I Sleep with the Bishop

I had to speak in church today.

Three of the speakers who were supposed to speak cancelled yesterday. So the bishop asked me to do it. And since I sleep with the bishop, I agreed.

It was hastily prepared and clumsily delivered. There were tears and disjointed thoughts throughout and plenty of recriminations once it was over. But there were also a few moments of insight and revelation—at least for me.

And since it is still swirling around in my brain and because I will most likely regive it a dozen more times in my brain before the night is over, I thought I would share a few highlights with you. For what it’s worth.

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When Christ came to the earth, he came for two reasons. First, he came to perform the atonement that all mankind might be saved and so the Father’s plan of happiness could be achieved—in other words, he gave us a way back. Second, he came to give us an example of what was possible in our own lives, to show us a better way to live—in other words, he gave us a way to live while we’re here.

These two things work together perfectly. The more we can practice living the way he demonstrated, the more peace and happiness we can have right now. And that practice is made possible through the chance he gave us to repent and try again and again.

One of the ways Christ demonstrated the way to live was in meekness. In a talk given in October of 2013, Elder Ulysses Soares said, “Meekness was one of the most abundant attributes in the Savior’s life. He Himself taught His disciples, ‘Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.’ Meekness is the quality of those who are ‘Godfearing, righteous, humble, teachable, and patient under suffering.’ Those who possess this attribute are willing to follow Jesus Christ, and their temperament is calm, docile, tolerant, and submissive.”

I have to admit that until I read and listened to this talk, I didn’t really understand what meekness was. Which may explain why I am so bad at it. I was under the impression that meekness was an attitude we had in relationship with God—being willing to submit to his will and obey his counsel. And perhaps that is part of it.

But in this talk Elder Soares confines the application of meekness to our interaction with each other. Meekness should define the way we treat those we love and live with and meet every day.

And now a little story.

As you know, when Joseph Smith first established the restored church, he and the Saints were heavily persecuted. During his life, though he was never convicted, Joseph Smith was summoned to court over 200 times on all kinds of trumped-up charges. In the meantime, he was harassed by mobs, tarred and feathered, the Saints were driven from their homes—all crimes for which no one was ever held accountable for by the law.

The Lord told the Saints to seek redress from the judges, the governor, and then the president.

When they sought redress from Governor Boggs of Missouri, he issued a proclamation: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good.” When they appealed to President Martin Van Buren of the United States, he told them, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.”

Eventually, their prophet was killed and everything they had built and owned was stripped from them and they were forced into the wilderness.

Here is the part of the story that amazes me.

Just five years after the death of their prophet there was a huge celebration in Salt Lake City on July 24, 1849.

The Saints built a bowery on Temple Square. They erected a flagpole 104 feet tall. They made an enormous national flag 65 feet in length and unfurled it at the top of this liberty pole. There was a brass band, President Brigham Young led a grand procession with the Twelve Apostles and the Seventy. Then followed 24 young men that each carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. After them came 24 young women who carried a Bible and a Book of Mormon and then the Silver Grays—all 60 years of age or older, which each carried a staff painted red with white ribbon and the Stars and Stripes.

Of this event, Elder Packer said: “It may seem puzzling, incredible almost beyond belief, that for the theme of this first celebration they chose patriotism and loyalty to that same government which had rejected and failed to assist them. What could they have been thinking of? If you can understand why, you will understand the power of the teachings of Christ.

“One would think that, compelled by force of human nature, the Saints would seek revenge, but something much stronger than human nature prevailed. If you can understand a people so long-suffering, so tolerant, so forgiving, so Christian after what they had suffered, you will have unlocked the key to what a Latter-day Saint is. Rather than being consumed with revenge, they were anchored to revelation. If you can understand why they would celebrate as they did, you can understand why we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the principles of His gospel.”

Do you see?

This is the power of living like Christ and of choosing to live your life like his. Instead of anger and resentment and hatred, Christ offers us a way to meekness, peace, and love.

As humans we want to be right. But this is not the course that leads to happiness. Technically, the Saints would have been “right” in feelings of retribution and revenge and anger. They were misjudged and they were mistreated. Perhaps they even had a right to anger.

But here’s the thing and it is the most important thing: Being angry and resentful, even righteously angry, only would have made it so they couldn’t have access to the spirit—it only would have hurt them and made it so they couldn’t have revelation and peace and love as they built their new life in the wilderness.

Here is the problem for each of us: Because our spirits were put into a human body with human weaknesses, each one of us is subject to the natural man. It is the part of us that resists meekness and love.

The scriptures say, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

So how do we do this?

How do we give up the need to be right and the urge we have for people to act the way we want them too? How do we drop resentment and anger and irritation?

We practice.

Yesterday I asked David to take my car to tire store and see why the back tire keeps going flat. As we were going to bed, I asked him what the guy at the tire place said. David said, “Oh, I didn’t go to the tire store. I just put air in the tire.” Inside, frustration and irritation perked up their heads.

Wait a minute.

Can you see the problem?

I’m supposed to be preparing a talk about meekness and the people in my life are not behaving like I want them to and making it terribly hard to love them and be meek. Sheesh.

I did my best and went to bed.

This morning, I backed the car out of the driveway to go to church and give my talk when the “LOW TIRE PRESSURE” light came on. Right on time.

I sat there in the driveway looking at that warning light and could see the choice in front of me. I could choose anger or I could choose meekness. I could be justifiably angry or I could have the spirit. The choice was mine.

The Father knew that our battle with the natural man would be frought with mistakes. He knew sometimes we would choose meekness and sometimes we would choose anger. And so he provided a way for us to try again.

As Elder Soares said: “Christlike attributes are gifts from God. [These attributes] come as [we] use [our] agency righteously.” We have been given the agency to choose. This means choosing the thoughts and feelings that will help us to be meek and love as Christ did.

Meekness is a gift from God that come as we choose to be meek. The gift part, I believe, is the chance to try again and again and again until we overcome the natural man and choose meekness every single time.

None of this is easy, which is why I worship Jesus Christ. He so mastered his life and his natural man that he could use his agency to choose the right every single time. Even when people were unkind. Even when people misjudged him. Even when they rejected him. Even when people scourged him and spit on him and hit him and judged him to be a thing of naught, and nailed him to a cross.

He came to be their Savior and they hated him for it.

And his answer to that was meekness.

In every relationship in your life the answer is the same. Christ says, Come follow me. Come live your life like I lived mine.

This is the way.