Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Life is the Time

One evening in my early childhood, my mother told me that it was time for my regular bath. For some reason, I suddenly came to the conclusion that I was old enough to run the water and bathe myself – without supervision. I negotiated with my mother, and she finally conceded. I was energized by the feeling that I had just achieved a new level of maturity – I could bathe myself, and my mother agreed.

I bustled around to prepare everything. I went to my room and pulled out my pajamas; made sure I had a fresh towel, and gathered my favorite bath-friendly toys.

I undressed and started the water. With what I considered to be an expert, and even artistic adjustment of the hot and cold faucets, I attained the perfect water temperature. Once the water was flowing according to my specified parameters, I began setting the stage for the ultimate G.I. Joe sea-battle.

At some point, my attention was diverted to something on the counter – shining in the hazy light of my steamy sanctuary. I straightened up to see if I could identify the curious object. I soon realized that I was looking at that strange tool that I’d seen my mother use on her legs.

My curiosity had now peaked. What was the purpose of that thing? I had to examine it closer, so I dripped over to the counter, picked up the razor and took it back to the warm tub for examination. I turned the razor over, rotated it, and observed every segment and contour.

The thought came to me: “If I am mature enough to take my own bath, I must be mature enough to do whatever mom does in the bath”. I lathered up my right leg with soap, and then picked up the razor by the handle. In an attempt to mimic what I had seen her do, I reached down to the top of my ankle and laid the razor blade-down on my skin. I slowly moved the razor up my leg when something caught, and the razor was stuck. I pulled harder, and in an instant, I had opened up my leg with a rather long and deep laceration.

Before I knew what had happened, the tub water was crimson red. At that moment, all feelings of maturity escaped me, and I began to scream for my mother to save me. She did, and I was soon off to the hospital to be stitched up.

My opportunity to enjoy my freedom didn’t turn out like I had expected. I got distracted.

Before we came to this life, we lived in the presence of our Heavenly Parents who guided and taught us in person. We were safe and protected. There came a point when we chose to leave their presence and experience a life of our own. This life is our chance to show that we can make good choices on our own. But this life is filled with significant distractions. We need to stay focused or we will end up harming ourselves.

The Lord has provided a path and guidance. The path is not easy, but if we keep our eyes focused on it, we will see that it is clearly marked. And if we keep our ears open, we will hear the promptings of our guides.

Some years ago, I was called to be the Teachers’ Quorum Advisor and Varsity Coach. I can still recall how I was so excited to work with those boys. I remembered those early teen years in my life as fun and formative.

When the time came for me to meet them in the classroom at church, I was prepared and fired up. I introduced myself and asked them to do the same. But the boys were not as excited as I was – at least not about meeting me, nor were they engaged in the lesson. Each question I posed was replied with sarcasm or a joke. It was a long and uncomfortable first lesson for me.

By Tuesday night, I had convinced myself that my experience on Sunday was just a fluke, and that the boys would definitely be receptive to some fun and learning at Scouts. I came fully decked out in my regulation Scout uniform, and prepared with activities and tasks for rank advancement.

When seven o’clock came around, only two or three of the ten boys were there, and none of them were in their uniform. The looks on their faces indicated they were only there because their parents had required it of them. And the rest of the evening went as you can imagine: little to no participation, more jokes and sarcasm, and a general disrespect for me.

Somehow I had forgotten that although my own early teen years had brought significant growth, it was certainly not on my account. Dealing with those boys helped me remember how irreverent and undisciplined I was when I was their age. I realized that those church and scout leaders that I grew up with had certainly put up with as much or more than I was dealing with. This experience was quite a taste of poetic justice for me.

But how was it, I wondered, that I had such positive and spiritual experiences at that age while I seemed so distracted?

We are sent to this life without the luxury of our Heavenly Parents’ presence. Like the youth leaving home to go away to college, we are far from home.

But we are not alone. God has given us parents, friends, and church leaders to guide us and keep us on the path.

Each night, I tell or read a story to my kids. We borrowed C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia from the Chamberlain’s, and the kids have loved them. Right now we are almost finished with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In this volume, the Pevensie’s are brought back to Narnia for a sea-faring adventure. They travel to the “end of the world” in search of Aslan’s country. Along the way, they encounter strange lands, a variety of people, and unforgettable experiences.

In the chapter titled “The Magician’s Book”, they find an Island inhabited by invisible people. The invisible people take the crew prisoner and explain that an evil magician has made them invisible. The invisible captors force Lucy to venture to the home of the magician – alone – in order to find the book of magic spells and reverse their curse. If Lucy did not comply, the captors would destroy her brother and the ship’s crew.

The next morning, Lucy went to the magician’s home and stealthily made her way to the room where the magic book was kept. She was instantly captivated by the beauty and detail of the large and impressive book.

Even more captivating than the appearance were the contents. Lucy read each spell and became spell-bound herself. Each spell she read was more tantalizing than the last.

One spell, if cast, would change her into the most beautiful of all mortals. The magic book showed her – Lucy – as the most beautiful of all mortals. She began to lust after her own beauty, imagining – and even seeing in the pages of that book – how her beauty alone would grant her power over men and even countries.

Another spell would allow her to “eves drop” on anyone. While reading the spell, she found herself overhearing a conversation between two of her schoolmates. They spoke ill of Lucy, and she became enraged. Soon she was drowning in bitterness and jealousy – forgetting all but what had been said and the opportunity to hear more.

Still another spell was more of a story than a spell. This story was so enchanting that she found herself feeling joy and emotion of all kinds. She felt the energy of victories, and the sorrow of defeats and losses. She was taken to tears of joy and tears of sorrow with each paragraph. Each word she read drew her further and further in until she was part of the story, and had forgotten about all but this story that had so charmed her.

Just as she was about to commit herself to the book, she was prompted by Aslan to stay on course and shun these distractions. Fortunately, she was able to collect herself and regroup her efforts toward her purpose.

Forcing herself to move on, Lucy was able to find the spell that made invisible things visible. She cast the spell, and their captors were freed from their curse. In addition, the spell had made Aslan visible to her.

The distractions of this life are numerous and captivating – just as the spells in the Magic book.
Vanity is preached through every advertisement and our very own desire to be accepted. We are bombarded by imposed visions of what beauty is. The world places an inordinate amount of value to external appearance.

We are distracted by our obsession with other people’s faults. Our tendencies to judge and seek retribution inhibit our ability to love unconditionally. We seem more preoccupied with condemning others’ faults than serving and teaching as Christ did.

Perhaps the most pervasive distraction of our day is entertainment. We have more means of entertainment than in any time throughout history. Television, movies, computer games, and many other forms of entertainment offer an escape from the world. If we give too much of our time to these forms of entertainment, or if we choose entertainment that detracts from the spirit, these entertainments will provide not only an escape from the world, but an escape from our eternal purposes.

In Elder Oaks’ discourse titled “Good, Better, and Best”, he warned against overemphasis on extracurricular activities and excessive entertainment. He stated that if we follow such paths, we may end up “[…] amusing [our] selves to death—spiritual death.”

Brothers and Sisters, let us turn off the TV and open the Scriptures.

Other serious distractions of our day are pornography and immorality. Technology and society have enabled such easy and acceptable access to filth and sin. A billboard in another city recently read “Life is short, have an affair” and indicated contact information for a company that openly facilitated adultery.

My children love the story of David and Goliath. David, the pure servant of the Lord, who overcame so much through his unshakable faith in God, ultimately became the prime example of what can happen when we allow ourselves to become distracted. Because he looked when he should have looked away, he allowed himself to indulge in one sin after another, until he had completely lost his soul.

The polar opposite was Joseph of Egypt. At one point, Joseph was made chief servant over all of Potiphar’s house.

"And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. And it came to pass about this time, that Joseph went into the house to do his business; and there was none of the men of the house there within. And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out."

Joseph did not allow himself to become distracted. Joseph kept his focus on his purpose – and his God.

Although we are far from home, and have forgotten everything from our pre-mortal life, God has not left us alone. God has given us each other, the scriptures, church leaders, and the Holy Ghost.

Each of us has the ability to touch another. Our lives – whether we know it or not – are examples and templates to others around us. We have enormous power to influence others for good.

Our hymn number 293 eloquently highlights God’s blessing of companionship and examples through our brothers and sisters:

Each life that touches ours for good
Reflects Thine own great mercy, Lord
Thou sendest blessings from above
Through words and deeds of those who love

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a brother in the ward where I served as the Teachers’ Quorum Advisor. He informed me that all of those boys – all of those boys that had been so difficult for me to reach – had received their endowments in the temple, and that most were serving a mission. Tears welled up in my eyes as I read that sweet message. Although those boys were subject to so many distractions, they held to the rod. They kept on the path, and were on their way.

I felt what I think my parents and leaders from my youth must have felt when they learned the same about me. They had never lost their faith in me. They endured so much, but held on to their sense of duty to me. They never gave up on me. And I will be forever indebted to them for their unconditional love.

The scriptures define a clear-cut path back to our Father in Heaven. The words of the Prophets, the stories that illustrate, and the teachings of Jesus himself all point us to heaven. The apostle Paul said, “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

The Lord has also sent his prophets to guide us. The leaders of the church are like watchmen on the tower. They can see from a higher vantage-point. They can see the dangers that we cannot readily see. They can warn us before we are distracted or caught in the traps that Satan sets for us.

Elder Robert D. Hales said, "The greatest security of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints comes from learning to listen to and obey the words and commandments that the Lord has given through living prophets. I would hope that the world would understand the importance of having a living prophet on earth today. The scriptures tell us that prophets receive commandments 'walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith'."

Finally, the Lord has provided the most powerful guide of all, a veritable God – the Holy Ghost. If we will live worthy of the Holy Ghost, we will be led to safety; we will receive peace; and we will know how to act in each circumstance.

In the Book of Mormon, we learn of a compass, or director, that led Nephi’s family according to their obedience.

Alma wrote to his son of the symbolism behind the Liahona:

“And it did work for them according to their faith in God; therefore, if they had faith to believe that God could cause that those spindles should point the way they should go, behold, it was done; therefore they had this miracle, and also many other miracles wrought by the power of God, day by day. Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means it did show unto them marvelous works. They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey; Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual. For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise. O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever."

We are at a critical crossroads of eternity. We have existed for eons before we came here. This life is but an instant, and yet, all of eternity depends on this small juncture. What we do here – or chose not to do here – will have eternal impact on our lives to come.

I recall when I was young scout; we went out to the desert to learn how to shoot a rifle. We placed a tin can on one side of a ravine. We made our way to the other side of the ravine to try out our aim. We lay down on our bellies and placed the rifle over a log. We carefully and patiently took aim at the tin can across the small ravine.

Bang! My first shot was off by about three feet. I made the minutest adjustment – perhaps about a centimeter, or less, from my perspective.

Bang! My second shot sent that tin can flying off the rock where it was perched.

If our aim is only slightly off at any point in this life, we can, just like King David of old, send our eternal progression off by quite a bit. The slightest adjustments now can mean significant changes across our eternal ravine toward our target.

Brothers and Sisters, let us keep our focus. Don’t be distracted. Let us remember who we are, where we came from, and why we are here.

Listen to the leaders of the church. Have faith in them. Let us give them our sustaining support.

Feast on the words of Christ. The scriptures provide an iron rod that will lead us to the tree of life. Don’t be distracted by the world. Let us maintain our course to eternal life.

Be worthy of and seek out the companionship of the Holy Ghost. As we allow Him to enter our lives, we will find safety, peace, and direction.

“For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors.”

I testify that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is His work.

May we remain steady on our course to our Father in Heaven is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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