Last Sunday, during his talk at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, President Monson recounted several scenes from Henry Van Dyke’s The Mansion. He told of one John Weightman who, dreaming of his arrival in heaven, was shocked to discover that he would receive only a small hut in an open field for his earthly labors rather than a mansion as others.
He asked his guide, called the Keeper of the Gate, “What is it that counts here?” To this the guide answered:
“Only that which is truly given…Only that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself.”
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6.)
When Jesus quoted that verse in Matthew 9:13, he also said “Go ye and learn what that meaneth.” I have pondered this verse for years. I do not know all that it means, but I feel I have gotten a few things out of it.
The crux of which is: Kindness and mercy, acceptance and forgiveness, love and patient understanding, are among the finest gifts we can give to one another. In other words, people, and the feelings they have, are infinitely more important than things.
Obedience to God’s laws is essential, but when we obey those laws in a proud or competitive way, a self-righteous way for others to see, we too often forget the “weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).
I remember President Monson once quoting this saying attributed to Barbara Johnson:
Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.
This Christmas season, we all have plenty of things to worry about and plenty to do, but none of those things are more important than the people around us. My prayer is that I will have the courage to take the time to be a true friend to others, starting with those nearest to me, my family and friends.
A true friend cares and listens, overlooks faults with patience, gives of self. A true friend is in a way a ministering angel. I can’t think of anything better to give this time of year to honor the Master, Jesus Christ.
This, I believe, is what really counts here.