Be Kind

If you know me, you know I love all things Elder Holland. So it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this morning I was re-listening to a Holland talk from General Conference. I’ll be giving the spiritual thought on Sunday as well as tomorrow night at my presidency meeting so I was trying to think of a good quote to share. Then I remembered a line from “Laborers in the Vineyard”, “be kind and be grateful that God is kind.” 

So I listened to the talk to see if there was a longer quote to share but also just to refresh my memory because sometimes I remember quotes ALMOST right and reread to find I missed a word or two or the context. I thought this would be a good quote to share for a spiritual thought because Thursday night for our activity we are doing something about bullying. An activity to show how much we have in common and the different things and experiences people have. We’re basically just going through a link I’ll post later. 

Anyway. Listening to the talk reminded me of a time in my life when I was mad because someone else was getting blessings when I believed they should have been feeling the wrath of God. I learned a lot during this time about perceived hurts, forgiveness, and being kind. 

I think at the time I was so hurt that I didn’t think about how the Atonement applies to other people. I was very selfish, and I know this because I felt that if God loved me he should avenge me – without thinking and acknowledging that we are all God’s children.  If God should punish this other person for what they had done to me, what made me think I deserved mercy for things I had done to other people?  This is all in retrospect of course-in real time it took me months to get over the hurt and pain and to live my life without it being tainted by a desire to rip this other person’s eyes out. 

The Lord IS kind. There are many things I don’t deserve forgiveness for, yet he forgives me if I ask. He even forgives me for the months I wasted hating another person, being jealous that they seemed to be getting all they wanted while I was left hurting and alone.  So when Elder Holland says, “be kind” I feel like it’s more than just “smile at strangers”, but rather it’s be forgiving, be merciful, be understanding, be selfless. Learn to love as the Savior does. That’s a big order for a mortal person but I feel secure that the Lord will see you trying and he will bless you for your efforts. 

If you are struggling to forgive someone for something they’ve done to you, perceived or real, I suggest you read Eder Holland’s talk.  Carrying around grudges is exhausting and it does more damage to you than anyone else-I don’t say this because others have, I say this from experience. I know the weight of the burden and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the miracle of feeling that burden finally lifted. Choose kindness, choose love and you will have more of it in your life. 

I’ll leave you with two paragraphs from that talk that made a big difference in my life. 

“I do not know who in this vast audience today may need to hear the message of forgiveness inherent in this parable, but however late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.

Whether you are not yet of our faith or were with us once and have not remained, there is nothing in either case that you have done that cannot be undone. There is no problem which you cannot overcome. There is no dream that in the unfolding of time and eternity cannot yet be realized. Even if you feel you are the lost and last laborer of the eleventh hour, the Lord of the vineyard still stands beckoning. “Come boldly [to] the throne of grace,” and fall at the feet of the Holy One of Israel. Come and feast “without money and without price” at the table of the Lord.”

Public Speaking…

I gave a talk yesterday – I think my anxiety is worse while pregnant, but I’m not sure.  Once I got up and started talking I was fine but I’ll tell you what, the moment I sat down I couldn’t help but smile with relief that it was over!  Anyway – here’s my talk (minus the intro) for those who are interested.

My talk today is on the mutual theme for 2017.

When I was younger and we had a research project it involved many hours at the library, using a card catalog and finding the book I hoped would have the information I needed.  Then I actually had to read through it to take notes or photocopies and keep them all together so when it came time to write my paper I didn’t have to do the whole search all over again.  All this work made it so that when I was curious about something, such as, how are marshmallows made, I chalked it up to a mystery of the universe and forgot about it.

Then came the internet, and soon smart phones,  so that you could hold in your hand the gateway to learning anything you wanted within seconds of wanting to learn it.  You could Google how marshmallows are made and not only learn how it’s done in a factory, but make your very own at home!  We have such quick access to knowledge and information, finding the answer can be as quick as opening a web browser or even telling your phone to look it up for you.  We can find any useful or absolutely useless tidbit online.  But while the internet can give us information and knowledge it cannot give us wisdom.  Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information.  Wisdom is the combination of knowledge and experiences creating insights that deepen one’s understanding of relationships and the meaning of life.

Knowledge can be acquired in seconds, but wisdom is something that takes a little bit more time and more effort on our part.  The scripture for the Mutual Theme for 2017 is James 1:5-6 , but it has been summed up into one word.  Ask.  I love this, because the first thing it tells us is that it’s okay to have questions.  With this scripture, we find out who and how to ask.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” – it doesn’t say, “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of Google, Siri, or Wikipedia.”  Next, it says, “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” To me, this means asking with faith that the Lord will answer our prayers, but also, that we can be depended on to do the work required.  Sheri Dew said in a recent BYU-Idaho devotional, “None of us are entitled to revelation without effort on our part.  Answers from God don’t just magically appear.”

I know that sometimes, I pray without real intent to act, I just expect the Lord to take care of things.  Elder Bednar says about James 1:5-6, “Please notice the requirement to ask in faith, which I understand to mean the necessity to not only express but to do, the dual obligation to both plead and to perform, the requirement to communicate and to act.”  When I was attending BYU-Idaho, Elder Bednar was then President Bednar and he would have family home evenings with different student wards throughout the school year.  I remember on one such occasion he explained the same idea.  He told us, if there was an answer we were seeking, we should not only pray, but act.  Meaning, we should study it out, we should attend all our Sunday meetings, we should participate in classes and volunteer to pray, we should serve in the Temple.  We should show the Lord we are ready for an answer and we should be where the answers can come.  Every time I have needed an answer from the Lord, I remember this counsel.  I cannot tell you how many times I have received answers during Sacrament talks, General Conference, Sunday School, reading my scriptures, or at the temple.

When we pray, we should keep in mind that we aren’t just expressing a desire to the Lord, but we are willing to do what it takes to achieve that desire.  I remember shortly after college, praying each and every night for my parents.  My father’s business partner had passed away and the company struggled to survive through the recession.  Despite his best efforts, the company had failed.  My parents were also raising my two young cousins and it hadn’t been easy, emotionally or financially.  I prayed that the Lord would bless them for the sacrifices they were making and that they would have the things they needed.  When I prayed this, I had the faith the Lord would do it, I just didn’t think about HOW he would do it.  Several weeks later, I got a phone call from my dad and I could tell it was difficult for him to ask, but he needed to borrow money and he wondered if I would be able to help him.  He told me to not answer right away but to think about it.  I hung up the phone with him and checked the amount in my savings account.  It was just a few dollars more than what he would need.  My stomach clenched, if I gave him the money I would have nothing to fall back on if something happened.  But then I remembered the words of my many prayers for my parents and realized that I was going to be the vehicle for which the Lord would answer those prayers.  I know my father was inspired to ask me.  I also know it was no coincidence that the amount he needed was almost exactly what I had in my savings account.  The Lord was asking me to act to answer my prayers.  I didn’t hesitate after that.  I wrote the check to my dad.    Grateful that my prayers had been answered and also grateful for the lesson that sometimes we are the answers to our own prayers.

I debated sharing this next story with you because it involves Facebook but it’s just one example of the ever widening gap between the world and God and the danger of attaining knowledge but not wisdom.  About a week ago, a friend of mine shared a video that had gone viral of a little boy reciting his ABCs, except that with each letter, he recited a bible verse.  I thought the video was cute and the verses he recited were also training to be a good citizen.  Anyway, I “liked” the video and then for some reason I can’t explain, I looked at the comments.  Most were very positive, they also enjoyed this cute video, they loved seeing parents teaching their children about God, etc. etc.  But there were some angry comments about brainwashing this child to believe in God and denying him the ability to choose what to believe.   I closed Facebook, only to wake up at 2 am the next morning, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about these comments and the blatant attack on religion.  I kept thinking about how these people had the knowledge of the world but not the wisdom of God.  I thought of 2 Nephi 9:28 “… When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not.”  The people leaving the negative comments used language making them sound like a philosophy textbook (I hated my philosophy class).  They argued that this wasn’t the same as educating a child but denying him free will.  I disagree.  These parents armed their child with building blocks so as he grows older and gains experience, he can come to know the truth for himself.  Because of what they are teaching him, he will be better able to choose for himself.  To quote Sheri Dew again, she says, “There have always been and will always be charismatic men and women who can launch what sound like, on the surface, reasoned arguments against the Father and the Son, the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and living prophets.  But doubters and pundits never tell the whole story, because they don’t know the whole story-and don’t want to know.  They opt for clever sound bites, hoping no one digs deeper than they have.  Sound bites will never lead to a testimony.  As seekers of truth, our safety lies in asking the right questions, in faith, and of the right sources-meaning those who only speak truth: such as the scriptures, prophets, and the Lord through the Holy Ghost.”

Each and every one of us comes to at least one moment in our lives where we must choose for ourselves what we believe.  Parents and leaders can teach you the things of God, but they cannot give you your testimony or conversion.  For that, you must do as President Hinckley said, “Get on your knees and pray, then get on your feet and work.”

The world in which we live does not make it easy or popular to follow the Lord.  I found two quotes that were similar.  The first comes from Elder James E. Faust back in 1987, he said, “In the future the opposition will be both more subtle and more open.  It will be masked in greater sophistication and cunning, but it will also be more blatant.  We will need greater spirituality to perceive all of the forms of evil and greater strength to resist it.  But the disappointments and setbacks to the work of God will be temporary, for the work will go on.”

And the other quote is from President Uchtdorf, “Satan, our adversary, wants us to fail.  He spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief.  He slyly suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent, while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naive, blind, or brainwashed.  Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets.”  It is not only the youth who are exposed to the temptations and the flattery of the world, but each and every one of us.  The theme, though for the youth program, is something that we all need to help strengthen us against the adversary.

The questions we have or will have, that we can take to the Lord vary – from doctrinal to personal.  I’ve asked the Lord questions ranging from, “was Joseph Smith really a prophet?” to “do you  love me?”  You may have questions about if the Lord can forgive you for something you’ve done, or you may be asking if the Book of Mormon is true.  It is more important than ever that we seek wisdom from the Lord to help strengthen us.  Don’t be afraid to ask the Lord, as the scripture says, He giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not.  This means he doesn’t deny anyone, he gives openly and generously, and he won’t criticize or scold you for humbly seeking an answer.  Sheri Dew suggests two questions to start you off with, the first, “ask the Lord to teach you what it feels and sounds like for you when He is speaking to you through the Holy Ghost.”  The second is, “if you’ve never asked the Lord how He feels about you, that is a great question to ask.”  Even if you have asked that one before, may I suggest that if you are struggling whether it’s with a question, or a trial, ask Him again.  He understands that sometimes we need reassurance and a reminder that we are his children.

The answers we are seeking do not always come the way we expect them to, so we need to listen up and pay attention.  I remember one year listening to conference, and it had been an emotionally trying year.  I was almost 30 and had ended a bad relationship and I was so angry at this other person that I struggled to feel the spirit and to feel God’s love for me.  My questions for conference that year, were if the Lord could forgive me and help me stop being so angry and if I would one day get married and have children.  I still remember Elder Shayne Bowen standing up at the pulpit and sharing the story of losing his 8-month old son because he aspirated on a piece of chalk.  The talk, while moving, seemed to be about parenthood and losing a child, but I had learned many years before not to ignore something because I didn’t think it applied to me.  Near the end of the talk, came the answer I was seeking.  He said, “As I felt the guilt, anger, and self-pity trying to consume me, I prayed that my heart could change.  Through very personal sacred experiences, the Lord gave me a new heart, and even though it was still lonely and painful, my whole outlook changed.  I was given to know that I had not been robbed but rather there was a great blessing awaiting me if I would prove faithful.”

His statement not only brought me great comfort and proved to me that the Lord still loved me because he answered my questions, but it also showed me what I needed to do to overcome my anger and self pity and promised that I would not be denied blessings if I proved faithful.  I do want to add that just hearing this didn’t fix everything, it started my journey.  I had the answers, now I had to do the work.  It took several months, many more prayers, and many personal sacred experiences, but I was able to overcome that trial.  Brothers and Sisters, and especially the youth, navigating through mortality certainly isn’t easy, but I promise if you come to the Lord and ask in faith, nothing wavering, he will give you revelation, peace, and joy.