You Are Your Secrets
It’s an honor to be asked to speak, only because there’s a responsibility that we have, and as you’ve made a choice to be here, and I have prayed that you might receive something of value from what I say.
I want to begin by talking about Brother Evans’ talk last week on technology. Have you ever noticed how everything nowadays comes with an owner’s manual? In the old days, you just got a watch, and you could just pull out the little stem, you could twist it a few times to wind it up, you could set the time and go about your business. But now you’ve got to have an owner’s manual to set the dual time and the alarm and all the different stopwatch functions and what-have-you, and all the buttons on the sides. Without your owner’s manual, you can’t even work your watch. Isn’t that right?
Now, I know we’ve turned all the cell phones off, but how many have a cell phone in here? Just have a cell phone? Okay, that looks like most of you. How many of you have a cell phone owner’s manual that is at least a quarter of an inch thick? Today’s computers, televisions, DVDs, cameras, etc. all come with owner’s manual—oftentimes they are like a regular book you would buy in the bookstore, it seems like. And I have found, at my age and not being a tech guy, that it’s hard to understand, even with a manual, how to operate half of the stuff I buy.
Most cars now have on-board computers. So when you go in to have it diagnosed for a problem, you have to hook it up to the computer at the dealership. In fact, a lot of really small repair shops now are limited on either the cars they can operate on, meaning service, or the kinds of service, because they simply can’t afford to purchase all of the software for all of the cars and all of the things that they really could do. We simply live in a world that’s got all kinds of manuals.
Now why am I telling you this? Well, a few weeks ago, our youngest son and his wife had their first baby. They were in the hospital for two days, and sent home with the most complicated of all things—a human being—and no owner’s manual. I mean, can you imagine buying a really expensive, high-tech, high-end device and then not getting an owner’s manual with it? You would complain, right? I think it would be really cool if as a baby popped out it had an owner’s manual taped to its body. And it would be for that very model. You could just open that up—not the baby, the manual—and actually read how to take care of this thing that you’ve just taken home. And so, with that in mind, I’ve thought about this a lot, and I believe that the closest thing we have to an owner’s manual for human beings is the scriptures. I believe the scriptures say what they say because of what and who we are.
In the scriptures, teachings, principles, doctrines, commandments, rules and even the stories, human nature—the way human beings work—is revealed. And we are also taught how to be spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and socially healthy.
Let me just give a few really brief quotes from the Owner’s Manual. Just statements.
“Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning” (D&C 93:38).
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).
“The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of [Jesus] Christ…and becometh…a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things…the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).
“And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall” (2 Nephi 2:26).
“And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, …must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness” (Mosiah 27:25).
“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34).
“To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
“The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36).
“Light and truth forsake that evil one” (D&C 93:37).
“For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
“No man can serve two masters….Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, …as they [gain] a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion” (D&C 121:39).
“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (D&C 101:79).
“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him” (Matthew 5:25).
“Verily I say [unto you], men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; for the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves” (D&C 58:27-28).
Now, those are just one-liners. I wrote those down in about five minutes, just trying to think through the scriptures of different statements that direct our lives or give us thoughts about our lives, or things we should be doing with our lives. But we’re a religious school. This is a private institution, and religious courses are required of you as students. Therefore, I think we sometimes become casual and become almost secular in our approach to the scriptures.
Let me just read a little—it’s not a poem—and I changed it from the original, to make it say what I wanted it to say:
Jesus took his disciples up into a mountain,
And He opened His mouth and taught them,
Saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Blessed are they that mourn.
Blessed are the meek.
Blessed are they which do hunger
And thirst after righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are the persecuted.
Then one disciple asked, ‘Do we have to write this down?’
Another said, ‘Do we have to turn this in?’
Another asked, ‘Will this be on the test?’
One said, ‘The other disciples didn’t have to learn this.’
And one said, ‘What does this have to do with real life?’
And Jesus wept.
I’ve entitled my remarks “You Are Your Secrets.” And, using the “Owner’s Manual,” I would like to develop that idea. I would like you to think of your heart as a bank account. We’ll call it today a “heart account.” We make deposits and withdrawals every day. If we do good things, live by our core values, we make a positive deposit into our heart account. If we sin, we make a negative deposit.
Now how does the heart account work? Well, whenever we tell or brag about some positive accomplishment or favor we’ve done someone, we exchange the positive credit for immediate satisfaction from the people we’re talking to. In other words, we make a withdrawal. We spend our positive deposit. In the same way, when we confess or tell a negative act, something we feel guilty about, we likewise spend it and it’s gone from our hearts.
Let’s go to the Owner’s Manual and see what it says about the things of our heart. In the famous Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 6 of Matthew, Jesus is talking about alms and prayers and fasting. These are all acts that are called acts of religiosity. These are good things, and as I read from Matthew 6, I’m going to read first of all about alms. Alms are just anything you do, any act that you perform, that’s for a good, service-type thing.
“Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
“Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
“But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
“That thin alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (vv. 1-4).
He’s teaching us to do good things secretly, not to be seen of other people. Now, I don’t want you to raise your hand, but how many of you can identify with that feeling you get when you’ve spontaneously done something for someone that was the right thing to do, and no one knows about it but you, the person you served—maybe they don’t even know—and Heavenly Father. There’s a good feeling that comes. It’s almost like getting a little increase of internal pressure. It kind of just makes you feel good, and I hope you can identify with that. That’s a positive reward from Heavenly Father. He rewards us openly. We recognize that.
Now, at the same time, “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:5-6).
Now, of course He’s not talking about the prayer we had in our devotional. This is talking about personal, private prayer. And that is a secret and private thing. But the feelings of the Spirit in personal prayer, when it becomes a relationship, when you know that you’re talking to Father in Heaven and He is feeling your thoughts and you’re feeling His recognition, are some of the most personal and sacred experiences you will ever have. And you will know in those moments that there is a God in heaven who knows you. But they will not come in prayers that are done to be seen of men.
Lastly, Jesus comments about fasting. He says, “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
“But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
“That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:16-18).
What we’re being told here is on Fast Sunday, take a shower, put on your makeup, go to church and give no appearance to anybody that you are fasting. And don’t look down at your watch as the meeting’s just ending and say, “Boy, in twenty more minutes, I’ll have gone 24 hours.” Or, and this one I’ve actually heard: “I have a headache, but I can’t take anything because I’m fasting.” Don’t be fasting as far as anybody else would know. Do it in secret. That’s what the Savior is teaching us over and over again in these scriptures.
He used a word in all three cases. Did you pick up the word? In each case, those that do alms, those that pray, and those that fast to be seen of others were called a hypocrite. A hypocrite is an actor, a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion. Or, another definition, a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.
The reward the hypocrites get is that people think they’re righteous. But they get no reward of their Father in Heaven. They spend, if you will, what could have been a positive deposit before it even gets deposited in the bank.
The power of doing good in secret is beautifully illustrated in a story from last December’s—and notice the source—this comes out of the Friend, for the little kids. It was entitled “The Secret Giver.” Adela Frederick is our vice president of service, and so certainly the service vice president ought to read a story about service. So I’ve asked Adela to read this brief little story to you. I hope it makes the point about doing things in secret.
I love everything about Christmas: the lights, carols, time with family—everything we do to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Oh, and I especially love getting presents. I start making my Christmas wish list in September.
One year my list was about as long as my arm. And I kept thinking of things to add to it. I was excited to show it to my dad. “Well, David, I see what you want to get for Christmas,” he said as he looked it over. “But what are you going to give?”
“I’m making gifts for you and Mom at school. On Friday Mom is taking me shopping for Shannon’s and Jon’s gifts. So I’ve got it all planned out.”
“Hmmm,” was all Dad said. For some reason he didn’t like my answer. I didn’t like the sound of “hmmm.”
The next family home evening, my parents discussed the idea of giving and getting and the true meaning of Christmas. I could see my wish list getting shorter by the minute. They asked us if we had any ideas to help us remember to be more giving. Shannon waved her hand excitedly. My older brother, Jon, and I groaned. With Shannon, ideas usually involved doing things for other people, like weeding our neighbors’ gardens.
“Let’s choose some people who are lonely or in need and anonymously leave presents on their doorsteps,” Shannon said with excitement.
“Not a bad idea,” Jon said. “It would be top secret.”
“This might actually be fun,” I thought.
We all agreed that it would be a great plan. We chose two families. One was the Swenson family in our ward. Since Brother Swenson had gone back to school, they never seemed to have enough money. They had lots of kids too, who would love getting Christmas surprises. The other family was Mr. and Mrs. Perez, an older couple who lived down the street. They always seemed a little lonely.
We all went shopping for the gifts. We agreed to buy them using some of the money we would have used for our own presents. That was fine with me. I was having way too much fun choosing toys for the younger Swenson boys. Somehow my stuff wasn’t that important anymore.
We decided to give one gift a night to each family starting 12 days before Christmas. When the first night came, I dressed in black from head to toe, and Jon drove me over to the Swensons’ house. I quietly put the first gift on the porch, rang the doorbell, and ran away as fast as I could. I jumped behind a fence just as one of the kids opened the door. I could hear their surprised voices as they discovered the present. I felt like I would explode with excitement and joy. My life as a Secret Giver had begun.
Things only got better—and harder. We had to go at different times every night and sometimes even in the morning because the Swenson kids started looking out the window to try to catch us. And every time I crept up to the Perez’s doorstep, I imagined Mrs. Perez waiting there, ready to fling the door open, give me a hug, and tell me how wonderful I was. I definitely had to avoid that. Keeping a secret was half the fun.
Well, that year was only the beginning. The Christmas after that, we chose a family whose daughter had been in the hospital 11 times that year and another family whose mom had cancer. Wow—I didn’t realize that some people had it so tough.
Now that Christmas is here again, we’ve decided to help three families. The hardest part is choosing them. There seem to be so many people who could use a little Christmas cheer.
As for my own list? Each year it has gotten a little shorter. I’m so busy making my Secret Giver plans that I don’t have much time to think about myself. There are gifts to choose and strategies to plan.
One thing is certain—it’s great doing things for others. Nothing beats the feeling I get when I see the surprise and excitement on the faces of the people we help. Giving has become one of my favorite things about Christmas.
(Charlotte Goodman McEwan, Friend, Dec 2008, 4–6. Based on a true story).
Thank you, Adela. I hope you enjoyed that story. I forgot to mention, it’s a true story.
So, to summarize up to this point, we are to do good in secret, and not to be seen of others. Remember now how the heart account works. When we tell or brag about some accomplishment or favor we’ve done someone, we spend our positive credit for immediate praise or satisfaction from others.
Now, don’t raise your hands, but I want to again ask a question. How many of you have ever done something that was the right thing to do at the right time, and received that positive good feeling, and then maybe in an hour or two later you were with friends, you were talking about how great they were, and in an effort to make yourself look good you then told what you had just done. And you felt it leave you. Now I can testify that as we tell these good things that are, if you will, secrets in our heart, there is something that leaves us and goes away.
Now let’s contrast that with the other side. What about our negative deposits? By contrast, what does the Owner’s Manual for human beings say? Let me read a few statements from it:
“I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“And whoso repenteth of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; and those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out” (Mosiah 26:35-36).
“Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).
“By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43).
The overriding message in the Owner’s Manual is that we are supposed to tell or confess all the things we have done that are wrong. By telling or confessing, we spend our guilt, and it becomes a withdrawal on our heart account and is no longer a part of us. So if we now summarize these two aspects of the Owner’s Manual, Jesus is telling us to confess or acknowledge all of our bad things, and to keep inside of us all of our good things.
But what do most of us do? Just the opposite. We tend to go around talking about the good things we’ve done, and keep all the bad things inside. Even small sins are accompanied by fear—of losing the good opinion of men, of being found out, of being robbed of earthly treasure.
Now remember, when you tell something or brag or make yourself look good in the eyes of others, it’s the same as spending and the positive credits are gone. So how would a person feel about themselves, about their relationship with God and others, if their heart is simply full of negative things? Negative deposits make us feel guilty, unlovable, unworthy, lower our self-esteem. On the other hand, if we really believe the words of Jesus in the Owner’s Manual and confess or told our negative things, we would spend them and they would no longer be in our heart. And if we kept back all of the good things, our heart would be filled with positive deposits. How would you feel about yourself, feel toward God and others, if your heart was filled with nothing but positive deposits? They make us feel worthy. They give us confidence in the presence of God. They make us feel loving toward other people.
Since the deposits we tell are spent and are no longer in us, at any given moment in our lives, we truly are our secrets. Whatever we have kept inside is who we are. And while others may not know, we know, and we know that God knows. Even if someone is able for a time to hide his or her actions, our secrets are never hidden from God. As Jacob tells us, “He knoweth all things, and there is not anything save He knows it.”
In his book, The Miracle of Forgiveness, President Spencer W. Kimball wrote: “Many offenders in their shame and pride have satisfied their consciences, temporarily at least, with a few silent prayers to the Lord and have rationalized that this was sufficient confession for their sins. ‘But I’ve confessed my sins to my Heavenly Father,’ they will insist, ‘and that is all that is necessary.’ This is not true where a major sin is involved.”
In an article by Bishop Jerry Taylor he wrote: “It would be helpful to know the purpose of confession. We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that the spirit is much like the body, only the matter is of a constituted finer and more pure nature. If we suffer major trauma to the body, we visit a doctor, and he will prescribe a course to make us whole again. The same holds true for an injury or an insult to the spirit. In order for the spirit to heal properly, part of the therapy is confession.”
Let me just share two personal examples to try to make my point about both doing good in secret and confession. My birthday is in August and I became a deacon during the summer. I knew deacons passed the sacrament, and that’s about all that I knew that deacons did. They got to wear white shirts and ties. My first Sunday as a deacon I was assigned to cut a widow’s lawn in our ward. I didn’t even know the woman; she lived clear across town, three blocks away. But I remember as a brand-new deacon pushing our hand mower and feeling really stupid as it crashed and clanked down the street for three blocks to her house. I only knew it by the address. I didn’t even know if she was home.
I began cutting the front lawn, and as I was finishing the front lawn, the door opened and this little lady came to the front door holding a glass of lemonade. It was a hot August day; I was grateful for the lemonade. So I thanked her after I drank it and I went around to do the back lawn. When I finished the back lawn and was getting ready to go home, as I started to leave down her driveway I remember this—and this is a very clear memory for me—I remember the door opened again, and out she came. And I would have hoped for a lemonade again, but instead she held out in her hand two shiny quarters. I remember this, I was twelve. I’m an old man; this was long ago.
The two shiny quarters kind of caught me off guard. I felt that I was supposed to cut this lawn as a deacon, as part of my priesthood assignment, and I didn’t think that involved taking money. But I remember thinking how hot it was, and there was a Fernwood’s Ice Cream store between her house and my house, which I had to push my lawnmower past to get to where I lived. As I looked at those two quarters, I just felt that it wasn’t right. So I thanked her and told her I had cut her lawn as a deacon, and then before I was tempted anymore I turned around really quickly and started home.
Now, I can tell you that I was tired, but I walked home more energized than when I went down. I somehow felt that Heavenly Father knew that I had done the right thing. As a little twelve-year-old deacon, I had a marvelous feeling in my heart that I was good, and Heavenly Father knew that I had done good. I never told that story to anybody. My parent—one of them has passed away—don’t even know about it. I never shared that story until I was a bishop, talking to my Aaronic Priesthood and trying to teach them the power that could come to them if they would learn how to serve for the right reasons.
Another experience: I was serving as a bishop. We had in our ward a really sweet widowed grandmother. I can picture her very clearly. This sweet grandmother loved everybody. She loved the kids. She went to the temple regularly. She came in for a temple recommend interview and those that have been interviewed recently remember that the last question always asks if there has been anything in your life that’s not been resolved with the priesthood that needed to be. I remember asking that question rather perfunctorily and reaching for the recommend book to start to fill it out, and I heard a “Yes.”
I remember being caught off guard by that yes, and I did a double take and—bishops always try to act cool, like they aren’t surprised by anything, you know—and I kind of leaned back so she could speak. And she then began to share with me how she and her husband had joined the Church after they were married. They were in their late twenties. But she told how, when they were courting there had been a few times that she’d felt maybe weren’t appropriate. But when they had been interviewed, now as a married couple several years later, she had wondered if she should bring that up but she didn’t, in the interview for her baptism. And all of these years, I’m going to guess at least forty, maybe fifty—all of those years she had wondered if she should have ever told that. And she said that, in her life, she could sort of feel okay about it because she wasn’t a member then. And then a talk would be given in Church and it would come into her mind that she maybe should have. Then she’d sort of deal with it and put it out of her mind.
It bothered her for all those years and I don’t know why she chose, on that particular day, but for whatever reason she chose on that day for the first time ever to share that. I felt very blessed as a bishop. It was a sacred moment as I watched tears in her eyes, and I watched this sweet little sister unburden herself. She was probably sharing the only negative secret in her heart. And I watched the smile on her face. She just glistened as she finished and as we stood to leave. In fact, I will confess this to you, only because this is a confession. She asked, “Bishop, can I give you a hug?” If it wouldn’t have been that she was about 85, I would have said no, but she gave me a big hug. And it wasn’t me that she was hugging. She was hugging the office of a bishop. I just happened to be the lucky bishop who got to be in that sacred moment at that time for her.
Well, in conclusion this afternoon, just by looking at these two little ideas that are in this Owner’s Manual about doing good things in secret and telling or confessing our negative things, we can truly be spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and socially healthy, and have a more abundant life and more confidence in the presence of the Lord.
Listen to D&C 121:45-46. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity.” The bowels are simply a symbol in scripture for our inwards. Let’s put our heart there. Let me re-read it. “Let thy heart also be full of charity”—that’s those good deeds done in secret—“towards all men, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.”
So there’s just two requirements—a heart full of righteous, personal, good things and virtuous thoughts. And here’s the five promised blessings if we’ll do that: “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter”—that’s your symbol for authority—“an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion”—that’s your sphere of influence, notice the way it works—“shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsion…it shall flow unto thee.” Most authority flows outward, because of threats and fear. In righteousness, dominion flows toward righteousness. That’s the promise if we live by the Owner’s Manual in just these two little principles that are contained therein.
Now, if any of you have negative deposits in your heart, I promise you that they will not go away until you confess them to the appropriate person or persons. One of the veritable signs of this being the true church is its absolute insistence upon the need for confession of serious sin in order to experience true repentance and healing. I further promise that as we perform acts of goodness in secret, we’ll find our confidence waxing stronger in the presence of God, and a love for others and for ourselves that is so true. It’s in the Owner’s Manual, and it’s who we are and how we work and how we are. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.