Recently I gave a talk in our new ward. In it, I introduced our (relatively new) family. Liz and I both attended BYU, but never met there. We both served missions, but never met there (laughter). We were both in graduate school before we got married, but we didn’t meet there either because we attend different schools. We met in Nauvoo, and were married in September. Liz travels to Iowa between once a week to finish up her PhD in Biostatistics, while I stay at the University of Illinois to finish my PhD in Physical/Analytical chemistry.
I shared Moroni 6:5 as the purpose of my talk. “And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.” I explained that my thoughts would roughly come from my own experiences as inspired by Elder Gong’s recent conference address on Temple Mirrors.
I explained how I had sung with the Martin Luther men’s choir in Flatville, IL. There was a hymn we sang with the refrain: “What great things God has done for me.” The absolute greatest thing that God has done for me, is to save me. He has saved me by teaching me how to be happy in life, despite the many negative influences, endemic to the church or global to humanity.
I then shared the part from Elder Gong’s talk where he said that when his mother joined the church, she blessed many generations. He wrote: “In today’s parlance each new convert, young single adult, those returning to Church activity, and others bless generations when they become fellow Saints in the household of God.” He further explained how looking into the temple mirrors, one sees images stretching “seemingly into eternity.” He taught that the temple mirrors remind us that each human being has a divine nature and destiny.
This statement had inspired the following line of thought, which I then shared with the congregation.
The worth of a soul is not dependent on the soul’s status as member of the church, how long they’ve been a member, marital status, parental status, gender, priesthood office, church activity, or any metric of the church. Rather, the amount of happiness they bring to others, and the extent that they glorify their Creator is dependent only on their will to serve, and their ability to try to serve.
One writer whom I have tremendous respect for, wrote the following:
Which is larger? The set of all whole numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4 …? Or the set of all whole even numbers: 2, 4, 6, 8… ? They’re the same. Each set is infinite. One[set] is not twice as infinite as the other. That may be counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Only … limited human perspective protests, seeing the gaps in one sequence and insisting that the other sequence is fuller, larger, more complete, more perfect, more privileged.
I am a Mormon woman. I have gifts given to me by my Maker. I seek to magnify those gifts and to serve in the temporal Kingdom of God and to take a place some day in the eternal Kingdom of God. I do not hold the Priesthood – I do not administer the ordinances of the Gospel, nor will I ever serve as a bishop or a priest or an apostle. I am not a mother, literally nor in any meaningful metaphorical sense….
Which set of gifts – mine, or a priest’s, or a mother’s – is largest? They’re the same. Each set is infinite. One is not more infinite than another. That may be counter-intuitive, misunderstood by the gentile world, and even protested by some Mormon women and men, but it’s true. Only … limited human perspective sees gaps in the set of my gifts and insists that another is fuller, larger, more complete, more perfect, more privileged.
I returned to Elder Gong’s talk. Elder Gong explained that Jesus always sought to do His Father’s will. “This pattern of Father and Son can help explain the paradox “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” ”
Lord, make me an instrument of they peace,
where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
And all for they mercy’s sake.
O divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying, that we are born to eternal life.
I quoted Elder Gong’s statement about self-interest and I related that to personal happiness: “The world pursues enlightened self-interest.” I added:
This is an all-too-prevalent truth. CS Lewis description of the lost souls in “The Great Divorce” was those who could only focus on themselves, and their own suffering. There is, however, a careful interplay between just self-interest and self-confidence. Self-confidence is a righteous principle gained over time by righteously being obedient to the light and knowledge God has given us. It is within our own self-interest to be self-confident, but self-confidence is about more than self-interest.
Wanting to change the focus of the talk from us to Christ I quoted Elder Gong. “Yet the power is not in us to save ourselves. But it is in Him.” I then added the following.
No matter how much we do, no matter how much good we do, we do not save ourselves. There are some, spiritual masochists in the church who believe, and sometimes preach, that if they could just do more, they’d be OK. If they just prayed more, or were more righteous, they wouldn’t be unhappy, or they wouldn’t be sinners needing redemption. That if they would just be righteous, they’d be married, or granted children, or given whatever else they want. This viewpoint is foreign to the full message of the scriptures found in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. The power to be saved from our prideful thoughts and messages of perfecting ourselves comes only through the Savior’s atonement.
I was moved by Elder Gong’s personal and meaningful description of the atonement. “Infinite and eternal, only our Savior’s Atonement transcends time and space to swallow up death, anger, bitterness, unfairness, loneliness, and heartbreak.” I felt inspired to add some of my own feelings of explaining what Jesus’ atonement has done for me.
Christ’s atonement is the only thing in all space and time that can heal heartbreak, justify unfairness, soften bitterness, cure loneliness, cancel death, and heal anger. In this last year, the Lord has taught me a lot about this. Of this list, the only way I haven’t felt healing is by canceling death. I bear solemn testimony that Jesus Christ and his atonement is the only for our anger, bitterness, heartbreak and loneliness to be rectified.
Another statement by Elder Gong helps me to reconcile how we try to do our very best, and it still comes out short.
Sometimes things go wrong even though we have done our very best. A Lamb innocent and pure, our Savior weeps with and for us. When we always remember Him, He can stand with us “at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in.” His “faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” In drawing us to Him, our Savior also draws us to our Father in Heaven. While some things are imperfect on earth, we can trust our Heavenly Father to complete “redemption’s grand design, where justice, love, and mercy meet in harmony divine!
Elder Gong’s trust in how things will turn out when we are faithful in Christ reminded me of a saying from my wife’s grandfather, Reed Holdaway, often used. “Begin with the end in mind.” Stephen Robinson reminds us to not start from the ills of a fallen world and the loneliness and heartbreak that we feel, but rather to start with a faith and knowledge in a perfect, all-knowing and benevolent Father in Heaven.
Much religious anxiety is created by people starting doctrinally from the wrong end of things, with odds and ends instead of with first principles or with the Prime Directive. … If we start at the right end, with the Prime Directive (God is love, and to become like him we must love), then we more easily see that God is a Father trying to warn precious children where the hidden reefs and hazards are located and guide us home to himself. The sufferings of the disobedient are not the retribution of an offended and vengeful autocrat but the natural consequences of ignored warnings from a loving parent who pleads for us to pay attention. The commandments are not a list of God’s arbitrary demands or hoops we have to jump through to please him but a chart through the reefs of life compiled by someone who knows these waters. Following Christ, Page 140.
I was also moved by Elder Gong’s witness that people can change. “A miracle of the images we discern in temple mirrors of eternity is that they—we—can change.”
The fact that we can change should not be seen as completely obvious. Many inside and outside of the church today buy into false philosophies that deny the changeability and malleability of human weakness, foibles, strengths, likes, dislikes, and so forth. If one honestly believes that God cannot change their sinful desires, they can be nothing but unhappy. For they are not worshiping the Lord in truth and knowledge, but instead are believing in a false misrepresentation of God. God is able to change us, if we allow Him.
CS Lewis wrote: [God] said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said. C. S. Lewis, Beyond Personality (London: The Centenary Press, 1945), 48
There are those within the church who buy into false, worldly philosophies which teach that humanity is powerless in it’s ability to overcome. It is true that we cannot overcome most problems without divine help. But we are not left comfortless (John 14:18) and we don’t HAVE to do it alone. However, in the end, if we refuse to repent and come to the Savior, we will be left without excuse.
The last story I shared about the fact we can change comes from Victor Hugo’s immportal work, “Les Miserable.” When we contrast the life that Jean Valjean led, morphing from escaped felon to charitable philanthropist, we recognize that one CAN change if they assent to, seek after, and allow God to change them. If one insists that God cannot change them, they hurt themselves and anyone else who believes their false doctrine. An example of that truth is seen in Javert, one who chose to commit suicide rather than allow others to change.
I bore my testimony of God’s power to save and heal us all. I know of God’s greatness and glory. And that was what I shared on my talk November 14, 2010.