My beloved brothers and sisters, I count it a sacred privilege to speak to you today from this magnificent Marriott Center in Provo, Utah, as you are gathered together in your buildings. Among you are some of our own precious family members and cherished friends. I consider it a sacred privilege to accompany Elder Ballard, Elder Hallstrom, and Bishop Davies this morning.14 I testify that they are chosen servants and dedicated disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and plead with you to listen, learn, and live what the Spirit whispers to you through them this morning.
In our most recent general conference President Russell M. Nelson asked, “What did the Savior mean when he said that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath?’” President Nelson then answered his own question, “I believe he wanted us to understand that the Sabbath was his gift to us.”15
What did YOU do the last time someone gave a gift to you? Did you express gratitude in words, either written or spoken? Did you use the gift to show that you value, cherish, and appreciate it? For example, did you hang a piece of artwork one of your children or grandchildren or a member of your Primary class made especially for you? Did you take time to read a book, letter, email, or card offered in love for you?
I am sorry to admit that as a newlywed on our first Christmas together as husband and wife, I failed to show appreciation for a gift my husband gave to me. We had agreed that since we had very little money that we would not give each other gifts for Christmas that first year. However, my sweet husband noticed that I needed a new pair of shoes. He surprised me with a brand new pair of brown shoes for Christmas at great sacrifice to himself. But guess what? They weren’t the kind of shoes I would have chosen for myself. As a very young and immature bride, I thought they looked like “brown grandma shoes.” And instead of wearing them to show how much I appreciated my husband’s thoughtfulness, I asked if he had kept the receipt and promptly returned them to the shoe store the next day.
Did my husband give me a bad gift? Certainly not! It was a good gift given with great love. Did I turn the good gift into a bad gift by not accepting it in the spirit in which it was given? If I am to be perfectly honest, I must admit that I did. I wish I had known then what I know now about good gifts. In the New Testament we read what Jesus Christ has to say about the gifts God gives us. In Matthew 7:9–11 we read, “What man is there of you whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
This brings us back, then, to President Nelson’s observation about the Sabbath day being a gift from our Heavenly Father. Is the Sabbath day a bad gift? Of course not! The Lord is perfect and gives only good gifts to his children—to us! He loves us and knows what is best for us and wants to bless us with the best gifts. We need to remember, however, that the Sabbath day really belongs to him.
In Isaiah 58:13–14 we read, “If thou turn away … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth.”
President Nelson reminded us that one way we can “delight in the Lord” is to freely give him a sign that we love and remember the Sabbath is his day. We do this as we remember the perfect life and perfect sacrifice of his beloved Son, our Savior and Redeemer.
What signs do we give to those we love to demonstrate we love, respect, and cherish our relationship with them? We might remember them on a birthday or other special day by eating foods they choose, allowing them to choose what activities they most enjoy, or listening to music they prefer, among other things. These demonstrate we remember and honor them. Let me share a couple of personal examples to illustrate.
While we were serving our mission in Korea a few years ago, my husband was deeply touched and felt greatly honored to learn how our family had chosen to remember and honor him on his birthday, although we were thousands of miles away from each other. All of our children and grandchildren gathered together and went to my husband’s favorite restaurant, ate his favorite kind of food, and all ordered his favorite dessert. This was a sign between our family and my husband that they remembered him on his special day.
Last year my father passed away.16 We dearly love and miss him. To keep his memory alive in the hearts and minds of his posterity, we gathered together at his grave on the anniversary of his death and celebrated his wonderful life by sharing memories, food, and music that he loved. Similarly, we can give a sign of love to our Heavenly Father and the Savior by choosing to do things on the Sabbath day that demonstrate our love.
At my own home stake conference a couple of weeks ago, my heart was overflowing with love as I was blessed to hear about the efforts of several who are trying harder to keep the Sabbath day holy as a sign of their love for our Heavenly Father. The first was a darling young single adult sister who shared her feelings. She said, “When I live the gospel, I tend to make it more complicated than it needs to be.” She continued, “As I was thinking about how I can best keep the Sabbath day holy, I decided the best way is to simply love the Lord. If I view my behavior as an expression of my love for God,” she said, “I will know how to keep his day holy.” As she pondered this in her heart, the Holy Ghost had whispered to her and magnified her thoughts.
Another family reported on their efforts to prayerfully consider how to better observe the Sabbath day and felt the need to improve in another way. This family mentioned that their tendency was to focus only on the needs of their own family on the Sabbath day. But as they prayed with the real intent to change, they felt some gentle urgings from the Holy Ghost. The feelings they received have resulted in using the Sabbath to reach beyond their own comfort zone of family, opening up their home to include the lonely, the less active, and others. It is their sign to the Lord that they love him by loving his children.
At that same stake conference, I learned from another young family how they are striving to improve their observance of the Sabbath day and keep it in a way to show their love for the Lord. As they counseled together as husband and wife, then as a family that includes three children, ages eight, five, and three, they came up with a plan. The inspiring thing about counseling together is that as we talk with and listen to each other with the intent to do better, the Holy Ghost brings thoughts to our minds and feelings to our hearts that magnify our efforts. This was the case with this striving young family. As they counseled together, they felt they could do better by making the sacrament more meaningful for their young, active family. They hoped to improve their sacrament experience in three ways: in their preparation before attending church together, trying to better feel the Spirit during the ordinance of the sacrament, and then following up afterwards at home.
Their family plan included being more consistent in their individual and family prayers and scripture study and trying harder during the week to repent more and forgive more. They also decided, as part of their preparation, they would select a Savior-centered scripture, hymn, Primary song, or picture in the gospel art kit to help them focus their thoughts during the sacrament. Now before leaving for church, they stop and review what they have decided to focus on together during the ordinance of the sacrament. During the sacrament they each think of that one thing and report how they felt and what they learned when they return home later that day.
Partaking of the sacrament is more than just renewing our baptismal covenant, for we are cleansed again each time we worthily partake and remember him. Doing so helps us repel the stains of the world and keep “unspotted” from it. Recall with me the commandment the Lord gives in the 59th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. “Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.”17
As I share the following story with you, consider what the sister in the story learned from her service in the temple that we could apply to keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world” on the Sabbath day. These are the words of Sister Julie Thompson:
A few years ago, I arrived at the Bountiful Utah Temple to fulfill a late-night cleaning assignment. The turnout for the assignment was impressive, and I wondered for a moment if some would be sent home. I was more than ready to volunteer to leave early. Then I cynically thought to myself, “Of course they won’t let us go early. They will find menial jobs for all of us, thinking it is their duty to keep us here the entire two hours.” I remembered a previous assignment during which I had dusted for more than an hour, only to return a cloth that looked as clean as it had been when it was given to me. I prepared myself to spend two hours cleaning things that didn’t appear to need cleaning. Obviously, I had come to the temple that night out of a sense of duty more than from a desire to serve.
Our group was led to a small chapel for a devotional. The custodian who conducted the devotional said something that will forever change the way I look at temple cleaning assignments. After welcoming us, he proceeded to explain that we were not there to clean things that didn’t need cleaning but to keep the Lord’s house from ever becoming dirty. As stewards of one of the most sacred places on earth, we had a responsibility to keep it spotless.
His message penetrated my heart, and I proceeded to my assigned area with a new enthusiasm to protect the Lord’s house. I spent time with a soft-bristled paintbrush, dusting the tiny grooves in door frames, baseboards, and the legs of tables and chairs. Had I been given this assignment on an earlier visit, I might have thought it ridiculous and carelessly brushed over the areas in an effort to appear busy. But this time, I made sure the bristles reached into the tiniest of crevices.
Because this job was neither physically nor mentally taxing, I was blessed with time to ponder while I worked. I first realized that I never paid attention to such minute details in my own home but cleaned those areas that others would see first, neglecting those known only to members of my family and me.
I next realized that there were times when I had lived the gospel in a similar fashion—living those principles and fulfilling those assignments that were most obvious to those around me while ignoring things that seemed known only to my immediate family or me. I attended church, held callings, fulfilled assignments, went visiting teaching—all in full view of members of our ward—but neglected to attend the temple regularly, have personal and family scripture study and prayer, and hold family home evening. I taught lessons and spoke in church but sometimes lacked true charity in my heart when it came to interactions with others.
That night in the temple, I studied the paintbrush in my hand and asked myself, “What are the little crevices in my life that need more attention?” I resolved that rather than plan to repeatedly clean the areas of my life that needed attention, I would try harder never to let them become dirty.18
Let’s pause for a brief moment and ponder what the Spirit is teaching us right now. Let’s ask ourselves, “How does this story apply to me?” “What are the places in my life that I need to be sure to keep clean so they will never become dirty?” “Are there areas I may be neglecting that need some special attention?” Because the Sabbath day is the Lord’s day, I know he would be pleased to have us each consider how we might better keep ourselves and our homes “unspotted from the world.”
In January of 1982, [Elder Robert D. Hales] spoke in a devotional [here in the Marriott Center].19 [He] invited the students to imagine that the church was on one side of the podium … and the world was just a foot or two away on the other side. This represented the “very short distance between where the world was and where the church standards were” when [he] was in college. Then, standing before the students 30 years later, [he] held up [his] hands in the same manner and explained, “The world has gone far afield; [it has traveled; it is nowhere to be seen;] it has proceeded way, way out, all the way out of this [building and around the world].”20
This sobering reminder from Elder Hales is surely applicable to how the world observes or, more accurately, ignores the observance of the Sabbath day today. It is vastly different from how the Lord intended it to be.
It is interesting to note that one of the charges frequently brought against our Savior was that of Sabbath breaking, but this was because he failed to conform to the traditions and man-made regulations concerning the Sabbath.21 Satan doesn’t really care whether we break the Sabbath by over-regulating it the way the Pharisees did—with unending rules and regulations—or whether we throw out all the rules and use it as a lazy day to do nothing or simply make it just another day of the week. He loves to deal in the extremes. We will know in our hearts if we are keeping the Sabbath day holy and remembering to honor the Lord if what we are doing are things he would do if he were here—especially and most importantly in our homes.
In Matthew 12:12 we read the Savior’s own words, “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.” And President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “The Sabbath is a holy day in which to do worthy and holy things. Abstinence from work and recreation is important, but insufficient. The Sabbath calls for constructive thoughts and acts.”22 I think President Kimball was inviting more intentional or thoughtful behavior in how we observe the Sabbath day.
My dear friend and counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, Sister Linda S. Reeves, recently shared how and why she lives this counsel. As a mother of thirteen children, she recalled that when her children were all living at home, she found it was absolutely necessary to prepare for the Sabbath day well in advance in order to make it a holy day. She then admitted that she had slipped out of that habit for a time since only she and her husband were then at home. She said that recently she recommitted to preparing more diligently for the Sabbath on Saturday. She said something like, “I saw it as sort of a sign or a love letter to my Heavenly Father that I would more intentionally remember him on his special day.” Then she testified that in her efforts to remember him by preparing ahead to worship him and have temporal things in order, that in return, he has blessed her with a special reassurance of his love. She said, “It is as if he is sending me a love letter in return.”23
Twenty years ago, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said something in general conference that sank deep into my heart. As I felt my heart burn within me, I knew the Holy Ghost was confirming to me that what Elder Maxwell was teaching was not only true, but meant especially for me. It feels applicable to how we observe the Sabbath day. He said, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. … It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”24
May we decide today to do one small thing to submit our will to his to improve our observance of the Sabbath day as a sign of our love for our Heavenly Father and our Savior Jesus Christ. Wonderful Elder Ballard, who is with us today, lovingly taught, “Great things are wrought through simple and small things. … Our small and simple acts of kindness and service will accumulate into a life filled with love for Heavenly Father.”25
I testify that the gift of the Sabbath day is from our loving Heavenly Father as a sign of his love for us. He has given it to us to help us remember his greatest gift—the gift of his Beloved Son. That we will “always remember him” as our gift in return is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.26