One evening in late summer of 1940, the Baum family—the mother, two sons, one adopted son, two daughters, and a little baby—gathered in their dining room in the absence of the father, who was a soldier in the war.18 The mother had been busy all afternoon improvising a supper from such limited supplies as dandelion greens, turnips, and potatoes. As she placed the food on the table and looked around at the children, she asked, “Where is Jutta?” Startled, the three boys looked at one another, and then one by one guiltily dropped their eyes. The mother repeated her question more urgently: “Where is Jutta?” Finally, one of the boys said in a subdued voice, “She is still tied to a tree in the forest. We forgot to loosen her. We were playing a war game.”
This incident was typical of my childhood. At the time I was only five and already a tomboy. I grew up mainly among boys and enjoyed participating in their war games. I served principally as their “weapons carrier,” though occasionally I stood in as “the enemy.” I am grateful to my Heavenly Father that I was born at that time in Germany. Wartime was full of sacrifices, fear, panic, pain, and hardships, but it was also a time of vivid memories, learning, and growth, because real learning often happens only in times of hardship.19
During the war years, I remember, each evening as darkness came, I would take a small backpack containing some extra underclothing, a pair of stockings, and a pair of shoes, and walk about three kilometers (just under two miles) from home to a tunnel to spend the night alone in a compartment of a stationary train kept there to furnish shelter for civilians who were afraid of the almost nightly air raids. I also remember the first banana I ever had and how good it tasted. The war had just ended, and a merciful soldier from the occupying forces gave it to me. I remember very vividly our meager diet of water soups, nettle spinach, dandelion greens, turnips, and the molasses that people in our town were fortunate to obtain from a damaged railroad car. I remember very well the smell of sheep wool, which we sheared ourselves and spun into yarn, making sweaters and dresses for ourselves. I saw, as a consequence of our lack of food and medical assistance during those years, my sixteen-year-old sister and my nineteen-year-old brother become ill and finally die. The death of my brother, to whom I was very close, hurt me terribly and filled me with a deep awareness of how fragile life is.
In our home there was little religious education, although my parents were Protestant.
My family simply did not talk about religion. But my father’s brother was a Protestant minister. I remember a time when this uncle’s wife came to visit. Before my aunt arrived, my father instructed us, “When she is here, we must have a prayer before we eat.” I will never forget how comical and strange it was to hear my father offer a blessing on the food in words and tone of voice so unfamiliar to us that it struck me as hypocritical. Yet, as I grew up, frequently in the evening I knelt at my bedside on my own initiative to pray to my Heavenly Father because, even without religious instruction, I felt in my heart that there must be someone whom I could trust and love—someone who knew me and cared about me. What a privilege it would have been to be reared in a family that was well grounded in the restored gospel!
When the missionaries first came to our door in Dortmund, Germany, my husband and I had not been married long. Our first son was only three months old. I was and always will be grateful each minute of my life for the message that came to us through these young missionaries. I was impressed with many things about these young men. One was the loving way they talked about their families. Another was their attitude about their message. There was no facade. I sensed such humble honesty in their expressions of testimony that I was compelled to listen. What they told me about angels and golden plates intrigued me enough that I wanted to learn why such nice young men could believe in such strange things.
I learned from them that we are all children of a loving Heavenly Father and that we are here on this earth to learn, to grow, and to love. I learned that we lived with God as his spirit children, his sons and daughters. We walked and talked with him. We knew him and he still knows us. We raised our hands in support of the plan to come to this earth.20 Achieving our full potential in our journey here depends on our free choices. That message needs to penetrate every act of our daily lives.
I have since discovered that one great stumbling block to our progress in faith is rule-keeping that does not spring from an honest heart. Too many people imply in their attitude toward others that our Heavenly Father expects a perfect conformity to established rules. But Jesus Christ never condemned the honest in heart. His wrath was kindled against the hypocritically empty rule-keeping of the Pharisees.21 Jesus preached that through repentance we become free from sin; however, only as we become honest do we feel the necessity of repentance.
When at age thirteen I was confirmed a member of a Protestant faith, the minister quoted John 8:32: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” This scripture had no meaning for me until I found the true gospel and learned the value of free agency—the right to make one’s own decisions in one’s own way. For me the truth that makes one free is twofold: the truths of the restored gospel, which provide a map of eternal realities, and the skill of being truthful with oneself and others, which leads to genuine repentance and integrity.
Self-honesty is the foundation for developing other spiritual strengths. Self-honesty will determine whether obstacles and problems we face in life are stepping stones leading to blessings or stumbling stones leading to spiritual graveyards. Marcus Aurelius, an ancient Roman philosopher, observed the connection between honesty and spiritual growth nearly two thousand years ago: “A man’s true greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examinations, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right, without troubling himself about what others may think or say, or whether they do or do not do that which he thinks and says and does.”22 According to Marcus Aurelius, then, self-honesty is both a prerequisite to greatness and the core quality of integrity.23
A time of great insight into the principle of self-honesty came for me when my husband accepted a full-time call in the Lord’s service, making it necessary for us to say good-bye to all those whom we had grown to love in our home ward in Dortmund and everyone with whom we had been associated. The transition was not easy for us.24
I remember well the adjustments we had to make when we went to live in Utah. My first call in our ward was to serve as a Relief Society teacher. I watched the other teachers very closely and was deeply impressed with their striving for perfection in their teaching. Even their hairdos and immaculate dress showed their striving for perfection. I admired how fluent and articulate they were in the English language. How could I, with my poor English, compete with them and be their teacher? I was eager to learn and was so glad to hear that there was a stake preparation class for Relief Society teachers.
When I attended the training meeting for the first time, I was full of high hopes. I was not prepared for the question I was asked about what kind of centerpiece I would use when I gave my lesson. How incompetent I felt! I had no idea what a centerpiece was or what its purpose in the presentation of a lesson could be. Negative feelings about myself began to undermine my confidence.
Other efforts to fit in were equally discouraging. I felt very intimidated by my many wonderful neighbors with their seven, eight, or nine children.25 I became very shy when I had to reply that we had only four, and I could not even mention to these people the deep hurt I had experienced when I found that for health reasons my family would have to be limited to four children.
I continued to feel inferior as I watched the sisters in my ward and saw them planting gardens and canning the produce.26 They exercised daily by jogging. They sewed and bargain-shopped. They went on heart fund drives and served as PTA officers.27 They took dinners to new mothers and the sick in their neighborhoods. They took care of an aged parent, sometimes two. They climbed Mount Timpanogos.28 They drove their children to and from music or dancing lessons. They were faithful in doing temple work, and they worried about catching up on their journals.29
Intimidated by examples of perfection all around me, I increased my efforts to be like my sisters, and I felt disappointed in myself and even guilty when I didn’t run every morning, bake all my own bread, sew my own clothes, or go to the university. I felt that I needed to be like the women among whom I was living, and I felt that I was a failure because I was not able to adapt myself easily to their lifestyles.
I could have benefited at this time from the story of a six-year-old who, when asked by a relative, “What do you want to be?” replied, “I think I’ll just be myself. I have tried to be like someone else. I have failed each time!” Like this child, after repeated failure to be someone else, I finally learned that I should be myself. That is often not easy, however, because our desires to fit in, to compete and impress, or even simply to be approved of lead us to imitate others and devalue our own backgrounds, our own talents, and our own burdens and challenges. I had to learn not to worry about the behavior of others and their code of rules. I had to learn to overcome my anxious feeling that if I didn’t conform, I simply did not measure up.
Two challenging passages in the Bible remind me that I must overcome self-doubts. One is Proverbs 23:7. “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The other is Romans 12:2: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” When I tried to conform, it blocked my being transformed by the Spirit’s renewing of my mind. When I tried to copy my wonderful sisters as I taught my class with a special centerpiece and other teaching techniques that were unfamiliar to me, I failed because the Spirit still talks to me in German, not in English. But when I got on my knees to ask for help, I learned to depend on the Spirit to guide me, secure in the knowledge that I am a daughter of God. I had to learn and believe that I did not need to compete with others to be loved and accepted by my Heavenly Father.
Another insight from Marcus Aurelius is, “Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if thou wilt ever dig.”30 Sometimes our great potential for good is veiled from us by the negative judgments of others. For instance, one day in Germany I had a meeting with our eleven-year-old son’s school teacher. I was very saddened to hear that she judged our son to be lacking in sufficient intelligence to follow the course of mathematics of that school. I knew my son better than the teacher did; I knew that, on the contrary, mathematics was his real interest and within the scope of his capabilities. I left feeling very depressed. When I got home, I saw in the eyes of my son his high expectations as he enthusiastically inquired about what his teacher had said. I knew how devastated he would be if I were to tell him his teacher’s exact words. It was the Spirit that gave me the wisdom to rephrase his teacher’s concerns. I told him that the teacher recognized his great talent for mathematics and that only his lack of diligence would separate him from great achievements, for his teacher held high hopes for his future. My son took this to heart, and it did not take long before he became the best student of mathematics in his class. I do not even dare to think what would have become of him had I reported exactly the teacher’s negative remarks.
God works through the positive power of his love. When we truly learn to love God, we learn to love all things—others, ourselves, all creation, because God is in all, with all, and through all. We need not be afraid, and we need not hide behind a facade of performance. When we come to understand this unknown treasure—the knowledge of who we really are—we will know that we are entitled to the power that comes from God. It will come when we ask for it and when we trust his leadership in our lives. Our efforts should not be to perform nor to conform but to be transformed by the Spirit. Again, “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”31
Many pressures bind us to the world. Being honest in heart frees us to discover God’s will for our lives. I am always touched in our monthly ward testimony meetings where my faith is strengthened by my neighbors who tell how they have been buoyed up to meet the challenges and trials that have come their way. So often their testimonies reveal serious challenges they have had to face—challenges that are not evident unless one opens up one’s heart to another. I know that as I walk down our street and pass all the beautifully tended homes of my neighbors, I am inclined to think that all is well with them, that they do not struggle as I do. It is through the honest testimonies they bear that I learn to see their hearts, and we become united in feelings of love.
We, the children of the covenant whose eyes have been opened, have a great responsibility to be always aware of who we are.32 Although we might be absorbed in meeting our daily challenges and opportunities for growth, we cannot afford to live one day or one minute without being aware of the power within us. What a privilege I had to serve as the first matron in the Frankfurt temple!33 I had to depend constantly on the Spirit; otherwise, it would have been impossible to succeed. The challenge to establish a fully functioning temple seemed overwhelming, but the more overwhelming our tasks are, the more we understand that there is only One who can help, our Heavenly Father. Only when we draw unto him can we learn how real he is, how much he understands, and how much he is willing to help. He knows that we are not perfect and that we are struggling; and when we accept ourselves with our weaknesses in humility, sincerity, and complete honesty, then he is with us. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”34