to follow promptings – Keeping the commandments – Keeping covenants we have made – Increasing the depth of our focus on the Savior and our need to be closer to Him and more like Him as we partake of the Sacrament each week – Keeping the Sabbath Day holy – Doing good and being good – Staying as far away from the great and spacious building (worldliness) as possible . . . ETC ETC ETC


Here are a couple of quotes from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:  “satan, or lucifer, or the father of lies—call him what you will [I personally like WHNF: what’s his no face] —is real, the very personification of evil. His motives are in every case malicious, and he convulses at the appearance of redeeming light, at the very thought of truth. … he is eternally opposed to the love of God, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the work of peace and salvation. He will fight against these whenever and wherever he can. He knows he will be defeated and cast out in the end, but he is determined to take down with him as many others as he possibly can.” (“We Are All Enlisted,” Ensign, November 2011)


This is the other quote from Elder Holland: “The FUTURE of this world has long been DECLARED; the final outcome between GOOD and evil is already KNOWN. There is absolutely no question as to who WINS because the VICTORY has already been posted on the SCOREBOARD. The only really strange thing in all of this is that we are still down here on the FIELD trying to decide which TEAM’S JERSEY we want to wear!” (BYU Devotional,1983;  quoted by Gary and Joy Lundberg, Meridian Magazine, 12 April 2013)






‘Twas the last Sabbath of July 2016. ‘Tis. I can’t believe it! Surely someone is ripping the pages off my calendar… or something. I want to share some thoughts today which might include some repeats. I don’t care if you don’t. If you do, you can just flip back to what you were doing before “INASMUCH” popped up. (And by the way, in case you haven’t already noticed, I don’t read back over what I write/post … and I know I make mistakes [DUH!]… I hope you don’t get annoyed; try to ignore ‘em, OK?)


I’ve been pretty thirsty a few times in my life (besides Fast Sunday), but I almost always had water available. Safe, clean, cool… and I could drink as much as I wanted. I loved drinking from the hose out in the yard, and I loved drinking water from springs whenever I went hiking. I used to have what I called “The King’s Drink” (I have NO IDEA where that came from). It usually happened on Saturdays when it was my turn to clean the upstairs bathroom. I’d clean the sink especially well. Then I’d put the stopper in and fill the sink with clean, clear, cold water. And I stick my mouth (actually my whole face) in it and just drink and drink. I was a teenager, so it was a LOT of years ago. And I’ve wondered where it came from. Seeing someone stretch out over a steam in the Saturday Matinee? I don’t know… but I used to do that quite a bit: The King’s Drink.

I’ve ended up living in a few places where clean, safe water wasn’t readily available. (And sometimes in places where NO water was readily available).  Once I wrote about how long it took to prepare a drink of water in Africa. It made me realize that perhaps my “sink drink” really WAS “fit for a king.”


So what am I getting at? I’ve been thinking about people who are thirsty. I’ve been remembering that in some places where I lived – where people had to haul their water from wells or streams – it may be true that few were ever able to drink all the wanted, even of water which wasn’t clean and safe. But I’ve also been thinking about the MILLIONS of refugees who no longer have homes. What happens when THEY get thirsty? I wish I could remember more specifically how the refugees in the camp in Thailand which I visited 35 plus years ago got their water. I think a water truck came around, and the people lined up to fill whatever kind of container they had available.


It’s not a pleasant feeling to be thirsty, especially when there’s no water anywhere close (or anywhere at all).


So I’ve been thinking about Matthew 25:34-40. For many, many years I’ve thought and thought about what the Savior teaches. I’ve always called it “The INASMUCH principle.” The Savior describes a sampling of situations in which He’s been ministered to by others; it’s only a sample, because it would probably take up too much space to list “everything.” But He includes “I was thirsty….”  He also shared that He was hungry, sick, naked, imprisoned, and those to whom He was speaking had responded.  They didn’t remember having done things for Him – the things He described. And so He taught them about “INASMUCH.”  They had been kind, and it was not just that they had done something “FOR” Him (trying to be good disciples, good Christians, Good Samaritans, etc.). It was as if they had done something TO Him… it was as though they had given HIM meat, and had given HIM something to drink….


The words have such deep meanings… layers of meanings. To be thirsty and hungry includes a desire and longing (often for spiritual food and drink – for light and truth – as missionaries and parents and others know). To be naked is to lack protection and defense (among other meanings). I’m getting “long” here, so I won’t go into more detail about meanings.  I don’t especially like reading the last part (after verse 40) where there is an opposite “reward” for those who don’t respond – who don’t reach out to Him in [as Mother Teresa put it] “His distressing disguise.”


Maybe I’ve been thinking about this partly because of the thousands of gallons of water being WASTED … pumped out from under my home and running down the street … there are millions of people THIRSTY… and this clean, clear water disappears down the street unused . . . . Wow does that BOTHER me… bother my soul!

I know I’ve talked about some of this before – like about reaching out to do something kind for refugees. (If only I could send them the water!!). We do what we can. Maybe we increase our donation to Fast Offering, to humanitarian efforts or other helpful agencies and programs. Maybe we’re in a position to do many, many more things.


Then I’ve thought of those who are hungry for light and thirsty for truth, those who feel lonely and don’t know quite why. It’s as if there is a longing – as if they feel that something is missing. I think of those who are naked with no one to protect them or respond to their need for a safe place. And yes, we can do something about these needs through our example, through our kindness and compassion, through our courage to open our mouth and share something that is true … which might give the Holy Ghost a chance to have it sound/feel FAMILIAR to whoever is listening.  Let’s do what we can. The list is very, very long. I know YOU (yes, YOU reading this right now) have done and are continuing to do kind, amazing, beautiful things, and some day when He says “INASMUCH,” He will look at YOU, and He’ll smile . . . .



GRACE – By Brad Wilcox

Many of you have probably already heard or read this message from Brad Wilcox or have read his books, but I wanted to share the talk for you to read again (or for the first time). I love Brad! He’s been a good friend for many years, and he is one of the most genuinely good, kind people I know. Enjoy this wonderful, uplifting, beautiful message!


HIS GRACE IS SUFFICIENT (Brad Wilcox – 12 July 2011 – BYU)

It is an honor to be invited to speak to you today. Several years ago I received an invitation to speak at Women’s Conference. When I told my wife, she asked, “What have they asked you to speak on?”  I was so excited that I got my words mixed up and said, “They want me to speak about changing strengths into weaknesses.”  She thought for a minute and said, “Well, they’ve got the right man for the job!” She’s correct about that. I could give a whale of a talk on that subject, but I think today I had better go back to the original topic and speak about changing weaknesses into strengths and about how the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient (see Ether 12:27, D&C 17:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9)— sufficient to cover us, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes.


A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”  She said, “I just don’t get grace.”  I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?” She said, “I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.” She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she’s a Mormon that she wasn’t doing.  She continued, “I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?”  She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn’t be doing because she’s a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.  Finally I said, “Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us.” Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, “Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ’s part?”  She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.  I said, “Wrong.”  She said, “I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it.”  I said, “No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”  She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”  “Oh no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and how long we plan to stay there.”

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice — not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

“So what’s the difference?” the girl asked. “Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required.”  “True,” I said, “but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ’s requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason.”


Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice. If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane. In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask (“Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!”), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must ‘repay’ him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior’s help, leads us along the path to a saintly character” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149).  Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball’s explanation, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223).  Let’s put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, “You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven.”  I say, “No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it.”  They ask me, “Have you been saved by grace?” I answer, “Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!” Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: “Have you been changed by grace?” They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, “A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ’s life.” As my friend Omar Canals puts it, “While many Christians view Christ’s suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us.” As Moroni puts it, grace isn’t just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to.

I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, “We need to get him to EFY.” I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.  His dad said, “I can’t afford that.”  I said, “I can’t afford it either, but you put some in, and I’ll put some in, and then we’ll go to my mom, because she is a real softy.”  We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, “Get me out of here!” Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly. In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.  Jesus checks His clipboard and says, “Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points.”  Brad begs Jesus, “Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay.” That’s how I always saw it. But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it will not be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, “Let me stay.” No, he will probably be saying, “Get me out of here!” Knowing Christ’s character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, “Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay.” The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become pianists.


“But Brother Wilcox, don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven? Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace. There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don’t understand grace. There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, “I hope they call me on a mission,” and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “I’ll never do it again,” and then they do it. They say, “This is stupid. I will never do it again.” And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don’t dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, “I can’t do this Mormon thing. I’ve tried, and the expectations are just way too high.” So they quit. These young men don’t understand grace.

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

I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don’t understand grace. In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).

One young man wrote me the following e-mail: “I know God has all power, and I know He will help me if I’m worthy, but I’m just never worthy enough to ask for His help. I want Christ’s grace, but I always find myself stuck in the same self-defeating and impossible position: no work, no grace.” I wrote him back and testified with all my heart that Christ is not waiting at the finish line once we have done “all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). He is with us every step of the way. Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, “The Savior’s gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to ‘after’ all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts” (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 155).  So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher’s touch (see Hebrews 12:2).

In twelve days we celebrate Pioneer Day. The first company of Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Their journey was difficult and challenging; still, they sang: Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear; But with joy wend your way. Though hard to you this journey may appear, Grace shall be as your day. [“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Hymns, 2002, no. 30]  “Grace shall be as your day”—what an interesting phrase. We have all sung it hundreds of times, but have we stopped to consider what it means? “Grace shall be as your day”: grace shall be like a day. As dark as night may become, we can always count on the sun coming up. As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. Faithful pioneers knew they were not alone. The task ahead of them was never as great as the power behind them.


The grace of Christ is sufficient—sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). As we do, we do not discover—as some Christians believe—that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much and the strength to do all He asks (see Philippians 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Grace is the presence of God’s power (see Luke 1:37).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said the following: Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .   . . . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .  . . . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God’s grace is sufficient for each of us. [CR, October 1976, 14, 16; “Notwithstanding My Weakness,” Ensign, November 1976, 12, 14] With Elder Maxwell, I testify that God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus’ grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Oh, young people, don’t quit. Keep trying. Don’t look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don’t search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and, as you do, I promise you will feel the enabling power we call His amazing grace. I leave this testimony and all of my love—for I do love you. As God is my witness, I love the youth of this church. I believe in you. I’m pulling for you. And I’m not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you.  And Jesus is pulling with you. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.