Tag Archives: agency

Nearer to God by Abiding by Its Precepts

[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]

Recently—and frequently—we have been encouraged to study the Book of Mormon and to increase our focus on it.  President Monson spoke of it in his last talk.  Elder Carl B. Cook spoke of it in our Area Conference last month.  Brother Callister, the Sunday School General President, spoke of it in General Conference and also when he was here visiting our stake last month.

As recorded in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith taught that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  Considering that Jesus Christ, himself, said that “life eternal is to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom though hast sent,” we who believe in the Book of Mormon should be particularly eager to abide by its precepts that we might know God and enjoy a more abundant life.

What is a “precept”?  And what are these precepts in the Book of Mormon by which, if we abide, we may come nearer to God?

For simplicity’s sake, I will define a “precept” as an instruction, a guideline on how to live.  To try to list and explain all the important precepts in the Book of Mormon is a task too large for a brief talk.  I would like, though, to mention five specific precepts, or instructions, that the Book of Mormon invites us to follow and to which I add my testimony to the Prophet’s:  If you and I abide by them, we will come closer to both our Father in Heaven and to the Savior.

Precept #1:  Use your agency to act, rather than to be acted upon. 

Agency allows each of us to be self-determining.  None of us can entirely control our circumstances, but each of us can control our handling of them and who we will become.

It seems clear from the plan of salvation that agency and the privilege of self-determination are of supreme importance.  A war was fought in heaven over agency and a third of our Father in Heaven’s children lost their inheritance because they fought against it.  The atonement, itself, happened in the defense of our right to choose, God knowing the inevitability of our choosing incorrectly at moments along our way.  Agency is so important, God does not even intervene when his children do horrible things to others of his children.

To not use our agency means to be acted upon, to be blown about and kicked around by the world.  To accept a victim mentality which takes us away from faith and striving.  A favorite saying of mine says, “Indecision becomes decision with the passing of time.”  Where we don’t take charge of ourselves, someone or something else eventually will.

Young men and young women:  Who do you want to become?  Who will you become?  What are you doing right now to ensure you become the type of son or daughter of God who can receive all the blessings that He wants you to enjoy?

For disciples of Christ, the call to act is also a call to lead—a call to lead all others around us to the Savior.  It is a call to be self-reliant and self-determining in our spirituality, in our marriages and other relationships, in our finances, in our beliefs and philosophies.

We will come nearer to God by acting and by being less acted upon.

Precept #2:  Exercise faith.  Exercise it in patience, but exercise it.

To exercise faith means to act upon truth in the absence of perfect knowledge.  The most important faith to exercise is faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.  We do this by acting upon His teachings and striving to follow His example.

The Book of Mormon very clearly teaches that “faith” and “a perfect knowledge” are mutually exclusive things.  The absence of a perfect knowledge means room for some level of uncertainty.  What the Book of Mormon invites us to do is to experiment—not merely by thinking or philosophizing, but by acting—that our knowledge may increase and our uncertainty decrease.

Exercising faith requires patience.  We know so well the verse in which Nephi says he will “go and do,” knowing that the Lord would provide a way for him.  It is fascinating to think of how Nephi’s faith was immediately met by two utter failures to obtain the plates.  His exemplary faith was not just found in that bold statement that he would “go and do.”  It was found in his patience in waiting on the Lord to reveal a path for him even while his going and doing wasn’t working.

You or I may get frustrated from time to time over the things we do not yet know or over the outcomes we wish for that have not yet happened.  Let us exercise faith in patience and allow the Lord to reveal His hand according to His timing and His will.

We will come nearer to God by patiently and persistently exercising faith in Him.

Precept #3:  Recognize evil.

Though it may sound unusual, I have a testimony that evil exists and that Satan exists.

The Book of Mormon not only teaches clearly the idea of “opposition in all things,” it teaches that anti-Christ is real, is among us, and is actively ridiculing faith, exploiting uncertainty, mocking the very idea of God, and teaching us that there is no right nor wrong, that whatever is desired by a person is, by definition, OK.

Evil attempts to turn uncertainty into proof against.  It attempts to turn tolerance for and acceptance of people into tolerance for and acceptance of wrong.  Evil doesn’t always teach that wickedness can become happiness, it often just teaches that there is no such thing as wickedness.  Evil mocks legitimate prophets and promotes false philosophies as false prophets and false religions.

Satan is the Father of Lies, the Great Deceiver.  He uses subtlety because subtlety works.  We know he is there.  All the more reason for us to hold very fast to the iron rod of the scriptures and to sit up and pay careful attention when living prophets speak.

We will come nearer to God by acknowledging and avoiding evil.

Precept #4:  Share our abundance with the poor.

In the gospels of the New Testament, the Savior warned over and over again of the risks and dangers associated with having wealth.  In the Doctrine and Covenants he specified that many are not “chosen” because “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.”  And in the Book of Mormon, he teaches us with great repetition to support the poor.  Satan is good at making us believe that we are not wealthy because we can see others who have more than we do.

But Alma asked, “will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?”  Mormon condemned—and note this:  he was condemning us in the latter days, not his own people— “ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”

A year ago, in Stake Conference, I spoke of our responsibility to help the poor.  In doing so, I emphasized the fact that we in our stake are rich and that we, in particular, should heed the Savior’s warnings to the rich.  I have, since then, sometimes heard that talk referred to as the “we are rich” talk.  I would rather it were referred to as the “we should do more for the poor” talk.  For our children’s sake, let us break from the past and teach our children from a young age to give Fast Offerings.

We will come nearer to God by increasing our support for the poor.

Precept #5:  Finally, and most importantly, recognize the Savior as the only legitimate way to eternal life.

King Benjamin taught, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”

Jesus Christ is the only way and the only means through which we may receive the blessing of living with our Heavenly Parents, of living like them, of living in eternal and loving family relationships.

Let us recognize that the path is, in fact, strait and narrow.  Yet it is also clear before us.  And, for the most part, we are on it.  Let us rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.”  Let us “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” and by Him.

We will come nearer to our Heavenly Father and to the Savior by consciously striving to receive and follow the Savior.

Let us renew our commitment to the Book of Mormon.  Let us value and follow its precepts and thereby come nearer to God.  Of the value of these precepts I bear my witness with love and gratitude for the Savior and for our Heavenly Father and expressing my love for each of you.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Parenting: Love and Patience Win

[Given by Chris Juchau at a Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 26, 2015.]

I would like to address my remarks tonight to parents.  I recognize that not everyone who wishes to be a parent is yet.  And I recognize that not every parent feels equally yoked with their spouse.  But I also acknowledge gratefully that everyone who makes and keeps sacred covenants with a broken and contrite heart will, in fact, be eligible for all the blessings of Abraham, including the blessings (and surely the challenges) associated with parentage and the blessing of sharing the rewards and challenges of parenting with another.

My purpose is primarily to encourage. I hope also that I may share an idea or two that will have practical benefits.  I pray that my comments will reflect God’s will and that the Holy Ghost will continue with us while we visit together.  It has been a rewarding evening thus far.

I would like to begin by giving away the ending to what I think is the best piece of fiction I know.  It is the 19th century Russian novel, Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  To me, it is more of a parable than a piece of fiction. Its message continues to have a very heavy influence on my understanding of the nature of God and of the Plan of Salvation.

Crime and Punishment is the story of a young man, a college student named Raskolnikov, who decides to test a philosophy which promotes that some great people are destined to be above the law—and above other people.  And so, wishing to be such a person, he tests this theory by committing a murder, which unexpectedly becomes a double murder of two extremely innocent and helpless women.  Dostoevsky intentionally chose a horrific sin to illustrate his message.

Raskolnikov, who has no faith in and perhaps very little understanding of the Savior, begins to suffer greatly as a result of his awful crime.  His suffering affects him in every way—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.  As is too common with us when we are burdened with guilt, he withdraws from those who love him the most and that causes his suffering to intensify.

While this is happening, he meets a girl named Sonia.  Sonia is a symbol for the Savior.  She is well acquainted with suffering and is in the process of wearing out her life for those she loves.  She has two parents who are sickly and incapable of caring for their children and she has two younger siblings who are destitute.  The five of them manage to eat only because of the money Sonia brings in as a prostitute.

There are, for me, three major highlights in the story—all involving Sonia and her responses to Raskolnikov.

The first occurs when she recognizes that he is suffering terribly but she doesn’t yet know why.  She reads to Raskolnikov the 11th Chapter of John, the story of the raising of Lazarus, to teach him that no one—not even a dead man—can outdistance himself or herself from the Savior’s ability to heal.

The second occurs when Raskolnikov confesses his crime to Sonia and she responds—not with anger or scolding or by recoiling in disgust, but with compassion and empathy for the unbearable suffering she immediately recognizes he has been and is still enduring.

The third occurs at the end of the book.  At Sonia’s encouragement, Raskolnikov confesses his sin both publicly in the market square and formally to the authorities.  He is sentenced to labor in Siberia and Sonia follows him.  In Siberia he lives inside a fenced prison work camp.  For a very, very long time, he seems shut down emotionally and spiritually.  He is rather cold-hearted and unresponsive to the kindnesses Sonia shows when she visits him at the fence and brings him food.  But she is committed to loving him for however long it takes and, at the end of the book, reminiscent of Lazarus’s response to the Savior’s call to come forth, her steadfast, consistent love for Raskolnikov finally wins.  His heart softens and he receives her love—and the love of God. He who seemed lost was found.  Love and patience won.

Sixteen years ago in one of my very first priesthood meetings in the Highland 12th Ward (three wards and stakes ago though we’ve never moved in those 16 years!), I had a small but, for me, very profound experience learning about parenting.  I was sitting with a group of high priests, who I was just barely beginning to know.  The topic of the lesson had to do with parenting.  At one point, a discussion broke out which turned into a mild debate with some brethren positing that good parenting requires strictness and rigidity and others countering that a softer, more permissive approach yields better results.

And then “the man” spoke.  I didn’t know him yet, but I quickly noticed that when he spoke people paid close attention and I later learned that he was the stake patriarch.  His name was Brother Adams. He said (nearest I recall) something like this:  “I decided years ago that specific techniques of parenting are of relatively little consequence when compared to one important principle—which is that my children know that I love them and that my love is sincere, genuine, and constant.  When I committed to that principle as a guiding principle of my parenting, I became a better parent.”

That seems like a simple concept.  It is consistent with something I have also come to believe about our Father in Heaven which is that, more than anything, He wants us to know that He loves us.  Love and patience win.

I know a lot of wonderful parents.  Recently I have come to know two parents who are prioritizing consistent, demonstrated love in their parenting and who I believe are winning and will win with their children even though circumstances are very difficult and even though it sometimes seems hard for them to discern a light at the end of the tunnel.

One is a mother of a middle-aged son who is in prison.  He made some horrible choices years ago which landed him there, but though he is still there, he is a different man today than when he was committing his crimes.  He is going about, as best he can under limiting conditions, doing good and helping others.  He has a strong relationship with the Savior and with his Heavenly Father.  Moreso than many of us, perhaps, he has reached a level of humility that has almost entirely stripped him of pride, pretense, and guile.  Though in prison, he enjoys the freedom, ironically, of hiding nothing.  He accepts his errors and his failings.  He also accepts the embrace of the Savior—and the embrace of his mother.  His great progress today is due in no small part to the consistent love of a mother, who might tell you, herself, that she is not a perfect mother but she is winning and so is her son.

Another is a father of a teenage son who is going through intense personal anguish and openly questioning whether he will choose to reject many of the things his parents hold most dear.  His suffering has lead him to question God’s role in his life and whether the Plan of Happiness really applies to him.   As parents do, his parents are suffering along with him through many tears and little sleep.  Recently this father told me that his highest priority is maintaining a warm, loving, accepting, and communicative relationship with his son, no matter what choices his son makes.  I am very optimistic for this young man and for his parents, notwithstanding the current acute difficulties.

I am reminded of a story Sister Richards, our stake RS president, brought to my attention a few months ago.  It was published in the Ensign quite a few years ago.

It is the story of a young man who told his mother he wouldn’t be going to church any longer and openly quit living the standards of the Church, much to his mother’s distress. Distress so great, she recalled, “Sometimes I thought death would be easier for me.  But I loved him no less.”

The writer of the story notes, “John was what you’d call a lost cause. Anybody could tell you that. No one knew what to do with him. But there was one place where he was welcome—home. And there were two people who welcomed him—his parents.”

His mother wrote, “When he would bring his friends to our home, they’d all go down to his bedroom in the basement. I knew they were doing things they shouldn’t. But I loved my son and just couldn’t send him and his friends away as some of my neighbors thought I should. Instead I went into my bedroom and closed the door and got down on my knees and asked Heavenly Father what I should do. “Should I send them out onto the street and wonder what they were doing and where they were going? Or should I let them stay here and do things I disapprove of?

“I stayed on my knees until I received some direction. Others might have received a different answer, but for me the impression each time was the same: ‘Get up off your knees and go put on a pot of stew for them. And love those boys.’” Friends condemned her for it. “You’re not upholding Christian standards,” they told her, “by having those boys around.” “I had but one answer: ‘I am trying to live those first two great commandments.’”

Being allowed to remain at home while working through his problems kept him close to his parents. He learned to trust them—even to confide in them. When everyone else seemed against him, he knew his parents still loved him. Eventually his relationship with them made it easier for him to seek activity in the Church again.

I was also reminded a couple of weeks ago by Bishop Sumner of Joseph Smith’s need for his parents when he first began having to endure tremendous hardship when, as just a young boy, faced with having part of his leg bone cut out without painkillers, he requested that his father stay with him and hold him, and that his mother leave so as to not hear the difficulty of it.

I recently read a statement by a Catholic priest who said, “It is through the sacrament of marriage that we learn what God’s love is like.”  I do believe that marriage and parenting are schools—schools that teach us much if we will apply ourselves to the lessons.

I have heard people chortle at the notion of joy and rejoicing in our posterity.  Parenting is a school.  It is a school for our children and it is a school for us.  It provides for us a broad range of experiences and emotions, including joy, which has the potential to become permanent—and which potential is strengthened by our sealing covenants and by our keeping our covenants.

May I briefly offer a few suggestions for parents who seek the joy of parenting, whether you feel like you experience much of that joy now or whether it sometimes feels elusive or even distant.  I do so at the risk of having some of my own children present who have been witnesses to the poorest parts of my own parenting—but with appreciation to the good things I have learned about parenting from my own parents.

First…  Be loving above all else.  Don’t just love your children with your heart (although we must do that!).  Love them with your words and be affectionate with them.  For some people, sarcasm and criticism are a way of life, but it’s a discouraging lifestyle.  I do think it’s possible to over-shower a child with praise, but as a rule, our children need to hear much more positive aimed at them from us than criticism.  They need to feel love by seeing, hearing, and feeling us take sincere interest in them.  Our words should include frequent “I love you’s” and we should be liberal with hugs and physical affection.

Second…  It is important that our children sense that we delight in them.  I will try to explain what I mean by that.  I believe that human beings have a built-in ability to perceive the stance of another human being’s heart toward them.  If you have read The Anatomy of Peace or are familiar with The Arbinger Institute, you’re also familiar with the phrases “heart at war” and “heart at peace.”  When our hearts are at peace—when they are soft toward or receptive to our children—I believe our children sense it and that results not only in a better relationship, but in more confidence in themselves and a greater sense of courage.  When our hearts are at war toward our children—when we are focused on their shortcomings or on our frustrations with them and our hearts are harder or defensive—I believe they also sense that and the result is distance in the relationship, a lack of confidence, and perhaps worst of all, discouragement: literally a reduction of courage.   Delighting in your child doesn’t mean acting silly or over-the-top with them, it means having a heart that is truly soft toward them as the Savior’s is toward us.  They do sense the stance of our hearts toward them.

Third…  Be committed to the gospel and to the Church.  (Both matter.)  Your children also perceive the posture of your heart toward the gospel and toward the Church.  It cannot be faked.  When parents show that their lives are genuinely anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that they are serious about their covenants to keep the commandments; and when they hear them teach positively and often about the gospel…  Those children have a greater sense of stability, optimism, and resilience.  They have greater confidence in their parents and in themselves.  The things that are important to you will transfer more effectively to them.

Fourth…  Help them learn to manage their agency and become independent.  Talk to them about choices and about consequences, including positive consequences.  Let them experience choices and consequences. Let them make as many decisions on their own as their age and maturity allow.  Teach them to think critically and independently.  Teach them about money and work and responsibility.  (A teenager having a job is about as important to me as them doing well in school.)  Be sure that along with your goal of always maintaining a close, loving relationship with your child, you also have a goal to help your children be able to function and thrive without being dependent on you.

God sent them here to learn to use their agency without undue influence from parents.  Be sure your parental control over their exercising their agency diminishes as they mature.  Most children will generally force that anyway, so work with them on this cooperatively.

Lastly…  Involve your families in the “work of salvation.”  Or, if you are already doing so, continue looking for ways to be even more effective.  Counseling together as families and working on missionary work and family history and on loving less active neighbors and family members will strengthen your children.

Brothers and Sisters, my father has many sayings.  One of them is this: “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.”  That saying means increasingly more to me as I get older. Parenting is a long-term arrangement.  It includes joy and sorrow, delight and frustration, love and growth.  It is one of the things that can refine us if we exert ourselves and yield ourselves to its lessons.

I offer my encouragement.  I have said before, there are two kinds of parents:  those who have been humbled by their efforts to parent and those who will be.  But remember:  the children in your care are Heavenly Father’s children.  His love for them is perfect.  His desire for them is no less than that they may become like Him.  He sees their potential and, unlike us, His perspective is complete and unimpaired.  Do your best and then trust in Him as your senior companion.  The Savior, too, is our partner and much more.  He will mediate and advocate for you and for your children.  Remember that love and patience win.

Let us do all that we can and press forward with commitment, courage, and a sense of optimism; with faith in Christ and in our Father in Heaven.  I pray that we will experience joy along the journey and ultimately in our Heavenly Father’s presence.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

On Thoughts, Actions, Reactions, and Self-Control

While the idea of controlling (or coercing or manipulating) other people is clearly at odds with the principle of agency, the teachings of the scriptures, and the example of our Heavenly Father, controlling our own selves is very much called for­—but, oh, so difficult. It’s one extremely difficult thing to control our own actions. It’s even more difficult to control our thoughts.

So often, thoughts come into our head, which are negative or harmful—sometimes even consciously unwanted and unwelcome. Sometimes unwanted thoughts come when we’re trying to fall asleep or return to sleep. Sometimes we think negative things about ourselves or are excessively or unfairly critical of ourselves. Sometimes we fill in the blanks of what we don’t know about other people’s actions by ascribing negative motives to them. Sometimes we feel anxious and our heads get full of all manner of unreal “what if” scenarios that make the anxiety even worse. Sometimes we consider sinning in some way (“It won’t hurt if I just tell this one little fib”) or have immoral thoughts flash into our minds. Or maybe anger gets the best of us and we marinade in thoughts of administering “justice.”

Speaking of which, there’s another challenge for us in responding correctly outwardly to the negative emotions that sometimes spontaneously erupt within us. How do I react when somebody says or does something unkind to me? How do I react when a child errs, sins, disobeys, or otherwise disappoints me? How do I react when my spouse frustrates me? How do I react to feelings of selfishness or tiredness or loneliness?

I am very much intrigued by the scriptural statement that says the Savior “suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.” I am, in fact, in total awe of that. Does it mean that wrong or negative or even sinful thoughts came into his mind but he was able to simply let them pass through him without giving them any attention or even pausing to consider them? Does it mean that he, too, was subject to negative emotions but that he never reacted wrongly to them? My mother reminds me all the time to “Act. Don’t react.” Perhaps the Savior never reacted but always acted—and those actions were motivated by love for others. Perhaps he was always in control. There’s really no “perhaps” about it; he was in control.

I might argue that the greatest gift any of us has is agency. “Acting” means that we stay in control of ourselves enough to make thoughtful, conscious decisions. “Reacting,” at least as my mother has used that term, means conceding or deferring our agency. “Being acted upon” means failing to use our agency altogether. Clearly the goal is to remain in charge of myself and to always act upon thoughtful choices. I have disciplined my children both in “acting” and in “reacting” modes. There is a huge difference! I feel very positive about the former—and very ashamed of the latter.

I have heard President Scoresby talk about Matthew 5 and his thoughts about what the Savior was teaching when He said to turn the other cheek, to walk two miles when compelled to go one, to give up your cloak, too, when already forced to give up your coat. His idea that the Savior is teaching us to remain in charge of ourselves, even when we are being victimized, is helpful to ponder.

Surely, living happily includes controlling myself and not compromising my precious gift of agency. I should like to become much better at this.

Suffering temptation—whether through unproductive thoughts or through emotions that might easily lead my behavior in poor directions—is not going away. Even the Savior suffered temptations (plural). My goal is to learn to give no heed unto them; to let them pass by or pass through; to keep my mind focused on choosing actions—and even thoughts—that will leave me and others in the happiest places possible; to act and not to react or surrender control of myself.  Tough task, but pursuing it is surely a significant part of living after the manner of happiness.