It was said by the writer of Hebrews (which, if I understand correctly, may or may not have been Paul), that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I’ve been hearing that phrase for decades and wondering what, exactly, it means. With the help of this Thursday’s YSA seminar, I think I’m getting closer.
Our LDS Bible Dictionary (which I am guilty of underutilizing) associates at least five things with faith:
- hope (of things unseen)
- confidence (or “assurance of the fulfillment of the things hoped for”)
- action (“true faith always moves its possessor to some kind of physical and mental action”—the “and” in that sentence is noteworthy)
- power (“when occasion warrants”), and
- belief (probably the most obvious—but not the only!—element of faith)
Further, the Bible Dictionary clarifies that “true faith must be based upon correct knowledge” and that if it is to “produce salvation,” faith “must be centered in Jesus Christ.”
So if I fail to hope and believe with confidence or if I fail to act on what I believe, my faith is (partially or entirely) absent or it is a type of false faith. Further, if my faith is based on something that isn’t true, it may still be faith, but it is not true faith—and if it is not centered on Christ, it will neither bring about a remission of my sins nor my salvation.
It is interesting to distinguish between “correct knowledge” and “perfect knowledge.” Alma taught that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things.” (Alma 32:21) The thing I believe in and act upon must be correct—and I must have a reason to believe it is correct, otherwise it could not be considered knowledge. (And heaven knows we do not believe in blind faith.) Yet my knowledge must be in some way imperfect, lest it be “perfect knowledge” and faith no longer present.
This confirms the idea that faith and agency are—as are testimony and agency—connected. Neither faith nor testimony involves perfect faith, so there is a strong element of choice involved with both. In fact, we come to earth to use our agency to choose faith—faith in redemption and even exaltation through Jesus Christ. In short, we must have reasons for what we believe and exercise faith in, yet those reasons will not be perfected to the point (in this life, at least) at which they squeeze out uncertainty and, hence, choice.
What is a bit baffling to me is why Evangelical Christians are so good at declaring their salvation with firm (to say the least) confidence whereas if you ask a Mormon “Have you been saved?” the answer is often a look of shock, confusion, uneasiness, or embarrassment. Why do we lack the willingness to answer that question positively? Is our faith in Christ partially or entirely absent?
Well, an easy answer is because none of us—Evangelical, LDS, or otherwise—is yet literally and permanently standing in God’s presence, so we cannot factually say that it has happened already. But Mormons struggle with that question even if it is placed in a future context: “How confident do you feel that, if your life ended today, you would end up exalted in the Celestial Kingdom after the Judgment?” Would it be inappropriate for me to look you in the eye in response to that question and answer firmly, “Completely confident”? I don’t think so. In fact, I think we usually ought to and that true faith even demands it (provided I’m not in violation of my covenants—which does not mean that I’m perfect).
So where does confident, assured faith come from? Well, the Bible Dictionary says it comes from learning (“hearing the testimony of those who have faith”) and doing (“obedience to the gospel”). It stands to reason that we must learn about something before we can believe in it and that the more we learn about it and understand it, the greater our reasons may become for believing in it. But learning must also be accompanied by action. Faith is not faith without action; faith without works is very much dead; and without action our learning becomes seriously obstructed.
So as my friend Newell recently taught me, it is a cycle: if I am willing to experiment and exercise faith in something I’ve learned by acting on it, through that action I will learn more, which learning will prompt me to act more, which will in turn teach me more, and so on and so on and so on. There is a “virtuous cycle” of learning and acting and being obedient to what we learn. But when I cease either learning or acting correctly on that learning, I cease spiraling upward and commence sliding backward into a spiral descent.
Jesus taught clearly and succinctly the relationship between faith and action and learning and doing: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine….”
Learn. Do. Exercise agency through hope and belief. Exercise confidence and a sense of assurance in that hope and belief. And power will follow—if, when, and as needed by our Father in Heaven—but in any event to the producing of our salvation if our faith is centered on Christ.
Such faith is liberating. The alternative of “faith in nothing” leads to hopelessness. And the alternative of “faith in myself” leads to high stress, a lack of assurance, and ultimately failure. Faith in Christ, however, including acting on it as best we can, results in confident assurance.
So with respect for my Evangelical friends who don’t believe me and for my Mormon friends who think such statements are inappropriate… I, for one, am not yet saved. But I’m going to be. And you can bank on it.
I sure am glad that my parents encouraged me (and my siblings) to grow up.
I think I was about ten years old when I got my first job: delivering The Northshore Citizen to maybe 50 or 60 homes in our neighborhood every Wednesday morning. Seems like I split the job with my sister, but my early-onset Alzheimer’s leaves me a little uncertain. Wasn’t long after that, though, that I definitely got my own daily route. I spent about four years unwittingly distributing a lot of liberal propaganda (known then and now as The Seattle Times) to my neighbors, most of whom probably appreciated it (the propaganda, that is).
“Daily,” of course, meant daily: 365 days a year. Mercifully, there were three or four of them each year on which I made it home dry. I remember the dark, wet night I stepped on a nail as I ducked under some dripping rhododendron bushes to get to the Harkenon’s house. It was hard to tell if that sucking sound (and feel) was the nail coming out of my foot or my sneaker coming out of the mud. Saturdays and Sundays—and every Christmas and New Year’s Day (thank goodness for sobriety)—were delivered in the mornings. Nothing like a 5 a.m. wake-up call every weekend morning to try to make an old man out of a young man. School seemed like a pretty desirable place compared to delivering papers in the cold, dark, and rain.
When I was fifteen, my buddy Jeff (who already had a driver’s license) and I were on our way to a church softball game. (I often played catcher and not particularly skillfully. He sometimes enjoyed a little too much watching me get blown up on the occasional play at the plate. We had a competitive stake.) Anyway, he needed to stop by his workplace—as a dishwasher at the prestigious Inglewood Country Club—to pick up his check, since his Trans Am drank a lot of gas. Curious to see the insides of such a posh place, I went with him. Before long, we found his crusty old boss, who summarily dismissed him (on suspicion of breaking some rules, which Jeff vehemently denied) and then looked at me, squinting narrowly, and said, “Son, you want a job?” I said, “Sure,” and after the game Jeff dropped me off for my first night of work.
Those nights cleaning up after country club party-goers sometimes ended at two or three or even four in the morning, depending on how late the evening’s festivities lasted. Calling and waking my parents for a ride home at such hours seemed a bit much—and they rather agreed—so I usually walked. It was just a couple of miles (but, yes, it actually was uphill). The inevitable rain seemed to cleanse my spirit to a certain extent—and that wasn’t all bad after spending the evening in a country club bar kind of environment.
That job didn’t last long, though, as I soon got hired by Jeff’s brother-in-law to work at his art and picture framing store. I cut frames, glass, and mattes—mostly tens of thousands of mattes—after school and full-time in the summers for about three years. Some Saturday mornings (yes, 5 a.m., again), he took us waterskiing. And…
Well, the story of jobs just keeps on going, but I’ll quit boring you. The point is: my parents encouraged responsibility, financial independence, and, to a large extent, emotional independence from my early years. They also encouraged independent thinking, thankfully, but that’s a story for another day.
Of course, there were also chores growing up. (By “growing up,” I’m referring to the 14-year period we were given to turn 18 years old.) Tuesday nights were mine to do the dishes. We actually had a dishwasher, but we never used it. My parents said it was broken, but years later, I’m increasingly suspicious about just how broken it really was. When I was eleven or twelve or so, my mother taught me how to do laundry. I had a hard time remembering which colors to wash in which temperatures, so I made a chart and nailed it to the wall of our unfinished laundry room. It hung there for probably close to 30 years.
My biggest chore, though, may have been our vegetables. (And by “vegetables,” I am not referring to the three rows of our model vegetable garden I was expected to weed every day of the summer.) Mother served at least two vegetables at every dinner and the rule was you had to eat two of them and no less. I’m pretty sure the zucchini, lima beans, spinach, and occasional brussel sprouts were all calculated to be encouragement for us to achieve independent living at the earliest possible age.
Leaving home and going to college was a foregone conclusion. I don’t recall ever considering an alternative. My older brother went off to college after high school. So did my older sister. Three months after graduating from high school, my parents drove me down to Provo, where, believe it or not, I met my new roommate, Shannon. Shannon, you’ll be relieved to know, was not only male, he acted and sounded a lot like Rocky Balboa, only more educated. I wrote my parents a letter most weeks and called home some weeks. When my freshman year was done, I went home and cut another gazillion mattes before leaving on my mission. The rule was you needed to pay for everything you could.
My mother has never forgiven me for this (though having conspired with my father to turn me into an independent adult at an early age, she really has no one to blame): after my mission, I was home for a week and then never lived at home again. And that’s not because I disliked my home or my family—I come from the greatest family on the planet! And who doesn’t want to live 15 minutes from Dick’s Drive-In and 30 minutes from the Seattle Mariners?! It was just time to be the autonomous adult they’d taught me to be.
Why do I mention all this? Well, last Saturday Becky and I were asked to teach a class on helping young women prepare for adulthood—college, missions, the temple, career, marriage, etc. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the role parents play in helping their children become successfully independent—which I guess I would define as having both an understanding of how to live after the manner of happiness and the desire and motivation to independently do so. (Which seems easier to do if you have some practice at it before the actual moment arrives.)
As I mentioned to one of the classes Saturday, I think it is common for young children in our church to hear about “families being together forever” and picture themselves in heaven as little children with their loving parents forever with them and taking care of them, maybe even holding them. I think, though, that there may be parents with the same vision, hoping against wisdom that little Johnny and Suzy will stay their little Johnny and Suzy forever and continuing to nurture an environment that will keep them physically, emotionally, or financially dependent. It seems my parents tended to see me as the adult I would become more than the child I was—and, like I said, I’m glad they did.
In the family Becky and I lead today, we don’t speak so much about achieving emotional, spiritual, and financial independence (though everyone understands that’s the goal; it’s even written in our family plan) as much as we talk about “building character.” Most things that our kids should do but don’t want to do are about (at least as they hear it from us) “building character.” Truth is, we’re trying to build independent adults who know God’s plan and can independently achieve happiness and who have as much character as they are willing to develop.
A favorite scene from five or six years ago gives me great hope. It was early on a weekday morning in the middle of the summer, maybe 6:30 or 6:45. Must have been July. It was one of those nothing-but-blue-sky Utah summer mornings that starts out quite warm. I was getting ready to go to work and, for some reason, glanced out the bedroom window which faces our backyard. There was our son, bent over pulling weeds in our, well, modest vegetable garden. He’d figured out that the faster you get your work done, the cooler the temperature you can work in and the more quickly you can start playing. I suppose the bad news is that our kids won’t be kids forever. But if my parents were right, that’s actually the good news.
I remember very little about my exit interview the day before I returned home from my mission. But one exchange has always stuck with me. President Cardon asked me, “Do you intend to remain an active member of the Church?”
I was taken aback a bit. I thought it was a strange question to ask someone who had just devoted two years and hopefully served in a way that demonstrated commitment. I stammered, “Well, yes, of course.”
He then said, “What does it mean to be active?” I tried to think quickly, but, as is often the case, couldn’t come up with much more than the obvious. “Well, it means going to Church, being worthy and having a temple recommend…” He almost cut me off: “Does being active include having a calling?” I wished I’d thought of that, myself. “Yes, I think so,” I said.
Then he said, “I want you to make me a promise. I want you to promise me that you’ll never go four consecutive weeks without a calling without going to your bishop and asking for one. Will you promise to do that?” I did.
I can’t say that I’ve lived up to the letter of that promise as well as I should have, but I think I’ve lived up to the spirit of it. In the various times I’ve moved and switched wards in my life, there have sometimes been intervals of some weeks before I received a calling. I remember on a couple of occasions making a comment to the bishop as I’d promised I would. On a couple of other occasions, I knew the bishop was aware of me and I gave it a little more time and a calling came before too long.
Why do we serve in callings in the Church? Perhaps because we’re asked to and we feel a sense of duty. Perhaps out of a sense of tradition and culture: that’s what Mormons do. Perhaps we enjoy the socializing and relationships that are a part of most callings.
Or perhaps we have better reasons. Perhaps we love people and understand that all callings are about people. Perhaps we recognize the responsibility we have toward them and want to serve them. Perhaps we love God and remember his instruction to Peter, “If ye love me, feed my sheep.” Perhaps we know that all things have been offered to those who magnify their callings. Perhaps we embrace the mission of the Church to bring souls to Christ and we appreciate so much what it means to come to Christ that we want to help others do the same.
My favorite non-prophetic author had one of his characters say, “Everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” He also said, speaking of himself, “We are all responsible for everyone else—but I am more responsible than all the others.”
Am I responsible for others? Am I my brother’s keeper? Jacob spoke of “taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not…” President Hinckley said, “Each of us is responsible for the welfare and the growth and development of others. We do not live only unto ourselves. If we are to magnify our callings, we cannot live only unto ourselves.”
How do we magnify our calling? Well, we start by having a calling, as my mission president encouraged me to do. Then we understand what it requires. But we don’t stop there! To do so is to minimize a calling—and what a lost opportunity that is! We reap what we sow and few things illustrate that as well as the effort and creativity we put into our callings. So we get a clear understanding of who we are called to serve and then we get busy with those people, focusing on them and how we can serve them within the larger spirit of our calling. We get to know them, learn about them, love them. And then we pray for guidance and we let the creative juices flow (thinking in the shower always helps me!) and between our own pondering and perspiration and the Lord’s inspiration—the perfect recipe—we go above and beyond that low-bar minimum and serve!
Fifteen years ago, I extended a calling to a couple in my ward to serve as ward librarians. I did an utterly pathetic job of it. My explanation of what their calling was about was enough to deflate even the most enthusiastic. But they dutifully accepted. A year later, I sat in a meeting and heard a bishop describe the calling of a ward librarian and became both exhilarated by his vision of how this calling, if well done, could impact and change families—and disgusted by the memory of my own lack of vision and effort and thoughtfulness and a year earlier.
Librarians, it turns out, can help families tap into Church resources to more effectively teach their children at home. Sunday School teachers can visit the students who don’t come and can take and show an interest in them outside of church meetings. Ward membership clerks can knock on doors and get to know the people over whose membership records they have stewardship. Secretaries can advocate for lost sheep. Stake leaders can greet by name the people they serve throughout the stake. Music committee chairs can identify hidden talents and encourage the development of talents which may not even exist yet. And on and on.
We do reap what we sow. When we don’t have a calling, we miss out on a huge source of happiness and fulfillment. When we have a calling but don’t (or barely) act in it… same crummy thing. When we pour our hearts into the people we’re serving and focus our efforts on them instead of on ourselves (teachers, for example, should teach students, not lessons), we reap rewarding relationships and the joy of seeing growth in others—and, inevitably, in ourselves.
Young Single Adults—as that label rather clearly suggests, are neither children nor “youth.” They are adults. For them (as we discussed Thursday), it is time to pick up an oar and row with the rest of the rowing adults—to share the gospel, strengthen testimonies, “lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees.” It’s time to switch from net taker to net giver. Or, maybe better said, it’s time to strive to become a net giver, because it is impossible in the Lord’s economy to become a net giver since the Lord always blesses us disproportionately to our service.
May God bless us with vision, an interest in people, a desire to serve, and inspiration to see how to magnify our calling to a point of real impact. In such a scenario, all are blessed and become happier.
… for the followers of after-the-manner-of-happiness.com!
I have two free tickets to today’s 12:30 showing of Son of God at the Megaplex Theater at Thanksgiving Point. The only price you’ll need to pay is your willingness to sit next to my wife and me (since the seats are assigned). Please call or text my cell phone if you are interested. First come, first served.
After one hour, the exclusive nature of this offer will be revoked as I turn to my vast (and growing) number of friends on Facebook.
Disclaimer: I have neither seen the movie nor read any reviews and therefore make no warranties, either express or implied, with regard to your enjoyment of said movie and whether you’ll feel, at the conclusion, like you just spent two hours living after the manner of happiness.)
Someone—reportedly that (possibly fictitious, himself) fable-teller Aesop—once coined the phrase—or at least popularized it: familiarity breeds contempt. With one exception (more on that later), I don’t think that phrase could possibly be less true.
More than once, I have begun teaching a class of youth—maybe a Sunday School or Primary class or a group of deacons—and come away annoyed with them and their impolite, disrespectful behavior—to the point where I wasn’t anxious to return. But two things inevitably happen: I get to know them and I start to like them. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever really gotten to know a youth and failed to come to appreciate them and become fond of them—and I’ve started out annoyed at quite a few of them! For me, that initially unfortunate experience doesn’t just happen with youth.
I spent this past week out of town on business. I wasn’t looking forward to it because I knew I’d be spending the week with a small group of people led by someone I really did not want to be around at all. I had never actually had a personal or individual conversation with her (you’ll note), but I had been in meetings with her and knew her to be foul-mouthed, sour-faced, and terse. My few interactions with her had completely turned me off and I was about to spend four long days with her (and a half-dozen other people I’d never met).
Well. You can’t spend thirteen hours a day virtually locked in a room with a few people and not get to know quite a bit about them. I met a highly educated young man who, with his girlfriend—now fiancé—is expecting their first child; a single Jewish mother of two teenagers who is under lots of job stress and worried about her kids; a single dad who spent his birthday with his teenage son and his (the father’s) girlfriend; and a woman who has a perpetual fiancé following failed marriages for each of them, no plans to ever formally tie the knot, and whose face lights up at the very mention of reality TV shows.
And then there’s Megan, the person I really pretty much despised before the week began. Megan, it turns out, is an actual person pursuing life and happiness and family and fulfillment just like the rest of us. She has a husband and kids that she cares about and frequently talks about. She has a home she loves. She has a personal history of success and failures (lots of successes). She takes a direct, sometimes curt, but nevertheless sincere interest in others. She goes out of her way to help people advance in their careers and in life in general. And, yes, she has the foulest mouth I’ve ever spent more than a few minutes around. But, by the end of the week, my contempt—bred entirely from both unfamiliarity and repeated personal failure on my part to not give people the benefit of the doubt—had turned into empathy and even appreciation. Another of life’s important lessons learned, rather pathetically, yet again. I hope I learn it well enough soon enough that I don’t have to keep re-learning it.
(I mentioned above an exception. It seems to me that if there is any tendency toward truth with regards to familiarity breeding contempt, that it is within families where we are so familiar with one another that if we’re not careful, we can become complacent in our relationships, take loved ones for granted, actually lose empathy for them, and sometimes let our experiences with their shortcomings and the offenses we’ve taken from them canker within us. You can tell you’re in danger when you notice yourself treating visitors to your home better than you treat its regular residents. We must not stop seeking to understand others and appreciating their efforts—especially those closest to us!)
Longfellow said, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” It would be good if I didn’t have to wait to discover the “secret history” of everyone I meet before deciding that I can grant them the generosity, respect, and even appreciation that they deserve. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, of which there is much where familiarity is lacking, is a happier way to live.