Leaning against the Door of Opinion

Both science and religion require some degree of belief or faith in what we can’t see. We gather information and move forward with what knowledge we can discover. Plainly, we are all missing information, no matter the field.

In any case, we find ourselves leaning against the door of one opinion or another. We have to depend on working models—opinions—to get us through life.

We often seek “proof” of our opinions, but, in most cases, we can prove little to anyone except to ourselves. We may collect enough information to be very confident in a personal theory, but it’s often best to leave that door open for more information rather than to lean hard against it. If not, we’re likely to wander a broad plateau.

When we lean against the door of opinion, hoping nobody will attempt to open it, we stop learning and growing and we find ourselves becoming defensive and fearful. There is a tendency to mock and belittle others’ beliefs, whether science- or faith-based, in defense of our own. But there is a better way.

Remember: God doesn’t have any opinions and in a time distant, neither will you.

Don’t feel obligated to sit behind that closed door. Keep yours ajar. Better yet, push it open and come out into the light, where there’s patience with self and others, where there’s more room to consider than to argue, room to appreciate, and to wait.

Our Savior “descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ” (D&C 88:6–7).

And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—the light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things. (D&C 88:11–13.)

There’s a bright light behind that door, and you’ll find truth in that light. It comes from God. It shines, brightly. It enlightens our eyes, fills us with understanding. It’s everywhere and in all things, though many are blind to it.

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5.)

There’s more truth on the other side of the door. When we open it, we’ll find another door, and another. Which way we lean against our own door—to swing it open or hold it closed—can make all the difference. 

The Death of Anne Frank

Photo by Arne Liste (Creative Commons 3.0 License) See http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/36/Anne-frank-grab.jpg

The young diarist Anne Frank, along with her sister Margot, died 70 years ago this month in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Bergen, Germany. She was 15 years old. British soldiers freed the camp only six weeks later.

Anne began keeping a diary two days after her 13th birthday, June 14, 1942. When Margot was ordered to report to a work camp the following month, Anne and her family went into hiding in the “secret annex” at Prinsengracht 263-267, Amsterdam. Her father Otto, the family’s sole survivor (their mother Edith died at Auschwitz), published Anne’s diary a few years after the war. It has since appeared in over 60 languages.

I attended WWW9 in Amsterdam in May 2000. I went to the see the hiding place—the Anne Frank House—twice while I was there. The experience created an unforgettable wound that has not healed.

Anne and her family lived in an apartment at Merwedeplein 37-2, also in Amsterdam, from December 1933 until July 1942. The Merwedeplein complex was walking distance from my hotel. I discovered there a quiet green next to the apartment building. I sat on a bench. The weather was cool, partly cloudy. There were no tulips as the season had just past. Three children, two boys and a girl, played soccer in the park on that carefree spring day. It was clear from their clothing that they were orthodox Jews. Amsterdam left a little part of itself in me.

Anne’s death was one of millions. We know about Anne because she wrote, and her work has been read and cherished for decades because she was innocent and honest and articulate. But what about the silent millions who left little evidence that they even lived?

Since visiting the United States holocaust museum in Washington, D.C., there has been one thing I could never get out of my mind: the smell of the shoes. On display in one part of the museum are thousands of shoes confiscated from concentration-camp prisoners. Those shoes are to me so utterly human and personal.

I hear the silence. I mourn the mindless savagery of a political monster, checked too late to save 60 million lives.  What to do with that silence, I don’t know. But I can’t ever forget it. I don’t try to forget it.

On Anne and Margot’s gravestone are a few words from Proverbs 20:27, “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord.” That candle will never go out.

A No from God

Courtesy LDS Media LibraryI heard this the other night at our branch home evening.

The question was asked, Does God answer all of our prayers? The answer is yes, though His answer is not always yes.

Sometimes the answer to prayer is no, but a no from God is not a rejection but rather a redirection.

A no from God is actually a yes to something better, something that we have not quite grasped.

no from God is often a doorway to a learning experience from Him, if we are willing to walk through that door. On the other side of that door is growth, revelation, and peace.

On the other hand, sometimes the answers to our prayers are quite unexpected. Do you think Joseph Smith expected to see God the Father and Jesus Christ in the grove when he asked which church to join (see Joseph Smith—History 1:1-20)? Sometimes we get far more of an answer than we hoped for or imagined possible.

Sometimes an answer to our deepest needs come unexpectedly, in response to someone else’s prayer. Think of the angel visiting Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah (see Mosiah 27), an answer to the prayer of Alma’s father. At times, “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (see Romans 11:29), as we see in the case of Alma or Saul (see Acts 9).

We can help answer our own prayers simply by making better choices, by following a higher path than the one we’ve been plodding. Blessings from God are contingent on obedience to law (see D&C 130:20–21). It behooves us to learn what those laws are.

Whether yes or no, when the Lord answers our prayers or the prayers of another in our behalf, the answer will be right. You can rely on that.

Something I Heard in Testimony Meeting Today

Courtesy LDS Media Library

Today in testimony meeting, I heard a man tell a story about his rationalizing and ignoring a prompting from the Spirit. He felt inspired to call a new convert as his counselor in a Sunday School presidency, but set the feeling aside. Shortly after that, that man was released as Sunday School president and the bishop called the new convert to serve in his place.

In his testimony the man humbly acknowledged, “If you don’t follow the promptings of the Spirit, the Lord will find someone who will.”

Wow. I don’t know that I’ve recognized this truth before, but it totally fits.

I love this quote: “There is nothing that the Lord thy God shall take in his heart to do but what he will do it” (Abraham 3:17). If God decides to call, He calls. If He decides to create, He creates. If He decides to rest, He rests.

I on the other hand can be indecisive about what I want and do. The Lord knows His own work and He will accomplish it, no matter what I do or don’t do. The question is, Do I want to be part of it? I hope He doesn’t ever have to find someone else to inspire again.

My Heart’s Desire

We picked up our daughter from her mission in New Jersey in March of 2008. One of the last things the mission president’s wife shared with the departing missionaries was a simple way to pursue their heart’s desire.

She provided little paper cut-out hearts and suggested that they write their heart’s desire inside of one. The idea was to capture and hold the desire, focus on it, and ask for the Lord’s help in receiving it.

I took several blank hearts that day but did not act. After thinking about it for several weeks, when we had returned home to Utah, I finally wrote my desire inside a yellow heart and tucked it in my old, black-covered triple combination. It was Saturday, April 5, 2008.

My heart’s desire is private, as is yours, but I’ll share a little of mine. It has to do with my writing career and providing for my family. I had a good job at that time, one of the best I’ve had, but I wanted to find something more: the path my intuition and dreams had been urging me to follow since my late teens.

I was talking to my wife about this today and I suddenly grasped something that I had not understood.

That same month, April 2008, the first scene of a novel came to me. It was something like a snapshot. It was a picture of a girl discovering her courage and hidden gifts as she stopped a man named Willy Jack from stealing a prized horse. The scene eventually became chapter 28 of Song of Falling Leaves, a New Young Adult fantasy set in contemporary Elko, Nevada. That book took six and a half years to write. I finally published it last September.

I didn’t realize until this afternoon that an important part, perhaps the most important part, of my heart’s desire has been fulfilled.

The fulfillment of a desire is often the fruit of undaunted hope, mixed with persistent imagination. Sometimes hope is a dormant seed until the dew of heaven quietly wakens it.

Finishing the Race

Photo courtesy Ernst Vikne from Skien, Norway (CC License)My dreams are not often vivid or memorable, but I had a dream last night I actually remember.

I dreamed I was running a race. It was a course I’d run before. I had on my running clothes and my bib was flapping in the breeze. I was moving along at a good pace and enjoying myself.

I suddenly realized that I was running the race alone, that the customary markers along the course were missing. A bit of panic swept over me. Where was everyone else? Was I running on the wrong day?

Then I thought to myself, “It doesn’t matter if no one else is running this race. I’m going to finish it anyway.” As I picked up speed, I woke up.

I’ve been thinking about my dream all day. I’m grateful that I don’t always have to run alone, though I realize there are some who have to run all by themselves. Sometimes we are called to pass through a Gethsemane of loneliness. We all pass through those times, and I know those times will pass for you as they have for me.

I’ve started a lot of things than I haven’t finished, but I am determined to finish the race of a lifetime. I’ll let the apostle Paul say it:

But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify [of] the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24.)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (NIV 2 Corinthians 9:24–25.) 

Finishing that race strong is the most important thing you and I can do, for ourselves and for those who look to us for strength.

I have a wonderful family and great friends, but I feel alone sometimes. It’s part of the deal when you live away from your heavenly home and Parents. Even though I feel lonely at times, I know I’m really not alone. Neither are you.

Here’s a bonus: If you are feeling discouraged, watch the story of Tim Hurst, a one-legged marathon runner and karate teacher. Amazing.

Five Smooth Stones

Courtesy LDS Media Library.

I’ve loved the story of David and Goliath since I was a boy (see 1 Samuel 17). David was the ultimate underdog. When I think of the odds stacked against him, his confidence and boldness amaze me. That shot with the sling? One in a million. And in spite of falling very hard later in life, he repented as best he could and remained a man of faith until his death.

I won’t retell the whole story, but here are a few highlights.

David was sent by his father to take some food to his older brothers who’d been in a stand off with Goliath and the Philistine army for over a month in the valley of Elah (probably means the valley of oaks). When David heard Goliath’s defiance, he said: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26).

David, who was but a youth or stripling (v. 33, 56), said he’d fight the giant of Gath when no one else dared. Saul the king doubted but David, a shepherd, reported that he had killed wild animals in defense of his flocks.

David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee. (V. 37.)

Saul offered armor and a sword to David. He tried them on but gave up on them quickly. “I cannot go with these,” David said (v. 39).

He took off the armor and sword, and took up again his shepherd’s staff. Then he chose “five smooth stones out of the brook” (v. 40) and put them in his bag or scrip. With only his staff, a sling, and five stones in a small bag, David approached the heady mocker.

Valley of Elah by David Bena, courtesy of Creative Commons license
The valley of Elah, December 2014, by David Bena

It turned out that David only needed one stone to get the job done. That’s all it took. He ran toward the towering Philistine and, once in range, struck Goliath in the forehead with apparently just one shot. The stone sunk into his forehead and Goliath fell to the ground on his face.

Imagine the shock of the Philistine army! David stood on top of Goliath, and with Goliath’s own sword, took off the giant’s head.

In an instant, the momentum changed in favor of the Israelite army. I’m sure you can predict how the rest of the day went without even reading the chapter.

I want to go back to those five smooth stones. I’ve been thinking about those stones for years, but more particularly the last few months. A few nights ago, in a somewhat desperate prayer, I asked the Lord to tell me what my five smooth stones were—what five stones could I use to defeat my enemy, my giant. I needed to know! Then I listened. And listened. I was patient for a switch.

And He told me, in clear, distinct language, what my own “five smooth stones” were. It might seem strange, but I heard or felt words that were combined in ways that I have never heard or thought of before. I wrote them down on a 3 × 5 card as soon as they came to me. I also recorded them in my journal. And I’ve been thinking about them—even applying them—ever since.

You can ask for yourself. If I can know, you can know. I’m sure of that. And with those smooth stones, we can defeat anything that defies the living God.

Enduring Faith

Today, a counselor in our bishopric bore his testimony and shared a story about his favorite Christmas gift.

His daughter has been wheelchair bound for six years, but on Christmas she was able to walk from the car into their house with only the aid of a pair of crutches. Imagine that! What a great moment that must have been.

Then he went on to talk of what he called “enduring faith.” He explained that our prayers are not always answered immediately, but if we endure in patient faith, we can expect answers, even miracles.

I was also touched today by an article written by Elder Koichi Aoyagi of the Seventy. It’s another example of enduring faith.

He told of making a commitment to marry in the temple at age 19, even though there were no temples in Japan at that time (1964). He was prayerfully searching for a wife and found Shiroko Momose with the aid of the Spirit when he was 25 (six years later). He proposed to her shortly after they started dating. Her response?

I am very happy to know that your Lord is my Lord . . . . When they announced the trip to the Salt Lake Temple, I longed to go. I prayed many times that the Lord would help me find someone I could marry there. About a year ago I came to know through the Spirit while praying that I should wait for you [while you were on your mission] and that you would propose to me when you returned from your mission.

They married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1970.

The perseverance and endurance of faithful people amazes me. “Enduring faith” is now part of my spiritual vocabulary.

You Can Change

Courtesy LDS Media Library

It’s a new year, a perfect time to make some changes in my life. But change requires courage, effort, humility, and willingness, things that aren’t always easy to come by. Maybe that’s why change is hard for me and most other people.

I like my daily patterns, those little habits that are a cinch for me to do and remember, like taking a shower or brushing my teeth. They don’t require much thought or imagination, and they don’t present a challenge. They are mostly good things, but I’ve got some bad habits mixed in there too—mostly omissions.

When someone asks me to change my daily patterns, I sometimes balk. I’m not always big on change because change requires energy, something I’m a little short on these days. Am I “set in my ways”? Maybe. Probably.

From the beginning, angels and prophets have been asking the human family to shape up. It’s not a fun job and prophets are often hated for it. Why are they hated? It’s evident we don’t like to be found out or to have our faults pointed out. We don’t like to be “told.” Changes don’t come easy, especially for proud people who think they’ve already got everything figured out.

This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits. (Isaiah 30:9–10.)

Remember Saul, who later became Paul the apostle, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord,” who on the road to Damascus saw a light and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”

“Who art thou, Lord?” he asked.

“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest . . . .”

Then Saul wisely replied, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (See Acts 9:1–19.)

That’s a tougher thing to say than to do, but the apostle Paul spent the rest of his life doing his best to follow what the Lord would have him do. It took sacrifice and energy and deep humility, but he did it, and in doing so, he changed not only himself, but also the world.

I like the way Jesus explained the problem of repentance to Nicodemus one night:

Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (John 3:20.)

If you ever feel like hiding or fleeing from change, well, it’s a pretty good indicator that you ought consider making that change, to turn around and face the light.

If you point out my “darkness” to me, I have several options: defend myself, hide, or change.

If I defend myself, my little dark deeds stay in the dark, or so I imagine. This kind of self-defense keeps me comfortably stagnant. No growth there.

If I hide, I’m just hiding from the truth, which is just putting off the inevitable.

If I change, I take a risk. I might embarrass myself by admitting I need to change. I might fail in my efforts. But what are the possibilities, the joys, the rewards of repentance?

He who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come. (D&C 59:23.)

The word repent comes from a Latin root that means “to feel regret.” The word regret, perhaps of Germanic origin, means “to weep.” Repentance is not only a path to change but also a motivation as well.

If I could say one thing about repentance, it would be this: it heals. It heals hearts, it heals minds, it heals relationships, it closes wounds, it opens possibilities. After faith in Christ, it’s the best possible thing you can do.

When the light came to Saul, he didn’t mess around. He decided to change, to repent, on the spot. His spirit was contrite, his heart, broken. He was willing to change without argument. Life was tough for him after that, but as he shaped his will to the Lord’s will, he changed not only himself but also thousands of lives. He is still, through his letters in the New Testament, changing lives by the thousands.

We have an adversary. He is real. He and his mob of minions don’t want you to repent, because if you change, you’ll change others. He doesn’t want that. It ruins his plan. There’s a better plan than his. It’s simple, and though difficult, nothing could be more rewarding.

Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice—yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command—they are accepted of me. For I, the Lord, will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit. (D&C 97:8–9.)

When your heart is honest and broken, when your spirit is contrite and willing, the door of heaven is flung open. God cares about us more than He cares about our sins. He will suffer long with us as we try and try again. It will be worth it, more worthwhile than we can imagine.

We know why change is important, but what about the how? What can we do differently to create a different outcome? Many books have been written on the subject, and gurus have dedicated their lives to proffering numberless tricks and gimmicks on how to change (just think “weight loss”), but I have found three principles that don’t ever fail: (1) accountability, (2) retrospection, and (3) grace.

First, including others in my goal making and keeping keeps me on my toes. It helps a lot to give account to another human being of what you are doing or not doing. Second, reminding, remembering, and reflecting on what went well, what didn’t, and what’s next—that’s retrospection to me. A daily dose is best. Finally, and most importantly, the grace of a loving Father is what makes great things happen.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:10.)

Start your list today—I will too—of things you’d like to change in 2015. Then ask for God’s help. As you do, you’ll not only change your life, you’ll also change the lives of others. Who knows. You might even change the world.

With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27.)

 Happy New Year! (P.S. This post is a bit of a milestone. It’s my 500th post on this blog.)

Restoring What Was Lost

My wife is a very clever shopper. I shouldn’t have been so surprised by several gifts that I got for Christmas this year, but I was. I am also very thankful.

Since the weather turned cold this year, I’ve been missing my father’s dark gray overcoat. I’ve been wearing that coat for 25 years, since he died in 1989. Last year, I forgot my coat and new scarf at Church one Sunday, and when I came back to get them a few days later, they were gone. We searched high and low. I spoke to the Relief Society president and the bishopric. They were never to be seen again.

How could that happen? Well, we live downtown and we have a lot of theft at our church building. One of my past priesthood duties was to patrol the Church parking lot at a certain interval on Sundays to discourage prowlers. I suppose a fast-fingered thief took coat and scarf when an opportunity arose.

We had a special “Christmas morning” for our missionary daughter the Saturday before she entered the MTC. Imagine my surprise when I opened a gift box to find an identical coat—I mean identical—to the one I lost. It is in perfect condition. The only difference is that it is several sizes smaller and so it actually fits me better.

Then on Christmas morning, I opened another gift: a blue Ogio shoulder bag identical to one that was stolen from our rental car in San Francisco in July 2013. Except this one is in better shape than the one I’ve had since 2006, and much cleaner. I also found a new scarf in my Christmas stocking, very similar to the one that was taken.

I am grateful for the restoration of these lost items, but I am even more thankful for the thoughtfulness and sensitivity of my wife. She never ceases to surprise and delight me. I am truly blessed.