Listen and Obey
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
February 26, 2004
LDS Social Services
Today I will start by bearing my testimony. I know that God lives and He loves each one of us. He knows us personally. I know that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer and Savior of the world and I love Him with all my heart. I know that we have a prophet on this earth today, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and he is the voice for the Lord. I am grateful for faithful missionaries who walked the Hamakua Coast and shared the gospel with my family over a half a century ago.
I gained my testimony on the Big Island as I grew up in the Okura Family in the Kilauea Branch in Hilo. Things were very simple then. We had no fancy pictures or nicely decorated bulletin boards or centerpieces but somehow the message of the gospel sank deep into my heart.
I had a wonderful childhood growing up in Hilo. I was a fearless, determined tomboy. I was the kickball champ in my neighborhood, I climbed guava trees, burned rubbish in the backyard, and I climbed down the very steep banks to the Wailuku River and caught frogs and crayfish with my brothers. But there is one memory that is not a pleasant one.
When I was 13 years old, my father bought an old faded light blue Plymouth clunker for $50. No one used it and this car sat at the bottom of our long, sloping driveway for weeks. One day, I decided that I could learn to drive this car by myself. I got the key and started it up. I soon learned that the clutch needed to be stepped in to keep the car from jerking forward.
Soon I learned to reverse the car. Up and down the driveway I went, feeling so grown up and capable. Soon I had my little 6 year old sister and 5 neighbor children in the backseat squealing with delight. Up and down the driveway we went. Meanwhile, my mother discovered what I was doing and she ran out of the house and stood frantically on the porch by the kitchen door saying, "Sally, abunai! Dangerous! Stop! Please, stop!" Did I stop? No! It was too much fun and of course, I knew what I was doing.
I reversed the car up the hill again and this time, the clutch came out too fast and my right foot pressed on the gas pedal. The car quickly jerked backwards, went off the driveway and crashed into the dining room of our home. The glass windows cracked. The back of the car was in the dining room! The children were frightened. No one was hurt but it caused my mother such turmoil and it cost a lot to fix the house. Why did this happen? Because I did not keep the rules. I did not listen to the warnings and obey.
For the last 24 years, I have had the unique honor and privilege to be associated with LDS Family Services, an agency that is an integral part of the Lord's inspired welfare program. I have met with hundreds of clients and have come to admire and love them very much. I saw people who let down their pride and came with humble hearts with the desire to change and make their lives better.
I have seen such sadness, grief, regret, hurt, pain and terrible troubles that can come into the lives of people. I have learned that while some problems are caused by accidents or health problems, most troubles occur because of sinâ€”sin committed by that person or sin committed by others.
When we don't listen and obey the laws of God, we get into trouble. When we listen and obey, we have peace. Over the years of seeing the lives of people, I can testify that when we keep the commandments, we are happier. When we break the commandments, unhappiness sets in. It is the message of the Book of Mormon.
[slide 1 start] In DC 82:10 we read, "I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise."
I once saw a quote [end slide 1][slide 2, blank] that said that only a fool has to learn everything by experience, and the wise person learns from the mistakes and experiences of others and does not repeat the same mistakes. Because many of you are still young, it is the hope of us older people, that you will not have to experience the mistakes and suffer the agony yourselves.
I will share some true life experiences with you today. This is a reality talk.
First, I'll share an abortion story about someone who listened and obeyed.
Many years ago, a non-member father from the mainland called the Branch President of the University Branch in Honolulu asking for help with his non-member daughter who was a student in town. He had just found out that she was pregnant and had scheduled an abortion at 1:00 p.m. the next day. He did not believe that abortion was in the best interest of his daughter and the child. His friend told him to call someone in the LDS church. The Branch President called me and I was able to set an appointment to see this attractive young woman at 10:00 the next morning, just hours before the scheduled abortion.
During the first hour, she was adamant and determined that there was no way she would keep the pregnancy because she did not want anyone besides her parents to know that she was pregnant. There was no way she could be a single parent and no way could she place the child for adoption. She wanted nothing to do with the birthfather. She told me all the reasons why she just had to get that abortion and they all made sense to her. She was using great logic and reason. It would be the easiest thing to do and would get her right back on track with school.
In my heart and mind during that first hour, I fervently petitioned the Lord for help and asked that her heart be softened. I pleaded for help from her loved ones beyond the veil. Then something happened during the second hour. I felt the Spirit of the Lord fill my office. The young woman must have felt it too for her lips started to quiver and then tears came. She began to think about the child as a separate person from her. She began to think how she would feel after an abortion and the long term consequences of that choice.
At the end of our discussion, she humbly said, "I will give this child life." She chose to carry the baby to full term and then she placed the baby with an outstanding Latter-day Saint couple. Today that little boy is an active soccer player and he passes the sacrament on Sunday. What happened? This young woman listened to the Spirit and she obeyed. Her righteous decision brought her and her child great peace and joy.
I have been involved in many adoptions over the years so I will tell you a true to life adoption story. One day a bishop referred a young college student to me for birthparent services. She was a bright student on a full scholarship and she had a delightful personality. She had made a mistake and found herself pregnant with no possibility of marriage. She and her parents consulted their church leaders and LDS Family Services to find out her options.
Her parents were financially strong and could have easily supported one more child in the family. But after much prayer, this young woman and her parents decided to follow the counsel of the First Presidency and place the child for adoption with a temple sealed couple. Emotionally, it was not an easy thing to do but their great faith carried them through.
The birthmother selected a humble, righteous couple and corresponded with them throughout the pregnancy. A gorgeous little boy was born and the adoptive couple excitedly flew to Hawaii at the time of the birth. The placement took place in a peaceful, beautiful home where the Spirit of the Lord was indeed present and very strong. When the birthmother and her parents met the adoptive couple, there was instant love as though they had known each other before. There were hugs and tears.
After talking together for quite some time, the birthmother played a lovely piece on the piano, Canon in D, for the adoptive couple. The adoptive mother was a talented violinist. She and the birthmother then played two songs together with the piano and violin. One of the songs was "I Am a Child of God." "I am a child of God, And he has sent me here, Has given me an earthly home With parents kind and dear. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, Help me find the way. Teach me all that I must do To live with him someday." This was the wish of the birthmother that her child would have such a life.
The birthmother then went to the other room to get the baby and she walked out confidently and placed the child into the arms of the adoptive parents. There were great expressions of how cute he was. Many tears fell. We all felt the Spirit that day and there was such deep love manifested.
This birthmother has since served the Lord in many ways and is now sealed to a faithful husband and has her own family. The special, beautiful baby was sealed in the temple to his parents and is loved and cherished by a large, righteous extended family. The birthmother listened and obeyed the counsel of the Brethren and she, the child and the adoptive parents have been blessed immensely. One day, my boss shared a thought that he saw in the elevator in the Church Office Building. It said, "Those who do not follow the prophet are no better off than those who do not know that there is a prophet."
Every day we are faced with decisions between right and wrong. They may not be as serious as the stories I shared, nevertheless, each decision we make either takes us closer to our Heavenly Father or farther away from Him.
Let's take some every day circumstances.
Has your roommate ever drank your milk or ate your food and you got upset? The scriptures tell us, "Whosover is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment." So if we listen to that counsel, we would talk it out politely with our roommate and solve the problem in a peaceful way instead of getting mad.
If someone gossips about you and hurts you, what would you do? We may be tempted to talk stink about that person and get even but that is Satan's way and will only get us in more trouble. The Lord teaches us to forgive. As we listen to His counsel, we will have more peace and great rewards and blessings will be ours.
In a marriage relationship, when difficulties arise, we must look at ourselves and see how our own behavior might be contributing to the problem instead of pointing the finger at the other person. We are taught in the scriptures to look at the beam in our own eye instead of the mote in the other person. There are always two sides to a problem. The pancake has two sides no matter how thin it is. Rather than focusing on our spouse's faults, in great humility, we should look at ourselves and make the necessary changes. The scriptures tell us to be patient, kind, tolerant, long-suffering, meek and humble. As we obey, miracles can happen and joy can fill our hearts.
When we are tempted and we go to a kava party, how can we expect to have light in our countenances? We have been instructed by the Brethren not to drink kava. I have seen some distraught wives in the community whose lives have been greatly impacted because their husbands did not obey the counsel and they got into more trouble. And those who serve kava are walking on hot coals, not realizing that their feet are being burned to the crisp. We must always stay far away from the cliff. It is said that we cannot live in Zion and have a summer home in Babylon.
If we know that being at the beach and other private places after dark is not safe and that temptations can overcome us, we must be firm in our decision to stay far away from those places.
Like the Apostle Paul, some are sorely afflicted with a "thorn in the flesh." Here again, we look to the counsel of the Brethren and not give in to acting out or indulging in activities that will only draw us farther from God. Heavenly Father is well aware of all our weaknesses. On the other hand, He knows all of our strengths. We must remember that we have the power to restrain ourselves, to control our behavior and to choose the right path leading to eternal life if we make Christ our partner.
In his book, Willpower is Not Enough, a dear friend of mine, Dean Byrd, writes, "In spite of the potential for misguidance and the dangers of self indulgence, we must work to rehabilitate the desires of our hearts rather than just repressing or trying to rid ourselves of them. The Lord does not want us to obey him based exclusively on willpower. Rather, he wants us to "follow him, with full purpose of heart." (2 Nephi 31:13.) In D&C 64:22 it says, "I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men." Though we may have to go through some agonizing days as part of our test, all will be well as we keep the commandments one day at a time. The Savior will carry our burdens for us if we give Him our hearts and obey because we love Him.
I once met with a woman who was suffering from depression, low self-esteem, who continually made poor decisions in her life and she was miserable. As a child, she had been sexually abused for a number of years and she never quite got her life off the ground. I remember how sad I was when I heard her life story. After she left my office, I fell upon my knees and cried to the Lord, asking Him to heal her and make her happier.
At a subsequent session, I shared with her a talk given by the Apostle, Elder Richard G. Scott, in which he said: "I solemnly testify that when another's acts of violence, perversion, or incest hurt you terribly, against your will, you are not responsible and you must not feel guilty. You may be left scarred by abuse, but those scars need not be permanent. In the eternal plan, in the Lord's timetable, those injuries can be made right as you do your part."
Her part, she decided after much pondering, was to live the gospel principles. Then she read in 3 Nephi 12:43-44, [slide 3]"And behold it is written also, that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you."
This woman realized that she had been filled with feelings of hate, shame, worthlessness and guilt. [end slide 3][slide 4, blank] She realized that what was important was not the past in itself but how she was responding to the past. She realized that she did not have to see life in such a discolored, dysfunctional way and continue in the same pattern.. She began the process of changing her thoughts, softening her heart, trusting again, finding value in herself, understanding her great worth as a child of God and understanding the depth of love that the Savior had for her.
As her level of spirituality increased, she allowed the great Atonement to heal her. In time, she became a changed person, happier, more cheerful, more loving, more confident. She had listened to the counsel of an Apostle and the scriptures and then she had taken positive action. This woman has done remarkable things with her life since then for she let the Lord into her heart and now, her life is a fulfilling one.
A person who has grown up under difficult circumstances, a person who may have been the victim of someone's degrading remarks, or made to feel that he or she is never good enough, may harbor feelings of anger, bitterness or resentment. Often people who consider themselves victims tend to blame the other person for their troubles. It is when we blame others or circumstances for our problems that we fail to see our own role and our ability and our accountability to solve the problems. When we allow that control to be in the hands of others, we cannot find a solution and we remain unhappy.
The gospel teaches us that we have the power to take control of our own lives. The gospel teaches us that those ugly feelings are not just feelings. They are sins. Yes, even though we got hurt by someone else, the ugly feelings are our own sins! Those sins are barriers keeping us stuck in our lives. Only as we repent and cleanse ourselves of those destructive thoughts and feelings can we move on and progress toward joy, happiness and peace. In repenting, we allow the atonement to completely wash away not only our sins, but our hurt and pain. I have seen this happen. It really works. As we follow these teachings, we are blessed.
President George Albert Smith said, [slide 5]" My grandfather used to say to his family, "There is a line of demarcation, well defined, between the Lord's territory and the devil's. If you will stay on the Lord's side of the line, you will be under his influence and will have no desire to do wrong; but if you cross to the devil's side of the line one inch, you are in the tempter's power, and if he is successful, you will not be able to think or even reason properly, because you will have lost the Spirit of the Lord."
The good news is that we all came to earth [end slide 5][slide6, blank] with a conscience or the light of Christ, sometimes called the Spirit of Christ, to help us know what is right. We can receive promptings and know the path we need to take .We do not have to be perfect to receive guidance and strength from the Lord. He loves us and He is constantly guiding us if we will only listen.
Several years ago, I learned a lesson about listening. I was diagnosed with Stage III cancer and had to have chemotherapy treatments to save my life. The first treatment was too strong for my body and I nearly lost my entire immune system. With a high fever, I was admitted to the hospital emergency room and was put into isolation for 3 days.
During that time, only the doctor and the nurse could come in with masks on their faces and my husband could come in once a day for a few minutes with a mask on his face. I spent 3 days and 3 nights in solitude with unbelievable quietness that I had never experienced before. It was such a change from my regular life as a busy, active mother who was on the go 18 hours a day.
There in isolation, I spent most of my time in deep meditation and prayer. It was then that I learned what the Lord meant when he said, "Be still and know that I am God." I received many personal revelations during that time especially regarding my husband, my children and those whom I loved and cared about deeply. I experienced the sweet whisperings of the Spirit, the still small voice, ideas, impressions, dreams that instructed me and other sacred means of communication from the Lord.
President Wilford Woodruff said, "Every individual member has the privilege of receiving revelation from the Lord for his guidance in his own affairs and to testify to him concerning the correctness of public teachings and movements." (Millennial Star, 50:307-308)
President Woodruff also said, "I have been blessed at times with certain gifts and graces, certain revelations and ministrations; but with them all, I have never found anything that I could place more dependency upon than the still small voice of the Holy Ghost." (JD 21:195-96)
About 150 years ago, 402 Latter-day Saints left their homeland in Europe to come to America. A Sister Jackson recorded a spiritual experience in her journal. She wrote that one night during the voyage, when the ship was near the shores of Cuba, it was particularly pitch dark and no one could see anything. The captain was afraid that the ship might be wrecked as he knew that land was near. Suddenly, a heavenly light illuminated the surroundings for a few seconds, revealing to the captain that a large rock rose boldly out of the ocean right in front of the ship only a short distance away. The captain quickly turned the ship just in time to avoid hitting the rocks. A terrible disaster was avoided because of the Lord's help. All 402 Latter-day Saints arrived safely in New Orleans.
In our lives, there may be times of pitch darkness and bleakness and then, there may be a sudden illumination, where we have an idea or a thought, or a feeling that will show us the way. It may not be like the noon day sun, but just enough light to show us which way to go.
I once met with an attractive woman in her early 20s. She was very much in love with her handsome fiance and their wedding was quickly approaching. During their courtship, there were a number of times when he had been verbally abusive and his temper had flared. On one occasion, he shoved her. Although she loved him and was attracted to him, she began to seriously consider breaking off the engagement. She went through many difficult days of pitch darkness, not knowing what to do. Then she followed the counsel in Doctrine and Covenants 9: 7-9: [slide 7]
"Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind: then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right, you shall have no such feeling, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong."
So we don't ask, "Lord, what should I do?" [end, slide 9][slide 10, blank] but we use our own ability to think and make a plan and present it to him and He will let us know if it is right or not.
The young woman studied it out in her mind. She put facts together; she considered all sides of the situation. Then she made a decision that she should not marry him because of his temper, abusive nature and selfishness. In prayer, she presented this decision to the Lord and asked him if this was right. What happened was exactly like the scriptures say. She had a burning in the bosom, a strong feeling that her decision was right that she should not marry him. She then lost the desire to marry him, which was the stupor of thought, and although it was a late decision, she cancelled the wedding. That decision, although very difficult, led her to wonderful opportunities and she later married a patient, kind, humble, faithful man in the temple. She listened and obeyed and it made all the difference in her life.
Revelation to each of us is constantly flowing. We just have to put up our spiritual antennas and be on the right frequency. Then we will know the Lord's will.
Difficult times are part of this mortal life but we can do our part to prevent or minimize the problems that come. It is my testimony that our Father in Heaven and our Savior, Jesus Christ, love us so very much and want us to succeed. The help is there if we will listen and obey.
I say this humbly in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.