I was asked to teach the lesson in Elder’s Quorum on Elder Eyring’s General Conference talk from October: Our Perfect Example (click here for video.) Inspired by Hawkgrrrl’s Virtual RS/PH lessons, I thought I’d give it a try again. I’m not sure if everyone is supposed to review this talk, but I believe this is the talk our stake has chosen. I think Elder Eyring’s talk is a perfect lead-in to New Year’s Resolutions. Shouldn’t we all resolve to be more like Christ? So, before I get to Elder Eyring’s talk, I want to discuss the History of New Years Day.
New Year celebrations are some of the oldest holidays known to man. The Babylonians had an 11 day celebration to ring in the New Year about 4000 years ago. This celebration began with the first New Moon following the Vernal Equinox (Mar 21). The Romans continued to observe the New Year in March, but due to tampering with the calendar by various emporers, the calendar became out of synchronization with the sun. In 153 BC, the Roman senate decided to start the New Year to match the same time the senate started sessions: January 1. Further calendar tampering continued, and Julius Ceasar decided to synchronize the calendar in 46 BC by allowing the previous year to last 445 days. (This is known as the Julian calendar.) Our current calendar is based on the Gregorian Calendar, (named after Pope Gregory 13th), and was introduced February 24, 1582 using the birth of Christ as year 1. (However, it is widely believed he was off a few years–even by his contemporaries. With all the changes in calendaring systems, it’s easy to see why.)
Many of you are probably familiar that April 1 was originally the day of the New Year, and it was the April Fools who didn’t know it had been changed to January 1. A possible origin for April Fools Day may have been when King Charles IX of France officially changed the first day of the year from April 1 to January 1, some of his subjects continued using the old system, based on the Julian calendar.
We don’t normally associate January 1 with Christian celebrations, but there is a great story in the Bible. If Dec 25 represents Christ’s birth, 8 days later (Jan 1) would be the day Christ was circumcised. The story is found in Luke 2:21-30. You may remember that Simeon was promised that he would not die before seeing the Lord Jesus.
Luk 2:27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
Luk 2:28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
Luk 2:29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
Luk 2:30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
The Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, Lutheran Churches, and some churches in the Anglican Communion celebrate Jan 1 as The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. According to Wikipedia,
The feast is celebrated with an All-Night Vigil, beginning the evening of December 31. The hymns of the feast are combined with those for Saint Basil the Great. After the Divine Liturgy the next morning, Russian Orthodox churches often celebrate a New Year Molieben (service of intercession) to pray for God’s blessing for the beginning of the civil New Year.
So, would anyone like to celebrate the New Year the Russian Orthodox way?
Now, I thought the beginning of Elder Eyring’s talk introduces the idea of New Years Resolutions quite well:
I feel blessed to have the opportunity to speak with you on this Sabbath day. Different as we are in circumstances and experiences, we share a desire to become better than we are. There may be a few who mistakenly feel they are good enough and a few who have given up trying to be better. But, for all, the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is that we can and must expect to become better as long as we live.
It’s hard to tell by reading just the print version here, but Elder Eyring is actually saying this is a kind of joking way “There may be a few who mistakenly feel they are good enough”. I’ve always noticed that Elder Eyring frequently gets choked up with emotion (as he does later in this talk), and it is nice to see that he is trying to exhibit a sense of humor, though there were no chuckles here. (I get tired of people who feel the need to cry every testimony, and it seems to me Eyring usually fits to this category–if the gospel makes us happy, why all the crying?)
I think there are some who won’t do any resolutions because they “have given up trying to be better.” I admit that I often don’t do resolutions, and perhaps I fit into this category. Are there any others willing to admit this?
The next paragraph, Eyring seems to have misplaced the setting of a scripture, calling it a revelation to Joseph Smith at first. That seems like a bit of a mis-characterization to me. Rather than a revelation to Joseph, isn’t this a sermon/exhortation from the prophet Mormon? Is this some sort of off-handed way to say that Joseph revealed the Book of Mormon, rather than translated the Book of Mormon? Eyring says,
Part of that expectation is set for us in a revelation given by God to the Prophet Joseph Smith. It describes the day when we will meet the Savior, as we all will. It tells us what to do to prepare and what to expect.
It is in the book of Moroni: “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” [Moroni 7:48]
That ought to help you understand why any believing Latter-day Saint is an optimist about what lies ahead for him or her, however difficult the present may be.
Wait a minute–aren’t Mormons depressed because they’re trying too hard to be like Jesus, or is it true the Mormons live in the happiest State in the Nation? Which side do you pick?
We believe that through living the gospel of Jesus Christ we can become like the Savior, who is perfect. Considering the attributes of Jesus Christ should quash the pride of the self-satisfied person who thinks he or she has no need to improve. And even the most humble person can take hope in the invitation to become like the Savior.
Ok, I guess we all have need of New Years Resolutions…. How far do we take this analogy to be like Jesus? Can we take it to exaltation/theosis?
Elder Eyring gets choked up while relating the words to a children’s song. I think the words could well be heeded on the bloggernacle.
“Love one another as Jesus loves you.
Try to show kindness in all that you do.
Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,
For these are the things Jesus taught.”
[“I’m Trying to Be like Jesus,” Children’s Songbook, 78–79.]
I know that I can do a better job of “trying to show kindness in all that [I blog]”. While feelings can often get heated on the bloggernacle, how do we disagree in a way that “show[s] kindness”?
I liked Elder Eyring’s counsel to see the good in our spouses. As marriage lengthens, it is really easy for all of us to become shorter with our spouses, and I don’t look for the good in my wife as I should. I resolve to look for the good in my wife.
First, I give counsel to husbands and wives. Pray for the love which allows you to see the good in your companion. Pray for the love that makes weaknesses and mistakes seem small. Pray for the love to make your companion’s joy your own. Pray for the love to want to lessen the load and soften the sorrows of your companion.
I saw this in my parents’ marriage. In my mother’s final illness, the more uncomfortable she became, the more giving her comfort became the dominant intent of my father’s life. He asked that the hospital set up a bed in her room. He was determined to be there to be sure that she wanted for nothing. He walked the miles to work each morning and back to her side at night through those difficult times for her. I believe it was a gift from God to him that his power to love grew when it mattered so much to her. I think he was doing what Jesus would have done out of love.
I think this counsel can be applied to the bloggernacle as well. We ought to pray for the love which allows us to see the good in those we disagree with. We ought not to be so judgmental, especially on divisive topics. One wouldn’t think that the next paragraph would be divisive, but it sure can be on the bloggernacle as we talk about families.
That is because the greatest joys and the greatest sorrows we experience are in family relationships. The joys come from putting the welfare of others above our own. That is what love is. And the sorrow comes primarily from selfishness, which is the absence of love. The ideal God holds for us is to form families in the way most likely to lead to happiness and away from sorrow. A man and a woman are to make sacred covenants that they will put the welfare and happiness of the other at the center of their lives. Children are to be born into a family where the parents hold the needs of children equal to their own in importance. And children are to love parents and each other.
That is the ideal of a loving family. In many of our homes, there are the words “Our Family Can Be Together Forever.”
I think the Prodigal Son is one of my favorite parables of Jesus. It is the story of both Judgment and Forgiveness, and I think its’ application is one of the most difficult.
The story of the prodigal son gives us all hope. The prodigal remembered home, as will your children. They will feel your love drawing them back to you. Elder Orson F. Whitney, in a general conference of 1929, gave a remarkable promise, which I know is true, to the faithful parents who honor the temple sealing to their children: “Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold.”
Then he goes on to say: “Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”4 You can pray for your children, love them, and reach out to them with confidence that Jesus reaches for them with you. When you keep trying, you are doing what Jesus does.
When we look at people with drug problems, or serious sexual offenses, how do we apply this story? Recitivism for drug addicts and sexual predators is very high. Some believe they can’t be rehabilitated. Governor Huckabee’s pardon of a man who went on to kill 4 police officers seems that he was trying to use the example of the Prodigal Son. From the Washington Post article,
“If I could have known nine years ago this guy was capable of something of this magnitude, obviously I would never have granted a commutation,” he told Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly on Monday night. “It’s sickening.”
Huckabee defended his decision,
On Tuesday, Huckabee defended his decision to commute Clemmons’ sentence during a call to “The Joe Scarborough Show” on 77 WABC radio in New York. If his critics had been there in the governor’s mansion, Huckabee said, “They would have seen a 16-year-old kid commit crimes of which normally, there would have been a few years. And if he’d been white and middle-class with a good lawyer he’d have gotten probation, a fine and some counseling. But because he was a young black kid, he got 108 years!”
“People don’t go to prison for murder” with that sort of sentence, Huckabee said.
The recent hit movie, The Blind Side, seems to be a feel good story of a family who took in a Prodigal Son, Michael Oher, and turned his life around from a life of crime and gangs. How do we practically apply this parable, when it is so easy for criminals to deceive?
Much as I dislike Huckabee for his populism, anti-Mormonism, and unsportsmanlike campaigning in the election, in the case described I might have done the same thing. I’m a sucker for second chance stories. I think the best we can do is to develop and apply our discernment as well as we know how (based on our experience), and to hope for the best in human nature.
If there are two types of people I don’t trust they are drug addicts and sex offenders. I have had to deal heavily with drug addicts and the rates of sex offenders repeating sex offenses is so high it is scary. I think we can forgive people, but we definitely don’t have to give them our trust again or let them have responsibility over children when they can do irreparable damage. Having had to deal with people that have been given chance after chance after chance and abused it and didn’t care, I think there comes a point where chances have to run out. The Lord told Nephi to separate from Laman and Lemuel after they received years of chances to make better choices. Nephi had to put up with a whole lot in the meantime. I do think that the Lord has His limits with His children, He just gives them a lot of chances first, but when they continually throw opportunities away, He has to say it is enough and it is ok to leave or to separate yourself from the situation. When a person is abusing drugs or has sexually abused someone, trust is gone and everything has to be supervised, otherwise the risks are too great. Those are what I consider second, third, fourth chances…supervised time, NOT time alone with others or the same privileges they had before. Once those types of decisions are made, you give up certain privileges and that is just the way it is. Anyone who has had to deal with people who do these types of things know that after your money is stolen, your children are put in danger, prescription fraud over and over, etc. you don’t ever give unsupervised chances again….ever.
I’ve always liked elder eyring, but his statement that the greatest sorrows in our family relationships result from selfishness is, frankly, absurd. Having children means a life of worry, pain and sorrows, as well as joy and happiness. We’ll feel intense sorrow when our children suffer or are hurt by others. And is there greater sorrow than the untimely loss of a child? Whose selfishness is he saying is the cause of such sorrow? The comment doesn’t make much sense to me.
I think that drug abuse and violent sexual behavior fit a different category all together, and these people probably aren’t subject to the Prodigal Son parable. I believe that these types of criminals are afflicted with addictive mental disorders that we are just beginning to learn about. I’ve just begun working in the field of biostatistics; I had an interview to work with county government assessing mental health treatments for drug/alcohol addictions in the county prison system, and I was aware of another study by the University of Utah which was trying to track mental health treatments in jails. This particular researcher said that in the United States, the jail system IS the de facto mental health system. Many of these people shouldn’t be out on the street, but they shouldn’t be in jail either. They aren’t getting any better in jail–they’re getting worse.
I don’t know what to do with these types of people, because medically, we are stone age technologically on being able to diagnose and properly treat these people. The mental health system doesn’t seem capable of reforming them, and neither does the criminal justice system. There really is no adequate way to deal with them, and giving them second chances doesn’t seem appropriate.
I’m not a Huckabee fan either, though occasionally I do hear things I like (more often, I hear things I don’t like.) I think he has a point that “because he was a young black kid, he got 108 years”, but there is also a point that because he was probably raised in gangs and embraced a culture of violence, he shouldn’t have been on the street. I think this is a balancing act that is hard to balance. Ed Smart treated Brian David Mitchell much the same way that Sean Tuohy did with Michael Oher. In the former situation, Mitchell kidnaps and rapes his daughter. In the latter, Oher turns his life around, becomes the only one of his former friends who graduates from high school, plays in the NFL, and people celebrate the Tuohy family, while telling Ed Smart he was stupid to try to help a transient. For every success story of Michael Oher and Jean Valjean (Les Miserables), you have stories of this Clemmons cop-killer, and Brian David Mitchell.
I think there are plenty of examples in which selfishness in families causes great sorrow. When couples focus on careers, rather than on their marriages and raising children, they often divorce. These divorces can be categorized as selfishness. Other parents have been known to go to bars, leaving children unattended in cars. These children become foster children due to the selfishness of parents who are so irresponsible. Some parents are only interested in getting high, so they neglect kids. Some women get pregnant to increase their welfare check. Some men don’t pay child support for children they’ve fathered. All of these can be great acts of selfishness, which damage future generations who follow in their parents footsteps. I think this is the kind of selfishness Elder Eyring is talking about. It can be a vicious circle, leaving sad and neglected children to fend for themselves. Michael Oher’s mother is a crack addict. It’s nice that he broke out of the cycle, but I’m sure he still is saddened by the mess of his mother and her selfish addiction.
“Many of these people shouldn’t be out on the street, but they shouldn’t be in jail either. They aren’t getting any better in jail–they’re getting worse.
I don’t know what to do with these types of people, because medically, we are stone age technologically on being able to diagnose and properly treat these people. The mental health system doesn’t seem capable of reforming them, and neither does the criminal justice system. There really is no adequate way to deal with them, and giving them second chances doesn’t seem appropriate.”
Amen. Addicts are the most frustrating people to know how to deal with because they will lie, cheat and steal from their own families and then expect them to support them, give them a place to live and forgive them over and over. No one I know that has to deal with an addict daily knows what to do about it and it is very challenging. It would be nice to have some answers that is for sure.
MH – I never meant to imply that selfish behaviors were not responsible for pain or sorrow in families. I would just take issue with the statement that the greatest sorrows eminate from selfishness. I think that’s a very shortsighted and manipulative comment. It implies that sorrow can be avoided if we’re not selfish, and that’s not true.
I want to highlight the quote by Eyring so we can talk about it.
Now, let’s look at your questions. is there greater sorrow than the untimely loss of a child? Whose selfishness is he saying is the cause of such sorrow?
Eyring is comparing the greatest joys and sorrows. There can be many reasons for sorrow. Many sorrows can be due to selfishness. Brian David Mitchell’s selfishness led him to rape a child. Surely there was great sorrow in the Smart household, though none of the Smarts appeared to have problems with selfishness in relation to Elizabeth’s kidnapping. Deaths due to cancer are not due to selfishness either, unless one selfishly desires tobacco.
To do a bit of parsing, I note that Eyring qualifies his statement with the word primarily. So, not all sorrows result from selfishness, though a great number of sorrows are caused by selfishness. But I agree with you that a child afflicted with leukemia or autism causes families great sorrow, and selfishness has nothing to do with that. I’m sure Elder Eyring would agree.
MH, I actually completely agree with you. I think it’s fair to say that much of the sorrow felt by family members is the result of bad decisions by someone. And I agree that elder Eyring wouldn’t have a problem with the construct you put forth. Actually there’s not another GA I reapect more than HBE. I just thought the idea was poorly presented.