A number of years ago, while laboring in the Palestine-Syrian Mission, I was called to serve as the second counselor in the mission presidency. After I was sustained by the members, President Alma Sonne of the European Mission set me apart for the new calling. In doing so, he pronounced a most memorable blessing, one that I shall never forget.
At the conclusion of the blessing, I thanked Elder Sonne for the beautiful and inspiring words that he had spoken. He graciously accepted my expression of gratitude; however, he placed his hand upon my shoulder, looked intently into my eyes, and said, “Elder Asay, I had the power and right to say what I said, but remember, you will write your own blessing by the way you live and serve.” Then he added, “Go and write the best blessing that has ever been written.”
We do, in fact, write our own blessings by the way we live and serve. Blessings do not come to a person automatically and simply because hands have been placed upon his head and beautiful words spoken. Blessings flow from the divine source and are channeled to mortals when laws are honored and when lives are made to harmonize with the will of Deity. Is it not written:
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20–21).
When a stake patriarch places his hands upon your head, gives you a blessing, and inspires you with pronounced prophecies and promises, an exciting beginning has been made. It is left to you to keep those prophecies and promises riveted in your mind—regarding them as attainable goals—and proceed forward with righteous living and faithful service so that you might draw claim upon the related blessings.
By way of illustration, the patriarch stands with you at the starter’s gate. He envisions for you the race that lies ahead. With the aid of his special gifts, he outlines the rules of the contest, he describes the challenges that will be faced, and he cites the laurels that may be won. However, you, the runner, must stay in the marked lane, abide the rules, cover the course, and cross the finish line if you expect to receive the victor’s prize.
When you are called on a full-time mission and are set apart by your stake president, you will be commissioned to participate in a divine work. The stake president will remind you of the importance of such service and instruct you concerning how you should live and conduct your affairs. In all probability, he will include in his blessing such promises as the development of a Christlike character, a forgiveness of sins, and the acquisition of unspeakable joy. Nonetheless, these and other stated blessings do not come by the wave of a wand or the sound of the lips. They come in accord with desire and a worthy performance of duty. The Christlike character grows step by step and blossoms as a result of disciplined and righteous living; the forgiveness of sins occurs as you repent, climb for higher ground, and exert the effort to lift or save others; and, the unspeakable joy comes as you witness the greatest miracle in the gospel—the transformation for good of those who embrace and live the teachings of the Master.
When you are sealed in the temple to a companion for time and eternity, an authorized agent will teach you much concerning celestial marriage. In the process he will extend marvelous blessings pertaining to (a) the prospects of participating in the first resurrection, (b) all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and (c) the blessings of powers and kingdoms. But the sealer will also call to your attention that such blessings will be yours only if you are true and faithful to the covenants made in the temple.
The fact that a couple kneels at an altar in the house of the Lord and exchanges sacred vows is no guarantee of abiding happiness here or hereafter. Abiding happiness is claimed through acts of kindness, unselfish living, fidelity, charity, and all else associated with God’s form of marriage. One of the early chapters of an enduring union is written as you are sealed in the temple; however, the final chapters with all their blessings are written as you learn, live, and love in holy matrimony.
When you are called to serve in any Church capacity, be it a teaching or a presiding assignment, keep in mind the sons of Lehi. All of them—Laman, Lemuel, Sam, Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph—were extended blessings. All of them, I suspect, felt the weight of their father’s hands upon their heads. Their ears received the sounds from his voice as blessings were spoken. Still, they were left with their agency—the right to choose good or evil, the right to pen or erase their own blessings. Lehi warned his eldest sons:
“If ye will hearken unto him [Nephi] I leave unto you a blessing, yea, even my first blessing.
“But if ye will not hearken unto him I take away my first blessing, yea, even my blessing, and it shall rest upon him.” (2 Ne. 1:28–29.)
Despite the warning, the eldest sons rejected the Spirit of God because their hearts were hard and their minds were blinded to the truth. They lost their privileges and were cursed. The other sons heeded their father’s counsel, followed a path of righteousness, and retained the greater privileges.
Patriarchal blessings, missions, and marriages cause me to reflect upon the teachings of the prophet Alma. He spoke of faith, callings, ordinations, and good works. He referred to those who had been called and prepared for holy callings. Among other truths, he declared:
“And thus they have been called to this holy calling on account of their faith, while others would reject the Spirit of God on account of the hardness of their hearts and blindness of their minds, while, if it had not been for this they might have had as great privilege as their brethren” (Alma 13:4).
Hardness of heart and blindness of mind not only cause many to forfeit service opportunities, but also deprive some of the great privileges and great blessings associated with honorable service. One inspired author must have had this thought in mind when he wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been’” (John Greenleaf Whittier).
Soon after my 18th birthday I felt the weight of my father’s hands upon my head as he gave me a special blessing. This was occasioned by my entrance into the military during World War II. My father anticipated my apprehensions about leaving home and becoming involved in the business of fighting. So in the blessing he gave me reassurance. He also admonished me to rely upon the Lord and to keep the commandments. Specifically, he told me to live the Word of Wisdom (avoid the use of tobacco and alcohol) and to maintain the moral standards of the Church. Then he promised me that if I would do all of these things, I would return home safe, whole, and unstained by the world.
Throughout my stint in the army, the words of my father remained vivid in my mind and heart. Many times I was enticed to live less than the Latter-day Saint kind of life. But, each time temptation presented itself, the promise of returning home safe and well resounded in my ears. I wanted to draw claim upon the blessings cited by my father. In due time the pronounced blessings and more were mine; I had written my own blessing.
Over the years Elder Sonne’s words, “You will write your own blessing by the way you live and serve,” have echoed again and again. Each time I have been called to serve in a Church position, each time I have received a setting-apart blessing, I have reflected back to the sage counsel I received in the mission field. And, I have consciously striven to live and serve in such a manner that I might draw claim upon all the blessings found through the gospel of Jesus Christ and in the kingdom of God on earth.