A Hymn for Sunday Morning

For Tony

Where are you, Lord? Where is home?
Do I have to walk this narrow road alone?

Where is peace, then? Where is rest?
I hope you know I’ve done my very best.

There’s a pasture far away.
It’s the place I long to stay.

It’s as green there as sky is blue.
It’s where all my sorrows will be swallowed up in You,

Where my dad and my son will
Shine as bright as the setting of the sun.

Here I am, Lord. Here I be,
Until you’ve wrenched every broke prayer from me.

And when I’m with you in the sky, there
I’ll know all the reasons why.

—Michael Fitzgerald
Sunday, February 21, 2010

Worth Waiting For

I had a special opportunity to witness the sealing of a couple in the Manti temple this morning. I have been visiting for about four years with the sister who was sealed. We have talked many times about the possibilities of finding a husband. After many years of searching, she finally found him and after a wonderful courtship,the two of them were sealed today—Sealing Room 6 which was an apartment where President Daniel H. Wells actually lived while he was the first president of the Manti temple (1888–1891).

I am so happy for them I could bust buttons. It seems like relationships that involve patience and self-discipline over a long period of time have more staying power. It is so important to keep our hopes and standards fixed as high as we can.

I loved the counsel of the sealer, Archie Brugger. He had some excellent advice which I could stand to hear. For example, he described marriage as the most trying and rewarding do-it-yourself project imaginable, and said if your marriage fails it often has to do with your own personal issues, not someone elses.

I am grateful to see a long hoped for dream come to life before my very eyes, all a result of keeping covenants through thick and thin, being immovable on standards, and holding onto the anchor chain of faith while neck deep in the water.

Consider Your Ways

Yesterday morning, while waiting to do some work at the temple, I read a chapter from the Old Testament.

Many years after the children of Israel had been carried away captive to Babylon, a man named Zerubbabel was appointed by the Persian king Darius to be a governor of the Jews in Jerusalem. The prophet Haggai came to him with the word of the Lord—he had been neglecting his duty to rebuild Solomon’s temple.

Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying, Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your cieled [paneled] houses, and this house [the House of the Lord] lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. —Haggai 1:3–7

The Lord “stirred up the spirit” of the covenant people in Jerusalem to begin or resume their work on the House of the Lord. They started working on the temple within a matter of weeks.

And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God. —Haggai 1:14

Too often, when troubles arise in a home, it almost always coincides with neglect of tithing and temple service. We often wonder why there is not enough—not enough money, not enough time, not enough love—when it seems as though our wages are put in “a bag with holes.”

Let me suggest to you once again the benefits of temple worship, and more regular, more meaningful devotion to the ordinances of the House of God. You will feel closer to the Lord. You will feel closer to your spouse and children. You will be more peaceful. Answers to your prayers will come more readily. You will complain less and, therefore, have less to complain about. Your path will become clear to you. You won’t feel lost. You will know what to do.  You will have the strength to resist temptation. You will turn away from contention. You will see and feel the Lord’s protection.

Consider your ways. I have, and feel to repent. Patch the holes in your bag. Take responsibility for your temple attendance. Let the Lord find you in His house often, waiting on his grace. You will be so happy you did.

What I Wish Every Ward Member Would Do

This is a talk I gave at the priesthood leadership session of stake conference yesterday afternoon, February 13, 2010.

Brethren, it is an honor to address you this afternoon. The theme of my talk comes from Proverbs 10:17:

“He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth.”

President Clark invited me to focus on an aspect of refusing reproof: “What I Wish Every Ward Member Would Do to Repent Now.”

As a bishop, my wish is that we would be more honest with ourselves, take responsibility for our choices, be truly humble, and have a willing heart.

It is clear that the greatest single deterrent to repentance is pride. We all have it to a degree.

Pride is spiritual blindness and self-deception. It is a high wall that blocks our vision, keeping us from seeing the truth about ourselves and others. Some of the hallmarks of pride are anger, blame, resistance, and denial, all of which keep us from changing and growing. Pride is also the fundamental and ever-present reason behind human misery, that which we bring on others and most assuredly on ourselves.

Pride is the steroid to which the natural man is addicted.

This reminds me of another verse found in Proverbs, chapter 30, verse 20:

“Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness.”

Just yesterday a ward member told me of her sister who has in recent weeks been arrested four times, twice on second degree felony charges. The member visited her sister, who, in shackles and an orange jump suit, decried the errors of the law and those who enforce it, denying wrongdoing.

Pride is epidemic. Allow me to address several of the most prominent symptoms of this disease and the prescriptions we can take to overcome those symptoms.

Symptom/Prescription: Anger vs. Personal Responsibility

First, pride is the root of contention, as we also read in Proverbs:

“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).

Pride is founded on the spirit of contention. This spirit is the cause of anger, hatred, conflict and war.  One of the first things the Savior taught when he visited this continent after His resurrection was that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another” (3 Nephi 11:28).

I believe it is impossible to feel anger without first assigning blame to some person or some thing outside of ourselves. While we at times blame situations and circumstances for our troubles, it is the act of blaming another person that fuels most of our anger. Anger often points a finger from the windows of the great and spacious building (see 1 Nephi 8:27). In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher said, “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).  

If we take personal responsibility for the situations that always arise from our own choices, anger begins to fade and blame starts to disappear. You and I only have one real enemy in this world, and we each get a good look at him every time we stand in front of the bathroom mirror.

Personal responsibility is always preceded by private reflection. Once we begin seeing ourselves as we really are (see Jacob 4:13), we can begin to regain our footing on the strait and narrow path and our grip on the iron rod.

Ready forgiveness of others and of self indicates a strong faith in the atonement of Christ and is an antidote to anger and contention. However, a lack of forgiveness of others and self is an indication of a lack of faith. If we forgive our neighbor, we won’t cling to blame, and if we don’t cling to blame, we cannot hold onto our anger for very long.

Forgiveness it seems is more for the forgiver than for the forgiven. It’s a way of setting ourselves free. It is an act of faith, for when we forgive, we say, in effect, that God is in charge of collecting a debt that we can never collect. He will most certainly collect on that debt in His own way and on His own terms.

Symptom/Prescription: Resistance vs. Humility

In Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Northing, Benedick quips, “Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.” (Act II, Scene III.) It requires humility to see our detractions or faults.

After we begin to take personal responsibility, and set aside blame as a lifestyle, our true image begins to be reflected back to us. Through our humility and faith, we see more clearly our imperfections, and we have hope that with the Lord’s help we can do something about them, something more satisfying than merely covering them up.

In 2 Nephi chapter 2 verses 6 and 7, Father Lehi reminds us that:

“…Redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:6–7).

Only when we come before Him broken, battered and truly humbled can we hope to have Him answer the ends of the law in our behalf.

When we are sincerely humble, we no longer need to put up resistance or deny the truth, no more must we hide from ourselves and attempt to hide from God. The natural man, among whose quick-draw emotions are shame and embarrassment, is put out the back door. We can see a new, clear path, and a divine Source of strength to tread that path alone no longer.

In Mosiah 3:19 we read:

“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.”

When we take on personal responsibility and become more humble, our hearts become more pliable and willing. The willing heart finds peace while the unwilling heart is full of turmoil as it points and blames, always running away from itself as well as from the approaching footsteps of God or His true servants.

This brings to mind a final proverb:

“The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

Brethren, let us turn aside from the natural man. Let us cool the fever of pride with our humility, let us sprint away from the great and spacious building before it falls upon us, and let us offer to the Lord our willing, subdued hearts instead of resistance and denial. By this we will most assuredly find repentance and, ultimately, forgiveness and peace.

I testify that these things are true and I leave my witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Another Grandson!

One week and 11 hours after our grandson Kimball was born, we had another one born in Texas on Wednesday morning. His name is Ian Joseph. He was 9 lbs. 1 oz. and 20½ inches long. And boy, is he a cute guy!

His dad said he looked like he was four weeks old the day he was born! Today we heard a report that he was lifting up his head. I guess this one was pretty well baked before he was born.

I was tempted to pile in the car and drive down there. It would have totally been worth the drive. If I didn’t have a speaking assignment today, I just might have done it. My wife gets to go down next week.

Ian, I can’t wait to hold you!

Valentine’s Day Ideas 2

In my last post, I talked about what a wife would really like for Valentine’s Day. What would your husband like more than anything else for Valentine’s Day? What would mean the most to him?

It’s simple: Your honor, trust, respect, and appreciation.

Now we all know that your man has weaknesses. I have many weaknesses that require constant apologies. I understand. Maybe you struggle with your feelings about him. It might be hard to feel respect when the qualities you married him for have lost a bit of their luster.

But it still counts for a lot when you believe in him, in spite of his foibles. Remember, you married him largely because you could see his potential and boyish idealism. You could see it better than he could. 

Believing in him means you must be willing to set aside your judgment, at least for a day. Look for the good, point that out, and compliment him sincerely. The more you pay attention to the good, the more you’ll see it come out. The less you pay attention to the bad, the less you’ll see of it.

No one can bring out his best qualities like you. In a way, you hold the most critical key to his self-esteem and success. It might be hard to see and he might not show it, but your belief in him means a great deal to his success. Nothing will motivate him more to do good and to be good than your positive belief in and support of him.

A pattern I see too often in couples is (1) the wife does not feel love from her husband and (2) the husband does not feel respect and honor from his wife. Then they both start doing things or not doing things, often unconsciously, that make things worse. The less she feels loved, the more grumpy and disrespectful she is, and the less he feels respected and honored or appreciated, the less love he shows to her. Very happy is the couple who discovers this cycle and finds the courage and wisdom to break it.

One way to stop the cycle is to stop playing defense and start playing offense. Defense you know is part of a game strategy to keep an opponent from scoring against you. But you can’t win any game just by playing defense. It is a reaction. You have to play offense to score points and win a game. It is taking positive action. I see offense as the positive side of play and where our focus should be.

If you want love and respect in your relationship, you’ve got to put love and respect into it. You will never get good back out of your relationship if your main focus is the negative aspects of your partner.  Highlight his good qualities, show respect for those qualities, and you’ll see more smiles, more effort, more try, and he’ll find it easier to show you back the love you long for.

Play offense and see what happens. It will work. Maybe not as fast as you’d like, but it will eventually work. In fact, nothing else will work or get you what you really want. It will ultimately bless your life to be a positive force for good, no matter what the reaction of your spouse or anyone else is. As the day follows the night, so will the light follow your choice to be positive, appreciative and respectful. Remember: “Whatsoever good thing any man [or woman] doeth, the same shall he [or she] receive of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:8).

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you.

Valentine’s Day Ideas

Valentine’s Day is coming up this weekend, yet another opportunity to express your affection for  your wife. Do you know what you are going to do about it?  A card? A meal out? Flowers? Jewelry? A movie? A visit to the temple? New socks?

I want to suggest something that I think your wife will really like. And it won’t cost you any money. It will cost you some thought and effort. Yes, she would love a dozen long-stemmed roses in her favorite color. Yes, she would love a new necklace. And who wouldn’t want a meal where no one has to fuss with cooking or the dishes? She would like all those things, but this is what I think she would like more than anything else.

Your direct, clear, deep, verbal, eye-to-eye, unmistakable, heartfelt, positive feelings of love for her.

That is the thing that matters the most to her. Period. I am sticking to my guns on this one.

Don’t get me wrong. Your wife loves and needs your attention, time, help around the house, paycheck, and a hundred other things from you, on a regular basis. But what will really make her happy is for you to share your real, genuine feelings of esteem and love for her. When you express that from the heart, with focus and intent, that is powerful, if not overwhelming to her. She needs it more than anything right now.

Okay, it is possible that she has done something or said something lately that is under your skin and bothering you. You might still be huffy and silent or slamming an occasional door. It happens. Are you going to let the little things control your life or are you going to take control of it yourself? Set everything aside and tell her that, in spite of the all the petty distractions and irritations, she is the best thing that ever happened to you. And don’t just tell her with words, though she will like that a lot. Tell her with your actions, too. Consistent actions.

If she knows that you love her, she can face anything. Nothing will make her happier. If you were the richest man in the county and lavished roses and diamonds and mansions and cars and clothes on her, it would mean nothing to her, really, unless she knows in her heart that you love her—truly, deeply, passionately, undyingly.

Nothing would mean more to her on Valentine’s Day. (But I would still take her out to dinner this weekend and get her flowers, too.)

In my next blog post, I talk about what your husband would like most.