Finding Joy in Following the Lord

Members share their experiences as they have tried to follow the example of the Lord in their own lives.

The gospel taught by our Savior is a gospel of action. He commands us to exercise faith (see Mark 11:22–24), repent (see Mark 1:15; 3 Ne. 9:22), be baptized (see John 3:5), receive the Holy Ghost (see John 20:22; D&C 84:64), make and keep sacred covenants with him (see D&C 98:14; D&C 136:4), and endure in obedience, living as he would (see 2 Ne. 31:10–21; 3 Ne. 27:27).

His commandments, however, are more than guides to future exaltation; they are also invitations to blessings that a loving Father is eager to bestow on us now. Members throughout the Church have tasted of those blessings. Following are thoughts and experiences of a few who have weighed the impact on their lives—and on their roles in life—of trying to follow the teachings and example of the Lord.

As an Individual

Dee Jones, Chiloquin, Oregon. For eighteen years, my husband and I lived in a high, remote area near Oregon’s Crater Lake. He was a logging truck owner, and our “driveway” was nine miles of unimproved Forest Service roads. There were many weeks each winter when I could not get to church, though my husband did all he could to make it possible. I missed church terribly and felt deeply my need to share in the warmth and spirit found in meetings.

Realizing my need for the Spirit and the Lord’s love in my life, I knew my testimony could slip away unless I put forth great effort to keep it strong. Therefore, every Sunday that I was forced to remain at home, I tried to do what I would be doing if I were at church; sometimes I even put on my Sunday clothes. On the first Sunday of the month, I fasted and read conference talks from the Ensign for the three hours of our meeting block. On other Sundays, I would sing a hymn and have a prayer at 9:00 A.M., then study the Relief Society lesson. At 10:00, I would study the Gospel Doctrine lesson. For sacrament meeting at 11:00, I had my opening hymn and prayer, then read the sacrament prayers and pondered the meaning of the sacrament, often picturing in my mind the Savior and contemplating his sacrifice for me. In place of hearing the talks, I would read about the prophets, or read from other Church books in my library.

The last winter of our eighteen-year isolation was the most confining of all. I was especially grateful for the Sabbath day worship habits I had formed and for my efforts to keep the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I was able to keep my testimony strong and be right in step with other members (even on the same lessons) when I finally did get back to church. I’m grateful for the sustaining influence of the Spirit I felt through those long winters as I tried to stay close to Heavenly Father and his Son.

Name Withheld, Las Vegas Nevada. I was taught that in order to be like our Savior, I must put him first in my life. But that goal always seemed a bit vague to me. Then a comment by a friend some years ago helped me identify a few ways I could put the Savior first in my actions by choosing to do the things I thought the Lord would do first: pay my tithing and offerings promptly when I should; pray and study the scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon); visit early in the month those I home teach; and work on my Church calling before other activities.

As I did these things, my life became happier. My actions became stepping-stones for spiritual progress toward the goal of knowing and being like our Savior. In my continuing pursuit of this goal, I have added several other ways in which I try to put him first in my actions. One of them is to ask myself first, “What would the Lord do?” Then I ask myself how I can best follow his example when I face the continuing challenges of life.

As a Spouse

Serena Biddulph, Logan, Utah. Looking back in my journal, I find an entry of a few years ago—“Life has been really hard this year.” That was the year my husband and I realized that we were not as happy as we could be because we were often impatient or inconsiderate with each other and we were not making a daily effort to draw closer to the Lord. We were not reaching out to our Father through the Savior in our prayers and scripture study, we were not attending the temple regularly, and we did not emulate Christ’s example of serving others.

In talking over these problems, we settled on a plan to resolve them. We took as our guide Doctrine and Covenants 88:119 [D&C 88:119]: “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” We set goals tailored to our own situation to help us obey this scriptural counsel. For example, we chose one day of the week when we would make time to attend a temple session, one day when we would reserve time solely for service to others (though it was not limited to that day), and one day when we would work on keeping our house nice. Every day of the week we focused to a degree on a different quality we needed to develop.

In following these goals, we truly did become closer to the Lord. We were happy! No longer was my journal filled with complaints about my day. Rather, I expressed love for my husband and hope in dealing with the daily trials we faced. And I had some special, personal spiritual experiences, including receiving a deeply rooted testimony of the Book of Mormon that I had longed to have. We learned that if we strive daily to live as the Savior taught, we will be blessed with a happy outlook, stronger testimonies, and firmer faith.

Mike and Lisa Nelson, Sacramento, California. (Mike:) One of the things I appreciate most about the way the Savior treated others was his patience. As I interact with my wife, patience brings peace into our home.

Because of this one thing, I can see that I should spend more time thinking about trying to be Christlike in our marriage relationship. Our relationship is strong in that we talk about our feelings. My wife is very forgiving. We get over our problems and go on. I might not see eye to eye with her on certain issues, but I try to give the same respect to her ideas that I hope she gives to mine.

(Lisa:) I try to think about my husband before myself. Jesus always served others, and as I try to follow that example in serving my husband, our relationship is better. Even the ordinary, daily things I do to serve him seem to strengthen our relationship. He likes sports and I don’t, so when we were first married, it was hard for me to take part. But as I continued to do them, I grew to like some of them.

I appreciate the things he does to honor his priesthood. He makes sure that the gospel and the Savior are the center of all we do. This is something that we both feel is important, but it’s wonderful to have a spouse who works at it.

As a Parent

Valerie D. Carlson, Newport Beach, California. One of the most important and rewarding commitments I have made as I try to follow the Savior is to attend faithfully all of my Church meetings. However, sacrament meetings have been something of a challenge for my husband and me during the past few years as we have been blessed with healthy, active children. Most ward members have shown only love toward our young family, but our struggles with our children during sacrament meetings occasionally have been made more frustrating by sighs of disapproval or harsh looks from others seated nearby.

Once as I was thinking about this difficulty with our children, I reread the account in the Book of Mormon of the Savior’s visit to the Nephites, concentrating on 3 Nephi 17:11–25 and 26:13–16 [3 Ne. 17:11–25; 3 Ne. 26:13–16]. I was reminded of Christ’s love for little children and was impressed that it is our Father’s will that children be allowed in our sacrament meetings, not only because it is our duty to teach them the gospel, but because we benefit by the presence of their pure spirits. We must “suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto [Christ]” (Matt. 19:14) if we are to truly follow him.

The Sunday following my review of these scriptures, I went to sacrament meeting with a new determination to take responsibility for my own reverence, to find spiritual fulfillment in receiving the sacrament and hearing the speakers, and to find joy in having my children with me. My children seemed to respond positively to my new attitude. They were still wiggly, and the 22-month-old still needed to be taken out of the meeting for a short walk because I know a noisy child can alter for many people the reverence in a meeting. But I found spiritual refreshment in sacrament meeting rather than frustration. I hope that as I and my children get older, I will remember my own challenges and be slow to judge others.

Name Withheld, Arizona. The serious problems we experienced with two of our children were extremely challenging, emotionally and spiritually. It seemed that some of the dreams my husband and I shared for our family had turned to nightmares. During our most extreme difficulties, family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening became more entrenched in our lives as we clung to these spiritual practices for comfort and guidance.

The love and kindness of priesthood leaders and others around us helped us get through our outward trials, and as time passed, we seemed to others to be healing. Inside, however, I had begun to experience grave feelings of doubt in my ability as a full-time mother. Faced with the devastating (and, yes, humiliating) results of my years of motherly service, I began to see myself as a total failure whose best efforts would never be good enough to qualify me for exaltation.

I didn’t realize it, but I had been gauging my success as a mother in terms of my children’s actions. I felt that if my children achieved, it was because of me; and if they failed, it was because of me. The calamities we were experiencing made me feel that my Father in Heaven found me to be completely unacceptable and unlovable and that this was his way of making it clear to me. Yet I knew that the only hope for those I loved was through the gospel, and that the Atonement could be effective for them, so I continued trying to help them move forward in the gospel. I hoped that Father in Heaven would not penalize my children for having me, a seeming failure, as their mother. These and many other despairing thoughts and feelings that don’t make sense to me now coursed through my mind then, in the aftermath of our family’s struggle.

In this period of bleakness, my husband and I continued to attend the temple, and it was there one day that something miraculous happened in my life. In one brief moment, by some means I still do not understand, I was changed from an empty, hollow person to one filled—even consumed—with a knowledge of the love my Father and my Savior have for me. I knew, nothing doubting, that Jesus Christ did indeed love me, that his atonement is for all mankind, and that I am personally known and cherished by him.

I treasure this certainty that our Savior “loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation” (2 Ne. 26:24; emphasis added). I no longer measure my children’s achievements against others’ to prove my worthiness. Instead, I devour the scriptures and pray constantly that I may not falter and that I might be able to serve others who are struggling. I hope that my actions will be a measure of my testimony of the blessings of following the Lord Jesus Christ.

William J. Doll, Boynton Beach, Florida. I do not believe that I would have been able to withstand the intense adversity of the past few years, including the death of a daughter, if I had not been blessed with rich spiritual experiences in my life. These experiences have continually strengthened my faith in our Heavenly Father and in our Savior, but I believe they would not have come if I had not been attempting to obey prophetic counsel with regard to my family.

President Howard W. Hunter counseled husbands and fathers: “Your first obligation is to get your own spiritual life in order through regular scriptural study and daily prayer. … Take seriously your responsibility to teach the gospel to your family through regular family home evening, family prayer, devotional and scripture-reading time, and other teaching moments” (Ensign, Nov. 1994, p. 51).

By applying this counsel, we have been able to withstand the adversity that comes into our lives.

As a Neighbor

Susan B. Day, Bountiful, Utah. The first snowfall weighed heavily on me, just as it did on the bright marigolds outside, seeming to press down on my spirit. Suffering from a deep depression that would not leave, I had seen doctors and was taking medication, but it had not helped. It seemed I could not live through another winter of gray sky and dark feelings.

But instead of crawling back into bed, I knelt beside it. I had not prayed in a long time because the depression made me feel unworthy to approach our Father in prayer, as though I were someone he could not possibly care about. On this day, I could only sob over and over, “Heavenly Father, please help me; send someone to help me.”

As I finished my prayer, I wondered whom he would send. Instead, immediately a thought came to my mind: Go help Julie. Tend her boys once a week.

Why would I want to do that? Julie had five boys under eight. My own children were grown. I was through with diapers and runny noses. I voiced my objections to the thought out loud, even though I knew in my heart it had come in answer to prayer.

I resisted that inspired idea for weeks, though I continued to pray for help. Each time I prayed, I was prompted to read in the New Testament about Christ’s ministry and to serve with charity as he did. Then one night I was touched by the story of the blind man whose eyes Jesus anointed with clay, telling him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The blind man did this simple thing and came away with his sight, healed (see John 9:1–7).

The next morning I was at Julie’s door. I expected that she would refuse my offer to take her boys one day a week; after all, she didn’t know me very well. But I found instead that I was an answer to her prayers. She had been praying for a way to find some time to herself without imposing on someone else.

Again I prayed for help. Julie’s prayers had been answered, but I still felt overwhelmed and depressed.

What happened the first time I took her boys was unexpected. Instead of having to deal with noise, mess, and destruction, I found myself reading stories to them. We played and baked cookies. I realized as I rocked the baby that I had forgotten how important motherhood is because my own children were not dependent on me anymore. A much-needed feeling of worth as a mother came back to me.

I continued tending Julie’s sons (eventually she added a sixth one) every Monday for months that turned into years. Julie needed me, and I needed the boys.

During those years, Julie’s mother, a trained counselor, helped me battle my depression and find again feelings of eternal worth. Julie’s husband became our bishop and, with love and patience, helped me overcome my depression and the dependency I had developed on some of the prescription drugs I was taking. He helped me open spiritual doors, and the love of the Lord filled my heart and soul.

Today I look back and see that help came because I listened to our Father and followed his Son.

In Church Callings

Name Withheld, Ontario, Canada. I was given a glimpse of Christlike charity in action by a former bishop.

On one occasion, a friend of mine who was experiencing financial difficulties requested financial help from the Church. Having received this help myself, I knew that certain conditions set down by the Lord needed to be met. For some reason, my friend apparently did not meet these conditions. His request was denied.

Immediately his attitude toward our bishop became belligerent. He even went so far as to complain to stake leaders about the treatment he had received. His heart did not soften even after an anonymous gift of groceries appeared on his doorstep. What made this gift so poignant was its source; I knew it had come from our bishop’s own family storage.

Even though the other man said and did many hurtful things, the bishop continued to love and care for him. Like that of the Savior, the bishop’s capacity to love and his desire to help were bigger and stronger than any hurt he endured. Eventually, the brother who had been so angry was able to humble himself and go to the bishop to ask forgiveness, to assure him that the bishop’s decision had been wise, and to thank him for his patience.

Denise Marchant, Omaha, Nebraska. I had recently been baptized when my husband and I moved to North Carolina in 1989, and I needed the influence of a loving, patient teacher who could help me better understand gospel principles. I found that person in our Gospel Doctrine teacher in Greensboro.

His lessons created a spiritual climate that allowed me to receive many impressions from the Holy Ghost about the truthfulness of the doctrine. The teacher encouraged us to ask questions and to bear testimony to one another, and his clear instruction helped me build a base of gospel knowledge.

Outside the classroom, he magnified his calling as a Latter-day Saint. In the year that we lived in Greensboro, I saw him reach out to many people. His use of the priesthood in our behalf helped my husband and me see its value in a home, and his teaching helped me appreciate my patriarchal blessing. He and his wife welcomed us into family activities. In their family prayers, the testimonies borne by their children, and the love we felt encircling us, we recognized the influence of a Christ-centered home and saw what our family could become.

Every aspect of his life reflected a Christlike attitude. Even though we now live far away from him, he is still a friend and an influence in our lives.

In a Career

Jerry Abram, Bentonville, Arkansas. As an insurance salesman, I have sat across the desk from people when all I had to do was nod my head or say, “Let’s do it,” and we would have had a deal. But I could not go ahead because I knew it was not right for them. I pictured my own mother and father sitting there and thought about what I would want someone to do in their case. I thought about what the Savior would want me to do.

My philosophy has been simple since I found the gospel: my life would be useless if I couldn’t be doing something for someone else. I don’t get much happiness unless I’m helping my wife, my family, my partner, or somebody else.

Andrea Ernesto Varini, Hartford, Connecticut. One very difficult challenge in my life is to set my priorities correctly. I would be happy to be a husband and a father twenty-four hours a day. I would enjoy serving in the Church twenty-four hours a day. I also enjoy working at my business, and today’s economic climate demands hard work if the company I own is to remain competitive. But family and Church must also be important priorities. That is what the Lord teaches us, and if there is a decision to be made, it should be made on this basis. I recently cut short a business trip to come home so I could see my daughter in a high school program; being with her was very important to me.

Devon M. Taylor, Regina, Saskatchewan. The pressures of my new job far from company headquarters were tremendous. I discovered soon after I arrived that I was unwelcome, having been forced on local management by the head office. I was an outsider.

Figuratively, barriers were often placed in my way at work, and literally, files that I had prepared and needed in order to complete my assignments would disappear from my desk. Extended searches would not turn them up. Then I would offer heartfelt prayers to my Father in Heaven for help, and I would be led to remote drawers, filing cabinets, or storage boxes where the files would be found.

Through it all, I tried to behave toward the people around me in the manner I thought the Lord would want. In my moments of greatest distress, I often felt a warmth in my heart that helped me not to be discouraged. I had reason to be deeply grateful for the love I felt from our Heavenly Father during this period.

As I continued on this path, I saw a positive change in values take place in one of the executives who had made things so difficult for me. When I was eventually transferred back to the headquarters office, he grasped my hand in both of his and, holding it tightly, thanked me for what I had accomplished and for being who I was. But I knew the credit for any change in him because of my behavior was not mine. It belonged to the One whose example I had tried to follow.

Betty Owens, Brisbane, Australia. I work in a nursing home serving elderly people. At times my job can be difficult and trying. Much of what I do entails giving complete physical care to residents who, because of their medical conditions, are unable to respond in any way.

One day, though, as I attended to their needs, I tried to think of each one as if he or she represented the Savior—as if I were serving Jesus the way he suggested in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40). I felt an outpouring of love for each of those patients, and they were more responsive to me.

And I have found that this approach can be tried in all kinds of situations with those I meet from day to day. I know that if we lose ourselves in service, we can feel the love of the Lord working through us to bless the lives of others.

Throughout the Church, members are learning lessons like these as they try to live by the Savior’s pattern. By obedience to his teachings and example, those who follow him become shapers of eternity, both for themselves and for others.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson; posed by models