Editor’s Note: The following was recently given as an address at a Stake Conference in Alpine, Utah.
2020 will not be remembered as a great year.
Our parents and grandparents suffered through hard times, world wars and a crippling depression. In our lifetime, we have experienced many wars, oil embargoes, shortages, rampant inflation, dotcom bubbles, the horrors of 9/11, and a subprime lending crisis which nearly destroyed our banking system. 2020 will be remembered as the year of the pandemic and a great deal of civic unrest.
And 2021 is not off to a great start. We are reminded in recent talks and pronouncements from Church leaders that contention is of the adversary, not of God. In other words, peace and harmony and tranquility are more valuable and preferable to our Father in Heaven than winning a political argument.
As I reflect on challenging things we have endured, I realize I have had moments of great fear. Not just worry, but real fear. I can’t imagine that the pandemic will subside in 2021 and then we will have several decades of smooth sailing. I suspect there are more tough times ahead.
Our Father in Heaven has regularly told His children to not be afraid. Hundreds of years before Christ, Isaiah wrote: “Fear not, for I am with thee. Be not dismayed for I am thy God”.
In the meridian of time, at the time of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, an angel told shepherds on the plains of Judea: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy”.
In modern times our Father in Heaven has said: “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not”.
Tough times and frightening events can cause us to lose faith in our institutions and experience fear and anxiety. Sometimes developments can cause members of the Church to lose faith in their beliefs. President Nelson has told us that we do not need to let fear replace our faith.
Keeping our Faith by Keeping our Covenants
The best way to keep our faith is to keep our covenants.
A good friend of mine passed away in 2020, of old age. He was sealer in the Salt Lake temple. My wife and I served a mission to San Jose California, and coincidentally, my friend sealed one of our missionaries. and we were there for the wedding. My friend told the lovely young couple in the sealing room that he assumed that they were exhausted, sleep deprived and very nervous. He said: I am only going to give you one idea to keep in mind as you start your marriage and move forward in life together, just three words of counsel…keep your covenants. Always keep your covenants. When life is hard, keep your covenants; when doubt creeps in, keep your covenants; when others break their covenants and walk away, keep your covenants. In that moment, I reviewed in my mind the covenants I have made.
I have made three sets of covenants, all interrelated. When I was eight, I made a covenant to take upon myself the name of Christ, to keep His commandments, and to remember him always. I was promised that if I was obedient to my baptismal covenant, I would always have His spirit to be with me.
At age 12, when the Aaronic Priesthood was conferred upon me, I made a covenant to seek after the greater priesthood and to magnify my calling. Obedience to my priesthood covenant would result in my Father in Heaven giving to me “all that he has”.
At age 18, I made covenants in the temple which were more profound and particular than my previous covenants. These temple covenants concerned my extended obedience, my willingness to sacrifice, my willingness to be morally clean and my acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior and Redeemer. Later, when my wife and I were sealed, we committed to keeping covenants together. We did not covenant to love each other, but we did covenant to be true and faithful to each other and love has followed. The blessing that is ours for keeping our temple covenants is the greatest form of joy that can be experienced, which is life in the presence of our Heavenly Father.
Remember Spiritual Encounters
In addition to keeping covenants, there are several things that we can do to not lose faith. For me, it is very important to remember the spiritual encounters which I have had during my life. I suffer from depression and take medication so that I can have a decent quality of life. Sometimes I feel pretty good, other times I just close my eyes and try to survive the day, hoping that after the long night, the sun will rise and tomorrow will be better. Overall, I consider myself functional plus which for me is really good.
People who experience depression and anxiety have a hard time feeling the Spirit. With medication, it’s even harder, not impossible, but really hard to feel the Spirit. Even reading the scriptures, praying and watching conference can end up being empty and hollow exercises that are more frustrating than spiritually uplifting. Prior to our mission, I was using a relatively mild medication that had worked well for several years and we felt that my depression would not be an issue. We were wrong. Almost invariably, missions will amplify and accentuate depression and anxiety and that was certainly my experience.
My choices were to pack up and go home or to take some more aggressive medications which is what I chose to do. And they worked as far as leaving me in a position where I could function as a mission president. I don’t believe any of our missionaries knew I was medicated. But the medication was so strong that I simply could not feel the Spirit at all. This lasted for about a year. It was frustrating to be in training meetings or leadership meetings or district meetings or zone conferences or thousands of interviews and to see tears in the eyes of my missionaries, to know that they were feeling the Spirit, to know that the Spirit was strongly manifest. They were having spiritual encounters, personal epiphanies…I was numb and could not feel what they were feeling.
After a year we changed medications and went to a milder dose of a single medication. Thankfully, my new prescription allowed me to sense the Spirit again. I clearly recall my first strong spiritual encounter after changing medications, and I wept tears of joy mixed with tears of gratitude and relief. And since then I have had several instances in which I have felt the elevating and quickening influence of the Spirit affirming eternal truths in the center of my heart and mind, but they have been few and far between.
My experience is that when I can’t feel the Spirit, it is easy to begin to doubt. That’s why it is so critical that I maintain strong memories of spiritual encounters that I have had throughout my life. I have prayed for strong memories and the Lord has answered. I have vivid memories of learning a new song as a little boy in Primary a long time ago. Sister Larkin, the Primary chorister, taught the room full of children the lyrics…I know my father lives, and loves me too. The Spirit whispers this to me and tells me it is true, and tells me it is true. In that room on that day, as a little boy, I received a powerful and enduring witness, in no uncertain terms, that this is true. I will never forget.
On my mission, while studying the life of Jesus Christ and his role as savior and redeemer, I was sitting on my bunk in a little room on the roof of our bishop’s home on the outskirts of Mexico City. I experienced a wave of light and a surge of energy, almost like adrenaline. In that moment, the Father’s plan for his children on earth crystalized in my mind. Suddenly questions and doubts that had plagued me disappeared and were immediately replaced by a warm assurance. I understood his plan. I knew I was loved, there is a heaven and I was actually wanted there. I will never forget that encounter.
Since then, I have had several other spiritual manifestations in my life. I’m sure each of you has had similar experiences. Hold on to these encounters. Remember them. Let them anchor your faith.
How My Prayers are Answered
We can also keep faith through prayer. My prayers are answered in a somewhat frustrating way. I don’t pray over a problem or a question or situation and then get an answer in the near future. It’s never really worked that way for me. I recognize the answers to my prayers by looking in the rear-view mirror. When I look back over my life and consider the twists and turns, the events, the joys, the successes, the unimaginable blessings which I’ve received, I can see the pattern of answers to my prayers by a loving Heavenly Father. It is obvious to me in recounting my life’s history that my Heavenly Father knows me, loves me, and responds to me. Through prayer, we can keep faith.
Some years ago, a friend tried to recruit me, for lack of a better term, to leave the Church. I have no idea why he picked me; maybe he felt I was a kindred spirit. He started with the Church’s stance on same gender attraction and gay marriage. From there, he went on to plural marriage and then other issues. I stopped him at some point and told him that I didn’t have the answers to these questions. I couldn’t explain these issues. I didn’t know what was in God’s mind. I went on to tell him that I also had questions that I wanted answered and issues that I wanted resolved.
I wanted to know, in scientific terms how the earth was created, how a perfect sphere covered in land and water with a 25,000 mile circumference could be formed, placed in the solar system, commenced spinning on an axis, perfectly tilted, and then sent orbiting around a sun that was exactly the precise distance to allow for life and provide for seasons.
I do not understand the nature of our spiritual beings, what is the composition of spiritual matter and how does that spiritual matter intersect with our physical matter to create a living soul. And how does that reverse itself at death.
I do not know why God created a plan that required a Savior, that none of his billions of spiritual offspring (all of us here on earth) would be worthy to return to him and that every one of us would require a third party, someone to intercede on our behalf, to be made clean enough to return to His presence.
And how does resurrection work? I simply can’t fathom or even begin to comprehend how a body that has perished though decomposition or explosion or cremation could be reconstituted, returned in whole to its most perfect form.
I don’t know why God inspired or arranged or provided for Jacob to take 4 wives in order to have 12 sons which formed the lineage for the 12 tribes of Israel. I can’t explain the flood. Why a flood? What was in God’s mind? I simply don’t understand, I don’t think there is anyone who does. And I have a long list of other questions. And they can’t be answered.
I simply accept that there are many things, many situations, many questions…and the answers will need to wait. Faith requires that we set them aside and move forward. I told my friend that I had been blessed with a series of personal epiphanies that had led me to believe, even to know on a deeply personal and spiritual level, that there is a God in heaven who knows and loves me, that there is a Savior who has suffered and died for me, and that truth has been restored in the form of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and priesthood power and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. Everything else, all the questions and doubts and uncertainty can wait. I simply believe it isn’t critical or essential for us right now. Our understanding of God is fundamentally based on faith, and faith is required to know Him and His purposes.
Don’t abandon sacred covenants because of doubts or unanswerable questions. Don’t deny yourself the blessings that come from obedience because of a position or situation that is uncomfortable or worrisome. Choose faith. Choose to believe in and trust God. He will bless you with an evolving knowledge of the truth and a deeper understanding of His love and His plan.
Do not let the internet define your beliefs, your faith.
Do not let the media define your beliefs, your faith.
Do not let disaffected individuals define your beliefs, your faith…friends or family or other acquaintances, who have left because of a falling out with a bishop or stake president, or because they have had their feelings hurt in some way, or because they choose to embrace progressive world views which are becoming increasingly separated from eternal truths found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not let someone else define your beliefs, your faith.
Set aside those things that can’t be answered and focus on the things you know to be true, things that have been made manifest through spiritual prompting and revelation. Chose faith. Hold fast to the sacred spiritual encounters you’ve been blessed with and keep your covenants.
God lives, Jesus is the Christ, truth has been restored.