Over a year ago I received the most important letter of my life, although I did not realize it at the time. That letter read, in part:
“I would like to give you this personal invitation to join with the elders quorum at priesthood meeting each Sunday morning and to mingle with your neighbors. They are a group of fine men.
“In addition, I am personally inviting you to come and see me at your convenience. … I will give you what time you need to discuss any phase of the Church. I would like to assist you in any way that I can. …
“Please phone me.”
G. Phillip Margetts, President
Salt Lake East Millcreek Stake
What a beautiful expression of care and concern for the welfare of my family and me! Yet I did nothing about that letter for nearly 13 months.
Why no response of an immediate nature on my part? There were several reasons—or excuses. Being 49 and a behavioral scientist, how could I go to priesthood meeting with men primarily young enough to be my sons? What could I possibly gain from discussions, under these circumstances, on such lesson topics as: Patriarch in Your Own Home, Power through Love, Is Your Wife a Partner?, Disagreements Can Be Resolved, What Kind of Dad Are You?, Wanted: Respect and Honor, or Are You the Leader?
But the real reason I didn’t respond quickly to President Margetts’s invitation, simply put, was that I had been out of step with the Church for many years. In spite of numerous attempts by my bishopric and my elders quorum presidency to fellowship me and I am thankful that they persisted—I was not only a sinner, but a stiffnecked one as well.
In late February, 1973, I had the opportunity of visiting my lovely daughter and her family at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Of special interest to me was seeing and playing with my two little grandchildren; the youngest I had never seen before.
This little family was and is 100 percent in step with the gospel. Now, I was somewhat concerned about how I would spend my time when they were deeply involved in Church activities. What would I do about family home evening? You see, in spite of my son David’s repeated requests over the past ten years that we hold family home evening in our home, we had never done so. But I did resolve before going there that I would participate in all Church activities no matter how uncomfortable I might be.
I attended priesthood meeting with my son-in-law, who was the teacher that month of the elders quorum in the small Williamsburg (Virginia) Branch. I also went to all the other Sunday meetings, including fast and testimony meeting. Ah! did I feel out of place! But most of all, after listening to those fine Saints, I felt like a guilty imposter in their presence.
But in those meetings, I perceived something else as well—the people were happy, and I was not. They had genuine care and concern for each other in that little branch of the Church. But most importantly, I perceived an atmosphere of peace, love, and the attendant presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ. I was beginning to feel deep remorse at lost opportunities to experience the same atmosphere in my own ward.
To while away part of the time, I began to read all of President Brigham Young’s talks contained in the Journal of Discourses for a ten-year period. Talk about a behavioral scientist—I found that he ranked with the best the world has ever known! I was beginning to consider the possibility that, even at this late date, it might be possible for me to again be active in the Church, as I had been as a young boy.
I played with my grandson, who knew the name of every president of the Church and who could associate all the pictures and names correctly. I was amazed! This was and is a home where the gospel of Jesus Christ reigns supreme, and I soon began to envy Ann and Lynn and to experience real agony that I had not been a “patriarch in my own home.”
One day the fact hit me squarely between the eyes, so to speak, as I looked at my lovely grandchildren, my fine son-in-law, and my beautiful daughter, that unless I moved quickly to reorder my life to be consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, not only would I have them and my wonderful son, David, only a few more years at best, but also, more importantly, my lovely wife, Cleone, would not be mine throughout eternity. That night after going to bed in my grandson’s bed, which he wanted Grandpa to use, with him alongside me, the silent tears flowed, as they have done on so many occasions since then.
I knew then that I wanted the remainder of my life to be dominated by activity in the Church. But how and where would I begin?
One Monday at lunch, Lynn, my son-in-law, said, “Dad, at family home evening tonight would you tell us what you have learned from reading Brigham Young’s talks?”
I replied, “Yes, if you will speak on the doctrine of repentance.”
I was startled by my own statement! He said he would be glad to do so. That afternoon was a long one indeed for me. But that evening when Lynn began to talk, he spoke as a man inspired. I’ve never heard him before or since speak so directly, so concisely, so eloquently, and with such humility.
He told me the specific things that I was to do from then on: pay my tithing, read the scriptures daily, go to all appropriate Church meetings, and do home teaching. In addition, he named two specific individuals whose forgiveness I was to seek for past wrongs, although he couldn’t detail the wrongs—but I knew them! When I later told one of the men whom he had named why I was there he replied: “Yes, I had been told that you would come.” But my son-in-law was not the person who told him! I know who did tell him, and He is not of this world.
In addition, Lynn gave me two books to read that would provide me with other specifics; they were President Spencer W. Kimball’s Faith Precedes the Miracle and The Miracle of Forgiveness. Upon reading them both, I felt they were written just for me. I would recommend them to anyone who is trying to repent. They will help anyone to weather the “ordeal of repentance,” for that is exactly what it is—an ordeal. It should be, since gospel justice must be served, or God would indeed be unjust and discriminatory, which he will never be for anyone, saint or sinner. He loves us all.
Upon returning home I resolved that no matter how difficult or how lonely the experience might be, I would keep on the quiet course of repentance to the best of my ability. This meant that I would not only dwell in the “household of faith” daily, but that I would also endure to the end. I realize now what President Ezra Taft Benson meant when he said 20 years ago at a priesthood meeting that he would rather be a deacon in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than the Secretary of Agriculture, and he said it with tears rolling down his cheeks.
On my first Sunday home I arrived at the ward chapel, in somewhat of a “lather,” five minutes before priesthood meeting began. No one was there except a man practicing the organ and a ward clerk, who assured me that priesthood meeting would begin at 8:00 A.M. I took a seat on the back row of the center section—my heart pounding and full of uncertainty as to what kind of a reception I would receive. Soon John Anderson of the Ninth Ward bishopric came up and said, “Reed, it is good to see you.” Then E. Farnes Berntsen, another member of the bishopric, did likewise.
The chapel began to fill, and in a moment I heard another voice say, “Reed, how good to see you!” I turned, and coming toward me on crutches was Bishop Paul L. Swensen. He shook hands with me, and I thought I detected extra moisture in his eyes; but perhaps it was just in mine, for my eyes were misty. People cared about me, and expressed it, and so it has been ever since that Sunday morning in March, 1974, with the Ninth Ward members.
I went to class, following the younger men, for I didn’t know where the elders quorum met. To my surprise, over one-fourth of the membership were men close to my age! The lesson title, as I recall it, was, “Patriarch in Your Own Home.” How appropriate for me, since the lesson objective was:
“The priesthood holder should feel motivated to give serious consideration to his responsibilities as a patriarch of his home so that he will be prepared to make proper use of the powers and privileges of the priesthood in his family unit.”
What a timely lesson for me, and what a treat the discussion was that Sunday morning. I was amazed at the knowledge and wisdom displayed by my associates, both young and middle-aged. Our teacher gave the best lesson on human interaction in the family I’ve ever heard. And just think, it was all free! Indeed, as President Margetts stated in his letter to me, my neighbors and members of the ninth quorum of elders “are a group of fine men.”
Afterwards I went home to get my wife for Sunday School. My next concern was, “Where do we go after opening exercises?”, for I didn’t know where we really belonged. This would be a simple matter for most of you, but it was a major problem for me. But there was a high councilor and his good wife who took us by the arm and escorted us to the Gospel Doctrine class—taught by a man young enough to be my son. But what a teacher! He was not only knowledgeable, but was also adroit at involving class members in discussion. What a treat going to Sunday School again has been for us!
I know our Heavenly Father will help prepare the way for anyone who wants to return to activity in the Church if he will but embrace the gospel as a little child, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Those who will try will be surprised at how often at critical times a friendly and encouraging word will be spoken, a timely article will appear in the New Era or Ensign, or how you’ll come into possession of a book that will help you regain a testimony of the gospel.
In my lifetime I have read several thousand books, but the top five, whose contents, when committed to daily practice, will lead one to the most wholesome and satisfying life, are the Book of Mormon, the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. And the fifth book is a recent one: Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s The Smallest Part. This book I recommend especially for anyone who fancies himself an intellectual, and who is about to begin or who has begun a course of action that will destroy rather than magnify the priesthood power with which he is directly or indirectly endowed.
And what destroys priesthood power? It is, as our 1973–74 course of study for Melchizedek Priesthood quorums made clear: to set our hearts on the things of this world, to aspire to the honors of men, to cover our sins, to gratify our pride, to gratify our vain ambition, or to exercise control, dominion, or compulsion in any degree of unrighteousness upon the souls of men.
In the near future, Cleone and I are looking forward to a temple marriage and the sealing of our children to us. No one who is seeking magnification of the Spirit of Christ can see the film Man’s Search for Happiness, shown several times daily on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, and not look forward to that day with great joy.
I pray that we will all, as President Harold B. Lee so frequently admonished, “stand in holy places,” so that we may reap the good, the full, and the satisfying life that the gospel of Jesus Christ promises to all faithful men and women. With only a few short years before me, I can only say, even at this late date, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:15.)