That His Light Might Shine More Brightly

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Dear Will:

Look around the world today and you’ll see much to be concerned about: war raging, millions displaced from their homes, tensions in our streets, and rancor dominating much of the public discourse. It’s easy when one projects the present circumstances into an uncertain future to envision that things could grow steadily worse.

But then think of the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and your heart will fill with hope for a brighter tomorrow. We know that the word of God has a powerful effect on the minds and hearts of people everywhere (Alma 31:5) and that there is a transforming power that comes upon everyone who is touched by the light of Christ.

So at this time of year, let’s do the small things that cause that light to shine most brightly. In doing so, may we remember the words of President Howard W. Hunter, shared during the holiday season in 1994. It’s been over 20 years, and never have we needed the message more:

This Christmas, mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand.  Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more.  Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak your love and then speak it again.”

My family and I have accepted his invitation. And we hope you’ll join us.

PW

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What Would You Do?

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Dear Will:

Say you get a new job that will require you to load all of your earthly possessions into a U-Haul and move over 2,000 miles away. Say it’s just you, your wife, and your one-year-old daughter, and all of your earthly possessions fit in less-than-a-U-Haul. And say you don’t know a soul where you’re going. What would you do?

Well, if you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you’d probably call your bishop. And that conversation might go something like this:

Bishop? My wife and I are moving into your neighborhood from Michigan. We don’t know anyone in the area. So we’re calling you. We hate to impose, but is there any way you could find some people who might be willing to help us unload a truck on Thursday night at 6 pm?

Say it’s your turn to be bishop and you are used to getting the occasional phone call from a stranger asking for help: mothers worried about wayward children, children worried about wayward mothers, the homeless, the hungry, and of course the people who don’t listen to the announcements during services. And say that this week’s Call from a Stranger is young father asking for help on a Thursday evening. What would you do?

Well, if you’re Bishop Watkins you’d send a quick email to Kyle, your Elders Quorum President, and Warren, your Young Men President, who in turn would contact a bunch of other guys. And you would hope that in spite of the short notice and the inconvenient time that Kyle and Warren won’t be the only ones who show up to welcome this family into the Santiago Creek Ward.

Say it’s Thursday and you’ve got an important meeting that night following a long day at the office, but someone asked if you might be willing to provide a couple of hours of manual labor on behalf of someone you’ve never met. And say that as you think about that family and the U-Haul, you remember what it’s like to be newly married and trying to make a small apartment feel like home even though it’s hundreds of miles from anything familiar. What would you do?

Well, if you’re a member of the Santiago Creek Ward, you’d postpone your meeting and drive toward that upstairs apartment still dressed for work. And you’d turn into that apartment complex only to find cars triple-parked and the U-Haul half unloaded already. You’d find young men and old men, three Ellis brothers and a couple of full-time missionaries, a dozen guys or more happily squeezing past each other on a narrow staircase with furniture and lamps and boxes full of various bits of past and future life. And by 6:22 pm the truck would be unloaded, and as you’d pull out of your illegal parking spot you’d pass others still arriving, disbelieving that they could already be too late to lend a hand.

Say you witnessed all of this unfold, and felt within yourself the deep gratitude for good men, faithful priesthood holders cheerfully serving the newest members of our ward family. And say you could see within this familiar scene the embodiment of an injunction that sits at the heart of Christianity: to bear one another’s burdens that they may be light (Mosiah 18:8). What would you do?

Well, if you’re me you’d remember how you have been on the receiving end of this sort of service many times yourself, and you’d pause once more to give thanks for the Church—and for the Santiago Creek Ward in particular.

PW

How What We Should Be Becomes What We Are

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Dear Will:

From what I can recall, Jesus has wanted me to be a sun-BEAM pretty much my entire life. So I couldn’t possibly tell you when I was first admonished to say my prayers, read my scriptures, and go to church, but that particular set of mandates was already so familiar by the time I reached high school that my friends and I referred to it simply as The List. If a teacher in Sunday School asked a question and you weren’t sure of the answer, it was a pretty safe bet that you could pluck something off of The List and get it right more than half the time.

Say your prayers. Read your scriptures. Go to church. These simple injunctions have been drilled into me by teacher after teacher, week after week, throughout the course of my life. If Sunday School were the sort of institution that required a proficiency exam for graduation, you can bet The List would be featured prominently on the final:

17. How can you show Jesus that you love Him?

A.  Say your prayers
B.  Read your scriptures
C.  Go to church
D.  All of the above

In spite of my youthful cynicism, over the years I have come to appreciate the personal benefit to be derived from daily devotional practice. And something I read recently caused me to consider The List in an even brighter light.

In his book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely, an economics professor at Duke University, describes a two-step experiment he completed several years ago with a couple of colleagues. They asked those in Group A to write down 10 books they had read in high school and those in Group B to write down the Ten Commandments. Then they gave the two groups identical sets of simple math problems, rewarding them with cash for each problem they claimed to have solved in the allotted time. When they compared the results from the two groups, they discovered a curious difference. On average, Group A overstated their success rate by 33%, while Group B reported their results honestly, without exaggeration.

In another experiment, Ariely gave two groups of people different word-search puzzles: one with words related to rudeness and the other with words related to patience. During Phase 2 of the experiment, the “rudeness” group proved to be significantly more impolite than the “patience” group.

Isn’t it interesting that simply being reminded of virtue seems to have a measurable impact on behavior? Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God would want us praying and reading and attending services on a regular basis? At the risk of reading too much into this, we might even hypothesize that faithful Christians are enticed to become better people at least in part by their ongoing exposure to the Word. By regularly reminding ourselves of what we should be, what we should be becomes what we are.

Seems like I read that someplace—perhaps during my daily scripture study, maybe during a Sunday School class. Ah, yes. Here it is in The Book of Mormon: “The preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them. . .“ (Alma 31:5).

What are some things we can do to become better people? Go ahead. Guess. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get it right.

PW