homecoming talk: finding peace in a troubled world

This talk was given on September 11, 2016 in the Oak Hills 4th ward. 

Here’s a link to an audio recording if you’d like to listen.

One of my favorite primary songs goes as follows:
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
The wise man built his house upon the rock,
And the rains came tumbling down.
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
The rains came down, and the floods came up,
And the house on the rock stood still.
When I was in the temple yesterday I suddenly thought of this beloved song. We truly were in a house built by a wise man, and of course it was built on the rock of the Savior. There were indeed rains coming down and floods coming up outside but we were firm and still in the house of the Lord. There will never, ever be a shortage of trouble and trials to be had and the storms, both literal and figurative, will only rage on and probably escalate. But the great news is that as we draw near to the Savior, all will be well. There is no shortage of peace to be found as we are carried in the arms of Christ.
In fact, I would venture to suggest that not only does the Savior have the power to make everything ok, He has the power to make everything amazing. One of my favorite scriptures is found in 2 Nephi 2:2, in which Lehi assures his son: “thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” Some trials come from God, some trials come from other sources. Some things in life are terrible, painful, even evil but the promise of the Lord is that He has the power to consecrate all of those things for our good. Only He has descended lower than the rest of us only to ascend beyond the greatness that we can imagine. We can ascend beyond the trouble we are faced with when we use our agency to be founded on Christ.

One of my favorite hymns is “How Firm a Foundation.” I turned to the fifth verse in this hymn many times during my mission, which reads,
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
The scary and bad things that happen in the world can actually make us better! But we have to use our agency to turn to Christ. He will not forcefully consecrate our afflictions. He needs our permission.
On this emotionally challenging date, I think of a sister in my first area who I worked with soon after her baptism. Her husband was our ward mission leader and in his youth he had fallen away, taking a path of what he described as poor choices, including drugs, drinking, and immorality. Eventually he married Sister Leavitt and they had two beautiful daughters. Then September 11, 2001 came and she said, “Verl, it’s time for our family to go to church.” He only knew his church of origin and that’s where they went. Sister Leavitt was a self-described “dry Mormon” for the next 13 years, meeting with countless missionaries, attending church, even holding callings and speaking in sacrament meeting. Finally something else significant happened: their older daughter was married in the temple and her younger daughter was called to serve a mission. Sister Leavitt was sitting outside the temple while the rest of her family inside when she thought, how can I let my uncertainty get between me and my family’s eternity? To make a long story short, last month Brother and Sister Leavitt and their older daughter flew out to pick Sister Leavitt Jr up from her mission and surprised her by going to the nearest temple together to be sealed. That is a long-range view: it has been 15 years since the Lord consecrated a major act of evil and destruction to the good of this family, and only a month ago did that good really come together. Only the power of the Atonement is strong enough to turn something as evil as a terrorist act into something as good as a family converted together and united in the temple because Jesus Christ experienced every negative repercussion of every act of evil ever and He came out on top in perfect glory.
Opposition is powerful because it reminds us of the humility with which we should should approach our Savior. Sister Leavitt’s fear is a scary time reminded her that she needed to come unto Christ always. When I think about trouble and trials, I think about my friend Andrew. This fellow told us that he has “probably broken every commandment.” He has a past as a sniper in the military, then he was a white supremacist skinhead for a while, then he got married, then divorced and for a while he was a Wiccan high priest. His tattoos told the whole story. When we met him he was crashing on the couch of another investigator because he had nowhere else to go. This whole family had many trials to overcome. They lived in a smoky trailer full of cats. I loved going there because one of the cats had just kittened and I would sit on the floor with a pile of kittens gathered in my skirt while I taught and testified. One day we were sitting in the dim afternoon light and with kittens squirming in my lap I invited Andrew’s friend to church. He was in the next room and he said, “If you go to church I will.” I tried not to look at his bearded goatee as I realized that he had been quietly listening the whole time. I said, “Andrew, would you like to pray for us?” He did not feel worthy to pray, but with some coaxing we taught him the basics of prayer. I am not accustomed to loving people with Swastikas tattooed on their body. I am used to fearing and avoiding such people. But the Lord is used to loving those who break every commandment as much as those who keep some of them or most of them. Andrew had every reason to be troubled and he was but for just a few minutes that day we all felt peace together as he bowed his head and asked his Father for forgiveness, guidance, and blessings. When I listened to Andrew pray in that squalid trailer that was his only alternative to homelessness, I felt the Lord’s love for him and together we enjoyed a moment of true, pure, and perfect peace. Our Savior wants us to feel that kind of peace all the time and we have access to that kind of prayer whenever we are willing to connect with Him. In Andrew’s case, there was no advantage to his sins and mistakes but when he put them in the hands of Jesus Christ, they were transformed by some divine alchemy into a powerful humility.
There was a challenging time in my mission when I felt like I had made a mistake that was not in line with God’s plan. I had a wise district leader at the time who told me, “Even when we mess up, it’s amazing how God can turn the worst situations around if we let Him.” The same day I was driving with my companion, missed a turn, and she said, “Look how that GPS can reroute you. Heavenly Father can do that too.”
Some of the trouble we face is on a worldwide level, some of the trouble we face is because of mistakes we make, and some of the trouble we face is intensely personal yet we have little or no control over it. Such was the case with the Dubyk family. They were a family I loved working with in the last ward I served in. Brother Dubyk had been struggling with cancer for ten years. He was our gospel principles teacher so we worked with him closely and became close with his wife as well. Toward the end of his life, Brother Dubyk shared his gratitude and his testimony on Fast Sunday. I saw in him the peace that surpasseth all understanding as he approached the pulpit, physically frail but spiritually mighty. In his weak voice I heard the power of the Spirit. He knew that his death was imminent but he had a peace that was greater than the peace of mortal safety, because he felt that he was at peace with God. At his funeral, Sister Dubyk described praying every night in gratitude for the cancer that was killing her husband. She told us that their love had grown stronger and deeper not despite, but because of the cancer and that their love would grow stronger still. This is the power of the Atonement to turn something terrible into something wonderful.
Jesus Christ is our perfect example of peace. It is comforting to me that He knows everything and He is at peace. Just as He was able to sleep calmly in the midst of a raging tempest, He knows exactly how bad things are going to get, but He knows how good things are going to get as well. He has seen the future and He is not scared.
Now that we know that we can find peace in Christ, how do we go about turning to Him? There are innumerable ways to come unto Christ and you know what they are already, but as a reminder the following three activities are especially wonderful for bringing peace in times of trouble.
First, the temple is a refuge from the turmoil inherent to living in the last days. Worldly fear and stress struggle to breach the walls of the temple. The temple is as a sanctuary for our minds and hearts. It’s kind of the opposite of watching the news.
Second, the sacrament has power to facilitate repentance, which offers the peace of the Atonement to oppose the deep-seated trouble that necessarily accompanies sin. The sacrament is the antidote to things we can’t face by ourselves.
Finally, the Book of Mormon brings us peace in times of personal trial because the Book of Mormon brings the power of the Spirit into our lives. The Book of Mormon is also powerful because it is the means of our testimonies. The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to provide people in our dispensation with a testimony of Jesus Christ. My mission president’s wife would always say, “If you are struggling with your testimony, all you have to do is read the Book of Mormon!” It really is that simple. A committed, sincere study of the Book of Mormon will provide a testimony of Jesus Christ. I know this because of the testimony of Jesus Christ that I gained on my mission through experiencing the Atonement personally and through learning about it by the power of the Spirit as I read the Book of Mormon. I know that Jesus Christ is our Savior. He really is. I know that He lives, that He loves, and that His grace is mighty to save. In living, He truly does direct this church, His kingdom on Earth. I share this testimony in His name, the name of Jesus Christ, amen.