Making a Difference in Other’s Lives
I think that I am glad to be here today. Certainly, considering the many distinguished people who have occupied this podium previously, and who will yet address you in the future, I am honored and humbled by your presence today. You are now excused to leave and I will speak to the walls and empty chairs!
I plead with Father in Heaven for something I might share with you to give you pause to ponder.
I would like to spend the next half hour developing thoughts connected to the cultural belief of this institution which centers around Supporting Each Other for students and Champion Every Student for faculty and staff perhaps eventually stretching those connections to include the Atonement of the Savior.
In responding to the question as to the greatest commandment, the Savior established with the second commandment, the duty and obligation of all men to be aware of and involved with other individuals through loving our neighbors as ourselves. I don’t believe He intended us to love at a distance. Of course, we will never encounter or know the names of the vast majority of inhabitants walking the earth, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, we will encounter, if only briefly, over our lifetimes. The call to us is to support, uplift, share burdens, assist, recognize, acknowledge, influence, teach, sustain, etc. Our opportunities come daily. Will we respond? Surely, as the unknown author stated,” A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package.”
What is my point? A kind Father in Heaven uses each of us to be an influence on all of the rest of us. All who touch a life in some part, whether mine or someone else, have contributed to that life for good or good.
Let me read some of the words of others on the subject:
Quoting PM Forni, from his book Choosing Civility, “I am convinced that , to a significant extent, life is what our relationships make it….Good relationships make our lives good; bad relationships make our lives bad. We are usually happy or unhappy with others. Although at times we can be happy in spite of others, we are usually happy thanks to them, thanks to the good relationships we have with them. To learn how to be happy, we must learn how to live well with others.“
And again from a different perspective:
Quoting from Henry Van Dyke, “Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe to the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellowmen are just as real as you are; and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life…”
And a third quote, a particular favorite of mine:
Quoting C. S. Lewis: “It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor…It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal….But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit….”
There is much food for thought in those quotes. So, let us be about supporting and making a difference in the lives of others. How do we do it? Are there skills involved? Does it come naturally to us? If not, how can we learn? And how do we know whom to help and support?
Hopefully, most of us here have been born into, and raised by a good family. What a divine plan – the family. It is within the family that intense learning can be accomplished. Parents quickly learn to love someone unconditionally more than themselves. Two year olds learn to share their toys. Siblings learn to share a bedroom. Teenagers learn to share a bathroom. Sisters learn to enjoy their brothers’ ballgames. Brothers learn to enjoy the dance recital. All learn how much it means to have a sibling attend a piano recital, or a school play, or a graduation.
As mentioned, I have four children – one daughter (a rose) amongst three sons (thorns). My daughter learned to dance ballet pretty well over a period of 12 years. My sons used to complain about having to go to her recitals. Now they talk about having their daughters also take ballet. My daughter ended up being a cheerleader at their ballgames. They remain close friends and try to be a part of each others’ lives as often as possible.
Hopefully we have all had some family experience to give us a good foundation. However, all of us can continue to grow our abilities to support by simply following the golden rule – doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
A rather basic and simple approach to supporting others is the giving of praise. The militarily brilliant and much decorated Duke of Wellington was asked late in his years what he would have done differently. He did not say he would have fought the magnificent Battle of Waterloo or any other battle differently. He said quite simply, “I should have given more praise.”
As we practice acting upon the divine urges and inspiration that come to us to support and do good, and they will come, many times daily, our capacity to be an instrument will expand exponentially. All lives together will be blessed. It can come naturally to us, as sons and daughters with divine attributes, if we will keep ourselves aware and involved with others. Captain Eddy Rickenbacker, a World War I ace fighter pilot, and later airline executive said, “There is something more powerful than anybody - -and that is everybody.”
Who do we support? Some groups obviously need our help. Brother Keith Poelman recently received national recognition for his efforts in mentoring over the last 18 months a young man in his early teens whose father is incarcerated. The service has been a blessing to both. The economically and spiritually “poor” are often mentioned in the scriptures, and are somewhat easily identified. However, I submit there are many, many others who are not so easily identified. It takes more than average effort to do as Henry Van Dyke suggested in the previous quote – “to try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy….” I have a friend and college here at the college, a member of the staff and faculty, who has a son that has struggled with addiction, and a spouse who suffers from a chronic debilitating illness. That individual needs our support as much as anyone. However, you probably wouldn’t be able to identify that person by their daily demeanor. You would have to look behind their face to their heart.
In a sentence, every face we meet today may need our support, assistance, and brotherly love.
Let me finish by trying to tie these thoughts to the Atonement.
Perhaps like many of you I have been taught the various facets of the doctrine of the Atonement over many years of Church instruction – that One without blemish, Jesus Christ, volunteered and was chosen to take upon him the sorrows and pains of all earthly inhabitant as payment for individual sin and sickness to satisfy justice. I still can’t comprehend how he did it. It may be a long time yet before I do. They say He did it because He loved you and me. I believe that love can be comprehended by a tender heart as touched by the Holy Ghost, even mine.
I have referred to our hearts. Not to our chest muscle pulsing blood through our veins, but the “heart” often referred to in the scriptures. There are references to “hard hearts,’ proud hearts, one mind and one heart, broken hearts, contrite hearts, tender hearts, pure hearts,etc Additionally, there are various phrases referencing the heart, such as “God can…soften the heart;” “setting the heart upon the things of the world;” “…people have removed their hearts far from Him;” “apply your heart to understanding;” “people of Church should have their hearts knit together in unity;” “blessed is he that believeth without stubbornness of heart;” “have ye experienced a change of heart;” and “sanctification of heart which cometh of yielding one’s heart to God.”
What is this “heart” referred to in the scriptures? To me it is my soul, my conscious being, my lightning rod of love, my garden of testimony wherein the Holy Ghost can plant seeds of eternal principles that grow into feelings of faith that shape my daily actions. It is the tender feelings of my heart, confirmed by the Holy Ghost, which bind me to a desire and faith to keep striving. It is my heart, my lightning rod of love that helps me to understand, comprehend, and feel the love of a Savior.
For me, the Atonement is a doctrine of the Heart. Let me fantasize with you for just a moment. Many of you are familiar with the story of a young man walking along the beach throwing small red crabs back into the surf that had washed up on the sand. He was criticized by a man who thought his efforts were somewhat wasted because of the many thousands of crabs he wouldn’t be able to get to.
Permit me to create another scenario using the principles of that story. Let us imagine the pre-existence and a conversation between the Savior and Lucifer. Lucifer says, “Brother, why would you go through such exquisite pain and suffering for the sins of all mankind when you know there will be numerous hosts of men on earth who will not care, who will not repent or be grateful for your sacrifice, who may not even know who you are?”
I think the Savior might respond as follows: “Lucifer, while it is true that many will not respond to my Sacrifice, I can tell you that Doug Horne will care. Linda Doran will care. Jerry Bryan will care. Cathy Smith will care. Sean Farris will care. Marjean Lake will care. Matt Tittle will care. Sue Hepworth will care. Mike Tracy will care.” I believe the Savior could respond similarly for this entire congregation. I sincerely hope He would be able to say, “And Kitt Finlinson will care.”
If I am to care, I must put the principles of the Atonement to work through my own life. The Atonement came about because One, albeit Supreme, individual did something for other individuals that they couldn’t do for themselves. As one of those blessed recipients, I too must search for opportunities to do something for others that, perhaps even temporarily, they can’t seem to do for themselves. I must lose my life in service for the benefit of others, even if sometimes they don’t seem to care. I must go often to the House of Heavenly Father and His Son, even the temple where their presence can be felt in my heart. I must put my heart into the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
Putting one’s heart into the Atonement. Commencement at our school was held this past Thursday. Shortly before commencement day, I asked one of my students if he was going to have family coming to see him graduate. He indicated that his father was near death from cancer, and his mother didn’t dare leave their home in Idaho Falls for fear the father would pass away while she was gone. To my surprise, after the commencement proceedings , Ben introduced me to his mother. A very emotional mother explained to me that her beloved, dying husband had requested that she represent both of them at the graduation, something he could not do himself, and if he were to pass away, he would do so a happy man. He just wanted his son Ben to have family support.
A week or so before commencement, another student wrote me a note at the bottom of his last exam apologizing for his poor performance indicating that he had been having some serious bouts with depression, and that he had planned his suicide for the day of the test. However, one of his friends, undoubtedly through inspiration, discovered his plan, and intervened preventing the tragedy. I tried to find him, but ended up only being able to contact him through email, asking him to come see me and let me help somehow. He responded that his friends had rallied around, contacted his bishop, and he thought he was past the worst part.
May we be able to “look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy” perhaps being able to support and assist in a way that they can’t do for themselves thereby emulating our Savior and His Atonement, is my prayer.