[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, April 2018]
We have two great commandments—or opportunities—before us. And we have agency to choose the extent to which we will embrace or reject them. We are to love God—and to enjoy the richness of knowing Him and knowing that our lives are generally aligned with His will. And we are to love our neighbors, beginning but not ending with, our families—and including the different aspects of the Work of Salvation.
To succeed, we’re going to have to exercise principles of leadership in our own individuals lives—whether you are old or young, married or single—and also in our families. I would like to touch today on three principles of leadership that will help us succeed in filling the two great commandments and receiving the attendant blessings. Those three principles are: 1st – Acting in faith; 2nd — Defining ourselves; 3rd – Organizing and simplifying.
1st – Acting in Faith
In the Grand Council in Heaven before we came to earth, the Savior presented to us Heavenly Father’s plan for our happiness and well-being. Fundamental to the plan is freedom to exercise our agency and, given a set of circumstances, to choose our thoughts, intentions, and actions.
Agency is a gift for us to both treasure and to exercise. Having agency would be an entirely terrifying experience were it not for the safety and protection of the Atonement. Nevertheless, if we are not careful, we will fail to exercise our agency and will suffer from that.
When we don’t exercise our agency, we end up being “acted upon” and victimized by the world, by people, by circumstances, and by the Adversary. We can end up “tossed to and fro… carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.”
When we do not choose, indecision becomes decision (and often not a good one) with the passing of time as someone or something eventually takes advantage of our paralysis and acts upon us.
The correct exercising of agency requires faith. Agency and faith go together. Faith is a principle of action. I cannot exercise faith without choosing how to act. Meanwhile, I must often make many choices without a perfect knowledge of what the consequences will be or even if I’m making the best decision. Therefore, I make them with faith.
Increasingly, I worry about a phrase that I seem to hear over and over again from people, particularly young people. It is this: “God has a plan for me.” Well. That is a very nice sentiment. It’s also true. But what seems to be overlooked is that God’s plan involves us using our agency, making choices in faith, and acting in faith. We are not puppets on strings and we are not pawns on a chessboard. He wants us to look to Him, pray to Him, counsel with Him, seek direction from the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and then choose and act. He does not want us to be paralyzed while we labor and struggle about whether we know His exact will with each mildly significant decision we make. We are to be “anxiously engaged” in God’s good cause “and do many things of [our] own free will.” “It is not meet that [He] should command in all things.”
Nor is true that every thing that happens to us in life happened because God orchestrated it like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. It is true, however, that we can learn from all of life’s experiences and that God will help us learn and grow from our experiences as we go. God will do much to help us learn from a minor or major tragedy, but that doesn’t mean he orchestrated that tragedy because he is the great puppeteer.
In saying we should exercise our agency and act in faith, I am not minimizing personal revelation or the role of the Holy Ghost. We should earnestly seek for revelation and inspiration. We should pause in our prayers to hear God’s answers; we should find quiet times and places to ponder and meditate; and we should constantly strive to know God’s will. But we just must not let go of the fact that God’s will is often that you and I will exercise our agency and act in faith according to our best, though imperfect, understanding of His will.
2nd – Defining Ourselves (and our families)
Understanding the supreme importance of agency, each of us must choose for ourselves—and parents should choose for their families from the earliest possible time of their marriage—who we will be. Who am I? Who are we? What do I want myself to become? What matters most? Where is our family headed? Where should we be headed?
Elijah asked the question, “How long halt ye between two opinions?” Joshua admonished his people, “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” Jesus invited people to come and follow him. On one occasion he asked, “Will ye also go away?” Each of these was an invitation to people to use their agency to decide who they’re going to be.
There are three ways we can respond. We can not choose a direction. That’s no good. We can choose God’s way. That’s the best choice. Or we can choose some other way that isn’t God’s way—which might be motivated by worldliness, materiality, pride, selfishness, sensuality, or a misunderstanding of what God is asking us to do. It is, of course, best to choose God’s way even though some other ways can become awfully tempting.
It takes conviction and commitment to say that while I would like to be a good tennis player or pianist or dancer or author or businessman or academic or designer or fitness instructor—or before I put all my family’s energy into helping our son or daughter become one of those things—I’m going to first and foremost be a dedicated disciple of the Savior and servant of God, putting his desires first. Then, secondarily, I will be good at my personal dreams.
There are two opposite principles that should guide us when we decide whom we’re going to serve and whether or not following the Savior will be our very highest priority.
The first is the covenants that we make in the Endowment and that men make when they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Men covenant to magnify their priesthood and to live by every word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God—whether by his own voice or by the voice of his servants, it is the same. In the temple Endowment, we make a series of covenants. Taken together, these covenants comprise a complete commitment to place the Lord and the work of his kingdom first in our lives.
I sometimes hear members say that we’re not yet supposed to live the law of consecration. I never really understand what they mean, except perhaps that the Lord has not asked us to literally deed over to the Church all of our earthly possessions. But I don’t think that’s the key issue. The Lord wants right now our whole hearts, commitment, and willingness to give of our time and abilities to help move his work forward of saving his children. Each of us can and should live every day of our lives that way. That doesn’t mean that we live our lives like monks or nuns, fasting and reading our scriptures for 12 hours a day. It doesn’t mean that we don’t go to work and put gas in our cars, mow our lawns, and sometimes enjoy some recreation. It means simply that when we decide who we wanted to be, we decide that we want to be close to God and involved in his work above all else.
The second, opposite, principle is contained in D&C 121: “Many are called, but few are chosen.” I wonder if that might read, “Many are called, but few choose to fully respond.” “Why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.” We know that we are not choosing to put God first when we are motivated by appearances, worldly success, or worldly allures. We cannot serve God and Mammon.
We should define ourselves, first, as servants of God.
3rd – Organizing and Simplifying
In the world of Japanese manufacturing, there is a foundational principle for success referred to as “5S.” 5S has to do with being organized in as simple and straight-forward a way as possible. The first two S’s stand for Sort and Simplify.
Imagine that you want to make your home garage an effective work place. To “5S” your garage, the first thing you would do is take literally everything out of it. Then you would determine the things that are truly needed inside the garage to get your work done, bring them back in, and give each one a clearly marked place so that if it is missing or out of place, that will be evident.
Parents (and each of us) should use these principles in ordering the activities of our lives. After we have agreed to exercise our agency to take charge of our lives and after we have defined ourselves as true disciples, then we must remove everything from our lives and consciously choose to put only those things back in that matter most. One might start with personal prayer and decide when and where it will be. Shortly after that might come personal scripture study, family prayer, family home evening, time with family, serving others, and serving in our church callings. We put back in the right things in the right order and leave out the things for which there isn’t a place.
This requires us to choose between good, better, and best and to be willing to sacrifice good things for the sake of better things. I repeat that this does not mean becoming a monk or a nun. For greatest success and joy, however, it does require making space in our lives first for the things that matter most to God. He won’t mind if you occasionally go to a ball game or go hunting or to get a pedicure or to spend an evening with friends. But wherever you go, He will always want you to represent Him and to lift and encourage toward him the people you’re with.
When we choose best over better or better over good, we can do so without guilt, knowing that God approves of our choice. It is not requisite that a man or woman run faster than he or she has strength. God wants each of us to do our best and understand that He is good with that.
Each of us has the gift of agency and the opportunity to order our lives as closely to God’s will as we understand His will and to do the things that our circumstances will permit. We’ll have to say “no” to some things, including some things that we would like to do, but saying yes and no to the right things is what living after the manner of happiness means.
There is a way to live most happily. It requires that we exercise principles of leadership in our lives and as moms and dads, with or without a spouse.
Our assignment is to love God and to love our neighbor. When we do this, we find the truthfulness of the Savior’s statement that he who loses his life for his sake, finds it.
Don’t fall for the notion that love cannot be assigned. Love is a choice. It is the most important choice. And it was assigned to each of us from the very beginning.
Our prayer is that we may love God, serve Him, and feel His love. And also that we might participate in the Work of Salvation and love and minister to our neighbor—and in so doing, enjoy the blessings that come back to us. I testify that this is the Lord’s work. The Church represents His kingdom on the earth. And the promises of the Savior, of the Atonement, and of the Plan of Happiness are real. God bless each of us as we strive and do our best. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[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.
[Closing remarks by Chris Juchau at the conclusion of the adult session of Stake Conference (which was comprised of Q&A), April 2017.]
Brothers and Sisters,
This has been an unusual evening. We decided to solicit your questions because we are anxious to address the things of greatest concern to you and hoped that this approach might allow us to at least try to help in the areas of greatest need. We also want you to know that your questions and concerns are important to us and we wish to be helpful to you even if, like you, we also don’t have every answer to every question.
Many thanks to our Relief Society presidency for their willingness to seek and receive inspiration in the things they shared tonight. There was a question tonight about valuing women. This is a church for men and women. We are equal. Holding priesthood offices does not make husbands or priesthood leaders any more equal than women. Why men hold priesthood offices and priesthood keys, I do not know. But everyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention during their life knows full well that both men and women need the perspectives, points of view, insights, and inspiration that come to and from women.
Let me just make four quick points as we wrap up the evening.
First, as has been said, when there are things that we don’t know, let’s please remember the things we do know. These include that God is our father and that while He desires to help us and does help us, solving all of our problems for us and answering all of our questions in perfect clarity are not part of this phase of his plan for us.
Faith and agency are essential. But there is no faith where there is no uncertainty. And there is no agency where there is no opposition. Both uncertainty and opposition are going to be with us and we should not be caught off guard by either of those when they are with us
We do have the Light of Christ.
We do have the gift of the Holy Ghost.
We do have inspired leaders.
And we do have the spiritual gifts and experiences of others around us.
All of which can help light our way as we move forward with faith in spite of adversity and opposition.
In the hymn “Lead, Kindly Light,” we sing the words, “Lead, kindly Light (note “Light” is spelled with a capital “L”!) amid the encircling gloom;… I do not ask to see the distant scene—one step enough for me.” And so it is that if we will trust the Lord, He will light the way for us. Not, likely, the whole way in vivid detail from this moment to the ultimate end. But enough to reward our trust. Let us move forward with faith, striving to learn as we go. Let us not attempt to entirely replace faith with our current learning that is not yet perfected.
Second, let us do the things that will strengthen us as we go through life’s challenges. Sometimes standing at a pulpit and admonishing people to say their prayers and study their scriptures feels a lot like a parent telling their teenagers to remember who they are or their children to look both ways before crossing the street. We fear the eyeroll in response. Jacob seems practically to have given up in exasperation when he said, “Oh, be wise. What can I say more?”
Of all that can be said, few things are more important than inviting people to develop their relationships with God, which will be done by conversing with him in prayer, hearing from him in scripture, and learning through the Spirit in the house of the Lord. Life is hard. But just as adequate sleep, exercise, and nutrition will make life better without guaranteeing an absence of hardship,… prayer, scripture study, and temple attendance create spiritual strength which makes life better endured and appreciated.
Third, let us be patient and submissive. If you want to find peace in life, then quit being angry at life’s injustices and inequities. What right would I have to more justice and equity than were experienced by the early pioneers who gave all they had to come to Zion only to freeze and starve to death before getting here. None. And I know it. Instead of anger and bitterness, choose faith with its three companions: trust, hope, and submissiveness.
Let us also be patient and submissive in the acquisition of answers to our questions. Truth is revealed “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” and “unto him that receiveth, I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.” Patience is rewarded. Impatience is, essentially, punished. As the Savior said, “In your patience possess ye your souls.”
Fourth, let us lean on each other more. Utilize your priesthood leaders. There is a fear of priesthood authority within some in our Church. We have ten wonderful bishops in our stake. I have two of the finest counselors I could possibly hope to serve with. The thirteen of us are committed to helping you through difficult things as best we can. If that involves sin, we’re not out to get you. We’re anxious to help you. Please let us.
We also have wonderful Relief Society presidents in this stake—incredible Relief Society presidents! And High Priest Group Leaders and Elders Quorum presidents. The bishop is not required for every problem or question. He is required where a judgment must be made regarding worthiness. He is required where Fast Offering funds may be applied. But he is not the only person who can advise you through a financial, or marital, or addiction problem. Get help where you can get it, but if you need it, get it!! And don’t avoid the very people who can help you, including confidentially.
Brothers and Sisters, let me close with my testimony. Joseph Smith saw our Father in Heaven. He saw the Savior. Physically. In person. They spoke to him. He received priesthood and priesthood keys from John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, Moses, Elijah, and Elias. The quintessential importance of families was revealed to him. The sealing power was given to him. Temple covenants, ordinances, and ceremonies were revealed to him.
Fifteen living prophets today each possess all of the priesthood and priesthood keys that Joseph Smith did.
All of that happened that we might come to the Savior, that we might come to Him through valid covenants, and that we might come to Him, ultimately, as husbands and wives, as families. That we might be exalted and live as our Father in Heaven lives.
That is exactly what will happen to us if we make the covenants we need to make and if we strive to yield our hearts completely to God as we strive to keep the letter and the spirit of those covenants.
May you who are so striving feel the love and acceptance of the Savior and of your Father in Heaven. May you believe in them enough to allow yourselves to feel their love and acceptance. If you are not so striving, then repent quickly because your choice to submit to those covenants, or not to, will have consequences. And if you repent sincerely, you are sure to discover that repentance is a joyful and rewarding thing.
This is the Church of Jesus Christ. I so testify in His name, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Back-to-School Fireside for Parents August, 2016.]
Tonight I would like to speak on three different topics. They may or may not seem like they are related, but they all are core to our task and privilege of parenting and so they do share some commonality.
I will use a slide to illustrate each of my three topics.
Topic 1: Nurturing Your Faith and Testimony
Let me describe for you a simple scenario that I experience frequently. It’s a Sunday or a weekday evening and in the context of my calling I am meeting with a man or a woman (or both) from our stake. He or she arrives and I invite him or her into the office and I ask the question, “How is your testimony? Tell me about your testimony.” And the person answers in any of a large variety of ways ranging from describing why their testimony feels so solid to acknowledging that their testimony is thin or even non-existent. And then I ask, “Do you nurture your testimony?” Which isn’t a very good question to ask because it’s a “yes/no” question, but I ask it anyway—and I never get a straight “yes” or “no.” Very frequently the answer is comprised of words like these: “I could do better.”
Now, pretend you’re me. You’ve just asked someone if they prioritize time and energy to nurture their testimony and they answer with “I could do better.” What does that mean? How do you interpret that answer? Of course we can all do better at everything, so it doesn’t really answer the question.
It sounds like an answer driven by some sense of guilt, but it’s still ambiguous. On the one hand, a person might do nothing or next-to-nothing to nurture his or her testimony and so “I could do better” is just a gentler way of saying “no,” perhaps without wanting to say so so abruptly. On the other hand, Mormons—and particularly Mormon women, perhaps—are really good at making up reasons to feel guilty when in fact they are doing plenty to nurture their testimony.
I bring this up, though, because in too many cases it seems evident after some discussion that we really don’t prioritize the nurturing and development of our own faith and testimonies enough. We are busy Moms and busy Dads and taking time for spirituality is easy to neglect and too many of us are neglecting something that will take its toll on our children.
I’m not sure that it’s true that we have to love ourselves before we can love someone else or that we must learn to forgive ourselves before we can forgive other people. The scriptures don’t seem to support those ideas very clearly.
But where it comes to nurturing testimony and where we are talking about parenting, I do not believe we can escape the reality that you are going to have to take care of #1, so to speak, if you’re going to be able to help #2 and #3 and… #8.
I have on a few occasions encountered a less-active parent who believes their child will benefit from an upbringing in the Church in spite of their own inactivity and so they facilitate getting their kids to Church but do not back that up through their own practices at home or by their own consistent attendance at church. How well does that work?! You can love and forgive a child even while you are in the process of learning about Heavenly Father loving and forgiving you. But the likelihood of your children ending up with deep spiritual roots in the gospel is pretty low when you are not establishing strong roots, yourself.
Why are faith and testimony so important for both you and your kids? Let me suggest four reasons:
- Salvation. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Way—the only way to overcome the effects of our sins and errors which separate us from a perfect God. We cannot go the Savior’s way without exercising faith in Him. Faith in Him is the first principle of the gospel and neither we nor our children will realize a cleansing from our sins without faith in Him. Your children are much more likely to exercise faith and nurture a testimony if you
- Happiness. We believe that the greatest, most genuine happiness—both ultimately in eternity and immediately in the present—are found through the Savior and in realizing His We learn to see ourselves and others the way He does and we discover our own value and acceptability through Him. The highest form of happiness is only available to those who truly and deeply receive the Savior. And your children are much more likely to nurture a testimony and receive the Savior if you do.
- Adversity. Faith and testimony provide a firm, resilient foundation during the inevitable storms that come to each of us during our lives (and which do not appear to be meted out equally; some people seem to face more difficult storms than others). The Savior spoke of having a house built upon a rock. Helaman spoke of that rock being Christ, himself, and about wind, whirlwinds, hail, and mighty storms that will not “drag” us down to “misery” if we build upon the rock of faith in Christ. Your children will be better equipped to understand and withstand adversity if they do so from a position of faith, which they’re more likely to develop if you
- Family. We believe that the greatest family unity depends upon family members choosing the Savior and receiving the ordinances and observing the covenants made available to us in temples. This is true in eternity where we believe such marriages and families can live in an exalted unified state. It is also true in a very practical sense right now on the earth. This is painfully illustrated when two church members marry in the temple under the belief that their spouse will maintain beliefs in Church doctrine and maintain a commitment to commandments and covenants—but then one of those two parties changes their mind post-marriage. In such a case, the difficulties in the marriage and family can be staggeringly painful and the family may not survive intact. The promise of strong eternal families is much more likely to be realized for your children if you nurture your own faith and testimony and help them do the same.
So faith and testimony are important. For your kids, your example is huge. Your setting a good example, won’t guarantee anything, but it will increase the chances. Whether you set a good example or a poor example in this regard, it will be noticed!
Now, how do you nurture your testimony?
- You speak to God personally through prayer morning and night. You won’t be nurturing anything, though, if you just go through the motions. You pray meaningfully morning and night.
- You seek out and listen to God’s voice daily through scripture reading and through paying careful attention to the words of modern prophets (of which there are 15 on the earth today, not just one).
- You make the temple and temple worship part of your life. You do work for the dead and return again and again to learn and to renew covenants. If the ceremony and ritual of the temple are uncomfortable to you, come see to me or one of my counselors and let’s talk about it.
- Lastly, and very importantly, you live the gospel like you’re truly committed to it. Let me give some examples:
- You maintain high standards for your consumption of media. How serious do our kids think we are about the gospel if they know we watch inappropriate media. After all, I can still get a temple recommend after watching R-rated movies, so what’s the big deal?!
- You make family prayer a priority. How serious do our kids think we are when they hear references to family prayer over and over again in church but it doesn’t seem important to their father or mother?
- You approach modesty as if your body really is sacred and that words of Church leaders matter. How serious do our kids think we are when we wear immodest exercise clothing or swimwear and/or don’t seem very anxious to get back into our garments?
- You honor the Sabbath in meaningful, noticeable ways. How serious do our kids think we are when our Sabbath consists of three hours of Church followed by hours of football and other things that really have no basis at all in worship?
Some will accuse me of over-emphasizing the letter of the law and being Pharisaical with such examples, but here’s the deal: 1) These are exactly the kind of things that strengthen or weaken our children spiritually. And, 2) You are not nurturing your testimony if you are not striving to live the gospel in deep and meaningful ways, including observing practices that invite the spirit. The Savior taught that those who do the will of God find out the truthfulness of his gospel. Those who go primarily just through the surface-level visible motions are far less likely to be increasing in testimony.
Brothers and Sisters, for your children’s sake, please place a significant priority on nurturing your own faith and testimony. And do all these things with an attitude of gentleness, love, and affection toward your children that they may know that this is a gospel of love and not come to suspect that it is just a gospel of strict rule-keeping.
Topic 2: Punched in the Mouth
There is a quote that seems to be attributed to the boxer Mike Tyson, although I’m not sure it originated with him. He was apparently asked once, just before a fight, about his plan. And in talking about what he wanted to do and what the other boxer was expected to do, Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Most Mormon children, during their childhood or during their youth or during their adult years, eventually get punched in the mouth. Some seem to get punched extremely hard. Some seem to get punched over and over and over again. Many here in this room probably know what it is like to be punched in the mouth.
How do we help our children prepare for this? There is much we can teach them to help them avoid adversity in life and the troubles that will come to them through their own poor decisions. We can teach them to follow the prophet, to keep the commandments, to stand in holy places, to understand agency and consequences. And if we teach them these things and they adhere to them, they will, in fact, avoid a lot of trouble.
But it will not exempt them from troubles that come through the poor choices of others or the troubles that are simply inherent in this mortal experience. It will not exempt them from the very purposes of mortality, which include testing and gaining experience with opposition, temptation, and agency, including others’ agency. It may not exempt them from abuse at the hands of others or from tragedy through the fault of no one in particular.
Do we teach our children the doctrine of adversity and opposition? What is the doctrine? The doctrine is that, for our own benefit, there must be opposition in all things and that that opposition isn’t pretend or hypothetical—it’s real. The doctrine is that we came here to learn under different and more difficult circumstances than existed in the pre-existence. The doctrine is that a veil exists so that we can make choices and deal with opposition with faith and without a perfect knowledge—and without immediate relief from difficult circumstances every time we ask Heavenly Father to provide the relief we want in the way we want it.
Let me mention three specific types of punches to the mouth that we need to be prepared for and that we need to prepare our children for. These three things can overlap each other.
First is the broad category of unexpected life-changing challenges, disappointments, and tragedies. This includes things like loss of a loved one; a sudden physical or mental health challenge, loss of a job, birth of a seriously limited child, abandonment from a parent, betrayal of a spouse, divorce, absence of an acceptable marriage offer, inability to have children, etc. You could add other things to that list.
Keeping the commandments does not exempt us from difficult things in life—including very painful experiences and tragedies that come to us through no choice of ours. Can bad things happen to good people? Can horrible things happen to good people? Yes. And they do every day. Might they happen to us? Yes. How do we prepare for them?
- We understand the doctrine of adversity and opposition.
- We accept that we are not exempt even though we may do many things correctly.
- We develop faith and testimony.
- We develop deep, sincere, real humility and submissiveness.
- We develop a work ethic.
We can soften the pain of life’s inherent unfairness by understanding and accepting the doctrine and by recognizing that, while each of us is special, we are not special in the sense of being exempt. Then, when extreme hardship or tragedy comes, we turn to the Lord, we place our submissiveness on the altar and our trust in Him, and then we humbly but resolutely and patiently go to work on whatever it is we need to do or endure. As we know, the Lord is not likely to change or remove even the worst circumstances during the moments that we are on our knees asking Him to change them. What He will do is enable us to work through or around those things—or sometimes to simply endure them—after we plead with Him and then go about doing our best to resolve or handle the difficulty.
More easily said than done. But that is what makes such elements of preparation all the more important.
We need to teach these principles to our children. We also need to model them.
Second is the category that I will refer to as the Absent God. It sometimes comes immediately upon the heals of the types of challenges, disappointments, and tragedies I just listed. In some cases, a person turns to God—perhaps repeatedly—but doesn’t feel like He’s listening and then wonders if He’s even there at all. It can also happen when a person seeks a testimony through a personal spiritual witness but doesn’t feel like that witness has come. In these types of situations, it seems like God is absent.
He is not absent. But connecting with Him can seem elusive to the point of generating doubt and disbelief. When you get punched in the mouth and turn to God and do not immediately find Him or evidence of Him, but you expected to, it can feel like you’ve just been punched in the mouth again and are going down for the count.
What is the doctrine? The doctrine is that God is our father. And the doctrine is that He wants us to become like Him, which surely means that we eventually become spiritually and in every way self-reliant and capable, just as He is. In order to help us do so, there will be moments where he helps us in obvious ways and there will be many moments where He offers His love and emotional support, but allows us to lean into the wind ourselves. There are simple but profound truths here. A parent cannot help a child become all that the child can become without allowing the child to experience growth through struggle.
Our daughter, Anne, just went through her first transfer—or six-week period—of her mission in Texas. She was assigned to a trainer who would not or could not work. Her trainer was dealing with depression to the point that she could not bring herself to leave their apartment until very late in the afternoon and so Anne became—or at least felt like—a bit of a prisoner in that apartment. It was very hard for her. She left the MTC excited and was anxious to be a missionary and to learn how to be a missionary. Getting up at 6:30 in the morning and having nothing to do for the next 10 hours but read your scriptures, study Preach My Gospel, and practice Spanish verb conjugations, mostly by herself, was hard. In fact, it was miserable and, perhaps worst of all, she felt a lot of guilt and began feeling very depressed, herself.
As her parents, we were very worried about the situation. I knew it was taking a toll on her and I felt very tempted to intervene. I imagined conversations I might have with her mission president. I thought about calling her. Texas isn’t so far away I couldn’t have just gone to see her! Anne would have liked a hug from her Dad and Mom. She would have appreciated a phone call. She probably would like to have exchanged texts and letters every day. Instead she heard from us once or maybe twice each week in a letter or email and she was mostly left to herself to work her way through it.
Meanwhile, she was turning to her Father in Heaven, but he didn’t send any angels to help her and things seemed to get worse and worse before they got better.
What happened, though, is that Anne turned to the Lord and then went to work on loving her companion and developing patience. To make a long story short, she came to love that companion and she found meaning in their experience together. She grew in ways that those difficult circumstances encouraged. Neither her earthly father nor her Heavenly Father intervened to make the problem go away and at moments were or seemed absent. But these things ended up fostering instead of hindering her growth.
Even the Savior, at the most extreme moment in human history, was left by His Father to struggle through something staggeringly enormous on His own. Apparently that was necessary.
We must teach our children the purposes of mortality and the meaning of growth and struggle and effort and the ways in which our Father in Heaven will and won’t help us or reveal Himself to us. We must teach our children also about the ways He communicates with us, which occasionally may involve an intense “burning in the bosom” experience, but most often is more quiet and subtle—sometimes to the point of not even being noticed.
My third category of being punched in the mouth regards those members of the Church who have not been exposed to criticisms and difficult-to-resolve questions in Church history. And then when they are exposed to them, feel very much punched in the mouth and, in some cases, worse, like they’ve been betrayed by Church leaders they trusted who, they may feel, actually conspired to keep truths from them. For some members, this picture behind me is a fairly accurate representation of how they feel. To make matters much worse, some members in those circumstances become suspicious of who to trust and who not to and they develop fears over the response they’ll receive if they confide their fears and concerns and doubts and questions and mistrust and sense of betrayal in church members they should be able to trust and lean on.
So, of course, there are two categories of things we should be doing about this. The first relates to nurturing our own testimonies. Moms and Dads need to understand their own faith and how to approach these issues. It may help to begin with the reality that while the internet can connect you with many disaffected members of the Church, you also have, right here within an arm’s reach, members of the Church who are very familiar with the issues, appreciate the doubts and questions those issues can inspire, and who are yet full of faith and devotion to God and His Church. We are happy to listen and happy to share and we don’t condemn, accuse, or belittle people who have honest questions. And you will find us reasonably capable both of us using our brains objectively and approaching spiritual matters spiritually.
Now, do I think that you need to do hundreds of hours of research into each of these issues in order to become secure in your faith and testimony? No, I don’t. Faith comes through agency and testimony comes through evidence. And the fact is that agency can be exercised and evidence can be accumulated independent of exploring criticisms of the Church. However, there is a problem. While a person can have a strong, legitimate faith without being expert in Church criticisms, you run a risk as a parent if you cannot be somewhat conversant on these issues and, perhaps, if you cannot say, “Yes, I am familiar with those things but here are my answers and here is why I am not losing my faith and testimony because of things critical, unpleasant, or unknown.”
Some people feel that the Church’s approach to helping members build faith and testimony has amounted to a betrayal because the Church has not made an open discussion or even rebuttal to these issues part of Church curriculum or Sacrament Meeting talks. Similarly, our children may lose confidence in their parents where they think their parents are unwilling or unable to address a faith-based approach to the issues.
My suggestions tonight are that 1) you become comfortable with your own testimony, 2) that you do so with some familiarity with the issues your children will surely encounter and question in the digital age, and 3) you teach your children a faith-based, thoughtful and honest approach toward spirituality and toward evidence and unknowns.
A couple of years ago, the Church was about to release its essay on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. While our family culture has always invited awareness and questions and I have talked to my kids about various critical topics and they certainly have known that Joseph Smith was a polygamist, I had never spoken with them in any detail about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and about the particularly difficult-to-understand aspects of it. I knew, though, that I wanted them to hear about that from me before they heard about it from someone else and began to feel critical of either my “ignorant faith” or of my “withholding information.” So I gathered them together and we talked about it.
I invite you to understand faith, agency, testimony, evidence, and unknowns and to teach the related principles to your children.
By the way, don’t raise your kids in an overly black-and-white environment. Not all doctrine is settled; answers to both historical and present questions of “why” are often not readily available; people’s motives are not always known; and faith, by definition, includes uncertainty. There must be opposition in all things. Agency matters. All these things indicate that while God will give us spiritual helps (confirmations, etc.), he is still asking us to live by faith including with matters of uncertainty and things that are not entirely known.
Topic 3: Consistent Unearned Love
My third and final topic this evening relates to these pictures…
…both of which focus on the father of the prodigal son. I am particularly fond of the picture on the left. I think that artist captured very well in the father’s face the anxiousness and concern and focus of a father who loves his son and yearns mightily for his happiness. I have long believed that the whole point of the Savior telling that story was to teach us not about the son but about the father because he is a representation of Heavenly Father. We note from this story that the father respected the son’s agency, that he watched for him, and that, at the first sign of his son’s willingness to accept him, the father closed the gap between himself and his son and embraced him.
I wish to emphasize one point. We must not condition our children to believe that God’s love for them and His acceptance of them is conditioned upon their performance. On the contrary, we must help them be receptive to the idea that at their very worst moments of life, including moments of extreme personal shame, embarrassment, and disappointment, their Father in Heaven will love them and accept them in His arms. We will do this by their seeing this type of treatment from us.
When our children do poorly, which, of course, we have all done, whether it is by mistake, poor judgment, or outright rebelliousness, at these moments we need to withhold criticism or any kind of “I told you so!” or “Why didn’t you just listen to me?” or “See! That’s what I’m talking about!” or “Didn’t I warn you?” or all those kinds of things. Instead, they need to find us at their worst moments receptive to them, patient and understanding and empathetic.
When we hug our children and lavish praise on them after they do well and then we distance ourselves from them, perhaps by sending them to their rooms, or stopping talking to them or withholding affection from them when they have done poorly in our eyes, then we are conditioning them to believe that this is how God is, which isn’t true.
At each of our worst moments in life we need the Lord and we need the support of those who love us and whom we should be able to trust to have patience with us. Let us help our children to find safety in us at those tough times just as each of us can find safety in our Heavenly Father and in the Savior at our worst times. By the way, I believe I can say with complete confidence that there are nine bishops in this stake [now 10] along with myself and my counselors who you can trust to be supportive of you and not judgmental and condemning when you have erred. All of us are familiar with our own shortcomings and errors.
So, brothers and sisters, I am suggesting three things tonight:
- Make a priority of nurturing your own faith and testimony.
- Teach your children how to prepare for and handle adversity.
- Help your children discover that your love is not conditioned upon their earning it.
Brothers and Sisters, we have the true gospel. We don’t know everything, but we know the critical things. We do know the path to happiness and peace and wholeness. Parenting is a sacred privilege and it is one of the great schools of mortality. It is certainly tough.
Do not waste time lamenting your shortcomings. It’s good to recognize and acknowledge them and to work on them. But it’s no good to marinade in feelings of inadequacy. Were all inadequate. That goes without saying and it’s just the way it is. I always think of that book, “I’m OK, You’re OK.” We could write one called, “I’m Inadequate, You’re Inadequate. So What?”
We do have a Father in Heaven. He will help us in our inadequacies. He will help us work on or around our shortcomings. He will be with us and magnify our efforts. He loves and cares about your children—His children—with a perfect love and enjoys a perspective of seeing the end and not just the present. The fact that He knows how this ends and is happy must surely tell us something.
God bless you. You are wonderful. Whether listening to Becky and me tonight was worthwhile, your coming speaks very highly of your interest in being a great parent. May the Lord bless you and may you increasingly feel his presence in your life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Conference, October 2015.]
When I was 16 years old, my brother returned from his mission to Montreal, Canada. We had shared a room together for many years. Curt is one part genius, one part (more than one, actually) Christ-like model, and one part absent-minded. He would come home after a date when I was 12 or 13 years old and sound asleep, turn the light on in our room, which was right in my face since I was on the top bunk, and then go off to brush his teeth and get ready for bed, forgetting he had left the light on. He would fall asleep sometimes while kneeling at his bed saying his prayers.
On this night, though, it came time for us to get to bed and since he hadn’t been around for two years and both of us had changed a fair amount during that time, we weren’t talking much—probably because neither of us knew what to say. So I asked him a question: “Curt, tell me what the most important thing was that you learned on your mission.” He paused and thought and finally said something like this: “I have learned that we need to focus on the very most basic principles of the gospel—on faith and repentance. We have enough to worry about with those things; we don’t need to strain at doctrines that are less basic.”
I have given that statement a lot of thought in the 33 years since then. It came in some contrast to the sometimes edgy and always inquisitive mind of my father, another great man, who enjoys pondering aspects of the gospel that we know little about. He just finished writing his 8th (I think) unpublished book since his retirement, this one titled “Questions for the Next Life” in which he poses a few hundred questions he is looking forward to getting answers to when he gets to the other side. Questions like “How long were the days of the creation?” and “What, exactly, are cherubim?” I will always be grateful to have been raised in an atmosphere of questions and learning. I believe that has provided many advantages for me in my life.
Meanwhile, I am constantly reminded of the importance of my brother’s statement about focusing on the very most basic principles of the gospel. The opportunities I have had to observe, learn from, and counsel with others continues to affirm for me the importance of that statement. I would like to talk today for a few minutes about the importance of nurturing two critically important and basic things: our faith and our testimonies.
Why are Faith and Testimony so critical?
Three things come to mind…
- A testimony is a great blessing as we navigate life on earth. The prophet Mormon speaks of belief, faith, and hope providing “an anchor to the souls of men, which make them sure and steadfast.” The apostle Paul talks about being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Mormon, too, spoke of being “as a vessel” “tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor.” Faith and testimony provide safety, stability, direction, steadiness, and confidence. Faith and testimony make for homes built on rocks rather than on sand.
- If it is true that Jesus Christ is really our Savior and that legitimate priesthood keys are found in the restored Church—and I testify that those things are true—then great blessings in eternity, including the possibilities of exaltation and eternal families, hinge on the faith we exercise in those truths. Many of our eternal rewards depend upon our exercising faith and testimony in this life.
- Life is a test and your testimony is very likely to be tested, either directly to challenges about the validity of the Church’s priesthood authority or indirectly through adversity that causes you to wonder where God is and why things are not less unfair and more the way you feel like they should be. You and I will be best off if, at the time of our most difficult testing, we remain true to the faith and testimonies we have received and exercised—and, if we in fact, build on them. It is important to remember that when we refer to life as a test, it is not God being tested to see if He will give us what we want when we want it; it is us being tested to see if we will turn to Him, trust in Him, rely on Him, and move forward in faith when we face the greatest adversity.
Now, with those reasons for why faith and testimony are important as background, let me briefly discuss four important principles associated with faith and testimony.
First: Testimonies are not binary. They are not something that you either have or do not have. Testimonies exist in degrees: from developing testimonies to powerful testimonies and everything in between. Faith, similarly, can be exercised in large or small degrees or somewhere in between.
Likewise, it is not true that the testimony you have, to whatever degree you have it, will always be there. Testimonies grow or they wither. They wax or they wane.
Testimonies seldom come in a momentary brilliant flash; nor always through an intense burning in the bosom. However they come, they don’t last forever on their own. Testimonies are nurtured or neglected each day. Like the sycamore trees that Elder Ballard recently referenced for us, testimonies grow when they are watered; faith expands when it is exercised. Testimonies wither when they are neglected; faith weakens when it is not placed into action. Testimonies usually come and are strengthened slowly: “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”
If you are nurturing your testimony on a daily basis, then keep going! If you are not, you are placing too much at risk and I urge you to make the necessary changes because the testing of your testimony is very probably coming.
Second: It is not enough to have a testimony; it is also important to have a reason (or reasons) for having a testimony and to know what those reasons are. Peter admonished us: “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” Especially in those moments when your faith and testimony may feel challenged, it is important for you to remember and know the reasons why you exercised faith and expressed testimony in the first place.
I do not think it can be over-emphasized that Latter-day Saints neither believe in blind faith nor in a head-in-the-sand approach to our faith. We believe that those who find are those who seek and that those who receive are those who ask. We believe that answers to prayers come both to our hearts and our minds. We believe in using reason. “Let us reason together,” the Doctrine and Covenants invites.
It is interesting that we refer to those who are actively exploring our church, not as “ignorants” but as “investigators.” Those of us who were born into the Church should be investigators and active learners, ourselves, and not “ignorants.” Those who study and learn, build their houses on rocks. Those who don’t, build theirs on sand.
Note that when I refer to study and learning, I am not referring to strictly academic exercises at all. This type of study and learning must involve our hearts and spirits in addition to our minds. The things of the Spirit are learned by the spirit. Spiritual truths are revealed through the Spirit and there is no way around that that I know of. Our reasons for having testimonies and exercising faith should be supported by experiences of the spirit, the heart, and the mind.
Third: The beginning of faith and testimony is desire – and that means agency. Alma taught clearly with his analogy of planting a seed that the very first step to faith is desire, specifically, a “desire to believe.” When Moroni talks about praying to God about the Book of Mormon he refers to “a sincere heart” and “real intent.” Testimony begins by choosing to want to believe. Faith grows when, once believing or choosing to believe, we choose to act on that belief.
I cannot believe in the restoration of priesthood authority or in the divinity of the Savior if I do not choose to at least want to believe in them.
Neither faith nor testimony is comprised of a “perfect knowledge.” This Alma also teaches clearly in his analogy. He said, “if a man knoweth a thing, he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.” He goes on to distinguish between knowing things through evidence we’ve accumulated and having a perfect knowledge of the whole matter, which renders faith unnecessary.
Does exercising agency with imperfect knowledge mean that faith and testimony come from ignorance or unsubstantiated choices? As Paul would say, “God forbid!” My choice to believe—or my choice to want to believe—simply opens the door, so my heart and mind may be receptive to evidences, both practical and spiritual, which allow my faith and testimony to be increasingly built on a foundation of genuine evidence: spiritual and practical and logical.
Until our faith grows into a perfect knowledge, however—which may not be very soon, considering that we came to earth to learn to exercise agency and faith together—agency and desire will remain essential elements of our faith and testimonies. If they don’t, we will lose our faith and our testimonies.
It is helpful to remember what the Savior taught Thomas, who insisted that he must see with his own physical eyes and touch with his own physical hands or he would refuse to believe. (This in spite of the fact that he already had many very good reasons to believe.) To him the Savior said, “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” I think the Savior is saying here that more blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.
Lastly, let me suggest that there are two indispensable elements to developing a testimony and building faith.
One is to consistently seek two-way communion with God through the Holy Ghost. We do this by hearing and studying His words in scriptures and the words of both living and ancient prophets. We do it by praying and then paying attention to the thoughts and feelings we receive. We seek to become acquainted with the feelings of the Spirit and to be ready and alert that we might recognize them when present.
The other is to live the teachings of the Savior as we receive them through scripture, through living prophets, and through personal revelation. Jesus said that those who “do His will shall know.” I cannot expect to truly commune with God when I live patterns in my life that are contrary to His teachings. If, however, I seek communion with God and I strive sincerely to live with diligence the principles He is communicating to me, I will come to know—typically, “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little.”
Over time, the evidence mounts.
There are, in fact, things that I know. I can “give an answer to every man that asketh… a reason of the hope that is in [me].” There may be many things that you and I don’t yet know, as pointed out by my father’s book, for example. But if we consistently commune with God, speaking to Him and striving to listen—and if we do as He teaches, we will build a foundation of testimony sufficient to generate patience for the things we don’t yet know.
I testify that I know that Jesus is our Savior; that peace, goodness, salvation, and patience are through Him; that this Church is led by Him through living prophets and apostles on the earth who hold all necessary and genuine priesthood keys through which we can both make and receive valid covenants with God. Mine is not a perfect knowledge, to be sure, but my choice to believe is broadly and deeply substantiated by things that I have experienced, things that make sense to me, things that I have observed, things that I have felt, and therefore things that I claim with confidence to know.
May you and I consistently exercise a desire to believe, commune with God, and live our lives in such a way that our exercise of faith will be rewarded with greater spiritual knowledge. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.