[Stake Conference, April 2019, Adult Session]
During the last week of the Savior’s life, the various groups opposing Jesus were desperate to entrap him, so they peppered him with questions they hoped would embarrass him. Famously (or infamously), a man described as a pharisee, a scribe, and a lawyer asked the Savior to identify “the great commandment in the law.” Jesus answered by quoting one of the most important passages of all scripture, known to Jews as the Shema, which says, in part (see Deut. 6), this:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
Jesus called this “the first and great commandment” and said that the entire Law of Moses comes from the two commandments to love God and to love each other.
The Shema continues with one of the most important early references to home-centered study and learning:
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
7 And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
Lastly, Moses continues with these words, which some Jews practice literally. We don’t, but we should consider the tremendous emphasis they add to the great commandment:
8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
Let me repeat here the key words from this critical teaching:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
What does it mean to love God?
The “first and great commandment” is to love God entirely. What does it mean to love?
The dictionary definition that makes most sense to me in this context is “to be devoted to.” We are to be wholly devoted to God. That devotion should fill our hearts and our souls and efforts.
But what about the feeling of love? Is love also a feeling?
That may be tough at times. Devotion and commitment are choices. I can be devoted to God and love him in that sense entirely according to my own choices. Feelings, though, are hard to choose. They tend to be more the result of things both inside and outside us. The ideal feelings toward God may include things like profound gratitude and reverence.
I believe that those feelings result most from our knowledge and understanding of who God is and what He has done and does now and will yet do for us. They result from knowing how He feels about us and about the sacrifices He has made on our behalf, highlighted by the Atonement. They come from understanding something about his perfect attributes of mercy and generosity and patience and compassion.
Can we love God with all our heart, soul, and might if we don’t feel the feeling of love in our hearts? Yes, we can in the sense of being devoted to him and choosing him and following through on that choice. We can also strive to know and understand him better, which will build our appreciation for him and facilitate the feelings of love.
Here is kind of a strange-sounding thing you might try sometime. I don’t do it very often, but on rare occasion I have. Try saying your evening or morning personal prayer without using words. Instead of talking to God, which is how we should usually pray as Jesus taught us, just feel. Get him in your mind and let your feelings provide your prayer’s expressions. As you consider him and that he knows your feelings as well as your thoughts, you might feel things like awe and reverence, like gratitude, like being small and dependent, like respect and admiration.
To the extent we don’t feel those things, I think we might simply strive to know and understand him better. While we do, we can persist in patient devotion.
What does loving God look like?
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” We know from the Pearl of Great Price that God’s work is to save and exalt us. We know from the Doctrine and Covenants that our work is to keep the commandments. The Second Great Commandment, of course, is to love each other, including that person who offended us or who with whom we disagree or just don’t like. We can assume that this should be an active love—that we would actively seek to lift, support, build up, and help each other. We can assume that loving our neighbors doesn’t merely consist of feeling a warm feeling towards them (unless, of course, we are actually incapacitated).
We could try to insert here a long list of commandments and actions that would reflect our love for God. We could talk about doing this or doing that—or not doing this or not doing that.
The trouble is that if we try too hard to describe what loving God might look like, we will end up converting love for God into a checklist—and a checklist mentality is already a source of trouble in our culture.
God is neither the Great Accountant tabulating our debits and credits nor is he the Great Scorekeeper tallying our points and fouls. He is our omniscient and loving father who asks for our love, our devotion.
Suffice it to say that when we love God, we will love our neighbor, keep his commandments, and allow our love for God to inform all of our important decisions. We might develop the habit of asking ourselves, each time we face an important decision: which choice will best reflect my devotion to God?
The first of the Ten Commandments says that we are to have no other god before our God. Surely that means that we should neither worship nor love anything more than we worship and love both our Father in Heaven and the Savior. There are many alluring worldly temptations involving money and appearances and momentary pleasures. Our love for God must be strong enough that we will worship him more than them.
What happens to us when we love God?
Normal things happen to us. Life happens to us, including good and bad. We sometimes labor under the notion that loving God and keeping his commandments will result in in an absence of trouble—or at least an absence of tragedy and catastrophe. It doesn’t. Otherwise, how would we explain Abinadi and Nephite women and children being thrown into a fire. How would we explain the early apostles, Joseph Smith, or faithful members of the Willey and Martin handcart companies? God will not rob us of the mortal experience, whatever that may mean for us.
What will He do? He will do things that matter far more than our temporary physical struggles in mortality.
- Paul taught “that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
- Moses taught that God’s mercy is extended to “them that love [God].”
- Jesus clearly taught that those who love God receive forgiveness.
- And in the Book of Mormon, we read that if you “love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.”
- I also believe that loving God inspires in each of us the development of Christlike attributes, including love for others, gratitude, humility, meekness, and modesty—not merely modesty in how we dress, but modesty in our behavior, including our use of social media.
May I suggest tonight—besides the obvious suggestion that we all love the Lord—that we leave no doubt in the minds of our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and all those who are dear to us that we love God and are filled with gratitude to and for Him.
In the Church Handbook of Instructions, there is a section on Leadership which applies to all of us. It says, in part:
All Church leaders are called to help other people become “true followers of . . . Jesus Christ.” To do this, leaders first strive to be the Savior’s faithful disciples, living each day so that they can return to live in God’s presence. Then they can help others develop strong testimonies and draw nearer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.
Callings and positions entirely aside, each of us can be a “faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples.” Let us share with all around us, beginning most importantly with our families, that we love the Lord and that that love is what motivates and informs the choices we make.
I share Paul’s testimony: “all things [do] work together for good to them that love God.”
In closing, let me repeat the words of Moses, the Shema, with some slight modifications:
The Lord our God is one Lord:
And we shall love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our might.
And these words… shall be in our hearts:
And we shall teach them diligently unto our children, and shall talk of them when we are at home, and when we leave our homes, and when we go to bed, and when we rise up.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Priesthood Meeting, March 2016.]
Before getting to my primary topic tonight, brethren, a quick word about PPIs…
Please take advantage of PPIs. One good reason to do so is to sustain your Elders Quorum presidency or High Priest Group leadership. But there are other excellent reasons, including realizing the benefits that come both from being accountable to and sharing your goals, challenges, and concerns with a priesthood leader.
Men do too much alone. If two men go to sit down in a row of three chairs, you can bet your mortgage that the empty seat will be the one between them. Big mistake. When life’s challenges come, too many men internalize things, limit or shut down communication, and turn themselves into a pressure cooker, which is neither necessary nor healthy.
You don’t have to tell your deepest darkest concerns to everyone. And I don’t suggest you share personal things with someone who has not yet earned your trust. But I have been on both ends of PPIs and I have very much appreciated the sincere love and concern I have felt from my priesthood leaders. I have appreciated that their concern was genuine to the point, in some cases, that they would ask me questions about things that matter. PPIs in my life, though too seldom throughout the years, have blessed me.
You young men leaders—and I’m not talking about young men advisors. I mean those called as leaders: you young men who are in Deacons Quorum, Teachers Quorum, and Priests Quorum presidencies. I think we old men and you young men share the same goal for you, which is that you become mature men and feel successful in your manhood. I encourage you to work with your bishop or his counselors to establish PPIs in your Aaronic Priesthood quorums.
You need to learn while you are young about the spiritual and emotional benefits of having a support system in your life and not trying to do too much alone. You need to learn what it is like to sit down with a peer, one on one, face to face, and care deeply about each other.
Now to my main topic…
Magnifying Through Ministering
When we receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and are ordained to the office of Elder, we enter into the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood. Many of us received the Melchizedek Priesthood with only the vaguest idea of what the Oath and Covenant should mean to us. That problem continues in the Church for too many young men and sometimes happens still in our stake, though it should never happen. This is why we hold a class every winter for graduating seniors and other Melchizedek Priesthood candidates.
You boys—who will become men as you learn to focus more on the well-being of the people around you, starting, but not ending with your families—it is critical that you understand that receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood means committing to an entire lifetime (and beyond that) of devotion to God and to helping Him fulfill his purposes. Two years on a mission is typically the beginning of that devotion, but it is not intended to drop off after your mission—nor ever in all eternity.
Whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods… and magnifying their calling…”
According to the Oath and Covenant, we are required, if we want to receive all the blessings Heavenly Father offers us, to “magnify our callings.” To what calling is the Lord referring when He says that? Broadly speaking, there are two:
First, as Alma indicates in the Book of Mormon, the Lord is referring to the priesthood itself.
As holders of the priesthood, we have specific duties. One of those is to home teach. There are duties related to the sacrament and other ordinances. There are duties to provide service and help where needed. There are specific duties to fulfill when we are asked to take specific assignments, whether that be a shift at the cannery or setting up chairs for a meeting or helping a family get moved in or out.
But we also have a broader but very critical duty to help everyone around us come to the Savior. We do this when we care about the Savior and when we care about people enough to extend ourselves to them. It is, in my opinion, part of true manhood. We do it by setting an example, by teaching (sometimes formally, sometimes informally), and by taking sincere interest in individuals.
Secondly, when the Lord talks about magnifying our callings, he is surely also including specific callings that we receive and are sustained and set apart to perform. That may mean being a counselor or secretary or teacher in a priesthood quorum. It may mean teaching primary or Sunday School or being a clerk or family history consultant.
What, though, does it mean to magnify? Well, we all know that to magnify means to enlarge. I find it helpful to contrast the idea of magnifying with the idea of minimizing.
“Magnify” ≠ “Minimize”
To minimize a calling, we do as as much and as little as necessary. We attend only the meetings we feel absolutely compelled to attend. We may not actively drive the success of those meetings. We lay low when volunteers are requested. And we do no more than explicitly required. We move when told to move—or we resist moving (either actively or passively) when we think the person asking us to move has exceeded his or her authority. Where we are talking about that our responsibility for helping others come to the Savior, as referred to a moment ago, specifics are often lacking; so if we are in minimize mode, we don’t reach out to people any more than we have to.
I want to focus for a few minutes on magnifying our callings as that relates to helping others coming to the Savior, sometimes referred to as missionary work or reactivation work, though we could also be talking about reaching out to fully active members.
There is a statement in the Handbook that marries two critical “M-words” (one of which is not “minimize”). You’ll remember my talk tonight if you remember that it is about “M&Ms.”
In Chapter 2 of Handbook 2 (which is available to everyone online) “magnifying” is defined in large part as “ministering.” We find this statement:
“Priesthood holders magnify their callings as they minister in their own homes and to other Saints…”
In connection with that statement is a description also that we should “lift, strengthen, and nurture” others.
We also read this:
“Like the Savior, [priesthood holders] seek to minister to individuals and families, both spiritually and temporally. They care about each person…. They reach out to new members, less-active members, and those who may be lonely or in need of comfort.”
Lastly, from the Handbook, we are given some very specific examples of what is included in “ministering.” What does lifting, strengthening, and nurturing others look like more specifically? Well, here are four strong suggestions, again from Handbook 2:
Ministering to others includes:
- Remembering their names and becoming acquainted with them (Yikes! Please forgive me!)
- Loving them without judging them. (We have a lot of work to do in this area.)
- Watching over them and strengthening their faith “one by one,” as the Savior did. (Notice the emphasis on one-on-one. Good things can happen in Sacrament Meetings and Sunday School classes, seminary classes, and priesthood quorum meetings. Good things can, should, and do happen in those settings, but there is something critical about one-on-one ministering where especially good things can result. I think I will probably remember certain PPIs that I have had more than lessons I have been taught.)
- Establishing sincere friendship with them and visiting them in their homes and elsewhere. (Note that there are important places to minister to others besides within the walls of the church.)
Now, brethren, I would like to show you a video…
What did we see in that video?
We saw a young man begin to do something out of a sense of duty. Though he was obedient, he didn’t initially see the person on the other end of his assignment. He did not know that to magnify his assignment, he was going to have to minister to a person—a real person who has struggles and problems and who responds to love. And he could not minister effectively (or really at all) without becoming sincere in his desire for friendship with Steve.
Was his heart in his response to the bishop at first? Perhaps, but not to the extent that it would be after he began to know and care about Steve. His first attempt was actually not that bad, but something was missing which appeared in the end.
What made his heart begin to change in this assignment? Do you remember when he asked the bishop, in frustration, “What’s the point?”
The bishop responded by quoting Mormon’s teachings about charity. Moroni admonished:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ;“
The bishop then commented, “Some wounds are large and they take time to heal.” Guillermo found out Steve was dealing with something real and something difficult— and then Steve switched in Guillermo’s mind from an assignment to a human being.
Guillermo’s heart changed. Friendship became the primary issue—not trying to get somebody to do something.
Brethren, part of what we’re talking about tonight is about human connection and happiness. It is hard to have happiness without real human connection—and that connection doesn’t have to come as much from someone loving us as it has to come from us loving someone. When we do, reciprocation is not guaranteed, but is common. Part of “living after the manner of happiness” is loving others—or, as the handbook calls it, “ministering,” which is what we have covenanted to do when we agreed to “magnify” our priesthood.
[“Magnify” = “Minister”]
This week I received a text from a friend of mine who is going through some very hard things and is struggling with herself. Her text came unexpected in the middle of the day and it said, “One who loses his life shall find it? How does one lose his life?”
One loses his life by becoming concerned for the welfare of others and by ministering to them. In the perfect example, this is what the Savior did. If we will follow his lead and attempt to the same—if we live up to the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood—we will receive all that He has.
With regard to some practicalities… There may be a million ways we can love and serve other people in various contexts. Let me just throw out a few ideas…
If you are a home teacher, you can…
- Drop in on your family between monthly visits—even if you’re 14 years old.
- Find time—somewhere / anywhere—to spend a few extra minutes visiting with Dad about his family.
- Do something socially with the family or share a Family Home Evening together or just a bowl of ice cream sometime.
If you are a Primary or Sunday School or Priesthood Quorum teacher, you can…
- Stop by the home of a class member who couldn’t make it on Sunday.
- Support a class member at one of their activities.
- Send a note or drop by just to tell someone how much you enjoy their being in your class.
If you are husband, you can…
- Do something nice for your wife that she would appreciate but wasn’t expecting.
- Make sure you have a weekly date with her.
- Be sure to spend quiet time with her just talking and listening and making sure you understand how she feels.
If you are a father, you can…
- Spend one-on-one time with a child.
- Make sure your child hears much more that you love them and are proud of them than they hear criticism.
- Talk to your children about their goals and dreams.
- Lead the family in prayer, scripture reading, and Family Home Evening.
If you are a son, you can…
- Do something kind for your mother.
- Tell your parents you love them and give them a hug.
- Spend one-on-one time with a sibling—whether older or younger.
If you are teenage young man, you can…
- Invite someone into your circle of friends who could use some friends and some validation.
- Begin smiling and saying hello to people you don’t normally smile at or say hello to.
- Make sure that you stand up for the absent when something judgmental or unkind is said about them.
If you are a neighbor, you can…
- Share that bowl of ice cream or dinner together.
- Provide a listening ear when times are tough.
- Pitch in with the yard or whatever when help is needed.
Brethren, my message tonight is very simple. There are two reasons we should magnify our callings:
- By virtue of the priesthood, we are under covenant to do so.
- It is one of the key ingredients in the recipe the Book of Mormon refers to as “the manner of happiness.”
Magnifying your calling means ministering to individuals. It means:
- getting to know them
- judging them kindly or not at all—being inclusive and accepting
- showing personal, sincere, one-on-one interest in them
- becoming a real friend, regardless of their choices for or against the Church.
My invitation to you tonight is to magnify by ministering. Magnify your calling in the priesthood by ministering to individuals and families around you. My testimony is that you and they will feel edified and uplifted.
I am deeply grateful to those brothers and sisters who minister to me and to my family. I feel their sincere love. If you ask me who loves me and my family, I will place my home teacher, my High Priest Group Leader, and my Bishop at the top of the list—not alone, but among many dear friends who do not have a specific leadership responsibility for me or our family right now, but who are accepting, non-judging friends nevertheless and whose ministering to our family strengthens us.
May we go out of our way a little bit to establish friendships and communicate love and encouragement to those who are close to us or should be is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at Ward Conferences in the Highland Utah South Stake in early 2016]
We are delighted to be with you today. We are enthused about the theme of this ward conference: missionary work—and about the workshops that will follow this meeting.
I have six things I would like to say on the topic of missionary work.
First, your participation in missionary work will bless you and the generations of your family that come after you. Missionary work, however you do it, will bless your life.
I had an amazing experience as a 14-year-old Teacher. My father would very dutifully take me home teaching with him on the first Sunday of every month. I did not look forward to going. What a drag to go sit with a bunch of adults (mostly) and chit chat for a while and then have a lesson! BO-RING!, I thought. But something interesting happened. I came to discover that my father really cared about those people. And even more amazing to me, I came to discover that they cared about his caring about them. That chit chat turned out to be a lot more meaningful than I’d realized. Their worries were my father’s worries and the more mature I became, the more their worries became my worries, too. I remember coming home from those home teaching visits feeling good, rewarded, and so happy that I had gone. Over time, my distaste for going was replaced by my interest in those people. In fact, the more I got to know them, the more interested I was.
I am certain that we cannot participate in any form of missionary work that involves caring about someone, even if it is “just” God and our duty to Him that we care about at first, without the experience strengthening and improving us.
Second, the more I consider the phrase “missionary work” and what it means, the broader my definition becomes.
Certainly, missionary work means, first and foremost, trying to share the gospel with those who are least familiar with it. No matter how broad our definition becomes, we should not let a broader definition become an excuse for not reaching out to non-members.
Missionary work includes any effort to lift, encourage, cheer up, buoy up, or teach others.
There is missionary work to do at home, at school, at work; in our wards and out of our wards; over the internet, on an airplane, and during vacation; irrespective of people’s status with regard to church membership or activity level.
Every person around us needs love and friendship and encouragement. We should seek to be non-judgmental and genuinely interested in those we don’t know well—or in those we do know well but judge harshly. I have found that dislike for a person is frequently born of ignorance for that person and his or her life experience—and that fondness for a person is hard to avoid, once given a little insight into who they really are.
Recently, my wife decided to make dinner and bring it to a family in our ward. She decided to do that before she decided who she would bring it to. She prayerfully chose a couple in our ward—one who seldom seems to be at the center of attention—called the sister, and told her she’d like to bring dinner over. When she arrived, she was met by this wonderful, tearful sister who said she felt touched that somebody was thinking of her and her equally wonderful and quiet husband. To my first point, you can easily guess who came home from that experience feeling touched and lifted, herself.
This was an act of missionary work. Missionary work includes expressions of love and attempts to uplift and encourage anyone—regardless of the status of their faith or the outward expressions of their faith. The Savior served people from many varied backgrounds and situations.
Third, I would like to encourage the adults in this ward to get onto senior missions—and I am not just talking to people in their 60s and 70s. If you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, you should be actively and anxiously making plans to serve a mission as soon as circumstances permit.
We send out a lot of young missionaries in this stake. We consistently have more than 100 missionaries serving. The demographics of our stake and the devotion of our members are such that we produce lots of wonderful and committed youth.
However. We are all getting older. And our children are getting older. We are getting closer every day to empty-nester status and retirement. This stake is a powerful engine for producing strong young missionaries who serve tremendously well around the world. We must also be a stake that is is an engine for producing the seasoned senior talent that is so much needed around the world.
Recently I was told that the Church needs 10,000 senior couples and they have just 6,000. Opportunities for senior couples are vast and varied and provide for great flexibility and even greater rewards. I know of two opportunities available right now. We are, in fact, anxiously looking for two couples for specific missions.
One is needed in Oakland to serve in the mission office with President and Sister Frandsen for 12, 18, or 24 months. It’s 40 hours of office work each week with evenings and weekends free. This couple is very urgently needed for the smooth running of that mission and to keep from having to staff the office with younger missionaries.
Another opportunity is very different from that. It is as a full-time “stay-at-home” couple serving within the boundaries of our stake—but this is a very real thing. You wear a name badge. You work 32 hours/week including morning study time, church meetings, and weekly temple service. You will do meaningful work, but you do not have to be physically fit for Nepal or Cape Verde. Ours is one of two stakes in Highland/Alpine/Cedar Hills which does not have this couple in place.
One of our sessions in the next couple of hours will be for people preparing to serve a mission as a senior couple. There will be limited room in the classroom. I hope it will be filled by adults of all ages.
I invite every person here today who is past the age of serving a mission as a young elder or sister to make real plans and undertake the appropriate preparations so that you will be able to contribute as a senior to the many missionary needs of the Church and of our brothers and sisters.
Fourth, I would like to point out that not all missionary efforts result in fairy-tale-like stories to be retold in the Ensign—though I would hesitate to call any missionary effort a failure. Not all missionary efforts follow the perfect script. But all sincere efforts to share the gospel and to lift others are good.
To wit… My family and I were on vacation in Southern California last year and I’d had a Book of Mormon in my bag for quite a while and I was anxious to give it out. On the last day of our trip, we spent some time walking along a path near the ocean. We were walking back toward our car and we passed an older couple sitting on a bench overlooking the ocean. They looked contemplative and I imagined that they were considering something serious. I debated within myself how they would receive an attempt from me to engage them.
I walked my family back to the car thinking about them and grabbed my Book of Mormon and headed back down the trail. When I got there, I started a small conversation with them and soon invited them to take my Book of Mormon and discover its message. The man was initially receptive and we chatted about an LDS person he had known many years ago, but the woman was immediately defensive and she got her way, so I kept my Book of Mormon and moved on, a bit disappointed.
Did anything good come of that little exchange? Well, of course I like to think that a seed of some kind was planted or maybe stirred a little. And I felt good that I’d made an effort. Statistically speaking, it is unlikely that that couple will join the Church, but the fact is that some efforts will be positively received and some won’t. No effort is wasted.
A year and a half ago, I knocked on the door of a man who I thought might not want to see me. I felt a little nervous, unsure how he would receive me. I didn’t have to introduce myself very much before he politely but very firmly told me to get lost. I knew that arguing or asserting myself was unlikely to soften his heart at that moment, so I assured him he had my respect and I got off his doorstep. A few months went by and we started to coincidentally find ourselves in the same place. I made a point of saying hello when I would see him but not trying to do more than that. To make a long story short, this man’s heart began to thaw a bit and hellos became small talk and small talk turned into real talk and he discovered that my interest was genuine and I discovered lots to like in him that just further developed the sincerity of my interest and so now we are friends and I can hopefully be a useful friend to him.
Fifth, missionary efforts do not need to be forced. In simply being genuine and kind with each other—and looking for opportunities to share the gospel and to lift people we truly care about—good things will happen.
As a missionary in Germany, I got to work one Saturday with my best friend in the mission. We were in his area and he had made an appointment with a man in his early twenties for about 10:00 that morning. When we got to his flat, we rang and there was no answer. We rang again and waited and were about to leave when we heard the sound of someone coming to the door. This man, not much older than we were, had probably been partying the night before. He’d obviously just gotten out of bed. He was only wearing a pair of shorts and his hair was all over the place. My friend asked if he remembered that we’d be coming. He said yes and motioned for us to come in and sit down while he headed to the kitchen. As he went in, he called out behind himself, “You guys want a beer?”
Now imagine you’re a full-time missionary. How do you answer that question? It’s obviously the perfect lead-in to the Word of Wisdom and a discussion about the evils of alcohol, the importance of spirituality, and how different we are as Mormons. My mind quickly spun with where his question should take us. But my friend, who, by many measures, including some that really matter, might be considered one of the most successful missionaries in our mission, simply answered, “This early?!” To which the man replied, “Yes, of course, you’re right.” And he came and joined us and heard a lesson about a Heavenly Father who loves him and a Savior who does, too. I was struck that morning by the lesson I learned from my friend that missionary work is about people and relating to them and not about over-lecturing on the commandments. It’s about what we have to offer more than it is about how we need to correct others. Specific teachings can come at the right time.
Lastly, brothers and sisters, may I encourage you to embrace and adopt for yourself the very first sentence in “Preach My Gospel”? The first sentence on page 1 says, “[My purpose is] to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”
I don’t believe that statement applies exclusively to full-time missionaries at all. I believe it your purpose and my purpose as common covenant disciples. It also encompasses our responsibility as members of the Tribe of Ephraim.
The Savior compared you and me to “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” Salt that has lost its savor is, to soften the language of Matthew 5 a little, not as useful as it could be.
You and I must accept our role as “salt” in its full meaning and we need a sense of urgency. We must wake up in the morning and think and pray and and say to ourselves, “Who can I lift today? Who can I encourage? How can I share the light of Christ and the message of the Savior with someone?”
We must accept that our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ. We must be “other-minded.”
I close with my testimony that the restored gospel yields fruits of happiness and that missionary work blesses us and yields some very specific fruits of happiness. It will bless your life and it will bless your family.
May we constantly look for ways to act in the interest of others. May we desire and seek love for them. And may we exercise enough faith to show that love and share goodness with them.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at a Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 26, 2015.]
I would like to address my remarks tonight to parents. I recognize that not everyone who wishes to be a parent is yet. And I recognize that not every parent feels equally yoked with their spouse. But I also acknowledge gratefully that everyone who makes and keeps sacred covenants with a broken and contrite heart will, in fact, be eligible for all the blessings of Abraham, including the blessings (and surely the challenges) associated with parentage and the blessing of sharing the rewards and challenges of parenting with another.
My purpose is primarily to encourage. I hope also that I may share an idea or two that will have practical benefits. I pray that my comments will reflect God’s will and that the Holy Ghost will continue with us while we visit together. It has been a rewarding evening thus far.
I would like to begin by giving away the ending to what I think is the best piece of fiction I know. It is the 19th century Russian novel, Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. To me, it is more of a parable than a piece of fiction. Its message continues to have a very heavy influence on my understanding of the nature of God and of the Plan of Salvation.
Crime and Punishment is the story of a young man, a college student named Raskolnikov, who decides to test a philosophy which promotes that some great people are destined to be above the law—and above other people. And so, wishing to be such a person, he tests this theory by committing a murder, which unexpectedly becomes a double murder of two extremely innocent and helpless women. Dostoevsky intentionally chose a horrific sin to illustrate his message.
Raskolnikov, who has no faith in and perhaps very little understanding of the Savior, begins to suffer greatly as a result of his awful crime. His suffering affects him in every way—emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. As is too common with us when we are burdened with guilt, he withdraws from those who love him the most and that causes his suffering to intensify.
While this is happening, he meets a girl named Sonia. Sonia is a symbol for the Savior. She is well acquainted with suffering and is in the process of wearing out her life for those she loves. She has two parents who are sickly and incapable of caring for their children and she has two younger siblings who are destitute. The five of them manage to eat only because of the money Sonia brings in as a prostitute.
There are, for me, three major highlights in the story—all involving Sonia and her responses to Raskolnikov.
The first occurs when she recognizes that he is suffering terribly but she doesn’t yet know why. She reads to Raskolnikov the 11th Chapter of John, the story of the raising of Lazarus, to teach him that no one—not even a dead man—can outdistance himself or herself from the Savior’s ability to heal.
The second occurs when Raskolnikov confesses his crime to Sonia and she responds—not with anger or scolding or by recoiling in disgust, but with compassion and empathy for the unbearable suffering she immediately recognizes he has been and is still enduring.
The third occurs at the end of the book. At Sonia’s encouragement, Raskolnikov confesses his sin both publicly in the market square and formally to the authorities. He is sentenced to labor in Siberia and Sonia follows him. In Siberia he lives inside a fenced prison work camp. For a very, very long time, he seems shut down emotionally and spiritually. He is rather cold-hearted and unresponsive to the kindnesses Sonia shows when she visits him at the fence and brings him food. But she is committed to loving him for however long it takes and, at the end of the book, reminiscent of Lazarus’s response to the Savior’s call to come forth, her steadfast, consistent love for Raskolnikov finally wins. His heart softens and he receives her love—and the love of God. He who seemed lost was found. Love and patience won.
Sixteen years ago in one of my very first priesthood meetings in the Highland 12th Ward (three wards and stakes ago though we’ve never moved in those 16 years!), I had a small but, for me, very profound experience learning about parenting. I was sitting with a group of high priests, who I was just barely beginning to know. The topic of the lesson had to do with parenting. At one point, a discussion broke out which turned into a mild debate with some brethren positing that good parenting requires strictness and rigidity and others countering that a softer, more permissive approach yields better results.
And then “the man” spoke. I didn’t know him yet, but I quickly noticed that when he spoke people paid close attention and I later learned that he was the stake patriarch. His name was Brother Adams. He said (nearest I recall) something like this: “I decided years ago that specific techniques of parenting are of relatively little consequence when compared to one important principle—which is that my children know that I love them and that my love is sincere, genuine, and constant. When I committed to that principle as a guiding principle of my parenting, I became a better parent.”
That seems like a simple concept. It is consistent with something I have also come to believe about our Father in Heaven which is that, more than anything, He wants us to know that He loves us. Love and patience win.
I know a lot of wonderful parents. Recently I have come to know two parents who are prioritizing consistent, demonstrated love in their parenting and who I believe are winning and will win with their children even though circumstances are very difficult and even though it sometimes seems hard for them to discern a light at the end of the tunnel.
One is a mother of a middle-aged son who is in prison. He made some horrible choices years ago which landed him there, but though he is still there, he is a different man today than when he was committing his crimes. He is going about, as best he can under limiting conditions, doing good and helping others. He has a strong relationship with the Savior and with his Heavenly Father. Moreso than many of us, perhaps, he has reached a level of humility that has almost entirely stripped him of pride, pretense, and guile. Though in prison, he enjoys the freedom, ironically, of hiding nothing. He accepts his errors and his failings. He also accepts the embrace of the Savior—and the embrace of his mother. His great progress today is due in no small part to the consistent love of a mother, who might tell you, herself, that she is not a perfect mother but she is winning and so is her son.
Another is a father of a teenage son who is going through intense personal anguish and openly questioning whether he will choose to reject many of the things his parents hold most dear. His suffering has lead him to question God’s role in his life and whether the Plan of Happiness really applies to him. As parents do, his parents are suffering along with him through many tears and little sleep. Recently this father told me that his highest priority is maintaining a warm, loving, accepting, and communicative relationship with his son, no matter what choices his son makes. I am very optimistic for this young man and for his parents, notwithstanding the current acute difficulties.
I am reminded of a story Sister Richards, our stake RS president, brought to my attention a few months ago. It was published in the Ensign quite a few years ago.
It is the story of a young man who told his mother he wouldn’t be going to church any longer and openly quit living the standards of the Church, much to his mother’s distress. Distress so great, she recalled, “Sometimes I thought death would be easier for me. But I loved him no less.”
The writer of the story notes, “John was what you’d call a lost cause. Anybody could tell you that. No one knew what to do with him. But there was one place where he was welcome—home. And there were two people who welcomed him—his parents.”
His mother wrote, “When he would bring his friends to our home, they’d all go down to his bedroom in the basement. I knew they were doing things they shouldn’t. But I loved my son and just couldn’t send him and his friends away as some of my neighbors thought I should. Instead I went into my bedroom and closed the door and got down on my knees and asked Heavenly Father what I should do. “Should I send them out onto the street and wonder what they were doing and where they were going? Or should I let them stay here and do things I disapprove of?
“I stayed on my knees until I received some direction. Others might have received a different answer, but for me the impression each time was the same: ‘Get up off your knees and go put on a pot of stew for them. And love those boys.’” Friends condemned her for it. “You’re not upholding Christian standards,” they told her, “by having those boys around.” “I had but one answer: ‘I am trying to live those first two great commandments.’”
Being allowed to remain at home while working through his problems kept him close to his parents. He learned to trust them—even to confide in them. When everyone else seemed against him, he knew his parents still loved him. Eventually his relationship with them made it easier for him to seek activity in the Church again.
I was also reminded a couple of weeks ago by Bishop Sumner of Joseph Smith’s need for his parents when he first began having to endure tremendous hardship when, as just a young boy, faced with having part of his leg bone cut out without painkillers, he requested that his father stay with him and hold him, and that his mother leave so as to not hear the difficulty of it.
I recently read a statement by a Catholic priest who said, “It is through the sacrament of marriage that we learn what God’s love is like.” I do believe that marriage and parenting are schools—schools that teach us much if we will apply ourselves to the lessons.
I have heard people chortle at the notion of joy and rejoicing in our posterity. Parenting is a school. It is a school for our children and it is a school for us. It provides for us a broad range of experiences and emotions, including joy, which has the potential to become permanent—and which potential is strengthened by our sealing covenants and by our keeping our covenants.
May I briefly offer a few suggestions for parents who seek the joy of parenting, whether you feel like you experience much of that joy now or whether it sometimes feels elusive or even distant. I do so at the risk of having some of my own children present who have been witnesses to the poorest parts of my own parenting—but with appreciation to the good things I have learned about parenting from my own parents.
First… Be loving above all else. Don’t just love your children with your heart (although we must do that!). Love them with your words and be affectionate with them. For some people, sarcasm and criticism are a way of life, but it’s a discouraging lifestyle. I do think it’s possible to over-shower a child with praise, but as a rule, our children need to hear much more positive aimed at them from us than criticism. They need to feel love by seeing, hearing, and feeling us take sincere interest in them. Our words should include frequent “I love you’s” and we should be liberal with hugs and physical affection.
Second… It is important that our children sense that we delight in them. I will try to explain what I mean by that. I believe that human beings have a built-in ability to perceive the stance of another human being’s heart toward them. If you have read The Anatomy of Peace or are familiar with The Arbinger Institute, you’re also familiar with the phrases “heart at war” and “heart at peace.” When our hearts are at peace—when they are soft toward or receptive to our children—I believe our children sense it and that results not only in a better relationship, but in more confidence in themselves and a greater sense of courage. When our hearts are at war toward our children—when we are focused on their shortcomings or on our frustrations with them and our hearts are harder or defensive—I believe they also sense that and the result is distance in the relationship, a lack of confidence, and perhaps worst of all, discouragement: literally a reduction of courage. Delighting in your child doesn’t mean acting silly or over-the-top with them, it means having a heart that is truly soft toward them as the Savior’s is toward us. They do sense the stance of our hearts toward them.
Third… Be committed to the gospel and to the Church. (Both matter.) Your children also perceive the posture of your heart toward the gospel and toward the Church. It cannot be faked. When parents show that their lives are genuinely anchored in the Gospel of Jesus Christ; that they are serious about their covenants to keep the commandments; and when they hear them teach positively and often about the gospel… Those children have a greater sense of stability, optimism, and resilience. They have greater confidence in their parents and in themselves. The things that are important to you will transfer more effectively to them.
Fourth… Help them learn to manage their agency and become independent. Talk to them about choices and about consequences, including positive consequences. Let them experience choices and consequences. Let them make as many decisions on their own as their age and maturity allow. Teach them to think critically and independently. Teach them about money and work and responsibility. (A teenager having a job is about as important to me as them doing well in school.) Be sure that along with your goal of always maintaining a close, loving relationship with your child, you also have a goal to help your children be able to function and thrive without being dependent on you.
God sent them here to learn to use their agency without undue influence from parents. Be sure your parental control over their exercising their agency diminishes as they mature. Most children will generally force that anyway, so work with them on this cooperatively.
Lastly… Involve your families in the “work of salvation.” Or, if you are already doing so, continue looking for ways to be even more effective. Counseling together as families and working on missionary work and family history and on loving less active neighbors and family members will strengthen your children.
Brothers and Sisters, my father has many sayings. One of them is this: “It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.” That saying means increasingly more to me as I get older. Parenting is a long-term arrangement. It includes joy and sorrow, delight and frustration, love and growth. It is one of the things that can refine us if we exert ourselves and yield ourselves to its lessons.
I offer my encouragement. I have said before, there are two kinds of parents: those who have been humbled by their efforts to parent and those who will be. But remember: the children in your care are Heavenly Father’s children. His love for them is perfect. His desire for them is no less than that they may become like Him. He sees their potential and, unlike us, His perspective is complete and unimpaired. Do your best and then trust in Him as your senior companion. The Savior, too, is our partner and much more. He will mediate and advocate for you and for your children. Remember that love and patience win.
Let us do all that we can and press forward with commitment, courage, and a sense of optimism; with faith in Christ and in our Father in Heaven. I pray that we will experience joy along the journey and ultimately in our Heavenly Father’s presence. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.