To fulfill assignments for my present job, I visit different schools within the local school district. There, in those academic settings hanging on some of the classroom walls, are noteworthy posters entitled “Virtues: The Gifts of Character.” 1
These prints are a product of The Virtues Project, a movement founded by a wife-husband team, Linda and Dan Popov, and brother John Kavelin. Their mission statement is “to inspire people of all cultures to remember who [they] really are and to live by [their] highest values.” 2 These founders believe that all “are born with virtues, universal positive qualities of character, in potential,” and their foundation seeks to “awaken and strengthen” these virtues. 3
Though there are variations, the posters used by the school district where I work list 52 alphabetical virtues beginning with assertiveness and ending with unity. Other listed virtues are ones such as: consideration, courtesy, forgiveness, gentleness, helpfulness, joyfulness, orderliness, purposefulness, tact, tolerance, and understanding.
I’ve been studying these posters for several months, appreciating the thoroughness of what’s listed and mourning what is dreadfully waning in our day.
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ not only champions all the virtues listed in the Virtues Project, but it also teaches how to obtain, retain, multiply, and daily polish such virtues. Our eventual aim is to become perfectly complete and whole – to be like Jesus, possessing in full, as He does, the attributes and virtues of a perfect character. In my experience, most everyone I have met wants to be the best version of themselves. Imbued with inherent, divine value, we have incredible promise and ability! We have godly potential. It’s thrilling and astonishing!
Peter seems to have well understood the process of character improvement through the accumulation of Christlike virtues. Wanting striving Saints to be “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world,” Peter admonished us to persistently “add to our faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity…” 4
And so the list goes on and on. We can substitute any number of virtues for a beginning virtue and then, according as the Spirit directs, add to that virtue weekly, monthly, or yearly.
Nothing about the process is especially easy. It is certainly stretching, but since virtues truly are “the gifts of character,” it’s a noble work in which to engage. 5
Of spiritual gifts, the Lord said they are given “for the benefit of those who love [Him] and keep all [His] commandments.6 That is followed by one of the most hopeful lines in all of scripture: “and him that seeketh so to do…”7 If spiritual gifts are given to striving saintly souls who consistently come up short (but in that shortness, look heavenward for pardon and succor), might that scriptural endowment also apply to the accumulation of virtues? If we seek “so to” obtain them, we will, no doubt, be mercifully assisted in the endeavor. 8
In our quest, the sixth chapter of Preach My Gospel can also help. It states, “Christlike attributes are gifts from God. They come as you use your agency righteously. Ask your Heavenly Father to bless you with these attributes; you cannot develop them without His help. With a desire to please God, recognize your weakness and be willing and anxious to improve.” 9
Listed at the end of chapter six, Preach My Gospel presents an Attribute Activity. Readers are invited to score themselves using the “response key” of never, sometimes, often, almost always, and always. 10 There are nine character virtues that provide a good basis for any person interested in improving his/her character through virtue accumulation or strengthening his/her Christ-like virtues.
Preach My Gospel provides the following pattern for obtaining or strengthening virtues and Christlike progression:
- Identify the attribute you wish to develop.
- Write a definition and description of the attribute.
- Record questions to answer as you study.
- List and study thoroughly passages of scripture that teach about the attribute.
- Record your feelings and impressions.
- Set goals and make plans to apply the attribute in your life.
- Pray for the Lord to help you develop the attribute.
- Evaluate your progress periodically in developing each attribute. 11
God inspired Preach My Gospel. He knows best how to help us improve our characters by conscientiously adding virtue upon virtue, thus becoming more like His perfect Son.
In an inspiring Brigham Young University – Idaho Religious Symposium given in 2003, Elder Bednar shared a story that is worth repeating. This account helps us better comprehend what he called “the character of Christ” (a phrase he once heard from Elder Maxwell). 12 This story showcases two women of incredible progress, women who added one virtue upon another until they were full of positive virtues and consequently, had put on the character of Christ.
I quote from Elder Bednar directly:
Early one summer morning I was showering. My wife called to me in the middle of my shower and indicated that I was needed immediately on the telephone. (This was before the day of cell and cordless phones). I quickly put on my robe and hurried to the phone. I next heard the voice of a dear sister and friend informing me of a tragic automobile accident that had just occurred in a remote area involving three teenage young women from our stake. Our friend indicated one of the young women had already been pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and that the two other young women were badly injured and presently were being transported to the regional medical center in Fayetteville. She further reported that the identity of the deceased young woman was not yet known. There was urgency in her voice, but there was no panic or excessive alarm. She then asked if I could go to the hospital, meet the ambulance when it arrived, and assist in identifying the young women. I answered that I would leave immediately.
During the course of our telephone conversation and as I listened to both the information being conveyed and the voice of our friend, I gradually became aware of two important things. First, this friend’s daughter was one of the young women involved in the accident. Our friend lived approximately 35 miles from the hospital and therefore needed the assistance of someone who lived closer to the city. Second, I detected that the mother simultaneously was using two telephone handsets–with one in each hand pressed to each of her ears. I became aware that as she was talking with me, she was also talking with a nurse at a small rural hospital who had initially attended to the three accident victims. Our friend was receiving updated information about the condition of the young women in the very moment she was informing me about the accident and requesting my help. I then heard one of the most remarkable things I have ever heard in my life.
I faintly heard the nurse telling this faithful mother and friend that the young woman pronounced dead at the scene of the accident had been positively identified as her daughter. I could not believe what I was hearing. I was listening to this good woman in the very moment that she learned of the death of her precious daughter. Without hesitation, and with a calm and most deliberate voice, our friend next said, “President Bednar, we must get in contact with the two other mothers. We must let them know as much as we can about the condition of their daughters and that they will soon be in the hospital in Fayetteville.” There was no self-pity; there was no self-absorption; there was no turning inward. The Christlike character of this devoted woman was manifested in her immediate and almost instinctive turning outward to attend to the needs of other suffering mothers. It was a moment and a lesson that I have never forgotten. In a moment of ultimate grief, this dear friend reached outward when I likely would have turned inward.
I then drove to the hospital with a concern in my heart for the well-being of the two other beautiful young women who had been involved in the accident. Little did I realize that the lessons I would learn about Christlike character–lessons taught by seemingly ordinary disciples–were just beginning.
I arrived at the hospital and proceeded to the emergency room. After properly establishing who I was and my relationship to the victims, I was invited into two different treatment areas to identify the injured young women. It was obvious that their respective wounds were serious and life threatening. And the lovely countenances and physical features of these young women had been badly marred. Within a relatively short period of time, the two remaining young women died. All three of these virtuous, lovely, and engaging young women–who seemed to have so much of life in front of them–suddenly had gone home to their Eternal Father. My attention and the attention of the respective families now shifted to funeral arrangements and logistics.
A day or so later, in the midst of program planning and detail arranging for the three funerals, I received a phone call from the Relief Society president of my home ward. Her daughter had been one of the victims in the accident, and she and I had talked several times about her desires for the funeral program. This faithful woman was a single mother rearing her only child–her teenage daughter. I was especially close to this woman and her daughter having served as both their bishop and stake president.
After reviewing and finalizing several details for the funeral of her daughter, this good sister said to me, “President, I am sure it was difficult for you to see my daughter in the emergency room the other day. She was severely injured and disfigured. As you know, we will have a closed casket at the funeral. I have just returned from the funeral home, and they have helped my daughter to look so lovely again. I was just wondering . . . why don’t we arrange a time when we can meet at the mortuary and you can have one last look at her before she is buried. Then your final memories of my daughter will not be the images you saw in the emergency room the other day.” I listened and marveled at the compassion and thoughtfulness this sister had for me. Her only daughter had just been tragically killed, but she was concerned about the potentially troublesome memories I might have given my experience in the emergency room. In this good woman I detected no self-pity and no turning inward. Sorrow, certainly. Sadness, absolutely. Nevertheless, she reached outward when many or perhaps most of us would have turned inward with sorrow and grief.
Let me describe one final episode related to these three tragic deaths. On the day of her daughter’s funeral, this Relief Society president from my home ward received a phone call from an irritated sister in our ward. The complaining sister had a cold and did not feel well, and she basically chewed out the Relief Society president for not being thoughtful or compassionate enough to arrange for meals to be delivered to her home. Just hours before the funeral of her only child, this remarkable Relief Society president prepared and delivered a meal to the murmuring sister.
We appropriately and rightly speak with reverence and awe of young men who sacrificed their lives to rescue stranded handcart pioneers and of other mighty men and women who repeatedly gave their all to establish the Church in the early days of the Restoration. I speak with equal reverence and awe of these two women–women of faith and character and conversion–who taught me so much and instinctively reached outward when most of us would have turned inward. Oh how I appreciate their quiet and powerful examples.” 13
It is beautifully obvious that if we actively and consistently seek for greater character development and Christlike virtues like these divine women of whom Elder Bednar spoke certainly must have, God will bestow them liberally. What uplifting and serving is then possible – even in the middle of deep heart sorrow and dreadful tragedy!
I love when I enter a classroom within the school district where I work that has a “Virtues: The Gift of Character” poster on the wall. As I study it, I am reminded of all the God given helps available to us that make it possible to not only remember our divine heritages but also to fully embrace them by daily seeking to develop Christ-like attributes.
The Popov’s and John really were inspired with a great idea. We truly are “children…born with virtues, universal positive qualities of character, in potential.” 14 Let us “awake and strengthen” these virtues in ourselves so we can entirely “partake of the divine nature” which will lead us to The Divine Himself. 15 Only there will we find that our glowing countenances are, at last, reflecting the “character of Christ.” 16
- 2 Peter 1: 4-7
- Doctrine and Covenants 46: 9
- Doctrine and Covenants 46:9
- Preach My Gospel, Chapter 6, pg. 122
- Preach My Gospel, Chapter 6, pg. 132
- Preach My Gospel, Chapter 6, pg. 129
- Bednar, D., “The Character of Christ,” January 25, 2003
- 2 Peter 1: 4-7
- Bednar, D., “The Character of Christ,” January 25, 2003