Seek Ye First

Dear Will:

I have a friend whom I admire deeply. He is not a man of great social station or professional credentials, nor is he a man of letters or great wealth. As a matter of fact, as so many others around us, he is currently in the midst of great financial upheaval. At a time in which he should be contemplating retirement, he is contemplating bankruptcy instead.

And yet. . . .

I admire him because of his humble faith. He is not the sort who thinks he has all of the answers. To the contrary: He often asks the sort of candid questions that reveal his own insecurities and ignorance, questions which may make others squirm a little due to their honesty. He also has a genuine desire to serve others in spite of whatever personal inconvenience it might entail—not to be seen of others or because “it’s the right thing to do,” but simply because he genuinely wants to help. I’ve known him and watched him for over a decade, and during that time no one has inspired me more to be a better, more genuine person.

Two or three weeks ago, my friend stood in a church meeting to share a profound statement that has caused me much reflection since. I am well familiar with his current financial woes—woes which were brought on, he admits, by some foolish choices that he made in spite of clear counsel to the contrary—so I was not prepared for what he said: In spite of their misfortunes, he said, “my relationship with my dear wife is better than it has ever been.” The reason? Because they are embracing the gospel.

How many marriages have been ruined by financial troubles? How many relationships are unable to withstand the pressures that come from modern living? And yet this couple have found happiness in the midst of difficulties, closeness in spite of heartache, renewed faith even as they are losing so much of what the world would consider important.

My friend and his wife are a living manifestation of a familiar verse of scripture. It was King Benjamin who said to his people: “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 never-ending happiness.  O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Mosiah 2:41).

Of course, my friend does not yet enjoy the temporal blessings King Benjamin alludes to. Or does he? The calm with which he faces his financial difficulties is astounding—another reminder to me that there is much more to life than money or status. I don’t really know the full extent of the challenges which lie before him, but I can tell you this: He and his wife are going to be fine. I have no doubt in my mind.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God” is what Jesus said, “and all of these [other] things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). It’s important advice to all of us as we face the economic challenges associated with a prolonged recession. And the promised blessings that come from following that advice are of greater worth than anything you or I can imagine.

Would that we each might embrace the gospel and enjoy the happiness which follows.

PW

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What Do You Say?

Dear Will:

A friend of mine died last week. He was only 57, and as far as most of us knew, he was in reasonably good health. But then he broke his leg, which led to an infection, which led to pneumonia, and before we knew it he was on life-support. On Monday night, his wife of 30 years honored his wishes and instructed his doctors to disconnect the equipment that was keeping him alive. Within 15 minutes he was gone.

What a jolt. Those of us on the periphery had been told that he was slowly improving, but then last weekend he took a final, fatal turn for the worse. As you might imagine, his wife was devastated—is devastated. As she said to me: “We were supposed to grow old together. Now what am I supposed to do?”

What do you say to someone in a moment like that? Mostly you offer trite words of consolation: “I’m so sorry. He was a great guy. It’s not fair that you should lose him at such an early age.” And on and on. But as I said, such pronouncements, however sincere, are trite at best. They do not begin to provide substantive solace or meaningful counsel.

The truth is that the only way to get one’s bearings after the unexpected loss of a loved one is through words of eternal significance. When my father died last year, those were the only words that brought me any sense of comfort. I remember that the words of Job came repeatedly to mind at that time: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). Knowing, as I did, that life extends beyond this mortal existence made it much easier for me to accept his death.

The scriptures teach that faith leads to hope. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way:

Faith, Mormon taught, leads to hope, a special, theological kind of hope. The word is often used to express the most general of aspirations—wishes, if you will. But as used in the Book of Mormon it is very specific and flows naturally from one’s faith in Christ. . . .

What is the nature of this hope? It is certainly much more than wishful thinking. It is to have “hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” [Moroni 7:41]. That is the theological meaning of hope in the faith-hope-charity sequence. With an eye to that meaning, Moroni 7:42 then clearly reads, “If a man have faith [in Christ and his atonement] he must needs [as a consequence] have hope [in the promise of the Resurrection, because the two are inextricably linked]; for without faith [in Christ’s atonement] there cannot be any hope [in the Resurrection].” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 334–35).

No doubt there will be the chance to talk of such things in the days ahead. In the meantime, I pray for those my friend left behind—his wife, his siblings, his close friends—who find themselves wondering about death-too-soon and life hereafter. May they come to know, as I do, that “by man came death, [and] by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

PW

An Anchor in the Whirlwind

Dear Will:

On my way into work yesterday, I heard a report on NPR saying that, according to the Department of Transportation, Americans drove 10 billion fewer miles in May of 2008 than they did in May of 2007. That’s 10 billion. Imagine a guy who normally drives 1,000 miles in a month simply deciding not to drive anywhere for 30 days. You’d need 10 million such guys in order to make 10 billion. Incredible.

That’s what happens, I guess, when gas settles in at over $4.00 a gallon. Just this morning I filled my tank and paid only $4.15. And I was thinking I got a pretty good deal. That’s crazy.

Which is why I recently found myself online reading about how to get more miles per gallon without switching cars. It’s pretty simple, as it turns out: Accelerate slowly. Lose speed when climbing a hill. Coast whenever possible. Drive without the AC. In other words, all I have to do is change all of the bad habits I’ve formed over years and years of aggressive driving. (Update: I’ve tried, and it’s not going well.)

I also went online to figure out how to get to and from work if I were to rely solely on public transportation. It’s more straightforward than I expected: I can catch a bus on Chapman, ride it down to the train depot, and from there catch a second bus which will drop me at the corner by my office. Piece o’ cake. The only catch is that the one-way ride will take me two hours. (Let’s just say I’m not ready to make that switch just yet.)

I bring all of this up because I work for a large advertising agency. Our biggest client is a Japanese carmaker. So these issues affect more than just my “carbon footprint” and my disposable income. They threaten my very livelihood. It’s more than a bit unsettling.

Of course, I’m not alone when it comes to feeling threatened. You would be hard-pressed to name an industry which isn’t affected in some way by this recent shift in our economy. Transportation and manufacturing costs are skyrocketing even as real estate prices are plummeting. The price of everything is affected. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do get the sense that we are in the midst of a permanent shift to which we are all going to have to adapt. It will be painful, no doubt. Change generally is.

In times of such uncertainty, I confess that I draw a great deal of comfort from my faith. I get nervous for the future just like anybody else, but I feel as though my foundation is solid nonetheless. I’m reminded of these words from the Book of Mormon:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

Now I’m not trying to suggest that our current economic woes are the work of the devil. All I mean is that in the midst of the current whirlwind, I feel anchored, confident that, come what may, my family and I will make it through. Somehow.

That’s my prayer, in any case. May God bless you likewise.

PW