I believe separations cause most of our sorrows. Likely most of us have our own stories to tell about painful separations. For me, one poignant memory involves the day I left home to begin my college education. I recall with sorrow that before I left, my mother and I had a disagreement. I don’t remember the reason, but I know I said something that hurt her feelings. As a result, she did not accompany my father and me to Logan, Utah, where I began my freshman year at Utah State University. In those first few days away from home, I experienced an aching loneliness because of the emotional distance that existed between my mother and me and the physical separation between my family and me. Although I later made friends at school and resolved the conflict with my mother, the feelings of loneliness I experienced with that separation are still poignant to me.
Another separation that is seared into my soul occurred many years later. By then I was married to my sweetheart, Bonnie, and we had become parents for the first time and were living in Illinois, where I was attending graduate school. An opportunity came for Bonnie and me to make a trip to Utah, where we would be able to introduce our son to his grandparents.
We had a wonderful visit, and then, all too soon, it was time to leave. As Dad and Mom accompanied us to the car to say good-bye, a strange feeling came over me that this was the last time I would see my father alive. I didn’t want to go. I had depended on Dad throughout my life for counsel and support. Besides Bonnie, he and Mom were my best friends, and the thought that we would be separated filled me with an almost overwhelming sadness. Dad may also have sensed the coming separation, because for the first time that I could remember, he had tears in his eyes. A few short months later, we received a telephone call telling us that Dad had died of a sudden heart attack.
Now, many years later, Bonnie and I are facing other kinds of separations. For example, we have watched our children leave home for missions and school and begin their own families. We are coming to better understand in a small way what Heavenly Father must experience when His children leave their heavenly home to begin their mortal education.
But none of the separations described thus far inflict the kind of pain that results from sin. Sin separates us from the presence of the Lord and the influence of the Holy Ghost. I conclude that our most painful separations are those that exist between ourselves and God and between ourselves and our more Christlike natures.
The Good News of the Gospel
One definition of the word gospel is “good news.” The good news is that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved from the separations that limit our joy and restrict our progress. When such separations are caused by sin, we are required to repent—a process that can be painful and arduous. But at the end of that process, how sweet are the blessings of being cleansed from sin and declared worthy to enter Heavenly Father’s presence.
Shortly after I was called to serve as president of the Lansing Michigan Stake, my counselors and I wrote a statement of purpose that we hoped would guide our efforts. The introduction to that statement read: “The essence of the gospel is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As we come to see the importance of the Atonement, we must also see the need to live the principles of the gospel, because only by living the principles of the gospel can we receive all of the blessings the Atonement makes possible. These blessings include being one with the Father and the Son, with our Christlike selves, and with others.”
Because of Christ’s Atonement, all people will be resurrected and have their bodies and spirits reunited. This is a universal gift. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). However, overcoming spiritual death and becoming reunited with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ require the Savior’s grace and our own best efforts. Nephi stated, “For we labor diligently to … persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23). Grace magnifies our own efforts to “draw near unto” Christ (D&C 88:63) and enables us to do things we could not do on our own. It aids us as we engage in the following actions, all of which help us overcome our separation from the Father and the Son and become one with Them.
Practice the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. The first principles and ordinances of the gospel are what we do to formally accept the blessings of Christ’s Atonement. They require that we exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that we repent by turning away from sin and turning to the commandments of God, and that we receive the ordinances of baptism and the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (see A of F 1:4). The Savior amplified our understanding of the first principles and ordinances with these words:
“And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world. …
“Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day” (3 Ne. 27:16, 20).
Let the Father’s will be our own. In the crucible of Gethsemane, Christ prayed, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt. 26:39). Then He yielded His will to that of His Father with His declaration, “Not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). The will of the Father was the will of the Savior. The Lord’s unity with the Father led Him to declare, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).
We become one with our Heavenly Father and the Savior when Their will becomes our will. Like Christ, we must be willing to declare, “Not my will, but thine, be done.”
Follow the Savior’s example. As disciples of Christ, we should follow His example, just as He followed the example of His Father. Christ declared, “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” (John 5:19). His commitment to follow the example of His Father led Him to teach, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). We become one with our Heavenly Father and the Savior when Christ’s life becomes the pattern for our own lives.
Become one with others. As we pattern our lives after Christ, we experience increased love for others. King Benjamin noted that once we “have known of [God’s] goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of [our] sins,” we then “will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due” (Mosiah 4:11, 13). In addition, we will provide for our children and teach them to obey the laws of God, to refrain from fighting and quarreling, and to love and serve others. Once we have tasted of the love of God, we too will reach out to succor those in need (see Mosiah 4:14–16). We can serve others and express our love to them by sharing the gospel with them and also by opening the door to gospel opportunities for the deceased by performing sacred temple ordinances for them.
The desire to lead others to the joy we feel comes naturally to those who partake of the sweet peace the gospel brings (see Hymns, no. 14). After the prophet Lehi partook of the fruit of the tree of life, he desired that his family might also partake (see 1 Ne. 8:12). The importance of sharing the fruit of the tree of life with others is taught by the Lord in blessings given to John and Peter Whitmer: “And now, behold, I say unto you, that the thing which will be of the most worth unto you will be to declare repentance unto this people, that you may bring souls unto me, that you may rest with them in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 15:6; D&C 16:6).
Do for others what we ask Heavenly Father to do for us. We become one with our Heavenly Father, the Savior, and our better selves when, insofar as we are able, we do for others what we ask Heavenly Father to do for us. This might be called the celestial rule. We pray for forgiveness; Christ asks us to forgive those who have trespassed against us. We pray for comfort when we mourn; Christ asks us to succor others who need comfort. We pray for help in achieving our worthy goals; Heavenly Father and the Son ask us to find joy in the success of others. We pray that our burdens may be light; Heavenly Father and Christ ask us to dedicate our lives to the service of others. We pray that we may one day return to the presence of our Heavenly Father; Christ asks us to open our homes and hearts to Heavenly Father’s children. If we will do for one another what we pray that the Father will do for us, He will declare, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40).
Enter into sacred covenants with the Lord. When we partake of the sacrament, we promise to take upon ourselves the name of Christ, to always remember Him, and to keep His commandments. He promises that if we keep our covenants, He will bless us with His Spirit (see Moro. 4:3; Moro. 5:2). When we receive the Holy Ghost, we are one with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Other covenants include those associated with the priesthood and the temple.
Always remember Him. I feel honored that my parents chose to name me after my father. It causes me to remember him often, and I am careful to avoid those things that would tarnish his good name. Similarly, Helaman named his sons Nephi and Lehi so they would remember their noble ancestors and seek to follow their example (see Hel. 5:6). As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we carry the Lord’s name. When we pray, when we sing hymns, when we partake of the sacrament, when we read the scriptures, when we see a beautiful sunset, we remember our Savior and our Father in Heaven, and we are one with them.
As King Benjamin concluded his great sermon, he taught the importance of remembering: “If ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not” (Mosiah 4:30; emphasis added).
A Righteous People
We can be one with God, with our Christlike selves, and with others who have similar desires as we learn and practice correct principles—those practiced by a righteous people. We find correct principles taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We act upon them as we serve our brothers and sisters and work to redeem the dead.
All of these opportunities to be one lead us to proclaim the gospel message of joy recorded by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received? A voice of gladness! A voice of mercy from heaven; and a voice of truth out of the earth; glad tidings for the dead; a voice of gladness for the living and the dead; glad tidings of great joy. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those that bring glad tidings of good things, and that say unto Zion: Behold, thy God reigneth!” (D&C 128:19).