Relief Society Lesson: Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ

Firm and Steadfast in the Faith of Christ

By Elder D. Todd Christofferson

 

This Christmas season, we are often inspired to consider Jesus Christ with more intensity than we might at other times of the year. While I don’t want to put any dampers on this magical and spiritual time, we might take the opportunity to ask ourselves the question of how we might view and consider Christ at other times of the year. That I personally love those periods of renewed strength and devotion that holidays bring, what kind of devotion do we bring the rest of the year?

 

As a class, I would like to read a story of Elijah that accompanies this talk in 1 Kings 21: 18-39.

 

To summarize, during the reign of King Ahab, the people were rather wishy washy between who they would serve, Baal or the Lord. Elijah counseled an ox to be prepared for sacrifice and that Baal and the Lord be asked to light the fire for the burnt offering.

Elder Christofferson muses that in today’s world Elijah might have said thoughts such as

Either God, our Heavenly Father, exists, or He does not, but if He exists, worship Him.

Either Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the resurrected Redeemer of mankind, or He is not, but if He is, follow Him.

Either the Book of Mormon is the word of God, or it is not, but if it is, then “get nearer to God by [studying and] abiding by its precepts.”7

Either Joseph Smith saw and conversed with the Father and the Son that spring day of 1820, or he did not, but if he did, then follow the prophetic mantle, including the keys of sealing that I, Elijah, bestowed upon him.

I have heard said, and even have said so myself, the claim that as long as we are loving and try our best, the afterlife shouldn’t be too harsh on us no matter what gospel truth turns out to be. I think those of us who say this mean very well, but it has made me consider the question “Wait! While hopefully trying my best and trusting I’m right about my beliefs shouldn’t leave me too much in trouble, what does this say about my own personal faith? Do I really truly believe what I believe or am I just hoping for the best?”

Elder Christofferson speaks of a continuum which we can draw here. The continuum goes between Social Motivation and Christlike Commitment. Now, I suppose there’s nothing horrible about doing good for socially motivated reasons—after all, the work and the good gets done and we can even chalk it up to that light of Christ we believe is in all people. But I think of that line from Gordon B. Hinkley of Good, Better, Best. Social motivation to do what’s right may have good results, but does not a stronger commitment to Christ encompass that and a whole lot more?

The people under King Ahab had a tendency to waver. Many claimed a decent belief in the God of Israel, but also clearly had few qualms about dallying in the worship of Baal. Whatever and whoever was handy at the time.

But when push came to shove, or rather when it came time to call upon someone to light the fires for sacrifice, was that polite social adherence to Baal enough?

I imagine that from day to day, year to year, we all find ourselves on different places along that spectrum, sometimes leaning more toward Social Motivation than working on our testimonies of the gospel of Christ. And while we can claim that this and that good came out of social motivation, which side of this continuum will certainly do more for us and for our world? Which will, so to speak, light the fire?

In the story of Elijah and the sacrifice, what led the people to finally and truly recognize the Lord and His Power? It was that dramatic action of the fire being lit and consuming everything. We often speak of faith and we realize how important it is to recognize the miracles of faith will not happen necessarily on our timelines. But sometimes some of us take it to mean faith is faith and that nothing will ever come of it because faith is the hope of things not seen.

So I ask for your consideration, how many of you have seen miracles great or small from your faith and testimony? Have you found your faith and testimony growing when you work on them? Can you deny small things that others have experienced? Can we really say a devotion of Christ is really for naught?

The people of Israel were not told to eschew Baal and have faith in the Lord for no reason. They were given quite the testimony-building experience. Maybe we won’t have anything so dramatic, but I hope and pray that when we truly turn toward our Heavenly Father and our Savior  we will find our own hearts changing.

Elder Christofferson says To persevere firm and steadfast in the faith of Christ requires that the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrate one’s heart and soul, meaning that the gospel becomes not just one of many influences in a person’s life but the defining focus of his or her life and character.

I think about this quote and look at this continuum. Is our devotion just one of many of our lovable personality traits or is an overlying definition that inspires all that we do?

Now, the hard truth for many of us is that we have experienced times when we are farther, much father from the Christlike Devotion side of things than we may like, or maybe we are at points where we don’t even care. Trials of faith are real. The realities and injustice of our fallen mortal world harm us and those we love. At those times we wonder why it is so easy for someone to speak of how wonderful faith and testimony are.

I have a few questions for you to either answer or even just consider privately.

What do you do when you or someone you love is struggling with a testimony?

How might you respond if a prayer goes unanswered or not answer the way you hoped?

How might your strengthen yourself and others?

How do you know when you have approached Christlike Commitment?

What do our lives look and feel like when we are working on our Christlike Commitment?

How can we react and strengthen ourselves and others when trials happen?

What supports are out there for us to use?

Elder Christofferson speaks of three personal examples he was privy to:

Most of us find ourselves at this moment on a continuum between a socially motivated participation in gospel rituals on the one hand and a fully developed, Christlike commitment to the will of God on the other. Somewhere along that continuum, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ enters into our heart and takes possession of our soul. It may not happen in an instant, but we should all be moving toward that blessed state.

It is challenging but vital to remain firm and steadfast when we find ourselves being refined “in the furnace of affliction,” something that comes soon or late to all of us in mortality. Without God, these dark experiences tend to despondency, despair, and even bitterness. With God, comfort replaces pain, peace replaces turmoil, and hope replaces sorrow. Remaining firm in the faith of Christ will bring His sustaining grace and support. He will convert trial into blessing and, in Isaiah’s words, “give … beauty for ashes.”

May I mention three examples of which I have personal knowledge:

There is a woman who suffers with a debilitating, chronic illness that persists despite medical attention, priesthood blessings, and fasting and prayers. Nevertheless, her faith in the power of prayer and the reality of God’s love for her is undiminished. She presses ahead day by day (and sometimes hour by hour) serving as called in the Church and, together with her husband, looking after her young family, smiling as much as she can. Her compassion for others runs deep, refined by her own suffering, and she often loses herself in ministering to others. She continues steadfast, and people feel happy being around her.

A man who grew up in the Church, served as a full-time missionary, and married a lovely woman was surprised when some of his siblings began speaking critically of the Church and the Prophet Joseph Smith. After a time they left the Church and tried to persuade him to follow. As often happens in such cases, they bombarded him with essays, podcasts, and videos produced by critics, most of whom were themselves disaffected former members of the Church. His siblings mocked his faith, telling him he was gullible and misled. He didn’t have answers for all their assertions, and his faith began to waver under the relentless opposition. He wondered if he should stop attending church. He talked with his wife. He talked with people he trusted. He prayed. As he meditated in this troubled state of mind, he recalled occasions when he had felt the Holy Spirit and had received a witness of truth by the Spirit. He concluded, “If I am honest with myself, I must admit that the Spirit has touched me more than once and the testimony of the Spirit is real.” He has a renewed sense of happiness and peace that is shared by his wife and children.

A husband and wife who have consistently and happily followed the counsel of the Brethren in their lives were grieved by the difficulty they experienced in having children. They expended substantial funds working with competent medical professionals, and, after a time, they were blessed with a son. Tragically, however, after only about a year, the baby was the victim of an accident that was no one’s fault but that left him semicomatose, with significant brain damage. He has received the best of care, but doctors cannot predict how things will unfold going forward. The child this couple worked and prayed so hard to bring into the world has in a sense been taken away, and they don’t know if he will be returned to them. They struggle now to care for their baby’s critical needs while meeting their other responsibilities. In this supremely difficult moment, they have turned to the Lord. They rely on the “daily bread” they receive from Him. They are aided by compassionate friends and family and strengthened by priesthood blessings. They have drawn closer to one another, their union perhaps now deeper and more complete than might otherwise have been possible.

We don’t know how our lives will go, or the lives of others. We have likely very little knowledge of each other’s experiences and faith and doubts. What we do have is the opportunity and support to make the time to consider where we are in growing in our devotion to Christ, working as best we can to be firm and steadfast in our faith.

My house doesn’t have Christmas lights this year

The other day the husband and I were commenting about the weather and I mentioned it might be the time to put up the Christmas lights. He replied “Yeah, I’m not going to do that.”

And… I didn’t care.

I think I just might have the skills to pull out the ol’ ladder and climb on the roof myself. I think if I attempted this my husband would indeed come to the rescue of myself and the lights.

But when he said he wouldn’t be hanging up lights, I didn’t miss it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the look of a home with well-done Christmas light. It’s classic, it’s cozy, it’s the spirit of Christmas. I daresay lights at this time of year are one of my favorite things about the holidays. But I’ve also driven down the street and in the sadness state of judgement, recoiled in disgust at some really bad Christmas lights display. It’s not that they’re overtly tacky, but that maybe they should have shelled out a few bucks to have a professional hang the lights. Which isn’t a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s going to happen.

We have one of those projector thingies somewhere in the garage. It’s cool, but the projectors can also run a bit tacky and due to the nature of our front yard I’ll have extension cord all over the place for the milk guy to trip on.

While I do love Christmas lights and maybe I’ll hire someone to make them look super good next year, I don’t care this year.

I like to imagine myself aiming for more minimalist. Do I really  need a showy bunch of lights? If I were to take the minimalist thing quite literally, what about the crappy bunch of cords I have no idea what to discreetly do with?

What did people do before the advent of Christmas lights? How many people actually put candles out there? Yet Christmas heartwarming memories often drift back to romance of yesteryear without electricity.

I thought to my Halloween/fall decorations. I love fall. My decorations were some ears of jewel-colored Indian corn I had grown myself, pumpkins, and the cornstalks that grew the Indian corn. I thought it looked great. Simple, but clearly fall.

Why can’t I do the same for Christmas without blinding the neighbors with Christmas lights?

Wreaths always look great. I have already asked around for local live wreaths that I can toss in the compost on the 26th. I have tied festive bows to the lamp post.

And I like it. It’s cheery. I hope the wreath will make it cheerier. Not busy by any means, but something sweet, simple, and a tribute to the holidays.

“Five Feet Apart”…. How am I supposed to feel?

I first heard about the upcoming film Five Feet Apart when an advanced reader’s copy of the novelization popped up in my Amazon Vine que (the program I am that essentially gives/taxes me free crap I get to review). Ever since Jade’s diagnosis of cystic fibrosis I have been trying to orient myself as a parent of a toddler in the CF world. I ordered the book, read it, raced to be the first reviewer (not that it matters), and then delved into other opinions. I belong to a couple of CF Facebook reviews, and I tentatively posted their thoughts about the upcoming film where two young CF patients receiving inpatient treatment fall victim to teenage twitterpation despite the general recommendation CF patients remain at least six feet apart.

Turns out, unsurprisingly, there is some controversy on the film and I think I only understand the surface of why. I’ve barely been in this game half a year. But cystic fibrosis is a horrible disease. It broke my heart to hear Jade’s diagnosis. While my husband’s cousin seems to be going just fine in his mid-30s and my mom’s old coworker also seems to be going just fine and a bunch of other people online seem to be going through life just fine, the disease sucks. Despite a relative optimistic prediction for Jade’s future, I still can’t get rid of all worry.

The movie’s story features its young lovers as people in worse situations than others. I’m happy to have found stories of many, many people with CF living rather boring lives that don’t involve practically being raised in a hospital. Will and Stella of star-crossed lover situation don’t have that. Stella requires a lung transplant, Will has contracted a very troublesome bacteria. I think it’s fair to say that of all CF patients, these two definitely not should be in a close quarters.

Hence the controversy. A serious disease like cystic fibrosis is receiving the romance-in-tragedy treatment, a drama milking on cystic fibrosis with people who have never lived it. And what is it telling youngsters? It’s okay to play fast and loose with medical advice because of a teen romance film? What is this encouraging?

I’m glad Amazon Vine sent me a copy of the book. I’m glad I know how the book ends. I won’t spoil it at this time, but my ultimate opinion of the book was that it was but a teen romance, one that does not end with particular tragedy, might have the dubious honor of throwing CF out into the public mind, and perhaps might even be a springboard for a discussion. I think I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.

Even as I read about the interweb for opinions and saw many practically protesting the film, I saw plenty of CF patients and loved ones thrilled for it. I even saw reports of CF couples living, again, those boring hospital-free lives. I saw CF patients talking about how they don’t always understand the rule, even saying they’re pretty sure their lives have probably put them in unknowing close contact with other CF patients.

Yes, in some ways the book made me fearful. What if the doctors who assured me Jade will most likely live a full long life are wrong? What if random bad things happen in the future? But I also took it for what it’s worth: a romance telling a story.

I reiterate my point about using it for a discussion if the idea of a CF couple worries you. I also want to assure it wasn’t what I worried it might be. I want to assure that it really doesn’t celebrate and encourage CF couples. And that it was a pretty nice story.

So, among the controversy I see, from a woman who probably doesn’t yet know what she is talking about but who also got to read the book early: it’s just a movie.

My results of my 10-day social media fast

At this year’s autumn General Conference, women (and men) were given several challenges including abstaining from social media for ten days. I decided to do so. After all, the idea of a break from social media or screens or what have you is not unheard of, oft recommended to clear one’s head.

And here’s what happened.

Nothing.

Nothing happened to me. I did not have any great spiritual awakenings. My testimony did not increase ten-fold (speaking of which I need to hop on that finish-the-Book-of-Mormon thing). Blessings did not rain down upon me.

Nor did I feel any sort of regret from doing this challenge. It was, surprisingly or maybe not so much, easy. I signed off Facebook, ignored my oft-ignored Instagram, and removed a couple of apps from my phone.

It has been fourteen days, four past the suggested ten, and I’m doing fine. I did not feel a loss of support or community. I didn’t even go through a withdrawal of any sort. I confess, my continued abstinence feels sort of nice. I opened my Instagram again just in case I want to post something. I made a commitment to organize ideas for my home on Pinterest. But I’m also rather interested in seeing how long I can ignore Facebook.

I understand, however, that some felt oppressed by this suggestion. Would my ignorance of social media keep me duly hidden from nefarious doings by my church? Would I be going only all sheeple by not equating my Facebook time with fully woken independence? Heck, should I be doing more to promote my TPT shop? (My sales totally went up last week).

I get social media. I really don’t see it as the end-all sin some others do. I understand its importance for businesses, for families, for relationships. I believe there are some awesome things to be had, which is why I’ll likely still keep hanging around my favorite forums.

But my social media fast showed me I can be just fine with les interaction.

The Homey Side of 2-Hour Church

So I was one of those people who dismissed the rumors of the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ weekly church session moving to a two-hour block. I had heard of people say they’ve heard the rumor for decades and my brother who works in the church office denied any substance to the lore. Then again, he is known for messing with people.

In the time previous to the announcement people discussed the time change. Some supported it, others thought it would be terrible. I thought about it and figured whatever, just let me know when my meetings are. The announcement was a fun bit of modern history, but even then I wasn’t particularly emotional over the change. Again, just let me know when I’m supposed to be at church.

Yet when I woke up this morning and thought over the matter, I felt the tiniest bit of sadness, given greater dimension as I read on social media those who shared the good and the bad for them regarding the change. I think I am doing no more than saying farewell to the scheduling side of a little church era. For others, they may feel more.

I see much good in this. I also admit I see where the challenges may arise for many.

 

What strikes me the most is the focus upon the family. I am a believer in the community of a church. To meet with our brothers and sisters in the gospel can strengthen our faith and bolster us in times of need. I think of the old story of the minister who sought out a man who had been missed in attendance: when the man explained his faith would be just fine on his own, the minister drew a coal from the fire, where it sizzled for a short time before burning out. I believe that church community can be viewed in a way as an extension of the gospel family and that we truly do need each other. But it is our immediate family that matters even more, that is the foundation of the greater community of families, and our prophet is wise to direct us back toward them.

In my years of rambling over the internet, I’ve seen people from deeply Christian families who never attend church. They even have a term for themselves, I think. They worship at home, deliver instruction on the gospel at home, pray together at home. I am happy for them and I even have a little dash of spiritual envy of what they have. If my Amish romance novels are anything to be believed, even some of the Amish do not attend church services even weekly. The weekly church is good, wonderful, arguably even necessary, but we’ve always more or less known the foundation of our gospel growth best come from the home.

Many have given thanks for the two-hour block as the three-hour block is so hard. A close friend shared this might be what it takes for her family to become more active as the three-hour block was so difficult for them for a number of reasons. I’ve never struggled too much with it, but as a teacher mom, I can’t help but be grateful for an extra hour with my family. Perhaps the day will feel more restful with the absence of an hour, or rather, the gain of that spiritual time with just my family, wherever we stick it in the week.

How long as been going to church been the easy thing to do? Putting the crutch of teaching the gospel on the local ward building as families head over there? I’m sure many families do their best and many of them do that best very well, but this thought leaves me in awe, that we are to do more in teaching our own families the gospel. What will this mean in the future? What little things have we been ignoring?

Of course I realize this will have its troubles for some. Part-member or part-active families. Families where the subject of the Church is troublesome. These families had the blessing of attending church, of having that extra help in guiding themselves or their children.

Maybe this is a hurtle that is good and necessary. I’ve been reading the book Boundaries after hearing everyone speak so much about it. I didn’t go looking for anything particular, but the thoughts in it were worthy ones and a common theme was, well, creating boundaries. Sometimes that meant hard things and sad feelings. In families that struggle with differing views of the gospel, perhaps this is the time, however awkward, to reestablish a commitment and a pattern of how the gospel is viewed in the home. Perhaps nothing in practice will change, but a heartfelt conversation can be had. Feelings and views shoved to the side for a previous pattern will be put forth. There’s a good chance that for many families this may be a perfect time to reconnect, to share things precious to each.

Which comes back down to the home. We are being reminded of a big responsibility we all have. We are changing a pattern, waking many of us up to what we need. And, yes, we are being handed the program we need, so we’re not being abandoned to the wolves. We have been reminded to be active in our communities and families, and we best take that seriously.

We must strengthen our homes. We must make room for the gospel in those homes. We must grow closer to our families and recall our responsibility to them. We must take this time to build the love we have for each other.

Yes, I think I do find the two-hour block a good thing.

Banana-Zucchini Bread with Pediasure

I suppose I’m pretty much desperate to use up the Pediasure Jade is so weird about drinking. However, I have had recent success with mixing a little into her Ensure Clear. She will get those calories. Oh, she will.

I also stuck some in some banana-zucchini bread. It wound up awesome. The flavor from the Pediasure works here to flavor the bread to make it a nice sweet treat.

1 cup of sugar

Half a stick of butter, softened

1 cup of grated zucchinni

1 cup of mashed bananas

1 bottle of vanilla Pediasure

2 eggs

2 cups of flour

1 teaspoon of baking soda

1 cup of chocolate chips

1/4 cup of chopped nuts.

I combine the wet ingredients. I fold it gently into the combined dry ingredients. Bake this at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

The Pediasure adds some of the job of milk and fat, so if you don’t have a kid needing calories you could skip the butter.

The result was a tasty, slightly sweet and very moist banana bread I could get my kid to eat.

When People are Just Awesome

I had a bit of a wild weekend. Friday, I was desperate to go see “The House with a Clock in its Walls” because the book terrified me as a small child. For some heaven-opposed reason, I chose to use my free movie passes and take the girls. Ruby, the elder, was wonderful. Jade, after about 40 minutes started jabbering. As I prepared to take her out, someone swore at us. My gosh, it was a chatty toddler, not something truly offensive. Yes, I was ashamed of myself and certain to do right by movie theatre manners (having been subject to chatty kids before) but why must you swear at my kids, man?

However, in my hurry to remove the chatty Jade, I forgot Ruby. She had not followed the instruction to follow me out, and I was a little unsure of how to reenter the theatre with the still-jabbering Jade.

Fortunately, after a few minutes, another kind mom walked her out. I was still grumping about the other guy, and it took me some time to recognize the awesome help of that kind woman.

The next day… yikes. I found myself unnerved for other reasons. We’re still new to the whole cystic fibrosis thing, and because of my new job we had switched insurances and were still waiting for those wrinkles to be ironed out. In short, we were waiting on a medication delivery, particularly the enzyme Creon, that couldn’t be delivered. The pharmacy techs said they’d send it to a local pharmacy on Saturday, who would call us. Well, after waiting and waiting for a call, I called them… to find out they were closed.

And we were virtually out of Creon. Which is what helps Jade digest food. I was not up for trying a fat and protein- free set of days when she is supposed to work on gaining weight!

So I complained on a Facebook group. My intent was to ask for suggestions of what to do next, but it wind up as a complaint.

Next thing I know, I have several offers in the area to supply with some emergency doses and I’m driving to my husband’s office (a handy mid-way meeting spot) for a “drug deal”. Even more awesome, my mom found Creon at her house.

People are generally awesome.