Mari is one of my very favorite people in the whole wide world. She is a funny, brilliant, beautiful, strong and multi-talented woman, who I can only aspire to emulate on so many fronts. She also happens to be one of my spiritual heroes.
We have been friends for over 30 years now, but have hardly ever lived on the same continent, let alone the same country. Thanks to the internet though, we still manage to stay in touch.
However, Mari has always been especially good at sending me snail mail… I was recently going through old papers and letters, and found a whole bunch of cards and letters from Mari over the years. I could not bring myself to throw away a single one…
Last week she gave a talk in her ward in Sydney, and since I couldn’t go to Sydney to hear her speak, I begged her to send it to me, which she did. And I absolutely loved it! She has given me permission to share it here on the blog. I considered just sharing bits of it, but in the end, I loved it all so much, that I couldn’t bring myself to.
So here is the whole thing:
I have been asked to base my remarks today on the talk “Keep my commandments” given by pres Thomas S Monson in last October’s General Priesthood session.
I was not an easy child to raise and keep alive. According to my parents, every rule and admonition was met with a “why” or, alternatively, a “why not” and “What happens if I do? . Having been told the consequences I was rarely satisfied until I had tested to see if the promised outcome actually happened. I have several scars from incidents that happened because I didn’t listen to my parents.
As a child I felt that rules and admonitions were restrictive and unnecessary because surely I knew better how to look after myself. Like swimming. At an outing to a pool I had been told to wait and not to go in the big pool where my brother was swimming. As I watched him, I decided that I could swim too. After all, how hard could it be, right? Wrong! I jumped in and sank like the proverbial rock. Only my father’s lightning speed reaction and prompt rescue saved me.
Whenever I think of commandments and obedience I am reminded of these stories.
Much like my childhood self, the rebellious, proud natural man in us finds commandments restrictive and unnecessary and lacks understanding of our Heavenly Father’s love and motives for giving us these divine directives.
From my childhood escapades, I learned that my parents actually knew best (although I was probably 20 before I admitted this to them!). I learned that they loved me and liked having me around so much that they wanted to keep me safe. It is the same with God.
President Monson says “God’s commandments are not given to frustrate us or to become obstacles to our happiness. Just the opposite is true. He who created us and who loves us perfectly knows just how we need to live our lives in order to obtain the greatest happiness possible”.
He know us perfectly and loves us perfectly He knew what we would need and in our premortal life He presented us with a plan that would lead to our happiness. We were to come to earth, Abraham 3:25 says ” We will prove them herewith to see if they will do all things the Lord their God shall command them”.
How excited we must have been at the prospect of coming to earth and have the opportunity to learn and to become more like Heavenly Father whom we loved so much. Lucifer tried to upset the plan and take away our agency. But we used our agency to choose Heavenly Father’s way.
We accepted this plan and fought for it because we loved and trusted Heavenly Father’s perfect love and wisdom. What about Lucifer and his followers? Elder Robert D Hales asked “Did [they] understand the consequences of rejecting Heavenly Father’s plan? If so, why did they make such a terrible choice?” He went on to say “we may ask ourselves a similar question: “why do any of us choose to be disobedient when we know the eternal consequences of sin?”
Or, put another way: when we have been told of the blessings of keeping the commandments, why would we ever choose to break them?
President Monson says: “When we keep the commandments, our lives will be happier, more fulfilling and less complicated. Our challenges and problems will be easier to bear and we will receive His promised blessings”. Who would not want that?
In Mosiah 2:41 King Benjamin told his people “Moreover I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual, and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of neverending happiness”
Satan also knows what is at stake for us and is committed to our failure. He will use all kinds of strategies to derail us. He will want us to believe that happiness can be found in disobedience. He will distort the consequences of sin. He will try to lure us out past the sandbanks in the surf where the sharks are waiting.
Perhaps he will try to confuse us about the nature and purpose of obedience so that we focus on the outward observances. Maybe we become so focussed on the “to dos” that we forget “to become”. Earlier this month, in general conference, President Uchtdorf said ”sometimes I think we misunderstand obedience. We may see obedience as an end in itself rather than a means to an end.” It made me remember something that happened some years ago. It was just before Christmas and for a FHE activity , the children and I went to the supermarket to buy the contents for the Christmas hamper the stake was collecting. As we walked around the shop with our list, I wanted to make it a meaningful experience and I asked the kids “Do you know why we are doing this?” Thinking I might get a reply about helping people in need. Instead I got “’coz we’ve been told to”. It made me reflect on how I presented obedience to the children, but also my own views about my obedience. Did I view obedience as a chore to be worked at? Did I keep the commandments because I had to or because I wanted to?
In D&C 11:20 Hyrum Smith was told “Behold, this is your work, to keep the commandments, yea with all your might, mind and strength. “Yes, it is our work, but it is a work of love.
When I started thinking about this talk and about keeping the commandments I immediately started making a list in my head of the commandments. The ten commandments, the law of chastity, the law of tithing, the law of the fast, the Word of Wisdom. I started thinking about what makes a commandment and whether there are categories of commandments. Are some commandments more important than others? Yes, that line of thinking reminded me of a certain story in the New Testament….. and the two great commandments went on the list. Looking online I found a page on mormon.org about God’s commandments and there was a list, but it was a different list. Right at the top was “The two great commandments”, followed by “pray often”, “Study the scriptures”,” Keep the Sabbath Day Holy”, “Follow the Prophet”. THEN came the list I had first compiled in my head. This is a website presenting our beliefs to people in the world. The order of this list is not arbitrary. Our relationship with and love for Heavenly Father is the key, and the next items on this list are all the things we need to do to build that relationship and feel of His love for us, and strengthen our love for Him. Keeping the commandments is not just about obedience, it is also about love.
Ezra Taft Benson said : “Why did God put the first commandment first? Because He knew that if we truly loved Him we would want to keep all of His other commandments. “For this is the love of God,” says John, “that we keep his commandments”.
The work of keeping the commandments is to be done with might, mind and strength. The First Great commandment as found in Matthew 22:37 reads : “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”. It’s about love and about heart. Keeping the commandments not just with our might, mind and strength but with heart and soul becomes a labour of love. With love obedience becomes so much less about what we do, but about what we are and who we are.
I am a really slow learner, and I am grateful to a patient Heavenly Father who lovingly tutors me to help me become a better me. I love thinking about things, but the gospel is not an intellectual exercise.
Towards the back of this month’s Ensign I found an article by elder Kim Clark on the Atonement. There is a beautiful section on obedience, and this paragraph leaped off the page at me:
“Obedience of the heart and soul embraces all of who we are: our behaviour and our attitudes, our actions and our desires, our diligence and our love. That kind of willing obedience connects us to Christ in a powerful way and brings His Spirit, love, power, and joy into our lives. A casual, reluctant, surface kind of obedience will not do. The Lord requires of us obedience that is exact, willing, and deep. He wants obedience of the whole heart and soul.”
This kind of obedience does not happen at once. Elder Clark gives counsel on how to develop this obedience, and it starts with obedience in the small things. (I would encourage you to read his comments).
Pres Uchtdorf also said “maybe obedience is not so much the process of bending, twisting and pounding our souls into something we are not. Instead it is the process by which we discover what we are truly made of.” The author Antoine de Saint Exupery once said that we reach perfection “not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. We are children of God, here to learn. At the core of us there is a divine spark. We are saddled with natural man, but he is not here to stay. Obedience to the commandments the Lord’s way will help chip away at the natural man until he is gone.
Heavenly Father gave us commandments for that reason because He knows that only by obeying His laws can we become perfect like He is.
Occasionally we may falter in our efforts, and we may stumble. I told you of the scars I have because of my disobedience to my parents. When we disobey our Heavenly Father, we injure our spirits – and sometimes our bodies. Satan would have us believe that these injuries cannot be healed. But, however bad the injury, we are promised that if we truly repent we can be made clean, we can be forgiven and be healed. The healing to our spirit is complete and without scars. It is as if the injury did not occur. Pres Monson said
“Our Saviour died to provide you and me with that blessed gift. Despite the fact that the path is difficult, the promise is real. Said the Lord to those who repent: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as snow. And I will remember them no more”.
Even when we are keeping the commandments we have to fight the temptation of complacency.
Now, I have told you of my stubborn self. My “I know better” attitude also came with me to school. When in the first week my kindy teacher told us we were going to learn how to write, I informed her that I had it covered. After all, I had full command of the whole alphabet of capital letters, what more could I possibly need? A discussion followed and my teacher eventually managed to persuade me that learning how to write the small letters as well would be useful.
In October last year, Elder Lawrence reminded us of the rich young ruler in the New Testament. This righteous young man was keeping the ten commandments but wanted to become better so he asked the Saviour “What lack I yet?”. He was given a very specific reply. As will we if we sincerely ask God what we are yet lacking.
“Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2Ne 32:3). We must seek out the words of Christ. The preaching of the words of God will lead us to do good (Alma 31:5).
At General Conference we were addressed by those whom we sustain as our leaders, as prophets, seers and revelators. We believe they speak for God. “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38
At the organisation of the church the Lord said the following “Thou shalt give heed unto all His words and commandments which He shall give unto you as he receiveth them For his word shall ye receive as if from mine own mouth in all patience and faith.” (D&C 21:4-6)
The Spirit will tutor us if we listen. I have always kept General Conference notes. When I look back to years ago, I had beautifully written notes with verbatim quotes.. It was almost dictation. I wanted to remember everything that was said by the speakers. But, then gradually my notes changed and little scribbles appeared in the margins of thoughts that I had. I was even colour coordinated with my two different colours. As I recognised these as impressions from the Spirit and paid more attention, more came. Now my Gen Conf notes are more about what I am feeling and thinking than about the actual words being said. These promptings are usually about the things that I need to do to become better, and to find better ways of living a particular commandment. Heavenly Father is tutoring me through His Spirit if I listen and pay attention.
Pres Henry B Eyring said:
Write down the impressions or thoughts that you feel come from God… Think carefully about whether the truth you received requires action. It is by obedience to commandments that we qualify for further revelation of truth and light. (“O Remember, Remember, 2007)
He also said
“When you demonstrate your willingness to obey, the Spirit will send you more impressions of what God would have you do for Him. As you obey, the impressions from the Spirit will come more frequently, becoming closer and closer to constant companionship. Your power to choose the right will increase.” (Oct 2015).
(Testimony. From memory I talked about how the Lord’s promises are sure. That sometimes we may not see the promised blessings immediately. We may see people around us who are disobeying the commandments but yet appear to be happy and successful, and conversely we may see good people who are living righteously but are still struggling. The promised blessings will come. 4 Nephi tells us about the kind of life that will be our reward if we live the commandments.)
I am grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ, for being able to come to Church and partake of the Sacrament and renew my covenants with Him to remember Him and keep His commandments. I am grateful for His promise of always having the Spirit with me, because this Spirit will help change me, sanctify me and strengthen me. In the name of Jesus Christ.
Thank you Mari!