Thursday, August 30, 2012

Saving Marriage -- Part II

A second in an occasional series (Part I here).

It may come as a shock to some of you, but when we marry, we marry humans. Flawed, imperfect humans. I know that’s hard to believe. People who are courting tend to see fewer flaws (and work very, very hard to hide their own). And in those early honeymoon years of marriage, we tend to work hard to hide them, too.

But sooner or later it will dawn on us: my spouse is as human as I am. Yikes! (Of course this thought, if we are lucky, might be tempered by the realization that our spouse has already figured that out about us.)

Since we’re human, we will make mistakes. All sorts of mistakes. We’ll do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, think the wrong thing. We’ll hurt one another’s feelings (whether we mean to or not), and we may take offense, even when none is intended. We’ll be judgmental. We may even try to change one another.

How do good marriages survive those kinds of mistakes? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I have one: Charity.

Before you hit the delete key, thinking you’ve stumbled on another Sunday School answer, let me explain. If ever there were a place for charity (that is, the pure love of Christ) it is in our homes with our spouses. And (if my experience is any measure) it may the hardest place to have charity.

Why should we have charity? Well, we’ve spent weeks, months, maybe years trying to convince our spouse during the courting years that we were in love. That love should not peter out after the wedding, but should continue to grow. And that love should grow beyond the romantic and sexual love that are so prevalent during courting. (And if we nurture it, it does grow!) We’ve made covenants with that spouse of ours and part of honoring that covenant is to foster the development of love in the relationship.

What good does charity do in a marriage? Plenty! I have a friend who signs off her emails with the words “Assume the best.” Not a bad motto, and especially not a bad motto within our families. In a family with charity, I could assume that whatever my lovely wife says to me is said with love and concern for me. If I choose to hear everything that way, I am much less likely to take offense or feel the need to defend my position. And if I am always assuming the best about my spouse, then I am much less likely to offend in the first place, because I’m more likely to put her needs above mine in the relationship. (The fact that I understand this intellectually should not lead you to a conclusion that I actually do it all the time; I fail often, because I’m human.)

President Kimball taught that the best marriages are not 50:50 affairs in which each partner loses half the time. Instead they are 100:100 unions in which each spouse looks out for the good of the other, and each spouse finds joy in helping the other to succeed. That’s a risky proposition if the relationship is unhealthy, because one spouse who gives 100% to another spouse who gives nothing is a recipe for therapy at best, and maybe even ending the marriage or worse. But in a healthy relationship, giving ourselves to one another is a valuable component of a successful marriage.

But even in the most charitable marriage, there may be some moments that are not perfect. In those instances, charity leads to forgiveness. (Forgiveness is my letting go of the offense, not my excusing the other party from the consequences of that offense, by the way.) I’m grateful for the charity that my lovely wife shows toward me when she overlooks my flaws and forgives me for mistakes. Interestingly, that does not mean she suffers silently while I do things that annoy her. It means that she has learned over the years to speak to me in a kind, yet assertive, way that communicates her needs in our relationship, so that I have an opportunity to step up and do my part. She speaks from her point of view (which is all she can do). She does not dictate how I respond, and she does not demand that I do certain things. But she tells me what she thinks, what she sees, and what she needs. And she does it kindly.

It’s up to me, then, to determine how to respond. When I respond with charity, I seek to understand her point of view, to understand her needs and to sort out where I’m not meeting those needs. And to change what I’m doing. Our marriage is one where we seek to support one another and to meet one another’s needs. I win when she wins. And she wins when I win. (Some days the kids win, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.)

In the next installment (whenever that is) I’ll talk about how we get people to change.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Teaching Youth Obedience Without Driving Them Away

I read a post at another blog on “losing” youth (the article is here). The premise was when youth find steady boyfriends or girlfriends we lose them because they are doing something counter to the counsel of the prophets. They are serving two masters. They are cut off. And therefore, we need to do something to keep them from entering into those steady dating relationships.

Here’s what I agree with:

1. The prophets have consistently taught our youth not to date before age sixteen, and not to date steadily until they are ready to consider marriage (after missions for young men). Prophets have been consistent in this counsel for years, and it’s good advice.

2. Dating too early -- and steady dating too early -- can have harmful effects on a young person’s social development, and in the most extreme, can lead to moral transgression. Not only is there the risk that a couple that is too familiar will become too familiar, but by dating exclusively one person, a young person can shut himself or herself off to other friendships and associations.

Here’s what I disagree with:

1. A steady-dating young person is lost. That steady dating young person may be unwise. That person may not have the full social experience that a non-steady dater could have. That person is even living contrary to the teachings of the prophets of our day, and may therefore miss out some blessings. But that person is not lost.

2. Sexual sin, while it may grow out of steady dating, is not the inevitable consequence of steady dating, and steady dating is not the only contributor to sexual sin. It’s true that if I hang around a barber shop long enough, I’m likely to get a haircut, but it’s not true that I will never get a haircut if I never go to the barber shop. Equating sexual sin with steady dating as a fait accompli is harmful to young people.

I left a comment on that blog I read. I suggested that a steady-dating youth is not lost, but it is precisely then that we in the church need to love and support and seek to understand that youth, not to teach him that he is lost and irretrievable.

I’ve mentioned on my blog before hearing Elder Clayton Christensen (then an area authority seventy) speak in our stake and tell us that if we didn’t smell tobacco in our sacrament meetings we were doing something wrong. We desperately want to attract sinners and transgressors to us so that they can feel the Savior’s love and desire to draw nearer to Him. It is the same with our youth. All of our youth, whether they are steady daters, double piercers, short skirted flip-flop wearing girls or unshaven surly boys.

What it comes down to is this, in my view: it’s about how we teach them standards and commandments. If we teach standards as exclusionary markers, we will exclude those young people who are on the fence or already do not comply. If, however, we teach the standards as invitations from a loving Father in Heaven, we may attract some youth to rethink some of their choices and to enjoy the blessings of the atonement.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not mean to counsel the prophets on how they teach the youth. As Elder Holland pointed out not too long ago in conference, general officers of the church need to teach a certain message and a certain standard with absolute clarity. But in the trenches, on the ground, we need to reinforce those teachings with gentleness, kindness, meekness and love unfeigned.

I am peeved by EFY’s requirement to have young people follow a strict dress and grooming code, not because I oppose the dress and grooming code per se, but because it excludes youth that might be close to embracing the dress and grooming code, but are not there yet. (At the same time, I acknowledge that the sponsors of EFY can choose whatever standards they like; I can choose whether I like their choice or not.) I’m glad, therefore, that my stake does not impose an EFY-like dress and grooming code for its youth conference. I’m similarly peeved by a militant application of the principle of white shirts on youth who bless and pass the sacrament. The handbook’s guideline is not militant, but inviting and gentle. In our ward, the application is also gentle, and I’m glad for that. (And almost all of our boys wear white shirts almost all of the time, and, as near as I can tell, don’t make a fuss about it.)

In the end, I think we need to consider our goal: we want to bring our youth to the Savior so that they can enjoy the blessings of His atonement in their lives. We want to invite them to “come and see” for themselves. We want to encourage them to learn from their own experience the truthfulness of the gospel. It is, therefore, in my mind dangerous to establish needless conflict in their lives, suggesting they are lost because for today they make a different choice from established prophetic counsel.

In fact, our youth will choose what they want, no matter what we do. We can teach the standards and model them, and they will see us and see their friends and see all the other influences in their lives and then decide. As important as it is to be clear, it is also important to be inviting and loving as we encourage them to continue to draw near to the Lord. We cannot force them, and if we try, we will fail (if not in the short term, most assuredly in the long term).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happiness, Salvation, Redemption, Mercy – Final

(This is part IV. Part I is here; Part II is here; Part III is here.)

One of the hallmarks of King Benjamin’s address to the Nephites is the concept of retaining a remission of one’s sins. I really began to clue into that idea during my freshman Book of Mormon class at BYU (taught, as many of the Book of Mormon classes were, by a non-Religion Department faculty member). And I have continued to mull it over ever since.

In the context of Part III of this series, once we do our inventory, see God’s help, and make amends, then what? How do I go on from there?

First, I need some daily (or regular) way of staying on track. I need somehow to rededicate myself to the Lord each day and to seek His will for my life. And I need to check myself each day to see how I’m doing, and if I get off course, I need to do something about it – fast. I remember hearing Elder Eyring speak about praying in the morning to know who he could help and reporting back in his prayers at the end of the day on how he’d done. This daily checking-in with the Lord helps us to remain on the path back home.

But simply renewing my covenants either in daily prayer or with the sacrament each Sunday is not enough according to King Benjamin.

I also need to reach out to others. King Benjamin speaks at length about caring for the poor, giving to the beggar, meeting the needs of those around us. Of course in the gospel there are lots of cues to reach outside ourselves. Certainly caring for the poor and needy is among those (important enough now to be a fourth part of the church’s mission according to the new handbooks). But we have other ways in which we give service, from home teaching to temple service to missionary service. Not only can we strengthen the financially poor but also the spiritually poor. We can comfort those who stand in need of comfort, lift of the hands that hang down.

To me, it’s important that this service follows the specific self-inventory that I described in Step III. When my father gave his talk in church my first week home from my mission about conducting a personal inventory, it was after he had lived for nearly two years in Africa, away from the organized church where he and my mother held a small sacrament meeting each week in their living room. Sometimes it was just the two of them. About twice a month one other expat in Lagos joined them. And occasionally the missionary couples that had come to Nigeria and Ghana were in town and joined them, too (though usually they were off forming new units of the church). He had gone through that self-inventory process in his relative isolation in West Africa, and he came home with a different view of church service and of himself.

In recovery circles, the last of the twelve steps is about service to the recovery community and sharing the hope of recovery with others who may need it. In the church, we share missionary moments in priesthood meeting, pray for missionary experiences, and seek for ways to share the joy we have found in the gospel. And, as King Benjamin taught, we give of our surplus to the poor – perhaps through church donations and perhaps in other ways, too.

This act of reaching out to others, once we are spiritually healthy enough to do it, is how we can lose ourselves so that we may live.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Happiness, Salvation, Redemption, Mercy – Part III

(Part I here. Part II here. Note: Today's entry is longer than I had expected. I thought about breaking it up into two or three parts, but decided to charge ahead instead.)

Somewhere early in my time in the church (with my parents and siblings, I was a convert at about age 9) I learned the “Rs” of repentance. Today I can no longer remember them all, though Remose and Restitution were among them.

I had it in my head early on that repentance was to be a sin-by-sin experience. Maybe this was influenced by the teaching I received in Primary in those early days, maybe by my Catholic friends who went to confession each week and rattled off the week’s sins to their priest.

I was never quite sure that I was repenting right in those days. Sometimes I’d try to list my daily mistakes in my prayers, and finally as a teenager, laziness or efficiency got the better of me and I simply prayed to be forgiven of whatever mistakes I’d made that day. Once in a great while there was what I perceived to be a bigger sin for which I sought forgiveness and in those instances I spent more time on those items in prayer.

I served my mission in Germany just about the time a newer translation of the Book of Mormon was coming out (that translation has since been replaced by yet another one, I think). The translator spoke to us missionaries about how he translated the word repent, using a verb which mean “to turn” rather than the Catholic expression which had been in the original translation that was closer to “do penance.” Language issues aside, the notion that repentance was a turning stuck with me, and it’s influenced my thinking about repentance ever since.

I was teaching priesthood a number of years ago and the subject of the lesson was repentance. While I was teaching an example occurred to me: If I were one of those people holding on to the iron rod, moving toward the tree with the wonderful fruit, and somehow I lost my hold on the rod when I entered the mists of darkness, what would I do?

The first thing I’d do (I hope!) is stop moving. By stopping I would ceasing moving farther from the rod. Then I would try to find my way back to the rod. That might involve calling out for help. It might involve turning around and going back the way I came (assuming I could figure that out in the fog). But it would start with my stopping and standing still.

Repentance, as the second great principle of the gospel, is a key to having access to the atonement. It is for me not so much a one-for-one accounting for each sin of my life (though it may involve that) as a turning away from my natural man and turning toward the Savior as Moses (and three different Book of Mormon prophets) taught.

In recovery circles, there is a prescribed process that really works. Once one has (as we discussed in the last installment) admitted there are certain things he cannot do (that is, humbled himself), and that God can do those things and more, and that he’s willing to submit to the will of God, then he’s ready to begin the process of repenting.


It begins with a personal inventory of positive and negative qualities – of strengths and weaknesses, if you will. It’s more than a list. It’s really a personal examination of who we are. You don’t have to be a 12-step program to benefit from this kind of individual analysis. It can help anyone who wants to cleanse the inner vessel.

I remember my first Sunday home from my mission was our ward’s ward conference, and my father spoke in that meeting about the value of an occasional personal inventory in which we evaluate our lives compared to the expectations and standards our Father in Heaven has set. It rang true to me then as a great idea, and it still does.

There are as many ways to complete an inventory as there are people who have done it, but one way is think about the times in our lives when we felt acute emotion – great happiness or sadness, love or resentment, gratitude or stinginess. Write down those incidents in a list. Write enough of a description to know what they are. Then write the emotions felt while the thing was happening. Try to get to primary emotions, not just anger or happiness, and be as descriptive about the emotions as possible. (Think about those “Today I Feel” refrigerator magnets that were so popular a few years ago.)

Then write your part in the emotions. This is the hardest part. Did you feel resentment because you failed to communicate your need? Did you feel left out because you were too shy to join in? The point of this part is to identify not where we are victims (and sometimes we may be legitimate victims, though maybe not as often as we might think on the surface), but where we are actors contributing to our own state of well-being. If we do it right, this part can be remarkably liberating as we realize that, although there is a lot over which we do not have control, there are some things over which we do, namely how we act. Knowing which is which is really valuable.

Finally in our inventory, we can include what spiritual guidance we may have felt as we’ve considered each of these incidents in our lives. Doing so can invite the spirit as we prayerfully consider the scriptures and other material that might guide us.

(Doing the inventory might take months, but it also might take a day; each person is different. One person may be ready to tackle his whole life at once; another might choose to deal with one section of his life at a time. The first time I did such an inventory, I ended up writing my personal history of my first 50 years; it was an awesome experience.)

Once we complete this exercise, patterns are likely to emerge. We’re likely to see that in certain settings our reactions are similar. We’re likely to get a pretty clear view of our own strengths and shortcomings, and that’s just what we want to do.

Once we have that list, we ought to share it, certainly with God, but also with a trusted friend. There’s real power in sharing our inventory with another living and breathing person. Doing so shines light on our list of strengths and shortcomings; it really names those things and gives them weight for us.


Having done an inventory and shared our list with another person, we’re ready to submit to God again by preparing ourselves and then asking God to remove our shortcomings. This element is really important, because I did not say we take our list of shortcomings and work on them by ourselves. That’s because it doesn’t work to try to do it by ourselves. The power to change is in the atonement, and the only way to have real, lasting, powerful change is to have the Savior do it. Look and live. We put ourselves in the position to ask for that help by honoring our covenants and doing our best to keep commandments. And then we ask God to remove our shortcomings.

Some he might remove quickly. Others not so much. But even if he doesn’t remove them completely, the process of asking puts us in the position as submitting to His will (which is what King Benjamin says we need to do to overcome the natural man). As we do our best (which does not mean “as we are perfect”) in keeping covenants and commandments, God blesses us with insight, understanding, compassion, charity, faith and all kinds of things.

God may not remove the shortcoming that we hate the most. He probably won’t remove all our weakness, because our weakness draws us back to Him. Remember the apostle Paul never had that thorn in his flesh removed, despite his intense desire and his submitting to the will of God repeatedly in his life.


Once we have done a real inventory and taken our list of shortcomings to God and asked him to remove them, then we are ready to seek to restore that which may have been lost because of our sin. In recovery parlance, we make amends. In my Primary Rs, we’re taking about restitution. Return the value of the chicken we stole. Rebuild the relationship we’ve harmed. Do whatever we can to make up for our shortcomings.

It’s a scary thing, trying to make amends. We may still feel that others owe US the amends because of what they have done to us. But if we’re repenting, we can’t make our repentance conditional upon someone else’s. So in the process of seeking forgiveness from others, we may have to forgive the very people from whom we are seeking forgiveness. Again, this is the time for the atonement to shine in our hearts.

Christ suffered every pain we suffer. There is no pain, physical, emotional, spiritual or of any other nature that he does not understand by his own experience. So he can comfort us as we try to make amends for mistakes we’ve made.

Amends or restitution or restoration is about much more than an apology, but it probably includes an apology. And some wrongs we simply cannot right on our own. We cannot return someone’s faith or someone’s virginity, for instance. But we can lead righteous and virtuous lives and offer as much comfort and support as the person to whom we seek to make amends will allow.

Sometimes that person does not want anything to do with us. That’s ok. Our amends are not about forcing ourselves on someone else. It’s our best effort to make up for what we did wrong. We offer the gift; if it’s not accepted, then we can move on. In some cases, the injured party may need to see a long pattern of new behavior before he or she will accept the amends we offer, and that’s ok.

So, in this installment, we talked about writing an inventory, sharing it, preparing to and then asking God to remove our shortcomings, and about forgiveness and making amends. These actions are, for me, the very key to unlocking the power of the atonement in our lives. I only know that because I have felt the power and blessings of the atonement in my life as I have done these things.

In the final installment, we’ll consider what King Benjamin called retaining a remission of our sins.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happiness, Salvation, Redemption, Mercy – Part II

See Part I here.

In my last post, I introduced the idea of seeking the blessings of the atonement in our lives. This is, in my view, the essence of the gospel. King Benjamin talks about retaining a remission of our sins, which happens after we first obtain a remission of our sins, which is only possible through the infinite atonement, offered by our perfect Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. It is a gift which we must claim in order to enjoy its full benefits. (Some benefits, such as resurrection, will accrue to us regardless of our efforts, but the full blessings of the atonement require us to seek them.)

For me, the first leg of the journey is understanding something about God and something about me. I must understand that, as Moses said after his great vision recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed” (1:10). King Benjamin said something similar in his great address when he reminds us that we are all beggars before God.

In the language of 12-step recovery, we learn that there are certain things we simply do not control, no matter how hard we try. Among those things are other people, and sometimes even our own weakness as human beings. This is a crucial element of allowing the atonement to work on us, realizing that we are not about changing ourselves, but we are working to change through the atonement. (More on that in the next part of the series.)

At the same time, the things we cannot control are things God could control if He chooses to, because he is powerful enough to do it. (He has told us there are some things He also will not control because he has granted man his agency.)

Moses understood his relationship to God: He was created in the image of God. He was a child a God. And he was allowed by God to see the things he saw. He did not have power in and of himself to do those things, but God did have the power, and God allowed him to do it. When Satan came calling, Moses recognized instantly – despite his recognition that he was nothing compared to God – that he had power over Satan. He recognized that Satan was not a source of light as God was. And he recognized that Satan was not someone he had to listen to. And despite his fear, despite the temptation to do otherwise, he sent Satan packing. Awesome story. Awesome lesson.

In the rooms of recovery, they say, “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.” It means, I know there are things I cannot control in my life, and as long as I try to control them I cannot find happiness. But God can help me live with what I can’t control, and I can give myself over to Him and find peace, so I think I’ll let God do His job and I’ll do mine.

Of course King Benjamin taught the same lesson a different way. He said the natural man is an enemy to God, and we cannot overcome the natural man unless we submit to the will of God, just as a child willingly submits to his father. If I’m really, really ready to turn my life over to God, then I’m approaching where Moses and King Benjamin say I need to be. Then I’m exhibiting the faith in Jesus Christ that I mentioned in the last installment. Then I’m almost ready to be thinking about repentance. Then I’m beginning to look to Christ so that I can live.

In the next installment, I’ll look at specific things we can do, having really submitted ourselves to the Father, ways we can act in faith that will invite the blessings of the atonement into our lives.

See Part III here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Happiness, Salvation, Redemption, Mercy

You’ve heard of The Plan. I remember a not-too-distant discussion of the Plan of Salvation that bemoaned the fact that we get mired down with roadmaps from pre-mortal existence to earth to spirit world to final judgment to an assignment to a kingdom, and we miss the point.

The Plan of Salvation, The Plan of Happiness, The Plan of Redemption, The Plan of Mercy is all about the atonement.

That is the Good News, the Gospel, that Christ has come to redeem us from our sins.

Alma explains to Corianton (both of whom learned first-hand about redemption):

And now, the plan of mercy could not be brought about except an atonement should be made; therefore God himself atoneth for the sins of the world, to bring about the plan of mercy, to appease the demands of justice, that God might be a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also (42:15).

Alma had explained that without the atonement of Christ, we could never repent; we could not escape the effects of our sin, and we could never return home to Father in Heaven. But Christ did suffer for us in Gethsemane and on the cross. Christ was resurrected. And in so doing, He opened the way for us to enjoy the blessings of His mercy by repenting of our sins, turning from our weakness and turning to Him. (That's Liz Lemon Swindle's depiction of Christ in Gethsemane, by the way.)

Over the next few posts, I intend to talk about the atonement and its effect on my life and on the life of others. I suggest that the atonement is what allows us to change, to improve ourselves. The atonement is the key to the Lord’s mercy, without which we would be doomed.

I do not intend to enter into a debate about faith vs. works. I do not intend to split hairs about grace. Let me simply state that the grace of God allows us the opportunity to repent. Were it not for the grace of God, we would have no such alternative, and we would be consigned to live forever in our sin.

And make no mistake: we all live in sin. All of us. The Savior was the only perfect example. And that means that no matter how moral, no matter how well meaning, no matter how active in the church, no matter what leadership calling one may hold, we are all sinners. Period. King Benjamin was pretty clear on the topic, and if he was a beggar before God, then I certainly am.

So the question is, how do we allow the atonement to work on us? Is there something we can do to take advantage of this remarkable gift, available to all of God’s children?

The first principles and ordinances of the gospel give us a clue: Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will lead us to a desire to draw nearer to Him. That desire may inspire us to want to change, to repent, to turn to Him, to look to Him and live. As we do so, we will want to covenant to be His, a covenant we make at baptism and renew with the sacrament. And as we remember Him always and seek to keep his commandments, He will send the Comforter, the right to which we also receive by priesthood ordinance.

Having said that, I hope in the next few posts to think about how we can walk that path. My thoughts will come in three chunks: First, what can I do compared with what God can do. Second, What are those steps of repentance, and how do I really do it? And finally, having done it, how can I stay on the path?

I hope you’ll come back for the next three posts. I welcome your comments along the way, as always.

Part II here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Photography, fish and scripture study

We were on vacation again during the last few days – a family reunion near Zions National Park, and then a couple of nights in Las Vegas. (Talk about contrast! But that’s another post…)

While in Las Vegas, we visited the Shark Reef at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. The aquarium was really cool, frankly – lots of awesome fish, the names of which I will never remember. We saw piranhas, several varieties of shark (I liked the zebra shark the best), a komodo dragon (I know, not a fish, but it was there…), and many others. The aquarium was multi-level with large interconnected tanks. It didn’t have that fishy smell that some aquariums do (which is good, I think). And we saw this crazy fish: The unicorn tang.

Cool, huh? (That’s not our picture, by the way.)

But aside from the fish, here’s the thing I observed. My kids who were with us each had camera in hand and spent the first part of their visit staring into their cameras. Everything they saw was through the viewfinder or on the 2-inch square screen on the back of their cameras. The photos weren’t great because they were shooting through the glass of the displays, and – most important to me – they were so focused on getting photos, they weren’t really seeing the fish!

As I encouraged them to put down the cameras a bit, it occurred to me that I do the same thing with my scriptures. What I get out of my scripture study is directly related to the lens through which I read them. If I go looking for support for a specific idea, I’m likely to see lots of evidence to support my point of view. I’ll search out those verses that address my particular question, and I may limit my reading to those specific verses.

When I take a wider view, however, I’m more likely to see context and connections I’d otherwise miss. If I can read with an open mind, allowing myself to be open to new ideas and thoughts, I can learn more from my reading than just the one subject I have in mind. I will often find connections with things I have read a week or a month or a year ago.

It was this kind of open reading that led me to realize a few years ago how many times the Book of Mormon refers to the story of Moses’ raising the serpent on his staff, and the value for the Nephites (and me) of reflecting on that imagery. It was this kind of open reading that led me to think just this week more about covenants. I wrote recently about the covenant made by the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, and just this week I read about the covenant Nephites made regarding the Title of Liberty. Those two separate events reminded me of the importance of individual covenants.

I think, frankly, there’s a place for both kinds of study. Subject-matter study is valuable (and recommended by many general authorities), especially when we don’t stop at the top three verses in the topical guide. There’s value in reading before and after a cited verse to capture context and to frame our understanding. There’s great value in studying the subject of faith or the atonement or resurrection. And I believe that study could generally include more than just a reading of verses from the topical guide. It might also include the words of modern prophets to see how they incorporate scriptures into their messages on the subject.

My daughter wrote recently from the MTC that she’s been counseled to consider buying an inexpensive copy of the Book of Mormon and to read it with a particular question or topic in mind and mark it accordingly, and then to repeat the exercise with another copy, and so on, until she has a collection of books, each marked for a specific purpose. It would be an interesting exercise (one which, I believe, would require a great deal of discipline to stay on task), and I will try it soon.

For now, however, I am happy to reading the Book of Mormon with a broader view, looking this time for connections and context and counsel that grows out of my study.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

An Awesome Elders Quorum President

I have long held that a great elders quorum president is an unsung hero in the church.

The bishop gets lots of praise and thanks, and he deserves it, too. The Relief Society president should be recognized as one of the bishop’s greatest co-workers in his ministry, particularly to the poor, and a wise bishop takes great advantage of that resource.

A good elders quorum president may well have (if he's doing everything he should) a church workload quite similar to the bishop’s, but he gets little recognition for what he does. The elders quorum president – the only other Melchizedek Priesthood holder in the ward with keys – does all his work at the retail level. And yet, he's often seen as "one of the guys" among his own quorum and among others in the ward.

I thought about all of this yesterday as I attended my nephew’s ward for his mission farewell talk. (He was also awesome, by the way – really awesome!) In the third hour, the bishop led the combined elders quorum and high priest group in a discussion of a couple of topics of importance to him, including home teaching. Toward the end of the bishop's comments on home teaching, the elders quorum president stood briefly to remind his quorum he had just redone the home teaching assignments (he’d made the same announcement in opening exercises), and then he did the awesome thing: he bore his testimony of the inspiriation he had received in making these assignments.

It was the bearing of that testimony that was moving to me, and I’m not even in his ward. And yet, I could feel that here was a quorum president who had counseled with the Lord and sought His guidance in making the assignments he had. He may well have counseled with others (and would have been wise to do so), but he made it clear that these were not just assignments based on geography or demographics, but on spiritual confirmation.

I believe (and hope) this happens in the church more often than we realize, that local leaders who are doing their best to honor their covenants and magnify their callings go to the Lord for His help and guidance in the work He’s called them to do. I know I did when I was an elders quorum president and a bishop. And I watch my lovely wife do the same in her present calling in the stake Relief Society presidency. I know that many Primary teachers pray about how to reach one or another of the kids in their classes. I know that youth leaders pray to understand how to approach a particularly surly youth to help soften his heart to the possibility of spiritual influence.

We’ve all heard the occasional story of a calling made out of desperation rather than inspiration. But I believe and hope those are the exceptions. I’ve sat in plenty of corporate personnel meetings in which we’ve tried to decide who should do what job. I’m happy to say my experience in the church is very different as we prayerfully considered who to recommend or who to call.

So, kudos to that elders quorum president, and to all those local leaders who seek to magnify their callings by seeking to know God’s will for them in their service.