I spoke on Sunday for the first time since I was released as bishop. It was a little weird, as I was used to speaking with some authority, and now I’m just another guy. However, when sharing a message about the gospel, I guess you still have the authority of the Holy Ghost.
It seemed to go well, and I had some positive feedback.
Below you will find the text of my talk. A couple of notes:
Let me start with a story I heard recently…In 1914, a boy named Jerry (Siegel) was born in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. In the same year, a boy named Joe (Shuster) was born in Toronto, before moving to Jerry’s neighbourhood when he was around 10 years old. Jerry was always a small boy, and he was often teased. Sometimes, this wasn’t his fault. At one point in the first grade, he asked for a hall pass from his teacher so he could go to the bathroom. The teacher wouldn’t let him, and he had an embarrassing accident. There were other humiliating experiences during his school years. Since he spent a lot of time alone, he started to write stories about a bad man trying to control the world. He called him The Super-Man.
Jerry was the youngest of 6 kids and his dad ran a used clothing store in the city.
“One day three guys came into that store. They tried on a suit and walked out without paying for it. As his dad, Michael, tried to stop them, he had a heart attack and Jerry’s dad dropped dead. He didn’t even make it to the hospital. Suddenly this little boy’s hero and mentor, his dad, was gone. This sort of gave him clarity. The character that had a hyphen and was a bad guy, suddenly dropped the hyphen and dropped the bad guy routine and in the first drawing that we have of that initial rendition of Superman as hero [that Jerry had asked Joe to draw], we have a Superman who is coming in trying to save a guy who looks suspiciously like Jerry’s dad who was being attacked by robbers. This hero of Jerry’s did what Jerry couldn’t do; he saved his dad.”
What a horrible thing to happen to anyone. What I find interesting about the story is the way that Jerry Siegel reacted. He’d had a difficult childhood, and his original stories were about a man trying to control the world (apparently it was a bald man with telepathic powers). It was something that I’m sure was on his mind as he was being bullied. When he faced this traumatic event in his family, there are those who would have thought he was justified if his character had gone darker and violent. But at that moment in time, Jerry went the other way. His character became a hero. Instead of being a bad guy, The Super-Man became Superman, a hero for all, someone who could protect people who had been bullied like him, as opposed to someone who contributed to it. The rest is history. The first comic with Superman appeared in 1938, and for the last 74 years there have been countless people who have been entertained and inspired by the adventures of Superman.
I want to talk about moments these sorts of moments, where we need to decide which path we take. What are we doing to make sure that when we have those moments, we are making the right decisions? Are there moments in our lives which, if we had made a different decision, would have made a drastic difference? I’m sure that there are. Families that have fallen apart because of infidelity certainly could be on a different track if it weren’t for specific moments. People who lose their jobs because of dishonesty or other such things definitely would have a different path if it weren’t for the wrong decisions they made at that moment.
I think for most of us, when we do make wrong decisions, we don’t feel the impact to such a degree. It reminds me of the talk that President Uchtdorf gave a few years ago. He told a story about a plane that had left New Zealand for a sight-seeing trip to Antarctica. The flight coordinates were off by just 2 degrees. Over the course of the trip, this led them to be 45 km off course. The plane tragically crashed into the side of a volcano. President Uchtdorf said:
It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees.
Through years of serving the Lord and in countless interviews, I have learned that the difference between happiness and misery in individuals, in marriages, and families often comes down to an error of only a few degrees.
President Uchtdorf went on to explain how, like a pilot, we need to make regular course corrections so we can get back on track.
Small errors and minor drifts away from the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring sorrowful consequences into our lives. It is therefore of critical importance that we become self-disciplined enough to make early and decisive corrections to get back on the right track and not wait or hope that errors will somehow correct themselves.
The longer we delay corrective action, the larger the needed changes become, and the longer it takes to get back on the correct course—even to the point where a disaster might be looming.
We are constantly making decisions. The freedom to choose is a vital part of our mortal existence. We make decisions about how we treat someone, what activity we’re going to participate in, and what we will say. When we find that it wasn’t the right decision or there was a better decision that could have been made, we’ll have another moment to choose. We can continue on the path we were on, or we can make the necessary correction and start down the right path.
I guess the question for me is how many of those moments are we going to have? How many chances are we going to have to make the right decisions? How many times can we repent and correct our course?
The scriptures teach us clearly that if we repent, we will be forgiven. In the book of Mosiah, the Lord makes this promise to Alma:
Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.
This scripture is pretty clear. If we sin, and repent, we’ll be forgiven. If we sin ten times and repent, we’ll be forgiven. I guess this goes even to the extent that if we sin a hundred times or a thousand times and repent a hundred times or a thousand times, we’ll be forgiven. But we know that at some point we have to stop. The decisions that we make at those moments need to get us back on the right path so that we aren’t committing those same sins again. The gift of repentance and forgiveness gives us all hope for a better world.
However, there are other scriptures that help us understand the time constraints that we have. Alma taught the following to Zeezrom:
And we see that death comes upon mankind, yea, the death which has been spoken of by Amulek, which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead.
Amulek also warned later about delaying our repentance.
And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.
Now is the time to prepare to meet God. We are not to procrastinate. Now is the time. It isn’t tomorrow; it wasn’t yesterday; it is now!
One last scripture… This makes me think of what Samuel the Lamanite said to the wicked Nephites. The people had focused on their possessions and their riches for far too long. They were not remembering God and how he had blessed them and their fathers. He warned the people about waiting until the “days of their poverty” before calling on God. In fact, it was already too late.
But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.
The people had been sinning for so long, that their time left was too short for them to repent in this life. So, how is it possible that one scripture says that if we repent we’ll be forgiven, and another scripture says that these people couldn’t repent and be forgiven? Well, it isn’t that God wouldn’t forgive them. With the decisions that they made, those were the consequences. They didn’t leave themselves enough time to have meaningful repentance. As Samule said, “it is everlastingly too late.” They didn’t have enough time to make restitution and to allow their hearts to change fully. These people had the records of the prophets from the beginning. They had been warned by the prophets in their midst that they need to change their ways. But in those moments, they made the wrong decisions.
Every day, we are in a similar situation. We are faced with living in this fallen world and fitting in, but thankfully we hear the voices of parents, leaders, and prophets warning us. There is a moment where you are standing with someone at work, and they say something unflattering about someone else. Perhaps you are standing in the hallway at school and someone comes along and invites you to go someplace you probably shouldn’t go. You spend time at home, but you are spending too much time on the computer or on your phone and the kids want to go do something. In any of these situations, what do you do?
A while ago Elder Bednar spoke to the YSA about seeing things as they really are. He said that the one of the main roles of the Holy Ghost is to help us see truth. The Church put together a beautiful Mormon Message based on this thought. The video shows a man in front of a computer screen, the lights are dim and the glow of the screen is lighting up his face. There are 2 different parts of the video. One shows where in that moment that he is called upon to be with his family, he is kind of hiding in a room and his reaction implies that he made the decision to indulge his physical appetites. The other example shows him closing his screen and returning to be with his family.
The other day I was speaking to someone about this topic. I shared that I had wondered if there were definitive moments in our lives that make us who we are. This person said that they definitely believed that and went on to share their experience. With permission, let me share just a bit. This person was married but the spouse had gotten into drugs. One day the spouse was snorting cocaine and had left some on the coffee table. The spouse handed the other spouse a rolled up bill and said, “Here, I have something for you.” The implication was that she could have the drugs. She indicated she was going to throw it out, and he asked why. She said that since it was given to her, it was hers, and she didn’t want it, so she was going to throw it out. Ultimately he used it, and she didn’t. This person I was speaking to still had troubles and challenges throughout her life, but she looks at that moment as a defining one. She feels that if she had tried it just once, she’d have been caught, and might very well have ended up on the street. As it was, eventually decisions were made that led her to St Catharines where she joined the Church. In sharing this story with me, the person said that it was good to talk about these things, so we can remember those moments. Hopefully our remembering will shape the decisions we make in the future moments.
Along with the moments that we have in life where we are consciously making decisions, I think there are also moments that God lets us experience. These could be for our benefit or for the benefit of others. I have wondered about moments that affect a member’s activity. Was there a moment that would have kept someone active in the Church? Perhaps more importantly, was there a moment that depended on someone else that would have kept them in the Church, but that person wasn’t there for them? I can picture a person struggling silently. They are waiting, hoping for someone to come and talk with them. Sure, it’d be great if they could reach out and find someone to talk to themselves, but in their state of mind, they just can’t do it. Unfortunately the visiting teachers and home teachers don’t visit. Perhaps the person came to Church and no one said hi to them. We’ve lost them. Always remember, that when we make decisions, they don’t just affect us, but everyone around us. I remember for a period of time I would pray that despite my failings, my family wouldn’t suffer because of them. This made sense to me. I was being unselfish, and praying for them. Then one day it hit me hard. How can I pray that my failings won’t affect them, when obviously my failings affect me? If I want my family to be happy, and loving, then I need to be happy and loving. I need to make the right decisions myself and then create an environment where my family can learn to make the right decisions.
Another aspect of these moments that God lets us experience is that you have to be involved. I’m sure you’ve been to meetings or conferences, maybe even gone home and visiting teaching, where you felt clearly, “I’m glad I was here”. Well, you were there. What would you have missed out on if you hadn’t been there? I think so much of the gospel is like this. You’ve probably heard me say before that I know we can’t do everything, but we have to do something. Is every RS activity exciting? Is every Mutual activity fun? Is the food at every ward picnic or Christmas dinner awesome? Is every talent show showcasing world-class talent? Of course not, but that’s all part of being in this Church community. We are brothers and sisters. We are a community of latter-day saints, and we need to be there for one another.
So we need to be involved, and at the same time we also need to be alert. We need to be conscious of the opportunities for good that are around us. We need to see God’s hand in all that is around us. It is far too easy for us to just float along. If that happens, we risk missing some of the moments that God wants us to experience. I think that Terryl Givens, a professor of literature and religion at Richmond University in Virginia said it best this way:
For me, a paradigm that I keep going back to is Isaiah chapter 9. Here’s Isaiah who [has] one of the most boring [sections]. [What] you have to wade through to get past the Isaiah chapters in the Book of Mormon! Here’s Isaiah and he’s talking about “the Midianites” this and “in Egypt” this, and “grinding the faces”. Then suddenly if you’re not paying attention, you miss it. We get this anthem to the Christ. The Wonderful Counselor. The Prince of Peace. If you blinked, you missed it. That’s how the gospel works. We’re mired in banality and there are these eruptions of the divine into our lives that occur from moment to moment.
What a great analogy. Sometimes we do go through the motions, and we might ignore what is going on around us because it always seems the same. But those moments are there for us to feel the spirit if we are paying attention. I think those “eruptions of the divine” can happen frequently if we are looking for them. These are not earth-shattering events, but they reveal the tender mercies of the Lord.
Elder Neal A Maxwell once said “Moments are the molecules that make up eternity!” He then went on to share something that President Hinckley had said decades earlier
President Hinckley counseled: “It is not so much the major events as the small day-to-day decisions that map the course of our living. … Our lives are, in reality, the sum total of our seemingly unimportant decisions and of our capacity to live by those decisions” (Caesar, Circus, or Christ? Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [26 Oct. 1965], 3).
Brothers and Sisters, we are here for a reason. We are to have joy. We need to make the right decisions at the right moments to bring to pass that joy. Sometimes the tough decisions are the right decisions. They are very hard to make. But if that is what is needed to get us back on track, that is what we need to do.
In conclusion, I want to read to you the words to Hymn 226 Improve the Shining Moments. It is a hymn full of optimism and guidance for how to be happy.
I pray that we will all have the strength to make the right decisions at the right moments. I know that as we do so, that we will be on the right course, and we will have the capacity to help others stay on the right course.
I know that as we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will see the truth before us and we will be able to experience the “eruptions of the divine” in our lives.