When two of his disciples first heard Jesus Christ speak, they were so moved that they followed him as he left the crowd. Sensing that he was being pursued, Christ turned and asked, “What seek ye?” They answered, “Where dwellest thou?” And Christ said, “Come and see” (John 1:38–39).
It seems that the essence of our lives is distilled down to this opening scene of the Savior’s mortal ministry. First is the Savior’s question to every one of us, “What seek ye?” The second is his answer as to how to get what we seek. Whoever we are and whatever our problems, his response is always the same—“Come unto me” (Matt. 11:28). Come see what I do and how I spend my time. Learn of me, follow me, and in the process I will give you answers to your prayers and rest to your souls.
I know of no other way for you to carry your burdens or find what Jacob called “that happiness which is prepared for the saints” (2 Ne. 9:43). That is why we make solemn covenants based on Christ’s atoning sacrifice, why we take upon us his name. In as many ways as possible, both figuratively and literally, we try to take upon us his identity.
My desire for you is to have more straightforward experiences with the Savior’s life and teachings. Perhaps sometimes we come to Christ too obliquely, focusing on structure or methods or elements of Church administration. Those are important, but not without attention to the weightier matters of the kingdom, first and foremost of which is a personal spiritual relationship with Deity, including the Savior whose kingdom this is.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that it was necessary to have “an acquaintance” with the divine attributes of the Father and the Son in order to have faith in them. Specifically he said that unless we believe Christ to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering and full of goodness,” we would never have the faith necessary to claim the blessings of heaven. If we could not count on “the excellency of … character” maintained by the Savior and his willingness and ability to “forgive iniquity, transgression, and sin,” we would be, he wrote, “in constant doubt of salvation.” But because the Father and the Son are unchangeably “full of goodness” then, in the words of the Prophet, such knowledge “does away [with] doubt, and makes faith exceedingly strong” (Lectures on Faith , 41–42).
I don’t know all that may be troubling you personally, but I would be surprised if someone somewhere isn’t troubled by a transgression or the temptation of transgression. To you I say come unto Christ and lay down your burden. Let him lift the load. Let him give peace to your soul. Nothing in this world is more burdensome than sin. It is the heaviest cross men and women ever bear.
To anyone struggling under the burden of sin, we say, with the Prophet Joseph Smith, that God has “a forgiving disposition” (Lectures, 42). You can change. You can be helped. You can be made whole—whatever the problem. All he asks is that you walk away from the darkness and come into the light, his light, with meekness and lowliness of heart. That is at the heart of the gospel. That is the very center of our message. Christ has “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” Isaiah declared, “and with his stripes we are healed”—if we want to be (Isa. 53:4–5; Mosiah 14:4–5).
For anyone seeking the courage to repent and change, I remind you that the Church is not a monastery for the isolation of perfect people. It is more like a hospital provided for those who wish to get well. Do whatever you have to do to be healed. For some of you that is simply to live with greater faith, to believe more. For some of you it does mean to repent: Right now. Today. For some of you who may be investigating the Church, it means to be baptized and come into the fellowship of Christ. For virtually all of us it means to live more by the promptings and promises of the Holy Ghost and to “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. …
“… This is the way,” Nephi said, “and there is none other way … whereby man [or woman] can be saved in the kingdom of God” (2 Ne. 31:20–21).
May I be bold enough to suggest that it is impossible for anyone who really knows God to doubt his willingness to receive us with open arms in a divine embrace if we will but “come unto him.” There certainly can and will be plenty of external difficulties in life. Nevertheless the soul that comes unto Christ dwells within a personal fortress, a veritable palace of perfect peace.
Jesus taught the Nephites, who lived in a world at least as difficult as our own, “For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed [from thee]” (3 Ne. 22:10). I love that. The hills and mountains may disappear. The least likely things in the world may happen, but his kindness and peace will not be withdrawn from us. After all, he has, he reminds us, “graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (1 Ne. 21:16). Considering the incomprehensible cost of the Crucifixion, Christ is not going to turn his back on us now.
The Lord has probably spoken enough such comforting words to supply the whole universe, it would seem, and yet we see all around us unhappy Latter-day Saints, worried Latter-day Saints, gloomy Latter-day Saints into whose troubled hearts not one of these innumerable consoling words seems to be allowed to enter.
Consider, for example, the Savior’s benediction upon his disciples even as he moved toward the pain and agony of Gethsemane and Calvary. On the very night of the greatest suffering the world will ever know, he said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. … Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
That may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart. I can tell you this as a parent. As concerned as I would be if one of my children were seriously troubled or unhappy or disobedient, I would be infinitely more devastated if I felt that at such a time my child could not trust me to help or should feel his or her interest were unimportant to me or unsafe in my care. In that same spirit I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior when he finds his people do not feel confident in his care or trust in his commandments.
Just because God is God, just because Christ is Christ, they cannot do other than care for us and help us if we will but come unto them, approaching their throne of grace in meekness and lowliness of heart. They can’t help but bless us. It is their nature. There is not a single trap or open trench to fall into for the man or woman who walks the path that Christ walks. When he says, “Come, follow me” (Luke 18:22), he means that he knows where the quicksand is and where the thorns are and the best way to handle the slippery slope near the summit of our personal mountains. He knows it all, and he knows the way. He is the way.
Once we have come unto Christ and found the miracle of his covenant of peace, we are under obligation to help others do so. There are people all around us who have been wounded by the world, and the Lord expects us to join in his work of healing those wounds. Most of the healing I am referring to is not necessarily that of assisting the physically sick, though we surely should be ready to do that at a moment’s notice. No, what I’m speaking of are those rending, wrenching illnesses of the soul that need to be healed but may be quite personal—some burden held deep inside, some weariness that is not always particularly obvious to the rest of the world.
In the example of the Savior himself and his call to his Apostles, and with the need for peace and comfort ringing in our ears, I ask you to be a healer, be a helper, join in the work of Christ in lifting burdens, in making the load lighter, in making things better.
Often we can, usually unwittingly, be insensitive to the difficulties of those around us. We all have problems, and ultimately each individual has to take responsibility for his or her own happiness. None of us is so free of difficulty ourselves or so endowed with time and money that we can do nothing but tend the wounded and the weary. Nevertheless, in looking to the Savior’s life for an example, we can probably find a way to do a little more of that than we do.
I wish I could go back to my youth and there have another chance to reach out to those who, at the time, didn’t attract my compassionate attention. We are so vulnerable in our youth. We want to feel included, to have the feeling we matter to others. For example, in 1979 we held in St. George, Utah, our 20-year class reunion for Dixie High School. An effort was made to find current addresses and get everyone to the reunion. In the midst of all that fun, I remember the terribly painful letter written by one very bright—but in her childhood, somewhat overweight and less than popular—young woman, who wrote: “Congratulations to all of us for having survived long enough to have a 20-year class reunion. I hope everyone has a wonderful time. But don’t reserve a place for me. I have, in fact, spent most of those 20 years trying to forget the painful moments of our school days together. Now that I am nearly over those feelings of loneliness and shattered self-esteem, I cannot bring myself to see all of the class and run the risk of remembering all of that again. Have a good time and forgive me. It is my problem not yours. Maybe I can come at the 30-year mark.”
But she was terribly wrong about one thing—it was our problem, and we knew it. I have wept for her and other friends like her in our youth. We simply were not the Savior’s agents or disciples that he intended a group of young people to be. I cannot help but wonder what I might have done to watch out a little more for the ones not included, to make sure the gesture of a friendly word or a listening ear or a little casual talk and shared time might have reached far enough to include those hanging on the outer edge of the social circle, and in some cases barely hanging on at all.
I make an appeal for all of us to reach beyond our own contentment, to move out of our own comfort zone, to reach those who may not always be so easy to reach.
We need not worry about Christ running out of ability to help us—nor of his ability to help us help others. His grace is sufficient. That is the spiritual, eternal lesson of the miracle Jesus performed when he fed 5,000 from five loaves of bread and two fishes. There is a lesson, too, in the experience his disciples had following that incident. After Jesus had fed the multitude, he sent them away and put his disciples into a fishing boat to cross over to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He then “went up into a mountain apart to pray” (Matt. 14:23). It was toward evening, and a night of storm. The winds must have been ferocious from the start, and the men labored with the oars until sometime between three and six in the morning. By then, they had gone only a few kilometers and the ship was caught up in a violent storm.
But, as always, Christ was watching over them. Seeing their difficulty, the Savior took the most direct approach to their boat, striding out across the waves to help them. In their moment of great extremity, the disciples looked and saw in the darkness this wonder coming toward them on the ridges of the sea. They cried out in terror at the sight, thinking that it was a phantom upon the waves. Then, through the storm and darkness there came the reassuring voice of their Master: “It is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27).
This account reminds us that the first step in coming to Christ—or his coming to us—may fill us with something very much like terror. It shouldn’t, but it sometimes does. One of the great ironies of the gospel is that the very source of succor and safety being offered us is the thing from which we may, in our mortal shortsightedness, flee.
Succor is an interesting word. It is used often in the scriptures to describe Christ’s care for and attention to us. It means literally “to run to.” What a magnificent way to describe the Savior’s urgent effort in our behalf. Even as he calls us to come to him and follow him, he is unfailingly running to help us.
Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God. He wishes us to come unto him, to follow him, to be comforted by him. Then he wishes us to give comfort to others. However halting our steps are toward him—though they shouldn’t be halting at all—his steps are never halting toward us. May we have enough faith to accept the goodness of God and the mercy of his Only Begotten Son.