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About a month ago, Michael and I sold our home and moved our family 650 miles to move in with my parents. Six months ago, we knew that we needed to make a drastic decision. After spending three years in a toxic work environment, Michael felt deeply that he needed to leave. We prayed and fasted. We attended the temple. We brought our questions to the Lord and to General Conference. The thought kept pressing onto our minds and hearts that we need to just make a clean break, and walk away. We had no promise that the outcome of this decision would lead us to any new prospects. We just knew that he needed to leave, and that we would accept whatever consequence came our way.
When the business projects we started didn’t pan out right away, we started to realize that any chance of maintaining a “normal” life was just not in the cards for us. We spent the next few months focusing on getting our house on the market, and praying really hard that things would work out.
Now we are in our new normal. We have made peace with this transition. Living with my parents wasn’t such a difficult transition because we share so many of the same values. Plus, we have a great connection and we can communicate easily with one another. Our future is still a little uncertain, but we have made peace with that, too. We made the decision from the beginning that we would put our trust in what Heavenly Father has planned for us — whatever that may mean.
My dad asked Michael to dedicate our new home. Shortly before we moved in together, my parents purchased a new house. When Michael said the dedicatory prayer, we have faith that our new home is sanctified and set apart for the spiritual protection and safety of our family. We love our new home, and we love our family. We need protection and sanctity to survive spiritually. We dedicate our homes to set it apart from the base and common things of this world, and the temptations of the adversary (Bible Dictionary – Holiness).
When I think about the importance of sanctification and holiness, I think of things that are set apart for sacred things. I think of the temple, and how it is set apart from the world. I think how we must work on ourselves to be prepared to enter the temple because it is holy ground. I wonder what it takes to truly be humble enough to be so holy.
The scriptures tell us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you” (Moroni 10:32). “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child…none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:19, 21).
The necessary sanctification and holiness that I believe Paul is referencing in 1 Thessalonians is the invitation to walk in holiness as we strive to keep our covenants and put off the natural man because “God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness” (4:7). We are called to be disciples of Christ. Our holiness comes through Him and our faithfulness to him.
In Relief Society on Sunday, our ward President offered an interesting thought about walking the covenant path as it relates to Lehi’s Dream in 1 Nephi 8. We were discussing the Iron Rod as the word of God. I’ve always understood that to mean that we arrive at the Tree of Life and partake of that most precious fruit as we study the scriptures and live holy lives. I absolutely believe that we must work on ourselves to “learn heaven” as Brad Wilcox says in his classic devotional back in 2011: “His Grace is Sufficient.” Learning heaven requires us to live holy and celestial lives so that we aren’t shocked when we arrive there and deny the Savior’s grace!
But the thought my Relief Society President shared made me think for a moment. The Iron Rod is the word of God. Does it mean the scriptures and the words of the holy prophets that we should study and live by? Maybe, but that’s only part of it. What is the word of God? His word…His promise. When we have faith in His word that His grace is sufficient for us, then we can cling to His iron-clad word that “[His] work and [His] glory [is] to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). More than this, Heavenly Father has given us His Word, even our Savior, Jesus Christ as the promise, that when we cling to Him, we will safely arrive at our destination (see Bible Dictionary “Christ, names of”; John 1:1, 14)).
Just as Michael and I have given up our worldly path, we are working extra hard to cling to the Savior and the promises we have from our Heavenly Father that our sacrifice is acceptable. Maybe we will be like Oliver Granger that our “sacrifice shall be more sacred unto [Him] than [our] increase” (True Disciples of the Savior, Terence M. Vinson, General Conference, October 2019). This path is sometimes scary, but we have become that much more dependent on the Lord for His deliverance.
Strait and Narrow
There is still a strait and narrow path that leads to this Eternal Life (1 Nephi 8:20). I’ve always wondered why there would be a reference to a “narrow and narrow” path. Isn’t that what strait means? However, this reference to walking the covenant path requires us to be holy. We must “put off the natural man” and “be perfected in [Christ].” There are requirements, commandments, and covenants that we make and keep to secure these promised blessings. Then I realized that “strait” doesn’t just mean narrow. It is narrow because the path has boundaries that if we step to one side or the other we will be swept away, perhaps by “mists of darkness” or a filthy river that follows the path so closely. The path is strict. There is one, solitary gate that stands between us and the path to Eternal Life, and Jesus is the keeper (Matthew 7:13; 2 Nephi 9:41).
When I picture this strait path, I think of one of the episodes of a favorite show Michael and I like to watch with our kids called Avatar: The Last Airbender. In this episode, they must cross a narrow strip of land called The Serpent’s Pass to get to a land where refugees find safety (pictured below).
As you can see, it could be pretty scary to cross this narrow bridge. Slip down either side, and you not only fall into the depths of the sea, but there are two threats: warmongering fire-throwing enemies sailing the seas searching for you, and a giant serpent ready to swallow you whole (pictured below).
The adversary is like these threats. He is not only standing ready to defeat us at the slightest sign of weakness, he is actively working to attack us and send us hurling down the slopes of “deception, distraction, [and] discouragement.”
We must be vigilant and valiant in defending ourselves against the adversary. As Elder Johnson says, we must, first, keep the “first and great commandment.” Second, pray; third, study The Book of Mormon, “every day, every day, every day.” Fourth, “prayerfully partake of the sacrament every week, every week, every week” (Power to Overcome the Adversary, Elder Peter M. Johnson, General Conference, October 2019). Thankfully, we don’t have to walk this path unprotected. We have His Word.
In the Bible Dictionary, I learned that the Jews lost the meaning of holiness because they gave more weight to the ceremonies and laws than the spiritual importance of becoming holy and sanctified. But, “the value of worship in the eyes of God depends upon the personal character of the worshipper.” As I consider the state of my own heart in my worship, I wonder, am I focused on becoming more holy in my character, seeking to develop my relationship with my Savior, walking this strait path of holiness. Or, am I becoming casual and apathetic about the seemingly never-ending list of requirements. Becoming casual with our worship and simply following the checklist of requirements can quickly become the ethos of our community and activities. On the other hand, we can adopt the narrative of integrity in our character and develop a culture of holiness.
During Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk this past General Conference, I thought about all the things we do in the church and how there are so many programs and initiatives that are focusing less on what duties we perform and more on how we perform them. I believe President Nelson is inspired when he announces the changes to our church initiatives. He is considering the hearts of the members of the church and where we place our trust.
Elder Holland said, “Consider the swirl of bold initiatives and new announcements in the Church in these recent months. As we minister to one another, or refine our Sabbath experience, or embrace a new program for children and youth, we will miss the real reason for these revelatory adjustments if we see them as disparate, unrelated elements rather than as an interrelated effort to help us build more firmly on the Rock of our Salvation. Surely, surely, this is what President Russell M. Nelson intends in having us use the revealed name of the Church. If Jesus—His name, His doctrine, His example, His divinity—can be at the center of our worship, we will be reinforcing the great truth Alma once taught: ‘There be many things to come; [but] behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all— … the Redeemer [who] liveth and cometh among his people.’” What better way to prepare for the Savior’s Second Coming than to strive to become more holy, and rely more fully on Him, making our character and our behavior more and more holy.
Staying the Course
This strait and narrow path can be treacherous. We live in an imperfect, mortal world. The path is fraught with mists of darkness, filthy rivers, and spacious buildings. With all the temptations, trials, and heartache in this life, it’s a wonder any of us will make it! That is what makes His word so important. I often ponder the ways I can choose to carefully follow, and trust in His Word as I navigate the stormy paths of life.
I like to think of this life as navigating a journey. Stephen R. Covey says, “Good families—even great families—are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the ‘track’ looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again” (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families). We know our destination is Immortality and Eternal Life in the Celestial Kingdom with our Heavenly Parents. Arriving to our destination requires constant course correction, and constantly grasping the Iron Rod.
Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy spoke of staying on the Covenant Path and said, “The Savior cautioned us to ‘take heed … lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with … cares of this life’ (Luke 21:34). Modern revelation reminds us that many are called, but few are chosen. They are not chosen ‘because their hearts are set … upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men’ (Doctrine and Covenants 121:35; see also verse 34). Assessing our lives gives us an opportunity to step back from the world, reflect on where we stand on the covenant path, and, if necessary, make adjustments to ensure a firm grip and a forward gaze” (Now Is The Time, General Conference, October 2018).
As I’ve experienced the heartache and trials of my life over the past decade, I have been inclined to step back and become more self-aware. I have started noticing my reactions to those moments when I feel like the cares of this life are pressing down on me. What I have learned is that I can respond to these pressures negatively, or I can stop and proactively respond. I found that I always have a choice to either be constructive, or destructive in my reactions.
Destructive reactions range from believing that I have to face everything on my own, to breaking down and giving up. Constructive reactions involve relying on grace by putting my burdens on the Lord, allowing myself space to heal and recover, and resisting the urge to judge or blame. The way we choose to respond become our norms and cultural narratives. Destructive habits lead us to negative beliefs and behaviors. Constructive reactions build us up and give us strength to endure. The obstacles and roadblocks strewn along our path seem a little less daunting.
When we respond constructively, it is like making constant course corrections that keep us pointed toward our destination. Destructive pattern, even subtle ones, are like driving our plane toward the side of a mountain as illustrated in this story by Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
“In 1979 a large passenger jet with 257 people on board left New Zealand for a sightseeing flight to Antarctica and back. Unknown to the pilots, however, someone had modified the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees. This error placed the aircraft 28 miles (45 km) to the east of where the pilots assumed they were. As they approached Antarctica, the pilots descended to a lower altitude to give the passengers a better look at the landscape. Although both were experienced pilots, neither had made this particular flight before, and they had no way of knowing that the incorrect coordinates had placed them directly in the path of Mount Erebus, an active volcano that rises from the frozen landscape to a height of more than 12,000 feet (3,700 m).
“As the pilots flew onward, the white of the snow and ice covering the volcano blended with the white of the clouds above, making it appear as though they were flying over flat ground. By the time the instruments sounded the warning that the ground was rising fast toward them, it was too late. The airplane crashed into the side of the volcano, killing everyone on board.
“It was a terrible tragedy brought on by a minor error—a matter of only a few degrees” (A Matter of a Few Degrees, General Conference, April 2008).
As we endure the cares of this life, and dedicate ourselves to constant course correction, we become more sanctified, more holy. We become more committed to walking the Covenant Path and its straitness becomes a comfort and a joy to us. Thank goodness for those boundaries, those rules, and the flight plan that keeps us on track! As we choose to grasp the Iron Rod, it gets easier even when the mists of darkness are pressing down on us.
In summary, follow Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:
“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
‘See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.
“Pray without ceasing.
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
“Quench not the Spirit.
“Despise not prophesyings.
“Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
“Abstain from all appearance of evil.
“And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.
“Brethren, pray for us” (v. 14-25).
- Consider what holiness means to you. What are ways you can consecrate your life to the Lord?
- What you consider that the Iron Rod represents the Savior, what are ways you can more intentionally cling to Him?
- What are some of the boundaries that make the Covenant Path strait? How can we keep ourselves safely on course? Discuss in family home evening.
- Pray every day that you will receive your errand from the Lord. Reread/watch Sister Michelle Craig’s talk from this past General Conference: “Spiritual Capacity.” Record ways you can place your burden on the Lord in your journal.
- Study the account of Lehi’s Dream in 1 Nephi and record your thoughts about the symbolism of the dream when you consider that the Iron Rod represents the Savior.
- Make careful and deliberate choices that correct your course. Write out a plan of action whenever you feel yourself slipping. Constructive coping strategies involve relying on grace to carefully choose our reactions, channeling our energy into creativity, allowing ourselves space for self-care and recovery, patiently establishing true boundaries, assessing our personal agenda and stories about the stressors of our lives, and repentance — always repentance.
- Take inventory of the attitudes you take around service, obedience, and following the covenant path. Are you careful, or casual? (See Careful Verses Casual by Becky Craven, General Conference, April 2019).
- Study the signs of the Second Coming to always be prepared.
- When we become discouraged by our own or others’ weaknesses, pause to gently consider where this discouragement is coming from and whether these feelings are simply a distraction from feeling the strength and grace we have daily access to.
- Be an example of holiness to your family and friends as a way to shine the light of Christ through you for others to see.