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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Getting My Mornings Back

Dear Will:

I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”—which is a pretty good indication that Ben was annoying to most of his friends. I have Franklin on the brain these days because this week will be my last as an Early Morning Seminary teacher—for a while anyway.

Throughout the school year, I get up every morning around 5 a.m. to teach my class to high school juniors and seniors. It’s an assignment that I love, but it does take its toll. Because of that commitment, I don’t get enough sleep or exercise and have very little in the way of discretionary time. So as I anticipate the prospect of getting my mornings back (for the summer at least), I find myself trying to decide what to do with the time that might otherwise have been occupied with preparing for or teaching lessons in the wee hours of the morning.

The most obvious change is likely to be that I will sleep more. That’s probably a good thing, but I can’t help wondering what I might accomplish if I had the self-discipline necessary to continue getting up at 5 a.m.  Imagine the possibilities:

  • Exercise
  • Study the scriptures
  • Do work that might otherwise occupy my afternoon or evening hours
  • Goof off

Any of those options—including the goofing off—would be preferable to simply lounging away the hours (provided, that is, that I’m getting sufficient sleep)—especially since it promises to provide me more time with my wife and children. Continuing to show such early morning discipline would also show a strength of character that would make Ben Franklin proud.

He wouldn’t be the only one. The Lord has said: “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C 88:124). If I could just get the “retire to thy bed early” part down, I would be set.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It will provide a great test. How willing will I be to get up early when I don’t have to? I certainly have enough on my to-do list tomorrow to warrant it. We shall see.

There is a bigger issue here, of course. Any time we successfully get ourselves to do something we don’t much feel like doing, we build a pattern of discipline that is consistent with the expectations of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount, he outlined a long list of challenges for us to rise above low expectations. It is what King Benjamin referred to as “putting off the natural man”—becoming a different sort of person than we might otherwise be: submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love (Mosiah 3:19). I don’t know about you, but none of those things come “naturally” to me.

Christ himself set the bar even higher: “What manner of men ought ye to be?” he asked. “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Now I don’t mean to suggest that getting up before the sun is “Christlike.” I only suggest that my ability to show the discipline to get up and get going improves my chances of becoming more like Him in that which matters most. After all, discipline is the essence of discipleship.

Hmmm. You’ve talked me into it: Tomorrow, I shall rise early on a day I do not have to. And I shall be a better man for it. (Wish me luck.)

PW

On the Wrong Road

Dear Will:

I recently began reading the autobiographical Beat classic On the Road by Jack Kerouac.  Jack and his book are so often referenced in other things I read that I finally decided to see what all of the references mean.

If you’ve never read it, I’m not sure I would recommend it—I’ve yet to find a single, endearing person with any redeeming value in the book. If you have read it, you know that it is sort of an out-of-control treatise on self-indulgence.  The characters in the book are unprincipled hedonists seeking to maximize the buzz of any given moment.  It is an amoral tale of drifters and con artists, careening through life without concern for tomorrow.

In other words, it has nothing to do with the things I believe in.

As I read this tale, it’s not hard to look into the hearts of its characters and see a deep, abiding sadness.  Without the benefit of eternal perspective, their lives are reduced to a futile quest for fun and excitement.  Unfortunately, the thrill of the moment, as we know, is transitory at best.  It is as if they search without knowing they are searching, and thus they find precisely what they are searching for.

Of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is precisely what these spiritual nomads need.  It provides purpose and meaning along with a moral compass.  It points to a Source for comfort, inspiration, and direction.  It provides perspective and hope even in times (such as these) when evil is all around us.

What Jack and his friends really needed, in my opinion, is a copy of the Book of Mormon.  I know that sounds funny, but the thought keeps coming back to me as I read his narrative.  “If they had simply read the Book of Mormon they could have begun to understand that there is more to life than cheap thrills and selfishness.  And if they had lived the principles it teaches, they could have avoided both imposing and suffering an awful lot of heartache.”

Like it does any good to mentally evangelize dead authors, right?

Still, if I had had the chance, I might have pointed them to the great discourse of King Benjamin (see Mosiah, chapters 1 through 5).  For in that section there is wonderful explanation of the Atonement and a real life example of the change of heart which makes eternal joy possible.  One passage, in particular, illustrates so much of what was missing in the lives of those depicted in On the Road:

“And moreover, 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, unless you’re a big Jack Kerouac fan, I’m not sure what any of that necessarily has to do with you, but it was on my mind and I thought I’d share.  If nothing else, should you have a Book of Mormon handy, you might take it out and read those few pages in Mosiah.  I guarantee that you will be moved by the account.

Hope all is well for you and yours.

PW