Service and Sacrifice Enrich our Lives
With the introduction and some of those thoughts, it reminded me of the first prayer I offered as a missionary, up in a little town called Eagle Butte, South Dakota. My missionary companion … they were just opening that mission, and so there were a lot of us young elders coming out and being put with missionaries that had just been there a short time. So my companion had been out for 30 long days, and I became his companion. And he didn’t know very much, but I knew a lot less than him. And here we were together on this Indian reservation, and I stepped out of the little shuttle that took me up to that town after the mission president had given us a little orientation, and he said, “We have an appointment over at the jailhouse.”
I said to myself, “I’ve never seen a jailhouse.” And having been raised in a small LDS farm community, I don’t think I’d ever seen anybody but an Anglo.
So I was a little bit scared and a little shocked. But we went over the jailhouse. I didn’t know what to expect, whether there would be a danger. It’s kind of foolish now, looking back on it, but still. My companion said, “Elder Brown, would you give the opening prayer?” and we all knelt down.
And I thought it was kind of scary for me, my first day in the mission field. But I’d prayed all my life, so I just gave the old casual prayer. I said, “Heavenly Father, we’re thankful that all these men could be here today.” Then I thought that wasn’t right, but I stumbled on through the prayer and closed it by saying, “And we pray that they can all return next time.” That’s the prayer that I’d given in my home town all those years. So it brought back memories. Thank you for that heartfelt prayer today.
As I was preparing a few thoughts today, my mind went back to one of the missionaries that served with us in the Utah Provo Mission a few years ago.
This was a young man who was raised on a large ranch in the South. So he had a lot of freedom. He was always outside. He loved the out of doors. He didn’t like to be inside, and he didn’t like to be particularly restrained. And it was a little hard for him. He had a little anxiety and quite a bit of social anxiety. He said to me one day, “President, when I stand up in church to speak, I can’t help it, but my chin quivers.” And he said, “I can’t stop my knees from shaking. When I have to make a door approach I find the same thing, I can hardly speak.” He said, “It’s really hard for me.”
Well, to tell you a little bit about his background, when he was home he worked on the farm a lot of time, but he had to make a little money. His job was when alligators came into town—and they showed up quite often at people’s homes or businesses in the town—they would call him, and he’d go capture them and take them back out in the swamps. So he didn’t lack courage. I mean, I’ve never caught an alligator, and I probably will die without having ever caught an alligator. So we all admired him, but he was really kind of afraid. He wanted to go home—many times, I can’t tell you how many times he said to me, “President, I think I ought to go home. Not that I don’t want to serve—I don’t know whether I can do it.”
Even his parents at one point in time called me and said, “Maybe he’s just had enough.” Yet I had this impression, and sometimes maybe that’s the way it ought to be. I don’t argue that. Sometimes maybe it isn’t the place for a young man or woman after they’ve done their very best to serve as well as they could. But for him I just had that impression—he needs to stay, he shouldn’t go home.
Then one day I learned a little secret that I didn’t know before. He was serving down in Springville. Now if you haven’t been to Springville, you can go, and you’ll pass through it in about 90 seconds. But here’s what he said to me one day. He said, “President, my biggest problem is I can’t stand these big cities.” And I thought, well okay, if that’s his problem I can take care of that. We’ve got Moab, Blanding—I can send him somewhere really remote, which I did. And you know, he really had a pretty good last part of his mission.
But here’s the point, brothers and sisters. When all of our missionaries went home, we had a fireside. They all spoke for a few minutes, invited their converts, their old ward mission leaders. And sometimes their parents came to pick them up. And when we held the fireside that night where he spoke, his mother showed up unexpectedly and was sitting in the audience when he bore his testimony. We had about—we counted about 450 missionaries during our service time, but I don’t remember one any more than I remember this good missionary’s testimony. Because he stood up to the pulpit, and the minute he did the tears just gushed out of his eyes. And he said something like this: “I made it. I did it. It was the hardest thing that I have ever done, but I finished this mission.” And his mother was crying about as much as he did.
And I said to myself, this young man sacrificed immensely. For some of us to go on missions, it’s hard, but it’s not that hard. For him it was very, very difficult matter, but he made it. And so, in thinking about that, I’ve come to understand the verse of a song—a song that you have sung many, many times. It’s called “Praise to the Man.” We’ve sung it a lot, haven’t we? The last verse starts with these words: “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.” (Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 27)
I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, and I’ve come to believe this: that sacrifice is the only way that we receive blessings. I don’t think there’s any other way to receive blessings from heaven than from some form of sacrifice. This young man, I think, will be blessed all of his life for a pretty major sacrifice on his part. I like the way James explains it to us, in a sense. He talks about pure religion. Pure religion.
In James 1:27, says this: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep [oneself] unspotted from the world.” Think about that for a minute. I don’t think I can add anything to that. Maybe you can. I’ve never been able to. It’s giving of yourself to other people—giving up your own interests and wishes and time and means to bless and help other people. That’s a form of sacrifice, giving of ourselves.
The second form of sacrifice is to give up the world, to keep oneself unspotted from the world, to be clean, to repel or stand against the things that our natural desires might want and to give to God the sacrifice of cleanliness. I like to describe it as doing good for others and being good yourself. Doing good and being good, I believe, is pure religion. I don’t think you can add or take away from that.
Now let’s maybe spend a minute on each one of those issues of sacrifice. Think about it for a minute. They are both means of sacrifice—giving of your time for someone else, giving up the world. Sacrificing our natural desires for the things of God. They are forms of sacrifice.
Let’s talk about the visiting of fatherless and widows. And of course that’s not simply literal. That’s one thing we ought to do, but it speaks of a larger issue of giving of ourselves and serving others. Missionary service, for example—and I happened to just get an email from one of my missionaries, a sister who lives here in the Salt Lake Valley and who served a few years ago. She sent an email, just catching up on the things in her life. And it reminded me of the blessing that so many of you have experienced on missions, and so many more of you will probably also experience.
She said, “I’ve seen some prolonged blessings”—and there’s that word—“some blessings from serving in the Utah Provo Mission—moments that just make me appreciate my mission even more, and the inspiration behind my call.” Then she talks about teaching a family in St. George when she was serving there, a man who had been less active his entire life. She and her companion were able to reach, touch his heart, help him through the Spirit [to] become active in the Church again, and then his three children and wife were baptized, and they all became active as a family. Now think about that for just a minute, the change in the lives of those children forever.
She said that she went down to St. George to attend a missionary farewell—that’s the wrong word these days—but to attend the sacrament meetings where the oldest son in that family is going on a mission. He’s going to baptize some people and bring them into the kingdom. But the sacrifice she put into it, she says in her email, brings her great satisfaction and joy. And it came through hard work, because her mission wasn’t easy.
Then she said, “You may remember Brother Pino, the Italian man who was in his seventies, from Payson.” And I do remember him well. She said, “My companion and I had the privilege of teaching him and seeing him get baptized at what we call ‘My big fat Italian baptism.’ And she said, “I call it that because we couldn’t fit everybody into the church house when he got baptized, because everybody loved him so much.” Then she said, “We got to go to his sealing in the temple, where he and his wife were sealed together.” Then she said he traveled to Salt Lake and to Canada at the sealing of the two of us when we got married. Then she ends—she says a lot more, but she simply says she has such great gratitude to be part of this. She ends by saying, “My mission continues to bless my life.”
Blessings come from sacrifice and giving of ourselves, and it isn’t always the easy course, is it, brothers and sisters? It’s sometimes the difficult one. So as you serve in the Church in your callings, it doesn’t matter what your calling is. Some of you are Relief Society presidents and some are in Elder’s quorum presidencies, and clerks, and bishoprics. But you know, if you’re a home teacher, it’s a responsibility and an opportunity to serve. And as you serve faithfully and well, those blessings will come to you also.
Sometimes, brothers and sisters, we choose to give of ourselves. And we always make that choice. But sometimes some of the challenges of life are thrust upon us and we have opportunities then to sacrifice and serve others who may have difficulties and challenges themselves.
President Faust told this story about a general authority that you younger folks may not remember his name. Some of us who are older remember him.
His name was S. Dilworth Young, who was a member of the First Council of the Seventy. I remember Elder Young attending conferences; I think he came to our stake conference a time or two. A wonderful, wonderful, faithful soul. But I think publicly he came across as a little stern, a little strong in his personality, and you kind of felt that. But I think underneath he was a wonderful gentle soul. And President Faust told this story about him.
He said that at the time he is talking about, Elder Young’s wife, Gladys, “was an invalid, having suffered … a cruel stroke. She remained that way for [many] years [before her death]. Brother Young made the extra effort to dress her, feed her, and care for her. In all my life, says President Faust, I have not seen a greater example of gentleness and solicitude than Brother Young showed to Gladys. . . . [Elder Young told me,] ‘It was the worst thing in the world that could have happened to Gladys, and the best thing for me. It made me decent. I learned what love should really be.’ ” (“Brethren, Love Your Wives,” Ensign, July 1981. http://www.lds.org/ensign/1981/07/brethren-love-your-wives?lang=eng) Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven, even though it’s not always easy.
One of the ways we know some of you serve, and hopefully most of you can often, is in the temple. I have to—this is an unpaid advertisement because [as] the temple president we want to always encourage you to attend the temple. Some of you have been on missions, you’ve had your endowments, some of you haven’t yet. But we hope each one of you can find an opportunity to go to the temple. It’s a form of service, it’s a great opportunity to give, sacrifice to bless both the living and dead through your work.
We have in the Draper Temple—and I understand even here [in the Salt Lake Temple] many of you, if you go on Saturdays and other times to serve in the temple—we have youth who have had their mission calls, waiting to go, and those who have returned that come into the temple every week to serve, to provide help in the baptistry and other places in the temple. Again, all of this brings blessings and peace and happiness, joy into our lives.
It’s not always an easy trek to happiness and satisfaction. But you know, we all need to try to figure it out, because all of us have our days. Everybody has those days when you kind of wish the sun didn’t come up. Well, you want it to come up, but you don’t want to get up. And we all have some of those days. But it’s important to figure out in our lives that if we feel unhappy all the time, if we feel depressed and sad and miserable, one of the things we maybe haven’t discovered is giving to other people. I don’t know of a person who even struggles with their own emotions of sadness and unhappiness that doesn’t feel better when they learn to give of themselves and to act for others and care about others.
You all—probably most of you have roommates. You know, I had roommates in college; I had missionary companions. And some of the missionary companions I didn’t enjoy being with, to be honest. But we got along just fine. What made me sad later is I found that most of them didn’t want to be with me. And I think they were all grateful when they got a new companion. But you learn to get along. And sometimes when you have a struggle, then do something for that companion. Do the dishes one night when it’s not your turn. Shine their shoes and make their bed. Look for ways to serve. And we’ll talk about that in just a minute, the other result of that. But it can bring happiness when we have some form of sacrifice.
The second way—we’ll just shift now to that keeping oneself unspotted from the world. Just a thought or two about that. It’s a real challenge today, brothers and sisters. I have said sincerely and genuinely—at my age, you know, I’m facing the prospects of going on to the next world long before any of you are. But let me tell you what, I’m kind of happy that I’m in this stage of life at this time in the world. I don’t know, honestly, just as honest as I can be with you—I don’t know that I would want to live in the world as you do today. I admire you. I love you. And I know it’s not easy sometimes, but thank you for really being the hope for the future in this Church. You have so much good yet to do in your families, in the Church, and in the world. But I know it’s a challenge—moral cleanliness, pornography, the temptation of cheating, the sins of commission and the sins of omission, paying tithing and fast offerings. There are many things in our lives that we have to deal with and have to struggle with. But we have to try to live it the very best we can.
How do you find the strength and the courage to make the right choices? I’ve wondered. I’ve worked with a counseling system—LDS Social Services—for years, and I’ve spent decades trying to understand human behavior from the Scriptures. I’ve wondered why it is that you’re here today and perhaps someone else is in a juvenile home. Why did you make the choices? Because we all have choices. Sometimes we don’t want to believe that. But Joseph Smith said that. He said that Satan cannot persuade us, cannot make us do anything wrong, and God will not make us do anything right. So we stand in the middle. In any given situation, we have a choice to make. What causes people to make choices one way or another?
For me, I can only boil it down to one word, and that word is desire. You have to want to make the right choice. So the next question is what? What causes desire? It’s pretty simple in a way, brothers and sisters. It’s not very complicated. Because the things that cause desire, that foster desire in our hearts to be obedient, are the simple things of the gospel. It is saying your prayers every day, it’s reading the Scriptures, it’s attending your meetings. It’s being obedient. It’s paying your tithing. It’s paying your fast offerings. It’s serving in the Church. These things, when you do them, will create a greater desire to be obedient. It’s not too complicated.
And what we believe has a lot to do with desire. When we believe the right things about ourselves and about God and the world, then we will make better choices. It’s the future that causes us to behave a certain way. It’s not our past. Too many of us want to look back and think, “Well, my parents weren’t the best parents.” Well of course they weren’t. They weren’t perfect, and you’ll spend your time analyzing them at a certain point in your life, and then wait for your children to do the same to you. That’s kind of the way it is. They are not perfect. But it’s just trying to believe in the future that makes a difference.
Why does a young boy, 10 years old, sit out in his driveway on the cement and shoot baskets—a thousand baskets a day? It’s not so much what happened to him in the past; it’s his hope for the future. I want to be, I want to become, maybe I want to make that team. And what you hope for the future, what you believe in, is one of the most significant influences on your behavior today. So when you believe in God, you believe in salvation, you believe the Church is true, that we’re guided by apostles and prophets, it makes a difference in how you behave today.
Now in saying that, I want to go to the other end of that for just a minute, because one of the same things I have sensed among young people and people in the Church is this feeling of not being perfect. I worry about that. I worry about people who live constantly with guilt and shame. You know, when you sin you’re supposed to feel a little guilt. And that should motivate you to change and be better. But some people carry it around in such an awful fashion and it worries me. They’re not perfect and they don’t feel they’re perfect, and every time they make a mistake it’s somehow that they’re no good anymore. And you know what I’m talking about, I have a feeling.
We have to remember that Christ is a God of mercy. Justice is there, and that will take care of itself. But God’s Atonement, His crucifixion, was an act of mercy so that we can be forgiven and we can be blessed and helped in our weaknesses.
I like the scripture where the Savior says, “Take my yoke upon you.” (Matthew 11:29) You know what a yoke is. You’ve seen oxen in a picture or whatever—it’s a wooden frame with two circles that are attached solidly together. And then there’s an ox in each, put their heads through each side. Where one ox goes, the other one goes with him. He doesn’t have much of a choice. And one ox may pull a little harder than the other, but they both go along. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you—I’ll put one side on my shoulders and over my head; you get in the other one with me. Have a little faith. And guess who’s going to pull the hardest most of the time? Me. And I’m willing to do it. And if you can’t pull very hard, I’ll pull you along a ways. But it’s yoked together, and we’ll pull together.”
And then I think He would probably say something like this: “You know, I know tomorrow or next week or next year you can pull just a little bit more, but in the meantime, it’s okay if you are not perfect. Let’s just do it together, and my Atonement, my love, my mercy will cover for you.” And I think that’s the way it is with our imperfections.
I like what Bruce R. McConkie said. This is a great gospel truth that “everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving”—now listen to these words—“striving and struggling and desiring to do… right, though is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he’s on the straight and narrow, he’s going on to eternal reward in [the] Father’s kingdom. We don’t need to get a complex or get a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved…. In order to be saved in the kingdom of God what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path…and then… pass out of this life in full fellowship…. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time…and day of your salvation, so if you’re working zealously in this life—though you haven’t… overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do [or become]—you’re… going to be saved.” (http://emp.byui.edu/ANDERSONR/itc/Book%20_of_Mormon/04_jacob/jacob04/jacob04_03callelect_brm.htm From an address titled “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” given at the Salt Lake Institute of Religion, Jan. 10, 1982. Also cited by Elder L. Tom Perry in Oct. 2006 general conference.) Now that is a great message of mercy.
Heber J. Grant adds to it with this statement, which I love and appreciate personally. He said, “I do not believe that any man lives up to his ideals, but if we are striving, if we are working, if we are trying, to the best of our ability, to improve day by day, then we are in the line of our duty. If we are seeking to remedy our own defects, if we are so living that we can ask God for light, [and] for knowledge, and intelligence, and above all for His Spirit, that we may overcome our weaknesses, then, I can tell you, we are in the straight and narrow path that leads to [eternal life]; then we need to have no fear.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, “Walking in the Path That Leads to Life Eternal,” p. 23)
“No man is perfect, but one”—listen to this sentence—“but one who strives earnestly to conquer weaknesses and grow into perfection does not sin. That is to say, he is not a sinner. A sinner is one who indulges in sin habitually because he takes pleasure in it.” (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, 185.)
There is hope, brothers and sisters, to be imperfect. Just keep striving. And if your behavior is such that you need a little help from your bishop, go to him. Because let me tell you this: One of the greatest gifts God ever gave to His children was the opportunity to confess your sins. There’s something, I could say, magical about it. That’s the wrong word. But there is something that’s wonderful about it. The minute a person shares a problem with another person, particularly a bishop, he immediately and automatically gives strength over the problem. It’s a great gift of mercy to have the opportunity to talk to your bishop.
Now maybe just one more thought in closing. I want to mention one more outcome and blessing of sacrifice. Sacrifice not only brings blessings, it brings love. I would say again from my own experience and opinion that nothing else does. I think if you want to generate love in your heart for something or someone, it will come through sacrifice and giving of yourself. You missionaries, do you remember? You left on your mission and when you walked out the door to go to the MTC, your younger sister was really happy because she got your room? You left your three girlfriends behind; you left your mother’s cooking behind. Your mom scratched your back, probably, still by the time you were going on your mission. You had companions that were lazy. You got rejected how many hundreds of times at doors, people sometimes calling you names. Not easy. Then you get—two or three girlfriends, you always get two or three Dear Johns.
And then a missionary almost always comes back and stands at the pulpit, and you know what you say: “It was the best two years of my life.” And if you aren’t LDS and understanding it, you would think we were crazy. Because it is work, and it’s wonderful work, but it’s not easy. It’s the challenge, it’s the sacrifice of giving that causes love for the mission and love for God and the love for your companions.
I see mothers—down here on the front row with these beautiful little babies—and I can see something in their eyes. The love. And you know, a little baby when they’re first born—I mean, it’s pretty hard for nine months, anyway, until the delivery, and then when they’re born their greatest characteristic is messing their pants and throwing up, having colic. But you look into a mother’s eyes—and I think men can never quite understand or appreciate the love that a mother has for a child. Do you know why? She gives so much for that child and sacrifice develops love.
In some of the counseling I’ve done in the work with couples who have marriage problems, I’ve heard so many times—and I’ll use the man as the example, [though] it can work both ways: “I just don’t love her anymore.” That tells me more about him than it does about her. Now I know it’s a two-way street. You both have to work at marriage and relationships. But when a person stops loving another one, it’s almost always because of what he or she is not doing, not what the other person is doing.
God never left something as sacred as love to the other person. It’s in our hearts. If we want to love our companion more, if we want to love the Lord more, if we want to love our roommates more, then sacrifice is probably the only way to develop that love. And like I say, it has to be a two-way street. But I can assure you that that’s the way we develop love, is through giving and sacrifice, loving and putting our best efforts into life and into our fellowmen.
Well, brothers and sisters, I just want to share my testimony that I’m really a believer. I have that deep and abiding testimony that God lives and that this is His Church, and in it we will find happiness and joy and that happiness and joy that we feel will come as we are willing and able to make choices that allow us the privilege and opportunity of sacrificing ourselves by serving others and sacrifice by giving up the things of the world for the things of God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.