It is customary in my family on the occasion of somebody’s birthday to go around the table and share a favorite memory or something that we love about that person. Today is the birthday of the prophet, Joseph Smith. Below is what I would say to him when my turn came:
Happy Birthday! I don’t express it often enough, but I am eternally grateful for the way that your life’s work has affected my life’s work. I’ve sat in churches and cathedrals all over the world wondering how the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, a work in which you were instrumental, has changed the way I live and the way I see God and the universe and my place in all of this.
“Searching in darkness, nations [had] wept,” but your absolute faith in the willingness of God to give liberally and not upbraid brought light back to the world. The faith you exercised in that moment alone is such a powerful example to me, and a perfect trust I aspire to as I approach Deity.
But your faith didn’t stop in that grove of trees on a morning in the spring. On this celebration of your birthday, I remember something that happened to you on my birthday, March 24 of 1832. It was late and you were in bed trying to warm and soothe the baby that bore your name as he suffered with the measles. A tapping on your window was followed by the abrupt and violent entrance of a mob. They tore you from your baby and your bed and among other brutalities covered your torn flesh with tar and lye and stolen feathers.
Their attempts to take your life were in vain, but you returned home nearly unrecognizable to your wife and loved ones. It took the rest of the night to remove the layer of loathsome and unfeeling residue from your person, a process that removed great portions of skin along with it. The following morning was the Sabbath. To endure such a night should excuse anyone from Sunday meetings, but you got up and preached looking into the very eyes of your captors scattered among the congregants as you spoke on the pure love of Christ. Three people were baptized that day. Within just a few days you’d begin the thousand-mile journey to Missouri to comfort the saints there, caring little if at all about your own need for comfort.
I stand in awe of your ability to take things of stride. I’ve suffered tribulations much less serious than yours and reacted with much less dignity and determination than you did. That comes from an assurance of the goodness and reality of the Lord. That is a testimony you had to actively work for and that is something your example reminds me to strive toward.
That striving is something that the Book of Mormon has brought into my life. That plain and precious hope that the fullness of the Gospel brings that I can be more than I am now changes everything. Your work and sacrifice to make this ancient record accessible to me means that I also have access to the peace of the atonement for which I am constantly desperate.
Thank you for all you have done for me. Your life has directed my life toward love and service and toward a renewed understanding of the nature of atonement of Jesus Christ who is my ultimate exemplar.
I’m glad you were born.
If you were sitting around the table with Joseph and me, and your turn came—what would your birthday message to him be?