Some years ago in the early spring, I took my little niece Shelly’s hand in mine, and for hours we carefully picked our way from one rock to the next along a creek bed shaded by some tall trees. The gurgling water was like a musical accompaniment to the dance we were creating, as we would take a step, hesitate, reach, step forward, and then wait a moment to secure our balance.
Before long, we were drawn to an open meadow where some large cottonwood trees had been recently cut. Making my way through the tall grass, I held Shelly’s hand as she cautiously placed one foot ahead of the other, walking the full length of the tree and back again. We noticed in that springtime tender green shoots forcing their way through the earthy floor, and we saw the winter snow receding toward the mountain peaks. It seemed as though all of nature bore evidence of God’s creations and his great love for us.
Our afternoon activities continued until the evening breeze reminded us that our special day was coming to a close.
Approaching the narrow, steep garden path leading to my home, I let go of Shelly’s hand, allowing her to go first. Our hands stuck together for a moment. A bond had formed from the warmth of the day through our shared adventures.
Just before reaching the clearing near the house, we stopped. Bending down, I lifted Shelly up to see into a little nest built by a robin in the branch of a tree.
At the close of this memorable day, before tucking my little niece (whom my sister shares with me) into bed, we knelt together while she expressed her own thanks which included gratitude for the creek, the slippery rocks, the big tree, and the robin’s nest. Feeling a renewed appreciation for the same wonderful blessings, I tucked the covers around her and bent down for a goodnight kiss. Reaching up, placing both arms around my neck, and pulling me close to her, Shelly whispered, “I wish we were in the same family.”
“Shelly, my dear,” I quickly explained, “we are in the same family.”
“No, I mean the very same family. My last name is Larsen, and your last name is Kapp, and that isn’t the same. I mean, if you were my sister and we had the very same last name.”
Even though she was very young, I felt that she might sense security in our eternal relationship if I could somehow awaken within her a great eternal truth.
“Shelly, we really are in the very same family. You see, we are all our Heavenly Father’s children, every one of us, and that makes us members of one great family. We are brothers and sisters, and Jesus is our brother, too, our elder brother.”
“Then what is Jesus’ last name?” she asked.
“Shelly, we know our Savior as Jesus the Christ.” With the pure innocence of youth, she began to make us all one family by linking my first name with the surname “The Christ.”
“Oh, no, my dear! We don’t put our names together like that.”
“But why not?” she asked.
Wanting her to be aware of the sacredness of our relationship with the Savior, I tried to explain: “I guess maybe it’s because sometimes we are not good enough. I don’t feel worthy yet.”
With that, she raised up on her elbow. “What do you do that’s wrong? Why don’t you stop doing it, and then we can all be in the same family? We can all use His name.”
I pondered the answer to her simple questions. I heard in my mind words as though I was hearing them for the first time. And yet, it had been only two days since I had attended sacrament meeting where I had listened to the same words. I had heard them with my ears so often before, but now it seemed different. It was as though I was hearing them with my whole heart and soul: “… that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given them …” (D&C 20:77).
Wasn’t this the very thing that we were talking about—the responsibility of taking upon ourselves that sacred name and committing to try always to remember Him and keep His commandments?
While Shelly seemed secure and satisfied with the explanation given her at that time, over the years I have searched for deeper understanding of this sacred ordinance in which we renew our covenant each week to take upon ourselves His name. And while that usually occurs on Sunday, what does it mean on weekdays, and what difference does it make to a child, a youth, or an adult? Does it affect how we live our lives in the summer, winter, or fall? Should it? Can we afford to consider this sacred ordinance passively and allow it to become routine in nature?
From the writings of C. S. Lewis we read, “Active habits are strengthened by repetition, but passive ones are weakened. The more often one feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.” (The Screwtape Letters, chapter 13.)
Jesus Christ came into the world “to be crucified for the world, and to bear the sins of the world, and to sanctify the world, and to cleanse it from all unrighteousness;
“That through him all might be saved.” (D&C 76:41–42.)
There is no possible way we can ransom ourselves. It was Christ who suffered and died to atone for us. It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that his sufferings were beyond all mortal comprehension, that the weight of our sins caused him to feel such agony, pain, and heartbreak that he bled from every pore as he suffered in both body and spirit. When we see in our mind by the gift of the Spirit the reality of Gethsemane, it is his great love for us that gives us the strength to struggle and suffer in our small way to overcome our sins.
Can we possibly comprehend such love? It is this atonement that can, if we will just do our part, ransom us, qualify us, redeem us, save us, and exalt us.
Our part, then, is to accept Christ’s atonement by repenting of our sins, being baptized, receiving the Holy Ghost, and obeying all the commandments.
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (A of F 1:3).
When we became members of his Church at the time of baptism, we covenanted with the Savior to take upon ourselves his name. Do we remember that baptismal covenant every day and do what we really want to do in relation to that important event in our lives?
Not long ago while sitting on the stand during the closing session of a youth conference, just as the young priest conducting the meeting stood to bring the meeting to a close, Kathy, sitting next to me, jumped up and unhesitatingly slipped in front of the young man, took her place at the pulpit, faced the audience, raised both hands in front of her with outstretched fingers, and said, “I’ll bet you’ve all been wondering why I’ve been wearing this ugly green nail polish.” A soft ripple could be heard across the audience, and I realized I was not alone in my curiosity.
“Well,” she said, “it’s like this: I knew my responsibilities as one of the leaders of this conference were big. I knew I had some real challenges ahead, and I didn’t want to be sorry after the chance was gone that I didn’t do what I really wanted to do.
“You see, I needed something that would remind me of what I really wanted to do and help me through the things I didn’t want to do. So I thought of a plan. And it worked! You see,” she went on, “I wanted something that would remind me of what I really wanted to make myself do. I knew my fingernails would always be right there.”
After further details, and bearing a strong testimony of the joy that comes when you do what you should, she took her seat. From this insight I was reminded of the message of the Apostle Paul as he was counseling the Corinthians:
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11).
Kathy had helped us all understand the importance of reminders, but it was the combined voices of young people singing the closing song, resounding like a sacred sermon, that brought forth new appreciation for sacred reminders. They sang:
I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine
To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine;
That he should extend his great love unto such as I,
Sufficient to own, to redeem, and to justify.
(“I Stand All Amazed,” Hymns, no. 80)
You and I and Shelly, all of us, have the sacrament, a holy priesthood ordinance that helps remind us of the atonement of the Savior. It helps us keep focused on our daily progress toward exaltation. It is a precious and sacred reminder, not just on Sunday, but on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; spring, summer, and fall; when we’re on the mountain peaks of our lives and also in the valleys. What is true for Shelly and you and me is that our Savior loves us very much.
Speaking of the Son of God, we read from Alma 7:11–13:
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; … he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“… and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
President Marion G. Romney’s insight has made a change in my life regarding the opportunity that is mine to partake of the sacrament. He said:
“Now partaking of the sacrament is not to be a mere passive experience. We are not to remember the Lord’s suffering and death only as we may remember some purely secular historical event. Participating in the sacrament service is meant to be a vital and a spiritualizing experience. Speaking of it, the Savior said: ‘… and it shall be a testimony unto the Father that ye do always remember me.’ (3 Ne. 18:4–9.)
“In order to testify, one’s mind has to function, and it must be concentrated upon the thing to be testified. And we are not only to partake of the emblems of the sacrament in remembrance of the Redeemer, testifying that we do always remember him, but we are also thereby to witness unto the Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of his son and that we will keep his commandments. Now there is a doctrine abroad in the world today which teaches that the physical emblems of the sacrament are transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus. We do not teach such doctrine, for we know that any transformation which comes from the administration of the sacrament takes place in the souls of those who understandingly partake of it. It is the participating individuals who are affected and they are affected in a most marvelous way, for they are given the Spirit of the Lord to be with them.” (In Conference Reports, Apr. 1946, p. 47.)
At those very times, brothers and sisters, when you and I feel least worthy, least comfortable about carrying his holy name, and have a keener sense of our imperfections, those moments when the flesh is weak and our spirit suffers disappointment knowing what we can become, we might feel a sense of withdrawing, a pulling away, a feeling of needing to set aside for a time at least that divine relationship with the Savior until we are more worthy. It is at that very moment, even in our unworthiness, that the offer is again given us to accept the great gift of the atonement—even before we change. When you feel the need to pull away, will you reach out to him? Instead of feeling the need to resist, will you submit to his will?
It is in our struggles, while striving to qualify, that our spirit reaches out in greater humility and gratitude, and we are better prepared to receive the gift because we so desperately need it—in fact, we must have it if we are to receive any eternal rewards.
It was at the time my father was in the last stages of stomach cancer, his body wasting away to less than 100 pounds, his spirit growing in strength every single day, that he shared with me his new insights from that perspective.
It is a fact, he bore witness, that the body and the spirit are separate. When this process of separation is witnessed firsthand, he said with conviction and enthusiasm, the meaning of eternal life and the resurrection take on a new dimension of understanding. It is like discovering a precious gift you’ve held in your possession all this time but never unwrapped; and the time comes when you open it, and you’re more ready to fully appreciate the divine nature of the gift because you are prepared to use it for the purpose it was intended.
The purpose of the sacramental covenant is always in force. That gift becomes more precious when we don’t leave it wrapped but rather prepare ourselves to use it for the purpose for which it was intended. I would now say to Shelly, “Yes, my dear, put my name with the Savior’s.” He said we could. He wants us to. He wants us to feel comfortable carrying his name.
And when you and I feel the greatest need, that divine gift can penetrate our soul and we can open it and use it for what it was intended.
We must come to the sacrament altar hungry, with a spiritual hunger and thirst for righteousness. It is a time for self-evaluation, a time to rectify our course, if necessary, to decide to make right our lives. It is a time and place for us to judge ourselves, to come to better understand the magnitude of that sacred, divine gift, the atonement, and the reality of being allowed to have his Spirit with us always to direct every act of our lives.
I believe that each new day can be faced with greater anticipation and purpose when we are reminded of the words of Elder John A. Widtsoe:
“There is a spiritual meaning of all human acts and earthly events. No man is quite so happy, I think, as he who backs all his labors by … a spiritual interpretation and understanding of the acts of life.
“A piece of silver always has a certain value as it passes from hand to hand; it is weighed and we sell it in the marketplace; but, when that piece of silver is coined into a dollar, it receives the stamp of government service; it becomes a coin of the realm, and it moves from hand to hand to accomplish the work of the realm.
“So, every act of man, the moment it is fitted into the great plan, the plan of salvation, receives spiritual coinage, and passes from hand to hand, from mind to mind, to accomplish the greater work of God.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1922, pp. 96–97.)
As we gradually move to that spiritual level, we will begin to experience that partnership to which we agreed in our premortal existence—to help to bring salvation and eternal life to everyone under the plan.
When the Spirit becomes our constant companion, it will make our whole day different, and with this Spirit reflected in our language, in our daily work, at school, on the highway, and in the marketplace, slowly, day by day, our conduct will become more unselfish, our relationships more tender, our desire to serve more constant, and we will find ourselves going about doing good. Always. We will have taken upon us not only His name but His image in our countenances also (see Alma 5:14).
This experiment has been tried before, even in Christ’s lifetime. A few men were admitted to the inner circle of his friendship and, day by day, his first disciples began to mellow and soften and grow spiritually with power and strength and influence.
For Paul, the process was more dramatic. On the road to Damascus he met the Savior, and from that time his words, his deeds, his career, his daily walk were different.
Have we experienced this encounter on our Damascus road or maybe in a less dramatic way? When this happens, we will be allowed to witness miracles. We will better understand them and even participate in them. Lives will be changed when we begin to see each other more nearly as our Savior sees us. We will want to teach each other the way he would teach us. We will yearn for the spirituality to bear testimony to each other of the things to which he bears testimony. And when we meet, it will be as someone said, “We will not just exchange words; what we will exchange is souls.” Not just with our friends and loved ones, but with every person for whom we share a responsibility for his eternal welfare. With the Spirit we will be allowed to see things not as the world sees them but more like He would see them. We will learn to hearken to the voice of the Spirit.
President Romney, speaking to a group of sisters who were being released from a calling in the Church, said in part, “I pray that the Lord will help you to live every day so you can have the Spirit of the Lord with you. It is a wonderful thing to try to know and to try to live so that you can hear and respond to the voice of the Lord. That’s where the comfort comes in this life. … Hearken to the voice of the Spirit and have the discernment to know what the Spirit tells you. Then have the courage to follow that counsel.”
One day I witnessed evidence of the Spirit and the courage to follow counsel. It was in a second grade elementary classroom. The student-teacher held the children captive with her storytelling skills. In great detail she told of a cross old man whose name was Mr. Black. In contrast, the account was given in similar detail of a Mr. Brown who was kind and thoughtful and loved by everyone. At the conclusion of the story, the teacher asked the children, “How many of you would like to be a neighbor to Mr. Brown?” Every hand was raised high. Then almost as an afterthought, she inquired if there was anyone who would like to have Mr. Black for a neighbor.
A little boy in a faded green shirt near the back of the room began to raise his hand, which brought a ripple of quiet amusement from the children. Hesitating only briefly, he looked around at his friends and still mustered the courage to hold his hand high and to stand alone in his difference. When called on for an explanation to his single vote, he spoke in a soft tone. “Well,” he said, “I’d like Mr. Black to be my neighbor, because if he was, my mom would make a cake for me to take to him, and then he wouldn’t be that way anymore.” A hush fell over the room. Everyone felt something wonderful that they couldn’t explain. A little child broke the silence like a benediction: “Oh, I wish I’d said that!”
We had all made a quick decision about who would be the best neighbor, but only one, just one, had a spirit within, a discernment that allowed him to see what might be.
Another day I witnessed the need for the Spirit to help guide the service that was being performed by well-meaning neighbors. A widow lady said to me, “I don’t need more food. My freezer is literally full of the neighbors’ cakes and pies and goodies. But I need someone to invite me to go to Temple Square with them and their children to see the Christmas lights. You don’t really see the lights without the children.”
Sometimes it’s cake, but sometimes it isn’t. The Spirit will help us customize our service.
As President Kimball has said, “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs” (“Small Acts of Service,” Ensign, Dec. 1974, p. 5). I believe it is one who hears when the Lord is calling.
Consider now, even at this moment, the brother or sister sitting next to you, or one nearby, through the hall, across the street, or down the road. Will you put yourself so in tune that you can try to see in that person what the Savior sees? Will you share with that brother or sister something that would ease their load or brighten their day, or expand their vision, or increase their hope, and try to do it the way you think the Savior might do it? Could you? Would you?
Given the opportunities available to each one of us this very week to live the sacramental life, can you feel within a growing strength, a yearning desire, an increased commitment to reach out? Will you consider seriously what truth that you have a personal witness of that you could teach another, and teach it in partnership with the Savior, even to the person sitting next to you who might be a stranger though a brother or sister?
If you will sincerely try to do this, something sweet and gentle will surround you. Voices will be softened, hearts touched, a deep feeling of caring will swell up within, and you will feel the Spirit, even as you serve in his name. It will be a spiritual experience, the kind we yearn for and can have when we remember him and have his Spirit with us.
It is in reaching out to others that we qualify ourselves and become more worthy of his name. It is our ordinary work, our seemingly routine duties, and our familiar relationships that can become sacramental in nature.
One day I witnessed that great joy while casually sitting beside a friend. He had recently been called as a mission president, and I thought, “What could I share with him at this important time in his life? I endeavored to see in this friend what I thought the Lord might see in him. I desired to say something that would be of importance to him at this time. I had a wonderful feeling of love for my longtime friend and felt prompted to share the thoughts that came into my mind.
“I guess at a time like this,” I said to him, “one feels an increased urgency to be a pure vessel through which the Spirit can work unrestrained. Yet isn’t it a marvelous thing to know that you will have access to that great power, that inspiration, and even revelation every day while you and your missionaries are still striving for perfection?”
Almost immediately his eyes were moist. His chin quivered and he said, “You must have known I needed to hear that.”
When we are in the church, on the bus, in the grocery store, in the classroom, and most important, in our homes, let us strive to see each other the way we think He might, and sensing each other’s divine potential, let us take the opportunity to share an eternal truth that will be personalized because the Spirit prompts us. In the closing moments of the Savior’s life, while he suffered for us, he told us how we can be his disciples:
“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34–35.)
Every act of our lives can become a sacramental experience when we take upon us his name. And when our performance falls short in spite of our striving for perfection, we will find ourselves eagerly and anxiously and with a deeper sense of gratitude than ever before drawn to the Sabbath day and the sacramental altar where we can feel the glorious transformation and healing of our wounded spirit as we commit to strive again and again to follow him.
With a new day and a new week and a new opportunity, we will welcome another chance to feel more deeply, to care more sincerely, to understand more compassionately, to teach more purposefully, to remember him always and to have his Spirit to be with us.
As I held Shelly’s little hand in mine for one last squeeze before tiptoeing from her room that evening some years ago, a feeling of gratitude and reverence came flooding forth as I realized that while her hand had been in mine for most of the afternoon as I helped her through the creek, across the rocks, and over the tree and lifted her up to see the miracle of life unfolding in a robin’s nest, this child led me to begin a search that would lead me to a better understanding of a great eternal truth. King Benjamin explained it for us:
“And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).
We can all be members of the same family. If you’re doing something you shouldn’t, consider Shelly’s question to me: Why don’t you stop? It may not always be easy, but with his help we can overcome.