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Sister Susan W. Tanner

A Holier People

It is a delight for John and me to be with you today. We have been looking forward to this and we are not disappointed. We feel a great spirit here among you. I am so grateful for the prayer that was offered, for the message that was given by your student council representative, and for that beautiful music. And all of those things, I think, are contributing to the message that I hope we can feel and learn and discuss today. I was grateful that the Spirit was invited, and all of these things have added to that spirit.

We have just come off of a wonderful general conference season, and I hope that you came away from it like I did, desiring to be a better person, a holier person. One of the highlights for us was having all 23 of our family members in our home watching it together. The little ones range from age ten down to six months and, except for the six-month-old, all of the children watched and listened. But the best part was when we sang the rest hymn Sunday morning, “How Firm a Foundation.” Our little children—especially I envision little John who is six—standing up and singing, just belting it out at the top of their lungs. It doesn’t get much more heavenly than that. It makes me want to be better, to be holier. I hope that we can have the Spirit today, as we talk about this subject of holiness.

I want to tell you three really quick little stories. Holiness has been on my mind. A few weeks ago, John and I had the opportunity, like most of you, to attend the Oquirrh Mountain Temple dedication. And every single talk and every song were absolutely beautiful. The prayers were lovely. The dedicatory prayer was just superb. And all of that is not to say, necessarily, that it was the words, but it was the Spirit. And as John and I walked out of that building, we looked at each other and said, “We want to be holier people, because of what we have just participated in.”

For the past year, I’ve had the opportunity of being an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple. Every single week as we went to the temple, we would be told that in order to be temple workers, we needed to be holy. Personally, we needed to be holy. And that was a great responsibility. They taught us that we needed to be holy because the people that were coming to the temple were coming for specific reasons, and we didn’t want to get in the way of Heavenly Father blessing them for those reasons. But even more importantly than that, we were working in the Lord’s house, and we did not want to impede His Spirit. We wanted to make sure that it was a sacred and holy place where He could dwell, since it was His house.

The third little incident comes from something I’ve been doing the past four months. I’ve been studying every single day about the history of the Relief Society, and the blessing it is in the lives of the early women of the Church, up to today. One of the most amazing findings that I have studied is that the early Relief Society was established and organized by Joseph Smith for the purpose of helping the women become holier, to prepare them for the temple ordinances that they were about to enjoy in Nauvoo when the temple was completed. I want to talk just a little more about that later. But again, preparation to become holy.

So, as I’ve thought about three things that have happened in my life, I have thought a lot about holiness, and John and I have talked about it a lot. It’s been a wonderful thing for us to study and to learn more about. What is holiness really, and how do we become holy? What blessings and promises does our Father and Heaven have for His holy people?

Holiness is a rich word for me. What does that word evoke for you in your mind and heart? What is a good definition of the word holiness?

In the Old Testament, a holy place was a place that was set apart from the world. It was sacred, and something that was set apart. Think about where those places were. We talk about sanctuaries and temples—oftentimes, those holy, set apart places were on mountaintops. My father has always found his holy places on mountaintops. Where do you find your holy places?

Now that my dad is too old to hike anymore, his holy, sacred, set apart place is the temple. He’s in the temple every day, working as a sealer or just doing the patron work. But he finds that one of the sacred places in his life, just as John and I did when we went to the Oquirrh Mountain Temple dedication. It was a place set apart.

The opposite of a holy place is something that is common or profane. My husband, who is an expert on words, taught me that the word profane actually means, if you separate the two parts, pro and fane, means outside the temple. So something that is the opposite of sacred—common or profane—means outside the sanctuary or the temple.

Now also in the Old Testament, a holy person was someone who held a sacred calling or a sacred office. Think what a blessing it is to us in our lives to have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, where we have apostles and prophets on the earth today. I think it’s very important for us to honor them for that sacred office. In some ways, it might be easier at times for us to give honor to a prophet—an ancient prophet, such as Moses or Abraham, or even an early prophet like Joseph Smith. Sometimes when we grow up next door to a neighbor or someone and then they become a bishop, we have a hard time because we know them as a person who has human characteristics; sometimes it’s hard for us to honor them with their sacred call. But it’s important for us to do that. That is a holy person because of the call that they have. A holy people, we know from the scriptures, is a society or community that has a special relationship with Jehovah. We can think of those kinds of communities that we’ve read about in the scriptures—Zion societies such as the city of Enoch, where the people were of one heart and one mind, where they were so pure that the Lord was able to take the entire city up unto Himself.

One of my favorite societies to read about and study is the people in 4th Nephi. I could read that and read that and read that, and still learn from it. Sometimes I think, “How is it that a society could have no contention for 110 years.” We can’t even do that for a day in our house. They were one of those holy societies, where they had a special relationship with the Savior.

It says, when we read about it, that not only did they have no contention, but they had no envy, no strife, no lasciviousness, no murders, (see verse 16) but I think one of my favorite phrases is that “the love of God…did dwell in [their] hearts” (verse 15). The love of God. Again, my English professor husband says that that little word of could mean several different things. It could be translated or interpreted in several different ways. What do you think it means to have the love of God dwell in your hearts? Of could mean that they had love for God. Certainly that would help them be a Zion society. They could feel love from God. They could know that He loved them, and that changes the way we behave, doesn’t it? And they could love like God. So they are learning to give that same kind of love that God gives, to those around them. The love of God did dwell in their hearts.

Now the word holiness also refers to moral character. And you can think of synonyms for the word holiness—things like righteousness or sacred or sanctified. I also like to think of holiness as being separate from the world like these places that we’ve set apart from the world. Emma was told, in the Doctrine and Covenants, in the revelation that was given to her, that she should “lay aside the things of this world, and seek for the things of a better” (D&C 25:10). To me that describes holiness. And the nice thing about that revelation given in section 25 is that it was given to Emma, and it says, “unto all” (verse 16). So that is an admonition and a revelation given to all of us, to lay aside the things of this world and seek for the things of a better.

Another way that I can understand what holiness is, is to know that the word holy and the word whole stem from the same root word. I think that when I feel holy in my life, I am approaching what it feels like to feel whole or complete or perfected, as in Moroni 10, where he says, “Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness” (verse 32) That is holiness to me—completeness or wholeness, perfection.

So how is it that we can become holy in our life? We’ve already mentioned a couple of things. We lay aside the things of this world. We deny ourselves of all ungodliness. I believe that Heavenly Father has purposefully given us—and again we’re blessed in this day of the Restoration to have them—but has given us priesthood ordinances and covenants that help us to become holy. We promise to Him that we will do certain things, that we will obey the commandments, and there are specific promises and commandments that we say we will obey. And then He promises us that He will bless us. I especially love the way that Elder Christofferson described His promises to us in last April’s general conference. He said that the Lord has promised us, or that He has covenanted with us, that He will sustain us, save us, and sanctify us. Think of those promises. To be sustained is to be carried, to be helped. To be saved is to be perfected. To be sanctified is to be made holy. Those are promises and covenants that the Lord has made with us.

Now temples are dotting the earth, and these are wonderful places for us to be able to participate in the sacred priesthood ordinances and covenants. Temples and temple ordinances require holiness of us, and they perpetuate holiness in us. Can I say that again? They require holiness of us—in other words, we need to be pure in order to enter a temple—and they perpetuate holiness in us. They help us become more pure and holy after having been there and participated there.

Let’s talk about those two ideas for a minute. The temples require holiness of us. Joseph Smith, in 1842 in Nauvoo, was, along with his people, building a temple. This was uppermost in his mind. When the sisters, who were also trying to participate by sewing for the brethren who were working on the temple, and feeding them—wanted to gather together in a charitable society so they could work together to help build the temple, help the brethren who were building the temple, they went to Joseph Smith and said, “We would like to be organized in a charitable society or a benevolent society.” These were really fashionable in that time period. And Joseph said to them, “I have something better in mind for you.” And so he called them to the upper story of the red brick store and organized the sisters under the authority of the priesthood, after the pattern of the priesthood, and with the blessings of the priesthood. And not only, now, were they organized to do benevolent acts and acts of charity, but they were organized to become holy. Joseph Smith came to many of the meetings and talked to the sisters and taught them about becoming a Zion community, so that they would be prepared for the temple when the temple was ready for them.

He taught them things that may seem kind of commonplace and kind of simple, but in reality, if we think about our own lives, they’re maybe not that simple. First of all, he taught the sisters that they were to be charitable, and that this was to be basic to their natures. He said, “This is according to your natures. It is natural for females to have feelings of charity. You are now placed in a situation where you can act according to those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms. If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates.”

As an extension of this charity, he said, “Sisters, you should treat your husbands with mildness.” I thought, this is counsel that is timeless. He said, “Let the society teach you how to act toward your husbands, and treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with trouble, when he is perplexed, if he can meet a smile, not an argument, if he can meet with mildness, it will calm down his soul and soothe his feelings. When the mind is going to despair, it needs solace.”

He taught the sisters that they should bridle their tongues. Is that timeless counsel? He said, “Put a double watch over the tongue. The tongue is an unruly member. Hold your tongues about things of no moment. A little tale will set the world on fire.”

He taught the sisters that they should not aspire to callings in the Church. He taught them that they should not envy. He taught them that they should be pure and meek and loving. These are elements of holiness. These were things the sisters needed to do to prepare to be holy. They seem rather ordinary, don’t they? And yet, when we assess ourselves, are we as good at all of those things as we need to be, to be holy in our lives?

Participation in the temple ordinances requires a lot of us. And we get about as much out of the priesthood ordinances as we put into them. My husband likes to say, “We can go through the temple, but has the temple gone through us?”

I think of Belle Spafford, who was the 9th general president of the Relief Society. She served for almost 30 years, and she had been a counselor for a couple of years prior to that. As a counselor, she had the opportunity to attend the National Council for Women, for women of all faiths, back in Washington, D.C. As a participant, she had been ridiculed and criticized, sometimes, for being a Mormon woman, with Mormon beliefs. So when she was called to be the president of the Relief Society, she and her counselors decided it was probably time to withdraw from the National Council of Women. They made a proposal, and she took it to President George Albert Smith. She said to President Smith, “We have decided that it’s probably time for us to withdraw from this National Council of Women, for these reasons that I’ve listed here. It takes us away from the important work that we’re doing for the women of the Church right here in Utah, it’s expensive for us to go, we’ve been ridiculed and criticized as we have gone there. We think that it’s time. And we’re not really getting very much out of it.”

President George Albert Smith looked at Sister Spafford and he said, "You surprise me, Sister Spafford. Do you only do things for what you can get out of it? What are you giving to it?” I think that’s a question that we can ask ourselves in very many aspects of our lives. What are we giving to it? Are we getting everything out of the temple that we would like to? Are we giving our full selves to it, so that we can have that temple experience go through us? What are we getting out of our classes? What are we giving to those classes? It’s a very important question.

And then President George Albert Smith admonished her to stay in the National Council of Women. He said, “Go. Give everything to it. Make your influence felt.” Isn’t that wonderful advice, as we think about the different aspects of our lives, but especially as we think about participation in the temple ordinances.

Now temples also perpetuate holiness in us. Remember? They require much of us, and they perpetuate much in us. President Hinckley used to like to say, “You are better people for having gone to the temple.” You go in, and you come out a better person—again, depending on how much we give to it.

I have a friend who likes to walk on the grounds of the Provo Temple. She has a husband who is less active in the Church, but he is the one that noticed that every single couple that they see come out of the Provo Temple comes out holding hands. We don’t know what their disposition was when they went into the temple, but we know how they feel when they come out of the temple. They feel better.

President Hinckley said, “I make you a promise that, if you will go to the house of the Lord, you will be blessed. Life will be better for you. Avail yourselves of the great opportunity to go to the Lord’s house, and thereby partake of all of the marvelous blessings that are yours to be received there.”

In section 109 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we have recorded the temple dedication of the Kirtland temple. There are some marvelous promises there that we can have as we go to the temple. In verse 22, it says, “And we ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them.” Listen to those promises again: we can have the power of God, we will have His name upon us, we will have His glory round about us, and angels will have charge over us. Four important promised blessings from participating in the temple.

Nephi saw in vision our day. I love this. He said he saw “the church of the Lamb of God” upon the face of the earth, and the “dominions” of the church are small (see verse 12). And really, when you think about that, 13 million people across the face of the earth really aren’t very many. But he said they were “the covenant people of the Lord…and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory” (verse 14). That sounds to me like people who are holy, who have made and kept sacred covenants, a holy people. I like to think about the blessing of the glory that will be around us. To me, that signifies light, and I think of the light that comes from the temples. We have 130 temples now, across the earth. People are drawn to them. Often they sit on a hill. Often they’re lit up at night. People everywhere are drawn to these temples.

Think about us as temples of light as we participate in the temples. We have that glory upon us, that light shining from our countenances. Think of 13 million people around the earth being temples of light, attracting the people of the world to our holiness, to our glory. It is a wonderful visual image, something that we should strive to have, to have that light, to have that glory, to have that holiness.

John’s elderly aunt, in the last days of her life, was housebound. But she still kept her temple recommend. She couldn’t get out very easily. She really desired to go to the temple again, but couldn’t do it on her own. One day as her daughter was making a routine visit to Aunt Agnes, she opened her door and she just stopped. She said, “Mother, did you have a cleaning lady come in this morning? Everything seems so sparkly.”

And Aunt Agnes smiled and said, “No. No cleaning lady.”

She said, “Did the apartment people come and paint it a different shade? Something is bright and light in here.”

And Aunt Agnes smiled and said, “My visiting teachers were able to take me to the temple this morning. I must have just brought the glory of the temple home with me.” It was so tangible. It was a physical light and presence that her daughter, Janeen, noticed the minute she walked into the room.

One of my favorite scriptures in all scripture is Moses 1. Moses has a sacred, holy experience as he talks to God face to face. And what happens to Moses after that experience? Of course, Satan comes. Satan does not want him to dwell on that holy, sacred experience. That always happens to us, doesn’t it, after we’ve had a most wonderful experience? Satan tries to get to us, as he did with Moses. But Moses said something that is very important. He said, remembering the experience that he had, “[The] Spirit hath not altogether withdrawn from me” (verse 15). Even though the Lord was not still in his presence, the Spirit of the Lord had not withdrawn from him. Isn’t that how it can be for us when we participate in temples and in ordinances and in covenants? That Spirit can stay with us.

And then Moses said, “I can judge between thee [Satan] and God” (verse 15). Because he still had that Spirit, he could make righteous judgments. And then he says, “I will not cease to call upon God” (verse 18). In that regard, we can keep in communication with our Father in Heaven and continue to keep that Holy Spirit with us.

I have a dear friend whose oldest daughter got married. This happened several years ago. It was a wonderful temple marriage. The couple was prepared and ready. Everything about the day was beautiful. After they had the ceremony in the Salt Lake Temple, they rushed back to Provo to prepare for a reception. Everything was ready until about a half hour before, and the caterer hadn’t shown up. The caterer was in charge of the cake and the refreshments and the tablecloths and table decorations. Those of us who were friends started trying to help by calling the caterer. No answer. Some of us drove by the caterer’s place. It was all locked up. So then we ran to a grocery store and bought a wedding cake, pulled together some of our tablecloths and got some flowers to put on the tables. By this time, the wedding reception had started. We said to our friend Christina, “Would you like us to run and get 7-Up at the store?”

She said, “No, it’s okay. The party has begun, and we are celebrating the temple ceremony that happened this morning. And you know what? We found out a wonderful thing at that reception. You can have a Mormon wedding reception without food and still celebrate. The other thing that happened, even though she wanted to concentrate—she kept saying, “We’ll concentrate on this beautiful couple and the sealing ordinance.” The talk of the evening kind of, especially among the men, became this no-show caterer. The men kept saying, “We think the father of the bride was in cahoots with the caterer. Just don’t show up and then I don’t have to pay for all these refreshments.”

At any rate, at the end of the evening, it had been a wonderful evening and we were cleaning up. Most of the people had gone home, and the caterer rushed in, absolutely grief-stricken. My friend Christina rushed up to her and threw her arms around her and said, “I am so thankful that you are all right. How wonderful to see you.”

The caterer said, “I am just sick. I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I have never done anything like this before. I wrote this down on the wrong day. I’ve ruined your party.”

Christina said, “No. We’re just so grateful that you’re all right.” And [she] was absolutely forgiving. There was no feigning forgiveness; it was from the bottom of her heart. It was real.

Let me just read to you a letter, part of a letter that the caterer wrote to Christina the next day: “I find myself with extra time today since I don’t have a wedding to serve tonight as I had planned. First and foremost, please accept my deepest regrets for Thursday evening. In our ten-year history, I’ve never created such a disaster as I did for your family. Words cannot express the hours of agony I have grilled myself with as I have pondered the evening and what you must have felt. I want to make some sort of restitution for these damages, and I hope you will help me create that situation. I am so sorry.

“I also wanted to tell you of the profound experience this has been for me from an eternal perspective. In my life, I have never been treated with such Christlike love and compassion as you did that night. Your first impulse was to embrace me, to comfort me, when I should have been consoling you. You were not waiting with wrath and anger at my mistake, but rather with love and understanding, as I have always hoped Heavenly Father would be waiting for me. You knew without asking the intents of my heart. Over the years I have dealt with petty complaints like, “I don’t like the color of this punch,” etc. You had every justification to be angry, and yet you chose a higher road.

“Since that night, my mind has continually returned to a central theme: Go and do thou likewise. I have been gentler and kinder with my children, my husband and my staff. When their work has fallen short of my expectations, I have looked on the intent of their hearts rather than on their shortcomings. I am sorry this lesson came to me at your expense, but it is one that will be with me forever. Thank you for your loving example of the higher road.”

Now I watched all of this happen, and I was amazed. I’ve been the mother of a bride before too, and I said to my friend Christina, “How did you do it, and how did you do it so purely?”

She said, “I felt the extension of those temple covenants with me, that we had participated in that morning.” The spirit had not altogether withdrawn from her, and she was able to be righteous and holy.

Now, we could ask ourselves lots of questions to inventory ourselves about how we’re doing. Can we love people who have wronged us? Are we envious of people who have things that we wish we had? Do we participate in our personal religious behaviors to strengthen our testimonies each day?

When we look at Alma 13, we could ask ourselves the question that comes from his list: Are we humble and meek and submissive and full of love and all long-suffering? Do we have faith in the Lord? Do we have hope in His Atonement? Does the love of God—again, the love of God—dwell in our hearts? (see verses 28-29).

We need to ask ourselves these things. It is the quest of a lifetime to become holy, to become sanctified. My prayer for each of us is the prayer that we sang at the beginning of this meeting:

More holiness give me, More strength to o’ercome,

More freedom from earth- stains, More longing for home,

More fit for the kingdom, More used would I be,

More blessed and holy—More, Savior, like thee.

(Hymns, No. 131)

I want to bear my testimony to you today that I know that our Father in Heaven is holy. He has made it possible for us to become holy by blessing us with temples and ordinances and covenants. I know that our Savior is holy, and He has made it possible for us to become holy by atoning for our sins and making it so that we can repent and become better. I know that the Holy Ghost is holy, that He will guide us and comfort us and testify to us and help us in our quest for holiness. I know that we have the restored gospel on the earth today to help us to become holy through priesthood ordinances and covenants. It is my prayer that each of us will be holier people, and I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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