The Canker of Contention – Russell M. Nelson

Today I’m studying the talk The Canker of Contention, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the April 1989 General Conference.

Peaceful Place
Peace

So far, every talk of President Nelson’s that I’ve read is still appropriate now – years after the talk was given. Today’s talk is no exception.

I want to begin with a quote from the middle of the talk:

“My concern is that contention is becoming accepted as a way of life. From what we see and hear in the media, the classroom, and the workplace, all are now infected to some degree with contention.” – Russell M. Nelson

President Nelson gave this talk in 1989. I was ten and a half years old. So, I think I was probably in fourth grade. I don’t really remember what the social climate was at the time – my life was mostly concerned with going to elementary school and playing outside. My parents got a divorce around this time, but I don’t really remember much about what was socially acceptable as far as courtesy or contention goes.

However, I would venture to guess that societal contention is still a concern for President Nelson. I know that it is a concern for me. 1989 – was before the 24 hour news cycles had taken hold in our lives. It was before there were trolls on the internet and cyber-bullying. I know that contention existed in 1989, but it seems like our society keeps trending toward contention and tribalism.

We have also seen how this contention spills out into the rest of our lives – the classroom and the workplace. In fact, who could have imagined how unsafe the classroom would be?! Gosh, I could go on, but that’s not the point of this talk or blog post. I think that we all know that contention is a problem. Bemoaning it doesn’t help. Instead, we can accept that we have a country rife with contention, and then we can understand why that is a problem. When we accept and understand, then we can work toward a solution.

Our Society is Rife with Contention

We can accept this. Accepting doesn’t mean condoning. It means that we recognize there is a problem.

It means that we recognize there is a problem, and that we can do something about it!

Accept it without judgement. Instead, I think we need to accept it the same way that you would if you found that you had skin cancer. One option would be to get mad at the sun. You could shake your fist at it. You could pretend that there is no problem as the cancer festers and destroys your body. Or you could accept the fact and simply say, “Well, I don’t like this, but I accept it. I have skin cancer. Now what can I do?”

So – we accept there is a problem. There are too many people bullying and being bullied. There are too many random shootings. There are too many purposeful shootings. There is too much road rage. There are too many people shouting and blaming and trolling. There is too much domestic violence. We have a societal cancer called contention. Accept it. and now, what can we do??? (No, the answer doesn’t mean point fingers at others, by the way. It’s not everyone else’s fault! What can WE do means what can WE do!)

The Problem with Contention

President Nelson declared:

“As we dread any disease that undermines the health of the body, so should we deplore contention, which is a corroding canker of the spirit.” – Russell M. Nelson

But why? Why is contention such a problem? Well, let’s consider its origin.

The Savior taught:

“For verily, verily I say unto you, 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 11:29

The father of contention is the devil. He wants us to fight. He wants us to be filled with enough pride that we put down and hurt others. Though there may be momentary satisfaction in hurting another, we are left with a bad taste in our mouth. We are left with a gaping hole in our spirits when we let that spirit into our lives. Think of how Nephi felt when he was angry at his brothers:

“Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.” – 2 Nephi 4:17

The spirit of contention left Nephi feeling wretched. We quote 2 Nephi 4 as the psalm of Nephi, and we are able to witness him as he struggles with the consequence of contention and repents. We watch him strip this out of his heart. We watch him swallow his pride. He was angry at his brothers who wanted to kill him! He had done so much for them! It seems like he would have every right to be angry.

And he did have every right to be angry, I suppose. The Lord doesn’t expect us to be a doormat, but we also can’t give into the spirit of contention. So, if Nephi chooses to exercise this “right” to anger, then he also dispels the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.

When Nephi felt angered and contentious, the Spirit departed, and because Nephi was so in tune with it, he felt wretched without it. He quickly corrected course because he knew that feeling wretched isn’t all that great.

But what about each of us? What do we do when we feel wretched. Do we look inward and plead with God for forgiveness? Or do we let that wretched feeling give way to more anger and more wretchedness?

***

Contention isn’t new. In fact, it existed in the pre-mortal world. Satan rebelled against Heavenly Father and started a war in heaven.

President Nelson stated:

“This war in heaven was not a war of bloodshed. It was a war of conflicting ideas—the beginning of contention.” – Russell M. Nelson

This is so fascinating to me! Even though I have been raised as a Mormon – so the whole “war in heaven” narrative has always been a part of my life – I never really internalized what that meant.

I mean, I never really compared the war in heaven with war that we see happening in this mortal world. I am so blessed. I know very little of war. I haven’t experienced it first-hand. I have lived a safe life. However, I’ve tried to educate myself, and I know that war is terrifying. It is full of death and misery. It is terrible. And this is exactly what the war in heaven was, too.

There was no bloodshed in heaven, but there were casualties.

War can be waged with only ideas, and such a war can have catastrophic results. Contention isn’t manifest for the first time with the exchange of blows. Contention begins deep in our hearts – with our thoughts, then expressed through words, and finally through actions. By the time we let it get to our actions, it truly has cankered our souls.

President Nelson also reminds us:

“Scriptures repeatedly warn that the father of contention opposes the plan of our Heavenly Father. Satan’s method relies on the infectious canker of contention. Satan’s motive: to gain personal acclaim even over God Himself.” – Russell M. Nelson

Satan’s motive is always the same. He wants our agency and God’s glory. Though he didn’t find success in the war in heaven, he still wages war now – with the same results in mind. His motive has nothing to do with us – giving into the pride of contention will not make us feel better.

I remember getting into an argument with a loved one. Both of us said things that we regret now – in fact we regretted them almost immediately. I remember that after the argument, I left and was feeling wretched. I was tempted to call a friend and then complain about this argument – furthering the spirit of contention and then also infecting another with this same spirit.

Thankfully the friend wasn’t around to talk to. So I was alone in my car.

I chose to just say a prayer that I would feel better.

The way that prayer usually seems to work (at least for me in these kinds of situations) is that Heavenly Father never usually says, “You’re right, what a jerk!…You know what you should do…” He never guides me to more contention or pain.

Now, my hurt feelings were legitimate, and Heavenly Father comforted me. But I was also impressed with a feeling, “You two are on the same team.”

And I realized that because we were on the same team, then we had to make a choice. There wouldn’t be one clear winner and one clear loser. Either we both win or we both lose. Satan tries to get us to lose sight of this. He wants us to be myopic and focus not on the big game but on the faults of our teammates. We may feel momentarily justified, but in the end we both lose.

Steps to Supplant Contention

President Nelson gives us two main steps to help us combat the canker of contention.

One – Bridle our Passions

Alma gave this advice to his son:

“Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love; see that ye refrain from idleness.” – Alma 38:12

Usually, I tend to think of “passions” as sexual in nature. But passion can be more than that. But we have to bridle our passions – of anger and frustration – so that we can be filled with love, God’s love, instead.

We are to bridle our passions. This doesn’t mean to eliminate them. This doesn’t mean that we become robotic! It means that we become the master of our passions – that we use discernment and discretion. It means that we follow the Spirit rather than our emotions.

President Nelson advised:

“To begin, show compassionate concern for others. Control the tongue, the pen, and the word processor. Whenever tempted to dispute, remember this proverb: “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.” – Russell M. Nelson

Two – Love God

Really, this is the ultimate step in combatting contention and controlling our passions. President Nelson explained:

“Personal peace is reached when one, in humble submissiveness, truly loves God. Heed carefully this scripture:

“There was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15; see also 4 Ne. 1:2; italics added.)

Thus, love of God should be our aim. It is the first commandment—the foundation of faith. As we develop love of God and Christ, love of family and neighbor will naturally follow. Then will we eagerly emulate Jesus. He healed. He comforted. He taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” – Russell M. Nelson

I love this! I love the connection between personal peace (which comes as a result of Loving God), and peace with others.

I know that this is true, too.

I have struggled with contention in my life. It is easy and natural for me to do. However, I hate the way I feel when I let even a little bit of contention into my heart. It is terrible. It truly is wretched. This is a struggle that I have tried to ward off and am continually confronted with. It is so hard to change.

The thing with change is – it’s so hard to make a change using sheer willpower if we are moseying along in the wrong paradigm. When we change our paradigm, then our actions are so much easier to change, too.

So – even though I listed step one as “bridling our passions,” I think that really it isn’t the critical step. We should bridle our passions so that we can be filled with God’s love because God’s love is where the paradigm shift happens.

I love the scripture:

“We love him, because he first loved us.” – 1 John 4:19

If you are trying to cultivate a love of God, then allow yourself to feel His love because He loves you.

Imagine if every person on this earth knew this simple fact: that they are children of God; that they have a Heavenly Father who loves them.

Say this out loud: I am a child of God, and He loves me.

Just saying that fills my heart with hope and joy! I can’t explain it, but anger, fear, and pride dispel when I say and accept that I am a child of God, and that He Loves me. When I accept this truth in my life, I want to feel more of His love. I want to be kinder. I want to have peace. I don’t want to fight!

When we love God, we change our paradigm. We see the world in a new way. We recognize that we truly are all brothers and sisters and that God not only loves us, but He loves them, too. When we love God, we begin to feel the love and compassion that He has for others – even if it is hard for us to do that ourselves. When we love God, we heal our soul from the canker of contention – we won’t give way to temptation. The devil will have no place in our hearts to destroy our peace and afflict our souls. When we love God, we will see contention for what it is, and then do the humbling steps to root it out of our lives.

And imagine what a world that would be!

***

I love this talk, and I feel like it is so timely. Unfortunately, the subject of “the canker of contention” may always be timely. In any case, I’m grateful for this reminder. I’m so grateful to know that we are led by a prophet who understands the cankerous effect of contention. I’m grateful to know that President Nelson also knows how to apply gospel truths to overcome contention. I’m grateful to know that we are led by a prophet who is a peacemaker

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Plutarch and Alma

I came across this quote recently, and I couldn’t help but think of Alma…

Plutarch Knowledge Quote

Before relating this to Alma, I want to just talk about the quote. Plutarch was smart enough to “get stuff.” I mean, a lot of us are that way, right? I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read about health and fitness. I logically “get” many of the concepts I’ve read about.

Yet – even though we “get something” and may even have knowledge, without application what do we really know?

Not only was Plutarch smart enough to “get something” from the words he read, he was smart enough to realize that the words and knowledge he gained was through experiences.

As for me – even though I had read a few books on the damage and problems that sugar causes the body, I never really got it until I had experimented for myself and saw how eating a diet without much sugar affected me. I really needed this experience in order to give meaning to the concepts that I had learned.

Alma the younger understood the power of experiential knowledge. In fact, he extended an invitation to the poor Zoramites that he taught:

“But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.” – Alma 32:27

Alma taught the people the word of God. And he didn’t expect them to believe him just on face value – just because he said to believe. Instead, Alma asked them to experiment on his words. Alma wanted them to try it out for themselves. Alma invited them to have their own experiences so they could gain their own knowledge and faith.

It is interesting to me that we approach nearly every subject this way – except faith. Do we expect to learn a language just by reading about it? No, we go on a foreign exchange program, we take an immersion class, we go to that country, we start studying on a language learning website, we practice saying words in another language.

If we desire to learn Calculus, do we just buy a textbook and peruse it? Probably not. We go through the exercises. We get a calculator, paper, and pencil, and then try to solve the equations.

Yet, for some reason, so many people think that in order to obtain spiritual knowledge, they will sit in church one time and listen to a sermon and get it. Or maybe they think that in order to gain a testimony, they must read through the Bible once without meditating, pondering, and applying the words.

Then, because they haven’t put any thought or effort into their acquisition of spiritual knowledge, they don’t get any spiritual knowledge. Some may even proclaim faith, spirituality, or the scriptures as a fraud because of their own lack of experience.

I haven’t studied Calculus, but I’m not going to claim that Calculus is a farce.

Yes – going to church and studying the scriptures are important parts of obtaining spiritual knowledge, but the crucial key is to experiment and experience the gospel. Then those experiences will give you the knowledge of the word. They will make the scriptures and church even more meaningful.

How have you “experimented” on the word? How have your experiences helped to shape your testimony? If you haven’t experimented on the word of God, what is holding you back?

Three Points on Baptism as Taught by Alma (Alma 4:4)

Lately, I’ve been studying a bit about baptism. I came across the following verse, and am astounded by how much we can learn about the ordinance of baptism from one little verse.

“And they began to establish the achurch more fully; yea, and many were baptized in the waters of Sidon and were joined to the church of God; yea, they were baptized by the hand of Alma, who had been consecrated the high priest over the people of the church, by the hand of his father Alma.” – Alma 4:4

Not me - just a generic picture of baptism. :)
Not me – just a generic picture of baptism. 🙂

Three Points on Baptism

  1. Baptism by Immersion – In this verse, we learn that many people were baptized in the waters of Sidon. Alma baptized these people according to the pattern which had been set by his father. He “buried” the people in the water. (See Mosiah 18:14-15.) The person being baptized is fully immersed in the water. This symbolizes the burial of the natural man and the birth of the disciple of Christ. Baptism is a token of our commitment to the Savior as we strive to put off the natural man.
  2. Baptism is connected to the establishment of the Church and our Official Membership of it – In some ways “organized religion” doesn’t seem super cool these days. But, we know that God’s house is a “house of order.” If we believe in Him, then we quickly learn that His religion has always been organized. Throughout the scriptures, we read about a book of life. In fact, the Bible Dictionary has a great, succinct explanation:

    “Spoken of in Philip. 4:4; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 21:27; 22:19; see also Dan. 12:1–4; Luke 10:20. In one sense the book of life is the sum total of one’s thoughts and actions—the record of his life. However, the scriptures indicate that a heavenly record is kept of the faithful, whose names are recorded, as well as an account of their righteous deeds (D&C 88:2; 128:7)." – Bible Dictionary: Book of Life

    In order to have our names written in His book of life, in order to “enter into the Gate” that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be baptized. We are then counted as members of His church, and we enjoy both the blessings and responsibilities of such membership.

  3. Baptism Must Be Performed by One with Authority – Again, God’s house is a house of order. Alma the younger is the one who baptized the people. He was the high priest, and, according to this verse, he was consecrated to be the high priest by the hand of his father – who was the high priest before him. Alma the elder received authority directly from God. (See Mosiah 18.)

Overall, what impresses me about baptism is the reminder that it is truly an ordinance. It is a token of our commitment and covenant. It isn’t just a “nice thing” that we do. It isn’t a thoughtless ritual. It isn’t a cultural custom. The Savior was baptized. The Nephites, anciently, were baptized. And we have been commanded to be baptized.

The Savior taught:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot denter into the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3-5

Nephi poignantly teaches:

“And now, if the Lamb of God, he being holy, should have need to be baptized by water, to fulfil all righteousness, O then, how much more need have we, being unholy, to be baptized, yea, even by water!” – 2 Nephi 31:5

We need baptism. We aren’t holy. Baptism is a gift.

I was eight years old when I was baptized, and I still remember the events of the day. I had a brand new, white dress. My grandma was there. I was baptized by a family friend – Elton Cribbs. And afterward, I was confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and given the gift of the Holy Ghost by Gordon Rose. I felt so much purity and joy that day. I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to continue to feel the simple joy of the gospel.

It has been nearly 30 years since my baptism, and it still means so much to me. I’m grateful for the covenant I made when I was a child. Though my knowledge has matured, my faith is still very similar as the faith I had when I was a young child. I knew then that I was a daughter of God. I know I am a daughter of God. I knew then that the Savior gave us an example – to be baptized. I know now that the Savior gave us an example – to be baptized. I knew then that in order to grow in the Spirit, I needed to be baptized. And I know now that in order to continue to grow spiritually, I need to continually renew and review the covenant I made when I was eight.

Have you been baptized? If not, what do you suppose is holding you back from making this covenant and receiving such a blessing in your life? If you have been baptized, how has it shaped and blessed your life?

Understanding Virtue: A Scripture Chain

In my ward, we are doing a Book of Mormon Summer reading challenge. This will help the young women to complete their value project for virtue: to read the Book of Mormon. The challenge is to read the Book of Mormon in 70 days – during the summer. (It is roughly 7.5 pages a day).

I’m going to start my summer reading challenge tomorrow. Today, I wanted to figure out what to study as I read the Book of Mormon. So…I’m thinking about the Virtue value project. I’m struck by the following question:

“What did He and those who followed Him do to live virtuous lives?” – from Virtue, Personal Progress Value Experience

And I think that’s what I want to study/learn about

Virtue!!!
Virtue!!!

Personally, I feel like we have a pretty limited understanding of virtue. I think that many of us feel like virtue means chastity. If so, then why not simply call it chastity? Maybe then we’ll elaborate and say, “Purity.” Still. Virtue is not really interchangeable for either chastity or purity. Sure, virtue includes chastity and purity, but I really think that it is that and more.

Here is a quick scripture chain that might help to shed a little light on virtue.

Proverbs 31:10

“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” – Proverbs 31:1

This is the “virtue” scripture that usually comes to mind. It seems nice. I don’t know. We might have some stereotypes or even wrong impressions about this scripture. This isn’t a scripture that describes a woman who is quiet and appeased by a bunch of gems. This isn’t a scripture that describes a woman who is property that can be bought.

The rest of 31 describes the many “virtues” of this virtuous woman. They include:

  • She is trustworthy.
  • She does good – especially within the context of her marriage.
  • She works with her hands.
  • She brings food. She physically nourishes her family.
  • She wakes up early and takes care of her stewardship.
  • She is a wise investor.
  • She is a gardener – or creator.
  • She is a hard worker.
  • She knows that her merchandise is good. She is confident.
  • She has many skills – she is knowledgable.
  • She is charitable to the poor.
  • She is not afraid or helpless.
  • She provides well for her household.
  • She is elegant.
  • She causes her household to be elegant as well.
  • She brings fame and honor to her husband because of her many strengths.
  • She is strong.
  • She is honorable.
  • She is wise.
  • She is kind.
  • She is not idle.
  • She is a mother.
  • She is prolific in good works (of all kinds).
  • She fears the Lord.
  • She is praised.

All of these items in this list are ways that this woman is virtuous. You could say it another way – she is powerful. Her purity and chastity are part of what makes her virtuous, but she is more than that, too. She gets stuff done. I want to be like her, you know?!

Really look through this list with an open heart and mind. Today, we’d call the virtuous woman a “super-woman,” perhaps. She has a lot going on, for sure, but these things are all achievable – not all at once, but over time. (That’s nearly always the way). We can become wise, elegant, chaste, charitable, honorable, and strong. We don’t have to throw all of the balls in the air and do them at once. We have a lifetime to develop these qualities. And, while we’re striving, I believe we can consider ourselves to be virtuous women.

Doctrine and Covenants 121:45

“Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.” – Doctrine and Covenants 121:45

Now, lest you think that the charge to be virtuous only applies to women, here is an example where men are told to be virtuous, too.

Throughout verses 41-46, the Lord instructs Joseph Smith on the use of the Priesthood. In verse 39, the Lord warns Joseph of the nature of most men in regards to the Priesthood and to power, in general:

“We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” – Doctrine and Covenants 121:39

So – the Lord then tutors Joseph Smith on how to be a man who righteously bears the Priesthood of God. Since we made a list for the ladies, we’ll make a list for the men.

  • Not power hungry
  • Long-suffering
  • gentle
  • meek
  • loving to others – unconditionally
  • kind
  • exhibiting pure knowledge
  • without hypocrisy
  • without guile
  • reproving – which means GENTLE CORRECTION
  • sharp – exact and quick – so the dude who reproves with sharpness will correct gently with exactness. He won’t do a “hack job” of it. “Reproving at times with sharpness” doesn’t mean being a bully. Quite the opposite.
  • guided by the Holy Ghost
  • loving, especially to those whom he has gently corrected
  • knows that “faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.”
  • bowels are full of charity
  • virtue garnishes his thoughts at all times – his mind is pure and chaste which makes it poweful
  • confident in God
  • gains an understanding of the doctrine of the Priesthood
  • has the Holy Ghost as a constant companion
  • righteous
  • a father

So – men also have high standards. Both men and women are expected to be not only virtuous, but to strive to be the best people that they can be. We are all expected to be not only pure and chaste, but also motivated by faith and filled with charity. This enables us to be empowered by God.

Virtue figures into this greatly. I think that virtue is not only a commitment to be righteous (pure and chaste), but it becomes a well of power within us.

Luke 6:19

“And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.” – Luke 6:19

This scripture is about Christ – when He healed some people “vexed with unclean Spirits.” I find this use of the word “virtue” particularly interesting because it challenges our modern notion of virtue.

Here, we wouldn’t describe Christ’s virtue as “chastity.” It is something else. It is a power to heal others.

His healing power is described as virtue also when the woman touches His hem and is healed:

“And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” – Luke 8:46

Christ was traveling in a throng of people. Undoubtedly many were touching Him. But only one was healed, and when that healing took place, He could feel his power being physically transferred to this woman.

There is a connection between virtue and power.

We will study one final example like this.

Alma 31:5

“And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” – Alma 31:5, emphasis added.

God’s word, as Alma knew, was virtuous. Not only does virtue, in this context, mean pure, righteous or chaste, we learn that virtue is a power that is stronger than the sword.

***

Now that we have studied these verses, I think that we can make better sense of virtue. Virtue is power that is rooted in righteousness and purity. It’s power comes from our decision to be righteous, chaste, and made pure through the Atonement of Christ. So, virtue is definitely related to chastity and purity, but it is a little bit more than that!!! Virtue is a source of power.

Virtue is not a power of force. It is not a power of material wealth. It is a power that surpasses the understanding of this world. Virtue is a power that can enable us to heal, to nourish, to strengthen, and to provide. Virtue is a power that is rooted in our Savior and can only be accessed when we are doing what we can to be like Him.

Really, virtue is pretty awesome. So I will agree with the proverb. The price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies. The price of a virtuous man is far above titanium.

I want to develop this quality.

Okay, I’ll end with one last scripture – because it is applicable and might give us a hint on how to develop virtue for ourselves.

Doctrine and Covenants 88:38-40

“And unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions.

All beings who abide not in those conditions are not justified.

For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things. – Doctrine and Covenants 88:38-40

So – if we want to have virtue, then we have to identify that it is built upon laws and principles. Virtue is only built upon the very highest principles of righteousness.

Additionally, if we want to be virtuous, then we must learn to love virtue. I have a feeling it is one of those qualities that continues to add to itself as we continue to progress and apply the Atonement in our lives.

***
What are your thoughts on virtue? Do you think it is an outdated stereotype or a source of strength and power? How can you work to develop virtue in your life?

15 Things Helaman Teaches us About Stewardship over Youth

I have recently gotten a new calling in my ward*. I’m in the Young Women’s presidency. For those of you who don’t know what that is, the Young Women’s is a group of young women ages 12-18. I have served in the Young Women’s in the past. It is such a fun calling. The youth are so vibrant. They are intelligent, happy, and want to do well.

However, it can be a little daunting to serve with the youth. Fortunately, in the Book of Mormon, we can find a great example of someone who was a steward over the youth: Helaman.

A Little Background Information
Helaman was a general in the Nephite army in the Book of Mormon. Specifically, Helaman commanded a group of 2,000 young men (boys, really). You can read more about the circumstances of this army in Alma chapters 56-58. He was a steward of the youth.

Even though we might not be leading young men into battle, many of the principles that Helaman exemplifies in his stewardship over the youth can be applied in our lives. We will study them today! 🙂

Helaman's Stripling Warriors
Helaman’s Stripling Warriors

15 Ways Helaman teaches us to Be a Better Steward over the Youth

  1. Helaman knew those he served. He knew their circumstances – See Alma 56:3-6. Helaman knew the circumstances of these young men. He knew that their fathers had buried their weapons of war – with a covenant never to go to battle again. He knew that their families had been converted to the gospel and were true to their faith.

    We can also gather that, because they were the sons of those who buried their weapons of war, then some of these boys were most likely fatherless. Helaman knew these boys. If we want to effectively serve our youth, then we need to know them. We need to know their circumstances, their families, their cultures.

  2. Helaman honored their families and supported them – See Alma 56:8. Helaman knew the covenant that these boys’ fathers had made. Because the kingdom was at war, and because their liberty was in jeopardy, the fathers were thinking of taking up arms again to fight and defend their country. However, Helaman insisted that they didn’t break their covenant.

    Helaman supported these families, and, as leaders of the youth, we need to do the same thing. We need to be mindful of the families of those whom we serve. These families aren’t here to serve us or “support us” in our calling, we are called to serve and support them.

  3. Helaman loved the boys he served. – See Alma 58:10. Helaman addresses these boys as his sons. He explains that they were worthy to be called sons. What does this mean? I suppose it means that he deeply loves and cares for these young men. He feels responsible for them. This all stems from his love for them.

    We need to also love the youth we serve. It may not always be easy, but if we don’t love them, then being a good steward is pretty much impossible.

  4. Helaman protected them. – See Alma 56:39 Helaman took his charge over these youth very seriously and he protected them. Sure, they had signed up for war, but he wanted them to stay as safe as possible and devised strategies where they would be used as a decoy without ever having to fight.

    We need to protect our youth. They face a spiritual enemy that wants to destroy them. We need to protect them just as Helaman protected his warriors.

  5. Helaman trusted the boys and he trusted their families. – See Alma 56:46-48. When you read this exchange between Helaman and his sons, it is fairly obvious that he trusts them. Even though they are young and inexperienced, he trusts their testimony and strength.

    The young warriors also explained that their mothers knew that God would deliver them, and they do not doubt their mothers.

    Helaman reacts with support and relative awe. He doesn’t say, “You haven’t been in a war. You know nothing.” He doesn’t respond, “What does your mother know about this situation.” Instead, he trusts the young men and he trusts their families.

    It is so important for us to trust the youth and their families. Of course, the Spirit can help us to discern between right and wrong. But we have to be sure that our own opinions aren’t blocking the Spirit. We can trust that the youth we serve do have testimonies and do desire to serve God. When we trust the youth, they will rise to the occasion just as these 2,000 stripling warriors did.

  6. Helaman followed the Spirit – See Helaman 56:44, 50. I know that I just made the point that Helaman protected his sons; however, of utmost importance is that he followed the Spirit.

    The plan was for the 2,000 warriors to be a decoy. However, the Lamanite army stopped marching after them. Helaman thought that they figured out what was going on, and then decided to attack Antipus’s army. But he couldn’t be sure. Maybe they were just waiting so they could trick this small group and then lure them into a trap. In any case, action needed to be taken. The Lamanites were no longer taking the bait. After consideration, Helaman knew that they needed to fight the Lamanites and save the other army. He turns to his young army and says, “Therefore what say ye, my sons, will ye go against them to battle?”

    Even though it was Helaman’s desire to keep these boys out of battle, he followed the Spirit – knowing that they needed to fight without knowing what the outcome would be. He trusted in God and followed the Spirit.

    Like Helaman, we need to stay close to the Lord and follow His Spirit.

  7. Helaman rejoiced in the victories of his “sons.” – See Alma 56:54-56. After their victory against the Lamanite Army and helping to rescue Antipus’s army, Helaman checked on his sons. Not only did they rejoice in their victory, but Helaman was overjoyed to find that not a single one of these boys had fallen to the earth. They were all alive, and Helaman was happy.

    When we are stewards over the youth, we, too, need to rejoice in the victories of our youth. This can happen in a variety of ways. I think that, as we come to love the youth we serve, rejoicing in their victories comes very naturally because we love them.

  8. Helaman allowed his young warriors to be exposed to danger. – See Alma 57:18-19, 23. This can be so difficult. I think that it would have been difficult for Helaman, too. He spent so much time protecting his sons from battle, he still had to allow them to be exposed to the dangers of war. They were, after all, soldiers.

    After one especially difficult battle, there were many people who had fallen and died. Thankfully, again, all of the stripling warriors were spared of death, but about 200 of them had fainted with a loss of blood. Helaman needed to allow his sons to be exposed to this danger in order for them to do what they were sent there to do.

    Likewise, we leaders must be wise, and we must allow our youth to be exposed to danger. This doesn’t mean that we’ll take them to a place we know to be evil. It just means that we need to accept our circumstances, our purpose, and that our youth are strong just like these young warriors were.

  9. Helaman cared for his sons and saw that they were healed. See Alma 57:24-25. Immediately after a battle, Helaman ordered that the wounded should be brought out from among the dead, and that their wounds should be dressed. He found the 200 or so of his sons that had fallen from a loss of blood. Helaman made sure that they received the medical attention they needed.

    Just as Helaman saw to their healing, we need to see that the spiritual and emotional wounds of those whom we serve (or perhaps the physical, you never know, I guess!) are also healed. We can do this by investigating the scene and doing what is necessary to “dress” the wounds that are suffered by those whom we serve.

  10. Helaman was a spiritual example of faith. See – Alma 58:10-12. There was a point, after these battles, where Helaman and those he commanded were waiting for provisions and supplies. But nothing. They waited. Nothing.

    Instead of Helaman murmuring against his superiors, he simply led his group of stripling warriors in prayer. Helaman was an example of faith and loyalty. That being said, he still brought up the issue to his superiors. It was appropriate for him to report what was happening with them. In fact, had Helaman not reported this shortage, then they wouldn’t have discovered the insurrection that happened in Zarahemla.

    Helaman handled this difficult situation with poise. He was a spiritual leader to his youth without being a doormat.

    We can do the same. We need to be spiritual leaders to our youth. They need to hear us pray. And we ned to support those who are over us. Even if things aren’t going well, we don’t need to murmur. We can responsibly report, and find the source of the problem in a humble but effective way.

  11. Helaman was wise. He only did that which was absolutely needful. See Alma 58:16-28. Helaman was a commander in a war. He understood the need to be efficient and wise. He didn’t send his troops out without thinking about their strategy. He didn’t have them do anything more than that which was absolutely needful. What’s the purpose? How effective would a tired and overworked army be?!?

    Because Helaman was a good steward, he wisely chose to do only that which he, and his young army, needed to do. Because of his wisdom, he was able to overtake an enemy city purely by strategy – without any blood shed (on either side).

    We need to be wise, too. Often, I think that it is the American (and Mormon) way to just do everything we can. We want to start our race sprinting. We overcommit and then find ourselves tired or even sick. This is not what we, wise stewards of the youth, can afford to do. We need to do only the needful thing. Sometimes, this might mean saying no – even to good things. We don’t want to waste precious time and effort on something, even if it seems like good. We must be wise enough to prioritize. We are at a war, of sorts, and we have to be good stewards over these youth!

  12. Helaman put his trust in God. – See Alma 58:33. Despite the troubles that Helaman’s army was facing (in not receiving needed provisions from his own country), he still put His trust in God. He didn’t fret. He didn’t worry. He trusted God.

    It could be easy to fret and worry – Helaman was responsible for 2,000 young men. Wouldn’t his responsibility justify worry and perhaps even a little bit of “ark steadying?”

    But Helaman simply trusted God.

    As stewards of youth, we also need to trust God. Yes, this world we live in can be dangerous. It can be easy to think that we need to go above and beyond to protect this group of children we have stewardship over. However, I’ve found that worry usually leads to a frantic pace or frenzied stress. And a frantic pace/frenzied stress is not trusting in God! It’s a waste of our energy, and it will often yield very poor results.

  13. Helaman was aware and thoughtful of his circumstances. He questioned without murmuring. See Alma 58:35-36. I have alluded to this point already, but it is worth an extra mention. While at war, Helaman and his forces were not receiving reinforcements. Instead of saying, “Oh well, I’ll just wait,” he still acted. He wrote a letter to his superior and informed him of the situation.

    Now, it’s important to note that we can question and we can inform – without laying blame on someone. This is exactly what Helaman did. He wasn’t a doormat, neither was he bullish. He was simply direct and honest.

    Because of Helaman’s honesty, Captain Moroni was made aware of a bad situation happening in the country – a coup. The armies weren’t receiving any help because their own country was under siege. Had Helaman not alerted Moroni of his problems, then they wouldn’t have been able to learn about this problem.

    As wise stewards, when we run into issues “from above,” then we will not be afraid to open an honest dialogue with our “superior.” We also won’t murmur or complain. Instead, when we are fair and measured like Helaman, we’ll be able to make real progress and, perhaps, even discover another issue that truly needs attention.

  14. Helaman was blessed by God in his stewardship. – See Alma 58:39-40. Because of Helaman’s faithful service, he was blessed in his stewardship. Throughout his tenure as the general of this small army, throughout all of their battles and other hardships, not a single soul was lost.

    I can’t say that if we are faithful, then none of the souls we have stewardship will be lost. Everyone has their own choice to make. That being said, if we faithfully serve, then the Lord will bless us in our stewardship. He will bless us with peace. And we will be able to have a positive impact on the young ones we work with – no matter what they choose to do with their lives.

  15. Helaman was always focused on the Savior. See Alma 58:40-41. I think that this is probably the most important point. Always, at the center of his motives and service, was the redemption and Atonement of Christ. Helaman was empowered by Christ and sought to protect and stand fast in the liberty that had made him free. Because of Helaman’s focus on Christ, he was able to accomplish the above 14 points. This is truly what made him an exceptional leader.

    If we want to be the best leaders we can be, then we will focus on Christ, as well. What does this mean? I think that it means we will teach the principles of the gospel.

    But it also means so much more than that.

    I think that it also means we teach the youth that the focus needs to be on the Savior. I think that it means we act as a conduit – or a pathway for their own relationship with the Savior. It can be tempting to want to be the person who is so cool and fun – it is easy to try to use our own charm, personality, money, gifts to convince the youth we serve to love us. But that’s not the point. We need to use our own experience with Christ to convince the youth to also love Him. It’s not about us at all, really…and Helaman knew that.

What stands out to you about Helaman’s leadership over the youth? Do you serve young men or women? What do you do to be a better steward?

Rendering the Enemy Powerless (Alma 50:12)

Currently, for my scripture reading, I’m still working my way through the Book of Mormon and studying about the Atonement (you can see the Atonement Study Project here).

Let me start by saying, If you believe in Christ; if you believe that God so loved the world that He sent his only Begotten Son so we wouldn’t perish; then you will love the Book of Mormon. I love the Bible and I love the Book of Mormon. As I’ve taken the time to study the Book of Mormon and the Atonement, I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned about it.

I’ve been studying three main points about the Atonement:

  1. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
  2. There is power in the Atonement to enable us to overcome the natural man or woman and become true disciples of Jesus Christ.
  3. The Atonement is the greates evidence we have of the Father’s love for His children.

All of these points are important, but today, the second point, in particular, stood out to me as I studied Alma 50.

For the most part, Alma 50 is about wars between two groups of people: the Nephites and the Lamanites. At this point in the history of these two groups, the Nephites were a little more righteous, while the Lamanites were apostate. The Lamanites (and some dissenting Nephites) were trying to overthrow the Nephite government (which, by the way, was a democratic system). They wanted to kill all of the people who professed to believe in God, and they wanted to instill an oppressive government. (This sounds familiar…it’s a lot like what is happening over in Iraq and Syria).

The Nephites, however, had a very powerful and brave leader: Captain Moroni. He championed the cause of freedom, including and especially religious freedom, and he rallied others to help him protect their inalienable rights.

Okay…so, Captain Moroni was a good guy. And the thing is, he was such a good because Captain Moroni believed in Christ. Because of the power of the Atonement, and because of Captain Moroni was committed to his covenants, he overcame the natural man and became a disciple of Christ. Captain Moroni’s example shows us that discipleship doesn’t mean we are weak-minded fools. Discipleship will refine us and make us powerful.

David A Bednar Enabling Power of Atonement

Real Power

(The only kind of power that matters)
I realize that power is a loaded word. Captain Moroni wasn’t powerful over other people (that kind of “power” really doesn’t mean much, does it?). Instead, he had the most difficult kind of power to obtain: self-mastery. (See Alma 48:17.)

We also learn in Alma 50:

“Thus Moroni, with his armies, which did increase daily because of the assurance of protection which his works did bring forth unto them, did seek to cut off the strength and the power of the Lamanites from off the lands of their possessions, that they should have no power upon the lands of their possession.” – Alma 50:12

Not only was Moroni a master over himself, but he was able to use his resources to protect his people. Because of Moroni’s strength, vision, and organization, he fortified the cities of his lands, and the Lamanites had no power over them.

What this Means for You and Me

Okay. So what. I don’t really have anyone actively trying take away my possessions or lands. However, I feel like there is a daily battle I’m engaged in. The enemy is the devil, and he is very real.

When I choose to honor the covenants I have made, when I allow the Atonement to be a power in my life, then the enemy I fight against will have no power over me.

***
There are so many battles people are facing. Some of the battles we face are physical and obvious. The people in Iraq and Syria, for example, are experiencing excruciating stress and oppression. And, while I don’t intend to compare myself to them (because my life is super great), the fact remains that I have my own battles. People in the U.S. or other developed countries don’t seem to fare any better than others around the world. Just last week, a famous, rich, beloved celebrity took his own life.

We are all in a battle.

And, if we want to render our enemy powerless, then we simply need to come unto Christ and allow the power of His Atonement to enable us.

My Faith, Captain Moroni, and The Atonement

Eczema Rash

It’s been a while, I know. These past few months, I’ve been consumed with teaching for BYU-Idaho and also prepping for homeschool (for the first time ever). Recently, my husband has also made some big life decisions, which are very exciting.

So, even though I don’t feel particularly “stressed out,” I know that my life is stressful. In fact, I know this is true because of this crazy eczema rash I’ve gotten all over my hands and arms.

I’ll spare you a picture.

When the crazy rash started getting bad, I asked Homey for a blessing. In this blessing, it was indicated that the rash was caused by stress, and I needed to learn how to manage it. (Getting rid of stressors isn’t really an option right now).

The rash got worse.

Well, I was getting pretty desperate, and one of my friends gave me a topical prescription cortisone product for my rash. It would clear up for a few days, I’d stop with the prescription, and it would get worse. This went on for a few months (!) Over time, the rash got much, much worse. What started as a small rash under my wedding ring became a rash on 8 of my fingers, up both hands and arms…yikes.

I’ve asked Homey for two more blessings. The same basic info was related: Heavenly Father Loves me, Christ has suffered the Atonement and has perfect empathy, this is caused by stress, and I needed to find natural ways to alleviate the issue.

As I write this now, I realize what a blessing that Priesthood blessings are. However, I will admit that during the final blessing, I wondered why I could just be healed. I know that God has the power to do it, so why can’t I be healed?

Of course, as this thought went through my brain, the words of the blessing rang out: this trial is to help you build faith in your Father in Heaven.

Okay.

Captain Moroni

Today, I read about Captain Moroni in my scriptures.

“Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” – Alma 48:17

In the past, I’ve read this scripture with complete awe for Mornoi. What a cool dude. Untouchable. Untouchable by Satan, and also – by me. I want to be like Moroni, but he is so good…too good. I can’t come close.

However, I’ve been studying the Atonement in the Book of Mormon. I know that There is power in the Atonement to enable us to overcome the natural man or woman and become true disciples of Christ. With this in mind, I have come to the realization that Moroni wasn’t just born cool and faithful. His faith and example come through his discipleship, which came as a result of his >firm faith in Christ. (See Alma 48:13. This means that becoming like Moroni, who could shake the very powers of hell, is possible–through Christ.

Part Three
So..if I want to be like Moroni, then I need to develop stronger faith.

I’m not sure if I’m a super faithful person or not. When I was younger, like most young people, I had faith. I was innocent and closer with nature. Then, I got older, more disconnected with what probably matters, and logic became important to me. I have always had a testimony because I’ve been able to logically understand the gospel. It makes sense to me, and discovering the mysteries of God is important to me as it galvanizes my testimony (logically).

Yet, I need to have faith. I need to be willing to suspend my so-called logic, and just develop a purer faith in the Savior. I suppose that is what this skin rash is designed to do in my life because my faith is wavering.

Now, I want to say that carefully. My faith isn’t wavering in a “I wonder if the gospel is true” kind of way. I will not and cannot deny the truthfulness of the gospel and my testimony. Instead, I think my faith is wavering in the same way as the man who uttered to Christ, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.”

How I relate to this man!

I believe. I believe that Christ created the world, that He came, lived, suffered, died, and was resurrected. I know that He answers prayers. I know that He loves me. I know that He will speak to my soul when I search and am willing to listen. However, I have this rash that is spreading and getting worse despite my pleas.

And, as I plea for help, I feel the doubt creeping in my head, “He can help, but I doubt he’ll help me. I’m not strong or special like some people. (ie – Captain Moroni)” Stuff like that. Not helpful, and ultimately self-fulfilling.

So…as I read the story of Captain Moroni, I am both humbled and comforted. I don’t have to be a Captain Moroni to become like Captain Moroni. Instead, I only need to humbly go to the Lord, ask Him to help my unbelief, and let Him work a miracle in me through the Atonement.

His Atonement will help me to be the faithful woman and disciple that I want to be – rash or not.

***
What do you do to strengthen your faith during times of trial?