12/22/09

The Message from the Sacred Grove

A few years ago as Sister Howard and I were touring the Rochester New York Mission, the mission president asked if we would like to get up early and go to the Sacred Grove before the crowds came. We accepted his invitation.

As we approached the Sacred Grove, we drove a mile or so past the Smith farmhouse. Then, after the mission president had stopped the car, he said, “If you don’t mind walking, I will show you my favorite way into the grove.” We walked down a little grass-covered lane on the far side of the grove, and in the distance we could see tall trees. After a while we came to a small sign made of brass with gold letters and a black background. Mounted on two wooden posts, the sign read, “The Sacred Grove.” It also contained these incredible words: “God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in this grove.” Period!

I had intended on going into the grove and contemplating what occurred there in 1820, but I found that I could not bring myself to leave the sign. Its simple message arrested my progress. It did not say “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “On the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring.” It didn’t purport to be a historical site. It didn’t even say, “Visitors Welcome.” Rather, it made one simple statement: “God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in this grove.”

I read it again and again. My wife said, “Don’t you want to go into the grove?” I replied, “I need to think about the message on this sign for a moment longer. Either it is true, or it isn’t. If it is, it is the greatest message in all the world. Even someone who didn’t believe it could not pass by it without being profoundly affected.”

Celestial Marriage

A number of years ago my wife and I went to a garden wedding reception. Earlier that day we had been to the temple, where two young people we knew had been married for time and all eternity. They were very much in love. The circumstances of their meeting had been almost miraculous. Many tears of happiness were shed.

We stood in the reception line at the end of a perfect day. Ahead of us was a close friend of the family. As he approached the couple, he stopped and in a beautiful, clear tenor voice sang to them the stirring words from the book of Ruth: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die” (Ruth 1:16–17).

We were deeply touched and felt reassured about their prospects for happiness—this in part, I suppose, because my wife and I have had these same words on the wall of our home for many years.

Sadly, the significance of these beautiful words is subsiding. Far too many marriages today end in divorce. Selfishness, sin, and personal convenience often prevail over covenants and commitment.

Eternal marriage is a principle which was established before the foundation of the world and was instituted on this earth before death came into it. Adam and Eve were given to each other by God in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. The scripture says, “In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them” (Gen. 5:1–2; emphasis added).

Two Crystal Goblets

Let me ask each of you to picture two crystal goblets in your mind. They differ in size and shape. They are both of good quality and have been well used. One has been carefully kept in a china cupboard. It is clean and polished. It is warm and inviting in appearance. It sparkles in the light and is filled with clear water.

The other glass is coated with grime. It has not been in the dishpan for a long time. It has been used for purposes other than those for which it was made. Most recently it has been left outside in the weather and has served as a flowerpot. Although the flower is gone, it is still filled with dirt. It is dull and unbecoming in the light.

Is not each of us like a crystal glass? We vary in size and shape. Some of us radiate a special spirit. Some are dull and uninviting. Some fill the measure of their creation. Others do not. Each is filled with the accumulated experiences or debris of a lifetime.

Some contain mostly good things—clean thoughts, faith, and Christian service. These hold wisdom and peace. Others enclose dark and secret things. Over time they have filled with unclean thoughts, selfishness, and sloth. They often hold doubt, contention, and unrest.

Repentance

In a school yard game, young boys sometimes form a circle, and one hits another on the shoulder and says, “Pass it on.” The one who receives the blow obediently transmits it to the next in line and says, “Pass it on.” The third recipient promptly punches a fourth, and each in succession thereafter, by “passing it on,” tries to rid himself of his pain, and the responsibility for it, by inflicting it on another.

Many of us are like these schoolboys. Perhaps without realizing it, as adults we continue to play the same childish game and risk far more than a bruised shoulder in the process. Let me explain what I mean.

Unwillingness to accept the responsibility for and consequences of one’s actions is an all too common condition in today’s world. Who has not heard of the drunken driver who sues his host for allowing him to get drunk, or of the accident victim who claims damages from the physician who tries to help him? Perpetrators of the most heinous crimes often plead guilty by reason of insanity or claim that they are victims of society’s ills. The homeless blame alcohol. Alcoholics blame genetic deficiencies.

Abusers and adulterers blame the broken homes of their childhood. And there are enough who agree with them to ensure that no one need feel terribly guilty for long if they don’t want to. The habit of shifting the burden of guilt onto someone else, while perhaps understandable in a secular setting, has more serious consequences in a spiritual one. There too it has an ancient but not honorable tradition.

Waiting For My Brother

Throughout our years at the university, and for a considerable time thereafter, my wife and I lived in a congested area near downtown Salt Lake City. After graduating from law school, I was fortunate in obtaining a job at the state capitol. Church callings and the proximity of our home to my office caused us to be in no hurry to leave our small apartment, even had our financial situation allowed us to. One of the economies which my wife allowed me to practice was walking to work. The distance was not too great and the Capitol Hill climb kept me fit.

One brilliant, warm day, I had come home for lunch. As I was returning to work, I noticed a small boy sitting on the curb at the foot of the hill. I knew him by sight as a neighbor who lived in a large apartment house next door to us. His parents were divorced. His mother worked and often left him alone in the afternoon to look after himself. As I was in no hurry to begin my ascent, I stopped to talk with him for a moment.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Waiting for my brother.”

“Where is he?” I asked as I contemplated the hot climb up the hill. His answer brought me immediately to attention.

“He's in school.”

“Don't you know that school isn't out until 3:30?” I gently asked.

He shuffled his toe in the dirt of the street and looked at me with what I am now positive was condescension. “Sure,” he said, “but I don't want to miss him.”

You Can Go Home Again

From the beginning, prophets have called almost all men to repentance. Those who have not known about the gospel have been exhorted to abandon their sinful ways, keep the commandments, and join with the people of the Lord.

But prophets have also pled with another group—those who were once believers, but who, because of pride or sin or something else, abandoned the faith. In this group are the less active, the critics, the uncommitted, and the rebellious. These are Church members who have grown away from God as they have grown older. To these, the invitation has always been to come back to the Lord.

As we think about members of the Church repenting and returning to activity, the stories of Saul or Alma may come to mind. Some may be waiting for a similar miraculous experience before committing themselves again. However, they will probably wait in vain. For, as the Savior taught his disciples, “if they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

Without some such incentive to change, others may wonder if it is possible to return to faith from doubt. Can the cynic ever really become as a little child? Can the slave of habit or passion become free again? Is there a way back? If so, is it worth the effort to find and follow it? Where and when does one begin?

Lessons Learned From My Father

When I was a young teenager, my family lived in the mission field. My father was the branch president in our little town in Wyoming. It was a typical small branch. There were few families and fewer young people. I was one of two Aaronic Priesthood bearers. In addition to preparing and passing the sacrament, one of our assignments was to sweep the cigarettes and empty beer cans out of the rented upstairs room we met in. My father saw to it that I arrived early in order to have plenty of time to clean the hall before the people came.

It was a friendly group. Everyone called each other by their first names, as I recall. Reverence and respect were not the chief characteristics of our congregation. But we did things together and loved the Church in our own way.

Father had a great problem. He wanted to give them a vision of the Church as it could be and indeed as it was in more highly developed parts of Zion. He was concerned about enlarging our perspective. He wanted to insure our understanding of what it meant to be a member of The Church of Latter-day Saints. He knew, consciously or otherwise, that it wouldn’t do much good for him just to talk to us about it. He knew that we, as most children, were more impressed by what we did and what we saw.

Old South Pass

When I was in my first year of college at Logan, Utah, I bought an old car for a hundred dollars. I was eighteen and thought that I knew all about driving. It was Christmastime, and my parents were living on a ranch in Wyoming. I picked up my two grandmothers in Logan and took them to my parent’s home for Christmas. We had a grand time there.

When it was time to return to school, the weather had changed and the roads became treacherous. That morning, as we were ready to leave, we held a family prayer in the living room. My father prayed that we would have a safe journey. After we had loaded my car with suitcases, blankets, tuna fish sandwiches, and a thermos bottle full of Postum, Dad walked out to the car and said, “I want to talk to you.” We went over and stood by the fence. “You have a very valuable cargo,” he said, nodding at my grandmothers. “I want you to promise me that if the roads are bad and it’s snowing when you get down to Lander, you won’t go over South Pass. I want you to take the long way.” I promised him that I would. My parents kissed us good-bye, and we were on our way.

We had nice weather until we got to Riverton; then it started to snow. By the time we got to Lander, it was snowing pretty hard. I remembered my promise, so when we came to the intersection where you turn to go up the mountain, I made a conscious turn to go the long way. I remember thinking that it was going to take us five hours longer to get to Utah. I knew the road, and I was absolutely certain that I had made the right turn.

As we drove along, we were joking and laughing, although the snow was getting thicker. Then I saw a sign that read, “Historic Old South Pass City,” and I realized that I had somehow become confused in the snowstorm and had taken the wrong road! I thought, “Dad will be angry with me!” I don't know how this happened—it wasn’t intentional.

An Ordinary Monday Night: Home Evening in Mexico with President Kimball

Some years ago, before I was called to my present assignment, it was my good fortune to spend a few days with President Kimball. He invited me to go to Mexico with him to hold some meetings and to inspect some Church properties. On April 27, 1975, he and I, together with his secretary, D. Arthur Haycock, flew to Mexico City. He had asked that no one be advised of his coming. This was partly for security reasons and partly because of his desire just to drop in on things to find out how they really were functioning.

On Monday morning we met at 7:30 for prayer before going to breakfast. It is an interesting experience to kneel with the prophet and hear him talk to the Lord. The compassion and concern he has for all the world is beyond comprehension. He asked the Lord’s help in explicit detail for the members of the Church who were being evacuated from Vietnam. He was mindful of his counselors and the Twelve who were scattered throughout the world. He asked the Lord to bless and prosper “every interest in Zion.” After breakfast we were met by a stake president and Church employee who would act as driver and guide, and we set out for a tour of Church properties and schools. I functioned as interpreter.

The President decided that he wanted to visit a small school in the southern part of the city. When we arrived, the driver stopped the car and ran to get the keys to the gate on the near side of the school yard. While he was looking for the keys, the school custodian walked up to where we were waiting and opened the gate. He didn’t know who we were. He just felt he should open the gate. After we were inside the yard, the stake president told him who he had just let on the property. His face brightened; then he carefully wiped his right hand on his trousers and offered to shake hands.

Commitment

When my wife and I were first married, my parents lived in another state. During a break in our university schedule, we decided to go visit them.

We made sandwiches, packed the car, prepared a bed in the backseat for our young son so that he could rest during the 10-hour trip. After a full day in the car, we were beginning to get on each other’s nerves. The preschooler never slept and seemed to gather energy as the day wore on. We knew that if he would just close his eyes and be quiet for a while, he would fall asleep.

After sundown, with two hours of travel still to go, we decided to play a game. The purpose of the game was to try to get an exhausted youngster to sleep. We called it hide-and-seek. Have you ever tried to play hide-and-seek in a car? Let me tell you how we did it. We said to the small boy in back, “Let’s play hide-and-seek.” He enthusiastically agreed. We said, “Close your eyes and don’t open them until we call you. We need time to hide.”

The game started. A front-seat passenger would crouch down in the seat and 10 or 15 seconds later would call, “OK.” Our son would bound over the seat and say, “Aha, I found you!” We would say, “Next time we will hide better. Close your eyes again.” A minute or more would go by. Then we would call, and again he would energetically climb over the seat to find us. Finally we said, “We have a really good place to hide this time. It will take longer. Close your eyes and we will call you.”

A minute, two minutes, five minutes went by. We drove along in silence. The tranquility was marvelous. We must have traveled 15 miles before we began to whisper quiet congratulations to ourselves on the success of our devious game. Then, from out of the backseat, came the sobbing voice of a heartbroken little boy. “You didn’t call me, and you said you would.”

Television and Time

In every stake conference, there is a group of people who were made to come. Some want to attend, but those who do usually bring with them some who don’t want to come. Most of these people who don’t want to come are under 20. I suppose the greater percentage of them are under 12. This is the group that brings pencils and paper to draw pictures with during conference. Some bring bags of Cheerios. Their mothers say, “Now if you’re good for the first hour, the second hour you can have Cheerios.” I would like to talk to all of those who are made to come to conference.

I would like to talk to you about your home. Let me ask you, who is the most important person in your home? How do you tell who is important? Is it the person who earns the most? Is it the person who has the best room? Is it the person you love the most? Is it the one who gives you the most of his or her time? Who is the most important person in your home? You might say, “Everybody is important in our home.” I wonder if that’s really true.

Let me ask you another question. How is the TV treated in your home? Does it have its own room? Do you like it better than your brother? How about your mother? Do you like it better than your great-grandfather? Does it get much rest?* Do your parents spend more time with it than they do with you? Do they spend more money on it than they do on you?

This Is My Beloved Son

To start with, I would like to pay tribute to a magnificent lady. I have loved her for more than 50 years. She personifies everything that is virtuous, lovely, and of good report. I had no idea when I met and married her how good she really was (and I thought she was perfect then). She is the self-described product of a one-bathroom home. It has been a joy for me to see how she has handled the tests and trials of our life together. One of those trials is that it’s her birthday today, and she’s elected to be here with me.

I have been with her in poverty and danger. I have seen her as a mother and as a daughter. I have watched her confront sickness, disappointment, and death. I have observed her in company and in solitude. I have traveled with her, studied with prayed with her, and lost my hair with her. Through it all I have never seen her discouraged and I have never seen her slacken. She has supported and enhanced me in every calling I have ever had and is my equal in every way—and my better in many ways.

There has not been a day without a smile or one without a quiet word of encouragement. I know that her eyesight is failing a little because she continues to tell me how handsome I am, and I forgive her for that. I would not be here today were it not for her, and I want thank her publicly for all of this and more.

Now to my subject:

A few years ago my wife and I were touring the Rochester New York Mission. The mission president asked if we would like to get up early and go to the Sacred Grove before the crowds came. We did. We drove a mile or so past the farmhouse, and he stopped the car. He said, “If you don’t mind walking, I will show you my favorite way into the grove.” We walked down a little grass-covered lane on the far side of the grove, and in the distance we could see tall trees. After a while we came to a small sign made of brass with gold letters, black background, mounted on two wooden posts. The sign said, “The Sacred Grove,” and contained these incredible words: “God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in this grove.” Period!

Commencement

In educational circles this day is called commencement. Commencement means a beginning. The end of schooling means the beginning of something else, the commencement of other things. Sometimes there is a breakdown in communications at services such as this. The speaker is of one generation—the graduates of another. They are celebrating the end and the speaker wants to talk about a beginning.

I once gave a talk to a group of students. The man who introduced me listed my accomplishments in great detail. I was held up as an example of a person who had achieved many things and overcome many obstacles. I suppose the purpose of the introduction was to encourage the young people to set high goals and accomplish great things.

I entered into the spirit of the event and began to tell about my life, and the honors I had won, and how I had worked my way through college. I mentioned some of the things that were said in introducing me to you today and others as well.

They seemed interested and I thought I was getting through to them. After I had spoken eloquently about myself for some time, I asked if anyone had any questions. I was pleased when a big kid near the back raised his hand. "If you're such a cool guy," he asked, “why are you driving such a cheap car?”