Righteous Actions Turn Faith into Knowledge
When I was a freshman in college, just last week, I’d never been away from home. I was not sure I could do it. I was just out of glasses and braces, the oldest of five girls, no brothers. Boys were sort of a mystery. I was not confident with them. And I had a horrible case of acne, which was the bane of my existence at the time. But I was very happy to be at a Church college, and I desired to become more. That’s why I came there. I wanted to have a stronger testimony. I was looking forward to the religion classes. I knew they’d be a little different from my high school seminary class, where I reluctantly admit that if I’d been in that class today, I’d probably have been texting my neighbor. We just sat on the back row and talked and laughed, and tried to pay attention some of the time.
And I also, when I came to that Church college, wanted to be straight with the Lord. I went to the bishop. I was nervous. There weren’t terrible things in my background, not terrible mistakes, but I wanted to feel completely clean. I just want to tell you that bishop was warm and helpful and encouraging, and I can remember going back to my dorm room and kneeling down by my bed and feeling the lightness of His forgiveness, and the warmth of that.
At this Church college was also the first time where I felt without any question in my mind, that I felt the Spirit directing me, when I was teaching a lesson about visiting teaching. I remember writing on the board and thinking, “Boy, this is good! Where did that come from?” Not from me.
It has been a few years since then, and today, if I could share anything with you from my experience from then until now, it would be this: When your faith is strong enough to stand steady with Christ, you will have the strength to handle anything that life asks of you.
Let me explain what I mean, and forewarn you, also, because I’d like your help in a couple of places today. I’d like you to think with me, and maybe toss out an answer or two to a question. There is an image from the life of Christ that helps me understand what this kind of faith in Him feels like. You’ve seen one version or another of Christ calming the sea. What do you see in this? I hope it’s close enough that you can. As you can see, the boat is tipped, the disciples are clinging to the ropes, and the storm-tossed sea is all around them. Christ is calm, confident—not proud. So where is the safest place on this boat? How do you stand by Him? With Him? Anchoring yourself to Him no matter how harsh the storm?
So how do you get anchored securely, so that no storm can pull you away from His presence? And what kind of effects will this kind of anchoring have on your life, right now and in the future? Now, this kind of unrockable faith can be developed, and it’s faith in who He is and how He loves us.
Could I share examples and a story or two about developing faith that I wish I had known when I was in the spot where you are today. The first principle is: Faith in Him becomes knowledge when we act on that faith. We must take steps into the unknown. Those are the steps of faith.
Just a couple of really quick examples:
We talked with a returning mission president from Australia. He’d had a German missionary in his mission whose name was Fabian. We happen to know Fabian and his family, and as the president was taking him to the plane at the end of his mission, Fabian said, after the president asked him what he had learned: “You come on your mission. You know nothing. Then you study, and you pray, and you work very hard. You spend a lot of money, yours and your parents. Then when you know everything, they send you home.”
So he knows there is knowledge there. For him, it’s no longer faith. Is this the end of the road for this returning missionary? I don’t think so, because he will be taking more steps of faith into the unknown.
One more example: Before we were married, not very long, Bruce and I fasted and prayed about how soon to have children, if the Lord would bless us with them. We had more school ahead; financially, it just didn’t look possible. But the answer was, start your family now. Bruce worked, I worked part time, we had a little help from our parents, a little scholarship, but still it didn’t work on paper. But somehow, somehow, it did work. We had our oldest son and stayed in school. What if we had decided to wait? Once in a while, in the tough days when he was growing up, I wondered just a little bit about that decision. But then, we had knowledge that we could keep the commandment to multiply and replenish, and stay in school. Then we could take another surer step, in stronger faith than before.
Another principle: Prayer and the Spirit are inseparably linked to faith. So two suggestions: Pray specifically. When this same mission president told us what he had learned on his mission, when we asked, he said, “I learned about the micro, not the macro.” He said, “I learned that when you pray for an individual, you get answers.” And he said, “For example, Sister Johnson had been in the mission for almost a year, and she told me that she didn’t have a testimony of Joseph Smith.”
“How can I help her,” he said in his prayer, “to help her to know for herself that Joseph Smith did indeed see God in that grove of trees that spring day in 1820?” And he said, “I got the answer about how to help her.”
Make sure that the scriptures are part of your prayers. They will help you pray specifically. How do you do that? I think you know. The scriptures will help you answer your prayers. Prayer is the call for the Spirit’s help. Let me just share a little part of a letter in which a former student and friend describes how prayer helped her to know that God loves her, and anchored her to Him through faith and the Spirit when she prayed specifically.
She was having trouble believing that God would answer her prayers, and after struggling with this, she decided that she would start what she called a prayer journal. And then she described that her first prayer was one of desperation at work—she’s a chemist in a lab. She was having problems getting two instruments talking to each other. She said, “I was extremely frustrated, and I just sat down and thought, ‘A little help here.’” But she said immediately a thought came, she tried it, she had never considered it, and it worked. Then she went on to say what she had learned from keeping this prayer journal. And one thing was that she had not recognized some of the answers she had gotten before as actually coming from the Spirit. And the other thing she learned is what President Monson was talking about just this past Sunday, that when she increased her gratitude, then the help from the Lord increased.
Listen to what else she learned: “I now understand a little bit better how the Spirit communicates with me personally. When I receive an answer to a prayer or feel the influence of the Spirit, my emotions rapidly turn from ones of frustration, turmoil, helplessness, to ones of clarity. The decrease in these negative emotions has naturally led me to be a happier, more hopeful and positive person.” Her experiences and her knowledge, now, has led her to be able to ask and to move again with more faith, without knowledge.
Another principle: Self-discipline matters. It boils down to doing the things you know to do, and avoiding those things you know not to do, those that lead you away from the Spirit’s influence. Let me share with you a short list from a Young Single Adult bishop, who was sharing with his ward those things that can make it hard for you to make a good decision—difficult for the Spirit to guide you. The summary had been an acronym: BLAST+H. If any one of these elements, or a combination of them, is out of whack, then life will be harder for you than it needs to be. Your faith will be dampened. So what does BLAST stand for? What are the things that, if they’re going on in your life, might make it harder?
B is for bored. Mainly if you’re aware of these things and you feel them, at work or in any situation, whether it’s in a car late at night, whether it’s not wanting to do your homework—whatever.
A is for angry, possibly apathetic.
S is for stressed. Some of us are always going to feel that, right?
T is for tired. Who is not tired?
H is for hungry. Does anyone else identify with me on that one?
Now, there is an antidote to every one of these elements. Get a plan for when these things might show up uninvited in your life. Be sure to include enough sleep, good nutrition—this is your mother talking—regular exercise, and learning how to manage your time. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Common sense—sleep, eat well, exercise, manage your time. If you want to have faith to stand with Christ, prepare yourself to go to the temple. I know many of you brethren who are here are returned missionaries, so you have temple recommends. The temple is where heaven and earth meet. If you go there and cling to what you are given there, heaven will make a temple out of you.
In the words of Paul, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) And the paraphrase from Truman Madsen and the Doctrine and Covenants, section 84: If you have faith, and are patient, the Lord will unfold the deepest mysteries of godliness, which are only in the house of the Lord and in those ordinances.
So what does this well-anchored faith look like? Let me tell you two stories. They’re both about Elizabeths—two different Elizabeths who were called at different times, close to the same time, to the Muddy Mission, about 90 miles southwest of St. George, the toughest mission of any of the western settlements built during that time, according to one historian.
Elder Holland related this story a few weeks ago in our regional conference in Utah Valley. The story he told was of 15-year-old, gritty, spunky, and morally courageous Elizabeth Claridge McCune. She lived in Nephi at the time—this would be 1867, ’68, something like that. It was comfortable enough that when Brother Brigham and Brother Wells came for a conference there were bands, flowers strewn on the roads, and Elizabeth and her friends were dressed in white—what does that say about how subtle the settlement was?—and sitting on the front row. Brother Brigham gives a sermon, and toward the end of the sermon, he reads the names of those men he is calling on a mission to the muddy with their families. Elizabeth hears her father’s name read and bursts into tears. She sobs. Not so much that she doesn’t know about going, but she knows what she’s going to lose.
Her friend’s father’s name is also read, but she doesn’t cry—she doesn’t even seem to be much affected. She asks Elizabeth, “Why are you so sad? It’s okay,” she said, “I know my father won’t go.”
But Elizabeth said, “I know my father will go. Nothing will prevent him. If he didn’t go, he wouldn’t be my father.”
So let me ask you: what do you think is the difference between the two girls’ fathers? Elizabeth’s friend’s family did come across the plains. They answered the call to go from Salt Lake to Nephi, so they had sacrificed. But why do you think he wouldn’t go again? Is there one or two of you who would venture a possibility—because we’re kind of guessing, but why do you think he wouldn’t go?
COMMENTS ARE GIVEN, AND REPEATED OR REPHRASED BY SISTER HAFEN
Okay, there’s one thought. Maybe he thought he’d already done enough. “Why should I go again?” Other possibilities? Okay, “Give somebody else a chance for that growth out there on the Muddy.” Lack of faith? What do you mean by that? Okay, he says when you have faith, you do. It’s doing work, like Joseph Smith said. Thank you for that.
Maybe he was a little too comfortable. Maybe his comfort by that time was more important to him than his covenants to answer the call.
Let’s go on with the second story, another Elizabeth. This is Elizabeth and her husband William Wood. They were also called to the Muddy in 1867. William gave up a thriving butcher shop in Salt Lake City; they sold their very nice home, and they went south. Conditions there were so demanding that the colonists were living in severe poverty. In fact, so severe that one descendant put it: “Those people were so poor that they couldn’t even pay attention.”
After five years of difficult, faithful effort, William’s family lost everything when the mission failed in 1872 and they were called back to Salt Lake. They returned penniless and exhausted to where they had begun, again living in a dugout with a dirt floor and a sod roof. One day, they stood in front of this house that they had sold to go on their mission. William turned to Elizabeth and said, “Well, Mother, would you like to have your house back?”
Elizabeth thought for just a second, and then she said, “I would rather live in a dugout and have my mission fulfilled, than live in that fine house with my mission unfulfilled.” Why do you think she would feel that way? Any thoughts? Why would she feel that way after five years of backbreaking labor? “I would rather live in a dugout and have my mission fulfilled, than live in that house and not have my mission fulfilled.”
COMMENTS ARE GIVEN, AND REPEATED OR REPHRASED BY SISTER HAFEN
Okay, she had faith in Christ. And what does that result in? What happened to her during those five years? Thank you. She could see the big picture, so she had faith in what that might mean to her. What happened to her faith in those five years? Her faith became knowledge. She knew something she didn’t know before. She had changed. She was a different person from the person who left on that mission five years before—better, deeper. Any other thoughts?
Okay, if you “lose yourself for my sake,” then you will find what you are looking for. She found something better than she would have had had she lived in that fine house for those five years. Thank you for those thoughts. One more quickly. Ether 12:4—faith gives hope. And we’re talking about anchors today, so thank you for that, that fits right into what we’re talking about.
She did learn an important secret, as one sister from Sweden that we got to know put it: If your faith is based on trust in the Lord, not on blessings—if your faith is based on trust, not on blessings—you can withstand, even grow, through any trial. That’s sort of a restatement of what we might call a main idea for today. So if we compare the first Elizabeth to the second, the first Elizabeth had faith. She would go with her father; but the second Elizabeth had faith and experience, so we have seen the difference between the two. It’s just earlier and later; we trust that the first Elizabeth had the grit and the stamina and the spunk to live through that experience and grow from it. The second Elizabeth, the Elizabeth who would stand with Christ in the boat with her husband, with life’s storms tossing the boat around and drenching them with sea water—but they are standing in the safe, growing place in the boat with Him. To weather the storms of life, we need this kind of faith.
And I think we’re getting stronger challenges. Don’t you feel that way? I think the Lord is trying to purify His people, so we’re getting a compressed curriculum. In one way or another—I would know that about each of you—in one way or another, you are having a challenge or a difficulty that you will grow through, with faith in Him, and be better at the end of it. If we stand steady with Him, He will take us where our Father in Heaven wants us to go. And the closer—for me this is part of the key—the closer we stand to Him and with Him in every way, the more we become like Him.
Let me show you something of what standing with Him looks like. This is a picture of shining drops in a sometimes dark sea. It’s part of the ecstasy that President Kimball talks about being possible for a married husband and wife. Can you see the picture okay? What do you see in that picture?
Oh, she picked out the hands first. I like that. Who is “they”? You can see his ring, so you know they are married. You see the baby. What about that baby? That baby is happy. The baby is waving. The baby is secure. You know that the relationship between the mother and dad is secure, that it’s happy. Can you see in her profile how much she is smiling and how glad she is to be talking with her husband? The mother, can you see how her arm is wrapped around that baby—how protected and secure that baby is, until that baby is ready to get down off her lap and run somewhere else? Can you see the light in their faces?
I just have to add one little thing here. What if you took the husband out of the picture? Could it still be happy? I think it could. What if you took the baby out of the picture? Could it still be happy? I think it could. So this is our ideal, but sometimes we live in our life, not in the ideal. This is what we all hope for, at some time, either in our lives or as was promised this last conference weekend—if not now, then later. No promise will be broken nor denied.
But let me give this picture perhaps a caption. The extent to which we come closer to Him is the extent to which we can come closer to each other. Can you see how that would be possible? The extent to which we come closer to Him, in that boat with life’s storms around us, is the extent to which we can come closer to each other. Closer to Him, unified, one in heart, one in mind, one with the Spirit—then we can come closer to each other. Does that make sense? The extent to which we come closer to Him is the extent to which we can come closer to one another.
Our Father in Heaven wants us to be this kind of happy, this kind of secure. He wants us to be prepared to feel that together in our families, at whatever point that comes in our lives. So let me ask you this: How is preparing for temple marriage and raising children like preparing to settle the Muddy? Do some of you have some ideas or thoughts about that?
COMMENTS ARE GIVEN, AND REPEATED OR REPHRASED BY SISTER HAFEN
You’re going to be very poor. You know that you may not have a lot of earthly goods while you do that, but how important is that? We do have to have enough food on the table. We have to have a roof over our heads. But we have sufficient. Okay, so we might be poor. What else? How is preparing for temple marriage and raising children like preparing to settle the Muddy?
Okay, you don’t know what’s coming. You have to take some steps in faith. And that’s what we learned when we decided when we should try to have our first child, that you have to take steps when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
You may have to leave the comfort of your parents’ home, and that means going out into the lone and dreary world. That means coming to LDS Business College so that one of the things you do with your self-discipline is that you learn to have a career or a way to earn your living should you need to. If you knew that there are many women in the Church who not only support themselves, because there are 35-40 percent of women who are single in the Church at any given time, from 18-80. So a third of the women in the Church are single. They are going to need to learn to work, they are going to have to have a career, something that will support them, and many of them support other members of their families.
You put your earthly treasures somewhere else. You prepare so that you have enough. But then your true treasures are ones that we might call the heavenly treasures, and the temple treasures, if you want to put it that way.
Sometimes we have disasters. Oh, a good friend who is burying a son who committed suicide. Sometimes we have to be there, but he’s saying that the parents, through this horrible experience, experienced more faith, more visitations, more understanding, and the Spirit to be with them. Sometimes, he said, you just have to be there. Thank you. Sometimes we have disasters in our lives.
Other ideas about how preparing for temple marriage and raising children is like preparing to settle the Muddy. Okay, she said you might go into things for the wrong reasons. Okay, if you went on the Muddy, you might not learn those things that Elizabeth did, but if you go to the Muddy for the right reasons, and you’re preparing for your marriage and family for the right reasons, then you have those blessings.
Okay, let me summarize that. She said you can go into either situation, whether you’re going to the Muddy, or whether you’re preparing for marriage, giving your all—your whole heart. Did you have more than that? Okay, we may feel inadequate, she says, whether we are going to the Muddy or whether we are getting ready for marriage. But Christ’s Atonement will make up the difference.
You wouldn’t go into either of those situations unless you could go with someone who you trusted. Now, if you are alone, then who do you go with? Then you go with Him, because you know that He would never forsake you. You would always have somebody that you could stand by. You’re helping Him do His work.
One more. Okay, she says even though things may not add up financially or in other ways, you can still be really happy preparing for marriage or going to the Muddy. Now, it may be that some will not marry, but does that mean you can never be happy? No. When you are standing with Him in the boat, being one with Him, the joy is in that. And we will go where He is trying to help us to go, with Him. That’s one of my great desires—to be with Him, to go no more out, to be with my family, with Him, for as long as time and no time lasts.
Let me in conclusion tell you one thing I learned when I was willing—we weren’t asked to go to the Muddy—but when we were called, our first assignment was to go to Sydney, Australia. And President Hinckley looked across the table and he said, “How does that strike you, Sister Hafen?”
I said, “President, that really strikes me.” And what I was thinking is what I was going to be leaving. I was going to be leaving our children, our growing little flock of grandchildren, where we lived, where I loved to ride my bike, my students where I was teaching. But what I came to find out, when we went to that wonderful place, and during the four years that we were there, was that Christ changed for me. He became real.
He was no longer one of those really wonderful pictures on the wall in our churches. He was for real, a living, breathing personage, and I could feel his personality—that He loved, that He laughed, that He would give anything for me. He would give anything for you. And that’s what I would like to witness today. He has given His life for you on earth, but He continues to give His life for you, every day of your lives, because He wants you to come back to His Father, having been with Him enough that you have enough faith that you can be like Him, and know Him as He is. I bear witness to that in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.