Good morning dear friends. I am honored to have the opportunity to address you here in this beautiful theater! One Sunday after speaking in a Stake Conference in Chile a sweet, older sister came up to me and thanked me for my talk. Then she said, “Soon you will be speaking from the Conference Center.” I wish I had her phone number, so I could call her and tell her that her prophesy came true today. I am speaking from the Conference Center!
I have been preparing my whole life for this moment. I have not known my whole life that I would have the chance to address you, I have only known that for about two months, but my whole life is my preparation. When President Eyring extended the call for my wife and I to preside over the Chile Santiago East Mission he said, “If you are honest and careful you will be able to see all the ways the Lord has prepared you throughout your life for this calling.” That counsel and promise changed me. I began to honestly and carefully reflect on the ways the Lord had prepared me to serve as a Mission President. I have considered that wise counsel and promise ever since that day to help me prepare for a variety of subsequent opportunities to serve others, including the chance to speak to you today. I have honestly and carefully reflected upon the many ways the Lord has prepared me to speak to you.
I know you. Some of you have been or are my students. Many of you I have met around the campus and we have had brief conversations. Eight of you who are students here at LDSBC call me “President” because we served side by side in the wonderful Chile Santiago East Mission. Others I have not met yet, we have not spoken, but I feel like Moroni when he said, “But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35). I know many of you have overcome great adversity to be able to study here. Many of you are facing difficult challenges in your lives. Some have loving families who support you and others do not. Some of you are struggling with feelings of doubt and fear. Most of you are, as it says in 2 Nephi 31:20, “[pressing] forward with a steadfastness in Christ”. I know you are a powerful force for good and Satan would love nothing more than to discourage you, hold you back, and keep you from reaching your divine potential. Now, I am not silly enough to think that this talk is going to change your life forever. However, my true desire, my hope, and prayer is that you might leave here just a little better than when you arrived. For that to happen, you and I both need to allow the Spirit to teach us today.
In 2 Nephi 5:27 Nephi tells us, “And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness.” I find this so interesting! He just finished telling us of all the problems they had experienced with his brothers which led, finally, to their separation. For years Nephi had to endure the way his brothers treated him. I have seven brothers and sometimes they may not have treated me well but to my knowledge none of them ever tried to kill me. I wonder why, early in the days of their separation, Nephi felt to tell us that they lived after the manner of happiness?
When I study the scriptures, in order to get a broader understanding of what has been written, I like to identify what was not written. For example, Nephi did not say, “We were happy.” He did not say, “It did not matter what my brothers said or did, I always smiled at them and thanked them for the great service they were providing for me in the way they persecuted me.” Nephi’s life was difficult and filled with many challenges, yet he said they lived after the manner of happiness.
What does it mean to live “after the manner of happiness”? What is life like for happy people? Do they have all their needs and most of the things they want in life? No. I have known too many happy people from different parts of the world who hardly had anything to know that is not true. Is it because they are healthy and strong? Again, no. While serving her first mission, my wife became friends with a sweet woman named Debbie who had muscular dystrophy. This disease attacked her muscles and at age 17 she had to be put on a ventilator to pump air into her lungs and she was confined to her bed or a reclined wheelchair. After my wife and I were married, we traveled to California to visit Debbie. My wife had told her about me and wanted her to meet me. She told her I was a singer. So, Debbie asked me to bring some music and sing to her. I had sung in many hospitals and care facilities before, and it was fun to try and bring a smile to the faces of many people through my voice and inspired music. When we entered her room in her home, I immediately felt the Spirit, I felt love, and to my surprise I felt happiness. There was nothing I could do to make her happy because she was already happy. Almost anyone who went there to visit her left a happier person because of her. Debbie taught me that it does not require good health to be happy.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was imprisoned many times. One of those was in Liberty County, Missouri. He was incarcerated in what was known as Liberty Jail which is a stupid name for a jail. The conditions were horrible! His resources were minimal and his ability to communicate with the suffering saints was greatly limited. This caused him, like you and me at times, to cry out, “Oh God, where art thou…?” (D&C 121:1). During this time of intense communication between the prophet and Heavenly Father, Joseph wrote what we know now as sections 121, 122, and 123 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The last verse in these important sections of scripture is relevant to our topic today. Section 123:17 invites, “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 for his arm to be revealed.”
How do we determine what lies in our power? What is within our power and what is not? Being bilingual is a great blessing when it comes to studying the scriptures because I can look at the same verse in two different languages and get a broader perspective. In Spanish it uses the phrase, “a su alcance” which in English means within your reach. What is within our reach and what is out of our reach?
One day several years ago I was at the store when I noticed an older woman, who was very short, trying to reach something on an upper shelf but she could not. I rushed over and helped her with the item that was out of her reach. She was so sweet as she thanked me and continued shopping. I decided to stay close to her just in case she needed my help again. During that shopping trip I helped her two, maybe three times with things that were out of her reach. She was, however, able to fill her cart with many things that were within her reach.
I have learned that at different times in our lives there may be more things within our reach or power and at other times there are fewer things that are within our reach or power. For example, throughout his life my father always cleared the snow from not only his sidewalk and driveway but he cleared the snow from the sidewalks and driveways of all the older neighbors as well. Now my father is 86 years old and uses a cane to steady himself. He is now one of the older neighbors and shoveling snow is no longer something he is physically capable of doing. For years it was within his power or reach and now it is not.
My thoughts turn to the parable of the talents. In Matthew 25:15 we read, “And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability”. Did you notice the phrase, “according to his several ability”? I do not believe this is meant to teach us that some of us are five talent people and some of us are two talent people and others are only one talent people. No! I believe there are times, according to our current ability, we are given five talents and at other times, according to our current ability, we are given one talent. The issue is not how many talents we are given at any time, but what we do with that which has been given to us. Further study of the parable shows us that both the man who was given five talents and the man who was given two talents took their portion, worked with it, and returned to the master double what had been given them. Unto both, the master said the same thing, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21, 23). I am convinced if the man who had been given one talent had only worked with it, he could have doubled it and the master would have said to him also, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”
I believe that one part of living “after the manner of happiness” is to identify that which lies in our power or reach and to do our best to accomplish it with a good attitude. This is going to change from day to day. Some days we will have the ability for more and other days we will have the ability for less. Please remember, the Lord requires zero percent of that which does not lie in your power. We would do well to let go of the things over which we have no control. We can place those things in the hands of the Lord and He will take care of them.
Some time ago in an institute class in Chula Vista, California we were talking about adversity. We opened the scriptures and were searching to identify ways we could deal with the adversity in our lives when one of my students began to laugh out loud. I mean, it was not just a little chuckle. It was a strong, full, hearty laugh! I looked at her, called her by name, and asked, “What is so funny?” She said, still laughing, “Oh you! You are funny!” Now I try to use some humor in my classes but in that moment that was not my intent, so I asked her to help me understand. She said, “You stand up there and talk as though you have had trials in your life, but obviously you haven’t had the kinds of trials in your life that we face every day!” This shocked me. My mind was racing. I was trying to understand why she perceived my life to be free of trials because believe me it was not. I first thought to list for her a sampling of the major trials I had been through in my life but that did not seem like the right thing to do in the moment. It suddenly clicked in my mind and I tried to explain to her what I want to share with you. Those of you who know me, know that I have a happy disposition. I like to smile! My attitude is my choice. I may not get to choose the circumstances in which I have been placed, especially when the bad choices of other people have deeply hurt me, but I can choose the attitude in which I will face the circumstance. Do not misinterpret the positive way I try to approach my trials for a lack of trials. Somehow, I hear the Lord speaking to me when he said to the Prophet Joseph, in Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” Did you notice He did not say, “If thou wilt just endure it, if thou wilt put up with it, if thou wilt hang in there…” There is a big difference between enduring and enduring well. My positive attitude toward any given trial or affliction gives me hope, strength, and power to endure it well.
I wonder if there is an additional way that we might look at the “manner” of happiness? Could we explore the definition that manner is a way of doing, being done, or happening; a mode of action? Please allow me to share a tender example. I have permission from a dear friend to share this although I will not use her name. Our friend, after many years of struggles, was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. What a challenge! Her life has been so difficult. With this illness she hears voices that become so strong inside her. The voices tell her to harm herself. The voices tell her she is not good. The voices tell her lies and gradually she believes them. It is important to be very clear here, mental illness is a physical condition. It harms a part of the physical body, the brain. This is not a spiritual issue. She is not possessed by an evil spirit. More faith or more scripture study or more sincere prayers do not remove the problem any more than those things would solve a heart condition or a kidney failure. Several times our friend has been in psychiatric hospitals to help her and to keep her from harming herself. She has powerful medication that she must take. The medication quiets the voices. What a blessing! However, there is a side effect of the medication. It not only quiets the voices, it blocks her from being able to feel emotions. It keeps her from being able to feel the Spirit. How can you enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost if you cannot feel it? This is a high price to pay. Sometimes she would not take her medication because she wanted to be able to feel things, but the voices would become so strong that she was once again in danger. She decided, even though she hated it, to take the meds. Now let me tell you how she lives “after the manner of happiness”. She decided to never miss church. She attends church and serves faithfully in whatever calling extended to her, not because she can feel the Spirit there, but because she knows the Spirit is there. She sings in the choir. Not because she can feel the Spirit when they sing but because she knows the Spirit is there. She reads her scriptures and prays every day. Not because they help her to feel the Spirit but because she knows the Spirit is there in the scriptures and her prayers. She attends the temple every week. Not because she can feel the Spirit there because she can’t, but she attends because she knows the Spirit is there. Oh, the wisdom in Doctrine and Covenants 87:8, “Wherefore, stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, until the day of the Lord come; for behold, it cometh quickly, saith the Lord.” May I take the liberty of adding a phrase? Stand ye in holy places, and be not moved, even if you are not “feeling it” in that moment.
I am not suggesting that you “fake it ‘till you make it.” You can only fake something for so long before it becomes too exhausting and you crash. Also, if it is fake the Spirit will not be there. The Holy Ghost only bears witness of truth. Rather than trying to “fake it ‘till you make it” I promise, you will find strength beyond your own if you “faith it ‘till you make it”.
Returning to Doctrine and Covenants 123:17, after we cheerfully do that which lies in our power the promise is stated, “then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.” Do you understand what this means? We have the promise of salvation if we cheerfully do all that we can do, and, in this process, we will see the Lord working in our lives and know he is near! Only through faith in Him can we be saved. He knows our sorrows, trials, afflictions, and joys. I remember, when I was very young, singing a sweet primary song that was simple and true called Jesus Once Was a Little Child:
Jesus once was a little child, a little child like me;
And he was pure and meek and mild, as a little child should be.
So little children, let’s you and I
Try to be like him, Try, try, try,
At the end of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I, Anna’s son, Louis asks his mother an interesting question about the dying king of Siam, “Was he as good a king as he could have been?” To which Anna responds, “I don’t think any man has ever been as good a king as he could have been but this one tried, he tried very hard.” May it be said of us in the last day that we lived after the manner of happiness, that we went about cheerfully doing that which was in our power or reach and that we tried! We tried very hard!
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.