Life’s a bit bonkers at the moment. So many things are happening that are clamouring for our attention. I wish we could blame this all on Covid, but I think back to life before the pandemic and my life was just as loud, but with other things taking up my headspace. The things we give attention to are often governed by the choices that we make, we, more often than not, choose that which we focus on. However at the last General Conference Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described the world in which we live, he said:
… we do see too much conflict, anger, and general incivility around us… The Great Depression we now face has less to do with the external loss of our savings and more to do with the internal loss of our self-confidence, with real deficits of faith and hope and charity all around us.
I think as we look around we can see this in evidence in our public discourse and also sometimes within ourselves. The world in which we now live is closer than it’s ever been, and that’s a positive, but the noise that accompanies it is often so distracting and sometimes negative that we often find ourselves seeking for respite and calm from the storm. In this search we realise that the refuge and peace that we can find is in the Saviour Jesus Christ. Elder Holland highlighted this:
However, sensing the concern and perhaps even outright fear some of those men must have exhibited, He said this to them (and to us): “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. … “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. … “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Challenging times come in this mortal world, including to the faithful, but the reassuring message of Christ is that although He, the paschal lamb, would go like “a sheep before [its] shearers,” He would nevertheless rise, as the psalmist said, to be “our refuge and strength, [our] very present help in [times of] trouble.”
Life is busy. You may face an overload of university work, we may also face a social calendar that is filled with worthwhile activities to develop and nurture friendships, we might have part time work, we have Church responsibilities, clubs, hobbies and all kinds of other things. Later in our lives we are similarly faced with family activities, Church service, work, activities, friends, hobbies and much more. None of these are wrong and all of them are important but sometimes we get caught up in being so busy that we sometimes don’t take time to pause and to listen to the voice of the Lord. We can perhaps think that He is not speaking, or that we are functioning just fine as we travel through life. Speaking of the untimely death of a son of a member of the Presiding Bishopric, President David O. McKay shared the following about a visitation of the son to his mother:
Mother, you needn’t worry. That was merely an accident. I gave the signal to the engineer to move on, and as the train started, I jumped for the handle of the freight car, and my foot got caught in a sagebrush, and I fell under the wheel. I went to father soon after that, but he was so busy in the office I couldn’t influence him — I couldn’t make any impression upon him, and I tried again. Today I come to you to give you that comfort and tell you that I am happy (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, pp. 525-6).
This highlights the very real possibility that we allow ourselves to get so busy that we don’t have time to listen. The voices of busyness are not bad in themselves, but they are loud and if we allow them to they can drown out the still small voice.
There are also times where these voices of busyness taking precedence in our lives are the result of our deliberate choices to ignore the voice of the Lord. We have prioritised our work or recreation over the still small voice, and perhaps we have justified this to ourselves that this is what is needed. The voices that entice us with the need to have more money so that we can afford certain items, or working for the next promotion because that will make life easier, or the hobby that enables us to unwind a little bit. None of these are wrong in and of themselves, except when we prioritise them above our relationship with the Saviour and our ability to Hear Him. In some ways it is trusting Him that He will fulfil the promises that he has made that if we “seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… all these things shall be added unto you” (3 Nephi 13:33).
One of my favourite stories in scripture is that of Peter walking on the water. The story begins with Jesus walking on the water and the disciples seeing Him.
But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:27-31).
Peter initially heard the voice of the Lord and responded. In doing so, he was able to walk on the water, it was only when he took his focus off the Saviour and worried about all of the other things that swirled around him that he began to sink. At least he was able to recognise he was sinking and shout out to the Lord for more help and he was saved. This is the perfect parallel for our attempts to Hear the Lord and stay in that relationship with Him, where we feel such confidence and power. We begin with such surety, we have heard the Lord, but then other, competing voices, come into our earshot and we begin to lose confidence and perhaps wander into strange paths, rather than sink. Most importantly, however, we are distracted from the necessity of, and strength that comes from, Hearing Him on a daily basis.
If we find refuge and peace in the Saviour then we are able to become peaceable people. What does that mean? Alma asks questions of us that might help us understand how we should be as peaceable followers of Christ:
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? That your garments have been cleansed and made white through the blood of Christ, who will come to redeem his people from their sins? Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God. Behold ye must prepare quickly; for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand, and such an one hath not eternal life (Alma 5:26-28).
As disciples of Christ we reflect the grace we have received through his atonement in our lives. We live with ever more attention to his example, we speak as he would speak, we act as he would act. In the course of some reading I came across an analogy that I really liked. As humans we are created by God, in his image. As such we have a divinity within us. When we are born we receive the light of Christ; we are called to be his light to the world. The Doctrine and Covenants teaches:
And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things (D&C 88:67).
To receive of God’s light within us we need to be open to him, and receive his grace in all that we do, and all that we are. The analogy that I found surrounded a mirror and its relationship to God’s light:
…the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. It is like a mirror which, although clear, polished and brilliant, is still in need of light. Until a ray of the sun reflects upon it, it cannot discover the heavenly secrets.
The analogy suggests that we are unique among all of creation in reflecting the attributes of God. Each one of us can reflect the attributes in a way that they are able to clean the mirrors that are within their hearts. This cleansing, or development of attributes takes place through prayer, through study of the scriptures, and through a living of Gospel principles. As we transform ourselves we are able to transform society. This gives us a greater responsibility to love; to love God and to love others. There is also the possibility that if we do bad things, or fail to do good things, we can tarnish the mirror and God finds it harder to reflect his attributes through us. Don’t get me wrong we may slip from time to time, but if we are abiding in Christ and truly finding refuge in him then we will evidence that in the way that we live our lives. Elder Holland refers to uncivility and ways of living contrary to the commandments of God that will remove the peace of the Saviour from our lives. In promising that we will find peace, not as the world giveth, the Lord is promising more than an absence of noise, but a life, that despite the noise of others will be balanced and in perspective. The Lord’s peace is an active force in our lives that we should seek as we emulate him.
It is incumbent on us as disciples of Jesus Christ to live after the manner of peace. This does not mean that we don’t challenge iniquity, but that we do it in a manner that reflects the attributes of the Saviour. Elder Holland explains what that will mean for each of us:
In the cold, uncaring confinement of Liberty Jail, [Joseph Smith] was taught that the principles of righteousness included such virtues as patience, long-suffering, gentleness, and love unfeigned. Absent those principles, it was certain we would eventually face discord and enmity.
Looking back to Peter’s experience we must focus on the Saviour and not on the noise around us. Elder Holland warns us of focusing on the noise:
In matters of covenantal purity, the sacred is too often being made common and the holy is too often being made profane. To any who are tempted to walk or talk or behave in these ways—“as the world giveth,” so to speak—don’t expect it to lead to peaceful experience; I promise you in the name of the Lord that it won’t.
We are called to be disciples of Christ every moment of every day; those are the covenants that we have made. Our relationship with Christ affects every aspect of our lives. As disciples of Christ we see life and people differently, and most especially we act differently. Of all the places we should be disciples of Christ it is in our own homes. If our discipleship is a mask that we wear for the world, it will be in the home where the façade can slip most easily. It is in our homes where we feel most comfortable in being our true selves. It is here that it can be seen if we have truly received his image in our countenances, or whether it is only a mask we wear when it is convenient or on show. Elder Holland highlighted in his talk that “Everyone has the right to be loved, to feel peaceful, and to find safety at home.” We perhaps all know the poem about if a child lives with criticism they will learn to criticise. We should all take the opportunity to consider how our discipleship is reflected in our closest relationships.
As I think back to my childhood, I think about what I learned, although we lived in a home where ‘I love you’ was rarely, if ever said, was that our actions truly mattered. It’s a bit like the scene in Fiddler on the Roof where Tevye and Golde discuss the question: ‘Do you love me?’:
Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I’ve washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?…
And now I’m asking, Golde
Do you love me?
I’m your wife
But do you love me?
Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him
Fought with him, starved with him…
If that’s not love, what is?
Then you love me?
I suppose I do
And I suppose I love you too
It doesn’t change a thing
But even so
After twenty-five years
It’s nice to know
Our love is reflected in the small acts of each day, it is evidenced in the devotion and faithfulness we show each other. If we truly love those in our family, and indeed, everyone around us then we will do more than speak the words (though they are important), we will act in a way that shows our love of the Saviour and of the individual. We will not live and act in a way that is antithetical to the Gospel. Elder Holland is very clear on what this means in our homes:
… perhaps we see other forms of abuse or indignity. How doubly careful we have to be as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ not to participate in any such behaviour. In no case are we to be guilty of any form of abuse or unrighteous dominion or immoral coercion—not physical or emotional or ecclesiastical or any other kind. I remember feeling the fervour of President Gordon B. Hinckley a few years ago when he spoke to the men of the Church regarding those he called “tyrants in their own homes”:
“How tragic and utterly disgusting a phenomenon is wife abuse,” he said. “Any man in this Church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her is unworthy to hold the priesthood. … [He] is unworthy to hold a temple recommend.” Equally despicable, he said, was any form of child abuse—or any other kind of abuse…The promise of being a peacemaker is that you will have the Holy Ghost for your constant companion and blessings will flow to you “without compulsory means” forever. No one can employ a sharp tongue or unkind words and still “sing the song of redeeming love.”
This guidance applies to all of us: husbands, wives, mothers, fathers and children. Abuse of any kind is abhorrent in the eyes of God. If any of us are guilty of this we must repent immediately. If any of us are victims of this, there is help available. The first step is to seek that help. No one should have to feel belittled or bullied in any area of their lives, let alone in the home. We might think that because abuse is not physical then it does not matter- but we are told to strengthen each other in all of our conversations. When I was about 11 an influence came into my life who told me I was rubbish; that I was worthless; that what I had to say was not worth listening to; and I would never amount to anything. This continued for a period of about 4 years, and for some reason despite others who said differently this person had a huge impact on my life. Some of these words still echo in my mind as I encounter new situations. Please consider how we speak to others, and repent if we need to. You may think this may not apply to you at the moment, but thinking back on my time serving as a Bishop and other callings in the last twenty years, I have met people whose abuse began during their courtship prior to marriage. Abuse of any kind is abhorrent in whatever form of relationship.
Returning back to the promise of peace I often think of the scriptural phrase to ‘stand blameless before God’- maintaining our relationship with God, being still and finding refuge with Him enables us to stand confidently in his presence. An image of the Saviour that we find in the scriptures helps us understand how safe abiding in Christ can be:
Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.
Being encircled in the arms of his love is the refuge and the peace that we can find. In finding this refuge and peace for ourselves we can also express that peace in the way that we live and the way that we treat other people. We can find this peace in greater abundance if we take the opportunities in our lives to ‘be still’ and to tune out the noise of the world. We must take opportunities in our lives each day to ‘Be still’ and commune with God. As I have studied, prayed and striven to emulate my Saviour, I have found myself in greater abundance. The scriptures promise us that through giving our all to the Lord, we will be blessed:
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it (Luke 9:23-24).
What this has meant for me, is that I take this time in study, prayer and worship. Whether that is in the home, the chapel or the Temple. This world, and our lives, is in sore need of peace. This week I was invited to give a lecture about well-being and although I was able to suggest lots of things, I realised that for me true peace comes through my relationship with my Saviour Jesus Christ.