Alynda Kusch, “A soft and teachable heart”
It is wonderful to be with you today and we welcome you to another great semester at LDS Business College. It looks like everyone survived their first day of classes and we are happy about that.
I have an older sister. Her name is Arlene and she is 2 years older than me. We have always been good friends and I love her.
This is a picture of us together – you can see that Arlene is taller, when we were younger though my mother dressed us alike and even though my sister’s hair was kind of reddish when she was younger I was shorter with black hair people would ask if we were twins.
When Arlene was a little girl she was sick most of the time with a heart condition that prevented her from being actively involved in normal childhood activities.
When she was 9 years old, the doctors told my parents, "Arlene needs surgery because she has pulmonary stenosis and her heart is dying. Without this procedure, as time goes on she will become weaker and weaker and will be disabled in 3 or 4 years. Without this very necessary surgery, Arlene will not live to see her 16th birthday."
This was hard news for my parents to receive and they were left with a very difficult decision to make because this was long enough ago that this type of heart surgery was new and it was risky. As you can imagine, my parents were afraid, but they had no other choice if they wanted their daughter to live.
My mother went with Arlene to Mt. Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, which was a place where there were doctors and nurses who had the ability, the knowledge and the skill to change her life. There the doctors repaired the pulmonary valve in Arlene’s heart and it began functioning properly, pumping life-saving blood to the rest of her body. In the following months during her recovery, she became stronger and stronger.
Following the corrective surgery, Arlene’s heart was strong and it worked perfectly. It was a miracle for my family.
My sister's heart was repaired and perfect and in the years that have followed, she has a wonderful and active life.
My sister was in need of a heart repair so that she could have a new and perfectly functioning heart.
Can you see a spiritual application, even a lesson for us from the experience that Arlene had as a child?
The scriptures talk much about our hearts. We know that Nephi prayed for a soft heart so he would be able to believe all that his father taught. We know that Laman and Lemuel would not believe because of the hardness of their hearts.
Prophets teach that we each need a new life, to be born again, to have a changed heart.
What they are describing is a process of real conversion, complete conversion, forever conversion. To have this in our life we must have a changed and soft heart so we are receptive to the influence and guidance of the Holy Ghost.
My question then is what is this; what is the condition of your heart? Is it soft, so the Lord can teach you and mold you, so He can help you? Or is it not? Are you compassionate, and submissive, and willing or are your tendencies more to being jealous, and willful, and rebellious?
Is it possible to change a hard and prideful heart into one that is soft and humble? Yes it is!
The first thing we need to ask then is was causes a hard heart. In the case of my sister, through no fault of her own, she was born with a heart defect – one that required surgery to correct. We are not born with hard hearts as evidenced by the scriptures teaching that we must become like little children who listen, who are easily taught; who believe.
It is behavior that is learned. In the case of Laman and Lemuel, they quit praying. They quit listening to a prophet. They quit even thinking about the Lord and certainly they did not care about His commandments. They looked for things in the behavior of their righteous father and brother that made them furious. They would not believe. Ultimately they became men who were angry, complaining, jealous, and rebellious.
We can probably see a part of ourselves in this description of Laman and Lemuel, maybe not everything, but some things. So the second question we would ask is, how can I change my heart? If refusing to pray or listen to our prophet, or if being disobedient and angry and jealous causes a hard heart, then the opposite must be true.
If we look to Nephi as an example of what we can do, you will remember that he was first willing to follow his prophet father and keep the commandments of the Lord. We can do that. Nephi had a great desire to know and to believe. We can do that. With faith and humility he prayed to know. We can do that. As a result, he received divine guidance and it was the Lord that softened Nephi’s heart so that he did believe and did not rebel. The Lord can do that for us too.
And so it is possible that with desire and faith and effort, we can change a willful and prideful heart into one that believes.
What are the results of having a changed and soft heart? A repaired and changed heart for Arlene meant that she could live, that she could have a wonderful life.
Do you want to believe? Do you want to feel more of the Lord’s influence, more of the Holy Ghost in your life? Do you want to be happy? Would you like to feel peace? Do you hope that your prayers are answered?
A change of a spiritual heart can yield all of this and more.
Helaman taught that as humans our hearts tend to be unsteady – that we waiver and wonder and sometimes wander. But he also gave us a formula for changing and repairing a heart that is in need of spiritual heart surgery:
Know of yourselves the truth + believe the scriptures + believe the prophets + have faith in the Lord which leads us to repentance + trust in the Lord = a change of heart = which then allows us to be firm and steadfast in the faith. (Helaman 15:7-10)
That is a description of conversion. The development of this kind of heart condition comes from years of righteous and worthy living.
In General Conference in October of 2012, Elder Bednar taught us about this: "For many of us, conversion is a constant process and not a single event that results from a powerful or dramatic experience. Line by line and precept by precept, gradually and almost imperceptibly, our intentions, our thoughts, our words and actions are in tune with the will of God. Conversion to the Lord requires both perseverance and patience."
It is not immediate but it is a process of becoming completely converted. It is a process that includes:
Faith in Jesus Christ along with a willingness to try to be more like Him, and to serve Him
Studying the Scriptures
Praying with faith, with an expectation that we will be heard and that the Lord will answer
Being obedient to God’s commandments
Making covenants in the temple and then keeping those covenants
In other words: it is a process that helps us happily live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
While we were in the mission field, in the spring of each year President Kusch invited every missionary to read The Book of Mormon in 65 days (which was the length of time that it took Joseph Smith to translate the book)
I accepted his invitation. As I read, I began to make a list of the different ways in which the prophets taught about happily enduring to the end. On my list, I had more than 80 different words or phrases that prophets in the Book of Mormon had used to explain living faithfully.
The phrase that I love the most are the words of King Benjamin when he described us as: "firm and immovable, always abounding in good works." (Mosiah 5:15)
We can do that!
Arlene received the equivalent of a new heart, and as a result she has had a wonderful life because of the surgery she had many years ago.
Do you see that we can have the same; a changed and pure heart, a clean and wonderful life?
If there are some things that we need to change in our lives so we can receive the same gift, then that is what we should do.
If it's too hard to think that I have to change immediately and completely; and from this moment on I must live perfectly -
Then think instead, I may not be able to live perfectly today, but I can do something.
Here is my invitation: Do something today to increase your faith. Do something today that will yield a changed heart.
And then day after day and day after day, when you live like you believe and know, praying as Nephi did for a soft and teachable heart, then your faith will increase and your heart will be changed.
It is then that we can live in the manner described by Elder Bednar; that our intentions, our thoughts, our words and actions will be in tune with the will of God. We will want to follow and be like the Savior. We will want to happily live the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As you do this, you will learn, from your own experience, how the Lord blesses the faithful.
In the same way that the doctors repaired my sister's heart, through repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ along with a desire to believe and trust and follow the Savior, we can have a new, soft and converted heart.
Bruce C. Kusch, "A Whole Sole Soul Offering"
Brothers and sisters, good morning. It is always a blessing, on this first devotional of the semester, to look into your faces and as we do so to begin another wonderful semester at LDS Business College. There is always something exciting about the beginning of a new year, and for all of us, the beginning of a new semester. If there were two wishes that I would have today, I expressed these at our new student orientation devotional last Friday when we met with those that are here as new students, but it would be two things: it would be one to feel the presence of the Holy Ghost today teaching you and lifting and edifying you and the second would be that you would feel Heavenly Father’s love and the Savior’s love for you and know that they know you and I want you to know that I know that they know that you are here and they love you very much as do Sister Kusch and I and I am grateful to share this time with her today and to share this glorious experience of working and serving at LDS Business College with Sister Kusch.
In late February, 2015, Sister Kusch and I attended a gathering of our missionaries. Right about that time we had received copies of the movie “Meet the Mormons” and had been given permission to show it to all of the missionaries, their investigators, and to members in the mission. These gatherings with our missionaries were great fun. We told them we were inviting them to the “movies” which was something that was quite unusual for a mission president to invite his missionaries to go the movies something that was prohibited, but we told them that this time we were making an exception and we invited them to bring their favorite treats, popcorn, and soda. We just had a great time.
As we gathered with one group of our missionaries, I could not help but notice the shoes of one of our sister missionaries – Sister Katelyn Hoffman from Bountiful, Utah.
As you look at this photo you will notice a large crack in her shoe kind of by where her big toe is, but you will also notice that Sister Hoffman had put duct tape on the sole of her shoe to hold it together. Now, for those of you who have served missions, this picture might not look so unusual, in fact you may have had shoes that looked kind of like Sister Hoffman’s, hopefully not and Elder however. But as I looked at Sister Hoffman’s shoes, it spoke volumes to me about the dedication and consecration of a set apart servant of the Lord. Some might look at those shoes and say, “How could anyone allow a missionary to wear shoes like that?” For Sister Hoffman, those shoes represented who she was as a missionary. She was one the happiest of any of the missionaries we had the blessing of serving with in Mexico. She was offering her whole sole as an offering, and she was doing everything she could to make sure that those shoes endured to the end.
Now I love these words from Amaleki in the Book of Mormon:
“...I would that ye should come unto Christ, who is the Holy One of Israel, and partake of his salvation, and the power of his redemption. Yea, come unto him, and offer your whole souls as an offering unto him...and endure to the end...”
There are four powerful and unique invitations to be “whole soul” Latter-day Saints in this scripture that I believe merit our consideration, along with seeking the promised blessing for accepting each of them. Those invitations are:
The Book of Mormon contains nearly 40 invitations to come unto Christ, including the Savior’s personal invitations to “come unto me.” In this context, to “come unto” Christ suggests action, effort, motion toward him , a beginning, and eventual arrival. None of these words should make us feel that coming unto Christ is a one-time event. It is the journey of a lifetime – but a journey that begins when we accept the first invitation to come unto Him and walk the path of discipleship.
We are invited to partake of the Savior’s salvation and power of His redemption.
Each week, in our sacrament meetings, we have the opportunity to partake of the sacrament. We are presented with the emblems of His body and His blood. We extend a hand and in doing so, we act. We take. We eat. We drink. We promise. We repent. We commit. We renew.
When we partake of the Savior’s salvation and power of His redemption we willingly receive the infinite gift of the Atonement that He offers to each and everyone of us.
As we willingly accept the invitation to “offer our whole souls as an offering” unto Christ, our role transitions from partaker to giver. We express our desire to pay a personal price, our willingness to do something for Him, to serve Him in a personal way. We give all that we can – our broken heart, our contrite spirit, and we do all we can to align our will with Heavenly Father’s commandments and His desires for us.
I believe that Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it best when he said:
“...the submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give’ are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”
Now brothers and sister, it is a lifetime of correct decisions that make it possible for you and me to endure to the end. The scriptures are clear that the promised blessing of eternal life is contingent upon our enduring, in persevering, in living our lives with grit, with commitment, and determination. That’s what is means to be a “whole soul” Latter-day Saint.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel penetrates one’s heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of the many influences in a person’s life, but the defining focus of his/her life and character.”
THE GOSPEL AS THE “DEFINING FOCUS” OF OUR LIFE AND CHARACTER
Let me illustrate the gospel as the defining focus of our life and character by showing you two photographs.
This is a picture of a hydrangea. You can see that some of the picture is in focus and some of it is not. As you study the photo you will see the beauty of the flowers but you will also note another flower in the background that might make it difficult for you to know where to focus your view.
This photo is in perfect focus. You will notice some other things around it, but the defining focus on this picture is the flower right in the middle – it captures your sight. I think this is an example of the principle Elder Christofferson is teaching us.
Elder Christofferson also shared an important insight that would be important for each of us to consider. He said:
“Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed Christ-like commitment to the will of God on the other.”
Brothers and sisters, WHERE you and I are on this continuum is probably not as important as how you and I feel about where we are, and if we are making progress toward being a “whole soul” Latter-day Saint. A “fully developed Christlike commitment to the will of God” begins as Alma described: by arousing our faculties, experimenting upon the word, exercising a particle of faith, even if you can no more than desire to believe, and then letting that desire work in us.
While socially motivated gospel and church participation is certainly better than no participation at all, simply showing up for a sabbath worship is not sufficient to strengthen our discipleship and become whole-soul latter-day saints. The new pattern of home centered and church supported personal study and preparation has been introduced for one singular purpose, to deepen our conversion and faith in Heavenly Father and in his son Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to help us become whole soul latter-day saints. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said that conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and His restored gospel precedes conversion to and membership in His church.
“Conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, precedes conversion to and membership in His Church” (President Dallin H. Oaks, MP Seminar, June 2017).
Now brothers and sister, and my dear friends. There are essentially two voices in our lives competing for our time and attention. One of them is boisterous at times and subtle and cunning at others. It is a voice that discourages, deceives, confuses, that twists, and distorts the truth. It is a voice that would plant doubts in our minds and in our hearts; that would cause us to question prophetic wisdom, and doctrine. It is a voice that encourages us to embrace societal norms and practices that are not wholesome or worthy or holy or in accordance with God’s will for His children. This is brothers and sisters, I believe, the biggest challenges of your generation. This is the voice of adversary. If we are not to be deceived, we must recognize this voice for exactly what it is and reject it.
The other voice is a still small voice of perfect mildness (see Helaman 5:30). It is not a voice of thunder, but of a whisper. It’s a voice that requires us each to develop the capacity to hear it, even amongst the noise of the world. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd, by the power of the Holy Ghost, calling and inviting you and me to come unto Him. Inviting us to be firm, steadfast, and immovable. And, once we hear it, we should be determined to obey it, for it is the voice that will protect us, guide us, and lead us back to the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
Now, I return to the shoe – the “whole sole” offering of a faithful servant of the Lord. It was tattered and worn and she did all she could to have that shoe serve her needs.
Here’s what the Lord can do for us, when we do our part.
Somehow, I think the Lord made that shoe as if it were whole. Now, if you look at the shoe you will still see it’s still not perfect. There’s no shine just yet, but just as the Lord told ancient Israel, “...I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee...” He made more of that shoe than Sister Hoffman could ever have done on her own.
I testify that is precisely what the Savior does with each of us, as we humbly and sincerely offer unto Him our whole souls as an offering. He will heal us. He will guide us. He understands us. He can make our burdens light.
I testify that that is true and pray that the Lord will bless you this semester as you embark on this wonderful adventure.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.