[Given by Chris Juchau at Ward Conferences in the Highland Utah South Stake in early 2015]
Brothers and Sisters, I would like to address my remarks today to a specific subset of the ward. I would like to speak directly and frankly to those of you who, for any number of reasons, do not feel entirely comfortable at church. If you attend an LDS church long enough, you can get stuck with the notion that there is an ideal model of what proper church members look like and that if you don’t fit that model closely enough, then you’re somehow left on the outside looking in. You may feel uncomfortable with how you do or don’t fit in with other members of the Church.
Imagine I’m holding a picture right now showing you the “ideal” model of LDS members. In that picture, you might imagine seeing a handsome father and a lovely mother surrounded by their lovely children. Father looks like a kind, loving, confident, financially successful man who has all the answers. Mother looks like a woman with perfect children who composes beautiful new primary songs and writes inspiring blog posts viewed by adoring thousands when she’s not helping her children learn to sew their own clothing or serving nourishing meals to her smiling, grateful family as if in a Betty Crocker commercial. You look at her and just imagine that the world is a more beautiful place everywhere her feet so delicately tread. Of course, Bobby and Suzie and the other children look like straight-A students who are probably student body officers at school and who sometimes spontaneously burst into songs filled with lovely harmonies just like the Von Trapp family kids—and probably do so while they’re helping each other with their chores or delivering soup to their elderly neighbors. Quite a family!
On the other hand, let’s consider what kinds of people actually experience mortality. Let me give you some examples of the kinds of people I’m talking about who don’t always feel like they fit in 100% at church.
One significant example comes from those who don’t have the family structure I just described—looking sharp or not. Some who wish they had spouses do not. Some who would like to bear children cannot. Some have been through profound hardship and disappointment in marriage and not only struggle with the immense challenges of single parenting but feel conspicuous about it in a church where we talk so much about the ideal family. In fact, just enduring church meetings can be a huge challenge because of our emphasis on strong families as the end goal.
Another example comes from those who feel unsure about their testimony. They have doubts or questions they’re not comfortable mentioning to other church members. They may be afraid they’ll be ostracized if they do. They hold back from full participation in various aspects of the church because they feel unsettled or even skeptical and may feel like they’re surrounded by people who have never considered or shared their concerns. Some struggle with church doctrine or church history or with church positions on important social issues—past or current.
Another important example comes from those with social anxieties. After all, if you’re going to be the ideal member in this church, you have to be able to speak in church with poise and confidence and tell stories that leave the audience alternatingly laughing and weeping. You also have to be able to read aloud when suddenly called upon as if you’re James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman. You also have to be prepared with articulate and thoughtful answers to share when put on the spot to answer a question in a class. You couldn’t possibly be someone whose whole body experiences fight-or-flight anxiety, or even panic, at the very thought of public speaking. And so you are careful to navigate the rocky waters of church attendance, so that, using skills both subtle and not so subtle, you avoid the spotlight—perhaps at all costs.
Some may feel like they don’t fit in at church because they struggle with worthiness. They may feel inadequate. They may feel conspicuous. They may feel judged by others. They may not only feel judged but may actually be judged by church members who lack empathy, humility, or knowledge.
Others may be plenty worthy for a temple recommend, but may feel like either LDS doctrine or LDS culture places so much emphasis on being perfect that they cannot escape feeling accused of unworthiness and are unnecessarily burdened by guilt. They may feel dirty and guilty in the very buildings and among the very people who should be fostering their optimism and faith in the atonement. Some see attending church as an exercise in being inflicted with guilt for all the things they don’t do as well as the people in that picture apparently do.
Some seasoned parents and grandparents may feel uncomfortable at church because they don’t think they’ve succeeded at creating that lovely picture of their own families. Perhaps finances have been a struggle that makes them feel inadequate. Perhaps they don’t actually write their own music. Perhaps teenage or young adult or full-grown adult children struggle with poor choices—or perhaps we wish they would struggle with poor choices when, instead, they seem to be embracing them.
There are other examples of people who in one way or another don’t feel like they fit in very well at church. [Author note after the fact: I wish I had mentioned gay or same-sex-attracted members specifically in this talk and expressed support for them also.]
- Some may be new in the ward and just don’t feel like they’ve found friends yet.
- Some may struggle with physical or mental illnesses that limit them in any variety of real ways—whether all of us appreciate their situation adequately or not.
- Some youth may feel like their friends are at school or on sports teams or other places—but not so much in their home ward.
- Some older people may feel like my own mother does who was recently released from being a primary teacher and now fears that she is unneeded and has been “put out to pasture.”
You may think of yet other circumstances in which people feel a little (or a lot) uncomfortable at church.
All around us are people who are struggling with any number of things. Within the sound of my voice are probably a couple of people who are dealing, very privately, with significant personal problems. They have been convincing themselves that they can handle their problem on their own. They want to avoid sharing their problems with others, including family, friends, or bishops—yet they bear a heavy burden and things are really not getting better. Such situations seldom get better until they are brought out of the darkness and into the light—with at least someone.
If any of these types of situations apply to you – then… what shall we do? More to my point, what should you do? I have four suggestions.
First, be open to the idea that many in the church are sensitive to and understanding of the challenges that you and others go through—and… Be willing to let them know about your challenges and then accept the support they offer to lend. Don’t try to take self-reliance too far.
Speaking for myself, I am familiar with struggles of testimony and doubts and questions and challenges to my faith. I have experienced feelings of unworthiness. I have experienced strong social anxiety. I have been a youth in a ward with no close friends. I have been new in a ward and felt like I didn’t fit in. I definitely don’t think attending church should be an exercise in getting discouraged with guilt over my shortcomings or my inability to do well literally everything that is expected of that father in the picture.
One thing I have never struggled with is being a single woman or a single mother or single father. I cannot say to know first-hand what those challenges are like. I imagine, though, that they can be massive and I appreciate that coming to church and hearing about celestial families all the time can be, for some, a difficult thing.
Many in the church do understand and many others are eager to learn. Many wish to help share burdens out of genuine love. Do not be afraid to let them even if that just means them listening.
Our church should be a welcome and comfortable place for all. We have, in fact, an obligation to make it comfortable for all regardless of other people’s backgrounds, circumstances, or apparent spirituality. And we must repent of any judgmentalism or other behaviors that make it less comfortable for others. We certainly must help lighten loads.
The Savior is our clear example. He sought out the poor in spirit and those who were marginalized or completely disenfranchised by society or by religion or by cultural norms. He ate with sinners, publicans, and others of questioned repute. He welcomed those who were physically and mentally ill. He spent loving time alike with Pharisees, outcasts from the Jewish religion, and non-believers. He honored old and young, male and female, married, unmarried, and single parents. Of course, ultimately, he experienced all of the pains and sufferings endured by any and all who suffer in any way. And He knows exactly how you and I feel. Exactly. Not all of the rest of us know exactly how you may feel about various things but we may know more than you imagine—and we probably know enough to appreciate in a meaningful way what you are going through.
Second, please be patient with those who remind you of the family in that picture—and forgiving of those who seem judgmental or hypocritical—for they, too, have struggles in spite of the best appearances, and, like all of us, they are trying and they are struggling with their own shortcomings and disappointments, trying to be happy and move forward. Judging the judgmental and denying them the generosity of non-judgment that we want from them just harms us.
If you know someone is judging you, forgive them. If you think someone might be judging you but don’t really no for certain, then give them the benefit of the doubt and decide that they are not. If you think somebody just doesn’t know or hasn’t experienced enough to really “get it,” then be patient with them and non-critical of their ignorance-driven poor judgment. If it looks like others are having more success than you, be happy for them.
Once about 25 years ago, I had an experience golfing with two friends. None of us were great golfers. On the first hole, which was a par 5 that crossed a little stream at the Spanish Oaks golf course, one of my friends (I’ll call him John) miraculously hit the three luckiest shots of his life in a row and eagled the hole, two under par. The other friend (I’ll call him Mark) seemed not to notice, being caught up in his own struggles on that hole. Some holes later, the roles were almost miraculously reversed and Mark, who had struggled on the first hole, came up with what is surely still the only eagle of his life. Only this time, John, who did poorly on the second hole took obvious and sincere delight in Mark’s success and celebrated with him—to the point where Mark lamented aloud to us that he had not taken more joy in John’s earlier success.
It is a hard thing to do to share joy in other people’s successes when we feel like our own is not occurring, but we can remember that the first shall be last and the last shall be first; that he who sits in the lower rooms will be invited by the master to take a higher place; and that the Savior’s promise to the poor in spirit who come unto him is that they will receive the kingdom of heaven. The meek will inherit the earth. They who mourn will be comforted. And they who hunger and thirst will be filled. All healing for ourselves and all feelings of magnanimity and generosity toward others will ultimately come from our trusting in the Savior’s role and His Atonement.
Third, regardless of your circumstances, I beg of you to please nurture yourself spiritually. As we all know, church members’ eyes and minds can glaze over so instantly at the mere mention of daily prayer and scripture reading. Yet the impact to us of those two things is just huge!
If you’re a single parent, it may be legitimately difficult to find the time for personal prayer and scripture study and an occasional visit to the temple. If you’re feeling discouraged, doubtful, or inadequate, you may have time but not feel very motivated to reach out to God.
But the reality is that God is real and He is our father and we need Him. If we connect ourselves to him through communication—if we speak to him in our prayers—and listen to him through the scriptures and through personal revelation (something we probably receive more of than we recognize)—we will receive strength. In fact, I think we’re strengthened so much spiritually that it also impacts us emotionally, mentally, physically, and socially. You and I are completely foolish, indeed, when we underestimate the requisite nature and healing impact to our souls of daily communion with God. I know that both first-hand and second-hand. Whatever we may be struggling with, withdrawing from Him makes it worse.
Whatever you do, do not fail to protect a few precious moments in each day to connect with God—at home, in your car, your closet, or at the temple.
For those of you who even vaguely resemble the ideal family, you must recognize that you have been given much and that from you much is required. Where you have neighbors who need your service in order to be able to attend the temple, provide it.
By the way, I will briefly add this: I do not think or expect that God answers every prayer the way we want it answered. But I do believe he responds to every prayer in the way that is best for us. Sometimes when we feel we are getting no answer, the answer we are getting is an expression of confidence in our ability to choose and move forward with well-placed faith. He wants us to consider and to ponder and pray, but He usually does not want us doing nothing while we wait for Him to tell us what to do.
Lastly, according to your circumstances, participate directly in the salvation of others. You have heard in this conference and will hear more in the next hour about the work of salvation which includes missionary work, effective teaching, reactivation of less-active members, and temple and family history work. We urge participation in these things for three very simple reasons: it’s what the Lord wants us to do, it may very well bless the lives of those we serve, and it will surely bless our own lives. Those are simple and good reasons why we ask you to participate in family history work and to have an active family mission plan, for example. Doing those things will not solve all your problems, but they will bless and help protect you and your family.
Now we have to reconcile our invitation to participate in these things with two simple concepts:
- One is that we should not run faster than we have strength—and some people have legitimately limiting circumstances. Such people should strive to participate in ways that they can without feeling guilty about the ways that they can’t right now. There is too much guilt among us. Motivating “godly sorry” is something to appreciate and even to nurture. But discouraging guilt is something we need to combat by improving our understanding of our relationship with our Heavenly Father and by putting more trust in the effects of the Atonement.
- Another is that where much is given, much is required and here in Highland, Utah much has been given to many. Some of us need to be more accepting of that and, frankly, do more.
These are personal, individual matters. We invite all to participate to the extent that you both can and should. It will bless your life.
I express my love to you on behalf of the stake presidency and the entire stake council. We desire our Father in Heaven’s sweetest blessings for you and your loved ones. We want every member of our stake to feel welcome, to feel accepted and included and to know that they are loved. We also know that your happiness is a personal matter and is largely, if not entirely, up to you. We urge you to participate in those things which comprise living after the manner of happiness, which happiness can coexist with a wide variety of circumstances.
Our Father in Heaven does live and love us. Jesus Christ is indeed our Savior. And this is His church. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Priesthood Meeting July 27, 2014]
Brethren, I would like to speak to you for the next few minutes “man-to-man.” I wish to speak of manhood, of masculinity, of the magnificence and majesty associated with manhood, of being sons of God.
Jesus Christ is referred to as the “Son of Man.” That “Man” He is the son of is our Father, whose name is “Man of Holiness.” God, our Father, possesses all the qualities of perfected masculinity. Part of our job is to learn to become more genuinely masculine—like Him.
Honoring manhood does not dishonor womanhood. The opposite is true. We honor and respect womanhood more fully as we embody and express true qualities of manhood. Man is not better than woman, nor vice versa. It takes one of each, together, to make a whole.
The world needs men. Wives need men. Children need men. It would be easy to cite myriad statistics about the social and economic benefits that accrue to individuals, communities, and society as a whole from engaged fathers. From a socio-economic standpoint, the clearest solution to crime, poverty, and ignorance is fathers who are both present and engaged. If you doubt that—or are interested in the subject—you should read a book called “Fatherless America.” It is no coincidence that in the Celestial Economy, nobody is fatherless and all fathers are present—and the same with mothers.
Let me begin by underscoring the fact that when we receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, we give ourselves to God in a very literal sense. We become God’s—not that we are gods, but that we become His—to the point where we have committed to living by every word that comes from his mouth no matter how that word reaches us. Once I receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and accept the associated Oath and Covenant, my wants and desires must either be the same as His or must become subordinate to His. I am His.
If you are asking yourself whether or not you will serve a mission, you are asking the wrong question.
Young men, you need to understand this. As you approach your 18th birthday, you should recognize that the biggest thing coming up in your life is not a decision about serving a mission. It is a decision of whether you will choose God to such an extent that you will receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, make a covenant thereby to serve him, become His, and dedicate your whole life (and not merely two years) to His service. It is a decision of whether you are willing to prepare yourself to go to the temple and there make covenants which will further bind him to you. If you are asking yourself whether or not you will serve a mission, you are asking the wrong question. Missions naturally follow eternal covenants with the Lord.
To you less-young men, if you did not appreciate the significance of the Melchizedek Priesthood and its associated covenant when you received it, it may well be because nobody taught you very thoroughly. You should understand and accept the significance of it now.
A man is not complete without a wife. Just ask [name withheld], whose wife of 55 years passed away a few weeks ago. He will tell you that she made him a better man and that without her he is now “half a person.” He has said those very words—and he is right in a legitimate sense—except that his covenants render their separation temporary and in a coming day he will not only be, but will feel again, like a complete man as they are reunited, never to be separated.
Young men, when you return home from missions, make finding a wife your highest priority. You need her and she needs you and without each other you’re neither complete nor qualifying to live as God lives.
After my own goal of qualifying to return to Heavenly Father, my most important goal is that my wife will be glad she chose me and will be happy at the thought of continuing our partnership in the next life. When we reach the end of our mortal lives, I want her to say—and not just because she’s being nice—that she is glad we’ve been—and will be—together.
Let me share with you a short (and incomplete) list of qualities that apply particularly to men and to masculinity. These traits are not found in their completeness in all men, neither are they absent in women, but they are particularly tied to masculinity. Here are a few—and their definitions. Some, but not all of these, come from a talk given by Elder Christofferson.
Ambitious: having or showing a strong desire and determination to succeed.
Courageous: the ability to do something that frightens one. Strength in the face of pain or grief.
Analytical: relating to or using analysis or logical reasoning.
Action-oriented: willing or likely to take practical action to deal with a problem or situation.
Risk-taking: the tendency to engage in behaviors that have the potential to be harmful or dangerous, yet at the same time provide the opportunity for some kind of outcome that can be perceived as positive.
Stoic: the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint.
Self-reliant: reliant on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.
Initiative-taking: the ability to assess and initiate things independently.
Fortitude: strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage.
Fidelity: faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.
Of course we should hasten to add to the list those qualities associated with priesthood power as listed in Section 121. These include:
- Persuasion—which surely includes inviting and encouraging but never coercing or manipulating
- Long-suffering—or patience
- Meekness—which includes humility
- Love unfeigned—sincere love
- Knowledge—ignorance and a disinterest in learning are qualities unassociated with true manhood and the priesthood.
You may struggle with some of these things. All that means is that you’re normal and you’re just like the rest of us. We all struggle with some of these things. If we consciously and purposefully and prayerfully struggle with them, we will get better at them. The Lord said, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, I will make weak things become strong unto them.”
In my experiences, the strongest men are the humblest. It takes both strength and humility to acknowledge weakness. In such men, it is commonly true that weak things do become strengths. I have been watching that in men around me for years. It is beautiful and miraculous.
The weakest men are often the ones who are least willing to acknowledge their faults. They are kept from being open and honest by pride or fear or both and they have, in my view, a miserable struggle as those weaknesses becoming greater weaknesses instead of strengths.
Now, as I recently reminded the young men and their advisors heading up to Helaman’s Camp, you’ll recall the scene in the movie “The Princess Bride” where Wesley (the “man in black”) and the Princess Buttercup emerge from the deadly fire swamp only to be surrounded by Prince Humperdinck, his six-fingered accomplice, and some other armed thugs. Let’s review the dialogue that ensues in that scene. You may recall…
Prince Humperdinck: Surrender!
Wesley: You mean you wish to surrender to me. Very well, I accept.
Prince Humperdinck: I give you full marks for bravery. Don’t make yourself a fool.
Wesley: Yes, but how will you capture us? We know the secrets of the fire swamp. We can live there quite happily for some time, so whenever you feel like dying feel free to visit.
Prince Humperdinck: I tell you once again: surrender.
Wesley: It will not happen.
Prince Humperdinck: For the last time, surrender!
Wesley: Death first!
Princess Buttercup: Will you promise not to hurt him?!
Prince Humperdinck: What was that?
Wesley: What was that?
Princess Buttercup: If we surrender, and I return with you, will you promise not to hurt this man?
Prince Humperdinck: May I live a thousand years and never hunt again.
Princess Buttercup: He is a sailor on the pirate ship revenge. Promise to return him to his ship.
Prince Humperdinck: I swear it will be done. ([Aside:] Once we’re out of sight, take him back to Florin and throw him in the pit of despair.)
The Six-Fingered Man: Yes sir. I swear it will be done.
[The Princess Buttercup says goodbye and is carried off by the prince…]
The Six-Fingered Man: Come sir. We must get you to your ship.
Wesley: We are men of action. Lies do not become us.
The Six-Fingered Man: Well spoken sir.
Now I realize the dialogue from “The Princess Bride” is not scripture. But it is fun to identify truth in many places all around us, even, on exceptionally rare occasion, from a Hollywood movie script.
There are two kinds of creatures: those who act and those who are acted upon.
I would like to emphasize the two points made by Wesley, the man in black. First, he says, “We are men of action.” Brethren, we should be men of action. Father Lehi taught his children that there are two kinds of creatures: those who act and those who are acted upon.
To act means to think, to plan, and to lead by taking the planned actions. To bring spirituality into it, we would add “ponder” and “pray” to “think” and we would add “seek the Spirit” to “plan” and we would add “exercise faith” to “lead by taking the planned actions.” That would give us this three-step formula:
First, think, ponder, and pray about what needs to happen—either in your own life, or the life of your family, or in the lives of people you serve. Because we can apply Lehi’s concept of “acting” to all three of those scenarios.
Second, seek the Spirit and plan. One might add “search the scriptures” or “review the teachings of priesthood leaders.” But the point is to determine a plan and what one will do.
Third, muster the courage, the initiative, and most especially, the faith, to act on the plan. This requires forms of leadership.
Every one of us is capable of following this formula, and of course, many men do on a regular basis. The point is to be intentional and to take action.
You and I need to be men of action. Young men, you need to know where you are going. Where will you be in five years? Where will you be in ten years? The opposite of acting, as Father Lehi taught, is to be “acted upon.” This means that we largely ignore the gifts of agency and of manhood that God has given us and we allow ourselves to be moved around like a leaf in the wind. We don’t take charge like the man in black, we just let ourselves become victims to life’s circumstances. Such situations don’t end well. Where will you be in ten years? Do you have a plan to get there? Are you acting? Are you following your plan and taking the right steps to make it come true? Are you leading, in this case, yourself? We all wanted agency, which is why we ended up here on earth. We have it here in abundance. We are men and we have agency. Let us use those gifts to bring about much goodness.
Men, where will your marriage be in five or ten or twenty years? What will happen if it stays on its present course? What do you need to do to strengthen the friendship and partnership and mutual respect and love in your marriage? Are you acting on this or letting circumstances act on you?
Where will your children be in five or ten years? What steps are you consciously, intentionally taking to get them to the right place? How are you acting to strengthen?
Brethren, we are men of action, or, rather, we must be men of action. To be otherwise, is to give away the gift that is so great that God Himself suffered and died to protect it for us: agency. Let us use it. Let us be men of action.
Lies do not become us.
Now secondly, as the man in black also said, “Lies do not become us.” Truer words were never spoken. I don’t know if honesty and integrity are inherent traits of manhood. Some think they are. I’m not sure. I might have included them in my earlier list. All I know for certain is that they should be traits of manhood. They are certainly traits of true manhood. A man cannot become the full measure of a man without excellence in the area of honesty and integrity.
I have, for much of 48 years, been amazed by women and the qualities—the divine qualities, I’ve concluded—of women and young women. I have been in awe of them and tried to understand them. They think differently than I do. They speak differently. They often seem to sense and perceive things differently than I do. They seem sometimes to me to be inherently better.
One of the things I have learned about women—and I’m surely just scratching the surface—is about the enormous amount of trust that a woman places in a man when she marries him. It is, really, a staggering act of trust for a woman to marry a man. She, naturally, seeks safety. Doing so is a divine quality of femininity. She wants safety and stability for herself, for her children, for the family. Men have a divine responsibility to protect. Women inherently understand that the protection needed goes beyond protection from physical threat or danger. A man’s responsibility to protect extends to the atmosphere of trust and integrity and reliability he should help create—and to the peace and stability and safety that that will result from those ambient conditions—and which a wife is absolutely entitled to expect and receive from her husband.
If a woman discovers that her husband has been unfaithful or dishonest with her, it is a staggering, crushing blow which we must not attempt to minimize or justify in the slightest way, but rather which we must work long and vigorously to repair. Trust once lost is hardly regained. Only after much time and consistency and proof of integrity.
As I mentioned earlier, I consider my greatest goal in life, after my goal to please my Father in Heaven and Savior, to end life with my wife pleased that she spent hers with me. Next is that my children will know and feel that I love them and will desire the same things for themselves as I do, though they will be their own independent people and not people I try to control.
In the temple recommend interview, there are 18 questions if I’m not mistaken. We might sometimes think of the law of chastity question as the most difficult of them. It is probably not right to say that any one of those 18 questions is more important than the others, but I have learned to have a special appreciation for the question about honesty.
“Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?” The wording of that question, with its reference to “dealings,” makes me think about honesty in business and in various worldly transactions. But I am sure that that question includes ideas like, “Are you honest with your wife—both in word and in deed, including in those things she’s not aware of?” “Do you set a real example of honesty to your children?” “Are you honest with yourself?” “Are you honest with your priesthood leaders?”
Too many withhold important truths from their bishops. Those situations end in more pain than they need to end in. “My yoke is easy,” said the Savior. “Take my yoke upon you,” He said. One way we do that is through honesty.
Brethren, we are men of action. And lies not only do not become us; they destroy us.
It is good to be men. The better men we are, the more we will become like our perfect, masculine Father and His Firstborn, the better and happier we will be. And the happier our wives and children will be. Not much else matters more than that.
Let us act with prayer and inspired intent to serve the Lord, let us love our wives, and let us teach our children to become healthy, independent, and thriving men and women. Let us experience the joy that comes from committing ourselves to the Lord, to serving him with all the tirelessness we can muster, to helping our families along the covenant path, and to bringing the blessings of the gospel to our neighbors and to our deceased ancestors.
I testify that joy comes from acting in the service of our God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
I’ve decided to post on this site some of the talks I give in Church, starting from a couple of years ago. If this practice seems distasteful to anyone, I’d be happy to hear back on that. Otherwise, first one coming very soon with more to follow…