As difficult as this assignment is, I am delighted with the opportunity to be in your midst, to feel the spirit on this campus—a spirit that is here at least in part because of your strivings for righteousness and excellence. Thank you for your graciousness.
“Come Unto Christ”
Now we have packed away the tinsel and the ornaments of the season. But I hope the warm memories of fellowship, expressions of love, cheerful greetings, giving of gifts, gathering of families together, and reflecting upon the birth of our Savior and the significance of this event will linger long in our hearts. It seems that during this time we are more charitable and have better feelings toward each other than at any other time during the year.
Now comes the beginning of a new year, and, though we make New Year’s resolutions to improve ourselves, often the good feelings of the Christmas season are forgotten and disregarded. But the image of the Savior, what He taught, what He sacrificed and did for us planted firmly in our minds can help us remember all that we must do.
While enjoying the opening presentation and listening to the words, “Just let your heart believe in him; never let his light go; never let your love grow dim . . . I heard him come,” I reflected on the account in 3 Nephi, chapter 11. While the people were marveling and wondering about this Jesus Christ and the sign that had been given concerning Him, they heard a voice, “not a harsh voice, neither was it a loud voice,” but “being a small voice it did pierce them that did hear to the center,” and it caused “their hearts to burn” (verse 3). Again they heard, but they did not understand.
Then, in hearing the voice the third time, they did “open their ears to hear it,” and “they cast their eyes up again towards heaven; and behold, they saw a Man descending out of heaven; and he was clothed in a white robe” (verses 4–8). It was the Savor, who came down and ministered unto them. He taught them there should be no disputations among them, and they were baptized and took His name upon themselves.
What a wonderful way for us to begin a new year—open our ears that we may hear, then resolve to follow Moroni’s admonition. (Moroni 10:32):
“Come unto Christ, and be perfected in him,” by establishing Christlike attributes in our lives. We can be more thoughtful, kind, and considerate of our fellowmen. “Come unto Christ . . . and deny yourselves of all ungodliness.”
“Remembering to Choose Love”
As I think of striving to rid ourselves of contention and living peaceably with our fellowmen, I am reminded of an experience President Gordon B. Hinckley tells:
For a number of years, while I had responsibility for the work in Asia, I interviewed each missionary one-on-one. I asked each what virtue he or she saw in his or her companion . . . .
When I raised that question, almost invariably the missionary, an elder for example, would stop with a surprised look on his face. He had never thought of his companion that way before. He had seen his faults and weaknesses but had not seen his virtues. I would tell him to pause and think about it for a minute. Then the answers would begin to come. Such answers as, “He’s a hard worker.” “He gets up in the morning.” “He dresses neatly.” “He doesn’t complain.”
It was a remarkable thing, really. These young men and women, for the most part, had been oblivious to the virtues of their companions, although they were well aware of their companions’ faults, and often felt discouraged because of them. But when they began to turn their attitudes around, remarkable things began to happen. [“Strengthening Each Other,”Ensign, February 1985, pp. 3–4]
Campus living is very similar to this, as is family living. Developing skills and positive attitudes in living with roommates now will enable you to have happier eternal companionships.
Sometimes we hear of priesthood bearers being overly critical of their wives and children. Sometime ago I was visiting a region where a joint priesthood/Relief Society leadership meeting was held. One of the priesthood leaders was the husband of the Relief Society president. During the meeting principles of cooperation were discussed and expressions of appreciation were given for the opportunity to work together. But the actions of this couple spoke louder than words. He treated her as a servant, thrusting her his coat to hang up, criticizing her cooking and homemaking skills, and scolding the children for minor infractions.
President Spencer W. Kimball said,
Our sisters do not wish to be indulged or to be treated condescendingly; they desire to be respected and revered as our sisters and our equals. I mention [this] because in some situations our behavior is of doubtful quality. [“Our Sisters in the Church,” general conference priesthood session, Ensign, November 1979, p. 49]
Sisters, too, have a responsibility to build harmonious relationships. There are times when we are not as thoughtful as we should be. The most important place all of us should be practicing our own “perfecting skills” is right where we live, with those nearest and dearest to us.
David O. McKay’s wife, Emma, was credited with this statement: “The most important thing one can take to marriage is a cheerful disposition.”
President and Sister McKay always seemed to be the ideal couple. He was such a gentleman, and she was so gracious. Seldom did a cross word come between them. How wonderful it would be if we could be cheerful always, not only with our own marriage partners, but with all people.
In recent years we have witnessed great changes in the relationships between men and women. Some of this has been beneficial as it relates to equal pay, education, and opportunity. But sometimes, in our desire for equality, we have eliminated those common courtesies that are so important for harmonious relationships. The prophets have taught that in his wisdom and mercy our Father made men and women dependent upon each other for the full flowering of their potential. Because their natures are somewhat different, they can complement each other. Because they are in many ways alike, they can understand each other. Let neither envy the other for their differences; let both discern what is superficial and what is basic in those differences and act accordingly. And may the brotherhood of the priesthood and the sisterhood of the Relief Society be a blessing in the lives of all members of the Church as we help each other along the path to perfection.
Often our roles change. For many years I supported my husband in his priesthood callings. Then almost overnight a change came. He was asked to give up what he was doing, be released as a mission president, and come home so that he could support me. This he has done cheerfully. I am always grateful when he can accompany me on my assignments because it demonstrates that we can work together as a team, supporting and helping each other.
I watch the supporting relationships of your campus and church leaders. I watch the loving relationships of the Brethren and their wives, but especially I love to watch the adoration President Benson has for his wife, Flora, and she for him.
Just recently I heard President John Larson of the Jordon River Temple tell of the weekly visit of President and Sister Benson to that temple. He mentioned that President Benson, though not strong physically himself, is determined to help Sister Benson as she gets out of the car or to hold her chair as she is seated for lunch after the session, and he will not relinquish that right to anyone else. Their love and devotion to each other are obvious.
These are relationships that have “weathered the storms”—the difficulties—and have endured through the years. They have learned to control their feelings and not say or do things that were offensive to the other.
It’s interesting that when we are dating, we usually try to be our very best in order to impress our date. Young men are perfect gentlemen. The young women are perfect ladies. Why should we change our behavior just because we “catch” each other? A women never gets so old or has been married so long that she doesn’t appreciate common courtesies. A man never gets to the point where he doesn’t appreciate being treated as an important human being.
The development of this kind of behavior is told in the story of Tom Anderson.
I made a vow to myself on the drive down to the vacation beach cottage. For two weeks I would try to be a loving husband and father. Totally loving. No ifs, ands or buts.
The idea had come to me as I listened to a commentator on my car’s tape player. He was quoting a Biblical passage about husbands being thoughtful of their wives. Then he went on to say, “Love is an act of will. A person can choose to love.” To myself, I had to admit that I had been a selfish husband—that our love had been dulled by my own insensitivity. In petty ways, really: chiding Evelyn for her tardiness; insisting on the TV channel I wanted to watch; throwing out day-old newspapers that I knew Evelyn still wanted to read. Well, for two weeks all that would change.
And it did. Right from the moment I kissed Evelyn at the door and said, “That new yellow sweater looks great on you.”
“Oh, Tom, you noticed,” she said, surprised and pleased. Maybe a little perplexed.
After the long drive, I wanted to sit and read. Evelyn suggested a walk on the beach. I started to refuse, but then I thought, Evelyn’s been alone here with the kids all week and now she wants to be alone with me. We walked on the beach while the children flew their kites.
So it went. Two weeks of not calling the Wall Street investment firm where I am director; a visit to the shell museum, though I usually hate museums (and I enjoyed it); holding my tongue while Evelyn’s getting ready made us late for a dinner date. Relaxed and happy, that’s how the whole vacation passed. I made a new vow to keep on remembering to choose love.
There was one thing that went wrong with my experiment, however. Evelyn and I still laugh about it today. On the last night at our cottage, preparing for bed, Evelyn started at me with the saddest expression.
“What’s the matter?” I asked her.
“Tom,” she said, in a voice filled with distress, “do you know something I don’t?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well . . . that checkup I had several weeks ago . . . our doctor . . . did he tell you something about me? Tom, you’ve been so good to me . . . am I dying?”
It took a moment for it all to sink in. Then I burst out laughing.
“No, honey,” I said, wrapping her in my arms, “you’re not dying; I’m just starting to live!” [Tom Anderson, “How Love Came Back,” Reader’s Digest, October 1986, pp. 129-30]
We are taught that we should deal kindly with one another even in difficult situations.
True love is unselfish. President Kimball said,
For many years, I saw a strong man carry his tiny, emaciated, arthritic wife to meetings and wherever she could go. There could be no sexual expression. Here was selfless indication of affection. I think that is pure love. I saw a kindly woman wait on her husband for many years as he deteriorated with muscular dystrophy. She waited on him hand and foot, night and day, when all he could do was to blink his eyes in thanks. I believe that was love. [Love vs. Lust, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year (Provo, 5 January 1965), p.18]
Following the Golden Rule
I have always been impressed with the instructions given to Joseph Smith by the Lord at a most difficult time in his life. The Prophet had been incarcerated in Liberty Jail for a number of months under most distressing conditions. It was cold and dark and uncomfortable. He knew that his people were being driven from their homes and scattered. He worried for the welfare of his family. It is only natural that at such a time he would be discouraged. He cried out, “O God where art thou?” “How long shall [thy people] suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them?” And then the answer came, “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” (D&C 121:1, 3, 7–8).
Really hearing the Savior’s voice as He taught the Golden Rule would help us: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). Surely we do not need to hear this three times before we really hear it.
Learning to say, “I’m sorry,” learning to say, “I forgive; it’s all right”—these are part of perfecting ourselves, too.
President Kimball said,
If we forgive all real or fancied offenses before we ask forgiveness of our own sins . . . if we manage to clear our own eyes of the blinding beams before we magnify the motes in the eyes of others—what a glorious world this would be! Divorce would be reduced to a minimum; courts would be freed from disgusting routines; family life would be heavenly; [and our community lives would be blessed]. [Except ye Repent . . . ,” general conference, Improvement Era, November 1949, p. 771]
The Lord offered a warning and some instruction on how we are to deal with each other. This was given particularly to priesthood holders, but it seems to apply equally well to all of us. The Lord said,
When we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves, the Spirit of God is grieved. [D&C 121:37]
And this is how He said we should deal with others: “By persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness . . . . Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, . . . and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” Then comes the promise: “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God” (D&C 121:41–42, 45).
President George Albert Smith had a nine-point creed by which he lived. Two of the points seem to be particularly relevant to share with you at this time. First, “I would not knowingly wound the feelings of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.’ And second, “I would overcome the tendency to selfishness and jealousy and rejoice in the success of all the children of my Heavenly Father” (“Greatness in men—Superintendent George Albert Smith,” by Bryant S. Hinckley,Improvement Era, March 1932, p. 295).
During the past election campaign, President-elect Bush said that his desire was for us to be a kinder, gentler nation. Possibly this was campaign rhetoric, but the idea is certainly laudable and can be achieved as each of us seeks to be perfected in the Savior, to be more thoughtful and considerate of others.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). It was not to be just friends and family that we love. He also said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
I remember reading an incident of true Christian charity recorded by columnist Jack Anderson:
The remarkable thing about Joann Jones is the way she smiles through the tears. Her neighbors in Paris, Arkansas, can tell you she has been dogged by hard times. Yet her whole personality always seems to smile.
Left with three children to support, Joann found work as a cook and eventually opened her own small restaurant. But her 22-year-old son was stricken with a rare disease. He lost a leg and, because she couldn’t keep up with the medical bills, she lost the restaurant.
Yet these tragedies didn’t dampen her spirit. All that mattered, she told friends, was that her son was alive and preparing to become a missionary.
The financial squeeze left her with no money to pay insurance premiums. Then her small home burned down. She remained cheerful. At least the family was still together—almost too close together, cramped into a cheap, second-hand trailer.
Then the other day, a cold front sent the tem perature plunging below zero in Arkansas. Joann stopped at a country store to use the pay phone. Across the road in a frozen field, she noticed Mexicans huddled under a cedar tree. They were shivering in shirt-sleeves in the cruel-cold, with only one blanket to keep them all warm.
She put down the phone and strode over to the freezing men. She couldn’t speak Spanish, and they didn’t understand English. But with gestures and a few words in common, they let her know they wanted to return to Mexico. But they had no money, no food, no warm clothing.
Joann, though impoverished herself, brought the migrant Mexicans home. The family took two blankets off their beds, and the afflicted son gave up his wool coat so each Mexican could wrap himself against the cold.
Joann remembered her church was holding a fireside service that evening in Fort Smith. She carefully counted out enough quarters to buy gas for the 65-mile round trip. She drove the forlorn four to the Latter-day Saints church, where she found two dozen members still assembled.
Interrupting, she announced she had four destitute Mexicans who needed help. The church members rustled up more warm clothing and collected enough cash to buy four bus tickets to Dallas, with pocket money for food along the way. The members also put through a call to Dallas and arranged for some Spanish-speaking members to meet the bus.
Joann Jones gave her widow’s mite expecting nothing in return. I learned about her act of kindness from others. Because she cannot afford a telephone, I reached her at the diner where she now works. She didn’t want to talk about her good deed; it didn’t seem right, she said.
“Charity should be given in secret,” she said. “Anyway, it was no big deal. Anyone would have done the same thing.” [Charity Deserves Reward,” Washington Merry-Go-Round,Winter 1983]
Joann lived the law of charity. Moroni describes Charity as “the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47).
“More Holiness Give Me”
I would like to say just a word now about Moroni’s advice to deny all ungodliness in our perfecting process. Ungodliness has crept into our society and is manifested in many ways. It would persuade us from our eternal course of perfection. We must be aware of its many disguises. I speak tonight specifically of inappropriate music, videos, and television that encourage unacceptable moral and sexual behavior. I would plead for you to avoid them even as the very plague that they are.
For as we seek to “come unto Christ,” we must also come to His holy house. We must prepare to do so by denying ourselves all ungodliness.
Let us not have to be called three times as were the Nephites when the Savior came to them, but hear Him now that He may minister to us, and then pray for strength that we might come unto Him.
I close with this prayer that it may be ever on your mind to help you in this quest:
More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.
. . .
More purity 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.
[“More Holiness Give Me,” Hymns, 1985, no. 131]
I know our Savior lives. I pray that each of us will let our hearts believe Him, be more receptive to His voice, be more willing to respond, and faithfully come unto Him. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
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Barbara W. Winder was general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when this fireside address was given at Brigham Young University on 8 January 1989.