A while ago, I spoke to a group of teenagers. In that talk, I referred to the aimless habit some of us have of channel-hopping as we sit in front of a television. In preparation, I had done a similar kind of searching through my memory and notes. I was seeking to select, out of many experiences and thoughts, a few that might make a difference to those listening. I would like to do the same with you.
A picture forms on my monitor involving a father aboard an airplane. He has with him his five-year-old son and is almost wishing his son were not there because it is a very rough trip. There are downdrafts and updrafts and some passengers are feeling a bit queasy. Apprehensively, the father glances at his son and finds him grinning from ear to ear. “Dad,” he says, “do they do this just to make it fun for the kids?”
Good parents and family and leaders and friends do go to great lengths to make it fun for the kids, but the fun they are thinking of is wholesome fun; it hurts no one, and it lifts the spirit. It never detracts from the real, long-term joy we came into this world to experience.
The next scene illustrates that point clearly—it is a personal testimony of a loving father to his children shortly before his death.
Says Lehi, “I have none other object save it be the everlasting welfare of your souls” (2 Ne. 2:30). Lehi’s objective is the same as every good father and mother and grandparent and teacher and priesthood leader and friend.
As we switch rapidly to another scene or two, notice the principles of love and agency shining through. They are central principles of the gospel, and they emphasize the individual responsibility and accountability in our choices with respect to all other virtues and values (see Matt. 22:36–40).
Another scene is quickly before us. A grieving young father and his two children sit alone after a makeshift dinner. The children have been staying with Grandmother while their mother has slowly slipped away in a lingering illness; now they and their father are home again after her funeral. The little girl drops off to sleep and is carried to her bed. The little boy fights off sleepiness until he finally asks his father if tonight, just tonight, he can sleep with him in his bed. As the two lie silently in the dark, the lad speaks: “Daddy, are you looking at me?”
“Yes, son,” the father replies, “I am looking at you.”
The boy sighs and, exhausted, sleeps. The father waits a time and then, weeping, cries out in the dark: “God, are you looking at me? If you are, maybe I can make it. Without you, I know I can’t.”
Our Heavenly Father is looking at us. He loves us and he wants us to choose the path that leads us to happiness here and eternal life hereafter. He authorizes us to act for him, to be instruments of his concern for his children. But he won’t force any of us to make choices that lead to happiness. He has given each of us the right and responsibility to make personal choices, and has made us accountable for them. He not only affects our lives, he is affected by our lives, and sometimes he weeps for us.
Switch channels with me to a scene on a Saturday night in a ranch home, where a boy who has just answered the telephone nervously approaches his mother. “Mom,” he says, “Bob is on the phone. He and his dad and Tom and his dad are going snowmobiling and shooting tomorrow morning, and they want to know if I can go with them.”
The mother seems startled and uncertain. She is strongly tempted to respond sharply, reminding her boy that he has duties on Sunday morning, that in their family they go to church together, and that when Dad returns later that night he will not consider such a thing. But, instead, she says, “Richard, you are twelve years old. You hold the priesthood. I am sure Dad would want you to make up your own mind and answer Bob yourself.”
The boy goes back to the telephone, and the mother goes to her room and prays their son will give the right answer. Nothing more is said. On Sunday morning the boy and his parents go into town to church, park in the lot across the street, and are crossing, arm-in-arm, when a pickup truck passes. Two men and two boys wave to Richard as they pass. He pauses a moment and says, “Gee, I wish …” The mother catches her breath; then Richard finishes: “I wish I had been able to talk Bob and Tom into coming to priesthood meeting this morning.”
The mother, telling the story, thanks the Lord for this choice boy and his personal decision to do the right thing. Then she weeps as she explains how important that was to all of them. You see, their son was killed in a farm accident that week.
Remarkable events are relived as I flip the remote control of observation and memory. One of the most touching involves a young lady convert to the Church who found in the home of a Latter-day Saint fellow student a spirit and a caring relationship she had never before known.
She said that since her baptism, things had not really changed in her own home; there were still abuse and argument and alcohol and foul language. “But,” she said, “there is one room at my house where I can shut the door and read the scriptures and listen to good music and pray and feel the Spirit of the Lord. In my little room I can have that blessing. One day, if the Lord will help me, I will marry a man and live in a home where we can have the Spirit of the Lord always.”
There is one last scene I would call up for you from my journal. I read it as I wrote it in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in May 1967:
“There was a memorable meeting this morning, which began with a senior military chaplain of another church addressing us warmly as ‘My brothers in Christ.’ This touched me deeply.
“After [the meeting], I walked quietly down the passageway alongside the large room where we had met. As I passed the back door, I looked in and saw three men who had their hands on the head of another who sat on a chair. All four were dressed in battle gear; two had returned from air strikes just in time for the meeting, and one was shortly to go. The three members of the district presidency were giving a blessing to an officer senior to them all, setting him apart as a district missionary.”
This sweet scene affected me more deeply than any priesthood sermon I have heard. Priesthood to them meant the right and the power to serve, to act in the name of the Lord as his agents and in his interests with their fellowmen. This scene I hope I will never forget.
The Bible teaches us that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that “Jesus Christ your Redeemer … so loved the world that he gave his own life” (D&C 34:1, 3).
God so loved that he gave.
Christ so loved that he gave.
We are here on this earth to learn to love enough to give—to use our agency unselfishly. So we are speaking of choosing a course of sharing, of giving, of graciousness, of kindness, not as optional elements of the gospel, but the heart of it. Jesus said, “Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do” (3 Ne. 18:24). What really matters, after all, is what kind of people we are. That is what we daily, hourly, decide and demonstrate.