Maintaining balance

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the April 1987 Conference.
President Ballard gave a talk on keeping life in balance, which seems like a topic we all need:
As most of you know, coping with the complex and diverse challenges of everyday life, which is not an easy task, can upset the balance and harmony we seek. Many good people who care a great deal are trying very hard to maintain balance, but they sometimes feel overwhelmed and defeated. 
A mother of four small children said: “There is no balance at all in my life. I am completely consumed in trying to raise my children. I hardly have time to think of anything else!” 
A young father, who felt the pressure of being the family provider, said: “My new business requires all of my time. I realize that I am neglecting my family and church duties, but if I can just get through one more year I will make enough money, and then things will settle down.”…
Brothers and sisters, we all face these kinds of struggles from time to time…I have a few suggestions that I hope will be valuable to those of you concerned with balancing life’s demands.
 ["Yay!" I'm thinking here. "I DO struggle with this so I'd love some suggestions!"]
These suggestions are very basic; their concepts can easily be overlooked if you are not careful.
Oh. Well. Yes, to my slight disappointment, they were very basic. Things like: prioritize your family…set short-term goals…read the scriptures and pray daily. I guess I shouldn't have thought there would be some NEW solution. But I liked this insight into WHY those basic things can help us:
Do the basic things and, before you realize it, your life will be full of spiritual understanding that will confirm to you that your Heavenly Father loves you. When a person knows this, then life will be full of purpose and meaning, making balance easier to maintain.
In other words, though obedience and diligence are important, it's the spiritual understanding they bring that helps us feel God's love—and it's God's love that gives us the strength and motivation to perform the constant "balancing" necessary. It makes me think that perhaps there IS no permanent way to "balance" our lives—but we CAN have a permanent commitment to keep re-evaluating and keep seeking God's guidance as circumstances change.

December things…besides the biggest thing


Stones and Light

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the General Women's Session of the October 1986 Conference.
This week I encountered three different references to the story of when the Brother of Jared asks the Lord to touch stones and make them glow with light. One was my friend worrying about the sacrament meeting talk she was trying to write: "I feel like I’m just going to be like a poor version of the brother of Jared and just hand the Lord a pile of rocks and ask him to please please fill them with light."

One was Sister Eubank's talk from April 2019 General Conference:
Not many years ago, I was weighed down and irritated with questions I could not find answers to. Early one Saturday morning, I had a little dream. In the dream I could see a gazebo, and I understood that I should go stand in it. It had five arches encircling it, but the windows were made of stone. I complained in the dream, not wanting to go inside because it was so claustrophobic. Then the thought came into my mind that the brother of Jared had patiently melted stones into clear glass. Glass is stone that has undergone a state change. When the Lord touched the stones for the brother of Jared, they glowed with light in the dark ships. Suddenly I was filled with a desire to be in that gazebo more than any other place. It was the very place—the only place—for me to truly “see.” The questions that were bothering me didn’t go away, but brighter in my mind was the question after I woke up: “How are you going to increase your faith, like the brother of Jared, so your stones can be turned into light?”
And one was here in the 1986 Women's Session, in a talk by Dwan J. Young:
Like the Jaredites, we’re afraid of traveling in the darkness, and we need light, which is hope. Sometimes, in the midst of our problems, we lose the vision of why we’re here or where we’re going. We wonder if we’re equal to the tasks that are given us. It is then that we can ask the Lord to touch the unlighted stones of our lives with light. He can deliver peace and hope when all around us speak against it. 
“Touch my life with light,” we can ask the Lord. “Fill my heart with hope.”
I always try to pay attention when the spirit seems to be repeating something like this, so I've been trying to understand what I'm supposed to learn. I think the thing that stands out most, putting these three ideas together, is that any darkness can be subject to God's enlightenment, if I'll ask him. Whether I need help with an assignment—help with doubts—help with discouragement—or whatever, I can ask God to light up that portion of my life so I can see it more clearly and act accordingly.

For example: I'd been feeling sad and discouraged for a few days recently when I came upon the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 50:31-32
Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that if you behold a spirit manifested that you cannot understand, and you receive not that spirit, ye shall ask of the Father in the name of Jesus; and if he give not unto you that spirit, then you may know that it is not of God. And it shall be given unto you, power over that spirit; and you shall proclaim against that spirit with a loud voice that it is not of God.
I don't know exactly what all of that means, but it seemed to say that I could ask Heavenly Father to enlighten me as to whether my fears and guilt and worries are actually worth…worrying about. (There are lots of times I'm pretty sure they AREN'T, but I can't stop them anyway!) At that point, if the spirit shines light on the fact that those thoughts aren't doing me any good, I can use that light to chase the discouragement away; to say with confidence "This isn't something God wants me to dwell on; this isn't helping me progress." Or alternatively, "God is showing me this weakness/possibility; He wants me to do something about it."

Thus the "stones" that are my dark unspoken fears are enlightened by either action or peace—both of which are really forms of peace, when you think about it. It's an application of the "stones into light" idea I hadn't considered before!

To teach only one thing

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the October 1986 Conference.

This talk by Elder Eyring was meaningful to me. I have been thinking about the question he asks, about if we had the chance to teach "only one thing," what would it be? I worry so much about all the things I want to teach my children. Yes, I know they will learn more by example than anything, and I'm only too aware that I can't really control what ends up making an impression on them…but even though I have years of time with them, I can already relate to the feeling that "time and opportunity are scarce…with people who don't think they need your teaching." With the older ones, I feel an urgency to use the time I have left for only the most important things! And this talk got me thinking about what those might be.
Tonight, or tomorrow, many of us will pray with real intent, and perhaps with tears, over someone whose happiness would bring us happiness, who has been promised all the blessings of peace that come with baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and yet who counts the promises worthless. …My heart is drawn especially to those asking the question we all have asked: “How can I be sure I have done all I can to help?” 
Fifty years ago, in October conference, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., of the First Presidency, gave this answer, which I carry copied on a card: 
“It is my hope and my belief that the Lord never permits the light of faith wholly to be extinguished in any human heart, however faint the light may glow. The Lord has provided that there shall still be there a spark which, with teaching, with the spirit of righteousness, with love, with tenderness, with example, with living the Gospel, shall brighten and glow again, however darkened the mind may have been. And if we shall fail so to reach those among us of our own whose faith has dwindled low, we shall fail in one of the main things which the Lord expects at our hands”. …
President Clark also suggested what we can do. He did not suggest a single approach to reach all people. But he described what every effort that succeeds in fanning the spark will include. 
Teaching is first. But what should we teach? Suppose time and opportunity are scarce, as they generally are with people who don’t think they need your teaching. If you had the gift, and the chance, to teach only one thing, what would it be?…
If I had the chance to teach one thing, it would be what it means and how it feels to exercise faith in Jesus Christ unto repentance.
There's more, at the link here.

Other posts in this series:

What is your testimony of the Book of Mormon?—by Jan Tolman

More than human experience

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the October 1986 Conference.

More and more I feel like I could just manage to be worthy of the Holy Ghost all the time, everything else would fall into place. Some relevant doctrine from this Conference:
God’s plan, however, is not something to be deduced by logic alone, nor is human experience deep enough or long enough to inform us adequately. It requires revelation from God.  (Elder Neal A. Maxwell)
The Holy Ghost is the Testifier of Truth, who can teach men things they cannot teach one another. (President Gordon B. Hinckley)

Depths of commitment

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Priesthood Session of the October 1986 Conference.

In these old talks, President Benson often mentions the mission his father went on when President Benson was just a teenager. Clearly it was a formative experience for the children who watched their father go. But this talk gave more detail about the experience than I'd heard before:
When I think of how we show faith, I cannot help but think of the example of my own father. I recall vividly how the spirit of missionary work came into my life. I was about thirteen years of age when my father received a call to go on a mission. It was during an epidemic in our little community of Whitney, Idaho. Parents were encouraged to go to sacrament meeting, but the children were to remain home to avoid contracting the disease. 
Father and Mother went to sacrament meeting in a one-horse buggy. At the close of the meeting, the storekeeper opened the store just long enough for the farmers to get their mail, since the post office was in the store. There were no purchases, but in this way the farmers saved a trip to the post office on Monday. There was no rural postal delivery in those days. 
As Father drove the horse homeward, Mother opened the mail, and, to their surprise, there was a letter from Box B in Salt Lake City—a call to go on a mission. No one asked if one were ready, willing, or able. The bishop was supposed to know, and the bishop was Grandfather George T. Benson, my father’s father. 
As Father and Mother drove into the yard, they were both crying—something we had never seen in our family. We gathered around the buggy—there were seven of us then—and asked them what was the matter. 
They said, “Everything’s fine.” 
“Why are you crying then?” we asked. 
“Come into the living room and we’ll explain.” 
We gathered around the old sofa in the living room, and Father told us about his mission call. Then Mother said, “We’re proud to know that Father is considered worthy to go on a mission. We’re crying a bit because it means two years of separation. You know, your father and I have never been separated more than two nights at a time since our marriage—and that’s when Father was gone into the canyon to get logs, posts, and firewood.” 
And so Father went on his mission. Though at the time I did not fully comprehend the depths of my father’s commitment, I understand better now that his willing acceptance of this call was evidence of his great faith. Every holder of the priesthood, whether young or old, should strive to develop that kind of faith.
He highlights his father's commitment, which is, of course, significant—but when I read this, what I notice is his mother's commitment—staying home with their seven children (I think the eighth was born while his father was gone) and taking care of everything by herself. Lots of pioneer women did the same, and I guess I've kind of gotten used to the idea of it—"Oh, I'm sure that was hard, but they were remarkable women, after all." But I thought it was sweet to glimpse just a little of the struggle of it. It makes the sacrifice seem more real.

Joyfully working toward a higher standard

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Afternoon Session of the October 1986 Conference.
I like President Oaks so much. I've been thinking a lot about one of his talks in the most recent Conference, where he talked about the difficulty of balancing the two great commandments, but then basically told us that we have to do it anyway, in spite of the difficulty. He said:
Meanwhile, we must try to keep both of the great commandments. To do so, we walk a fine line between law and love—keeping the commandments and walking the covenant path, while loving our neighbors along the way. This walk requires us to seek divine inspiration on what to support and what to oppose and how to love and listen respectfully and teach in the process. Our walk demands that we not compromise on commandments but show forth a full measure of understanding and love. 
I always appreciate how deeply he thinks about things, and how he doesn't give superficial answers to hard questions. I admit I was a little disappointed he didn't give us "easier" guidance about HOW to follow both commandments, but I realize that what he did give—reminders of doctrine and the scriptures, and encouragement that the spirit will help us—is probably all that really CAN be given in such complicated situations.

In the October 1986 General Conference, then-Elder Oaks gave a similarly nuanced talk, this time about honesty and integrity in the workplace. Again, I was impressed by how he covered all sides of the issue—showing the doctrine, but also the necessity to be careful and non-dogmatic about how to interpret what the doctrine means for us. He said:
Most of us can be relatively comfortable when a message on the Golden Rule in the workplace uses examples like illegal drugs and theft by deception. What follows is more challenging. And it should be. We cannot expect to be comfortable if we measure our conduct against the Savior’s command, “I would that ye should be perfect even as I”. To follow in the footsteps of the only perfect person who ever lived, we must expect to stretch our souls. 
Followers of Christ have the moral responsibility of earning their livings and conducting their financial transactions in ways that are consistent with the principles of the gospel and the teachings of the Savior. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should not be involved in employment or other activities upon which they cannot conscientiously ask the blessings of the Lord.… 
An employee who receives the compensation agreed upon but does not perform the service agreed upon earns part of his living by injuring others. 
So does an employer who is unfair to his employees. An idealistic young professional wrote Church headquarters about the plight of migrant farm workers. He had observed treatment that was probably illegal and certainly unchristian. When I read his letter, I thought of the positive example of Jesse Knight, the great benefactor of Brigham Young Academy. At a time when most mine owners exploited their workers, this Christian employer paid his miners something extra so they could earn their living in six days’ labor and rest on the Sabbath. He did not require them to patronize a company store. He built his workers a building for recreation, worship, and schooling. And Brother Knight would not permit the superintendent to question his workers about their religion or politics. 
Of course, we understand that what an employer can pay his employees is limited by what his business can obtain for its products or services in a competitive marketplace. Contracts also impose limits on legitimate economic expectations. 
Christian standards should also apply to those who earn a living by selling or advertising products in the marketplace.…We are our brother’s keeper, even in the marketplace. 
I am aware that this is a high standard which cannot be met overnight. But it is important to recognize our responsibility and begin to work toward it. And we should do so joyfully.… 
We live in a complex society, where even the simplest principle can be exquisitely difficult to apply. I admire investors who are determined not to obtain income or investment profits from transactions that add to the sum total of sin and misery in the world. But they will have difficulty finding investments that meet this high standard. Good things are often packaged with bad, so decisions usually involve balancing. In a world of corporate diversification, we are likely to find that a business dealing in beverages sells milk in one division and alcohol in another. Just when we think that our investments are entirely unspotted from the world, we may find that our life insurance is partially funded by investments we wish to avoid. Or our savings may be deposited in a bank that is lending to ventures we could not approve. Such complexities make it difficult to prescribe firm rules. 
We must rely on teaching correct principles, which each member should personally apply to govern his or her own circumstances. To that end, each of us should give thoughtful and prayerful consideration to whether we are looking after the well-being of our neighbors in the way we earn our daily bread.
I like how unafraid President Oaks is about bringing up hard issues—and how unapologetically he encourages us to tackle those issues ourselves. Sometimes it seems so hard to figure out the balance between following God's laws and being kind and careful with others' feelings, it makes me want to disengage from the question altogether. But this is a good reminder to me that, as President Oaks says, as Christians we are required to seek inspiration on these issues; we are required to seek higher standards for ourselves. And we should do so JOYFULLY!

Santa Lucia Day

I'd been (of course) tired through the beginning of December, but I woke up on Dec 13th feeling good and energetic enough to make our usual saffron buns with the kids. We even cleaned up the house while they were rising, which was lovely! (Oh how I love a clean house…and it feels like I have one so rarely!)

My dear midwife was coming for a prenatal visit later that day, and when she came she raised her eyebrows at this surge of energy resulted in baking and cleaning. "See you pretty soon," she said, when she went home. And indeed, I went into labor that night. For a few hours, anyway…but that's another story.
Teddy was helping us make the Lussekatter for most of the time, and a good help he was, too. But Sebastian had whisked him away to do something in his room by the time I got the camera out for some pictures.

Power in the Book of Mormon


This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Saturday Morning Session of the October 1986 Conference.

I've been trying to study Priesthood Power lately, as President Nelson invited us to, so I've been noticing the word "power" wherever I encounter it. When I came across this quote from President Benson, even though I've heard it a million times, it hit me a little differently than before:
There is a power in [the Book of Mormon] which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance.
Compare that to President Nelson's promise last October:
The heavens are just as open to women who are endowed with God’s power flowing from their priesthood covenants as they are to men who bear the priesthood. I pray that truth will register upon each of your hearts because I believe it will change your life. Sisters, you have the right to draw liberally upon the Savior’s power to help your family and others you love.
And then the similarities with Doctrine and Covenants 84 (which talks about the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood):
(v. 20-22) Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.
I can't really express yet all the connections I'm finding in these scriptures, but in my mind there is a thread of truth I feel like I'm just about to grasp—about power, and light, and the way it flows into us,(without compulsory means)—and then from us into others—to bring life and light wherever it goes. The power comes from obedience, and from the word of God, and from covenants, and from love.

President Benson also says this in his talk:
Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life.
I feel like I've experienced this—like the more I read the Book of Mormon (and any of the scriptures, actually), the more I'm able to start seeing how truth can be unified or circumscribed into a great whole. I obviously can't complete the whole "circle" of truth yet, but I glimpse pieces of it, and feel it, and sense that it is there—and that happens more frequently and easily when I'm really studying the Book of Mormon and allowing my brain and spirit to absorb the connections I find between real, day-to-day life and the spiritual life I hope for. It's exciting to read and learn about (potentially) accessing God's power. But I keep praying that I'll be able to go beyond the theoretical, and actually HAVE that power in my life—allowing me to become more like Christ, and helping me influence those around me!


Other posts in this series:

"God's Beloved Little Children"—by Jan Tolman

Ministering through the years

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Afternoon Session of the April 1986 Conference.

 Here's a quote from Elder James M. Paramore that sounds like it could have been given in this last year, with all the emphasis on ministering! I can see why the general authorities chose the word "ministering" to replace home and visiting teaching—it is so descriptive, and has such a great history of use in the scriptures and from the prophets! Like this:
The great promise to all of God’s children who truly minister, serve, love, and teach the gospel is that one day they may sit at the right hand of the Savior and be received into His presence. May the Lord make us “able ministers”, as were Ammon and my friend. This should be the end result of every principle and truth we learn in the gospel. This is truly the gospel in action. 
May we truly minister and teach all of our people, but especially reach out to those who plead in their hearts and through the long, lonely nights for help—our widows, our divorced, our nonmembers, our aged, our less active—to let them know of our concern, our love, and the love of God, until a happier people cannot be found upon the whole land, for “they taught and did minister one to another.”

Learning, Not Learning, Profanity, and Homesickness

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This week covers the Sunday Morning Session of the April 1986 Conference.
There were a bunch of little snippets I liked from this session of Conference. Here are my favorites:

Elder Packer, on reading the scriptures:
[In the Book of Mormon], just as you settle in to move comfortably along, you will meet a barrier. The style of the language changes to Old Testament prophecy style. For, interspersed in the narrative, are chapters reciting the prophecies of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. They loom as a barrier, like a roadblock or a checkpoint beyond which the casual reader, one with idle curiosity, generally will not go. 
You, too, may be tempted to stop there, but do not do it! Do not stop reading! Move forward through those difficult-to-understand chapters of Old Testament prophecy, even if you understand very little of it. Move on, if all you do is skim and merely glean an impression here and there. Move on, if all you do is look at the words.
I didn't think that much about this when I first read it, but I've remembered it over and over as I've read the scriptures this week. I know we should be always seeking to get more from the scriptures; to move beyond skimming. And I've had some great teachers that have helped me with these more difficult sections. So I know it's very rewarding. But…I don't know, there are still just some parts of the scriptures I do NOT understand, and it was comforting to imagine Elder Packer saying to me, "It's okay—just glean an impression here and there…just look at the words if you have to. You don't have to get all this stuff right now."

Elder Jack H. Goaslind, sounding like Elder Maxwell:
Our yearnings for happiness were implanted in our hearts by Deity. They represent a kind of homesickness, for we have a residual memory of our premortal existence. They are also a foretaste of the fulness of joy that is promised to the faithful. We can expect with perfect faith that our Father will fulfill our innermost longings for joy.
Elder Oaks, on profanity:
Profanity leads to more ungodliness because the Spirit of the Lord withdraws and the profane are left without guidance.
Vulgar and crude expressions are also offensive to the Spirit of the Lord…Profane and vulgar expressions are public evidence of a speaker’s ignorance, inadequacy, or immaturity. 
A speaker who profanes must be ignorant or indifferent to God’s stern command that his name must be treated with reverence and not used in vain…Members of the Church, young or old, should never allow profane or vulgar words to pass their lips. The language we use projects the images of our hearts, and our hearts should be pure.…
When the names of God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, are used with reverence and authority, they invoke a power beyond what mortal man can comprehend.
It should be obvious to every believer that these mighty names—by which miracles are wrought, by which the world was formed, through which man was created, and by which we can be saved—are holy and must be treated with the utmost reverence.
I've encountered profanity in a few unexpected situations lately and haven't been exactly sure why I've been so disturbed by it. It's so normal these days you do tend to get used to it…even in news articles or other places that used to be free of it. And I know it's maybe not a terrible sin, and that "taking the Lord's name in vain" can mean more than just swearing. But the fact remains that I've felt a spiritual uneasiness in those situations, and Elder Oaks' talk helped me understand why. I especially liked his positive statements about the power of the names of the Father and of Christ. When you think of their power and who they are, it makes sense why we'd want to use only words of love and respect toward them.

President Hinckley, on lifelong learning:
This restored gospel brings not only spiritual strength, but also intellectual curiosity and growth. Truth is truth. There is no clearly defined line of demarcation between the spiritual and the intellectual when the intellectual is cultivated and pursued in balance with the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and strength.
Maybe this seems like the opposite of my first quote, but I suppose they balance each other out. Sometimes I feel inspired to learn forever…sometimes I feel like my brain is full and I'll never be able to learn again! :)


Other posts in this series:

To Study Carefully the First Vision—by Jan Tolman

Donuts, skeletons, picnics


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