The following is a talk I gave in church two weeks ago on “Faith.” I included it here because it is a part of my journey and my story:
Apparently, I have raised a family of highly competent and competitive children. It is not uncommon for the simplest of family activities to turn into a full-blown competition, complete with lively and braggadocious conversations about how this one or that one is going to “out do” the others. These contests of strength and prowess can come up in nearly any conversation, and on almost any topic, “well, if Brent can do it, then I certainly can!” We pick on Brent because he is pretty much accomplished at everything he does, and we love him, so we don’t want him to get a big head. Plus, he is generally good-natured and self-deprecating about his abilities and accomplishments. On the other hand, when it comes to me, I am the low bar standard of family competitions. In tones that are less than flattering it is declared, “Well, if Maaa-ggaahhh can do it…” (My Grandchildren call me Magah.) The grandkids even join in on that one! And that is ok. I am happy to be the low bar standard, if it is the best motivation to get them moving in the right direction.
In this atmosphere of good-natured ribbing and one-up-man-ship, we give each other the faith to try. To pursue the unknown, and to go where no man, or woman, has gone before. I say, dream big. “Go big, or go home” is my motto. If we turn it into a competition, we can generally get each other to do almost anything, including playing Nertz with the Bennett’s, wherein we KNOW we are going to lose before we even get started. And yet we continue to engage because we have faith, that one day, we will take them down!
According to Joseph Smith in his Lectures on Faith, “faith is the moving cause of all action…in all intelligent beings. All accountable and intelligent beings have faith in this sense. Such is part of life itself. Because faith dwells in the hearts of all mankind, they sow with the assurance of reaping; they plant with the hope of harvesting; they exert themselves in the pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and intelligence because they believe they can obtain them. Without this faith, both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity and their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.”
Unlike, our family that uses competition and comparison for the faith to try, our Father in Heaven shows us in His character, attributes and perfections, a more excellent way. We know from the scriptures the nature of God is that:
- He is an eternal being
- He is merciful and gracious
- He is an unchangeable being
- He is truthful
- He is impartial
- He is loving
And because we know He is these things, we can center our faith on him to lay claim on eternal life and salvation.
It is upon this sure foundation of the character, attributes and perfections of God, and his Son, Jesus Christ, that we hear prophets declare with unshakable assurance things like;
“With God nothing shall be impossible.” Luke 1:37
“I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheth me.” Philippians 4:13
Because their character’s are unimpeachable, because their attributes are completely just, and because they are perfect, we can have absolute faith in them to do whatever is necessary for us to reach out to them and never let go. And this faith allows us to move forward with the utmost confidence that they will do what they say, and that if we follow them, we can, through them, lay claim to salvation and eternal life! I can even know that I can beat the Bennett’s at Nertz if I want it enough.
Brothers and Sisters, the way I see it, there is no downside to this arrangement! We all can know with absolute assurance that we can, and will be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, no matter what else may happen to us! And all because we know God and Jesus Christ are eternal, merciful and gracious, unchangeable beings, who are truthful, impartial and loving. They have always been this way, they will always be this way, yesterday, today and forever. You can rely on them 100% for forever! Once we grasp this about them, we will no longer wonder why we can do anything because of them!
So, yes, I may be the low bar standard to any competition in my family. But am I really? Most of you know I am having to endure a terrible trial, one that is so devastatingly challenging, that is has wrenched my gut, snapped all my heartstrings, and left me to cry everyday in a fetal position in the corner for the better part of two-years. But even in this condition I had the good sense, like Peter, who was sinking into the depths of the sea, to cry out, “Lord, save me!” Why? Because I know instinctively, who it is “who is mighty to save!” I know who I am, and whose I am. So that in my hour of desperate darkness, I know where to find the light, however faint it might be to me at any given moment.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39
As I mentioned before, I learned, though this experience, that my default button is faith. It is what enabled me to cry out, instinctively, and desperately, in my deepest hour of need, “Lord! Save me!” But I did not know I would, or could, do that, until it actually happened. I didn’t come here in a day, a week or a year. It was a thousand little choices over a lifetime that led me to this place. It was placing one foot in front of the other and moving along the path of my life, having faith in a loving Heavenly Father and his Son Jesus Christ because I knew their nature, character, attributes and perfections.
Bruce R. McConkie stated:
“In order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path – thus charting a course leading to eternal life – and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship….What you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and decent people live in the Church – keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes…you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure.”
Brothers and Sisters, it really is just that easy, but you have to decide, today, which path you want to be on and who you will follow? You just have to make up your mind to give the Lord your heart, and let’s be honest, that is the only gift you have to give him, because everything else is already His.
So what exactly are the mile markers on the path of faith? How do we train ourselves to have a muscle memory of faith so that when the storms of life rage all around us we instinctively cry out, “Lord, save me?”
Nephi lays it all out for me with such plainness that even I could understand and apply it:
“And now my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this straight and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for you have not come thus far save it were but the word of Christ with the unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
Wherefore, ye must press forward, with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting up the words of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father; ye shall have eternal life.” 2 Nephi:19-20
In order to understand this scripture and why the Lord was recommending it to me in my greatest hour of need, I spent the better part of a whole year, studying it, word by precious word. I unpacked it, held up each nugget and gem to the light, and put it under a magnifying glass as I studied every facet, looked at the color, the beauty, and sought to understand how it applied to my life. As a result I gathered a few exquisite gospel diamonds along the way. This setting does not allow me to do any justice to what I learned over the last year, so I will share just a few of them with you in the hope that you will pursue a similar quest of your own. Trust me, there is much there to explore! For instance, there are over 100 General Conference Talks that reference this scripture alone.
Press Forward means leaning into the direction you are facing with all our might, mind and strengthen. Moving toward a new destination and successful conclusion. To do this we must “set our hearts on the things that matter most” according to Elder Uchtdorf. He states,
“We have a tendency to focus on the insignificant and the expense of the profound…we know what matters most in life…our weakness comes in failing to align our actions with our conscience. How you spend your quiet time may provide a valuable clue to what matters most to you. Where do your thoughts go when the pressure of a deadline is gone?”
When the pressure is on from people and things that would detract us from the things that matter most, what will our response be?
Steadfastness in Christ
Steadfast means to be resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering; steadfastly loyal.
Nephi said it best: “Oh that I might be like unto this valley, firm, steadfast and immoveable in keeping the commandments of the Lord.” When it comes to the commandments we must be firm, steadfast and immovable. There is no wiggle room. Commandments keep us safe! They are the boundaries in our lives that keep the bad stuff out. The idea that Commandments = Boundaries caught my attention because much of my recovery work centers around having good boundaries so I can feel safe and protected from further abuse, and just like a property line around our homes, our boundaries tell Satan, in no uncertain terms, this is where I will go and no farther. I choose to stay on God’s side of the line. I choose to be safe! I learned that when I am steadfast in my life:
- I have very clear boundaries for myself and others.
- I have a clear vision for my life – when I have a clear vision for my life, that allows me to make very clear choices, because I know, without a doubt where I am going and what I need to do to get there.
- I pray and study the scriptures to know where the Lord wants me to go and what I should be doing to get there.
- I am always abounding in good works because idle hands are the devils playground so doing good keeps me out of mischief.
When you know where you are going you will make choices that bring you to safety so that you will have peace. Safety and peace are the fruits of good choices.
Perfect Brightness of Hope
Hope is hard for me, even of a good day. But when your forever is destroyed, regular everyday hope is a challenge, but a perfect brightness of hope seemed unattainable to me. Because of this, I almost skipped over it in my study. I’m glad I didn’t. Suffering brings with it a special understand, according to Elder Maxwell. Elder Maxwell and I share a kinship we didn’t have before. Suffering changes your very nature. My experience is no different. Through the effects of my husband’s addiction and denial I developed betrayal trauma, also known to most of you as PTSD. Through triggers, that exist almost everywhere I go, I am routinely thrust into fear, pain, anxiety and sheer panic. I experience the most irrational onslaught of feelings when I least expect it. Fun huh? I am told emotional, as well as physical torture does this to a person. I tell you these things not so that you pity me, but so that you will believe what I am about to say to you. In this condition, I don’t feel very hopeful for my life or my future, like at all. Hope is not in my wheelhouse. Yet even in this condition I found a way to hope and so can you.
In the immortal words of Jeffrey R. Holland:
“In the gospel of Jesus Christ we have help from both sides of the veil. When disappointment and discouragement strike—and they will—we need to remember that if our eyes could be opened, we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see, riding at great speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.”
In the hour of my greatest need, I was given strength beyond my own to keep going. I learned later that a great temptation for someone in my shoes is to give up on everything they have ever know. Many of them say, “If this could happen to me, when I have been good, and faithful, my entire life, what is the point?” Often the betrayed turn to an affair of their own to deaden the pain. Drinking and drugs are also a very common response. I must admit these things did cross my mind, for a minute, but something else came into my mind, these word from Elder Uchtdorf;
“One of the purposes of the Church is to nurture and cultivate the seed of faith—even in the sometimes sandy soil of doubt and uncertainty. Faith is to hope for things which are not seen but which are true.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters—my dear friends—please, first doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. We must never allow doubt to hold us prisoner and keep us from the divine love, peace, and gifts that come through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
These are just not pretty sentiments. They are solid doctrine taught with power by one who knows both the challenges we face, and the Lord who makes the promises. His words are power until salvation because he has it on solid authority, he has it on God’s authority! Words that are mighty to save! And indeed they are! These words gave me the hope I needed to find my faith when I felt like everything was lost and there was no hope.
Feasting on the Word
This whole talk is the evidence of what can happen when you feast upon the words of Christ. Just do it! You won’t regret it. If you want to know how, come talk to me.
Endure to the End
Enduring to the end is not my favorite. I actually hated this phrase, until Elder Wirthlin got a hold of me. Prior to that, I felt like enduring to the end was like riding Screamin’ at Disneyland, hanging on for dear life, until it is over. No thank you. I’ll pass.
What I learned from Elder Wirthlin about enduring to the end changed me, and my perspective. He said;
“Enduring to the end is the doctrine of continuing on the path leading to eternal life after one has entered the path through faith, repentance, baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. Enduring to the end requires our whole heart…and offering our whole souls as an offering unto him, and continuing in fasting and prayer. Enduring to the end means that we have planted our lives firmly on gospel soil…those who endure are balance, consistent, humble, constantly improving and without guile.”
Enduring to the end is a bedrock doctrine. That means you can ground yourself to it and stand immoveable. It is not just suffering through our challenges. And it is not a white-knuckle experience. Enduring to the end is actually the process of coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him! I cannot white knuckle it through life! That is not for me. But I can, and want, to Come unto Christ!
Earlier in this talk I mentioned muscle memory. That was for a reason. We cannot get to the “default of faith” without consistent practice. Practice really does make perfect!
When my son, Brent was 4 years old, he told me he wanted to learn to play the piano. I told him that if he took piano lessons that he would be required to practice thinking it would deter him, I made practicing sound horrible. After all he was only four. But he was determined to learn to play so he agreed. Now we all know a four-year old had no idea what he was getting himself into, but nevertheless, I hired a piano teacher (Heavenly Father) who I paid to teach my son piano lessons. (Jesus) Because I paid the debt to the piano teacher, I could require something of my son in return – practice. But does his practice pay me or the piano teacher back? No, not really. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for the indescribable gift of piano lessons. But it is still a debt he can never repay sufficiently. I figured out that over the course of time I paid over $15,000 for piano lessons for my son. If any of you have heard him play then you will agree that the price was well worth it!
By giving my son piano lesson I was also giving him the opportunity to live his life on a higher level and in this case, to earn some money in return by teaching others to play. For me, the joy is not found in getting repaid, the joy is found in seeing my gift being used and to watch my son improve.
In his talk, “His Grace is Sufficient”, Brad Wilcox says;
“But don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?”
“When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).
And so it takes practice. Lots of it. Playing over and over, until we get it right, until it becomes a part of us, until we are changed, and until it become second nature. This kind of practice creates a muscle memory so that when we are scared or distracted or hurt or suffering during the most important performances of our lives, we can keep going, because we have done it before, and because we have done it before, we know that, when it really counts, we just do it by heart. It becomes our default button, because of consistent practice, over time.
So when the test is big and eternity hangs in the balance, and the afflictions come, as they surely will, our actions will respond by heart, because we practiced faith! So, even if you are only the low bar standard, you can still have faith to move in the right direction, step by step, because when it comes to faith, slow and steady does get you across the finish line.
After all, Brothers and Sisters, as my family will attest, if I can do it, anybody can.