No Ordinary Blessing

Dear Will:

I think I’ve mentioned before that I teach early morning Seminary. My class begins at 5:45 a.m. each school day. This year we are studying the Old Testament.

In preparation for this week’s classes, I have been reading about the prophet Enoch.  Although there are men in the scriptures who seem a bit inaccessible to me either because they’re too perfect or too superhuman (I’m thinking about Nephi and Elijah, for example), Enoch seems like my kind of guy. Uncertain. Deeply flawed. Human.

When God first told Enoch that he wanted him to go preach to the people, Enoch was full of very reasonable excuses. “Why me?” he said in essence. “I’m too young, nobody likes me, and I don’t talk so good” (see Moses 6:31). Something like that, anyway. Well, God sent him out nonetheless, and the early results were not very promising. We’re told that “all men were offended because of him.” Some said, “there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us” (Moses 6:37-38). (You can see what this new assignment did for Enoch’s popularity.)

Even so, Enoch persisted, and the people came around—and then some. So great was the impact of this one, humble man and his glorious message that “the Lord called his people ZION, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).

Imagine. Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place with such a great group of people? And to think it was all made possible by a reluctant prophet—a man who thought himself so awkward and so unpopular that he tried at first to decline the assignment.

You and I may never have the opportunity to dwell in such a place, but fortunately we do enjoy the benefits that come from having a living prophet on the earth. This coming weekend, in fact, Thomas S. Monson will be addressing the world along with his counselors and the Twelve Apostles, men divinely appointed to share with us the will and word of the Lord.

Enoch’s followers had to go up into the mountains to hear his message. But you and I can hear a prophet’s voice without even getting up off of the sofa. If your receive BYU-TV through your cable provider (most of them carry it), you’re all set. And if not, you can always watch a live stream of the conference online. Just go to lds.org where you’ll find all kinds of options for hearing the words of the prophet in your own home. (Sessions run both Saturday, Oct. 1, and Sunday, Oct. 2, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. PDT.)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, reminds us of what a blessing it is to have a living prophet—and the miraculous technology that allows us to hear his words here in California even though he is standing and speaking hundreds of miles away:

“Our merciful and loving Heavenly Father has not forsaken and will not forsake His children. Today, as well as in times past, He has appointed apostles and prophets. He continues to reveal His word to them.

“What a marvelous privilege it is to hear God’s messages for each of us during general conference! Let us prepare well for this great blessing of divine guidance delivered by His chosen servants.

“For this is no ordinary blessing” (Ensign, Sept. 2011).

I’m looking forward to a great, inspiring weekend. As one who is himself deeply flawed and very human, I need all the help I can get.

PW

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Telling It Like It Is

Dear Will:

First things first: My surgery is safely behind me and the doctor has declared me “cured.” I’ll be in recovery mode for the next several weeks, but all of the really scary stuff has been taken from my body and sent to the lab. So I can get on with life.

The only “complication” so far is that I had to stay in the hospital a couple of extra days because of some ancillary bleeding. It was nothing life-threatening, mind you, just the sort of thing that makes a doctor crinkle his brow and muse a bit. When he informed me that I wasn’t going to leave the hospital as early as originally projected, Dr. Pasin was extremely apologetic: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to keep you in here an extra day.” He gave that speech twice.

Of course I was disappointed, but I hardly felt like he owed me an apology. What he was saying was for my good, after all. But such are our social conventions that we feel compelled to apologize even in circumstances when we are doing something for the benefit of someone else.

God is not bound by any such social conventions. “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself,” He says. In other words, “I’m not going to apologize for telling it like it is.” Which makes sense, of course. He then continues: “Though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). He’s going to speak plainly, without apology, and what He says will come to pass. Just like that. And it makes no difference whether He speaks as a voice from heaven or through one of His designated representatives—either way, what he says is going to happen whether we like it or not.

I bring all of this up because this weekend is the semi-annual General Conference of the Church, and you can watch it while sitting on the sofa in your family room. There will be a total of eight hours of instruction broadcast in two-hour chunks (Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. PDT) It’s generally broadcast over BYU-TV (channel 567 on my box) or on one of the public access channels. I hope you get a chance to tune in at least for a little bit.

In my state of convalescence, I’m likely to watch the whole thing (I’m still not getting around much). That will be a rare privilege, and I’m really looking forward to it. Thomas S. Monson, the Prophet and President of the Church, will be speaking (multiple times, no doubt) along with his counselors, the twelve apostles, and several other of the General Authorities of the Church. As I maintain my preoccupation with my physical well-being, it will be nice to have the distraction and to focus some time on spiritual healing instead.

Who knows? In my state, maybe my spiritual doctors will decide I need a few extra days of intensive care to stop the bleeding. Which would be fine by me. Whatever it takes to finally be pronounced “cured.”

PW

We Will Miss Him

Dear Will:

As you may have heard, Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last week. He was 97. His funeral was on Saturday

I got a phone call a couple of Sundays ago from my mother who was calling to share the news of his passing. When I got off the phone, I told my wife and son Seth what I had just learned. Now Seth, who is almost nine, has always been a tender-hearted soul, one who feels deeply the suffering of others (including, or perhaps especially, all types of animals). Upon learning of President Hinckley’s death, Seth began to sob. We held him close, of course, and asked him to tell us what he thought of our dear prophet. Through his tears, Seth said simply: “He was a really nice man.”

As you might guess, Seth has never met Gordon B. Hinckley, but such was the power of this aged man that even a child such as Seth could feel the warmth of his love and sense the true Christian spirit which he possessed. The thing that I always admired about him was that he was so good and making people feel good even as he was admonishing them to try harder, stand taller, do more, be better. He was not the sort to shame you into changing your ways. Rather he made you want to be better than you are.

As it turns out, I was privileged to hear one of his last sermons. On Sunday, January 13, just two weeks before his death, he spoke via satellite to all Church members throughout Southern California. I sat with my family as he counseled us regarding our relationships with one another. He identified four cornerstones which should secure the foundation of each family:

1. Mutual Respect
He reminded couples to respect one another’s differences, which are not necessarily undesirable. Those differences make our companionships more interesting. He pointed out that we would all be better off if we expressed an “anxious concern” for one another. He encouraged us to look for virtues rather than faults. He said: “Love sees more, but chooses to see less.”

2. The Soft Answer
We are told in Proverbs that “a soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). President Hinckley reminded us that when we talk to one another quietly we are speaking the language of God. God spoke to Elijah in “a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) We should follow that example.

3. Financial Honesty
The Prophet reported that money causes more trouble in marriage than all other causes combined. He encouraged us all to pay an honest tithe so that God might open up the windows of heaven. Couples, he said, should provide one another freedom and independence on most day-to-day expenses but come to an agreement before making any large expenditures.

4. Family Prayer
When we pray together, President Hinckley told us, we will have peace in our hearts and joy in our lives. Family prayer in particular will strengthen our love for each other while providing our children with a greater sense of security.

After that meeting concluded, Dana and I typed those four cornerstones onto a piece of paper and gathered our kids to discuss their importance. We have a long way to go before we can pretend to live true to President Hinckley’s good counsel, but we’re now trying harder than before. As I said, he was always the sort of person that had a way to make you want to be a better person.

We will miss him.

PW