""I’d like to explore three ways in which the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring joy into our lives: First, through keeping the commandments; second, through Christ-centered service; and third, through exercising gratitude." "
Find Your Joy
Good morning, brothers, and sisters. Thank you so much for that beautiful musical number. Every time I hear someone sing, or play the piano, or play the violin, I wonder what it would be like to have an actual musical talent. Also, thank you to Primalapa and Mark, Jacob and Lindsay, for their talents today. It’s humbling to stand before so many friendly faces and friends and family on the 136th anniversary of the founding of this college and I hope that I can just do this wonderful place that has been so good to me and my family, do it a little bit of justice today.
While serving as a brand-new missionary in the Taichung, Taiwan mission, we had an investigator that was a good friend of some of the young adults in the ward. Fuji was handsome, smart, outgoing, and looking for truth, but he’d been meeting with missionaries for a long time and wasn’t really progressing in any meaningful way. I didn’t know this; Changhua was my first area, and my language skills were limited to greeting someone and then getting out of the way so my trainer could carry the rest of the conversation. If you’ve been on a foreign-speaking mission, you know what I’m talking about. Truthfully, if you’ve served any mission, I think you get my drift. But this one day, we met with Fuji, and my companion asked him, plainly, what do you want out of life?
Like I said, this wasn’t Fuji’s first rodeo. He’d known quite a few missionaries before us. He’d read in the Book of Mormon, and he knew our doctrine. In response to my companion, he shared a short, succinct scripture that has stuck with me ever since. 2 Nephi 5:27 reads, simply, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.” In that moment, this scripture hit me differently, and I dwelled on that thought. This, right here, is what the gospel is all about. The gospel brings happiness. It brings joy into the lives of those that accept it. Whether you accepted it as a youth, or were a little older, or maybe you’re still writing your conversion story, the Spirit will speak to your heart and bring joy into it.
The way this story should end is that, through our mastery of the Mandarin language, and our exceptional missionary skills, we drove the Spirit into his heart, Fuji felt that joy, got baptized, married one of these young women, and is now a bishop somewhere. Unfortunately, that’s not true. I’ve kept in touch with some of the youth from that area, but I never heard about him joining the church. The joy of the Gospel was never activated in his heart. And though I have no doubt that he “lived after the manner of happiness,” I sometimes wonder how much happier his life could be.
The gospel of Jesus Christ brings joy, peace, and hope into our lives. I’m talking about true happiness that transcends inconveniences, or doubts, or guilt, or disappointment. Today, I’d like to explore this joy, and how you can find your joy in the travels of this life. Joseph Smith said that, “happiness is the object and design of our existence, and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it,” (Teaching of the prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 255). Joy is a choice that we each make; it’s conscious and evolving.
The Prophet Joseph Smith had some of the darkest times you or I could imagine, and yet he still held tight to his joy. From Liberty Jail he wrote, "Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and his arm to be revealed." This is from Doctrine and Covenants 123:17.
President Nelson teaches about joy in his talk Joy and Spiritual Survival from 2016. He states, “How, then, can we claim that joy? We can start by ‘looking unto Jesus the ‘author and finisher of our faith’ ‘in every thought’… As our Savior becomes more and more real to us and as we plead for His joy to be given to us, our joy will increase. Joy is powerful and focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives.”
Today I’d like to explore three ways in which the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring joy into our lives: First, through keeping the commandments; second, through Christ-centered service; and third, through exercising gratitude. There are other ways that we can feel joy through the Gospel, I’m sure I’m missing your favorite, but I think this is a good start. At the end I’ll also touch on something that is essential: continuing on in faith even when things aren’t going perfectly.
Keeping the commandments:
President Thomas S. Monson stated that “when we keep the commandments our lives will be happier, more fulfilling and less complicated.” Now, I don’t know how many of you out there enjoy bowling, but I sure do. When I’ve taken my young children bowling there’s a fantastic technology that prevents kids from getting gutter ball after gutter ball: They put bumpers on the lane. This keeps the ball in the lane, where it eventually makes it to the pins and allows the child to score points. Without them most children, and a good handful of adults, would never be able to get the ball to the pins, leading to a frustrating and disappointing afternoon. Even in the absence of real skill, these bumpers make playing the game enjoyable. I like to look at the commandments as the bumpers on the bowling lane of life. President George Albert Smith said in the October 1943 conference that, “the finest recipe I could give to obtain happiness would be keep the commandments of the Lord.” This is no small feat when you realize that he gave this talk in the midst of World War II. In 1943 there was no guarantee that the United States would prevail in Europe or the Pacific. Most families had to ration their food and resources for the war effort, so a call to keep the commandments was loaded with faith that obedience brings blessings. If we look to the scriptures King Mosiah mentions this in Mosiah chapter 2 verse 41. He says, “and moreover I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful unto the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. Oh remember, remember that these things are true for the Lord God hath spoken it.”
Keeping the commandments brings us joy because it keeps us on that straight and narrow path, holding on to the iron rod that Lehi mentions in his dream. Holding tight to the iron rod does one thing that’s critical to our lives: It brings us closer to the Savior. Without Jesus Christ, and without his atonement, we can never experience fully the joy that the gospel can bring into our lives. Like holding onto the rod, keeping the commandments gives us a focus, it gives us a destination. It allows us to look forward to our eternal goal of dwelling with Christ and our Heavenly Father in Paradise.
Anybody that’s ever taken a road trip knows that it’s easier to stay on the path than it is to wander from the path and then try to make your way back. My children think I get lost all the time. I don’t know what I did early in their young lives to make them think that Dad is perpetually lost, but anytime I vary the slightest from our normal route, I get questioned. In truth, though, they might be on to something. This last month I was on a short road trip by myself heading to BYU-Idaho and I wasn’t paying attention. I was probably fiddling with the radio or scrolling for a new podcast, and instead of following I-15 North at Tremonton, I followed the road west onto I-84. It was a full 20 minutes before I realized that I was on I-84 instead of I-15. In fact, it wasn’t until I looked at my phone to see how much farther to Pocatello that I realized I was completely on the wrong road. While not a terrible inconvenience, I did have to turn around and backtrack to I-15, losing 30 or 40 minutes in the process.
How wonderful it is to have the Atonement that allows us to backtrack and make corrections in our lives. When we withdraw ourselves from the Spirit, the atonement is there to reorient us back onto the path and restore our joy. The Savior will always let us come back to him, but it sure is easier to stay on the path than to return later.
The second way the gospel brings joy into our lives is through service. David O. McKay mentioned in the October 1963 conference that, “man's greatest happiness comes from losing himself for the good of others.” He also said that, “True happiness comes only by making others happy.”
Will you indulge me another mission story? Again, as a junior mission companion, this idea was laid out for me. If you haven’t noticed, I needed a lot of help as a junior companion. A senior companion of mine likened it unto what he called the “upward spiral.” At the heart of this spiral was service. You do something for somebody and that makes you feel better. For example, I like making my wife happy. If I can take a responsibility off her hands, and I see how grateful she is, it makes me feel good inside. Seeing that it made her happy makes me want to serve her again. And up, and up it goes.
Children have this figured out. Service makes up a large part of a young child’s life, as long as you let it grow and don’t kill the desire in them to serve when they’re still little. Kids are just happy to help. I think some of this is innate, they spend so long unable to do things, like talk or walk, that when you ask them to “bring Daddy his work shoes,” they’re just stoked to know what that is and know they can do it. We have four kids, ages 10 to 2, and we try to bake service into their world by making it a part of the process of apologizing to someone. When there’s a conflict, because there is all the time, saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. Sorry is easy to say and not mean. So, we have them combine it with, “how can I help?” That means, if someone runs into their sibling, and the sibling gets hurt, the offender tells the offended, “I’m sorry, how can I help?” It’s usually never much, but it teaches them that serving others is a great way to repair those relationships. When you serve, you are more empathetic and readier to see another’s point of view.
Volunteering, whether for an organization or privately, brings joy into participants’ lives. Research shows that American adults are more than twice as likely as German or French adults to contribute time and energy to community work (Gimenez-Nadal and Molina, p. 1735). The Church is a leader here, as well. In 2012 the Church reported that while Americans average 48 hours of service per year, LDS volunteers served over 427 hours per year, nearly a ten-fold increase (Volunteerism Highlighted). In the article, Voluntary activities and daily happiness in the United States, authors J. Ignacio Gimenez-Nadal and Jose Alberto Molina conclude, “we find that participation in voluntary activities is positively associated with the daily happiness of individuals” (p.1747). Now, I admit that I have a bias towards research, but I think it’s wonderful that what the Holy Ghost has witnessed to us, that service brings joy into our lives, is recognized by academic authors. I love that, spiritually and academically, service and joy go hand in hand.
The third way the gospel brings joy into our lives is through exercising gratitude. Something as simple as keeping a gratitude journal has been proven to bring that joy into your life. At the beginning of the devotional today, Brother Richards had everyone hold up an item that showed they were ready to be taught by the Spirit. That shows me that each person in here has at least one thing they can use to write the things they’re grateful for. If you’ve never done it, it’s easy. At a set point in the day, often in the evening, jot down a few things that you’re grateful for. Reflect on the day you had and highlight a couple times that stand out in your mind. It doesn’t have to take a long time. This isn’t meant to be a journal entry about your day, it’s just a few thoughts to fuel the gratitude in your life. Now, I promise that by noticing the good, you’ll be more grateful.
In a time when social media makes it so easy to get sidetracked by envy, or greed, focusing on what you have does wonders for the joy in your life. The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to ignore the world and focus on the good. When you gaze inward and see the things you’re actually really thankful for, it brings more joy into your life. US President Teddy Roosevelt is often credited as saying, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’ Remember that social media is comparing your own boring daily life, to everyone else’s highlight reel. Naturally, your day-to-day life isn’t going to seem as glamorous.
During one particularly selfish time in my life I was once counseled to have only a prayer of gratitude during my evening prayers. To pray only for those things that you are grateful for. Try it, it’s kind of hard. You have the natural drive to ask your Heavenly Father for things, to ask for His blessings. But I would challenge you, maybe not tonight, but maybe sometime soon, to try it. Try to pray and only be grateful for the things that you have and don’t cut it short. Keep it going. Because once you get on a roll you will realize how much you are eternally grateful for.
Now, a word of caution, I feel, is needed here. Most of you will graduate probably pretty close to each other. Your friend circle, roommates, dating partners, will all go your separate ways roughly around the same time, which means all of you are starting your professional lives at roughly the same point in your lives. It’s an exciting, magical time filled with possibility. However, all of you have different tools that you’re bringing to that finish line. Some of you have accounting degrees, some have interior design degrees, some have business management degrees, and all of these degrees give you a different skill. The varied resources that you’re bringing into your life means that your path is going to be different, sometimes, very different, from those that you spend time with today. I look at my own stable of close friends from my high school and college years and there’s lawyers, doctors, salesmen, professors, and more, and you look at some of these people and you think, ‘wow they’ve carved out a really nice life for themselves.’ It’s really hard not to get caught up in that comparison since you all started at roughly the same point. At my graduation I had friends gearing up for working abroad, or applying for an MBA program, or law school. When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in History, I worked in an auto body shop. Everyone has a different path, and as long as your staying close to your Heavenly Father you’ll wind up with those true to the faith, grouped together at the tree at the end of the iron rod.
The gospel promises us that if you practice gratitude in your life you will be happier. Academic literature has research on this as well. In the article, Understanding gratitude from the Happiness Perspective by Sahil Handa and Monika Rikhi, they state there is, “a substantial positive relationship between gratitude and happiness. In other words, expressing and feeling gratitude leads to happiness, and vice versa.” Again, it's beautiful that the things we learn through the Spirit is reflected in the literature of happiness and joy.
When things get hard
Once we’ve “lived after the manner of happiness,” like my friend Fuji called my attention to so long ago, we often ask ourselves, is that it? Are we finished, and our journey of finding joy done? Sadly no, sometimes life will throw you a curveball. Sometimes you’ll be tested. Sometimes you’ll hit heartache. The gospel calls this, “enduring to the end.” Finding joy in the journey, focusing on a positive outlook, and keeping a positive mental attitude will help you find joy through those low points in in life. Always remember that this, too, shall pass. A focus on our end goal, by holding to the iron rod, and accepting the atonement of Jesus Christ will pull us through those times where the joy is harder to find. Remember that Christ took upon himself all of our trials, all of our sadness, all of our anger, and all of our other issues. Psalm chapter 30 verse 5 reads, “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I love the promise that hardships may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. And, you’ll notice, that’s not joy should come in the morning or hopefully joy comes in the morning, it’s a promise that joy comes in the morning. It's not a question, it's a statement and that’s the beautiful thing. The joy you get through the gospel of Jesus Christ give you hope in the dark times. It can give you direction and can give you love. It’ll add meaning to the years that you have.
I know that that the gospel is designed to bring us joy. Like Joseph Smith said, happiness is the design of our existence. The beautiful thing about the love Jesus Christ has for us is that He's always there to bring us back, to pull us closer unto Him. I’ll leave you my testimony that that the gospel does bring joy into our lives. If we focus on obeying the commandments, serving others, and cultivating a feeling of gratitude we will be able to more fully feel that joy through the Holy Ghost. The Lord will be able to pour more joy into our lives and into the lives of those around us.
These things I leave with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen