Sunday, January 25, 2009

My Sacrament Meeting Talk

I was asked to speak in church today. It's been a long time. One of the last times I was asked to speak was on Mother's Day, three weeks after Kate was born, the Sunday after we'd spent three days in the hospital together. The bishopric thought it would be charming to have the newest mother in the ward speak. I was a weepy, hormonal mess, and did not think it was so charming. I'll just say, this talk was a lot less stressful to prepare, but the topic was ironic to me, considering all the searching I've done in the last few months. I think it shows Heavenly Father's sense of humor. Funny.

Anyway, here it is:

I’m grateful to be able to talk about commitment today. I was asked to talk about my commitment to the gospel and to the home as a mother and wife.

As I thought about commitment, especially as it pertains to both the gospel and my family, I came to the conclusion that for me, the two go hand in hand. Remaining committed to each takes time, work, and perseverance, but when I choose to show my commitment in these ways, I am blessed with peace and joy beyond the price I’ve paid.

When we begin the journey of membership in the Lord’s church, we covenant to remain faithful, to be committed. We start on the path to eternal life, trusting that the Lord will keep His promises to us if we keep our promises to Him.

After King Benjamin’s people made a covenant to be children of Christ, he asked them to consider their commitment to Christ’s name which they had taken upon them, just as all of us who have been baptized have done. Mosiah 5:5 says “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all. Amen.”

Being committed to the gospel, or as King Benjamin said, “steadfast and immovable”, may appear to mean different things to each of us, depending on where we are on our life path. Maybe as a child, being committed to the gospel means attending church meetings, speaking in Primary when we’re asked, and being nice to other children at school. Maybe as we get older, our commitment to Christ will change the way we act in social situations. Maybe we will have the strength to stay away from alcohol, drugs, or pressure to be more relaxed in our standards, or to turn from those things if we slip. Maybe we will reach out to help others rather than isolate people who are different than we are. As we become adults, our commitment to living as Christ would have us do could mean choosing carefully what we do with our time, how we take care of our bodies and the resources God has given us, how we love others, and how we treat our families.

There is no doubt that being committed to the gospel takes effort and practice. The Lord knows that we need help to live at peace, and he offers us some backup. When we do these things, we are blessed with increased power and understanding. They help us to remain fixed and immovable in a time that is increasingly confusing.

The first help we’ve been given is our prophet. Elder Marion G. Romney recalled an experience he had with President Heber J. Grant:
“I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting, I drove him home. … When we got to his home I got out of the car and went up on the porch with him. Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church, and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray’ ” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1960, p. 78).
If we have faith that the Lord is at the head of this church and that he has placed a prophet in front of us to lead us, when we follow his counsel, we will be blessed. It is not always easy to follow the prophet. I believe many of us will be tested in our willingness to do it. But following him will protect us and will be evidence of our commitment. Dallin H Oaks said that when we have a prior witness to the calling of a prophet, following his counsel, even when difficult, is not blind obedience. It is moving forward in faith.

The next help we’ve been given that will help us remain committed to Jesus Christ’s gospel we sometimes call the seminary answers...You know what they are: study our scriptures, say personal prayers, attend the temple, and listen to the Holy Ghost.

We tend to take these things for granted, or worse, deal with guilt for not doing what we think we should be doing. What we need to remember is that each of these things are gifts. When we move forward on the gospel path by bringing one of these things into our lives, we are blessed in huge quantities. The Lord wants us to study the scriptures so we can have the knowledge we need to face the challenges in our lives.

Nephi taught us that using the word of God will protect us. 1 Nephi 15:23-24 And they said unto me: What meaneth the rod of iron which our father saw, that led to the tree? And I said unto them that it was the word of God; and whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.”

I promise that the Lord wants to bless us, not punish us. He wants us to use the gifts he’s given us to protect us, to let us have a life more full of joy, less full of pain. When we study the scriptures, pray meaningfully, attend the temple, and listen to the Holy Ghost, we are given armor to face the trials of life. We will also know which things need to be thrown out of our lives in order to stay safe.

When the Lamanites were converted by Ammon and his brothers, they believed wholeheartedly in the gospel principles that they were taught. They knew, however, that there was something in their life that could cause them to backslide, to lose the blessings of peace that they had just been given. Helaman 15:7-9 says “And behold, ye do know of yourselves, for ye have witnessed it, that as many of them as are brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea, the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a achange of heart unto them—Therefore, as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are afirm and steadfast in the faith, and in the thing wherewith they have been made free. And ye know also that they have aburied their weapons of war, and they fear to take them up lest by any means they should sin; yea, ye can see that they fear to sin—for behold they will suffer themselves that they be trodden down and slain by their enemies, and will not lift their swords against them, and this because of their bfaith in Christ.”

What do we need to bury? We WILL be inspired to know what we need to bury if we ask Heavenly Father. He will also give us the strength to be able to make these hard choices. Again, He doesn’t ask us to sacrifice these things to punish or to discipline us, but to prepare us for bigger and better things, for a life more full of joy.

The last thing we can do (among many others) is to endure to the end.

Endurance sometimes sounds painful. And certainly there are trials that will test our endurance. But endurance also just means staying the course, remaining faithful. Sometimes this is tremendously difficult, but other times it can be positively joyful.

Stephen Robinson said in an article in the Ensign, “We often refer to those who continue in their commitments to Christ as being “faithful.” In the Old Testament, the words for faith, faithful, and faithfulness all come from the Hebrew ‘aman, which means “to be firm or reliable” and implies primarily qualities of loyalty and determination. Thus, being faithful means that we can be trusted to keep our commitments. The covenants of baptism and of the temple are solemn promises we make to God about how we will conduct our lives. Enduring to the end is keeping those promises throughout our lives—no matter what. It means we don’t quit because of life’s difficulties or temptations. Conversely, failing to endure means backing away from what we’ve started—first promising loyalty to God and then withholding what we promised. Endurance is not so much a matter of stamina as it is a matter of loyalty and integrity. Can you be trusted to faithfully hold your course? Just as a spouse who can be trusted to keep the marriage covenant is called faithful, so those who can be trusted to keep their gospel covenants are called faithful.”

I can guarantee that our faith will be challenged in this life. It’s a given. Some of us have gifts of the spirit that make this challenge easy to face. There are others of us who may struggle at some time or another. Having doubts does not mean that the gospel is not true or not beautiful. When we do face doubts, there are at least a couple of options in how we face them. We can turn away from what we’ve learned, or we can remember the powerful moments that we have experienced God’s grace or inspiration or testimony, and face our doubts through the glass of faith. If we do this, by fasting and prayer and temple attendance, I testify that Heavenly Father will make our way more clear and will help us have the faith to face our challenges.

Brother Robinson added later in his article, “Happily, failing to endure is not a sin one commits once and for all time. While we remain in mortality, we always have the option of repentance. Not long ago, I met a former student who had lost his membership as a result of repeated, willful iniquity. He said that he wanted to straighten his life out. I asked him if he had a testimony, and he said no, he didn’t. Surprised, I asked him why he wanted to repent and regain his membership if he didn’t have a testimony. I will never forget his answer: “I don’t know right now that the Church is true, but I know that I once knew, and I know God knows I once knew. The Church didn’t change between then and now—I did. And now I want to know again what I knew before, and I am willing to repent to do it.” Even when one’s endurance has failed before the end, repentance can bring about a new beginning.”

Elder Ballard said in an article in the Ensign in 2000, that “each one of us needs to follow Nephi’s counsel to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. [For] if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne. 31:20). The power of the Holy Ghost will fill our hearts and minds as we look to the Savior for answers to the many challenges of life.”

Being committed to my family as a mother and wife is so similar to being committed to the gospel. The gospel gives us ideals, a quest to become perfect as the Savior is (which is of course, not attainable in this life.) We are also given ideals for our families. We all fall short of the ideal (or at least, I’ve not yet met a family that DOESN’T fall short of the ideal, even though lots of you come close), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing our best in this life. The Lord doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up about the mistakes we make in our families or in our relationships. Instead, he wants us to become who he sees that we CAN become, through repentance and through His atonement.

So, if there’s more yelling in my home than the ideal (and I can guarantee there is), I could either beat myself up that I have a bad temper and I’ll never change, or I can turn to the Lord and ask him for inspiration for how to help our family deal with stressful situations better.

Another way we can be committed to our families is by asking for revelation to help our families succeed. Heavenly Father wants to give us inspiration. The answers we receive may be different than what we expect, but He will guide us if we are willing. Last year, we struggled to know how to lower the stress in our home. We said many prayers, we fasted more than once, and we asked for guidance to make hard decisions. At the end of this time, it was clear to us that we were being led to a decision for me to stop teaching piano. I had been teaching for nearly 17 years and had many students that I loved and had taught for years. It was an agonizing decision, but it was undoubtedly the right one. Once I stopped teaching, the stress level in our home dropped enormously, and things, while certainly not perfect, have improved dramatically. I am grateful for the Lord’s inspiration to help us have a happier family. Certainly this answer was not the same years ago. For many years, quitting was not an option. The Lord gave us other answers during these years, like wonderful babysitters to help our family, or good friends to help during difficult times. But at this time in our lives, the answer was clear and right.

To me, being committed is being willing to keep moving forward, one step at a time, always looking ahead. If challenges push us back on the path, the important thing is which direction we’re facing, not how far we’ve come. Christ’s Atonement is not just a nice idea to help us along our journey. His Atonement is the way we are able to make the journey.

Joshua 24:15 says “Choose you this day whom ye will serve,...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” I promise you that as I have chosen to remain committed to the gospel and to my family, even when challenged by enormous difficulties, I have been blessed with a knowledge that this is what Heavenly Father wants me to do. He has given me strength to withstand the fiery darts of the adversary, to bring me back again and again to the path to peace and eternal life. I pray that He will continue to do so until I have endured to the end.


Liz said...

I didn't take the time to read it again, but in church it was wonderful. It truly inspired me to be more committed. The lady after you however, I couldn't get past her looks, icheywawa. Jeff

Malisa said...

I think the comment above is so funny.

That's a nice talk, Kerri. Did you feel like it went well?

I think I've always known I'm commited. That's why I'm still doing what I'm doing. I liked how you talked about scripture reading and such - just like you told me before. I really do need to add in ALL of those things.

Now, I was wondering why you said this -
"I can guarantee that our faith will be challenged in this life. It’s a given. Some of us have gifts of the spirit that make this challenge easy to face."
I'll need to talk to you about that.

And as for me - what I prepared for church didn't go so well. No one wanted to listen and just ran around in circles. Ugh. :)