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.