“I Will Arise and Go to My Father”


Neal A. Maxwell
The following three addresses were given at the 2 May 1993 Priesthood Commemoration Fireside held at the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

“I Will Arise and Go to My Father”

Though I will speak primarily to fathers, the young men listening are far too sharp to miss very much. Besides, the very word father is incomplete without adding mothers, daughters, and, especially tonight, sons!

As we celebrate the Restoration, let us consider, brethren, how all that “came back” actually constituted an invitation to “come home”! Our Father’s invitation was accompanied by the restoration of all the implementing priesthood keys, authority, ordinances, and doctrines.

Also, with the Restoration there came a clear understanding of our true identities and with this a sense of everlasting community. We know who we are and where our “home” really is. Hence, life, when properly lived, is really a journey “back home.” In this narrow sense, we are somewhat like the prodigal son. As we come to ourselves, we, too, with determination will say, “I will arise and go to my father.” (Luke 15:18.)

Isn’t it marvelous to ponder how much the Prophet Joseph Smith learned throughout the extended process of restoring the holy apostleship, the holy priesthood, the holy endowment, the holy sealing power. But young Joseph, whose impact would become global, merely went into the Sacred Grove to find out which local church he should join! How generous God is!

For us as holders of the priesthood, in addition to leading our families back home, what is to be our life’s further focus? The Prophet Joseph Smith’s inspired rendering of a familiar biblical verse added some key words: “Seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (JST, Matt. 6:38, emphasis added; compare Matt. 6:33.) No wonder a wise man said, “If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.” We will never know the Keeper of the celestial gate’s welcoming embrace if we now embrace, instead, the things of the world! (See 2 Ne. 9:41; Morm. 5:11; Morm. 6:17.)

Of course, we can be content with being numbered among the “honorable” terrestrials. (D&C 76:75.) Instead, however, my brothers, each of us, as a spirit son of our Heavenly Father, has been invited to become “the man of Christ.” (Hel. 3:29; see also Heb. 12:9.) Hence, no temporary designation, no other way of being known here on earth, should take precedence.

For instructive perspective, please recall that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was once known by His townspeople merely as “the carpenter’s son” and later by others as “Jesus of Nazareth.” But these designations did not reflect Christ’s full and true identity. Jesus is the Lord of the universe! He created this and so many other worlds! (See D&C 76:24; Moses 1:33.)

Similarly, therefore, for the brief season of our existence on earth, we may serve as a plumber, professor, farmer, physician, mechanic, bookkeeper, or teacher. These are useful and honorable designations. But a temporary vocation is no more reflective of our true identities than is calling an eagle in embryo an egg! Matthew was a tax collector, Luke a physician, and Peter a fisherman. In one sense, so what! My earthly father is nearly ninety-one. For much of his life, he was a diligent bookkeeper. But that is not who he really is! He is a faithful husband and father and will be forever. I, his only son, thank him for his meek example and for all else written in the Lord’s Book of Life about him who was once a bookkeeper.

However, even when you and I come to understand our true identities, God loves us too much to let us be content with what we have achieved spiritually up to now, because He is a perfect Father. He knows what we have the power to become, and He has His special ways of being lovingly insistent.

Magnifying our callings in the holy priesthood signifies our willingness to be further tutored and trained in order to become “the man of Christ.” The more we become like Jesus, the more useful we are to Him.

Hence, the various offices we hold in the priesthood should not be seen as limitations but as invitations. Yes, a priest helps to prepare and bless the sacred sacrament. Yes, a teacher assists. Yes, a deacon passes the sacred emblems of the sacrament. But to regard these important and recurring duties as embodying the entirety of the Aaronic Priesthood would be like regarding the title page of the Book of Mormon as the whole book!

To magnify one’s calling means seeing with the eyes of faith the enlarged possibilities of priesthood service to one’s family, flock, friends, and others. After all, the same power of God which brought into existence “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33) can likewise enrich our little universes of individual experience!

Thus, if you and I would ponder the possibilities inherent in the priesthood, we would not use the phrase “holder of the priesthood” quite so casually, as if it meant only some passive possession or status.

Of the great invitation we have received to “come home,” the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “If you wish to go where God is, you must be like God, or possess the principles which God possesses.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 216.) King Benjamin was specific in saying that if one wishes to become a Saint, he must become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19.)

If the great gifts of the Restoration are not thus changing our individual lives, brethren, as we go through the necessary and often repetitive chores of the kingdom, there is so much less to celebrate on such an occasion as this.

The more I see of life, brethren, the more I see why there is such a scriptural stress on submissiveness, meekness, and humility. The dangers flowing from an excess of ego are so constant and real. If we would but place an ego screen over all our thoughts, words, and actions before they hurt others or embarrass us! If we are steadily becoming more and more “the man of Christ,” the mesh in that ego screen will become finer and finer, and fewer and fewer things will slip through to harm.

Properly answering some questions may help us to become more as Christ, even as we recognize and appreciate all the service you render, for which I thank you on behalf of the Brethren!

  • How perceptibly are we developing the cardinal qualities enumerated by King Benjamin?

  • Fathers and grandfathers, what will our sons and grandsons learn from us about gospel doctrines? Or do we depend entirely upon church classrooms to teach the doctrines?

  • How well do we understand the plan of salvation as we handle disappointments in life? Can we partake of our tiny bitter cups without becoming bitter?

  • How often do we render quiet Christian service?

  • Husbands, fathers, and grandfathers, how consistently do we show our love and respect for our mothers, wives, daughters, and for all women? There is no real manhood without real respect for womanhood! No man can be exalted who demeans women. Surely no man who is brutal or disrespectful to a wife or mother or any woman is worthy of his priesthood! A lack of sufficient love for our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters constitutes a major failure for which no other successes can ever fully compensate! Since our sons and grandsons will treat women much as we do, what kind of generational pattern are we building?

One seldom-mentioned reason for keeping the commandments is that we then become genuinely happier with ourselves; otherwise, when we are unhappy with ourselves, as we all know, the grim tendency is to pass our misery along, including to mothers, wives, and families.

To value women includes respecting their special insights. Valuing requires respectful, but not condescending listening not only in our families but in ward and stake councils.

Some of us men talk too much. This is risky for several reasons, one of which Brigham Young identified, saying “You cannot hide the heart, when the mouth is open.” (Journal of Discourses, 6:74; see also James 1:26; James 3:5–6.) Fortunately, the hearts of those who are becoming the men of Christ are improving; and sometimes it requires a “mighty change” in us (Alma 5:14), but this change finally brings about the marvelous and enhancing authority of example.

The best thing we men can do to ensure that we are proper husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers is to be in the process of becoming the men of Christ! If we are moving in the direction of becoming more loving, meek, humble, patient, long-suffering, kind, and gentle, then those we lead will be safe with us, and we will be leading our families and flocks more as Christ leads the Church! (See Eph. 5:23.)

The virtues being cited are always the most needed for living in close quarters anyway. It’s there we experience and endure each other’s imperfections! This is one reason why patience is such a cardinal virtue, especially in families.

With regard to our small world of families and flocks, how wonderful it would be, brethren, if it could be correctly said of each of us, as is correctly said of our Father, that “he doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world.” (2 Ne. 26:24.) Would that we’d not do “anything save it be for the benefit” of our family, friends, and flocks!

As we move along the pathway on the journey back home, it is only fair to acknowledge that even with all of its resultant blessings, faithfulness will bring some special challenges. All have trials. However, President John Taylor said that sometimes “God tries people according to the position they occupy.” (In Journal of Discourses, 24:197–98.) Similarly, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The higher the authority, the greater the difficulty of the station.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 113.) It seems God is always stretching those who meekly serve Him most. At times, His best pupils experience the most rigorous and continuous courses! Eventually, each father or son who proves to be a “man of Christ” will thereby become a distinguished alumnus of life’s school of affliction, graduating with honors. This is a wintry doctrine, but a true one.

The scriptures provide candid “snapshots” of the men of the holy priesthood while in the process of their own development. Like some of you, Abraham came from a family with several generations of fathers who had been “turned from their righteousness.” (Abr. 1:5.) Abraham, filled with divine discontent, sought and found “greater happiness.” (Abr. 1:2.)

The scriptural snapshots of Peter, who was already good, show him growing visibly amid the pain of learning. What a wonderful message Peter’s life is to us all!

Amulek was very successful but busy, having been “called many times” but without responding. (Alma 10:4, 6.) Then, humbly, he proved willing to be tutored by Alma.

In all things, brethren, Jesus is our great Exemplar. He suffered “temptations of every kind,” but He “gave no heed unto them.” (Alma 7:11; D&C 20:22.) Instead of dismissing temptations as Jesus did, it is giving heed to them which gets so many in trouble! My mission president used to say we may not always be able to keep an evil thought from entering our minds, but we don’t have to offer it a chair and invite it to sit down!

Young men, beware of any group which requires that you alienate yourself from God in order to belong. Do not rely on the arm of flesh even when it is impressively pumped full of steroids! Be careful, too, of any rites of social passage, if these are the very passages which lead down to the gulf of misery and woe. (See Hel. 3:29; Hel. 5:12.)

Finally, brethren of the holy priesthood, consider how long ago you were actually called to this wondrous priesthood. In Alma we read, “This is the manner after which they were ordained—being called and prepared from the foundation of the world according to the foreknowledge of God, on account of their exceeding faith and good works.” (Alma 13:3; emphasis added.) Brethren, it happened a long, long time ago!

Let us be true to those foreordinations. Let us journey “home” complete with our wives and sons and daughters. Jesus has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. Meanwhile, however, there may be some dark days. I commend for your consideration a story out of ancient Greece, when a small band of Spartans courageously held a mountain pass at a place called Thermopylae against overwhelming numbers of the enemy. The enemy sought unsuccessfully to dislodge them and finally tried a little psychological warfare, saying to the Spartans, “We have so many archers in our army, we can darken the skies with our arrows,” to which the Spartans replied, “So much the better! Then we shall fight in the shade!” (See J. B. Bury, A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, New York: The Modern Library, 1913, p. 264.)

There may be some shade ahead of you, my young brethren. There was some shade for me, as an eighteen-year-old priest. Mine occurred on the island of Okinawa as a not very skilled and not very brave soldier. But in the foxhole, I blessed my sacrament as I’d been taught to do, using a biscuit out of the C rations. I wasn’t always sure when it was Sunday, but I’d been trained and had been taught, and my congregation was a congregation of one. Carried with me in my pack was a smudged carbon copy of my patriarchal blessing, which I would read from time to time for inspiration and reassurance. That was forty-eight springs ago. I’ve since had the privilege of going back to Okinawa for a stake conference. When it’s shady, that’s the time to remember what Nephi said: When we don’t understand the meaning of what’s happening to us or around us, even so, he said we can know that God loves us. (See 2 Ne. 4:20–35.) Of that love I testify. May it beckon all of us back home. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[illustration] Illustrated by Robert Anderson McKay