It has been my observation, and it is my confession as a former participant, that many people drift along with the crowd in the church. Many good people drift to sacrament meeting and Sunday School, even family home evening, and they drift through a casual study of the scriptures. The drifters fall into at least one of two groups: In the first are those who step into the mainstream, getting deeply involved with church activity and floating with the current, comfortable with a sense of false security that they are in the right place. Others, who form the second group, accepting a few selected principles, resist being part of the flow, the mainstream, and choose to get out into the eddies at the edge, freed from the demands of full participation. It is difficult to decide of these two groups which is better, or worse. Those of us who are, on the basis of activity alone, very much in the church may not necessarily have the church very much in us; and if we left, the church might hardly recognize the difference. Following the practices, doing the right thing but without coming to know, understand, accept, and apply the saving principles and doctrines, we may be compared to one who spends his entire life stringing the instrument—never once hearing the music for which the instrument was created or incapable of recognizing it if he did.
In matters of principle, let us stand as solid as a rock. In matters of practice, may all that we do be based upon these saving principles, and may we understand the intrinsic relationship of principles and practices. It is in making the decision to follow the admonition of the prophet and to become scholars of the scriptures that we gradually learn the doctrine that prepares us to stand on the rock of revelation and to experience less and less the restless sense of drifting, wandering, questioning, and searching.
There are many good people who are very faithful (and may I emphasize faithful) in following the traditions and practices. I’m reminded of a song we used to sing in Sunday School:
“Never be late for the Sunday School class, come with your bright smiling faces.”
The chorus ended with:
“Try to be there, always be there, promptly at ten in the morning.”18
Ten in the morning became a practice, a tradition, for a long time. It was not a principle. Yet there were those among the faithful who felt uncomfortable about change, not unlike the feelings expressed by some today as practices and traditions are modified. When changes come, and they always will, for some it may be a test to survive because their foundation is based on practices alone, without an understanding of the eternal, unchanging principles.
Being faithful does not necessarily develop faith. The first principle of the gospel is faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.19 To have faith in him is to know him, to know his doctrine, and to know that the course of our life is in harmony with and acceptable to him. It is relatively easy to be faithful, but faith is born out of study, fasting, prayer, meditation, sacrifice, service, and, finally, personal revelation. Glimpses of understanding come line upon line, precept upon precept. Our Father is anxious to feed us just as fast as we can handle it, but we regulate the richness and the volume of our spiritual diet. And we do this by the same method used by the sons of Mosiah:
They had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; … they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.20
Faithfulness without faith, practices without principles, will leave us and our families seriously wanting as we move closer to that time spoken of by Heber C. Kimball when he said, “The time is coming when no man or woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If ye do not have it, you will not stand.”21
May we find ourselves doing less and less drifting as we make right choices based on personal revelation that give direction to us and our families each day of our lives. And with that direction, let us develop “a program for personal improvement” that will cause us to “reach for new levels of achievement,” as the prophet has admonished us.22
He has also promised us that the Lord “will help us from day to day on the allocation of our time and talent. We will move faster if we hurry less. We will make more real progress if we focus on the fundamentals.”23 Certain principles are essential in our struggle to avoid the wasteful experience of drifting.
Now what of dreamers? Many of us are dreamers at times, wanting in some way to escape ourselves, to be free of our own limitations. I often ponder the words: “With voluntary dreams they cheat their minds.”24 It has been said that if fate would destroy a man, it would first separate his forces and drive him to think one way and act another. It would rob him of the contentment that comes only from unity within. Choices must be decisive so that dreams and actions can be in harmony with each other. When we do something different than we know we should, it is like going into a final examination and putting down the wrong answer, even though we know the right one.
Dreaming, however, can also serve a very positive function when it fits Webster’s definition of having “a goal or purpose ardently desired.”
In the popular musical South Pacific is the delightful little song that goes, “If you don’t have a dream, / How ya gonna make a dream come true?”25 I am concerned for some of our sisters who have a magnificent dream but who will never fully realize its fulfillment because they feel that their righteous husband will take care of it, and they fail to prepare for their part in this eternal partnership.
There are some sisters who ponder the administrative structure of the church and trouble themselves with what they think they don’t have without ever coming to a full understanding of their own special and unique mission and the great blessings reserved specifically for them. We hear it expressed in terms that suggest that because women don’t have the priesthood they are shortchanged.
There are still others of our sisters who have the misunderstanding that priesthood is synonymous with men, and so they excuse themselves and have no concern for studying its importance in their own lives. The term priesthood is used without qualification, whether it is referring to a bearer of the priesthood, priesthood blessings, or priesthood ordinances. Our hearts should cry out in either case, and we should raise our voices and shout warnings to sisters whose dreams are built on such faulty foundations.
Our greatest dreams will be fulfilled only as we come to understand fully and experience the blessings of the priesthood, the power of the priesthood, and the ordinances of the priesthood in our own lives. If we were to begin with the time a child is given a name and a blessing and then continue on through baptism, confirmation, the sacrament, callings and being set apart, patriarchal blessings, administrations, the endowment, and finally celestial marriage, we would quickly realize that all the saving blessings of the priesthood are for boys and girls, men and women. And while that divine mission of motherhood is paramount, it is not all-inclusive. To help another gain eternal life is a companion privilege. This privilege, indeed this sacred responsibility, this noblest of callings, is denied to no worthy person. To assist in bringing to pass the eternal life of man, and to do it in dignity and honor, is the very pinnacle of my own personal dream. And for us to close our eyes to these eternal truths and not recognize them as priesthood blessings and ordinances is to keep us on the fringe area of the very saving principles—the only principles—that can make our eternal dreams come true.
It is true that as sisters we do not experience a priesthood ordination that carries an administrative function, nor do we have the tremendous, weighty burden of having that sacred responsibility heaped upon us in addition to the mission of creating and nurturing in partnership with God, first in giving birth to the Lord’s spirit children and then in raising those children to serve the Lord and keep his commandments.
I have come to know that we can all, both men and women, rejoice in the sacred calling of motherhood. To give birth is but one part of this sacred calling.
After drifting and dreaming, now may we consider the directing of one’s life. At my high school graduation, Oscar A. Kirkham stood at the pulpit, looking into the eyes of idealistic, enthusiastic graduates, and in his husky voice he offered this challenge: “Build a seaworthy ship. Be a loyal shipmate, and sail a true course.”26 I don’t remember anything else that he said, or what anyone else said, for that matter. But I’ve pondered that challenge many times over the years. In directing our lives we want to be sure of the true course and its ultimate destination. We cannot risk being caught in the disillusionment of the fellow who was committed to going north and was in fact traveling north—but on an iceberg that was floating south.
“True points,” like stars in the heavens to guide us, are readily available for anyone earnestly seeking direction. These true points of doctrine are found in the true church.27 Conversion to the truth comes by accepting true doctrine, and the truth of doctrine can be known only by revelation gained as a result of obedience. The Savior taught: “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”28
The skeptic of two thousand years ago might have said, “Look, if I knew for sure that the star (the sign of the Savior’s birth) would appear in the heavens tonight, I would be obedient.” That’s like standing in front of a stove and saying, “Give me some heat, and then I’ll put in the wood.” We must put in the wood first, and then we feel the warmth and the heat; then we can bear testimony of its reality. In the twelfth chapter of Ether we read: “Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”29 And as our faith is tried and we are found standing firm even in times of storm, we will rejoice with increased confidence as we discover within ourselves the loyal shipmate that we really have as we sail a true course.
Apostles and prophets have been provided in the church for the purposes of identifying and teaching true doctrine, lest men be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.”30 Now, we can follow the Brethren blindly, as one of my non-Mormon friends claims that we do—and I might add that it is far safer and better to follow them blindly than not at all—but that could be an abdication of our responsibility to direct our own lives and become spiritually independent. Again, following the practices alone is not enough. We must come to know the reason, indeed the doctrinal bases, for that practice; otherwise, when the practice or tradition is questioned or changed, those who do not understand the principle are prone to waver. They may even abandon or reject the very practice intended as a schoolmaster to carry them to an understanding of a saving and eternal principle.
There were those in King Benjamin’s time who were caught up in exacting the law of Moses. With blinders they followed the practices—an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth—until King Benjamin taught them that their practices availed them nothing unless they accepted the mission of the Savior and his atonement.31 Without that commitment their practices were for naught.
While Adam was offering the firstlings of the flock, an angel appeared and asked him why he was doing it, why this practice. You will remember Adam’s response. He said, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”32 The practice was offering a sacrifice, but the principle, in this instance, was obedience. And then Adam received a witness, after the trial of his faith. The angel explained: “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father.”33
As we direct our lives, it is important to understand practices and principles, their relationship as well as the differences between them. In my mind’s eye, I visualize the practices as a horizontal line, a foundation, a schooling, a testing, a preparation; and the saving and exalting eternal principles or doctrine as a vertical line that links our souls to heaven and builds the relationship with God and faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and his mission.
There will continue to be much opposition to true doctrine; but by and by the storm subsides, the clouds disperse, the sun breaks forth, and the rock of truth is seen again, firm and lasting. There never was a true principle that was not met by storm after storm of opposition and abuse, until that principle had obtained such influence that it no longer paid to oppose it. But until that time, the opposition and the abuse have ebbed and flowed like the tide. It was a strong doctrine that rid Jesus of his weak disciples, and the same testing process continues today in determining those worthy of his kingdom. The Prophet Joseph Smith stated:
God has in reserve a time … when he will bring all his subjects, who have obeyed his voice and kept his commandments, into his celestial rest. This rest is of such perfection and glory, that man has need of a preparation before he can, according to the laws of that kingdom, enter it and enjoy its blessings. This being the fact, God has given certain laws to the human family, which, if observed, are sufficient to prepare them to inherit this rest. This, then, we conclude was the purpose of God in giving his laws to us.34
In our goal to apply principles and proceed with direction, it isn’t intended that we arrive before we experience that witness of the Spirit. The witness sustains us in our journey. In a few lines of prose, given so eloquently, President Kimball tells how the gospel came into the life of an unlearned, Bolivian woman.35 In hearing of the mission of the Savior and the doctrine of the atonement, the Spirit bore witness to her soul. With her golden-brown face turned upward, her dark eyes wide and trusting, with tears rising to overflowing, she whispered her emotions, “You mean, he did that for me?” With the confirmation of her question received, she again whispered, this time not in question but in reverent awe, “You mean, he did that for me!”
And to this eternal and saving principle, I bear my fervent testimony that he did that for you and for me. With that conviction, I think with soberness of the penetrating observation by Truman Madsen, “The greatest tragedy of our life is that our Savior paid the awful price of suffering so that he could help us, but is forbidden to because we won’t let him. We look down instead of up.”36 We choose to remain enclosed in marble. But if we would free ourselves and come to know this truth through personal revelation, the time might come when even our routine practices could become life-giving and done in the Lord’s name with his Spirit so that the whole of our lives becomes a sacred experience as we labor for him continuously.
It was not long ago that I witnessed what until then had been something of a routine for me, the blessing on the food. Picture with me my aged father, his body deteriorated by the devastation of stomach cancer, while his spirit was magnified and refined through suffering. He sat at the kitchen table; he then weighed less than a hundred pounds. Bowing his head, resting it in his frail, trembling hands over a spoonful of baby food—all that he could eat—he pronounced a blessing on the food—as though it were a sacred sacrament—and gave thanks with acceptance and submission, with truth and faith, because he knew to whom he was speaking.
It is in coming to know our Savior and the saving principles that he taught through the gospel of Jesus Christ that we become different. And we need to be recognized as being different. The majority of the world doesn’t see the options. It is our responsibility to be obviously good and obviously right—and able to articulate our values and be an advocate for truth. We may have a temple recommend and attend our meetings and practice the principles, but how we look and act, what we say and do, may be the only message some people will receive. Our acts should show that there is a power and an influence with us that the inhabitants of the world do not understand. What is it that distinguishes us from others? The distinction is that we profess to be guided by revelation. And it is because of this principle that we are peculiar, since all of our actions can be under divine guidance. Having made the choice, we must stand and be visibly different. Until we make that choice, we remain anonymous, subject to the current of the meandering multitudes.
President Kimball has said:
Much of the major growth that is coming to the church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that they are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.37
That is our direction. That is our challenge. All individuals are what they are and where they are by a composite of choices that direct their life each day. The responsibility of directing is not only for our own lives, but also for others who may be looking for the light. As we build a seaworthy ship and then sail a true course, many sails will navigate safely through troubled waters into the peaceful harbor because of the unflickering light radiating from the bow of our craft. As I consider our responsibility to others I am inspired by the words of the song:
Brightly beams our Father’s mercy from his lighthouse evermore,
But to us he gives the keeping of the lights along the shore.
Let the lower lights be burning; send a gleam across the wave;
Some poor fainting, struggling seaman you may rescue; you may save.
Dark the night of sin has settled; loud the angry billows roar.
Eager eyes are watching, longing, for the lights along the shore.
Trim your feeble lamp, my brother; some poor sailor, tempest tossed,
Trying now to make the harbor, in the darkness may be lost.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell recently wrote, “As other lights flicker and fade, the light of the gospel will burn ever more brightly in a darkening world, guiding the humble but irritating the guilty and those who prefer the dusk of decadence.”39
Now my dear sisters, may our lights be bright without a flicker, as we tend the lights along the shore. Let us each one reach out and touch another. Let us help carry one another’s burdens. In cooperation we can overcome great odds. Let us rejoice with one another. It may be just a smile, a note, a call, an encouraging word that says, “I care; I understand; I will stand by you and help you.” These are life-saving measures in times of storm.
Recently I was privileged to read part of a blessing received by one of our sisters that stated that her life would continue over a period when she would see great devastation and that she would be called to go into homes of the sorrowing, the suffering, the sick and afflicted, to minister unto them, to bind up their wounds, and to cheer them.
I believe that we have all been called to minister unto those in need, to bind up not just their physical wounds but also their spiritual wounds, social wounds, and wounds that are kept hidden, sometimes festering until someone cares enough to tend the lights along the shore.
These are matters of eternal consequence, and we can, if we desire, reach far enough to experience an awakening of things we have known before. Remember, President Kimball said:
In the world before we came here, faithful women were given certain assignments while faithful men were foreordained to certain priesthood tasks. While we do not remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to. We are accountable for those things which long ago were expected of us just as are those whom we sustain as prophets and apostles.40
It is my fervent and humble testimony that the heavens are very much open to women today. They are not closed unless we, ourselves, by our choices, close them. And this reality can be just as evident as in any time past. As I read of the great spirituality of women of the past and realize how the Lord communicated with them, I thrill with the spiritual manifestations that have accompanied their missions in life, literally a power evidencing the will of God made known through their instrumentality. I think of Eliza R. Snow, of whom Joseph F. Smith said, “She walked not in the borrowed light of others, but faced the morning unafraid and invincible.”41
The Spirit whispers to me that there are Eliza R. Snows among us even today, and there can be many, many more. We can pull down the blessings of heaven through obedience to law. These divine and sacred blessings are not reserved for others alone. Visions and revelations come by the power of the Holy Ghost, and the Lord has said, “And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.”42
Now let us go forth with the faith, the vision, the direction, and the decision to abide the laws that ensure these blessings not only for ourselves and our families but for all of God’s children everywhere.
As we leave this conference, let us each feel deeply the power and strength and influence for good of our collective and united resolves. With renewed determination and confidence and commitment to the covenants we have made, let us become truly and in every way “Women of God.” Let us go forth in faith and confidence and prepare for the noble calling spoken of by the prophet—to be a righteous woman during the winding-up scenes on this earth before the second coming of our Savior.