Covenant Maker, Covenant Keeper

One of the purposes of the Aaronic Preisthood is to prepare to make and keep sacred covenants. I’ve been thinking lately of those covenants I’ve made and have been asking myself the following question.

I am a covenant maker, am I a covenant keeper?

It was with that in mind as I listened to the sessions of General Conference and counted some 84 times that I heard covenants mentioned. Here is a list of the quotes I found most helpful.

Eyring“Whoever you are and wherever you may be, you hold in your hands the happiness of more people than you can now imagine. Every day and every hour you can choose to make or keep a covenant with God.”

– President Henry B. Eyring

“Wherever you are on the path to inherit the gift of eternal life, you have the opportunity to show many people the way to greater happiness. When you choose whether to make or keep a covenant with God, you choose whether you will leave an inheritance of hope to those who might follow your example.”

– President Henry B. Eyring

“You may be the first in your family to lead the way to eternal life along the path of sacred covenants made and kept with diligence and faith. Each covenant brings with it duties and promises. For all of us…those duties are sometimes simple but are often difficult. But remember, the duties must sometimes be difficult because their purpose is to move us along the path to live forever with Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in families.”

 – President Henry B. Eyring

“Keeping our second estate depends on our making covenants with God and faithfully performing the duties they require of us. It takes faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior to keep sacred covenants for a lifetime.”

 – President Henry B. Eyring

“The greatest of all the blessings of God, eternal life, will come to us only as we make covenants offered in the true Church of Jesus Christ by His authorized servants.”

– President Henry B. Eyring

This plan is marked by covenants with God. It is our free choice whether we make and keep those covenants.

– President Henry B. Eyring

By revelation, Eve recognized the way home to God. She knew that the Atonement of Jesus Christ made eternal life possible in families. She was sure, as you can be, that as she kept her covenants with her Heavenly Father, the Redeemer and the Holy Ghost would see her and her family through whatever sorrows and disappointments would come. She knew she could trust in Them.

– President Henry B. Eyring

Wixom“We are covenant-making women of all ages walking the path of mortality back to His presence. Keeping covenants protects us, prepares us, and empowers us.

As we strive to keep our covenants, our feelings of inadequacy and imperfection begin to fade, while the ordinances and the covenants of the temple come alive. Everyone is welcome to walk that path to eternal life.”

– Rosemary M. Wixom

Hales

 

“To rationalize disobedience does not change spiritual law or its consequences but leads to confusion, instability, wandering in strange paths, being lost, and grief. As disciples of Christ, we have a sacred obligation to uphold His laws and commandments and the covenants which we take upon ourselves.”

– Elder Robert D. Hales

 

 

Hallstrom“We need to be priesthood men! Whether we are young men holding the Aaronic Priesthood or men bearing the Melchizedek Priesthood, we need to be priesthood men, showing spiritual maturity because we have made covenants.

Receiving the priesthood and its various offices should mean something to us. It should not be a perfunctory “rite of passage” that automatically happens at certain ages but a sacred act of covenant thoughtfully made.”

– Elder Donald L. Hallstrom

Stevenson

 

“Self-discipline is needed. Daily prayer, scripture study, and church attendance must be the foundation of your training.  A consistent pattern of obeying the commandments, keeping the covenants you have made, and following the Lord’s standard found in For the Strength of Youth is required.”

– Bishop Gary E. Stevenson

 

 

Burton“We are to lay aside the things of [the] world, cleave unto our covenants, and come unto Christ and follow Him. That’s what disciples do! As we try our best to move forward along the covenant path, we become more complete and perfect in this life.

The best way to strengthen a home, current or future, is to keep covenants, promises we’ve made to each other and to God.

– Linda K. Burton

Oscarson

 

“We are members of the Lord’s Church, and regardless of our individual circumstances, we can all enjoy the full blessings of priesthood power through keeping the covenants we have made at baptism and in the temple.”

– Bonnie L. Oscarson

Bednar

“Making and keeping sacred covenants yokes us to and with the Lord Jesus Christ. Covenants received and honored with integrity and ordinances performed by proper priesthood authority are necessary to receive all of the blessings made available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”

– Elder David A. Bednar

 

 

Packer

 

“We do not always know how or when blessings will present themselves, but the promise of eternal increase will not be denied any faithful individual who makes and keeps sacred covenants.”

– President Boyd K. Packer

 

 

 

Corbridge

 

“Marriage and family are not conventions of men until only death do us part. They are intended to be made eternal through covenants we make with God. The family is the pattern of heaven.”

– Elder Lawrence E Corbridge

 

 

 

 

Walk On

I decided to get a Divorce

Last night, I helped my son prepare a talk for church who was asked to speak on Elder Scott’s address from this past conference; one I can’t say I really remember hearing.

Richard-G-Scott-GC-Oct-2013Elder Scott spoke of the covenant made by King Lamoni, his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi and their people, to not take up arms against others. They buried their weapons (not so they couldn’t use them, but so the weapons would remain spotless and stand as a testimony that they had kept their covenant).

They gave their lives to keep that covenant.

helamanYears later Helaman, son of Alma, good friend to Ammon who taught King Lamoni the gospel, reminded the people of Ammon of their covenant not to take up arms. He, their former priesthood leader, pled with the people not to break their covenant, but instead send their sons, boys and young men to fight.

The talk brought to mind an experience I had just over a year ago. I was sitting in the spare bedroom in the basement, a pit in my stomach, wide-awake in the middle of the night. I had been living in the spare room for a couple months.

My parents had also been living in separate rooms for some time and the word divorce could be heard more and more often.

When I was sixteen, I lived a summer with my grandparents who at that time had a similar sleeping arrangement, up until they divorced a year or two later.

That night in the spare room, I came to a conclusion. I wasn’t going to wait forty years to end a toxic marriage. I wasn’t going to prolong the inevitable. I decided to get a divorce.

I had been going to counseling for about a year and felt that I had been given many tools to help my relationship with my wife, and all that was missing was for her to fall in line and do her part. I had built a severe case against her; I accused her, diagnosed her, labeled her and judged her. I jumped at every opportunity to point out her faults and mistakes and to remind her of past failures. I told myself that by doing so I was helping her out, providing leadership. After all who doesn’t love to be told over and over and over again that they’re wrong. Moreover, I felt that I would somehow be held accountable if I didn’t point out her problems.

Elder Scott said that the people of Ammon’s “wise priesthood leader, Helaman, knew that breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. He offered an inspired alternative,” to send their sons that hadn’t made the covenant.

This passage struck me particularly hard. “Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified.”

A couple weeks ago I exchanged emails with someone that suggested God would under the right circumstances tell someone to get a divorce and break the covenant they had made over an altar of the temple before God, angels and witnesses. This person stated it was similar to God commanding, “Thou shalt not kill,” but then commanding Abraham to kill his son and Nephi to kill Laban. I suppose the point was that there are always exceptions.

Before I continue with this thought, let me clarify that I do believe that God cares about us and our wants and desires, and that there certainly are circumstances that would justify a divorce. Additionally, the covenant made in a temple marriage and sealing involves more than one party in addition to God.

abraham isaacBack to Nephi and Abraham. As I pondered this thought and read the passages of scripture where Nephi was commanded to take Laban’s life I realized that according to the Law of Moses and the doctrine given to Nephi, he was not commanded to do anything that was contrary to the Law of Moses or the law of the land.  Nor was Abraham commanded to do anything contrary to the gospel. God used the experience to teach Abraham the true reason for living the law of sacrifice they had been given. Abraham nor Nephi were asked to break a covenant they had made.

As I further pondered, I could not think of any moment in scripture where God commanded anyone to break a covenant they had made. The story of the people of Ammon came to mind and I felt that God honored and supported our covenants and that even though the people of Ammon would have been justified in taking up arms, they were counseled not to because they had made a covenant.

Breaking a covenant with the Lord is never justified. Elder Scott’s counsel came as an answer to prayer and my studying of the topic.

When I told my priesthood leader I was considering a divorce, he encouraged me to try and keep the sacred covenant that I had made in the temple. He invited me to continue to go to counseling, and invited my wife to go separately.

In our discussion, he helped me see that I was ever ready to bend over backwards for others, unconditionally love anyone, willingly forgive associates for great offenses but somehow I wasn’t able or willing to do those things for the person that at one time was the closest and dearest to me. I considered myself to be my brother’s keeper, but I was not that of my spouse.

I prayed and studied, pondered and prayed some more and I realized that I could not justify breaking that covenant. It didn’t happen right away, but my heart began to soften and change. The Lord in his goodness showed me the louse I had been and helped me see how to become something better. He helped me to see the need I had to check boxes rather than live the gospel as I discussed in a previous post. He guided me to develop unconditional love for my bride. As I repented and softened my heart, I felt happiness, true happiness.

Up until that time I had been miserable. I tried to hide it from the world; I blamed it on those around me, or things outside my control. I found some reprieve by badmouthing my wife, building the case, and reinforcing my judgments, but deep down I knew I was wrong, no matter how justified I felt, I was a hypocrite.

I professed to be a Christian. Christ didn’t look for opportunities to point out mistakes, condemn those that had sinned, cast out the unworthy, withdraw his love from even those that betrayed him. Quite the opposite. Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved. My actions were not at all Christlike.

I didn’t necessarily care about solutions; I was more interested in not being blamed. Building the case helped me to feel justified in my hypocritical actions.

Looking back at the years, I realize that it was difficult for the Atonement of Christ to take effect in my life because of my pride, more than my sins. Sins won’t necessarily keep us out of heaven, not repenting of them will. How could my heart be mended if it was broken, or my spirit touched if it wasn’t contrite?

Once the healing power of the Atonement took effect and the peace came, it was easy to let go of the case I had built against my wife. Unlike the parable of the debtors, I had been forgiven of a great many things, who was I to not forgive the minor offense?

15 yearsSo it’s been over a year and we have kept and recommitted to the covenant we made December 19, 1998. This past year has been the funnest, happiest, greatest year of my life.

I feel like King Lamoni when he said, “And I also thank my God, yea, my great God, that he hath granted unto us that we might repent of these things, and also that he hath forgiven us of those our many sins and murders which we have committed, and taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”

Multicultural Celebration

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My heart is full. As the rain broke from the heavens, soaking our field, soaking our youth filed before the prophet, I huddled under the safety of a tarp, thoughts flooding my mind.

The youth had been diligent. At the first practices they didn’t quite line up, or wave their flags in sync; they played around and goofed off, as teens are prone to do. But now it was game time. I watched as they hit their marks, they waved the flags, they even sang. They grew together as a team.

Several families recently moved into our ward. I love watching how new youth are invited and incorporated into an old group, and I love seeing how the dynamics of that group change and become better. This event sped up that process. The youth not only performed, they became a performing team.

IMG_6737_2Just before they were asked to take the field in anticipation of President Monson’s arrival, the youth huddled into groups, I assumed to keep warm. As I came closer I realized they were praying, praying that they rain would cease, or that they could stay warm and have the strength to perform, I can only imagine, but I do know that the Spirit was felt in those prayers, testimonies were strengthened and prayers were answered.

For me, the highlight of that day wasn’t seeing the prophet, though of course that was a special experience. During the live rehearsal, I sat behind about a dozen youth with mental disabilities. During the Hispanic heritage song, they stood up and danced. One young man twirled his hat around with pride, and then launched it into the air at the end. Their performance was wonderful, but the best followed. As they sat to enjoy the rest of the performances, two young men noticed the disabled young man sitting in front of me. I gathered that they must have been in the same ward. With a handshake and a pat on the back, they smiled, said hi, and talked for a while. I believe that small acts of kindness happen all the time in our corner of the earth. Some of these acts have received national attention, and countless others are noticed by strangers like me, their presence undetected, their hearts touched forever.

IMG_6505

In our regional and everyone practices, I saw many friends, people I grew up with, that I attended school with, in Gilbert. I’m certain I felt like Alma the Younger when he saw his brothers after fourteen years. Here my friends are still in the faith. We that were once youth, no doubt concerns to our then leaders, are now serving other youth in that same vicinity, only now there stands a temple instead of cotton fields. I can only imagine what this new generation can do with the legacy they’ve been given. What reunion will there be when they bump into their friends at their children’s soccer game and reflect on that rainy night years before?

Checking Boxes

Crest Before
In a cabin in pine, above the fireplace, hangs what was once a beautiful piece of art.

It’s a family crest, or was when first hung there many years ago. It’s made of solid wood, shaped like a shield, with a banner once reading “Sanders”. The crest was composed of small, individually cut and added wood pieces, each with differing color and texture. Together, they formed a beautiful complicated piece of art representing the Sanders Family. There was a large bull at the top, posturing to all that Sanders were stout, tall, proud, and passionate people. I particularly loved the fleur de lis in the middle, representing to me my family’s involvement in scouting.

Crest AfterOver the years, the crest fell apart. It seemed every time I’d visit the cabin another piece had fallen from its position, victim to the heat of the fireplace. What the family used to comfort our stay actually destroyed the crest. As the fire’s smoke and heat rose through the chimney the glue, securing the wood pieces softened then melted.

I sat, recently, in front of that fireplace, under that very crest. I asked myself what could have been done different.

I was thinking about the crest, but more intently thinking about my family, my parents and eight siblings. At the time, my father had moved out of the house, and soon after, my mother filed for divorce. As I stared at the crest above the flickering fire, I thought of the countless lessons my parents taught me, though now they seemed to have less tack.

At the age of seventeen, my parents sat down with us children and discussed that my grandfather, a man respected in the community, a former Bishop and member of the Stake Presidency, along with my grandmother after 40 years of marriage and twelve children, decided to call it quits. Of course this terrified many of my siblings, but my parents assured us that they had their act together, they loved each other and they would never split up.

My recent conversation with my children was a little different.

My parents bragged that for some thirty years, maybe more, that they read the scriptures everyday except for one night back in ’78, maybe it was ’79? Even when they were living apart, they still read scriptures. I was raised to believe that scripture reading was an ingredient for a successful marriage. I doubt it hurt, but I’m learning that a successful marriage isn’t achieved by checking boxes.

That may actually be a large factor in my family’s current situation. If we believe that God will judge us on our works, that it is only through strict adherence to the laws, that qualifies us for heaven, we might adopt a practice of checking boxes. Reading scriptures, going to church, saying prayers, paying tithing, all great things, if done out of fear of condemnation, don’t seem to harvest the blessings that foster happiness. If we check the boxes with hopes of not being punished, its difficult to enjoy the moment, or recognize the blessings that are predicated upon those laws. And what of the atonement, forgiveness, and mercy?

The devil would have us think that our efforts aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve grace because we haven’t done “all we can do.” The story of our existence changes when we realize that the greatest of us, the only deserving, able of inciting damnation, came not to condemn but to save.

As a box checker, I often found myself looking at others around me, seemingly free from the daunting tasks of righteousness, wondering why they appeared so happy, free. I judged them, I condemned. I thought that by checking the boxes, I would someday find myself, after having endured to the end, struggling through this existence, carrying the crosses I’d been asked to bare, at the Savior’s feet, where he would say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”

I’ve since had a change of heart. I realize now that enduring to the end is the fun part, the great part, because now I have the knowledge of who I am; I have been forgiven and shown mercy. Now I can enjoy the blessings of the atonement and the gospel and be happy.

That was difficult to see through my judgmental eyes. My insecurities and fear drove me to criticize those around me, passing condemnation onto the lot, as I sought to find fault with others, in the name of righteousness. In truth I was living way beneath my privilege, making this existence harder for myself and those around me. In reality, the scene I often visualized of describing to the Lord the boxes I had checked, complaining about the crosses I had born and the sacrifices I had made would have merited the words, “I never knew thee.

As box checkers, we bend over backwards to serve those around us, to offer a ride, make a pie, donate countless hours to others and worthwhile causes. This usually merits kind recognition, appreciation from those served. It might even allow us to dream of our mansions above and with that, maybe we already have our reward. To our family, those not in the lime light, where action isn’t seen by the world (except through Facebook), it’s difficult to find time and the only boxes requiring checks have little to do with being a good parent. There’s a world of difference between reading versus of scripture, and teaching children the Gospel. And “no success can compensate for failure in the home.”

Heat will come; there is opposition in all things. I think the answer to avoiding separation is stronger bonds. As I’ve abandoned the ways of checking boxes, I’ve learned how to live in the moment, finding joy in everyday situations with my family. I’m more grateful for my life, and I recognize the multitude of blessings that come from, not checking boxes, but making righteous choices.

The greatest bond comes through the healing power of the atonement. The atonement not only has the ability to heal the offender but also the offended.

I use to believe that my day was made up of right or wrong choices, black or white decisions. If I was in tune with the Spirit, I would be told the right choices to make in everything I did, down to which road to take to work. I was essentially asking God for more boxes to check. Then I learned that the Spirit doesn’t work that way. God gave us a mind in which to ponder, and free will to choose, not between black and white, but purple, orange, red, and blue, and hundreds of thousands more.  The Spirit isn’t going to tell us anything contrary to God’s plan of happiness. God gave us families to help us become what He wants us to be. The Spirit cares about what’s important to me, and doesn’t seem eager to give me boxes to check.

Another bond is each other. At one point all of us were on the same side. If Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, who are we to not forgive all men.

Family Photo

Even though the crest is looking pretty pathetic, it wouldn’t take much to restore it to its former majesty. A little love and forgiveness could go a long way.