I rarely update the blog, but it seemed appropriate to add this post after I was asked to speak in church last Sunday. My talk drew so much from experiences we’ve had as a family and the lessons we’ve learned about our relationships with the Savior… so even though I don’t usually write out the talks I prepare, after church I wrote out my talk as I shared it with our congregation so I could add it to this blog.
This past Christmas was a fun one. Our kids are getting older, and there’s more and more excitement in our home during the Christmas season. At ages 5 and 3, the one single present they asked for more than any toy they could have was a real, big-person camera. So Santa brought them each their own digital camera.
It’s been hysterical watching them run around the house snapping photos of everything from home decor to toys. When I look through their cameras I find all kinds of photos- different angles of Roxy’s nose, all our home decor at the viewpoint of about 3 feet. But sometimes we find gems. Great photos that cause us to see things from the perspective of a child… things in our home that are around us all but taken from the perspective that I would never see in my adult viewpoint. These photos cause me to think of Christ’s teachings in Matthew to “become as a little child”. (Matt 18)
I witnessed one of the most beautiful exchanges between Lydia and Liam a few nights ago when Liam was sent to his room for time out for doing something mean toward Mommy when she was talking to him. I noticed Lydia slip through his bedroom door so I followed and listened and watched them through the crack of the door. Lydia hopped up onto his bed and began to have a big-sister to little-brother talk. (He listens to her WAY more than he listens to Mommy and Daddy).
In the sweetest little voice Lydia asked, “Liam, why did you do that?”. He responded, “I don’t know.” She asked him how she could help, and with tears in his eyes he cried, “Goosie, will you teach me to be nice?”. Lydia responded, “Of course I will. Mommy and Daddy will. Also Jesus will too!”
I was so touched because at 5 years old, my sweet little daughter has a personal relationship with the Savior that is just as real as Mommy and Daddy. She knows He is actively involved in our lives; and she was teaching little Liam about Him.
The topic I was asked to speak on is strengthening our relationship with the Savior. And just like any relationship, it takes work.
Last night I sent a group text to my family asking what the single most important element to them is in strengthening their relationships with either their spouse or a friend. I got several replies back, but then I turned around and asked how they incorporate that same element in strengthening their relationship with the Savior. And that brings me to the first element I want to address:
- A daily communion involving prayer.
By youngest brother has always been such an example of how to “really” pray. His prayers are so genuine and sincere, and you can feel when he prayes that he really pours his heart out to our Father in Heaven. That’s why his response to my texts were so appropriate coming from him. He felt the most important element was honest communication, and he said,
“Meaningful communication through prayer is about pouring our soul out to God. Someone once said, “if we do not pour out how can we expect our Heavenly Father to pour in? When you pour out your soul to God, you empty out all the pains, fears, doubts and worries, making room for what he is going to in return pour in.” – Chris Erni
Honest communication is really foundational in any relationship, and remember, what’s important to you is important to Him.
When I was about 7 years old my friends and I would ride around the neighborhood on our bikes exploring grassy fields to catch snakes. It was what we were into back then. I had never caught a snake before, but I knew nearly everything there was to know about almost every snake in North America. Several of my friends had caught a pet snake, and I desperately wanted one too.
I got separated from my friends wandering through a grassy field when I decided to enlist my Heavenly Father’s help. I knelt in the dirt trail and poured out my desires. As I stood up I found the largest garter snake I had ever seen wrapped itself around my ankle! This is one of my earliest testimonies of the power of prayer… and although not every prayer is answered so immediately and in such a blunt way, the most important thing I learned is that my desire to catch a snake was such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things… yet it was important to me – and because it was important to me, it was important to Him.
Pres. James E. Faust said:
“What is the quality of our secret prayers when only He listens? As we pray, we should think of Him as being close by full of knowledge, understanding, love and compassion, the essence of power and as having great expectations… A fervent, sincere prayer is a two-way communication which will do much to bring His Spirit flowing like healing water to help with the trials, hardships, aches, and pains we all face.
- A daily selfless service to another
As followers of Christ, we are weighed on the scales of our actions rather than on just the professions of our belief. I James we read that Faith without works is dead. (James 2:17), and in Matthew, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these… ye have done it unto me”. (Matt. 25:40)
One of the best examples of this kind of service… not just the occasional acts of service we have all done before, but the every-day kind that becomes so natural that its not even a sacrifice of your personal time but simply a part of how you live… are my parents.
Last summer my parents moved out west and stayed with us for several weeks during their transition of homes. Every day I was surprised in some way with something my Dad found to fix or make better. These were things that seemed small, but he saw a need and just did something to improve it… from sealing the cracks in my driveway, to adding more lights in my garage. The list is really a mile long. And he’s not just this way with family, but with everyone. He constantly seeks ways to serve and then quietly does something about it.
A few weeks ago my parents came back to visit us just after Christmas. They kept their trip quite because they wanted this trip (with such limited time) to be about visiting the grandkids rather than spending all their time here catching up with old friends (of which they have many!). There was; however, one family they stopped by to spend a little time with. A neighbor from their old subdivision who has a special needs son. A few year back my dad pushed his wheelchair through a race, and in a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing they felt they should stop and see them… and so they did. Of all the close friends they have, they went to see them… and simple act of service that is so common of my parents because it isn’t something they think about. It is a natural thing for them because of their relationship with the Savior.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks said:
“Our Savior gave Himself in unselfish service. He taught that each of us should follow Him by denying ourselves of selfish interests in order to serve others…
“He” teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others. If we do, He promises us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God”.
- A daily striving for an increased obedience and perfection in our lives.
In a recent conference address, Elder Jorg Klebingat gave an address entitled “Selective obedience brings selective blessings”. Obedience opens to door to blessings and allows us to grow closer to the Savior, but even beyond obedience to the commandments, I also want to stress the importance of obedience to the Spirit.
Several years ago we were traveling after church to a friend’s birthday party. As we pulled off the exit we passed a homeless man on the side of the road holding a sign for food. In most cases, I tend to think cautiously about my kids in the car, my wife, and I don’t stop for just anyone. As we passed my wife and I both felt a strong impression to help this man. Each of us not knowing the other felt the same, we kept it to ourselves and kept driving… but the feelings persisted. We saw it on each other’s faces and knew that we both felt the same thing, and so, even on the Sabbath, we quickly found the closest dollar store and filled two bags of groceries and water to bring back to this man.
It was a short exchange. He was surprised and didn’t say much but thank you… and we will likely never know what happened to him. But the one thing I can tell you is that I can’t recall as single thing we learned in church that day, but I distinctly remember this experience after church and the model it set for us to follow the Spirit’s promptings.
In D&C 130: 21-22 we read:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. | And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
- A daily acknowledgement of His divinity
In Mosiah 5:13 we read:
“For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?”
Shortly after we were married I found myself working for an engineering company that was contracted to run the operations for several new city start-ups, including Milton, John’s Creek, Sandy Plains, etc. Our headquarters were in Atlanta and later my work moved to Milton’s city hall. In both cases, my commute to work was well over an hour each way.
One of the hardest things about working is commuting. It feels like such unproductive, wasted time; burning gas and eating away at your life 2 hours per day, 10 hours per week, and a whole MONTH per year… all in the seat of your car.
It became for me one of the things I would complain most about on nearly a daily basis… and then something changed in me. I realized that I could complain about my commute, or I could be thankful that that God’s hand in my life blessed me with a job to support my family. I began to see my commute as a blessing to spend quiet time in introspection, listen to the scriptures on my phone, I spent two months studying spanish on CD, and filled my commute time with productive things that made me grateful for my blessings. I began to recognize divinity in all things, and I became happier.
- A daily study of the scriptures
My little daughter surprises me every day. She learned about new year’s resolutions in school and each student wrote down their resolution with a picture they drew to hang in the hallway. At 5 years old, my daughter spelled in the phonetics of a kindergartener her new year’s resolution is “to reach the scriptures more”.
Even as a child, Lydia feels things and learns things. She grows a stronger relationship with the Savior through our family’s scripture reading, and she is an example to me to be better with my personal study.
Pres. Kimball said:
“I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures, the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”
Life is full of adversity. We all face trials, many of us face things that others her will never even know. We come to church all dressed up with our best foot forward; and it’s easy to look around and think that no one here has problems like me. Yet, there are those here today who are suffering spiritually, physically, or emotionally. And if you’re not one of them now, one day you will be. But, a personal relationship with the Savior gives us a calming courage to face our trials.
In D&C 121: 7-8 we read:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul: thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.”
Like my daughter Lydia, my relationship with the Savior is a simple one. There is a lot of room to grow; but it is real. I testify that He lives; that he knows you, and knows all about your pains and trials. We can find peace in Him as we work to strengthen our relationship with our Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.