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Devotionals

Renae L. Richards

Finding Your True Identity

            There has been much in the news in the last few years about loss of identity or identity theft.  Bank accounts have been emptied, fraudulent insurance claims have been filed, and government services have been illegally accessed.  Often, the victim doesn’t know there has been a theft until more than four years have passed, making any attempt to reclaim one’s identity an expensive and time-consuming process.  Newer forms of identity theft include assuming someone’s medical identity to receive medical services or access to drugs.  When a medical identity has been taken, the risk to the victim can be life-threatening. A thief’s treatment history can end up on your medical records. This could include the wrong blood type or medicine to which you’re allergic. Your life thus could be on the line if you receive the wrong treatment based on the thief’s treatment.   Last year more than 8.1 million adults were victims of identity theft at a cost of $37 billion.  That is a staggering number, but it’s actually a 28 percent decrease from a high of $54 billion in 2009. 1
 
            Your personal identity, however, is much broader than a bank account or Social Security number.    It’s also broader than our fingerprints or our DNA.  Your identity is the essence of who you are.  If  I were to ask you today who you are or what is your identity, how would you answer?  Many of you would say, I am a student.  How else do you define yourself?  (Students offer several responses.)
 
            One identity we all share is that we are all children of God.  We were all created in his image.  Christ himself defined our identity when he appeared to the Nephites in the land of Bountiful.  In 3 Nephi 20:25 he said, “And behold, ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; and ye are of the covenant which the Father made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham:  And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.”
 
            That’s a powerful statement.  Is that what you see when you see your spiritual identity?  And why not?  I would suggest it is because you have been deceived.  Someone has attempted to steal your identity.  Let me explain with an allegory.
 
            I have always enjoyed myths and fairy tales.  One of my favorite myths is a Norse myth about Thor and his brother Loki.  First, I need to explain that the story involving this Thor bears no resemblance to the story in a current movie by the same name. 
 
Thor was the eldest son of Odin, and he was perhaps one of the best-loved gods of all. Thor was red-haired and red-bearded, and he had the tendency of acting first and thinking later, a fact that often landed him into trouble.  One day in his travels away from Asgard, he and his brother Loki ventured into the land of the giants.  The giant who discovered them invited them back to Utgard, the home of the giants.  The giants were not impressed.  "Surely this puny person could not be the famous Thor?" said the chief in surprise, 'Why you are as tiny as a mouse!" The giant said they had heard of Thor, but clearly he was no match for them.  When Thor protested, the giants proposed a contest for Thor to demonstrate how great he really was.  Thor was a bit full of himself, and when the giants challenged,  he accepted with relish.  He knew his strength and power, and he felt sure he would win.
 
            He and Loki were welcomed into a great hall.  There he was given a great horn filled with mead and challenged to drink from it and empty it.  They were told travelers to their city could easily drain the horn in one draught.  Utgard admitted that some might need two, but he didn’t know anyone who would need three draughts.  Thor did not think that the horn looked very big so he set about to finish it off in one great gulp. However, it was not as easy as it looked. Thor tried and tried with all his considerable might, taking one great gulp after another. Finally, Thor could not take it anymore for want of breath. But when he looked, the level of the mead in the horn had hardly dropped.
 
            Utgard laughed.  The great Thor! It hardly seems worth your while to attempt any other feat.  But, perhaps you were tired from your journey.  The giant suggested that another type of contest might better suit Thor.  He pointed to an old grey cat lounging in the corner.  There is a game that some of our youngsters play.  There is not much to the game really, all you have to do is lift that grey cat off the ground, I would not normally suggest it to a god of your reputation and . . . might, but you do not seem as strong as others make you out to be."  The cat, of course, was bigger than Thor.  Thor approached the big cat. Wrapping his arms around the cat's stomach he tried to lift it off the ground, but no matter how hard he pulled, the cat only arched his back higher and higher, and finally, being able to lift only one of the cat's paws, Thor's strength gave in.  "No matter Thor," said Utgard in his most condescending tone, "After all it is rather a big cat.”
 
            Thor’s temper and pride would not allow him to admit defeat.  Baited by Utgard, he agreed to one final contest.  Utgard summoned a toothless, grey-haired hag and suggested that she might be a better match for Thor’s strength than any of Utgard’s warriors.  The two wrestled back and forth.  It looked like Thor would best the woman when she summoned all her strength and forced Thor to one knee.  The contest was over.  The giants had a good laugh, and Thor and Loki left hopeless and in great embarrassment. 
 
            What they did not realize is that the giants knew of Thor’s identity and great reputation for strength.  When they saw him approach their land, they feared their only way to protect themselves was through deceit.  The great horn was tied to the sea.  It was impossible to drain the horn, but Thor had been the only one to ever significantly lower it.  The cat was no cat but the Midgard serpent that encircles the entire world.  Thor had managed to raise one of its paws, which meant he had taken on the weight of the world.  And the old woman?  She was old age.  Thor did not know that the giants feared and trembled as they saw him almost overpower death itself.  Yet Thor doubted his identity because he had been deceived. 2
 
            Satan deceives in much the same way – by placing doubt, through derision and outright lies.  See if you can recognize others who have doubted their spiritual identity.
            “The devil hath deceived me; for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, and said unto me:  Go and reclaim this people, for they have all gone astray after an unknown God.  … And I have taught his words; and I taught them because they were pleasing  unto the carnal mind; and I taught them, even until I had much success, insomuch that I verily believed that they were true.”  (Alma 30:53 )(Korihor)
 
            “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized… And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.  But all that heard him were amazed, and said: Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?  (Acts 9:18, 20-21)  (Paul)
 
“Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?  (Moses 6:29)  (Enoch)
“I’m not smart enough…it’s my fault… I’m worthless… I can’t change…it really doesn’t matter….it’s too hard to repent…”  Do any of those lies sound familiar?
 
Elder M. Russell Ballard told the story of a young friend who has struggled with some of these lies.  The friend struggled with pornography at various times in his life. 
 
Sometimes he has been victorious over temptation; other times he has not.  Despite his best efforts, his problem has resurfaced from time to time.  He has not been successful in ending the behavior.  “I thought I had a real testimony,” he told Elder Ballard, “but obviously something was lacking.”
 
Quoting Elder Ballard, “ He had a great understanding of the gospel and of Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and his eternal value and worth.
 
“ ‘I knew that I was a child of God,’ he said.  ‘But, to be honest, that thought didn’t give me much comfort.  I figured that I was one of Heavenly Father’s bad children and that all I had succeeded in proving during this life is that I wasn’t one of the ‘noble and great ones’ Abraham saw.’
 
“This young man served in significant Church callings.  People praised him for his effectiveness as a priesthood leader, but he was unmoved by their praise.  He assumed that he had simply fooled them, that if people knew the truth about him and who he really was, they would know he wasn’t what he appeared to be.
 
“But it was my friend who had been fooled.  Satan had convinced him that he was fighting a losing battle, so when temptations came his way, it was easy to give in.  He was, after all, one of God’s bad children; therefore, it was understandable if he occasionally did bad things.”
 
“Thankfully, his wife is like most of the good women in the Church whom I have known and is smarter and tougher than Satan.  Together with their bishop and an effective counselor from LDS Social Services, she is working carefully with her husband to help him see and understand the glowing truth that glistens beneath the unsightly camouflage of sin.  … It is the truth of who he is, who he has always been, and who he is capable of becoming.  It is my friend’s ultimate reality, his ultimate truth.  And it is golden.” 3  
 
Elder Robert C. Oaks said that Christ is the greatest example of one who understood who He was and the full magnitude of His mortal and eternal potential.  He also suggested that Christ’s success during His mortal probation is, in part, a reflection of his understanding of his identity. 4   As a 12-year-old boy who had been left behind in the temple, Jesus reproved His worrying parents with these words, “ How is it that ye sought me?  Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”  (Luke 2:49)  Until I read Elder Oaks’ words, I had not seen this scripture as a statement of Christ’s identity, but when I thought about it, I could clearly see that it was. 
 
Consider this interchange between Pilate and Christ:  “Pilate…said unto him, Art thou a king then?  Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king.  To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”  (John 18:37)
 
Elder Oaks states that everything we know about Christ suggests that He understood exactly who He was and exactly what He was expected to do in this life.
 
We have been taught, and I hope we believe we are foreordained to come to earth at a particular time into particular circumstances and that our particular set of gifts and talents will enable us to fulfill our foreordained purpose.  If we wish to protect our spiritual identity, we, too, must come to know ourselves as the Savior did.  The Apostle Paul, addressing the Romans stated, “ ”The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
 
As we cultivate the spirit in our lives, we reinforce that witness of our identity.  One way to cultivate that spirit is through our patriarchal blessing.  President Thomas S. Monson said, “Your patriarchal blessing is yours and yours alone. It may be brief or lengthy, simple or profound. Length and language do not a patriarchal blessing make. It is the Spirit that conveys the true meaning.” 5
 
President James E. Faust explained that the blessing does not come from the patriarch.  He said: “The blessing is the Lord’s to give. God knows our spirits; He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our capabilities and our potential. Our patriarchal blessings indicate what the Lord expects of us and what our potential can be. Our blessings can encourage us when we are discouraged, strengthen us when we are fearful, comfort us when we sorrow, give us courage when we are filled with anxiety, lift us up when we are weak in spirit.” 6
 
As we ponder our blessing and events in our lives, we will begin to recognize gifts and talents.  In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord promised that “ to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.”  It is up to us to identify what those talents are. Elder Robert Oaks said, “ We need to become familiar with our own particular set of gifts and talents.  Why is this getting-to-know yourself process so important?  Because it will enable you to do more with your life.  It will permit you to come closer to realizing your full potential.  It will let you build on and use your strengths, your gifts, and your talents to carry out your purpose in God’s plan.  It will help you overcome your weaknesses and avoid your vulnerabilities…The Lord expects us to take what He has given us and build upon it, expand it, use it, and share it.  He expects us to bless the lives of others through our gifts and, in so doing, bless our own lives.”
 
Elder Oaks reminds us that in the parable of the talents, the servant who failed to magnify his calling and hid his portion in the ground was relieved of his talent, left with none, and “ cast into outer darkness[where]there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 4   (Matthew 25:30)
 
But, you are attending an institution where resources are abundant to aid in your self-understanding.  Your campus was dedicated by a prophet of God, President Gordon B. Hinckley.  His dedicatory prayer stated that the faculty would enlighten the minds and quicken the understanding of their students.  He said, “We likewise invoke Thy blessings upon all who study here.  May thy Holy Spirit guide their thinking and bestow upon them knowledge and wisdom.” 7Elder Bednar has called the College “a place of worship and testimony building, a defense and refuge against the storm…” 8
 
Most of you are enrolled in an institute class where the focus is on gospel principles and your spiritual growth.  Other classes begin with prayer and, if the learning model is followed, include an opportunity to ponder what you have learned and prove the principle in your life.  In short, this campus environment is an ideal time for you to come to understand who you are in God’s plan and how to live your lives in a way to bless your own life and to bless the lives of others.  Ponder.  Find your talents and understand how your particular talents were given, “ that all may be profited thereby.” (D&C 46:12)
 
I have quoted several scriptures today.  The gospel is replete with promptings to help us understand our identity as children of God and to remember our spiritual heritage.  Remembering is an important principle.  Each Sunday when we partake of the sacrament and renew our covenants, we refresh in our minds whose we are and that His Spirit will always be with us if we honor those covenants.
 
When we renew our covenants in the temple, we are again reminded of our identity, our potential, and our role in God’s plan.  If we will follow the direction God has provided, we will not fail.  Helaman taught his sons that Satan would have no power over them, “ because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fail.”  (Helaman 5:12)  Can you doubt the words of the prophets? 
 
Sister Sheri Dew has challenged the youth of the Church to remember who they are.  She recommends that you begin by reading D&C 138 and Abraham 3 about the noble and great ones, and ask the Lord to talk with you through the Spirit about you.  She says, “ Will you seek to remember, with the help of the Holy Ghost, who you are and who you have always been?  Will you remember that you stood by our Savior without flinching despite the most difficult of opposition?  Will you remember that you were reserved for now because you would have the courage and the determination to face the world at its worst and to help raise and lead a chosen generation? Will you remember the covenants you have made and the power they carry?  Will you remember that you are noble and great and a potential heir of all our Father has?  Will you remember that you are the daughter [or son]of the King?” 9
 
At LDS Business College we have six cultural beliefs.  One of these is to value others:  I respect different viewpoints, cultures, and contributions. (D&C 38:23-24)  Now, if we have accepted our spiritual identity as a son or daughter of God, would we not also recognize that our classmates and colleagues are equally loved and valued?  Would that knowledge make a difference in how we treat the person we work with or who sits in front of us or who makes an annoying comment in class?  Does geography have anything to do with spiritual stature?  Would we not encourage, value and support one another? 
 
We may often find ourselves making quick judgments about people, which can change or redefine our relationships with them. Usually incorrect judgments are made because of limited information or because we do not see beyond that which is immediately in front of us.
 
Elder Gregory Schwitzer illustrated this with the story of the time Jesus visited the home of Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany with their brother, Lazarus. 10 You are probably familiar with the account in Luke 10:40-42.  During one of Christ’s visits, Martha was busy preparing a meal, and Mary elected to sit at the Master’s feet to receive His instruction.
 
“But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? …
 
“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:
 
“But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
 
Elder Schwitzer noted that many Sunday lessons have been taught using this story casting Martha in a lesser position in terms of her faith. He says, “Yet there is another story of this great woman, Martha, which gives us a deeper view of her understanding and testimony. It happened when the Savior arrived to raise her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. On this occasion it was Martha whom we find going to Jesus ‘as soon as she heard’ He was coming. As she meets Him, she says that she knows that ‘whatsoever [He would] ask of God, God [would] give [Him].’ ”
 
           Christ then shared with Martha the great doctrine of the Resurrection, saying:
 
“I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
 
“And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
 
Martha responded with her powerful testimony: “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
 
Elder Switzer says, “How often has Martha been misjudged as being a person who cared more for the deeds of doing than for the Spirit? However, her testimony in the trial of her brother’s death clearly shows the depth of her understanding and faith.”
 
“Many a sister has often heard the first story and wondered if she were a Mary or a Martha, yet the truth lies in knowing the whole person and in using good judgment. By knowing more about Martha, we find she was actually a person of deep spiritual character who had a bold and daring testimony of the Savior’s mission and His divine power over life. A misjudgment of Martha may have caused us not to know the true nature of this wonderful woman.”
 
So, if we choose to value others and their contributions, what does that look like?
 
First, we are not concerned with comparisons.  If we compare ourselves to others, this can result in feelings of inferiority or superiority, both of which destroy unity.
 
Second, if we take Christ’s name upon us, we are not so concerned that the end result is “ours.”  You will note that there is no byline on the proclamation on the family.  This was not an individual effort, but there is nothing on the document to note who the contributors were. 
 
Next, we consider all contributions.  Just like enjoying a salad, variety makes a more enjoyable product.
 
Also, there should be no malice toward one who offends.  We uphold principles of responsibility, but we allow for differences.  Christ himself said in Matthew 22:37-40, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as theyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
 
We should be as Peter challenged, “Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren.” (1Peter 3:8)  Valuing others brings unity of purpose and of spirit.
 
Be willing to acknowledge that it is the Lord who adds value to each of us.  The late President Marion G. Romney said, 11“The major reason for the world’s troubles today is that men are not seeking to know the will of the Lord and then to do it.  Rather do they seek to solve their problems in their own wisdom and in their own way.”
 
Finally, appreciate the value that each contributes to the whole.   I love the account of Christ visiting the Nephites in Third Nephi.  Verse 15 of chapter 11 states, “And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.”
 
Later in Third Nephi we read that the multitude was about 2,500 souls in number and did consist of men, women, and children.  Clearly each and every one was valued of Christ.
 
I would like to add my testimony that you are a child of a loving God who has given you a spiritual identity that is as strong and personal as the color of your hair or eyes.  Do not be deceived; God loves you, and there is no limit to his love and through his love we can conquer all things.
 
1        Web reference from the 2011 Identity Fraud Survey Report
2        Taken from Thor Myths and legends on the Web; originally seen in Children’s Digest
3        When Thou Art Converted, by M. Russell Ballard, p. 32-34
4        BYU Devotional, March 21, 2006
5        Ensign, November 1986
6        From BYU address, March 30, 1980
7        LDSBC campus dedicatory prayer
8        President’s Vision Document
9        No Doubt About It, by Sheri Dew, p. 53-54
10    Ensign, May 2010
11    Ensign, August 2010, p. 54

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