It had not been a good day for shopping. It was the first of December, and the mall was jammed with people like me who were desperately attempting to finish their Christmas shopping. There was too much noise and too much confusion, and selecting styles, sizes, and colors seemed to be more than I could handle.
It was later than I realized when I returned to my car, and I knew that I would have to hurry to have dinner ready so my husband and daughters could get to their various meetings and activities on time. Heavy traffic and a light cover of snow made driving hazardous, so I felt even more irritable as I quickly prepared our meal and rushed my family out the door.
After everyone had gone, tears came to my eyes as I thought about the tension and unhappiness I had felt throughout the day. Surely this isn’t the way I should prepare for Christmas, I thought. There must be something more important and more satisfying for me to do!
Hoping to find comfort, I turned to the scriptures and read the story of the Savior’s birth. Peace washed over me. Here was my answer: I would concentrate on finding the spiritual side of Christmas by reading the New Testament throughout the month.
Working toward that goal gave me great comfort. And it has continued to strengthen me since then. For the past seven years, I have made reading the New Testament a Christmas tradition. I now look forward to December and the new insights I gain each year. I have learned to better appreciate the Savior and what he did for me. Reading the New Testament has given me a new perspective on life. It has made me happier.
But reading the New Testament has brought me even more than peaceful holidays. The first change I noticed was that I felt I had a special secret in my heart that no one else could share. I looked forward to my private time with the scriptures. I could feel my love for the Savior increasing, my relationship with and understanding of him blossoming and growing. I knew that he was there to help me and to show me the way I should live.
My happiness and peace of mind spread to my family. My husband especially saw the change in me, and he was sensitive to what was causing it. He, too, started spending more time studying the scriptures, and we began reading and discussing them together. I appreciated his counsel as I tried to understand and appreciate what I was reading. I was kinder and more patient with my family as I tried to be a better wife, mother, and grandmother. Everyone began to feel the spirit that was so much a part of my life. We had more love in our home. We discussed ways that we could live more Christlike lives. We looked for more opportunities to help others.
Now that all of our daughters are married, I have been happy to observe that the spirit of Christlike love has spread to their homes, too. I remember spending the holidays with one daughter and her family who had decided to take an anonymous gift to a family in the ward on each of the twelve days before Christmas. The children loved deciding what the day’s gift would be and whose turn it was to deliver it. I think they were more excited about doing this than they were about any other part of the holiday! Their family has continued this tradition each year, and they have chosen friends and neighbors of other faiths, as well as Church members, to be the recipients. They are caught up in the spirit of giving.
At other times, some of our daughters’ children have made gifts for each other. The children have come up with all kinds of special services and treats to show their love. Our daughters work hard to avoid the commercialism of the Christmas season. I am continually pleased as I see a special love filling their homes.
Studying the New Testament has also helped me in my Church callings. I have always loved visiting teaching, but I had a hard time getting it done in December—the month went by so quickly and everyone was so busy. I also spent a lot of time planning a gift that would impress the sisters I visited. But my new understanding of Christlike love helped me recognize my real responsibility; the quality of my message and the true love that I felt for each sister became most important. I made my appointments early in the month. I prepared a simple gift to show my concern. But I spent most of my time preparing the message and a thought from my study of the New Testament.
These visits were a spiritual experience for me. Also, I could feel that I was able to help and inspire the sisters. I shared my goal with some of them and told them how my reading had helped and strengthened me. I was overjoyed to have some of them join me in reading.
The past three years have given me even greater insight into the blessings that the New Testament can bring. My husband was called to preside over the Fiji Suva Mission, and I had the happy assignment to serve with him. Before that, I had concentrated on the four Gospels and on the life of Christ in my reading, and I had hurried through the remaining books. But as I engaged in missionary service, the books from Acts to Revelation became more meaningful. I could relate to Paul, Timothy, and Barnabas—the missionaries who took the gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles in the surrounding nations. I could feel of their joys and frustrations. I thrilled as I read their testimonies and felt their devotion and patience as they taught the people.
Missionaries today need these same qualities to spread the gospel throughout the world. From these scriptures, I found inspirational messages to share with our elders and sisters to reassure them that even in New Testament times, missionaries had the same job and found the same joys and trials that we find in such service today.
Last year, I told our missionaries how studying the New Testament has helped me. I challenged them to use some of their personal study time to read and reflect on its teachings. Some of them read the story of the Savior’s birth; some of them read the Gospels; and some of them read more. As missionaries, they studied with an intensity that they had not felt before while reading the scriptures.
One elder told me that his study made him more aware of Christ and His mission. It was the first time he had thought about the frustration, sorrow, and pain that Christ must have felt as He labored with the people. The missionary could share a small part of this feeling as he worked with investigators. He also told me that his increased knowledge and testimony of the Savior helped him to teach with more patience and to use imagery and stories that were familiar to the people.
This approach was especially helpful because many of the investigators in our mission were not Christians, so they had no understanding of Christ and his mission. When elders and sisters taught with love, it helped people to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, to realize his importance in each of our lives, and to come to a knowledge that the Church is true.
Another missionary told me that he was working with a Fijian family who were Christians and active in their religion. He was reviewing with them the story of Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and how he suffered so greatly that blood came from his pores. The elder had recently read this story and was able to bear his testimony strongly about what Christ has done for us all.
Our mission gave us the chance to work with small branches of the Church. Many people lived long distances from the main body of the Saints, and because of this, problems developed. But those problems were the same ones Paul counsels about in the New Testament. His writings helped us teach the people in our branches about the ways of the Church and about how they can develop strong testimonies.
The truths I have learned as I have read and studied the New Testament have given me direction and purpose. They have instilled in me a desire to do all I can to further the Lord’s work. Jesus’ compassion and his love for all people give me courage to pattern my life after his and remind me that he will help each of us as we struggle with our everyday problems.
Second Nephi 32:3 says, “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” [2 Ne. 32:3] The New Testament has taught me how to feast.