Category: sunday talk

Why I Believe: Abiding in God

This month’s talk was a tricky one for me to write. I had a lot of different ideas in my head, and getting them down in words proved difficult. I was literally tweaking it minutes before I had to drive to church. (In Brewer, this time.) And then once I was in the meeting, I needed to trim it from the 20 minutes I had prepared down to about 15 minutes. Despite all that, I’m quite happy with how the talk turned out. It allowed me to organize some thoughts I’d been having for the last several weeks:

  • Do I believe God punishes people for their actions? In other words, does God smite people?
  • How can I believe in God when it might just be confirmation bias at work?

Pretty weighty material, even for 20 minutes. The whole thing’s 4,000 words long, and I’m presenting the unedited version here, so enough preamble. Here’s the talk:


Before I get into my talk this morning, brothers and sisters, I want to apologize. This month’s topic (a talk by Sister Marriott this past general conference on Abiding in God) has proved a tricky one for me to navigate. I’ve had a number of thoughts on the topic that have taken me in a number of directions. I hope the final product helps some of you. I will say that writing it has helped me organize some different thoughts that have been careening around my head for the past few weeks, so I suppose even if none of you end up getting it, it helped me, and that’s something. Here we go.

I’ve been reading in the Book of Mormon lately. I’m back at the beginning, with Nephi dealing with his brothers and their seeming inability to remember anything for more than five seconds. It feels like angels are coming down every other day to threaten to smite them with the wrath of God. Each time, they cower and admit God was right and they were wrong, but it doesn’t take too long before they’ve forgotten that lesson once again and need to learn it all over.

In fact, that seems to be an overarching theme of the Book of Mormon and scripture in general. It’s played out with the Nephites and the Lamanites on a grand scale, with entire peoples forgetting God and lifting themselves up in pride, only to be brought low months or years later, forced to humble themselves as they once again seek for God’s help. We call it the Pride Cycle, and it happens as regularly as the seasons. Life is good, and people begin to think it’s because of just how awesome they are. And then life stops being so good, and they turn to God for help until life gets good again. Why can’t they just stay good all the time? Why can’t they abide in God?

We complain sometimes that church talks and lessons are all similar. That the answers to a Gospel question almost always boil down to studying the scriptures, listening to church leaders, praying, fasting, and keeping the commandments. But the more I read the scriptures and study the lives of those who have gone on before me, the more I am persuaded that the reason those answers keep coming up again and again and again is that we have yet to really learn and believe those lessons.

When we read books, it’s natural for us to identify with the person telling the story. The point of view character. It’s natural to relate to Nephi and to view his brothers as nothing more than antagonists.

However, I don’t think those brothers were included in the Book of Mormon so we could have a laugh at their expense. So we could feel better about ourselves because at least we’re not doing foolish things moments after being instructed by God’s messengers not to do those exact same foolish things. I think they’re in the Book of Mormon because they’re us. They’re me, at least. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for you. Maybe you’re all Sams, and I’m the only Lemuel. But there have been times when I’ve sat through a lovely, uplifting talk on being kind, only to find myself yelling at my kids a few minutes later.

In the middle of all of this drama between Nephi and his brothers, something else cropped up in my mind. It came to a head in 1 Nephi 17:22: Laman and Lemuel are complaining, as usual. They’re objecting for having to leave Jerusalem in the first place. They say to Nephi, “we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people; and our father hath judged them, and hath led us away because we would hearken unto his words; yea, and our brother is like unto him.”

Basically, they question the whole idea that God would destroy Jerusalem. Which led me to wonder: do I do the same thing today?

There is little doubt in my mind that the amount of evil in the world is increasing. I have but to look at the events at Sandy Hook and Parkland to see how common decency and love of our fellow man is diminishing. If I want further confirmation, I can look at our politicians, and the political debates that stem from their actions. I include my own words and debates in that castigation.

But through it all, I have always somehow maintained a belief that we will be punished for our own sins. There’s the second Article of Faith, after all. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression. Coupled with that, there are plenty of examples in the scriptures where good things happen to bad people. The Egyptians flourished while the Jews were enslaved. Psalms 73 focuses entirely on this. “3 For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. 5 They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” And we know as well that often bad things will happen to the best of people. Abel was murdered. John the Baptist was beheaded. Joseph Smith was martyred.

In the aftermath of disasters, both natural and manmade, there are still people who stand up to decry the actions of the people afflicted by those disasters. People who will claim the victims brought it on themselves because they were wicked. That’s always been a mentality I have rejected, but reading those words in the Book of Mormon a few weeks ago suddenly threw all of that certainty into the air.

Nephi and Lehi clearly believed it was the evil actions of the citizens of Jerusalem that led to the city’s destruction. Fire and brimstone rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. It was the hard heartedness of the Children of Israel that kept them wandering in the wilderness for forty years. We have no qualms saying that and analyzing how we can be less hard hearted, but when it comes time to look at our own society, do we apply the same measuring stick?

As a species, humanity is remarkably susceptible to apophenia, a tendency to look for patterns, even when no patterns exist. We see this happen when people see a face in a piece of burnt toast, or when a gambler believes a table has gotten “hot.” People look for omens or believe they can tell the future from the lines on their palm.

A relative of this phenomenon is called confirmation bias. My first exposure to the concept was on my mission. I was on splits with Elder Dodge, and we were teaching a couple of new members. They were friends, and we were over at their apartment when one of them looked at the clock. “It’s 12:34!” she exclaimed, and her friend groaned and said, “Always!” We asked what they were talking about, and they told us that they always look at the clock when it’s 12:34. Without fail.

Elder Dodge sighed and shook his head. He was a very level-headed missionary. Not one to put up with any nonsense. “That’s not it at all,” he said. “You only pay attention to the times you look at the clock and it’s 12:34. All the other times you check, you don’t remember.”

They remained skeptical, but I began to look for evidence of this in myself. Twenty years later, I can state with confidence this happens all the time. It’s all too easy to start out with a hypothesis and then look around for evidence that supports it, ignoring the things that would undermine it. I see it happen in politics, science, the workplace, and more.

The other week I was sitting in an academic lecture on filmmaking, and religion came up in the course of the talk. The speaker alleged that all too often, that “voice of God” religious people hear and follow is nothing more than their own interior voice telling them to do the things they’d like to do anyway. Religion, in this light, becomes an excuse. A mind trick people use to magically justify whatever they want to do. Answers to prayer, in this light, become nothing more than confirmation bias at work. How can you abide in God when the very basis of your faith is in question?

In some cases, I have no doubt this is what’s at work with a person’s purported faith. People can use any number of excuses to justify their actions. But to attribute all of religion to confirmation bias overlooks an enormous elephant in the room: the existence or non-existence of God. If God doesn’t exist, then all religion is no more than a sham. But if He does exist–if there is a being of higher power than us, and He takes an active role in our lives–then suddenly the window is opened for at least some religion to have merit.

So to me, the first question must be: does God exist? Back when I was a missionary, we were taught to build on common beliefs when discussion the Gospel with those not of our faith. The first discussion at the time started with, “Most people believe in a supreme being.” Except in former East Germany, this wasn’t true. Most of the people I met and talked to on the street did not believe in God. They didn’t see a need for Him, and thought Him nothing more than a story made up to get other people to fall in line. The opiate of the masses.

When we tried to teach these people about Christ, repentance, and the Atonement, we had little success. First we had to establish the need for God.

Philosophers have struggled for years with big thoughts. Big questions. Rene Descartes tried to ascertain what things we can know with certainty. Cogito Ergo Sum. I think, therefore I am. He recognized that simply being able to doubt your own existence proved you existed in the first place, for only things that exist can have feelings like doubt. But once you went outside the simple question of “Do I exist?”, proving things beyond doubt becomes more more difficult. We experience the world through our senses. Sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. And each of those can be deceived.

This is readily apparent in today’s society, where even video evidence of something happening is no longer unassailable. Videos can be faked. Pictures can be doctored. Memories can be deceived. We like to try to use evidence to prove things one way or the other, but the fact is that even the most concrete of experiences can be doubted over time. It’s the Laman and Lemuel principle, alive and well. Something is proven one moment and forgotten the next. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that God doesn’t have us rely on tangible evidences of His existence. Instead, He invites us to do something far simpler: Ask.

Prayer is one of the most powerful evidences we can receive. I have had numerous experiences with it, and I know my prayers have been answered. Not in the generic “good things ended up happening” or “it all worked out” sort of way that might be easily swayed by confirmation bias. But in “I received answers I didn’t know to questions I didn’t understand.” Even then, someone might suggest it was nothing more than my subconscious at work. But I personally have had inspiration. Glimpses into the future that ended up being completely accurate.

To me, the truth and reality of prayer is more often to be found when the answers ask us to do things we’d rather not do, as opposed to just stick with the comfortable, well-worn path. In her talk Sister Marriott noted that “Sacrifice of our personal agendas is required to make room for the eternal plans of God.” And later, “It is now, with our mortal limitations, that the Father asks us to love when loving is most difficult, to serve when serving is inconvenient, to forgive when forgiving is soul stretching.”

As I’ve looked at religion, studying out its history and its impact on various cultures and societies, I’ve seen plenty of reasons for some to dismiss it as an excuse. Too often, I see people shop around for a religion that’s most comfortable to them. As if they were born and raised with the right set of values, and the true religion would confirm their preconceived ideals. To me, this is nothing more than humanity trying to define who God is and what He wants, and it separates God from the question of religion entirely. We can’t abide in God as we would have Him be. We must abide in Him as he is.

Again, if God doesn’t exist, then religion is nothing more than a sham. If He does exist, then true religion would be to find the way we can best understand Him. Who He is, what He wants of us, and how we can rise to His expectations. I do not believe that one faith has a monopoly on truth. Rather, I believe God does His best to ensure as many of His children can come to return to live with Him as possible, and that He puts each of us in a situation where that is most likely to happen. I believe an atheist who strives to do her best to make good decisions and moral choices has just as good a chance of being saved as someone who has been raised in the church and gifted with a wealth of knowledge about God.

Sister Marriott quoted Bruce R. McConkie, who said, “We are duty-bound to learn all that God has revealed about himself.” Joseph Smith, in his Lectures on Faith, described the different aspects of God. He is all knowing, all powerful, just, and merciful. He passes judgement, and He will not lie. He will reveal Himself to us through revelation and prayer as we humbly seek to know more of Him. To those that seek harder, more will be revealed.

In my experience, religion stretches me. Challenges me to be more than I am now. But it’s one thing to say that, and another to give some specific examples. I’m not going to stand up here and list all the things I do wrong, but I can talk about a few.

I am not, by nature, a social creature. Leaving my friends and family for two years to go and serve a mission in Germany was not a comfortable sensation. And yet when I think of the ways that experience changed me, I am amazed. And I’m not simply talking about the spiritual attributes fostered in that time: compassion, understanding, humility. Things I learned on my mission made me a better leader. I developed a better ability to read people and understand what they wanted and what motivated them. I became a better person in practically every way, because I was stretched and forced out of my comfort zone time and time again.

Another example: my religion challenged me to get married, even when I didn’t really want to. My parents divorced when I was young, and I was terrified I’d end up doing the same. I was not eager to jump into marriage, but I knew it was something I should do. Thankfully, when I met someone as wonderful as Denisa, the decision became that much simpler.

Likewise, my religion stretched my abilities as a parent. I always wanted to be a father. That was never a question, and Denisa and I held off having children until we felt we were ready. But what was very much up in the air was the number of children we wanted. Granted, I look around the church and see some families out there with six children or more, so I’m sure some of you might roll your eyes a little when I say I was completely happy with two children and unsure if I really wanted a third. Denisa and I wavered back and forth on it for months at least. When we received an answer to our prayers–confirmation that we should have another child–it was clearly not a case of me just finding a simple excuse to do something I wanted to do anyway.

And yet I’m so grateful that we did have a third. She’s brought so much extra joy into our lives, though it hasn’t always been easy. There were times when she was a baby that I felt stretched to the limit. It was difficult for me, mentally more than anything. I’m not even sure I can describe why. The thought of providing for my now larger family weighed heavily on me. I got stressed much more easily, and everything seemed more difficult.

I’ve adjusted now, but that remains one of my most faith-trying experiences. Receiving an undeniable answer to a prayer, following it, and then struggling in the aftermath.

If the answers I get to prayer are nothing more than the voice in my head telling me to do what I want to do, then I have a very self-destructive voice in my head. I’d much rather have one that says I should eat more pizza, play more video games, and spend more money on my Magic the Gathering collection.

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “It’s not paranoia if everyone really is out to get you.” Likewise, just because confirmation bias exists doesn’t mean patterns do not exist. Let’s say, then, that confirmation bias and the reality of God are two different hypotheses that explain the existence of religion. And like any good hypothesis, they can each be tested and examined in turn. As our faith and understanding of God increase and our experiences deepen, the odds of the confirmation bias hypothesis being the true explanation diminishes, despite what the Lamans and Lemuels of the world would have us think.

I understand why an atheist would be inclined to discount prayer as a reliable indicator for God’s presence. After all, there’s no way God can lose out in the analysis. If prayers are answered, then it’s because God exists and loves us. If prayers go unanswered, it’s because we were asking for something that wasn’t right for us. It would be just as simple to say those answers (or lack thereof) were things that were going to happen anyway.

This leads me back to my earlier question. If you’ve forgotten it by now, I can’t blame you. Here’s a refresher. In the scriptures, we read about God judging a people as a whole and punishing that people all at once. Destroying cities and nations because of wickedness or unbelief. Does He do the same thing today? Are the calamities that befall us God trying to get us to remember Him? What about in our personal lives? Does God still smite?

I believe the answer is, “It depends.” Nephi explains to us the reason God continued to punish Laman and Lemuel. 1 Nephi 18:20: “There was nothing save it were the power of God, which threatened them with destruction, could soften their hearts.” I believe God sends us challenges to try to get us to return to live with Him. To humble us and force us to recognize we can’t do this on our own.

Of course, I also believe that typically, humanity takes care of most of the smiting on our own. We fight each other and bicker over things that don’t matter. We fail to prepare for disasters. But I remember in the aftermath of 9/11, there were some who said it was God punishing our country for our evils. The same sentiment has been repeated after other catastrophes. Earthquakes and tsunamis.

Certainly the God of the Old Testament seems like a God who would go in for a good smiting. Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind, as do the armies of Pharaoh. A God who is so insistent on commandments being obeyed that he would turn Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt, just for a backward glance, is a God who is not messing around. That sounds like a God who would dole out cancer or ebola at the drop of a hat.

And yet we don’t believe He does that today. Do we? I don’t. My stepmother just died of cancer less than a year ago. She was a lovely woman, and didn’t deserve what happened to her at the end of her life, just as plenty of people in the news seem to live charmed lives, despite the wicked, evil things they do and say. It’s easy when bad things happen to bad people, and good things happen to good. It’s when the two don’t match up that it all starts to fall apart.

Or does it?

As I’ve thought about this the last few weeks, the conclusion I’ve come to is fairly tame. I don’t know how things operated in the Old Testament. I didn’t live then. But I do know how things operate around me in the present. Bad and good things happen to everyone, regardless of the lives they lead. That’s part of life. You can try to find some sort of pattern between them, but I think that by and large, the pattern we find will be steeped in confirmation bias.

Our responses to those incidents, however, depend very much upon the individual. Sister Marriott said, “When we give our heart to the Father and the Son, we change our world—even if circumstances around us do not change. We draw closer to Heavenly Father and feel His tender acceptance of our efforts to be true disciples of Christ. Our discernment, confidence, and faith increase.”

The amount of faith we have in God allows Him to work in our lives, more or less. Because faith is an active principle. It inspires us not just to feel, but to do. It changes who we are and how we behave. Bad things will happen. Good things will happen. But it’s easy to handle the good things, but difficult to handle the bad. Faith in God allows us to better handle the bad, and it prompts us to take those bad experiences and turn closer to God for help and comfort.

I believe in God and abide in my faith not because prayer has always encouraged me to do what I wanted to do anyway, but because it’s helped me do the things I didn’t want to do, and when I’ve followed those promptings, I’ve been blessed. I believe in God not because I have seen Him, but because I have felt His love and guidance, even when I feel like everything else has abandoned me. It’s the very opposite of confirmation bias.

It’s one thing to see a pattern and expect it to continue based on past results. But once you’re putting your entire future on the hope that pattern will continue, things get much more serious. Taking that unknown step, hoping there will be support when you get there, is what faith is all about. It’s something that has to be experienced to be believed, and no amount of skepticism or study can make up for that.

I testify that God does live and loves us. That faith in Him and following his guidance does not insulate us from trials and tribulations, because we were sent to this Earth for the express purpose of experiencing those trials. But our faith will help us through those tribulations better than anything else can. As we abide in Him, He will abide with us.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday Talk: Linguistics and Covenants

Another month, another sermon. This time I ended up wanting to just talk religion, but linguistics kept butting in, so I eventually just ran with it. Interestingly, several people came up to me afterward to talk about how much they loved linguistics and how happy they were that I spoke so much on the topic. In any case, here’s my talk this month:


Often when we get a speaking assignment, it comes in the form of an entire talk. Speaking from experience, it’s usually quite easy to find twenty minutes of speaking material lying around in another person’s twenty minute talk. It’s kind of like walking down the beach looking for seashells. They’re all there, and all you need to do is pick the ones you like the most.

I’ve been given other speaking topics before, of course. The hardest one I can remember being given was a fragment of a single verse from scripture: D&C 64:23. “He that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.” If you know me, you know I’m not heavily invested into fire and brimstone motivation, so coming up with fifteen or twenty minutes around that concept took a few bobs and weaves.

For this month, the stake presidency gave us a single sentence from President Nelson. At first, I thought that wasn’t going to be too big of a problem. A sentence is more than a fragment, after all. Then I read the sentence. “Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.”

Now, I read that sentence on paper, where it’s usually easier to understand something. Even then, I had to read it a few times to try and figure out exactly what was being said. I got the general gist of it, but once I tried to restate it into my own words, I discovered it wasn’t as easy to do as it would at first seem.

Somehow, in my search to make sense of this sentence, I ended up tying it to two overarching themes. In college, I double majored in Linguistics and English. Both majors ended up informing my remarks today.

First, allow me to wave my language nerd flag for a moment. President Nelson’s sentence is a little complex, and I think some interesting things rise to the surface when we parse it apart. “Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.”

What, exactly, is the subject of that sentence? As a quick refresher, for any of you who might have blocked all memory of diagramming sentences from your mind, subjects are the active things in a sentence. They’re the things that get things done. In the sentence “I ate all the brownies,” I’m the subject. I’m the guy eating all the brownies.

In President Nelson’s sentence, what is it? Is it covenants? Keeping the covenants? I’ll read it one more time. “Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.”

The subject is “your commitment.” And what’s the verb? The thing that gets done? In my first example, the verb is “ate.” I was the one doing all the eating, and eating was what was getting done. In President Nelson’s sentence, the verb is “will open.” Our commitment will open–will open what? What’s the object? In my example, the object was the brownies. Brownies were getting eaten. In President Nelson’s sentence, it’s “the door.” “The door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available.”

So to restate that sentence simply, “Your commitment will open the door to blessings.”

When I first read the sentence, I thought it was simply saying that the covenants we make are the things that bring us blessings. But in this case, it’s the commitment we show to the Savior that bring us those blessings. We just happen to show that commitment by making and keeping covenants. Is there a difference?

As long as I’ve already outed myself as a card-carying word nerd, I might as well stick with it for a while longer. I’m going to turn to a couple of definitions to bring clarity to that. First of all, let’s look at the word “covenant.” It comes to us from Latin’s convenire, which means “to convene,” through Old French’s covenire, which means “to agree.” In Latin, it’s a mashup of “con” (together) and “venire” (come). Ultimately, it traces its roots back to the proto Indo European root *gwa-, which meant “to go” or “come.” Words that share this root include (believe it or not) acrobat, adventure, convent, coven, event, intervene, invent, juggernaut, revenue, souvenir, and welcome.

But the word wasn’t used in the scriptural sense until later translations of the Bible. In Hebrew, the word was berith, which is the ordinary term for contract or alliance. In Greek, it was diatheke, which meant “disposition by will,” or “testament.” In Old Latin, it was almost always translated as “testamentum,” where we now have “testament.” It wasn’t until later on that translators began using the word “covenant.”

Why go into all this detail? Because language is flexible. It can mean one thing today and a different thing tomorrow. It’s basically a way to transmit thought, and if we’d like to understand the thoughts someone was having when they wrote something hundreds of years ago, it can be illuminating to see where those thoughts originated, and what those words meant at the time.

Does it change your understanding of the Old and New Testament to know that they could have been translated the Old and New Covenant, instead? Does it change how you approach making and keeping covenants to think of them as living testaments to your devotion to God? It does for me.

Translating words from one language into another allows error to creep into a message, like a long game of telephone, centuries in the making. When I was on my mission in Germany, I saw this firsthand. One day I was trying to help a fifth grader with her math homework. She had a series of word problems that were proving tricky for her, but when I said I could help with those word problems, she got very offended. It turns out that the phrase “word problem” in German means something fairly different. I hadn’t said I’d help her with her math problems. I’d told her I’d help fix her speech impediment.

Another example. A few months earlier, I’d just finished a delicious homemade dinner a member family had prepared for us. Rouladen, kloesse, rotkohl–the works. And the mother of the family had generously asked if I wanted some more. I said no thank you, and she looked at me like I’d just spit in her face. My companion whispered to me, “You said Nein bitte. Say Nein danke. To my untrained ear, bitte and danke were two ways of being polite. Niceties that didn’t have much to differentiate the two words. But saying Nein danke in German means, “No thank you, that was delicious.” Saying Nein bitte essentially means “That was terrible, please don’t give me anymore.” At least, that’s what I walked away understanding.

Words have meaning. They have power.

I’m not done with the linguistics lesson, however. Language is a pretty remarkable thing. It can convey an almost limitless array of thoughts, but it’s not just limited to that use. It can also accomplish things in and of itself. If a priest says to two people standing in front of him in a church, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” those words have done something. Before he spoke them, the two people were single. Afterward, they’re married. Speaking caused something to happen. Words like that are referred to by linguists as speech acts.

When we make covenants, we essentially are completing a speech act. We are baptized. Receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Married. The words make it happen, which makes me think of John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

But of course, from my earlier discussion, we can now recognize that concept being conveyed there wasn’t our modern definition of “word,” but rather the Greek definition of logos, which doesn’t just mean word, but can also refer to discourse or reason. It was used in Psalms 33:6–“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.”

There’s an entire talk to be written about that topic, but I’ll limit myself today to simply observe that words are important to God. They are binding and powerful in a way we only partly understand, it seems. Speech acts change our lives, but they are ultimately only as powerful as our commitment to them. One of the first commandments was to not take the name of God in vain. Why is that?

In 1929, Edward Sapir, a linguist at the University of Chicago, posited that a language can alter the way its speakers perceive reality. This concept was further refined by Benjamin Lee Whorf at Yale, and today the concept is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Hypothesis, because it hasn’t been definitively proven, but it’s still something which has affected modern society to a great extent, and judging by the commandments God has given us, it’s something He also believes we should consider.

Let me give an example to make this clearer. In English, it has long been accepted that if a speaker wants to refer to someone generically, the proper way to do this is to use the masculine pronoun. The scriptures use the gender-neutral “he” often. When Christ says He will make His apostles fishers of men, we are to understand He’s not just referring to men, but to all people. But several decades ago, the concept of a gender neutral “he” was challenged, with some arguing that by always using “he” or “him,” women are subtly repressed, with their opinions and needs taking a back seat to the masculine. Thus, you’ll often hear people use “he or she” or “him or her” these days instead of the gender neutral masculine.

There is a fair bit of debate in some circles about this concept, with some decrying it as overblown political correctness. Having looked at the studies and thought it through on my own, I believe the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis has merit. If we continually talk about something in a certain way, our views on that thing can and will change. If society does it as a whole, that can’t help but affect society as well.

Another example. I imagine many of you were required to read Homer in school at some point. The Odyssey, or the Illiad. Homer’s always talking about the ocean in his epic poems, and a phrase he will usually use is “the wine-dark sea.” Did you know one word he never uses to describe the ocean? Blue doesn’t appear in Ancient Greek at all. In fact, it’s not present in a number of ancient languages, from Icelandic to ancient Chinese. It doesn’t appear as a color until Egyptian.

Colors seem to be differentiated over time in a culture. White and black are the two basic colors, and they’re recognized first. Then comes red, followed by yellow and green. But in a fascinating experiment, it appears that not having a word for a color affects a person’s ability to see that color in the first place.

The Himba tribe in Namibia still has no word for blue, and they could not distinguish between shades of blue and shades of green. Speakers were presented with a circle of colored squares. When each square was green except for one blue one, they had difficulty identifying the one different square. When presented with squares that were many different shades of green, however, they had no trouble spotting the differences. Their language has many words for different shades of green.

Language is so often taken for granted, and speaking as a trained linguist, it is very often misunderstood. It’s something we learn without being taught, and often those are the things we question the least. We just assume something is the way it is, because that’s the way it’s always been. The concept of changing something that fundamental can seem foreign or threatening. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be challenged.

Thankfully, when it comes to religion, we do have a way to circumvent language: revelation. When Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon, and later on when he worked on his translation of the Bible, he was not relying on linguistic study, language classes, and in-depth analyses of a text. He received inspiration from God. When translation work is done to bring the Book of Mormon to a new language these days, I’ve seen first hand the amount of thought and prayer that goes into it. This is anything but Google Translate.

Likewise, as we hear talks in General Conference, we can be entitled to the same revelation and inspiration. Often in my experience, what is being said ends up taking a back seat to what is being understood. I have had plenty of experience going into a meeting and getting one thing out of it, while the person sitting next to me seems to have heard something entirely different. I don’t believe this is the fault of the speaker. I think it’s a strength of revelation. We can be provided with tailor made help to assist us with our personal struggles.

So sometimes language is transcended by the Spirit. And while I could dwell longer on the specifics of President Nelson’s sentence, there comes a time when I need to move forward and actually discuss how to implement his advice. Some of you probably think that time was about ten minutes ago, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for a good linguistics lecture.

President Nelson advises us to commit to following the Savior by making and keeping covenants. As we do so, we will be blessed. I think we can all get behind the need for blessings, so while I could look at what blessings we might receive, I’d rather focus on how to commit.

First off, how do you know if you’re truly committed? Satan would like us to focus on our shortcomings. He’d like us to point out the hypocrisy in others. And there are times when I get really frustrated with some of the sentiments expressed by fellow adherents of my faith. I hear people say sexist, racist, homophobic, terrible things, and it makes me angry and disappointed. How can these supposed righteous followers of Jesus Christ espouse such hateful ideas? I try to remind myself that my own views in other areas may be similarly infuriating to others. We are all growing and learning at different rates, and if we always choose to focus on others’ shortcomings, we will never be able to make the progress we need to attain salvation.

I’m reminded of two LDS politicians: Mitt Romney and Harry Reid. Mitt Romney, of course, is a prominent Republican who ran for President. Harry Reid was the Democrat Senate Majority Leader for 8 years. I have heard members criticize both politicians for the public stands they have taken over the years on a variety of issues. Yet both can be 100% committed to the covenants they have made while having diametrically opposed viewpoints.

It’s one thing to say “I am committed,” but it’s another to show that commitment by our actions. In the church, we often talk about the way faith and works combine together to help us return to live with God. We believe being saved involves more than simply saying a set of words, though at times I feel we focus too heavily on the works and not enough on the faith, thinking perhaps that if salvation costs $20, it’s up to us to come up with $19.50, and Christ will cover the last two quarters. I tend to think it’s the opposite. One of us might be able to scrape together fifty cents, and another might only manage a nickel or two, but in the grand scheme of things, we all need so much more than that to be saved, and Christ gifts us with that balance.

A few years ago, I was helping my son clean his room. It’s always easier for me to clean someone else’s mess. I’m not emotionally attached to other people’s clutter the same way I am to my own. I opened his lower drawer and began hauling out random pieces of paper that had been jammed in there over the years, tossing them into the recycling bin one by one. He stopped me, frantic. “Don’t throw those away. Those are important to me!”

I paused and looked at the papers. They were creased and tattered. I looked back at my son and arched an eyebrow. “Are they really important? If they are, why have they been crammed in the bottom of your drawer all this time?” They might have been important, but they certainly weren’t important enough. Not important enough to treat with care and respect. Not important enough to make sure they stayed straight and clean.

We all do this with important things in our lives. What is the condition of various important things to us? Our relationships. Our faith. Our word? The best way I know of to tell what’s important to a person is to watch how they spend their time.

Time is finite. We all have the same amount each day. A rich person has the same 24 hours as a poor person, though perhaps he or she might be forced to spend more of that time to make ends meet. But almost everyone in America has a fair bit of free time. Time they spend watching football or playing video games or going to church or reading books or playing games with their family.

Think about your time. How is it spent? In writing, we talk about the “show don’t tell” principle. Recently, I was helping some friends with their college application essays. Writing about yourself is always a tricky situation, especially when you’re trying to impress someone. There’s something about saying “I’m an awesome person, and you really ought to accept me into your university” that just doesn’t come across too well.

There’s a reason for that, however. It’s because you’re just telling someone that you’re awesome. If you can somehow show them that instead, they will reach the conclusion on their own, which is always much stronger.

If I say “I love my children,” you have to take my word for it. If I describe the things I do with and for my children–the hours spent helping them with their homework or reading to them each evening, the trips we go on together, and the activities we do every day–then an outsider might observe that I love my children. I don’t just say I do, I do. If, on the other hand, I were to say I love them, but spend no time with them, constantly ignore them or berate them, and complain any time one of them needed help, then it wouldn’t really matter what I said. My actions would show the reality.

Sometimes, we may honestly believe we think something, but if we take a close look at our actions, and how we spend our time, I’ve found the reality always comes to the surface.

Another way to look at your commitment to covenants is to ask yourself how different your life is because of the covenants you have made. If they aren’t making a significant impact, perhaps you aren’t as committed to them as you think you are. In my experience, commitment to the Gospel chafes now and then. It makes me do something I’d rather not do, or be someone I’d prefer not to be. This isn’t because it’s restricting and oppressive. It’s because the natural man is an enemy to God, and our covenants are there to help us overcome the natural man.

In my natural state, I would prefer to be on a sofa, eating brownie sundaes by the bucketful while I binge watch Netflix. That’s the baseline I’m starting from. So since I’m here in Rockland this morning, awake before 10am, I can at least say that for today, my covenants are making a significant impact on my life. We’ll see how I do this afternoon.

One of the reasons keeping covenants can be so difficult is that there is often a significant delay between our actions and our rewards. I don’t mean eternal rewards. I mean direct benefits we receive here and now in the real world. I don’t believe God’s plan of happiness means that we’ll be miserable in this life so we can finally be happy once we die. I believe it’s here to make us happy now. Today. Tomorrow. But sometimes the route to lasting happiness can be a thorny one.

We live in a society that has come to expect immediate answers. If you have a headache, you take a pill and it goes away. Having difficulty losing some weight? There are countless programs out there that promise quick, easy results. This even extends to our gaming habits. Having difficulty with a level on Candy Crush? Nothing a few dollars won’t fix for you.

But quick answers are seldom lasting solutions. They’re bandaids that get us through the here and now without doing anything to address the problems at the root of each difficulty. They’re payday loans to get out of debt today, which only make our debts worse tomorrow.

God doesn’t work that way. He has no interest in solving an issue for a minute or a day or even a year. His perspective is eternal. CS Lewis described this in his book Mere Christianity: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

It’s been a long talk, brothers and sisters. Ranging from the nooks and crannies of linguistic theory to discussions on time management. I couldn’t blame you if things have gotten a little muddied in the last nineteen minutes. Allow me to sum up.

President Nelson said a quote you might have memorized by now: “Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.”

It’s our commitment to follow the Savior that opens the door to spiritual blessings for us. We show that commitment not just by making covenants, but by keeping them. Keeping them may be uncomfortable. In fact, it probably should be uncomfortable, because by keeping them, we are becoming better people. Bringing order to disorder is something that requires work. Planting a garden today seems like back breaking labor for no reward, especially when you could just run to the store and pick up a few tomatoes whenever you want. But over time, the benefits become clear.

I’ve seen this principle at work in my life. The Gospel is not always easy. It’s usually not. But I can directly trace each and every blessing I have received back to the covenants I have made and kept. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Church Talk: Sharing the Gospel

I had the chance to speak in church again yesterday. Much smaller audience than last time, and a topic that might not have as broad of an appeal to a general audience. That said, if you’re looking for my personal thoughts on how to share the Gospel, look no further. As one might expect, I have a bit of a different take on it than the classic “Go out and ask all your friends to talk to the missionaries” take. Anyway. Here’s the talk in its entirety:

Sharing the Gospel

Confession time. When I hear the phrase “Sharing the Gospel,” my first instinct is to duck and cover. Images of being asked to go to my friends and challenge them to take the discussions come to mind, and those that know me can attest to the fact that this is a very un-Bryce-like thing to do. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable talking to people about what I believe. I’m right at home discussing my faith with just about anyone, anywhere, and I’ve got the track record to back that statement up.

No. It’s the discomfort of doing something that I personally would rather people not do to me. We’re taught to avoid hypocrisy in the church, and the plain truth is that if someone were to approach me and ask me to have representatives of their religion over to teach me about their beliefs, I’d shoot them down as politely as possible, but without ever seriously considering their request. I’m uncomfortable with having strangers in my house, and I’m even less comfortable being jolted out of my routine.

It doesn’t feel right, making a request of others to do something I wouldn’t do myself.

So you’d think I had it pretty rough as a missionary. I’m not sure exactly how things are run now, but back in the day, the first thing that sprang to mind when I heard “missionary” was an image of people knocking on doors and accosting strangers. Let’s just say I was excited to go on a mission, but I was much less excited by the thought of tracting. Still, it seemed an inescapable fact of missionary work. I wanted to be the best missionary I could be and the ideal missionary in my head was one who had no hang ups with going door to door.

The first few days in the Missionary Training Center weren’t the easiest for me. It seemed like I was different from so many of the other missionaries there. I didn’t take things as seriously, and I wanted to have fun while working hard at the same time. Was I going to have to squelch the fun-loving side of myself for the next two years? The thought was more than a little depressing, but it seemed inevitable. After all, that ideal missionary in my head was hard working from morning to night. The primary song “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” says the goal is to “teach and preach and work.” It doesn’t say anything about having a good time while you’re doing it.

It got to the point that I was dreading the next two years. I felt like I was going to fail as a missionary before I ever began. That I’d never realistically be able to even come close to that ideal missionary in my head. And so I did the only thing that made sense. I prayed for help.

I read over the experience in my journal to prepare for this talk. January 17, 1997. I still remember it well today. The feeling I got in response to that prayer is hard to describe, but it was very clear to me: I hadn’t been called to that mission in spite of my personality. I had been called because of it. God knew my quirks and tastes, and He was placing me into a spot where those quirks could be assets, not negatives.

I learned that evening that my thoughts about an ideal missionary were off base. There is no single ideal missionary—a perfect example of every aspect of missionary work. But there was an “Ideal Bryce Missionary:” me operating as the best missionary I could be.

Once I could stop focusing on being something I wasn’t, and instead being the best “me” I could be, it became much easier to succeed, or at least to feel like success was an option. This is a principle that I’ve applied many times in my life since then, and I’ve seen it at work in other people’s lives.

Often in the church, we try to take a one-size fits all approach to living the Gospel. There are standards, and ways to live those standards, and if you don’t fit them, then it’s assumed that you’re doing something wrong. I’m not trying to say that the ten commandments are up to some interpretation, but the directive to share the Gospel certainly is.

My grandfather passed away earlier this month, and in the days after his passing, I had the chance to reflect on his life quite a bit. He wasn’t necessarily an outgoing man. He preferred to get things done behind the scenes, although he could be a force to be reckoned with back behind that curtain. My uncle told a story about him at the funeral. My grandfather was the organist for the Tabernacle Choir for almost 27 years, and when he retired, President Hinckley threw him a big party. In the middle of the party, President Hinkley rose to give a speech, calling for quiet.

“Today is a great day,” he exclaimed to the room. “Today is the day we’re getting rid of Bob.”

It was certainly meant in good humor, but hopefully that gives you an idea of the sort of drive my grandfather had. He’d get an idea in his head, and he wouldn’t stop until that idea became a reality.

I don’t think I ever saw him go out on splits with the missionaries. He wasn’t the sort of person who was up front leading church meetings or jostling for leadership roles. That wasn’t who he was. But he’d cultivate relationships and find ways around obstacles that seemed insurmountable.

At Temple Square, next to the Tabernacle, there’s a building called the Assembly Hall. Back in the seventies, the church was trying to decide what to do with it. At the time, prevailing wisdom was that it should be torn down to free up space on Temple Square. My grandfather heard that idea and went into action, drawing up plans to turn the Assembly Hall into a world-class concert hall. He designed an organ for the space and used his connections to make that vision a reality, securing donations from private donors. Today, it’s a beautiful building, and they hold many concerts there year round.

When he was called on a mission to the BYU Jerusalem Center, it came with a fairly big caveat: there was no proselyting allowed. The Center had been the focus of quite a bit of controversy in Jerusalem, and the church had signed very specific agreements to reassure citizens we weren’t coming there to “convert the Holy Land.” So in a situation like that, where you couldn’t bring up religion at all, how could you be an effective missionary?

My grandfather found a way. The chapel where we have sacrament meeting at the center has a glass wall at the front. You sit there, and all you can see outside is Jerusalem spread out in front of you. The Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It’s all there, with a spectacular view. It also happens to have a great organ.

Not long after he arrived, my grandfather started weekly concerts at the center, arranging for visiting musicians of any faith to come perform each Sunday night. When I went there as a student, I had the chance to go to some of those performances. They drew in people from across the city, and they changed the view many people had of the Center, turning it from a strange place for foreigners to a venue many locals admired and loved to take advantage of.

Through his music and his work, my grandfather was able to share his testimony with many people, but he did it in his way, using the strengths he had. I’d like to think each of us can do the same thing.

We hear the phrase “Share the Gospel,” and we immediately think about going door to door, or approaching our friends and giving them a copy of the Book of Mormon. Don’t get me wrong: those are excellent ways to share the Gospel. But they’re not the only ways. They’re not even (necessarily) the best ways.

There’s no “ideal member missionary” any more than there is an “ideal missionary,” but sometimes I think when we’re challenged to share the Gospel, we might be tempted to dodge the challenge. “I tried that once. It didn’t work for me.” “All my friends know I’m a member already.” “I’m too scared.” But when we think of those excuses, we’re pigeonholing ourselves into a single gospel sharing approach.

Imagine a different scenario. A scenario where when everyone hears that challenge, they look at themselves and their lives and they come up with their own unique way of rising to meet it. Maybe it’s by doing increased service in their neighborhood. Perhaps they start sharing gospel talks on their Facebook feed. They might just look for ways to increase their own testimony to make it easier to share it with others.

However they do it, they follow a few simple steps. First, they involve God in the decision making process. God knows each of us individually, and I believe He’s put us in positions where we can do the most good in our lives. By asking Him how we can best fulfill his requests, we have a much greater chance of actually accomplishing them.

Another thing I’ve learned through my years of being in the Church is that God doesn’t turn down an honest effort. Sometimes we can be tempted to go into decision lock, where we don’t know what the best choice is, and so we make no choice at all. As if only the one right choice matters, when that isn’t it at all. What matters is that we take action. Any action.

In D&C section 60, the early church members are in a situation similar to what many of us find ourselves in. They’re not sure how to go about sharing the Gospel. In verse 2, Christ says, “with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine anger is kindled against them.”

Some hear that phrase, “open their mouths,” and they think only of going up to people and challenging them to learn more about the Gospel. It’s where the focus often ends up. But we ignore the other part—the tailor made part. “The talent which I have given unto them.” God has blessed us all with different strengths. Which do you think He would prefer? That we all try to use the same approach toward sharing the Gospel, or that we all try to use the best approach that works for us, individually?

Later in section 60, Christ continues to instruct the early saints on how to open their mouths and share the Gospel: “Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis.”

“It mattereth not unto me.” Think about that phrase for a moment. How the saints got to St. Louis was immaterial. What mattered was that they got there. There was no one best way. Any way would work.

I do my best to involve God in all of the major decisions in my life. I try to make the best choice whenever possible, and I pray about those choices quite a bit. But sometimes I don’t have time to look at something from every angle. Sometimes I’m not certain that the choice I’m about to make is the best one. What do I do then? I don’t just sit back and do nothing. I pray and tell God the choice I’m going to make, wait to see if there’s any last impressions, and then moved forward as planned, confident at that point that if I were making any big blunders, God had plenty of chances to have me pump the brakes.

Sharing the Gospel is much more than a one note effort. Plink away at the same note or in the same key for too long, and you miss the chance to explore the whole instrument. It’s my hope that we can each add a few octaves to our ranges as we strive to do the things God wants us to do. I know that as we involve Him in the decision making process, we can’t go wrong.

Sunday Talk: On Faith (and Exercise)

As promised, here’s the talk I gave on Sunday. Or would have given, had I had time to give it. I ended up with only about 5 minutes to speak, and the talk was planned for 15, so I ended up tossing most of it out the window and just winging it. Kind of sad, because I was quite happy with the talk the way I wrote it, but I think all still turned out okay.

It’s a bit chattier than my normal talk “voice,” which is chattier than my normal blog voice. So . . . yeah. Anyway–here you go.

On Faith (and Exercise)

Good morning, brothers and sisters. When Brother Danala called me Wednesday to ask if I’d be willing to give a talk, I was surprised at how cheerfully I accepted. Some of this probably has to do with the fact that it’s been a while since I last gave a talk, and I’d already had a logjam of ideas kicking around in my head for what I wanted to talk about. Assuming the topic played nice, of course. And when Brother Danala told me the topic, everything fit into place. It was a single word, and he said I could pretty much go anywhere with it that I wanted to. Free rein. Oh yeah.

To introduce my topic to you, allow me to read a few scriptures. D&C 44:2—“And it shall come to pass, that inasmuch as they are faithful, and exercise faith in me, I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together.”

1 Nephi 7:12—“Yea, and how is it that ye have forgotten that the Lord is able to do all things according to his will, for the children of men, if it so be that they exercise faith in him? Wherefore, let us be faithful to him.”

Moroni 7:25—“Wherefore, by the ministering of angels, and by every word which proceeded forth out of the mouth of God, men began to exercise faith in Christ; and thus by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing; and thus it was until the coming of Christ.”

As I’m sure you’ve all guessed by now, my topic today is exercise.

This should come as no surprise to anyone following my blog or watching my feed on Twitter or Facebook. A few weeks ago, I was in bed. Home from church. Sick again. And suddenly I had the thought, “You really ought to start dieting and exercising. Then you might not get sick as much.” I accepted it as divine revelation (because honestly, I just don’t have those kinds of thoughts occur to me naturally.) So I’ve started dieting, and I’ve even started exercising a half hour each day. Most days.

And while I don’t think I’ve been doing it quite long enough to really draw any long term conclusions from it, I think I can safely say that first, exercise is much less fun that I wish it would be. I do not look forward to exercise. Second, exercise is typically even worse when I’m doing it than I thought it would be before I started. I can’t wait to be done. But third, I typically feel great after I’m done exercising. I’m not sure yet why this is. It’s possible my body really likes exercise. However, I’m also sure that if I started pounding my thumb with a hammer over and over, I’d feel great as soon as I stopped doing that, too.

So. Exercise. It’s an interesting word to pair with faith, and when I came across those scriptures on exercising faith, I immediately wondered why it would be phrased like that. Remember, in my current mindset, exercise is a necessary evil. How would it have anything to do with faith?

So to find out more about that, I did what any self-respecting author librarian would do: I turned to the dictionary. Not just your standard Funkin Wagnalls, either. No—I went to the granddaddy of all dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary. The OED. 21 volumes of word definition goodness. And go figure—there are an awful lot of definitions for exercise. It’s a verb that means (among other things) “to put into action,” “to work,” “to make practical use of,” “to train by practice,” “to drill,” “to celebrate,” “to fulfill,” or to—you know—exercise. Jumping jacks. That sort of thing. It’s also a noun that means (among other things) “the state of being in active operation,” “recreative employment,” “an act of private worship,” “an act of public worship,” “habitual occupation,” “disciplinary suffering,” “task prescribed for the sake of attaining proficiency,” or—you know—the act of exercising. Exertion of the muscles, limbs, and bodily powers—specifically to improve health.

I could take some time to focus on each one of these definitions and find a connection between it and our faith, but I’ll just pick a few highlights. I don’t think I’m alone in getting bored at church sometimes. In fact, statistically speaking, I’d be willing to guess about half of you are bored, asleep, or checking your smartphones right this second. Why in the world do we need to come to church each week? Three hours? What’s up with that? I could read the lessons at home. Maybe watch a general conference talk or two. Come in once a month for a dose of Sacrament, and then be just fine the rest of the time.

But we’re supposed to exercise faith. To train by practice or drill. And if you’ve ever trained by practice, you know that there can be a lot of repetition before you master something. Playing an instrument, you play scales. You play the same song over and over and over until you have it mastered. And even then, you keep playing, because you realize that if you stop practicing, you’ll forget it. That skill will fade away. Likewise, you can be the world’s best sprinter, but if you stop practicing every day and start scarfing down pork rinds and Mountain Dew, it won’t be long before you’re just another couch potato.

Exercise faith. That means physically do things that require faith. Read the scriptures. Go to church. Pray. Live the gospel. Not because it’s going to be a different experience each time you do it, but because only by doing those fundamentals can you hope to be prepared for the times in your life when faith isn’t just nice, it’s a necessity.

We exercise our armies in times of peace so that they’re ready for times of war, because we recognized that times of war will come. Spiritually speaking, Satan would have us either believe that times of spiritual crisis will never pop up, or that we’re already sufficiently prepared to deal with them. 2 Nephi 2:20 For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

21 And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

22 And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

If you’re not actively exercising your faith, you’re sitting on the spiritual couch with your pork rinds and Mountain Dew. And when you find yourself needing to run a sprint, it’ll be much too late for any exercise.

Another definition. To celebrate. I really liked that one, because it reminded me that while I might view normal exercise as a chore, exercising faith is ideally supposed to be a pleasurable experience. At least some of the time. And it is in many ways. I do my best to involve God in the big and little decisions of my life. I recognize that sometimes decisions are inconsequential. It really might not matter if I drive to Bangor through Waterville or Newport. But it also might. I might get in an accident, or get stuck in a traffic jam and miss something I was supposed to do. Or I might get there early and miss meeting someone who was going to walk by a few minutes later.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we go around praying over every little decision. Should I eat Lucky Charms this morning or Count Chocula? Rather, I’m suggesting that exercising faith means trying to leave oneself open to spiritual promptings at all times. Living in a way that you’ll be able to recognize those promptings when they come. Praying over the big decisions certainly. I believe there is a best possible choice to many decisions. Where to move. What job to take. By exercising my faith, I believe that I have a way to know which choice will be best for me. Maybe not make things the easiest, but present me with the experiences I need to become the best Bryce I can be. Without that faith, I have no idea how I’d go through life.

Another definition. Disciplinary suffering. I just talked about how great faith can make your life. Let’s talk a bit about the suffering. Compared to some of my non-Mormon friends, I think I’ve got plenty of that going on. Ten percent of my income, gone. Hours of my Sunday, poof. Do you realize that the non-believers get essentially two Saturdays each week? Twice the amount of Saturdays? The concept boggles my mind. Church callings eat up time. Take you away from your family. There’s a whole long list of things you can’t do. Can’t smoke, can’t drink, can’t sleep around, can’t lie, can’t cheat, can’t drink coffee. Can’t do a whole lot of the things pop culture says I should be able to, all because I’m exercising faith.

But we don’t exercise faith because we’re masochistic. We do it because we understand you have to have the disciplinary suffering so you can have the celebration. While it’s true that I miss out on much of what the rest of the world might deem important, it’s also true that every single thing in my life that’s most valuable to me—that brings me the most joy—can be traced back to my exercising faith. My marriage. My children. The comfort I feel in times of trouble. It’s all connected. I miss out on the things pop culture says are important and great, but I also miss out on the consequences that accompany them. I’ve never had a hangover, for example.

Because I know that sometimes author librarians can get too bogged down in academia, I also took a peek at Merriam-Webster to see what he had down for the definition. He went with the really basic “anything requiring physical effort.” And I really like that definition in terms of this topic. Exercising faith requires physical effort. It requires action. You don’t exercise faith by sitting back and thinking about faith all day. You need to be doing something, or your faith isn’t going to do you much good.

We exercise faith by coming to church every week. By praying each day. By reading the scriptures. All those good Sunday School answers. But I believe it’s just as important to exercise faith by living it. Applying the Gospel in our lives. Being kind to others. Forgiving. Being generous. Honest. Caring. It’s a package deal. Our goal is to be well-rounded followers of Christ.

One of the things I learned while writing this talk is that, while we’re often attracted to the stories of the extraordinary as it relates to faith, none of these would be possible without the day to day exercise of faith necessary to make it strong. To make it living.

Today is selection Sunday. For the next few weeks, we’ll be able to watch college basketball teams compete for a national championship. Hundreds of young men and women will be able to show off the fruits of years and years of consistent exercise. Practicing foul shots. Learning strategy. Watching video tape. Here’s a newsflash for you: I am not competing in this year’s tournament. I’ll be doing my typical brackets, of course. But you won’t see me on the court.

I’ve played basketball a bit. I’m familiar with the rules. But I haven’t practiced the sport to the degree necessary to excel at, as any Howatt who’s played against me can no doubt attest to.

If faith is something that must be exercised, then it stands to reason that those who exercise it more frequently will be able to see its effects more distinctly in their lives. This is confirmed when you look at some of the members in our church who exercise their faith most often: the missionaries.

A story comes to mind that happened to me in Leipzig, Germany. I was serving with Reed Nielsen at the time—who incidentally went on to marry Eva Williamson, who grew up in this ward, I believe. We were tracting, going from one apartment complex to another, and having little in the way of success. Typical for Germany.

It was late, we needed to catch a streetcar home, and it was going to come in about five minutes. I was tired. Sick of rejection. And yet I saw another apartment building, and the door was screaming for someone to knock on it. Not literally, but I felt very strongly that if I knocked on that door, we’d find someone to teach.

So I did what any missionary worth his salt would do. Told Elder Nielsen, and the two of us went over to the door. You don’t actually knock on doors in Germany. Not in cities, at least. You ring door buzzers and make your pitch from downstairs to someone you can’t even see. If you’re lucky, someone lets you in, and then you knock on the rest of the doors personally. It’s much easier to reject someone you don’t even have to look at than it is to do it when they’re standing right in front of you.

In any case, this door was different. It opened up for us. Someone hadn’t locked it. (Let me stress that going in the building wasn’t illegal. We were allowed to do it. It’s just the buildings were normally locked.) Either way, I took this as a very good sign. This building was the one. Someone was waiting for us right then. We just had to knock and they’d be all excited to meet us.

We trudged to the top of the complex and worked our way down. At each door, I was more and more confident that we’d be let in. It just felt so right—a feeling I rarely got doing doors. But the doors went by, and only two or three even had anyone home. The rest didn’t answer. We got to the last door, and this was it. I could already picture the story in my mind, “And at the last door to the building, they let us in, and it was wonderful.”

No one was there.

We left the building, dejected. I just didn’t understand. It had been so obvious. We were supposed to tract that building. We were going to find someone if we did. For sure. But we didn’t.

We’d missed our streetcar, so we had to wait for the next one. We sat at the stop, fairly depressed. No one was even on the street. No one at the stop to talk to. Just us and our failure. The next streetcar pulled up. It stopped with a door right in front of us. The door opened, and there sitting in the car—directly in front of me—was one of the few members in the city. He was talking to a friend of his about the gospel, and he’d been having trouble explaining it all to him.

We found someone to teach. Just not in the building. But if we hadn’t gone to that one more building, we never would have found that person to teach. That’s what exercising faith is all about to me. Experiences like those prove to me it is real. And that’s not the only time something like that has happened to me, on a mission or off. Exercising faith is real. It really does work.

So why don’t we all just pattern our lives after the lives of missionaries? If the purpose of this life is to get as much faith as possible, wouldn’t it make sense to sell everything off and completely devote ourselves to God? We could start the Farmington Monastery. The Woodstacking Friars. Our Lady of Casserole Dishes.

But God doesn’t ask us to separate ourselves from the world. We’re supposed to live in it, but not of it. John 15:19 “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” As much as I love missionaries, they are about as far removed from living in the world as possible. No monthly bills to worry about. No jobs. No family duties. They’re able to devote themselves wholly to their faith. We can’t.

How does that make sense? We’re supposed to develop faith. Exercise it. And often in this religion at least, it seems we tend to believe that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. So shouldn’t we all strive to become spiritual giants? Work on exercising our faith until we’re ready for an ESPN2-esque spiritual body building competition?

I think it’s because that’s not what God wants from us. We’re supposed to be well rounded. This isn’t as easy to see when you look at stories from ancient religious history. John the Baptist. Moses. Noah. Nephi. Abinadi. Because they’re so far removed from us in many ways, it’s easier to picture them as being wholly devoted to faith faith and nothing but faith all day long. But if we look at some of the church leaders from the recent past, we start being able to see people living their lives while living the gospel.

An endurance runner might be able to go for miles and miles without stopping for a rest, but if he’s suddenly put into a weightlifting competition, there’s no way he’d win. Likewise, a weightlifter might not make it to the end of a marathon. Specialization brings intense mastery of a single skill, but it’s at the expense of so much else.

I believe our primary goal is to learn how to exercise practical faith. Faith in our everyday lives, because that’s precisely where we need the most help. Faith is here to help us, not to help God. God doesn’t need any help. But us? We need all the help we can get. I know I do, at least. Just look at the world around us. Political turmoil. Mass shootings. War abroad. Dogs and cats. Living together. Mass hysteria. It’s no wonder that people question the existence of God. How could an all-powerful, all-knowing being let this sort of thing happen?

Of course, we know the answer to that. He lets it happen because he gives us our free agency. Humanity makes most of that happen. And for the things we don’t cause on our own—say earthquakes or tornadoes—we also know that we aren’t here on this earth to have it comfy and cozy. We’re here to be challenged. To learn. To grow. To exercise our faith.

I remember when I was on my mission, I was very focused on finding out how to get more faith. How to make it stronger. I’m not saying I’m an expert at it today by any means, but I do think I have a handle on the basics. You get more faith the same way you get any acquired skill. You practice. You exercise. And the more you do that, the stronger your faith becomes.

So the next time you’re sitting there bored in church, or bemoaning another activity, or generally feeling worn out by living the gospel, remember—it’s all exercise. None of that effort is wasted, and it will all be worth it when the day comes that you suddenly need your faith for much more than Wednesday night activities. I know this from experience, and I leave you my testimony of the power and reality of faith, and do it in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday Talk: Personal Accountability and Stewardship

This past Sunday, I spoke in church. As I am wont to do, I like to get more mileage out of these talks–this one took a long time for me to finish, so why not have it as a blog post? So for all of you who have always wondered what my views on personal accountability, stewardship, and salvation are–wonder no more. Here ya go:

For the past several months, my mind keeps coming back to the relationship between personal accountability and stewardship. We’re told we’re responsible for our own salvation, but we’re also told we need to do everything we can to help other people be saved, too. There have been times I feel like I’m failing at my calling and duty as an Elders Quorum President when members under my stewardship are becoming less active in the Gospel.

Just this past week at Stake Conference, Elder Ellis referred to the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25. The basics of this one are simple. A man entrusts three different stewards with varying amounts of money. The steward entrusted with five talents makes an additional five talents. The one entrusted with three makes another three. But the one entrusted with one does nothing with it, for fear of losing it. When it comes time for a reckoning, the one who was fearful is chastened, while the ones who invested their talents and increased them are rewarded.

We are taught by our leaders that we are supposed to magnify our callings. That we are to do them well. To follow the promptings of the Spirit and do what God would have us do. What we forget—what I forget, at least—is that doing what the Spirit tells us to do will not always result in a perfect ward, quorum, or family. Free agency prevents that happening. If we do our best to contact our home or visiting teaching families, and yet the meetings constantly fall through, or they decline our visits, does that make us worse stewards?

On the surface, it would seem to. After all, in the parable, the stewards who were given their talents and invested them both doubled their money. They were successful. So if we don’t have something tangible at the end of the day to show how hard we worked, doesn’t that mean we have been poor stewards? After all, the one man who hadn’t increased the initial investment was told by his lord, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed:

 27 Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury.

 28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents.

 29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

 30 And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Isn’t that a bit harsh? I read that, and I worry. If I’m not successful at my calling, it seems like I’m going to be in a lot of trouble when it comes time to report on my efforts.

But I think when I read this parable, I focus too much on the what and not enough on the why. Was the one steward cast out because he hadn’t made enough money, or because he hadn’t even tried? I tend to think it was his lack of effort that the Savior was highlighting in the parable, and that one of the main messages we’re supposed to take away from this story isn’t a “be successful or be damned” moral, but rather a “try and you can’t fail” maxim.

Think of it for a moment. If Christ had wanted to, he could have presented three different scenarios. We all know, after all, that every time you invest money, you’re not always going to double it in a year. But He didn’t put that in the parable. There are essentially two groups of investors. Those who tried, and those who did nothing. The ones who tried, succeeded. Unsurprisingly, the ones who didn’t, didn’t.

Fantastic, right! All I need to do is put forth a little bit of effort, and I’m off the hook. Of course, every time I think that, something—the Spirit—tells me that I’m off in my interpretation. We need to try our hardest, not just put forth a token effort. And God, being God, knows when I’m trying my hardest and when I’m not.

“So why is it,” I’ve wondered from time to time, “that I have to be responsible for both my salvation and the salvation of others, whether those others are in my family, the ward, or the community?” Because at times I feel that what I really need to find is a good scriptural basis for letting other people take care of themselves. I want a doctrinal excuse for not having to worry about my fellow man, because sometimes, it seems like my fellow man really doesn’t want any help.

If you serve in any callings in this church, it won’t be long before you’re confronted with the responsibility of helping someone who doesn’t want any help. I remember on my mission in East Germany, I had this opportunity many times. Most people we talked to resented us being there, and yet I never felt like a failure. It didn’t matter to me that people weren’t lining up to be baptized. Sure, it was disheartening at times. I remember one young man named Eric. He was in his late teens, and he was unemployed. He’d spend his days playing video games and eating Bratwurst, living the German dream. We’d found him when we were street contacting, and he was interested enough to have us come over and teach him the lessons.

Things went fine. More than fine, actually. Eric was committed to being baptized, he was reading the Book of Mormon. Everything was going smoothly, until suddenly it wasn’t anymore. He stopped reading. Stopped even showing up for appointments. And from there it dwindled away to nothing.

But again, I didn’t feel like a failure. I’d done what I was supposed to do—I’d presented the Gospel to Eric, and he’d declined to explore it further. That experience was repeated many times on my mission. Leipzig had about 120 missionaries, and about 60 baptisms per year. East Germany wasn’t very interested in the Gospel, period.

So with all that experience with rejection and helping people who didn’t want help, I had to wonder what was different now. Maybe some of it has to do with the fact that I don’t get whisked away every four or six months, like some sort of roving Mary Poppins. On a mission, wards have a beginning and an end. You show up, work hard, and at the end of your time there, you can see a real effect from your efforts. If someone’s baptized, then that’s it. Mission successful. As a member of a ward, you see things from a different perspective. One of us might be active today and not coming to church a year from now. Other members haven’t come for decades, and suddenly pop back up at church one week. As a missionary, I taught about enduring to the end, as a member, I get to see how that works in real life.

Not that church attendance is the only marker of how well a person is doing spiritually—or even the best marker. Showing up to a building for one, two, or three hours a week doesn’t mean you’re headed for the Celestial Kingdom. I certainly struggle with my own issues, as I’m certain everyone in this room does, too. And that’s the thing. At times, I feel like my struggles are more than I can deal with. How should I be expected to help others deal with their problems when I have trouble handling my own? Why can’t we all just look out for ourselves and forget about everyone else?

In many ways, we seem to be hit from both sides as active church members. We’re told that we are responsible for our actions. We must repent, improve ourselves, and do our best to become more perfect. Matthew 5:  48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. That’s telling us to be perfect. It doesn’t say “be ye perfect, as long as somebody else helps you.” And I don’t think we’re going to be able to get away blaming our imperfections on others when it comes time to be judged at the last day. Can you say, “I would have been nicer to other people, if they had just been nicer to me”?

But at the same time that we’re commanded to be perfect, we also know we’re responsible to help our fellow man. Go after the lost sheep. Bring them back to the fold. Time and time again, President Monson has encouraged us to reach out to those who have fallen away from the Gospel. To lose ourselves in service.


And here’s where it breaks down for me sometimes. If I’m responsible for my salvation, how can I also be responsible for someone else’s? Isn’t he responsible for himself, too?

For a while, I’d thought I’d found scriptural backing for this sentiment in the Parable of the 10 Virgins.  Matthew 25:1 Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

 2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

 3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

 4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

 5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

 6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.

 7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

 8 And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

 9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

 10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

 11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

 12 But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.

 13 Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

Bam! Here it is. Just what I was looking for. You keep track of yourself, and let other people worry about themselves. Just keep your eye on your own oil, and forget everyone else. Right?

Wrong. Because you have the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Matthew 18:  23 ¶Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants.

 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents.

 25 But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

 27 Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.

 28 But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest.

 29 And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all.

 30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.

 31 So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done.

 32 Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me:

 33 Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

 34 And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

 35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

So how do these parables gel? Should the virgins have been willing to share their oil, if you’re following the rules of the Unmerciful Servant parable? I thought about that for a while, and I think I came up with an answer. In the parable of the 10 virgins, each only had enough to get them through the night. If one of the virgins had brought a supersize mega value container of oil, I’m confident the Lord would have expected her to share some of that oil with the others. Yes, it wouldn’t have been exactly fair. Yes—she would have been the one with the foresight to bring all the oil, and the others would have been lax in their duty to prepare themselves. But we need to have faith that He whose place it is to judge will judge wisely and well. I certainly hope when the time comes to judge me, the Law of Mercy will be liberally applied. But how can I expect that if I don’t do my best to be merciful to others?

When it comes to other people, it’s far too easy to be a big Law of Justice kind of a guy, mainly because it’s such a great excuse. The temptation is there, of course. Just sit back and help anyone willing to make it easy to help them. But that’s not how God operates, and I for one am very grateful that it isn’t. There are so many times when I don’t make it easy on Him to help me. So many times when I seem like I don’t want any help myself. Does He turn away from me then? He doesn’t. Sometimes I just wish that didn’t mean I had to do the same.

I’ll be honest. I want to be able to judge other people. I feel like I should be able to dismiss someone else’s problems, marking them up to poor judgment, just desserts, and people getting their comeuppance. When it comes time to look at my mistakes, of course, it’s a different story. There are extenuating circumstances for all of the things I do wrong each day.

If there’s anything I’ve learned as a parent of two children, it’s that all of us seem to be born with an inherent desire for life to be fair. If I’m dishing out dessert, sometimes I feel like I really ought to weigh the portions, just to be able to prove that they’re exactly equal in every way. It’s one thing when it’s primary kids, but at times I catch myself doing the same thing. Maybe someone else gets a promotion or a raise. Or else I work hard to do something, then have to turn around and do it for someone else, and they don’t even seem to think it was that big of a deal. It’s hard not to feel disappointed or even cheated at times. Like your hard work and effort ought to result in automatic blessings.

And let’s face it: hard work and effort do bring blessings. Just not always the ones we’re expecting to see or wish we might see. Still, there’s definitely something to be said for our own personal accountability for our salvation.

The fact is that when we will be judged, we’ll be judged according to our own personalized grading rubric, and not our neighbors. God knows what we are capable of. He knows the trials we went through. Who helped us. Who didn’t. Whose offers we accepted. Whose offers we spurned. At times this world seems like a competition, but it’s only a test. A test where the passing grade for one person is a failing grade for another. You can’t tell how you’re doing by looking at your neighbor’s answers. You don’t smoke? Congratulations. Maybe smoking was never really a test for you. I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life, but something tells me I won’t be able to use that as grounds for admittance to the Celestial Kingdom. I’ve never wanted to smoke a cigarette.

The only person who can decide if you’re not doing enough is you. The only person who can decide if you’re doing too much is also you. That stinks, doesn’t it? It means there are people out there who are doing far too much. Spreading themselves far too thin. They need to circle the wagons and cool down a bit. There are others out there who are doing far too little. They’re capable of much more. They need to push themselves further.

The trick is, we can’t tell who is who. Well, maybe if we’ve been given stewardship over a certain group, then we might be able to, mainly through revelation from God. But if one person’s driving a Corvette and the other one’s driving a Camry, comparing how fast they can go from 0 to 60 isn’t quite fair, is it? In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis compares two different people, one a mean tempered Christian, the other a very pleasant atheist. “Christian Miss Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin.  That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works.  The question is what Miss Bates’s tongue would  be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s  would be like if he became one . . . To judge the management of a factory, you must consider not only the output but the plant. Considering the plant at Factory A it may be a wonder that it turns out anything  at  all; considering the  first-class outfit  at Factory  B its output, though high, may be a great deal lower than  it ought to be.  No doubt the good manager at Factory A is going to put in new machinery as soon as he can, but that takes time. In the meantime low output does not prove that he is a failure”

Lewis goes on to say, “If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous.  The Devil  was  an archangel once;  his natural  gifts  were  as  far  above  yours as  yours are  above  those of a chimpanzee.

     But if you are a poor  creature-poisoned  by  a wretched upbringing  in some house full of vulgar jealousies . . .-nagged day  in and day  out  by  an  inferiority  complex  that  makes you  snap  at  your best friends-do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive.  Keep on.  Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) he will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all-not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.”

So what’s the solution? I’ve driven all around the block in this talk now. It’s time to actual come to a destination. We’re supposed to help others, we’re supposed to help ourselves. To use Lewis’s terminology, each factory has a limited output, and we need to decide—with God’s help—how that output should be allotted.

As I think about it, it seems to me that we each have been blessed with a certain measure of all manner of things. Take my wife and me, for example. I think she’d be the first to agree that I’m better at computer repair and typing speed, whereas she has me beaten hands down at bread baking and gardening. If the computer needs repairing, I’m the one who steps in to handle it. When bread needs baking, Denisa takes over. Then again, there are going to be times when the computer can’t get repaired right away, or the bread just has to wait. I can see this so easily in my daily life—I just have trouble reminding myself of it when it comes to my church responsibilities. The missionaries are calling to find someone to go with them to an appointment, I have my home teaching to do, a quorum activity to plan, presidency meeting to prepare, the lesson to read for Sunday, and then someone calls me to ask me to give a talk. Oh yeah, and stake conference and a trip to Bangor are in the mix, too.

We’re instructed not to run faster than we have strength, and I think that applies to the church sphere as much as it does to our personal lives.

Maybe one of the best comparisons I thought of while I was working on this talk was likening it to fast offerings. Once a month, we’re to go without food for two meals. We then donate the money that would have been spent on that food, and we’re encouraged to give more, if possible. By sacrificing something, we have something to give. The same goes for church callings. We’re asked to sacrifice something finite—something concrete. Often our time or our talents. It’s up to us to find a way to fit our lives into the time remaining to us.

As we pray and ask God for help, we’ll be shown ways to get the things done which must be done, and we’ll also be able to know what needs doing now and what can wait until later—or not be done at all. There are going to be times someone asks me to do something, and I need to say no. The more I live the Gospel, the more I begin to think knowing when to say no is just as important as knowing when to say yes. Know your capabilities. Share the excess you have with others when you can. And remember—what you can give will be different from what someone else can give. Ours is not to judge the output of everyone else. Just keep doing your best.

And that’s a solution I can live with.

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