How What We Should Be Becomes What We Are


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.


You Gotta Try This


Dear Will:

Sometimes my wife Dana and I will go to dinner someplace new (it happens) and I’ll order something unfamiliar that sends me into a state of gastronomic ecstasy before I’ve so much as swallowed the first bite. I’ll immediately say to Dana, Ooooh, you gotta try this. One time we were at Citrus City Grille and I ordered the halibut something-something with the whatever sauce and it was so AMAZING that, had we not been in a public place, I would have licked the plate clean and then scraped the surface off of the porcelain with my incisors. Even if Dana had been on some weird no-sauce diet I would have pinned her down and force-fed her before leaving the restaurant.

Officer O’Malley (driving): “Why did you do that to your wife, Mr. Watkins.”

Me (cuffed in the back of the patrol car): “Just for the halibut.”

So it goes with just about anything we love. See a great movie? You want to tell all of your friends to go see it—preferably as soon as possible. Same with a good novel or an amazing night of theater. I think I personally may have sent several dozen people to Zov’s over the years all because of the Chocolate Bomb you see here (well, not all because the Chocolate Bomb, but that dessert alone is reason enough to clear your calendar and drive to Tustin at your earliest convenience). Without apparent provocation I will sit you down at the nearest computer to make you watch Heart perform “Stairway to Heaven” live at the Kennedy Center (so good). It’s as if I have become a self-appointed spokesman for these things—and for Walden and Galaxy Quest (trust me) and Steinbeck and Bryce Canyon—all in the hope that others will enjoy them as much as I do.

The Book of Mormon is another case in point—delightful in a way that brings a whole new meaning to AMAZING. There’s something for everybody in that remarkable book. For instance, have you ever been asked to do something that seemed impossible? Or have you ever felt overwhelmed by an assignment that seemed beyond your capabilities? Or have you ever felt discouraged by how easily you get weighed down by personal shortcomings? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you should definitely become acquainted with the story of Nephi in the Book of Mormon’s opening chapters. It will speak to you.

Do you sometimes find yourself missing friends or loved ones who have moved away or passed away or simply stopped calling? Are you ever lonely? No doubt you’ll find personal connection with the tragic tale of Amaleki. Or have you ever done something you regretted—and you have trouble believing you can ever be forgiven? Enos and Alma felt the very same way. If you ever feel isolated, awkward, unpopular, or unsafe, alone in the midst of a crowd, you might be surprised to find out that you have a lot in common with Moroni (yes, that Moroni—the guy on top of the temple).

That’s pretty much how the Book of Mormon works. When you read it you’ll discover many others as well—real people, all-too-human, struggling with problems not too different from your own. As their stories unfold—their failures, their struggles, their miraculous triumphs—you’ll find comfort, solace, insight, and truth. And woven throughout you’ll see the principles and doctrines of Christ made real with inspirational clarity.

So if you haven’t read the Book of Mormon lately—or ever—you gotta try it. It will bless your life. And if you don’t have a copy of your own, I’ve got one right here that you can have. Let me know if you want it, and I’ll drop it off on my way to Zov’s.


A Gratitude List


Dear Will:

Two or three weeks ago, my wife and I invited the kids to help us make a list of the things we’re thankful for. After writing down 100 or so, we left the pad of paper out and invited everyone in the family to add to the list as we counted down the days until Thanksgiving. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of the items on the final list we came up with:

Luke, Bryn, and Seth (our kids)
Dana (my wife)
Barnum (the dog)
Gordon B. Hinckley (the Prophet)
Saturday soccer games
Cookies—especially warm ones
Gaynor Mindens (ballet shoes)
A good bed
Chip & Pounce (stuffed animals)
Books and stories
The Book of Mormon
The beach
Electric lights
The Temple
Good music
Mountain lakes
The Olympics
Good theater
Sunrises & sunsets
Hot showers
Thomas Jefferson
The UCLA Bruins
The rumba (don’t ask)
The Armed Forces
Family time
The stars & moon
Good food in abundance
Swimming pools
Flush toilets
Abraham Lincoln
Taking walks with Bryn
Good movies
A peaceful neighborhood
Down comforters
Hot chocolate
Puffy clouds
Grateful kids
Playing ball with Seth
Best friends
Really cool rocks

As you might guess, the full list also includes a lot of our favorite people, including neighbors, teachers, and friends.

Isn’t it great to be reminded each November to take time to notice the things we are most grateful for? Hope you enjoyed a terrific Thanksgiving.