I worry that men, women, and children are suffering from misunderstandings about and a lack of appreciation for manhood – or, perhaps “real manhood” if we want to distinguish between true manhood and the world’s misunderstandings of it both past and present (and I think we should).
Real manhood blesses lives (that is the whole point of it!) and returns peace, happiness, and even joy to the man. Perhaps it has these six primary components:
- Absolute and active commitment to God.
- Complete devotion to his wife and her well-being in every respect (see #4 below).
- Complete devotion to his children and their healthy development (see #4 below).
- Constant striving to possess the attributes of Christ more completely – including becoming more loving, patient, kind, diligent, etc.
- Willingness to proactively lead (and share leadership with his wife).
- Profound respect for the equality, roles, and attributes of women – and for the roles and attributes of men.
For this week’s post, I’ve decided to begin a list of important scriptures with regard to manhood. However, rather than list those scriptures here where they might remain stuck in a finite list, I’ve decided to create a page for them on this site and list them there. That way, it will be easier for me to add to and revise the list from time to time – since I’m sure I’ll miss a lot in this first round. In fact, I very much welcome your suggestions for adding to this list! You can find it here.
The Sabbath, it seems to me, is one part blessing, one part opportunity, and one part test.
The blessings are many! Through our Sabbath worship, attitude, and change of pace, including church attendance, our spirits, bodies, and minds are rejuvenated. Honoring the Sabbath keeps us “unspotted from the world.” It also results in the Lord blessing us in ways that are scripturally broad (“I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth” and “the fullness of the earth is yours” and “therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days,” for example)—but which become individual and specific as we recognize distinct blessings in our lives. As in many aspects of our covenant relationship with God, those blessings flow generously depending upon the sincerity and contrition of our hearts.
The opportunities are also many! “The Sabbath was made for man!” And: “it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath!” (My exclamation points.) The Sabbath is for doing good. The Savior taught this over and over again as he healed a man with a withered hand, another with “the dropsy,” a woman bent 18 years with infirmity, and, no doubt, others. He taught of “weightier matters,” which certainly place people and worship and principles and attributes over rules. He taught that an ox in a pit must be pulled out and that people who hunger must be fed.
James taught about visiting the widows and fatherless. In fact, the phrase “unspotted from the world” is found twice in the scriptures: once as an introduction to the Savior’s teachings on keeping the Sabbath in D&C 59 and also connected to James’s teachings about “pure” and “undefiled” religion. Clearly the Sabbath is for serving others and is an opportunity to give of ourselves, typically in quiet ways, to lifting, building, encouraging—and maybe even helping heal—others. True Sabbath worship consists of more do’s than don’ts.
The Sabbath is also a test—a test of our hearts. The Sabbath might be made for man, but it was given as a “sign” and a “covenant” and is about our relationship with God. Of the ten commandments Moses received on Sinai, the first four specifically refer to our worshipping and respecting God. The fourth of those is “Remember the Sabbath.” That probably means remembering more than that the day of the week is Sunday and that that’s the day we’re supposed to go to church. Remembering the Sabbath might mean remembering the Savior, remembering God’s love, remembering that He provides for us, remembering His mercy, and remembering to have grateful hearts. It might mean remembering that our hearts should be broken and our spirits contrite. It definitely means worshipping and demonstrating that we “have no other gods before [Him].”
Keeping (or honoring or remembering) the Sabbath is yet another way to live after the manner of real happiness. Lasting and meaningful joy is found neither in Super Bowl games, Super Bowl outcomes, Super Bowl commercials, nor in Super Bowl parties. Nor is it found in demonstrations of isolated piety or in sleeping all day. Joy and happiness are found in placing God first, knowing that we sincerely strive to place Him first, knowing that He knows that we strive to place Him first, and in serving Him by serving our neighbors: family, friends, and strangers. May we seize the day.
This week we covered the topic. I won’t claim it’s the most important topic there is, considering that the atonement, faith in Christ, and covenants are awfully important topics (to say the least). But. This topic strikes at the very core of how we see our Father in Heaven, how we see the Savior, how we see others, and how we see ourselves. We cannot live after the manner of happiness if we do not live this principle. We certainly do live after the manner of misery when we don’t live it.
The topic? Forgiveness.
Gordon B. Hinckley said, “A spirit of forgiveness and an attitude of love and compassion toward those who may have wronged us is of the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The very essence!
Five forgiveness-related principles clearly taught in the scriptures seem important:
- I must forgive others if I am to be forgiven. This is taught in the Lord’s prayer—and in the next two verses following the Lord’s prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The Savior teaches a wonderful and critical parable in Matthew 18 about the servant who, though readily forgiven by a compassionate king, failed to pay it forward and so was “delivered to the tormentors” by that same compassionate—and just—king. How quickly he went from bondage to freedom and back to bondage again! I cannot hope for much needed forgiveness from the Savior as long as I withhold forgiveness from another.
- I must forgive repeatedly—even the same person, even the same offense. (Note: Forgiving someone does not mean becoming their doormat or tolerating being their victim.) Peter asked plainly, “How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” The Lord’s answer was less plain, but its point is nevertheless clear. Surely “until seventy times seven” means each and every time and does not suggest that we stop after 490. How dangerous of us to forget, when we become frustrated or worse by the repeated failures and offenses of a loved one, that the Savior passed 490 times with us a very, very long time ago. When losing patience with another, we might ask, “How oft shall I sin and need God’s forgiveness in order to live with Him again?”
- I will be judged as harshly—or as mercifully—as I judge. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged,” the Savior said. And, paraphrasing Him, “The measuring stick you use for others shall be used to measure you.” On the other hand—and how beautiful this is!—“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Peter, after objecting to the Savior washing his feet and then understanding that it was necessary if Peter were to live again with the Savior, cried, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Similarly, when we come to realize that the merciful obtain mercy and that we need mercy, we should become enthusiastic about extending mercy and the most generous judgment possible to others. Before Moroni exhorts us to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, he instructs us to remember and ponder on the mercy of God. Interesting how the pondering of God’s mercy brings the Spirit into our hearts.
- I commit the bigger sin when I fail to forgive. Really? My spouse cheats on me and I fail to forgive and I have the bigger sin? Somebody abuses my small child and I withhold forgiveness and I have the bigger sin? Do any of us actually believe this principle?! Perhaps it’s easy for me to say I do when I’ve never been offended to those degrees, but what’s the logic behind it? Isn’t failing to forgive someone a rejection of the atonement? Isn’t it a rejection of the idea that the offender can and may very well be forgiven by God? And isn’t it a rejection of the idea that I need forgiveness, myself—that I am the very beggar and unprofitable servant King Benjamin talks about? Am I not even, in a sense, placing myself above God? What could be worse than that?
- I must respond to offense with charity. The “eye for an eye” days are over—and not just for everybody else! Instead… “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” Do good to them! Not snarky good. Genuine good. We have heard, even in General Conference, about the exemplary ability of the Amish to forgive. Anabaptists have a long history of loving their enemies and blessing them that curse them. We should all remember the example of Dirk Willems.
Forgiveness benefits the forgiver. President Kimball said, “The essence … of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul.” Interesting that words like frustrated and tormented are used here to describe not the offender, but the offended. Such words probably describe both parties. Relief comes through forgiveness, which comes from seeing the offender, myself, and God all accurately: the offender as someone trying and sometimes (perhaps often) failing just like me, myself as someone in infinite need of forgiveness, and God as generous and benevolent toward all his children.
We should remember just how willing the Savior is to forgive. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” The phrase “when they had nothing to pay” is notable. I think of it as meaning that their hearts were broken and their spirits contrite. At that point, he forgave them “frankly.” Frankly means (at least according to Webster in 1828) “without reserve or constraint; liberally; freely.” When our hearts are broken, forgiveness comes freely. Yet! “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men,” whether their hearts are broken or not—for “the Lord looketh on the heart”—and sees what I cannot.
Our willingness or unwillingness to forgive says so much about us!
Do I see myself, in spite of my awareness of other people’s shortcomings, as being desperately in need of the grace of God, myself? Do I recognize myself as the servant who truly owes “ten thousand talents”? Do I see those who offend me as owing me much less than that? Do I avoid even taking offense because I see my own shortcomings reflected in those of the person who wrongs me? Or do I respond to others with indignation because of my failure to see both my shortcomings and their pain and disadvantages? Am I adequately generous with other people when I try to explain their behavior to myself? Do I see God as the kind, generous, compassionate father He is? Do I forget in my moments of self-absorption that his kindness, compassion, generosity, and willingness to forgive extend to those I am not forgiving? Or do I sincerely celebrate the fact that they do and let Him deal with whatever justice must be dealt with?
Do I appreciate the fact that other people are trying; that they, too, yearn for happiness; that they, too, regret their repeated shortcomings; and that they have spiritual and emotional scars with which I may lack both awareness and understanding?
The scriptures have some beautiful, touching examples of forgiveness. One of the best is the story of Joseph. After debating killing him, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery where he suffered temptation, ended up in prison, but rose to great power. (You know the story.) Yet when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, his thoughts and feelings are for them. They are not about how he was wronged. Rather, they reveal his anxiousness to provide comfort to them!
“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God… Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him… thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them…”
May we be like Joseph. May we reflect the character of Christ, and, at all times, even during the hard moments, turn our thoughts to the other person and have our hearts and minds, inviting compassion.
I sure am glad that my parents encouraged me (and my siblings) to grow up.
I think I was about ten years old when I got my first job: delivering The Northshore Citizen to maybe 50 or 60 homes in our neighborhood every Wednesday morning. Seems like I split the job with my sister, but my early-onset Alzheimer’s leaves me a little uncertain. Wasn’t long after that, though, that I definitely got my own daily route. I spent about four years unwittingly distributing a lot of liberal propaganda (known then and now as The Seattle Times) to my neighbors, most of whom probably appreciated it (the propaganda, that is).
“Daily,” of course, meant daily: 365 days a year. Mercifully, there were three or four of them each year on which I made it home dry. I remember the dark, wet night I stepped on a nail as I ducked under some dripping rhododendron bushes to get to the Harkenon’s house. It was hard to tell if that sucking sound (and feel) was the nail coming out of my foot or my sneaker coming out of the mud. Saturdays and Sundays—and every Christmas and New Year’s Day (thank goodness for sobriety)—were delivered in the mornings. Nothing like a 5 a.m. wake-up call every weekend morning to try to make an old man out of a young man. School seemed like a pretty desirable place compared to delivering papers in the cold, dark, and rain.
When I was fifteen, my buddy Jeff (who already had a driver’s license) and I were on our way to a church softball game. (I often played catcher and not particularly skillfully. He sometimes enjoyed a little too much watching me get blown up on the occasional play at the plate. We had a competitive stake.) Anyway, he needed to stop by his workplace—as a dishwasher at the prestigious Inglewood Country Club—to pick up his check, since his Trans Am drank a lot of gas. Curious to see the insides of such a posh place, I went with him. Before long, we found his crusty old boss, who summarily dismissed him (on suspicion of breaking some rules, which Jeff vehemently denied) and then looked at me, squinting narrowly, and said, “Son, you want a job?” I said, “Sure,” and after the game Jeff dropped me off for my first night of work.
Those nights cleaning up after country club party-goers sometimes ended at two or three or even four in the morning, depending on how late the evening’s festivities lasted. Calling and waking my parents for a ride home at such hours seemed a bit much—and they rather agreed—so I usually walked. It was just a couple of miles (but, yes, it actually was uphill). The inevitable rain seemed to cleanse my spirit to a certain extent—and that wasn’t all bad after spending the evening in a country club bar kind of environment.
That job didn’t last long, though, as I soon got hired by Jeff’s brother-in-law to work at his art and picture framing store. I cut frames, glass, and mattes—mostly tens of thousands of mattes—after school and full-time in the summers for about three years. Some Saturday mornings (yes, 5 a.m., again), he took us waterskiing. And…
Well, the story of jobs just keeps on going, but I’ll quit boring you. The point is: my parents encouraged responsibility, financial independence, and, to a large extent, emotional independence from my early years. They also encouraged independent thinking, thankfully, but that’s a story for another day.
Of course, there were also chores growing up. (By “growing up,” I’m referring to the 14-year period we were given to turn 18 years old.) Tuesday nights were mine to do the dishes. We actually had a dishwasher, but we never used it. My parents said it was broken, but years later, I’m increasingly suspicious about just how broken it really was. When I was eleven or twelve or so, my mother taught me how to do laundry. I had a hard time remembering which colors to wash in which temperatures, so I made a chart and nailed it to the wall of our unfinished laundry room. It hung there for probably close to 30 years.
My biggest chore, though, may have been our vegetables. (And by “vegetables,” I am not referring to the three rows of our model vegetable garden I was expected to weed every day of the summer.) Mother served at least two vegetables at every dinner and the rule was you had to eat two of them and no less. I’m pretty sure the zucchini, lima beans, spinach, and occasional brussel sprouts were all calculated to be encouragement for us to achieve independent living at the earliest possible age.
Leaving home and going to college was a foregone conclusion. I don’t recall ever considering an alternative. My older brother went off to college after high school. So did my older sister. Three months after graduating from high school, my parents drove me down to Provo, where, believe it or not, I met my new roommate, Shannon. Shannon, you’ll be relieved to know, was not only male, he acted and sounded a lot like Rocky Balboa, only more educated. I wrote my parents a letter most weeks and called home some weeks. When my freshman year was done, I went home and cut another gazillion mattes before leaving on my mission. The rule was you needed to pay for everything you could.
My mother has never forgiven me for this (though having conspired with my father to turn me into an independent adult at an early age, she really has no one to blame): after my mission, I was home for a week and then never lived at home again. And that’s not because I disliked my home or my family—I come from the greatest family on the planet! And who doesn’t want to live 15 minutes from Dick’s Drive-In and 30 minutes from the Seattle Mariners?! It was just time to be the autonomous adult they’d taught me to be.
Why do I mention all this? Well, last Saturday Becky and I were asked to teach a class on helping young women prepare for adulthood—college, missions, the temple, career, marriage, etc. So I’ve been thinking a lot about the role parents play in helping their children become successfully independent—which I guess I would define as having both an understanding of how to live after the manner of happiness and the desire and motivation to independently do so. (Which seems easier to do if you have some practice at it before the actual moment arrives.)
As I mentioned to one of the classes Saturday, I think it is common for young children in our church to hear about “families being together forever” and picture themselves in heaven as little children with their loving parents forever with them and taking care of them, maybe even holding them. I think, though, that there may be parents with the same vision, hoping against wisdom that little Johnny and Suzy will stay their little Johnny and Suzy forever and continuing to nurture an environment that will keep them physically, emotionally, or financially dependent. It seems my parents tended to see me as the adult I would become more than the child I was—and, like I said, I’m glad they did.
In the family Becky and I lead today, we don’t speak so much about achieving emotional, spiritual, and financial independence (though everyone understands that’s the goal; it’s even written in our family plan) as much as we talk about “building character.” Most things that our kids should do but don’t want to do are about (at least as they hear it from us) “building character.” Truth is, we’re trying to build independent adults who know God’s plan and can independently achieve happiness and who have as much character as they are willing to develop.
A favorite scene from five or six years ago gives me great hope. It was early on a weekday morning in the middle of the summer, maybe 6:30 or 6:45. Must have been July. It was one of those nothing-but-blue-sky Utah summer mornings that starts out quite warm. I was getting ready to go to work and, for some reason, glanced out the bedroom window which faces our backyard. There was our son, bent over pulling weeds in our, well, modest vegetable garden. He’d figured out that the faster you get your work done, the cooler the temperature you can work in and the more quickly you can start playing. I suppose the bad news is that our kids won’t be kids forever. But if my parents were right, that’s actually the good news.
I remember very little about my exit interview the day before I returned home from my mission. But one exchange has always stuck with me. President Cardon asked me, “Do you intend to remain an active member of the Church?”
I was taken aback a bit. I thought it was a strange question to ask someone who had just devoted two years and hopefully served in a way that demonstrated commitment. I stammered, “Well, yes, of course.”
He then said, “What does it mean to be active?” I tried to think quickly, but, as is often the case, couldn’t come up with much more than the obvious. “Well, it means going to Church, being worthy and having a temple recommend…” He almost cut me off: “Does being active include having a calling?” I wished I’d thought of that, myself. “Yes, I think so,” I said.
Then he said, “I want you to make me a promise. I want you to promise me that you’ll never go four consecutive weeks without a calling without going to your bishop and asking for one. Will you promise to do that?” I did.
I can’t say that I’ve lived up to the letter of that promise as well as I should have, but I think I’ve lived up to the spirit of it. In the various times I’ve moved and switched wards in my life, there have sometimes been intervals of some weeks before I received a calling. I remember on a couple of occasions making a comment to the bishop as I’d promised I would. On a couple of other occasions, I knew the bishop was aware of me and I gave it a little more time and a calling came before too long.
Why do we serve in callings in the Church? Perhaps because we’re asked to and we feel a sense of duty. Perhaps out of a sense of tradition and culture: that’s what Mormons do. Perhaps we enjoy the socializing and relationships that are a part of most callings.
Or perhaps we have better reasons. Perhaps we love people and understand that all callings are about people. Perhaps we recognize the responsibility we have toward them and want to serve them. Perhaps we love God and remember his instruction to Peter, “If ye love me, feed my sheep.” Perhaps we know that all things have been offered to those who magnify their callings. Perhaps we embrace the mission of the Church to bring souls to Christ and we appreciate so much what it means to come to Christ that we want to help others do the same.
My favorite non-prophetic author had one of his characters say, “Everyone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.” He also said, speaking of himself, “We are all responsible for everyone else—but I am more responsible than all the others.”
Am I responsible for others? Am I my brother’s keeper? Jacob spoke of “taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not…” President Hinckley said, “Each of us is responsible for the welfare and the growth and development of others. We do not live only unto ourselves. If we are to magnify our callings, we cannot live only unto ourselves.”
How do we magnify our calling? Well, we start by having a calling, as my mission president encouraged me to do. Then we understand what it requires. But we don’t stop there! To do so is to minimize a calling—and what a lost opportunity that is! We reap what we sow and few things illustrate that as well as the effort and creativity we put into our callings. So we get a clear understanding of who we are called to serve and then we get busy with those people, focusing on them and how we can serve them within the larger spirit of our calling. We get to know them, learn about them, love them. And then we pray for guidance and we let the creative juices flow (thinking in the shower always helps me!) and between our own pondering and perspiration and the Lord’s inspiration—the perfect recipe—we go above and beyond that low-bar minimum and serve!
Fifteen years ago, I extended a calling to a couple in my ward to serve as ward librarians. I did an utterly pathetic job of it. My explanation of what their calling was about was enough to deflate even the most enthusiastic. But they dutifully accepted. A year later, I sat in a meeting and heard a bishop describe the calling of a ward librarian and became both exhilarated by his vision of how this calling, if well done, could impact and change families—and disgusted by the memory of my own lack of vision and effort and thoughtfulness and a year earlier.
Librarians, it turns out, can help families tap into Church resources to more effectively teach their children at home. Sunday School teachers can visit the students who don’t come and can take and show an interest in them outside of church meetings. Ward membership clerks can knock on doors and get to know the people over whose membership records they have stewardship. Secretaries can advocate for lost sheep. Stake leaders can greet by name the people they serve throughout the stake. Music committee chairs can identify hidden talents and encourage the development of talents which may not even exist yet. And on and on.
We do reap what we sow. When we don’t have a calling, we miss out on a huge source of happiness and fulfillment. When we have a calling but don’t (or barely) act in it… same crummy thing. When we pour our hearts into the people we’re serving and focus our efforts on them instead of on ourselves (teachers, for example, should teach students, not lessons), we reap rewarding relationships and the joy of seeing growth in others—and, inevitably, in ourselves.
Young Single Adults—as that label rather clearly suggests, are neither children nor “youth.” They are adults. For them (as we discussed Thursday), it is time to pick up an oar and row with the rest of the rowing adults—to share the gospel, strengthen testimonies, “lift up the hands which hang down and strengthen the feeble knees.” It’s time to switch from net taker to net giver. Or, maybe better said, it’s time to strive to become a net giver, because it is impossible in the Lord’s economy to become a net giver since the Lord always blesses us disproportionately to our service.
May God bless us with vision, an interest in people, a desire to serve, and inspiration to see how to magnify our calling to a point of real impact. In such a scenario, all are blessed and become happier.