Looking on the Heart

Dear Will:

When I was in the second grade, Robert Maxwell and I were appointed by Mrs. Appleton as ball monitors at Mariposa Elementary. What that meant is that at the end of the last recess of the day, when all of the other kids were in class doing Reading Time or whatever they called it, Robert and I were roaming the playground, gathering up all of the balls and putting them away for the night. It was fun and cool at the same time, especially because it meant we got more playground time than anyone.

The trickiest task was detaching the tetherballs from their poles. We could barely reach the chains to which they were clipped, as I recall, so we had to give one another a boost to achieve our purpose. It’s hard to believe, to be honest, because I have since returned to Mariposa and noted with some surprise just how close to the ground those chains hang. Could I have really been that small when I was in Mrs. Appleton’s class?

I suppose it was a bit of a stretch (literally!) to assign two boys so small to that task. But what a terrific affirmation it proved to be. We were unsupervised, trusted to do an important job on behalf of the entire school. And although the chore itself was not especially difficult, it was useful to others and an important assignment for me. It caused me to think of myself in a slightly different light—as one who was worthy of trust and capable of representing others in a meaningful way.

I find myself thinking back to Mariposa School because my youngest son Seth turned 12 yesterday, which meant that today he received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon. His initial assignments as a priesthood-holder will not be especially difficult, but they will be of importance to others. He will be passing the sacrament to the congregation each Sunday, facilitating in this small way the renewal of eternal covenants and commitments. He will gather offerings on behalf of the poor and needy and return them to the bishop. And he will be given ongoing responsibility for the upkeep and care of the chapel in which we meet.

Seth admitted to me that he was unsure of whether he was ready and worthy to become a deacon. Our bishop, Bishop Hales, assured him that he was and authorized his ordination—and you can already see that it is having an impact on my son. He was nervous and excited as he anticipated this day, as I’m sure he will be next week when he passes the sacrament for the first time. As he grows increasingly comfortable with his duties, however, I think we will witness a maturation made possible by his acceptance of the authority to serve others in the name of God.

You may recall that when David was anointed King of Israel, he was young and unimpressive compared to his older brothers. The Lord gently chided Samuel the prophet for not seeing in David the divine potential that lay within. “Look not on his countenance,” the Lord told him, “or on the height of his stature; . . . for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Likewise my son isn’t much to look at (he’s only 12, after all). But today he was set apart from most boys his age because of the goodness in his heart. Although he’ll be stretched in the years ahead as he works to fulfill his duties, and although he’ll need a boost from time to time to complete his assignments, I’m confident that he will prove to be more than worthy of the trust that has been placed in him. I’m proud of who he is and what he is becoming, and pleased that others have seen in him the divine potential that makes him, in my view, extraordinary.


The Great Thing About Brittany

Dear Will:

I have a niece who is stunningly beautiful—double-take gorgeous—the sort of blond-haired, blue-eyed twenty-something girl who gets noticed by simply entering a room. I’ve known her all her life, and even so, when I see her at family gatherings I can’t help remarking on it. I’ll say to her mom (my sister-in-law Kelly): “Brittany is so pretty!”

Invariably, Kelly responds with something like this: “The great thing about Brittany is that she has such a good heart.”

And it’s true. Throughout her teens, Brittany was active in her youth group at church, always striving to do the right thing. She has always been a dedicated Christian and has even expressed some interest in working in a youth ministry for a career. She is consistently kind and thoughtful, quick with a smile and unwaveringly tolerant of her boorish relatives. In short, she has turned out to be the kind of person any parent would wish for at the time of a child’s birth.

What Kelly is trying to teach me, without being even somewhat heavy-handed about it, is that Brittany’s true beauty lies within. What makes her special is not the blue eyes, but rather the kind heart. I was reminded of that principle earlier this week by, of all people, a talk-radio host. He said that in our frenzy to add to our children’s academic credentials and to feed their extracurricular interests, we should also devote a concerted effort to teaching them integrity, honesty, virtue, and kindness. His point was a good one: In the end, it will matter much more to me what kind of people my children become than what their professional credentials or social status might be.

Do you remember the Old Testament story of the anointing of David? It taught the same principle. The Lord sent the prophet Samuel to visit Jesse, with the specific purpose of anointing a new king in Israel. The plan was for Samuel to offer a burnt offering with Jesse and his sons, with the promise being that the new king would be revealed to Samuel while he was there.

When Samuel met the first of Jesse’s sons, however, the Lord gave the prophet this counsel: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; . . . for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Heeding this admonition, Samuel discerned that none of Jesse’s seven oldest sons had been chosen by the Lord. “And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children?  And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.  And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither” (1 Samuel 16:11). Immediately David was summoned, and when he arrived the Lord told the prophet: “Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”

What makes this story all the more relevant to me this afternoon is that my youngest son, Seth, turns eight tomorrow. In a week he will be baptized, and because of that event many friends and family members will gather in support. If I were to follow my usual tendencies, of course, I would spend a good portion of that time telling everyone about Seth’s extraordinary performance in school and on the athletic field. On retrospect, however, it seems that it would be a better idea for me to tell them instead of Seth’s tender heart.

He really is a great kid. I wish you could meet him. You would like him a lot.