As we approach the conclusion of this wonderful conference, it is timely to ask ourselves what we are going to strive to become because of what we have heard from the Lord’s servants.
We are accountable and will be judged for how we use what we have received. This eternal principle applies to all we have been given. In the parable of the talents (see Matt. 25:14–30), the Savior taught this principle with reference to the use of property. The principle of accountability also applies to the spiritual resources conferred in the teachings we have been given and to the precious hours and days allotted to each of us during our time in mortality.
I wish to examine how this principle of accountability applies to our use of the enlarged time and information we have been given in our day.
Because of increased life expectancies and modern timesaving devices, most of us have far more discretionary time than our predecessors. We are accountable for how we use that time. “Thou shalt not idle away thy time” (D&C 60:13), and “Cease to be idle” (D&C 88:124), the Lord commanded the early missionaries and members. “Time flies on wings of lightning,” we sing in a popular hymn; “we cannot call it back. It comes, then passes forward along its onward track. And if we are not mindful, the chance will fade away, for life is quick in passing. ’Tis as a single day” (“Improve the Shining Moments,” Hymns, no. 226).
The significance of our increased discretionary time has been magnified many times by modern data-retrieval technology. For good or for evil, devices like the Internet and the compact disc have put at our fingertips an incredible inventory of information, insights, and images. Along with fast food, we have fast communications and fast facts. The effect of these resources on some of us seems to fulfill the prophet Daniel’s prophecy that in the last days “knowledge shall be increased” and “many shall run to and fro” (Dan. 12:4).
With greatly increased free time and vastly more alternatives for its use, it is prudent to review the fundamental principles that should guide us. Temporal circumstances change, but the eternal laws and principles that should guide our choices never change.
A homely story contains a warning. I like this story because it translates easily into different languages and cultures.
Two men formed a partnership. They built a small shed beside a busy road. They obtained a truck and drove it to a farmer’s field, where they purchased a truckload of melons for a dollar a melon. They drove the loaded truck to their shed by the road, where they sold their melons for a dollar a melon. They drove back to the farmer’s field and bought another truckload of melons for a dollar a melon. Transporting them to the roadside, they again sold them for a dollar a melon. As they drove back toward the farmer’s field to get another load, one partner said to the other, “We’re not making much money on this business, are we?” “No, we’re not,” his partner replied. “Do you think we need a bigger truck?”
We don’t need a bigger truckload of information, either. Like the two partners in my story, our biggest need is a clearer focus on how we should value and use what we already have.
Because of modern technology, the contents of huge libraries and other data resources are at the fingertips of many of us. Some choose to spend countless hours in unfocused surfing the Internet, watching trivial television, or scanning other avalanches of information. But to what purpose? Those who engage in such activities are like the two partners in my story, hurrying to and fro, hauling more and more but failing to grasp the essential truth that we cannot make a profit from our efforts until we understand the true value of what is already within our grasp.
A poet described this delusion as an “endless cycle” that brings “knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word,” in which “wisdom” is “lost in knowledge” and “knowledge” is “lost in information” (T. S. Eliot, “Choruses from ‘The Rock,’” in The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909–1950 , 96).
We have thousands of times more available information than Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Yet which of us would think ourselves a thousand times more educated or more serviceable to our fellowmen than they? The sublime quality of what these two men gave to us—including the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—was not attributable to their great resources of information, for their libraries were comparatively small by our standards. Theirs was the wise and inspired use of a limited amount of information.
Available information wisely used is far more valuable than multiplied information allowed to lie fallow. I had to learn this obvious lesson as a law student.
Over 45 years ago, I was introduced to a law library with hundreds of thousands of law books. (Today such a library would include millions of additional pages available by electronic data retrieval.) When I began to prepare an assigned paper, I spent many days searching in hundreds of books for the needed material. I soon learned the obvious truth (already familiar to experienced researchers) that I could never complete my assigned task within the available time unless I focused my research in the beginning and stopped that research soon enough to have time to analyze my findings and compose my conclusions.
Faced with an excess of information in the marvelous resources we have been given, we must begin with focus or we are likely to become like those in the well-known prophecy about people in the last days—“ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). We also need quiet time and prayerful pondering as we seek to develop information into knowledge and mature knowledge into wisdom.
We also need focus to avoid what is harmful. The abundant information and images accessible on the Internet call for sharp focus and control to avoid accessing the pornography that is an increasing scourge in our society. As the Deseret News noted in a recent editorial, “Images that used to be hidden in out-of-the-way store counters now are as close as a mouse click” (“Staying ahead of Pornography,” 21–22 Feb. 2001, A12). The Internet has made pornography accessible almost without effort and often without leaving the privacy of one’s home or room. The Internet has also facilitated the predatory activities of adults who use its anonymity and accessibility to stalk children for evil purposes. Parents and youth, beware!
There are many gospel implications of this easily accessible flood of information. For example, our Church Web site now provides access to all of the general conference addresses and other contents of Church magazines for the past 30 years. Teachers can download bales of information on any subject. When highly focused, a handout can enrich. But a bale of handouts can detract from our attempt to teach gospel principles with clarity and testimony. Stacks of supplementary material can impoverish rather than enrich, because they can blur students’ focus on the assigned principles and draw them away from prayerfully seeking to apply those principles in their own lives.
Nephi taught, “Feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Ne. 32:3). That is focus. Nephi also said that as he taught from the scriptures, “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23). That is personal application.
As a further illustration of the need for focus in using and teaching from the great information resources of the past, consider the comparative value today of the advice Brigham Young gave to an audience 140 years ago with what President Hinckley and other servants of the Lord are saying to each of us right now, in this conference. Or compare the value to each of us of some other facts or advice from the distant past with what our stake president said at our last stake conference or what our bishop counseled us last Sunday.
Overarching all of this is the importance of what the Spirit whispered to us last night or this morning about our own specific needs. Each of us should be careful that the current flood of information does not occupy our time so completely that we cannot focus on and hear and heed the still, small voice that is available to guide each of us with our own challenges today.
I hope that these cautions on the need for focus will not be understood as hostile to selective use of the new technology that has put such a wealth of information at our fingertips. In this I echo Brigham Young, who declared:
“Every discovery in science and art, that is really true and useful to mankind, has been given by direct revelation from God. … We should take advantage of all these great discoveries … and give to our children the benefit of every branch of useful knowledge, to prepare them to step forward and efficiently do their part in the great work” (Deseret News, 22 Oct. 1862, 129).
We also need priorities. Our priorities determine what we seek in life. Most of what has been taught in this conference concerns priorities. I hope we will heed these teachings.
Jesus taught about priorities when He said, “Seek not the things of this world but seek ye first to build up the kingdom of God, and to establish his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (JST, Matt. 6:38, in Matt. 6:33, footnote a). “Seek … first to build up the kingdom of God” means to assign first priority to God and to His work. The work of God is to bring to pass the eternal life of His children (see Moses 1:39), and all that this entails in the birth, nurturing, teaching, and sealing of our Heavenly Father’s children. Everything else is lower in priority. Think about that reality as we consider some teachings and some examples on priorities. As someone has said, if we do not choose the kingdom of God first, it will make little difference in the long run what we have chosen instead of it.
As regards knowledge, the highest priority religious knowledge is what we receive in the temple. That knowledge is obtained from the explicit and symbolic teachings of the endowment, and from the whisperings of the Spirit that come as we are desirous to seek and receptive to hear the revelation available to us in that sacred place.
As regards property, Jesus taught that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). Consequently, we should not lay up for ourselves “treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matt. 6:19). In other words, the treasures of our hearts—our priorities—should not be what the scriptures call “riches [and] the vain things of this world” (Alma 39:14). The “vain things of [the] world” include every combination of that worldly quartet of property, pride, prominence, and power. As to all of these, the scriptures remind us that “you cannot carry them with you” (Alma 39:14). We should be seeking the kind of treasures the scriptures promise the faithful: “great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (D&C 89:19).
All around us we have the good examples of those who seek permanent treasures—those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6) and put the kingdom of God first in their lives. Among the most visible such examples are the men and women who set aside their worldly pursuits and even say good-bye to their families to serve missions for the Lord. Tens of thousands of these are young missionaries. In addition, I pay particular tribute to those who serve missions in their mature years, some as mission leaders and some as what we call couple missionaries. Their remarkable service evidences their priorities, and their impressive example is a guide to their families and to all who know them.
Our priorities are most visible in how we use our time. Someone has said, “Three things never come back—the spent arrow, the spoken word, and the lost opportunity.” We cannot recycle or save the time allotted to us each day. With time, we have only one opportunity for choice, and then it is gone forever.
Good choices are especially important in our family life. For example, how do family members spend their free time together? Time together is necessary but not sufficient. Priorities should govern us in the precious time we give to our family relationships. Compare the impact of time spent merely in the same room as spectators for television viewing with the significance of time spent communicating with one another individually and as a family.
To cite another example, how much time does a family allocate to learning the gospel by scripture study and parental teachings, in contrast to the time family members spend viewing sports contests, talk shows, or soap operas? I believe many of us are overnourished on entertainment junk food and undernourished on the bread of life.
In terms of priorities for each major decision (such as education, occupation, place of residence, marriage, or childbearing), we should ask ourselves, what will be the eternal impact of this decision? Some decisions that seem desirable for mortality have unacceptable risks for eternity. In all such choices we need to have inspired priorities and apply them in ways that will bring eternal blessings to us and to our family members.
Then, after we have done all that we can, we should remember the wise counsel and comforting assurance of King Benjamin, who taught, “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength” (Mosiah 4:27).
The ultimate Latter-day Saint priorities are twofold: First, we seek to understand our relationship to God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and to secure that relationship by obtaining their saving ordinances and by keeping our personal covenants. Second, we seek to understand our relationship to our family members and to secure those relationships by the ordinances of the temple and by keeping the covenants we make in that holy place. These relationships, secured in the way I have explained, provide eternal blessings available in no other way. No combination of science, success, property, pride, prominence, or power can provide these eternal blessings!
I testify that this is true, and I testify of God the Father, whose plan establishes the way, and of our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose Atonement makes it all possible.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
As a young woman, I was an achiever—a straight-A student, product of a strong Latter-day Saint family. I suppose I saw myself as a valiant spirit on the fast track to the celestial kingdom.
But after I married and had children, divorce temporarily derailed my journey. Now, instead of speeding along smoothly toward success, I have spent years painstakingly trying to rebuild my track one tie, one step, at a time.
In the aftermath of divorce, I took comfort in the fact that my children were young and innocent. I expected their pure hearts to recognize and cling to goodness. I naively thought the choice between their father’s immoral, apostate lifestyle and my gospel-centered lifestyle would be easy for them. I was devastated as one by one, three of my four children turned their backs on the Church.
Now adults, they are still loving. They work hard at honoring me and letting me know that they care. They are responsible, productive people who manifest the basic values of Christian charity and honesty. But they have made their emotional and intellectual home in a culture that is foreign to me.
Without question we love each other, but sometimes finding common ground is difficult. I go back and forth with my feelings—missing them and wanting to be a part of their lives, yet being relieved at not always having to participate in their lives. It is painful to remember the dreams I used to have for them. But I don’t want to torture them or me with my disappointment, so I work hard at living my life in the present instead of the past.
Longing to Help
I feel torn between trying to love my children as they are and wanting desperately to help them change. In 3 Nephi 18, Jesus was about to leave the Nephites after sharing experiences so powerful they defied description. He gave them one final instruction, knowing the sweetness of that moment would not last indefinitely. He taught them how to treat those of their congregations who may not be worthy, the ones who have fallen away, like my children and perhaps some of yours. He said:
“If he [the wayward soul] repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered.
“Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them” (3 Ne. 18:31–32).
Emotionally, I am struck by the force with which Jesus instructed the Nephites regarding these wayward souls, both in terms of condemning their behavior and in terms of ministering to them. His counsel highlights the contradiction I feel as I interact with three of my children. When I visit them, am I polluting myself by spending time in “Babylon”? Do I give them a false message of approval by sharing parts of their questionable lifestyle? Or am I ministering to them? What meaning does 3 Nephi 18 have for me?
Maintaining My Standards
The last time I visited one of my daughters, I declined her invitation to go to an amusement park on Sunday. Instead, I attended sacrament meeting in the local chapel. It felt strange to be attending church in my daughter’s neighborhood—in what should be her ward—participating in an experience now foreign to her. I sat there with her neighbors, realizing that the way she dresses and behaves is probably offensive to them; these members of my church would see my daughter as foreign. They would look at her walking down the street or drinking with her female partner, and they would feel uncomfortable. It probably would not occur to them that she was raised in Utah, a descendant of Latter-day Saint pioneers.
I was sympathetic with their probable discomfort. But there was also a voice inside me that was crying out to these people, my daughter’s neighbors, to recognize her as a daughter of God and to minister to her. This was a testimony meeting, and I could not restrain myself from speaking to the congregation. As nearly as I can reconstruct them, these are the thoughts I shared:
“Brothers and Sisters, I am here visiting my daughter, who should be a member of your ward but has not been inside a chapel for many years. In fact, three of my four children have fallen away from the Church. I want to apologize to you good people on behalf of my children. I suspect that you may have seen them as you walked down these streets, and I am sorry if their behavior has offended you.
“But let me leave you with an additional thought. The next time you are confronted with someone in your neighborhood whose appearance or behavior is offensive to you, remember that person has a mother, and it might be me. So thank you in advance for not judging and for remembering that this child of mine is also a child of God.”
I think my comments were a synthesis of my struggles for many years in going back and forth between verses 31 and 32 of 3 Nephi 18. That balancing act pretty much sums up my life.
I used to think my faith alone would be sufficient to bring my children back. I wanted to be like Alma the elder; because of his prayers, an angel appeared and changed his son’s life in a dramatic, miraculous way (see Mosiah 27:10–16). I thought that if I could just exercise enough faith, I could call down a miracle from heaven on behalf of my ex-husband and, later, my children. But to now, it has not been so.
My heart was broken by the decisions of my children, and in a very real sense my life fell apart. But I want to share three lessons I learned as a result. Perhaps the best way to elaborate on these lessons is in the context of the fourth article of faith, which identifies the first principle of the gospel as “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” I discovered that faith and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ mean different things to me. I used to think of faith as the power to accomplish anything—to move mountains, walk on water, and certainly to bring my children back to the fold. But faith, no matter how powerful, will not take away agency. When I face my disappointments, however, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ allows me to acknowledge His mercy and longsuffering as those gifts relate to both my children and myself.
Lesson number one was the realization that I cannot change others; I can only change myself. As I have matured in facing the lifelong challenge with independent children, I find that my prayers are different than they used to be. I used to try to exercise faith by saying, “Heavenly Father, please help my children to change. Help them to become aware of the harmful effects of alcohol or sexual promiscuity, and help them to recognize the truths of the gospel.” But now I am more likely to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by saying, “Heavenly Father, I know Thou lovest my children. Help me to feel about them the same way Thou dost. Help me to love them better. Help me to understand Thy plan as it applies to them. And help me to be patient.”
Lesson number two, for me, was that becoming completely stripped of pride freed me to make spiritual progress. It was humiliating when I divorced to go from being a strong member of the ward to someone who suddenly needed help. I was embarrassed when people learned that my 14-year-old daughter had elected to live with her father, who had chosen a homosexual lifestyle, instead of with me. (What was I doing wrong? I was a good mother. I paid tithing, fasted and prayed, attended the temple. What more could I do?) Later, it was even more embarrassing to admit that my daughter had chosen her father’s lifestyle for her own.
But as I learned more about exercising faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, my broken heart became not a crushed heart but a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” (see D&C 59:8), a heart broken open to receive help, guidance, and wisdom. I was open to learn, to grow, and to change; pride was no longer a barrier. During that time when my heart was so tender, I couldn’t sit through a sacrament meeting without weeping. People saw my tears and felt sorry for me, but those tears were more than tears of grief. I was overwhelmed with many feelings—including feelings of gratitude, joy, and love. The Lord was aware of my plight, and His grace was at work in my heart.
Lesson number three was that Christ will never stop loving His Father’s children, and neither should I. Loving my children will never be inappropriate, no matter what they may have done to cut themselves off from the Church. I take comfort in reading any scripture that helps me understand the profound love Christ has for all of His Father’s children. One of my favorites is found in Isaiah 49:15–16:
“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.”
While Christ hung on the cross, I feel He was engraving the image, the names, of my children and me in the palms of His hands.
Faith is a belief that through fasting and prayer all things are possible—even a change of heart in our children so that they will repent and return to the Church. For me, the additional dimension of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is trusting in the reality and the power of Christ’s love for all God’s children regardless of our mistakes. Faith in Christ is knowing that His Atonement makes repentance possible.
A Responsibility to Love
I am deeply grateful for my testimony of the power of the Atonement. I don’t know what will be required of my children, to what extent they will be held accountable, how painful repentance will be for them—or even how long until they will recognize the need for change. But I do know that my responsibility right now is to love them.
I will never quit hoping that my children will again embrace the gospel. I love to ponder verse 32 of the 18th chapter of 3 Nephi: “For unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.” I particularly appreciate the promise “and I shall heal them.”
It has sometimes been difficult for me in testimony meetings to listen to faith-promoting stories about a miraculous healing, a surprising conversion, or a son or daughter who came back to church. I could become cynical if I allowed myself. What about all the righteous people who die tragically? Faith doesn’t always cure. And why does Heavenly Father seem to answer other parents’ prayers and not mine?
But I choose not to be cynical. Instead I rejoice with my brothers and sisters when their prayers are answered, and I accept the fact that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is much more than being able to pray down a miracle from heaven. In the final analysis, such faith is really faithfulness. What really matters is that I remain true to the knowledge and testimony I have and that I stay open to the growing and learning process by acknowledging my limitations and seeking divine guidance.
A Responsibility to Know Joy
Along with my decision to avoid cynicism, I have decided not to wallow in guilt and misery. I could torture myself with “if only”—if only I had married someone else, if only I had been a stronger influence when my children were young, if only I had recognized some of their concerns earlier. But “if only” doesn’t make any difference now, and berating myself doesn’t accomplish anything either. Rather, if I truly believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the plan of happiness, then it is my responsibility to be happy. The best way I can be a missionary to my children is to radiate the joy of the gospel by the way I live.
I no longer see myself on the fast track to the celestial kingdom. There is no fast track. When I was skimming along the surface of the straight and narrow path in my youth, I had lofty goals, and I knew success; but I didn’t really know Christ until I was confronted with “potholes” in the road. I am sorry my children have left the Church, but I am not sorry for the potholes that have brought me to my knees.
There is no way to get through life unscathed. For each of us, the only track to the celestial kingdom requires a humble recognition of our dependence on the atoning sacrifice of the Savior Jesus Christ. We must recognize the love of our Heavenly Father and develop an unwavering commitment to keep His commandments.
I will continue to exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by loving Him, loving my children, and striving to be an example of the gospel as the true plan of happiness.
Let’s Talk about It
Read the first three paragraphs and ask family members what they would do or how they would feel if this were to happen to them. Read the second section, “Longing to Help,” and discuss the words and phrases of 3 Nephi 18:31–32. How can we show tolerance and love for those who believe and live differently from ourselves?
Read and discuss the three lessons this sister learned from her experience. Invite family members to use the Topical Guide to find scriptures that relate to each lesson. Bear testimony of the power of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in your life.