The Light in the Window


President Eric B. ShumwayDevotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

January 11, 2007
President Eric B. Shumway
BYU-Hawaii President

Aloha! What a beautiful sight you are and what a blessed time and opportunity we all have to be in this special place. I pray sincerely that the Holy Spirit will carry the message today into our hearts and our lives.

I grew up in a small Arizona town called St. John's. My mother was a school teacher. My father ran a service station business. Mom also taught the 16 and 17 year olds in Sunday school so she was able to touch the lives of nearly three generations of teenagers in the community. Her love for her students matched her passion for the Gospel.

Mom always waited up for her children when we went out at night on dates or other activities. She turned on her reading light while dad slept and pulled the covers to her neck, mummy–like, and read until we came home. The soft glow of Mom's reading lamp was plainly visible from the road, especially since there were no street lights and ours was the only home on a four acre block.

No matter how late, the light in Mom's bedroom signaled that she was still awake and waiting, expecting a report on my evening's activities. The door to her bedroom was always ajar. I entered with the usual, "Mom, I'm home." If I arrived later than I had promised she never mentioned it until she asked the important questions: "Was it a good party or dance? Did you have a good time? Who were you with? Would your Dad and I have been proud of you tonight? Did you behave like a gentlemen? Did you dance with all the girls, not just the popular ones?"

I sat on the edge of the bed. Sometimes she would take my hand. It was always pleasant and never boring, in spite of her frequently repeated stories which I could predict. Her favorite words for me were chastity, courtesy, chivalry, character, and conscience. One of her favorite quotations was Sir Galahad's declaration, "My strength is the strength of ten, because my heart is pure."

Perhaps I have forgotten much of my mother's specific counsel, but I remember my feelings. I remember wanting never to disappoint her and Dad. I remember the deep sense of her love and caring. I remember most of all the light shining from her bedroom window. As the years have passed, that light in the window has grown in meaning and significance in my life, for it is an emblem not only of a mother's love and gospel teachings, but of God's love and his plan of happiness for you and me. This light in the window shone clearly in much more than the darkness of the Arizona night. It penetrated the darkness of the world of temptation that surrounded her children. It illuminated the path that guided my footsteps through adolescence as well as my life to this point.

I want to touch on the idea of the light that should emanate from us, not as some intense, high voltage beam that overwhelms, but as the soft but substantial, unmistakable glow such as the light in mother's bedroom window.

The apostle Paul said to the early Saints of the Church, "Ye are the children of light, and the children of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness" ( 1 Thessalonians 5:5). Christ told the Saints of the Restoration through Joseph Smith that we are "Set to be a light to the world and the saviors of mankind" (Doctrine and Covenants 103: 9).

Jesus told the Nephites, "Behold, I am the light: I have set an example for you." (3 Nephi 18:16) Again, he said, "Therefore, hold up your light, that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye should hold up – that which ye have seen me do" (3 Nephi 18:24).

Whatever we are, wherever we are, the light that shines from us should be both the image and the works of Christ.

Think of this sacred and profound principle – that the world through us should be able to see Christ in who we are, what we say, how we work, what we do, how we teach, counsel, bless, etc. Is it any wonder then, as children of the light, letting our light shine forth that Alma would ask the question, "Have ye received his image in your countenance…can you look up having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?" (Alma 5: 14, 19).

At the core of Christ's divine personality is the light of his charity, defined by Mormon as the "pure love of Christ" – that is, the pure love Christ has for each of us and for all mankind.

To be like Christ, to hold him up as a light, we must love as Christ loved, not just in terms of how we feel towards others, but how we treat and esteem others regardless of how we feel. Feelings may come and go, like our moods, but "charity never faileth." Many people claim they can't love, because they don't have the heart or feeling to love certain types of people. But if we treat them with charity the best we can, we so often discover that the feelings of love finally come as a tender mercy.

When we consider the unfathomable love Christ has for each of us we are in awe, for he is not simply the savior of collective mankind, but each person's personal and individual savior. As the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught, Christ "cometh into the world that he may save all men [mankind] if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold he suffereth the pains of all men [mankind], yea the pains of every living creature both men, women, and children [and, I might add, even those who hated him, even killed him]…and they are delivered from that awful monster, death, and hell" (2 Nephi 9:21-26).

Little wonder that Mormon would teach that charity brings us closer to Christ than anything else, "and whoso is found possessed of it in the last day it shall be well with him. Wherefore my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye might 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: 47 - 48).

Charity then is essential to our spiritual lives and should dominate our relationships – in our families, in the classroom, in the dorms, our employment, as well as at Church. As the Apostle Paul taught, without the pure love of Christ for all mankind in our hearts and in our relationships, we really are as nothing, no matter how many spiritual gifts we may have or how much tithing we pay or how perfect our church attendance may be, no matter how powerful a testimony we bear or how fabulous our lessons or talks are in church; how many scriptures we know, if we have not the pure love of Christ in our hearts for all people we are nothing, and all these things are without substance. And "profit us nothing."

Two of the brightest rays of charity are mercy and forgiveness. They truly illuminate the soul and cleanse it from three of the most deadly cancers in human relationships – namely hate, resentment, and evil speaking. These light rays shine out from the presence of God and none of us will have hope to gain back his presence without our own souls being illuminated by forgiveness and mercy.

Two of the most difficult doctrines of Jesus Christ are embedded in these twin light rays. They are contained in the simplest of mathematical formulae: forgive=forgiveness and mercy=mercy. When we forgive others we can be forgiven. When we are merciful we shall obtain mercy. Which means that we have no hope of forgiveness ourselves unless we can forgive, no hope of mercy if we are not merciful.

I am thinking of the thousand situations in our lives when we may get hurt or offended, arguments with friends, resentment over a slight or snub, anger at your work supervisor, the dorm RA, the toughness of a particular teacher, the unkindness of a landlord, etc. We rail against others as if there is no requirement on our part to be patient, cool down, get the facts, and forgive. It is often said that nothing irritates us more than when we see our own faults in others; or that most of us demand justice for others but plead mercy for ourselves. So often those who plead for mercy are the least merciful in their own lives. Those who beg forgiveness find it hardest to forgive others.

Jesus Christ's poignant parable illustrates this doctrine –about the servant who owed his master a vast sum of money (10 thousand talents) and couldn't pay. His entire household, his wife and children and possessions were all forfeit to the master. But when the man begged for his life and for forgiveness, the master took pity on him and frankly forgave the entire debt. Yet, irony of ironies – that same servant, just forgiven himself, goes out, finds a fellow servant who owes him a tiny sum of money, takes him by the throat and demands immediate payment. The man begs for patience and time for him to pay, but the servant is irate and has him cast into prison until the debt is paid. When the master hears of this he said unto him, "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses" (Matthew 18: 32-35).

The idea is that we are all so indebted to the Savior for his rescue of us, his many mercies and his forgiveness, how eager we should be to forgive others their trespasses. We hold a grudge at our own peril. Many people still hold on to deep resentment and hatred toward people who hurt them, perhaps in childhood, or wrongfully accused them, or did not show kindness. So many family feuds, from quarreling between man and wife, to wars between nations happen at great cost to human life and happiness, because they can not, will not forgive.

Now we must not construe Christ's parable about the unforgiving servant as a reason to excuse ourselves from not taking responsibilities for our misbehavior, expecting to be forgiven and shown mercy in ways that are not appropriate. It is not a merciful teacher, for example, who lets you get away with cheating. It is not a merciful supervisor that allows shoddy work or laziness. It is not a merciful church leader who ignores serious misbehavior so a person might stay in school. That is called mercy blindness and in some cases cowardice.

On the other hand, I remember a student, we'll call her Mary, who came to me to complain about her roommate. Mary pulled out a long list that she had created of everything her roommate had done to offend her. Apparently she had kept an exact record of each offense, the day and the hour and the situation. From loud music, messiness, inviting friends into the bedroom where they sat on Mary's bed, etc.

Surely Mary had reason to be uncomfortable. But she was also a score keeper. Like some married couples we know who are score keepers, Mary saw and recorded only negatives. Two suggestions helped Mary. First, only keeping score on the good things she appreciated about her roommate, and record, looking upon everything else as an opportunity to be patient, merciful, and forgive.

We have a sweet humble TVA friend, Ed, whose work supervisor in Honolulu seemed to actually hate him and took delight in tormenting him. The man relished in extreme ways every chance to ridicule and humiliate and make Ed's life miserable. Instead of bitter feelings or retaliation, Ed forgave the man. Later Ed said something very interesting to us. "I realize that there are very few people in the world who are given the opportunity to be kind and merciful to someone who really hates them." Ed now has a new and kinder boss.

Some of you know the true story Corrie Ten Boom, a Dutch woman of deep Christian faith, who, with her family during World War II was imprisoned by Nazi leaders for hiding helpless Jews in their home in Holland. Her family suffered intensely from torture and humiliation inflicted by their captors. Her beloved sister Betsy died in captivity. Betsy especially was a light of faith, hope, and charity that transcended the sorrows they experienced and most of all hatred toward their captors.

Corrie survives the ordeal and in a climactic moment after the war she actually encounters one of her Nazi guards who had been so brutal and mocking. They meet at a church service in Germany where Corrie had testified of Christ's charity, mercy, and forgiveness. The former guard, apparently not recognizing her from the prison camp days, walks up to her and thanks her for her message and says, "I am so grateful, Frauline, for your message, to think, as you say, [Christ] has washed away my sins." He held out his hand which Corrie hesitated to take. Memories of his cruelty flooded her mind and especially her sister's suffering and death. She cannot shake the hand of the man who had so mistreated them. In desperation she prays in her heart "Jesus…I cannot forgive him, give me your forgiveness." What follows, brother and sisters, is a great moment for all time. In her words:

"As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness anymore and on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on [Christ's]. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself" (The Hiding Place).

Corrie's Language here is very similar to Nephi's when he says, "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know he giveth no commandment unto the children of men, save he prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7).

Besides the light which is in and from and of Jesus Christ, including the rays of mercy and forgiveness, there is also the light of Priesthood, the mantle of Godhood given to every worthy man in the Church with blessings and covenants of the priesthood that embrace both men and women.

Among the definitions of the Priesthood, there are at least five key elements to remember, authority, power, leadership, service, brotherhood. The priesthood is divine authority bestowed upon individuals to represent and to act for God, as if God were present, to preside and administer the ordinances of salvation for the sake of all humanity. That authority is recognized and honored in Heaven as well as on earth, the authority to seal and loose on earth as it is done in Heaven. Priesthood is also power, the same power of God that organized the universe and created this planet. It is the power of Godliness unto salvation, the power to heal and bless, and even to work miracles.

Priesthood is leadership and service with emphasis on righteous action and behavior, not on status or position. Priesthood is not a badge or a mere title. Priesthood means service in meekness as Christ exemplified – that is washing the feet of the disciples, healing the lepers and other sick, lifting burdens of the poor and suffering, restoring justice, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, comforting the afflicted, the prisoner, the widow, the orphan etc. Priesthood is the divine instrument of rescue in the name of God.

I have told before from this pulpit one of the most poignant illustrations of the protecting power of the priesthood in my experience. I feel impressed to do so again today. During the devastating 150 mph hurricane in Vava`u in Tonga, March 1961, the entire landscape of the Neiafu village was changed by the destruction. Buildings were destroyed, people were crushed. However, one tiny, fragile single frame home was miraculously spared amidst the devastation. Owned by the Neiafu branch president, Tonga M?lohifo`ou, the grandfather of our own professor T?vita Ka`ili, the house was refuge to President M?lohifo`ou's children and his sick wife, `Ana.

When my companion and I reached the home after the hurricane, even while the winds were still raging, I asked him what happened and why he didn't come to the chapel where it was safer. He said he was afraid that the children would be blown away in the wind. "But your house!" I exclaimed, "Much stronger buildings than yours have disappeared in this wind." He looked at me and said in words such as these: "When the wind first started to get strong, the house began to tremble, the roof shook as if it would be torn off in any moment. I stood on this chair and placed my hand on this beam and said, 'In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Melchizedek Priesthood, I say to you to hold firm and to this whole house to stand fast throughout this wind."

I wished at that moment that all church members were present with me to witness what I had heard and seen and felt. But as I have since pondered this experience, as powerful and dramatic as it was, there are a thousand other ways the priesthood can be, must be used to bless and rescue the souls of men and women – through quiet, consistent, often unremembered and unthanked for acts of kindness – sweet counsel, comfort blessings, friendship, quorum service projects, home visits, and any number of human services to bless lives. True, there will always be hurricanes and mists of darkness in our lives, both physical and spiritual, which the light and power of the Priesthood can dispel. But the majesty of the Priesthood is mainly to "chase darkness from among us" (Doctrine and Covenants 50:25).

You sisters, remember that you are partakers of every priesthood power unto salvation. If you are endowed, you put on the robes of the holy priesthood in the temple. You wear throughout your life the holy garment of the priesthood. You can administer saving priesthood ordinances to other women in the temple, and you can be called by those holding the keys of the priesthood to preach the gospel with the same authority as the men in this life and in the next (Andrew Skinner, The Light Shall Break Forth, p. 47).

Another light so desperately needed in an ever darkening world is the light of chastity – sexual purity which is honoring and protecting the sacred procreative powers that constitute our human sexuality.

This I testify with all the energy of my soul that sexual purity, not just abstinence from sexual relationships, but cleanliness of mind and heart, is one of the most precious, treasured qualities to achieve and maintain in the world. The law of chastity is not an arbitrary set of rules, don't do this, you can't do that etc. It is one of God's great laws of happiness for the benefit of his children. It constitutes his system of protection and preservation of the gift of sexual love, to be magnified and enjoyed in the only way that leads to real joy and happiness – namely within the covenants of legal and lawful marriage.

The light of God in a chaste man or woman is unmistakable. Too many young men would snuff out that light. Young people who think they are so in love and that since all the world is trying to persuade them that it's okay to kiss and touch and fondle, sleep together and live together without marriage – that it must be okay.

Lyrics to popular songs, rap words and rhythm, dirty dancing, TV sitcoms, story lines from movies, free love philosophies, so called sexual liberation and free speech, clothing fashions and styles, the hot, steamy love life of celebrities, and of course every form of pornography – all of these create a dense, many layered cloud cover that can extinguish the light in individuals and among the people. Like the vapor of darkness, after the days of destruction of the Nephite nation, unchaste and immoral living will suffocate your world as it has the rest of the planet (3 Nephi 8:20). How wonderful it will be when our desire to be "pure before the Lord" will be greater than our desire to indulge in ungodly behavior.

I promise you in the name of the Lord that your life will be infinitely sweeter if you will allow the law of chastity to govern your behavior and your thoughts with all people. If you have broken this law in any way, if you repent with all of your heart and secure the help of God's personal representative on earth, namely your bishop, that precious gift can be and will be restored unto you with all of its previous light and purity.

One of the ironies and certainly one of the preeminent cruelties of Satan is that he exploits human sexuality with a promise of thrills and fulfillment. There may be moments of temporary enjoyment, but Satan never delivers happiness. He can't, he inflicts only misery, remorse, loneliness and guilt. If we could get that into our heads and hearts early, we can learn how to dismiss Satan and his whole menagerie of sexual exploitation before they become victims.

Another irony is that Satan will try to persuade us not to repent. "Better," he whispers, "to deny our faith, reject the laws of chastity as old fashioned, too strict, too unreasonable for our present age. After all this is the 21st century man, those old rules are out of date." At the very moment he tells us these lies he is rejoicing in our misery.

The supreme irony is that the more we choose darkness, the more darkness appeals to us until we actually desire darkness more than the light. The light and goodness of Heavenly Father becomes fearsome to us. We want to get away from it. We cannot endure the presence of God. As Alma warned Zeerom: "…and in this awful state we will not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence" (Alma 12:14).

Surely every pure doctrine of the Gospel can be seen as a light to our path and an extension in our lives of the love and personality of Jesus Christ. I would like to mention briefly three more lights as part of my conclusion today – the light of the scriptures, the light of our loyalty to the leading brethren of the Church, and the light of Christ in our countenance.

We were taught powerfully this past year by sister Wendy Watson Nelson how through the Holy Spirit the scriptures will open our hearts and the eyes of our understanding to help resolve any challenge we have in our lives. That process is three fold: knock, ask, seek. We knock and we ask, then we seek. Knocking and asking is what we do in sincere prayer to Heavenly Father in the holy name of Jesus Christ, with real intent. Seeking is what we do in fervent reading of the scriptures.

And when we move from prayer to reading the scriptures it doesn't always matter what scriptures we read. We just keep reading until the answers come. In the very act of immersing ourselves in scripture, we become sensitized and prepare to receive the promptings of the Spirit. The language, the tone, and especially the testimony of Jesus Christ will clear away the worldly debris that clogs the channels of revelation.

The light of loyalty, particularly in sustaining, defending, and praying for the men called as our leaders, both general and local, should shine as bright in us as any other light.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's eloquent testimony in last October's General Conference of the divinity of the call of the church leaders and their goodness should burn into our bones. They are men of God, answerable to God, who speak for God and take their place by all of the holy prophets of God from the beginning of time. They serve for the duration of their lives, experience all of life's infirmities and heartaches, carry an unbelievably heavily burden and answer every call for help. Criticism of the Church leaders, evil speaking of the Lord's anointed, are deep sins and will create a natural, unsolicited back lash in the spiritual lives of the critics. Elder Neal A. Maxwell tells the following story:

Thomas B. Marsh, once president of the Twelve Apostles, was excommunicated, yet he returned. In 1857 he made his way to Salt Lake City, where he spoke in the Bowery and humbly asked for forgiveness. To the congregation he said: "I became jealous of the Prophet and then I saw double, and overlooked everything that was right and spent all my time looking for the evil; …I thought I saw a beam in brother Joseph's eye but it was nothing but a tiny mote and my own eye was filled with a beam."

Elder Maxwell goes on to say, "Those in communities of Saints will love but not follow the disappointed dissenter. Instead they will help each other to sustain and support the brethren" (If Thou Endure it Well p. 102).

In conclusion, I would like to come back to the light that should shine in our countenances in concert with Alma's central question to those who have embraced Christ's Gospel by covenant. I believe that if we are in tune we will see the light and the countenance of deity in the faces of many people around us. These are the people who will lift us and help us by their love and example.

I have invited Heather Meese to sing "His Image in Your Countenance" by Janice Kapp Perry while we contemplate some of the countenances that reflect the light of Christ around us.