Cover image: Saints Move to Kirtland, by Sam Lawlor.
Anchored in Christ
A few years ago, Sister Sheri Dew spoke to our team at BYU. She shared a story from her life. Here is that story as published in an article about Sheri in the Deseret News:
[Sheri] was a star player in basketball-crazy Kansas at a tiny high school in Ulysses (population 4,000), averaging 23 points and 17 rebounds a game. She had a hook shot, a post-up move, a jump shot, and she could move under the basket to get free for shots.
“With all the modesty I can muster, I was good,” [Sheri] says. “I haven’t seen many girls who could play basketball at that age who were as good as I was.” But this was in the late ’60s and ’70s, when there were few opportunities for girls to play college basketball. She chose to attend BYU and planned to try out for the school’s basketball team.
On the day of tryouts, she reported to the Richards Building, opened the gym door a crack, peeked at the players inside and the confidence drained right out the bottom of her shoes. She couldn’t make herself step through the door. She thought she could work up her courage if she paced the hallway outside the gym for a while. She walked back and forth — for three hours.
She never did enter the gym. When the tryout ended, she walked slowly to her dorm, castigating herself for not having the guts to try out.
“It’s is one of my biggest regrets,” she says. “I’ve never gotten over it.”
Jump ahead to last autumn. BYU athletic director Elaine Michaelis, who coached the basketball team when Dew was a student, invited Dew to speak to the school’s female athletes. Dew told the above story for the first time in her life, one she hadn’t even confided to her family. Her point was that these athletes were doing something she had wanted to do, but lacked the courage to try.
Afterward, Michaelis told Dew, “I remember my 1971 team really well. You know why? We played all season one player short. I tried to fill my roster, and I couldn’t. That year I was looking for a tall center who could post up.”
Sitting in her office, Dew finishes this story and says, “I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach when she told me that. That was supposed to be my spot on the team. You mean out of 25,000 students they couldn’t find one girl who could fill that spot?!
“The truth is, nobody can take your place.”[i]
I think we all, at times, have had similar experiences in which we know there is something significant we can do in life, but for whatever reason we hesitate. Like Sheri, we look through the crack in the door of our opportunity or calling, and decide not to step through. Sometimes we are afraid, afraid of failing, afraid of what others may think or just plain intimidated; but in the end we wish we had made a different decision.
The challenge is that we have to make decisions without clarity and without seeing the end from the beginning.
Mark Twain once said, “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we could make important decisions in life by seeing the end from the beginning? We would make better decisions. But the truth is, we don’t possess a crystal ball and even if we did, it would fight against the plan of salvation which requires that we act on faith and make decisions to help us learn by our own experience.
Faith to Move to Ohio
In December of 1830, the saints were living in several major locations including Colesville, Fayette and Seneca county, and Palmyra/Manchester. Saints from these areas would eventually join a newer-yet-growing group of saints in Kirtland Ohio. Literally every member of the church was new. The church itself was new. The patterns of worship and ways members supported each other in the gospel were new to many people. The Lord wanted the saints to have strength together.
Even more, persecution was mounting. And the saints in small numbers were often overwhelmed by the opposition. In D&C 38:31,32 he says, “That ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered unto me a righteous people, without spot and blameless…ye should go to the Ohio….”
Many saints were left looking through a small crack in the door of their future in order to make the decision as to whether they would move. They had only heard about Ohio—which was on the edge of the American frontier in many ways. They would be leaving homes they had built, friends they had made, and a way of life they were used to living. Even more, 1830 is not like 2021. In 1830, any degree of comfort you achieved was often hard fought for and won. They would be leaving their comfort.
Moving to a new place meant building homes, forgoing comforts, facing the brutality of the elements, and knowing that there was work, a lot of hard work ahead of you. There was the reality that many could lose money on the sale of property if they could sell it at all. There were real risks not only in terms of loss of property or wealth, but also in terms of loss of life.
In section 38, the Lord shares the purpose of the move to Ohio and perhaps the gifts that those who were obedient would find as a result:
- Learn to esteem your brother as yourself
- Be one with each other
- Become a righteous people
- Practice virtue and holiness before the Lord
- The riches of eternity
- Be endowed with power from on high
Who wouldn’t move in exchange for the riches of eternity or the chance to make temple covenants? If a move would help you become more righteous and virtuous, it would be worth it right? But the saints at the time, couldn’t fully see or understand temple covenants or what it meant to be endowed with power. So, they had to make their decision with a limited view.
So, how do we make better decisions even when we can’t see the end from the beginning?
Elder Scott shared several principles to help us:
“The first principle: Place the Savior, His teachings, and His church at the center of your life. Make sure that all decisions comply with this standard…. [By doing so, the] whole course of your life may be altered for your happiness and the Lord’s purposes.
The next principle: Recognize that enduring happiness comes from what you are, not from what you have. Real joy comes from righteous character, and that is built from a pattern of consistent righteous decisions…. For happiness now and throughout your life, steadfastly obey the Lord, no matter what pressure you feel to do otherwise.”[ii]
When we follow the Savior, no matter what, we find real joy that comes from a righteous character. When we place the Savior and his teachings at the center of our life, we anchor our life in Him.
President Nelson said it best,
“When your greatest desire is to let God prevail, to be part of Israel, so many decisions become easier. So many issues become nonissues! You know how best to groom yourself. You know what to watch and read, where to spend your time, and with whom to associate. You know what you want to accomplish. You know the kind of person you really want to become.”[iii]
When our first decision in life is to anchor ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, we avoid the confusion that often comes our way in typical decision making.
Anchored in Christ
Moroni wisely said, “Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”[iv]
Anchoring in Christ and his gospel makes us and our decisions sure and steadfast. Anchoring in the right or wrong way is common in decision making. Psychologists call it anchoring bias.
Anchoring bias is this: When people are making a decision, they often use an anchor or focal point whether they realize it or not. Psychologists have proven that we tend to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we learn and this creates a subsequent bias in our decision making.
“For example, imagine that you are buying a new car. You read online that the average price of the vehicle you are interested in is $27,000 dollars. When you are shopping at the local car lot, the dealer offers you the same vehicle for $26,500, which you quickly accept—after all, it’s $500 less than what you were expecting to pay. Except, the car dealer across town is offering the exact same vehicle for just $24,000, a full $2,500 less than what you paid and $3,000 less than the average price you found online.”[v]
Likewise, anchored in the view of the world rather than the view of testimony,
some saints were not inclined to move to Ohio. Some claimed “Joseph Smith invented it to deceive the people and enrich himself. John Whitmer wrote in his history that this claim arose because the hearts of the Saints ‘were not right in the sight of the Lord, for they wanted to serve [both] God and man.’”[vi]
In our life when we get some savings in our bank, a secure job, and find a level of security or comfort, we often are tempted to place our anchor and trust in worldly things. We no longer need to pray for everyday necessities. In this state, if we aren’t careful that security can serve as our anchor rather than security in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Anchoring in truth and in Christ helps us to avoid anchoring bias in our decision making. By anchoring in Christ, we eliminate many of the small decisions that come our way. Small decisions about whether we will follow Christ have already been decided. So, we have less confusion in our life. By anchoring in Christ, we measure all things relative to Him, the source of truth and we are less likely to be deceived.
But even if we are anchored in Christ, we must make decisions on faith. “We do not always receive inspiration or revelation when we request it,” said Elder Dallin H. Oaks. “Sometimes we are delayed in the receipt of revelation, and sometimes we are left to our own judgment. We cannot force spiritual things. … Our life’s purpose to obtain experience and to develop faith would be frustrated if our Heavenly Father directed us in every act, even in every important act. We must make decisions and experience the consequences in order to develop self-reliance and faith.”[vii]
When we are anchored in Christ, we have His help to navigate the roads of life after we’ve made the best decisions we can. His help and the guidance of the Holy Ghost will help us through life’s necessary course corrections.
Avoiding the Cares of the World
In January 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation directed to James Covel, a reformed Methodist minister. Covel for a short period of time, showed interest in the church (recorded in D&C 39 & 40.
Covel while drawn to the principles and teaching of the gospel, was unable to change his life to live the life of a disciple of Christ. In explaining why, D&C 40 explains that Covel didn’t follow the call because of “fear of persecution, and the cares of the world.”
Many of us have not fully heeded calls that have come our way because of fear or cares of the world, and can probably relate in some ways to Covel. Fear and cares of the world are two of Satan’s best and most often used tools.
Perhaps he cared about his reputation. Covel was a well-known minister within the reformed Methodist movement in upstate New York. He had established himself in his community, purchased property, practiced medicine, performed marriages and preached. A few of Covel’s sons also became Methodist ministers.
Perhaps he was afraid of the effort required. He was 60 years old and had an established reputation in his religious and community circles.
There may have been additional reasons: Covel had been a minister for 40 years and the thought of a move to Ohio was difficult, he may have had established beliefs that were hard to change or the thought of leaving family and friends was too much.
Regardless, why was the revelation received and recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants?
Here are a few possible reasons:
- To teach us that the Lord invites us, calls us and encourages us to make the right decisions. He extends his arm to all of us. He loves us individually and wants us to join Him.
- We need to learn to not let fear or the cares of the world cause us to miss callings that come our way.
D&C 39 has played a role in my own decision making.
As a young father, I was in graduate school and about to graduate. My wife and I were facing the difficult decision of where to live and begin our career. We had fasted and prayed for many weeks without any resolution. We had job offers and deadlines to accept those offers.
One of the jobs I was considering was in Cincinnati, Ohio. Both jobs were equally good. The pay and opportunity for growth similar. We wanted to make the right decision and we had to let the companies know the following day. I left my wife at home with our baby daughter and drove to the temple to seek some inspiration.
In between praying and thinking on the matter, I opened my Doctrine and Covenants and was reading a number of scriptures. At one point, I opened the page to Section 39. I read verse 7: “And now, behold I say unto you my servant James, I have looked upon thy works and I know thee.” I read it again and put my own name in place of “James.” I felt the Lord did know me.
Then, I kept reading and verse 9 says, “Thou hast seen great sorrow, for thou hast rejected me many times because of the cares of the world.” And those words fit my life at the time. In the previous few months, I had been so focused on my school work and trying to find a job, I hadn’t been as focused on the Lord as I should have.
It occurred to me that my prayers were all about worldly things. What is the right job? What would be best for my providing for my family? And I had the sudden thought that I had not prayed which job or location would be the best for serving the Lord. I hadn’t placed as a priority where I could do his will.
I bowed my head and asked for forgiveness. I now prayed to learn where the Lord would have me live so I could best serve him and bless my family. After this prayer, I kept reading. Soon, I read verse 14. It says, “thou art not called to go into the eastern countries, but thou are called to go to the Ohio.”
At that point in time, I felt the Spirit tell me, that like James I was called to go to Ohio. As I reflected on my previous thoughts about the job and city, it became clear that it was the right decision. Interestingly, at the same time my wife received similar inspiration from the Lord.
We left for our new home with the confidence that we were doing the Lord’s will. There is nothing better than confidence in the Lord. I am so grateful that when we were far away from home as a young couple and faced challenges, we knew that the Lord had directed us there.
Not long after arriving in Ohio, I was called as a seminary and institute teacher. My wife and I served in many callings that allowed us to serve and grow. When I reflect back on that today, my feelings of gratitude to the Lord for his guidance are overwhelming. It is amazing how merciful and loving our Heavenly Father is to us. He has given us a source for strength and comfort.
Elder Oaks taught, “The cares and temptations of the world are very real to all, especially to those who have accepted the doctrines and made the covenants of the restored gospel. Prophetic teachings often run counter to the popular ideas and prejudices of the world. Church members must, therefore, take special care to avoid the mistake of James Covel, an early convert, who rejected the word and the way of the Lord because of ‘the fear of persecution and the cares of the world.’”[viii]
Elder Oaks taught that one of the most effective ways to push back against the cares of the world is to keep the Sabbath Day holy. “He who created us knows what patterns of behavior will allow us to achieve our maximum physical and spiritual performance, and He has given us commandments designed to guide us into that behavior. When we honor the Sabbath day, we separate ourselves from most of the world, but we are blessed richly for it.”[ix]
Keeping the sabbath day holy, breaks our weekly pattern and gives us time to pull away from the cares of the world.
It’s interesting to note that the Lord tells Covel in D&C 39:9 that he has had great sorrow in his life because he rejected the Lord because of cares of the world. The Lord knew James’ weakness and warned him. He also gave him a great promise and calling if he would change.
The Lord will show us our weakness and provide a way to overcome that weakness. Ether 12:27 says, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
The principles of the gospel we learn from D&C 37-40 teach us the riches of heaven can be ours if we anchor in Christ, separate ourselves from the cares of the world, and decide to follow Christ and his prophet. These principles protect us.
Elder Bednar said, “Learning, understanding, and living gospel principles strengthen our faith in the Savior, deepen our devotion to Him, and invite a multitude of blessings and spiritual gifts into our lives. Principles of righteousness also help us to look beyond our personal preferences and self-centered desires by providing the precious perspective of eternal truth as we navigate the different circumstances, challenges, decisions, and experiences of mortality.”[x]
So, as you read D&C 37-40, think about your own decision making and remember that when we anchor our lives, we gain power to look beyond our self-centered desires and make better decisions.
[i] Doug Robinson, Sheri Dew: Living the unexpected life, Deseret News, Oct 28, 2002.
[ii] Richard G. Scott, Making the Right Decisions, General Conference, April 1991.
[iii] Russell M. Nelson, Let God Prevail, Liahona, November 2020.
[iv] Ether 12:4.
[v] Kendra Cherry, How Anchoring Bias Psychology Affects Decision Making, VeryWellMind.com.
[vi] Gathering to Ohio, Church History in the Fullness of Times Student Manual, p. 89.
[vii] Dallin H. Oaks, Revelation, New Era, Sept 1982.
[viii] Dallin H. Oaks, Push Back Against the World, BYU-Hawaii commencement, Feb 2017.
[x] David A. Bednar, The Principles of My Gospel, General Conference, April 2021.