Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Farewell I (sort of) Gave

To start, I have a story. Once upon a time I was asked to speak in front of all of the youth (and their parents) in the stake before we all left for Youth Conference. This year, youth conference was trek. I wrote the best talk EVER. Man, it was so good. I was so proud. The only problem was...that it was really long. I didn't want to take anything out of course, and I just figured "it is all such a good message! Everyone will just love to hear it!" So I left my talk incredibly long.

I gave that talk. And as I read from the pages I could see my audience drifting away. But my talk was so good! Why wasn't anyone paying attention? I have a tendency to talk fast. In my not so humble mind, I just think to myself: "well, I talk fast, and that is because I think fast. And if everyone else can't keep up that should not be my problem." However, when I am speaking from the pulpit it is my problem. 

In reality, I do not think fast. I just read fast. And then the words come out of my mouth fast. And I sped through my talk. I was already worried about time that fateful day when I was asked to speak before Trek, and this did not help my "speeding" problem. I sat down after speaking. Frustrated. From that moment, I resolved never to write out a whole talk again. 

When I made that decision, I was able to speak more from my heart! When I had to think about what I was going to say before saying it, everything came out at a normal speed. A speed that human ears can catch and then the mind can process and comprehend. I was very conflicted when writing my talk before leaving on a mission -- I wanted to write it out because I wanted to feel completely comfortable when I was speaking. I also wanted to be able to post it on this blog (because, isn't that part of the fun of a missionary blog?) and I wanted to send it to my friends who were already out and serving missions! I wanted to have a written copy! 

In my heart, I knew this was a terrible idea. I knew I would speed through it. I knew I would not really be talking with the guidance of the Lord...and I also knew that speaking from a written talk just really doesn't work for me at all. I hadn't written out a talk in two years, and I didn't want to start now. I came up with a compromise. I would write out my talk, and then transfer it into bullet points. Bullet points allowed me more freedom, and then I would have to think about what I was saying as I was saying it. Bullet points also allowed me to use my scriptures, and truthfully, speaking without a written talk is just what works for me. 

So what I have below is the talk that I was planning to give, or at least a similar form. And my talk was  similar to this, in many ways. But in many ways, it was also very different. When I wrote out my talk, I noticed that I wrote like I was writing a short story or an essay for an English class. I write like I am me...and I write like I am not me. When I write, I am "writer me," and so "speaker me" does not speak like I write. Obviously, there were some differences. However, the message is essentially the same. (And hoorah! You get to read this at your own speed!) 

The Farewell Talk I (sort of) Gave:

Over the past few months I have been asked countless times why I decided to serve a mission. I have given many answers. At first, my answer was that I’d felt prompted to go and that I knew the Lord needed me on a mission for the next 18 months of my life. I knew that I was supposed to set aside a year and a half of school and any study abroad that I had been contemplating to serve a mission.
                My answer changed. I told people that I was planning to serve a mission because I wanted to share the gospel. I wanted to bring people the truth that had blessed my life more than anything else. I wanted to spread this wonderful light with whoever I served.
                This summer, as I have prepared for a mission, I have learned something.
                I learned that I am serving a mission not only because I know I am supposed to, or because I want to share the gospel that has blessed my life (although these are very good reasons) but I am serving a mission because I love God. I love my Savior. I love my family. And I already love the people of Japan, although I am sure that this love will grow.
                But perhaps more incredible is that I know my Heavenly Father loves me. I know that he loves each and every one of his Children. He sent his son to die for us. In John 3:16 we read “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This sacrifice always amazes me. My Heavenly Father loved me enough that he sent his son to die for me! I am not a parent, but I am able to guess that letting a child of mine die would be incredibly hard – probably even harder than making the sacrifice myself.  The song lyrics of “He Sent His Son,” testifies of the immense love behind this action: “How could the Father tell the world of love and tenderness?  He sent his Son, a newborn babe, with peace and holiness. How could the Father show the world the pathway we should go? He sent his Son to walk with men on earth, that we may know. How could the Father tell the world of sacrifice, of death? He sent his Son to die for us and rise with living breath. What does the Father ask of us? What do the scriptures say? Have faith, have hope, live like his Son, help others on their way. What does he ask? Live like his Son.
                I know that my Heavenly Father loves me. And how does he show this love? He gives us commandments. This concept can be confusing –
You’re telling me that God loves me? So he has commanded me to not to dress immodestly, or to drink alcohol, or lie, or break the Sabbath?
How can love correlate with so many rules?
To answer this question, I have a little story. This past summer when my parents were driving me out to college we first drove to California. My family loves to go hiking and backpacking. We had planned to visit Yosemite National Park, and hike half-dome. The night before leaving for Yosemite we stayed at a friend’s home near San Francisco. When he heard that we were planning to go to Yosemite, he proceeded to tell us several stories about various people who had died in the Yosemite waterfalls, including one of his nieces while visiting Yosemite with a group of friends from BYU. While she was hiking up to half-dome with her friends, she had decided to stay behind the BYU group at the top of the waterfalls with a friend. While waiting for the group to return they had started jumping from rock to rock, not close to the waterfall of course, because the water level was high and they didn’t want to fall. She thought that she was safe because she was far from the top of the falls. The rocks were slippery, and she fell. The current was strong, and dragged her under where she was stuck under the rock and drowned. As he told this story I noticed that I was receiving many frustrated and anxious glances from my family members.
I would not consider myself a reckless (or terribly clumsy) person, but my mother and brother might tell you differently. Somehow, I seem to end up injured more than anyone else in my family. I have a track record of visiting the emergency room on a yearly basis, and I thoroughly enjoy cliff jumping with my cousins while back-packing, never mind how cold the water is.
After hearing this story from our family friend, I received countless warnings from my lovely mom, and from my brother Clayton about not trying to climb around the waterfalls or anything of the sort.
And why did they give me this warning? Because they loved me. And because they knew my nature. Inherently, I seem to be unable to avoid injury that is primarily self-inflicted and after years of raising me, my mother was determined to deliver me safely to BYU without harm. After a safe trip in Yosemite, my mother warned me again before I left for college: “Don’t go running late at night by yourself…don’t go hiking by yourself…don’t get lost in the mountains…don’t try anything reckless.”
Our Heavenly Father gives us commandments for the very same reasons. He loves us. He knows our nature. The Book of Mormon teaches us: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19). Truthfully, through keeping the commandments of God we become more like our loving father in Heaven and we experience true happiness and joy. We are given more freedom by obeying the commandments of the Lord.
While studying for this talk, I happened upon a talk given by one of the leaders of the Church in a 2002 General Conference, Elder Claudio R.M. Costa, entitled “Fun and Happiness.” He made a very essential point – fun and happiness are two very different things. Fun is found in play, pleasure, moments of enjoyment or teasing. Happiness is defined as contentment, joy, delight and satisfaction. When I say that freedom and happiness are found through living the commandments, I do not mean that living the commandments will always be fun. When I find the cutest dress at the store that is not quite long enough, I am in no way having fun. When I can’t play the final game in a tournament on Sunday I am not having fun. When I pull 10% out of the money I earned at work over the summer I am not having fun. However, when I look back on my life of 19 years and the decisions that I have made I find that I am truly happy. I see that I have been immensely blessed from keeping the commandments of the Lord and that my happiness could not be matched by any item of clothing, any amount of money or any athletic activity on a Sunday afternoon. My happiness is not of this world because it is beyond this world. My happiness comes because I love God and I know that He loves me. In Mosiah 2:41 we read: “And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.
The parable of the Mexican Fisherman and the Investment Banker applies a similar principle. “An American investment banker was taking a much-needed vacation in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it. The investment banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the Mexican Fisherman how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.” The banker then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican fisherman replied he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked “But what do you do with the rest of your time?” The fisherman replied, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos: I have a full and busy life, senor.” The investment banker scoffed, “I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to the middleman you could sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You could control the product, processing and distribution.” Then he added, “Of course, you would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City where you would run your growing enterprise.” The fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?” asked the Fisherman. The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You could make millions.” “Millions, senor? Then what?” To which the investment banker replied, “Then you would retire. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
This parable teaches us what the most important things in life are. No amount of money could buy the Mexican fisherman what he already had – a family that he loved and cared for. I would only add that we also spend our time studying the Gospel with our families, and maybe instead of sipping wine, we have a little sparkling cider. The happiness that the gospel brings is the same as the happiness that this fisherman found with his family. No amount of money or things of worldly value can substitute the true happiness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings into our lives.
Heavenly Father asks us to keep many commandments. We are asked to sacrifice our money, talents and our time for the Lord’s work. Why do we do it? The answer is love.
We are promised that when we give of ourselves, we will be blessed. We are blessed in this life and we will be blessed eternally. We are blessed with happiness, but we are also blessed with specific promises that correlate with the commandment given. An example of this is found in the word of wisdom. We are commanded to eat healthy food, to eat meat sparingly, not to drink alcohol, coffee, tea or partake of tobacco and other harmful substances. As a follow up to this commandment, we are promised that: “…All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen” (D&C 89: 18-21).
One of my favorite blessings, particularly as I embark on a mission to Japan, is found in D&C 84: “And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst…behold I send you out to reprove the world of all their unrighteous deeds, and to teach them of a judgement which is to come. And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
                In high school when I attended early morning seminary, one of the first scriptures that I memorized was John 14:15. “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” At its very basic, love is the message of the true and restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We keep the lord’s commandments because we love him. I call this a “love-covenant.” Heavenly Father says to us: “I love you, so here are a list of commandments.” We say “I love you, so I will trust you. I will keep these commandments.” And Heavenly Father says, as stated in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:21: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
                I am so grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the commandments that have blessed me. I am grateful for the love I have for my Savior, for my God and that I know He loves me. I know that He loves each and every one of his children. He loves you. He loves your family. He loves your crazy uncle. He loves everyone. I know that this gospel will bring everlasting happiness to those who allow it to bless their lives. 

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