Here is the second installment of our upcoming MANual.
We’re coming up on the 2nd annual Man Camp (see here for a post from last year). As part of this awesome event, we’re considering putting together a MANual – basically a book of life skills on how to be a true man. Some of these pages will be more temporal in nature (like changing a tire or choosing a major in college), but most will be focused on gospel aspects of true manhood.
Here is the first installment. The pages will be written by a variety of different people. If you have ideas for topics or if you are interested in putting a page together, feel free to contact me.
This small ribbon of plastic is known as a Talkie Tape. It has tiny ridges and grooves that cause vibrations when you run your fingernail along it. It’s a bit like an old phonograph cylinder. The best part is that it only works if you bite one end of the ribbon between your teeth while running your fingernail along the grooves. The result is that you hear a voice inside your head say, “Merry Christmas.” The message is only heard in your own head as the vibrations echo through the bones in your jaw.
To me it really represents that Christmas is a personal thing. Different things bring the Christmas spirit into the heart of each individual. For some it’s the lights and decorations and putting up the tree. For others it’s the joy of secretly blessing the lives of others. Some love the sight of a quiet snowfall or watching their favorite Christmas movie.
This principle was shown to me very clearly on a Christmas Eve in 2000. I was a missionary in McAllen, Texas. It was Sunday and I was at church. During one of the Christmas hymns I noticed that the elderly woman sitting next to me didn’t have a hymn book, so I offered her mine. She replied, “Brother, I don’t know how to read, so I just listen.”
As we sang Silent Night I watched as tears silently traced lines down her cheeks. I could see her filled with the joy of Christmas.
On this beautiful Christmas morning I pray that all of us may be filled with the joy of Christmas – the joy that comes from remembering the perfect love of our Father in Heaven as He sent His Son. A matchless gift that for each and every one of us.
Tragedy is everywhere. It affects us as communities and individuals. It is the result of natural catastrophes and mankind’s wickedness. But in every case the first instinct many of us have is to turn to our Heavenly Father for help and comfort. In other words, we pray. Sometimes our prayers are answered in obvious and miraculous ways and sometimes they aren’t.
In order to better understand prayer I’d like you to imagine a park filled with children. Sitting on a bench is a line of fathers watching their kids. As is often the case when children play, issues begin to arise. Here a boy falls and cuts his knee, there a girl cries because she is left out of a game. An argument breaks out between a group of children playing tag while another child sits alone wishing for a friend.
Each of the dads reacts in a different way. The first father, let’s call him Indulgent Dad, jumps in immediately every time his daughter cries for help. He pushes her on a swing, heals every bump or bruise, protects her from any possible conflict with other children, and gives her only the best toys.
Meanwhile, the Uncaring Dad does absolutely nothing. He sits on the bench idly playing on his phone while his son races around the playground. He doesn’t look up when his child shouts for joy or cries in pain. Nothing his son does interests him in the slightest.
Sitting next to the Uncaring Dad is the Incompetent Dad. When his son falls down, the Incompetent Dad races into action. Unfortunately, as his name implies he is unable to complete even the slightest action successfully. While running to help his son out of a mud puddle he trips over his own shoe laces. When his son is taunted by another child, the Incompetent Dad comes to the rescue only to find that he is too late to make a difference.
Finally we have the Vengeful Dad. A stickler for the rules of the park, he immediately intervenes whenever someone commits even the slightest transgression. Cutting in line at the slide – immediate expulsion from the park. Arguing on the soccer field – a permanent ban from the game for everyone involved. When his daughter is stung by a bee he goes so far as to rain down immediate destruction on the offending insect.
Now each of us as earthly fathers have fallen into one or more of these roles at various times in our lives. But where does our Heavenly Father fit into this story? Obviously, He is not any of the fathers mentioned. With perfect love and infinite power, He watches over all of the children on the playground.
He is the Father who wasn’t seen. Always close behind each of His children, He stays just out of their sight. When they fall He does not immediately lift them up. When they argue, He often allows it. When they feel alone He does not always intervene. He does all of this not because he doesn’t love His children or because He doesn’t have the power to help them, but because he knows that the only way for them to grow is to face these challenges. He knows that this playground is just the beginning and they must learn to work together and help one another.
Sometimes His children need help. A daughter falls off the monkey bars and scrapes her knee. She cries in pain and wonders why her Father doesn’t help her. Of course, He is standing nearby and hears her cries. What she doesn’t see is that He is holding up the monkey bars, preventing the rickety structure from falling over on her and causing far more pain and harm.
Nearby a lonely boy looks on with sadness as the other children play together. He wishes that he could take part in their game. He looks for his Father, hoping for comfort. Instead the Father gently prompts another child to go to the boy’s side. Even when the children misbehave and even curse their Father, thinking He is not present or wishing that He could be like the other dads on the playground, He stands quietly nearby doing only what is best for each and every one of His children.
We, of course, are the children at the park. As we go through this mortal life we laugh and we cry, we feel joy and pain. We pray for help, we pray for comfort, we pray for healing, we pray to know our Heavenly Father is there. So why do some of our prayers go unanswered? In order to understand this we must first understand the purpose of prayer. The Bible Dictionary tells us “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”
The first reason our prayers go unanswered is that we pray for the wrong things. The Bible Dictionary continues, “We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us (John 15:7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart.”
Sometimes we want answers and blessings but aren’t willing to put in the necessary work. Again from the Bible Dictionary, “Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.” The prophet Joseph Smith revealed that, “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21).
Other times we are forced to wait for an answer to our prayers in consequence of our own previous disobedience. The early Saints of this dispensation were chastened for their transgressions. “They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me. Verily I say unto you, notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy” (D&C 101:7-9).
Sometimes our lack of answers to prayers is simply a matter of timing. Our Heavenly Father knows perfectly not only what we need, but when we need it. He also trusts us enough to make our own decisions and knows that immediately confirming every choice we make would not develop the faith He wants us to have.
And sometimes He does not answer our prayers or remove our hardships because they are a result of our own actions. Like a child at a park foolishly playing near a beehive, He allows us to feel the sting of conscience or consequence for two reasons: to help us learn to avoid evil and to encourage us to warn others of the danger. Without these early warnings we would be left to kick against the pricks in a self-destructive journey to taste the rancid sweetness of the poisoned honey of iniquity.
The previous reasons for unanswered prayers are simple and straightforward. But what of the times when we are living worthily, when our desires are righteous and our motives are pure? Why then do the heavens remain silent?
Perhaps we must undergo a trial of our faith. If all righteous prayers were answered immediately and in the affirmative the need for faith would be done away. In the furnace of our own afflictions, we must stand alongside Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, believing that God will deliver us, “but if not” then we must still be faithful. (Dan. 3:17-18)
And the “but if not” moments seem to come far too frequently than we would choose. Although Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were miraculously saved, the three virtuous young women we read about in the book of Abraham were not (Abr. 1:11). They too were righteous. They too refused to bow before idols. And I am sure that their prayers for release were just as fervent. And yet God did not preserve their lives, instead He chose to bring them home to Him. Although the scriptural account does not preserve the names of these righteous young women, their example of truly enduring to the end inspires us as we go through our own trials.
Seeing our own prayers go unanswered is difficult enough, but seeing those we love pour out their souls without apparent heavenly aid is heartbreaking. This pain is compounded when we watch as the Lord answers the prayers of others, sometimes in miraculous ways. With healing in His wings He swoops in to lift their burdens. We are left to wonder why we are not part of that celestial flight plan. Other times we see the woman of faith who needed but to touch His clothes to be healed while we are pushed back by the crowd, praying for longer arms that we too might touch the hem of his robe (Mark 5:25-34).
We may not understand why our Heavenly Father does all that He does, but we should take comfort knowing that He loves us perfectly. We can say, as did Nephi, that although we do not know the meaning of all things, we “know that he loveth his children” (1 Nephi 11:17) and that “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world” (2 Nephi 26:24).
Although the knowledge of His love brings comfort it does not alleviate all suffering. Oftentimes the hidden pains are those that hurt the most and yet take the longest to heal. Those who have struggled with depression or mental illness have faced those nights of seemingly unanswered prayer. Those endless hours in which hope weakens. When healing seems impossible and we pray that He who told the man with the palsy to “take up thy bed, and walk” will simply give us the strength to get out of bed and struggle through another day (Mark 2:9).
And yet when we feel thoroughly trampled underfoot we are in the company of the Holy One (1 Nephi 19:7). These moments should remind us not only to reach out to those feeling the same, but also to be more careful where we place our own feet.
Counterintuitively, the times we feel most abandoned, when we feel unheard and unloved, those are the times we approach our Savior the closest. For he was abandoned and denied by His friends and betrayed by those closest to Him. During the darkest moment of His pain-filled life – at a time when He was mocked by those who should have knelt before Him in humble worship – Jesus Christ cried out for His Father. In this moment of agony He too felt forsaken. There are no words more heart wrenching in all of history than those uttered by our Savior in that moment, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
He who committed no sin had to go through a moment of feeling forsaken – a moment though short in duration, yet infinite in intensity. And if Christ had to endure it, then why not us? (D&C 122:8)
In His great intercessory prayer, Christ said “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). If we are to have eternal life, we must know Him. And the only way to truly know Him is to walk a mile in His shoes and to kneel an hour alongside Him in our own Garden of Gethsemane.
As we become like Him we become better equipped to help others. If the Son of God needed to bear all infirmities in order to know how to succor His people then we too need the spiritual tutoring that suffering can bring (Alma 7:11-12). In fact, the Apostle Paul teaches us that Christ learned “obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). How could a loving Heavenly Father answer a prayer requesting the removal of the very suffering that will teach us the obedience necessary to achieve celestial glory and eternal happiness?
Although we may understand His reasons for not immediately answering our heartfelt prayers, it does not always ease the burdens we carry. It is at these moments that we feel crushed by care that we have a choice. We can sit in our rooms calling for help – and it will come, in the Lord’s time and in His manner. He who notes the fall of every sparrow is more than willing to make house calls.
But if we truly want to see the Master Healer in action we should go to work at His clinic. There we begin to understand the perplexing paradox that we must lose our life if we wish to find it (Matt. 10:39). We learn that we should help others when we ourselves need help. As we busy our hands healing others we see His hands at work, quietly binding up our own wounds while we tend to those of others. Only then do we realize that He is answering the prayers of others through us. Only then will we understand that not only is He really there, but that He truly hears and answers every child’s prayer (Children’s Songbook, pg. 12).
Last year my family and I were able to spend some time in Florence, Italy while I taught a study abroad course. Every day we were able to see amazing works of art. I enjoyed the stories behind the art almost as much as the art itself.
One of my favorite stories is regarding the painting, Baptism of Christ, by Andrea del Verrocchio and his young pupil, Leonardo da Vinci. According to artist-historian Vasari, the story goes that Verrocchio had his pupil Leonardo complete parts of the background as well as the outer angel. After seeing Leonardo’s skill Verrocchio was overwhelmed. At that moment he decided to give up painting forever. If such a young student could already outshine his master, then he would no longer spend his time painting.
I can’t help but feel for Verrocchio. He must have been frustrated and felt jealous of his young student. He had spent his whole life studying the art of painting and along comes a young man with such incredible talent. It would be easy to resort to jealousy and throw your hands up in despair. It’s sad that we only have a few surviving works by Verrocchio. He obviously had amazing talent and I’m sure we would all enjoy seeing more from him. But instead he chose to give in to envy. He must have loved painting and yet he chose to give it up simply because someone else was better than he.
Envy never builds up, it only tears down. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it best “envy is a mistake that just keeps on giving. Obviously we suffer a little when some misfortune befalls us, but envy requires us to suffer all good fortune that befalls everyone we know! What a bright prospect that is—downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment!”
Envy is certainly another of the universal sins. No matter how much we have, it never seems enough if the person next to us has more. Whenever I begin to envy others I stop and think of poor Verrocchio.
Mikayla was asked to give a talk today in Sacrament Meeting about how Girls’ Camp helped her to grow closer to Jesus Christ. It was an awesome talk, so I’ve decided to share it with y’all:
My favorite thing to do at Girls’ Camp was archery. I spent almost all my free time at the archery range. Here are five lessons that I learned and how they relate to the gospel.
Lesson #1: Pick your target and aim.
You’re going to hit what you aim at, so aim wisely.
In this life, we’ve got plenty of things to aim at, like material items, wealth, popularity, a good job, etc. They aren’t necessarily bad things, but our ultimate goal in this life is Celestial glory with Jesus Christ. Make sure you’re always aiming at it.
Lesson #2: Have a good stance.
If you don’t have a good, solid stance your shot is most likely going to miss.
In this life you can have a good stance on multiple solid foundations, like good parents and high moral standards. The best foundation to stand on is the rock of our Redeemer. Helaman 5:12 illustrates this:
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.
Lesson #3: Focus. Close your non-dominant eye to help.
If you don’t focus on your target and you get distracted you won’t make your shot and you will most likely end up shooting at whatever you were looking at.
In this life if you get distracted by the things of the world you will miss your goal.
Lesson #4: Grip your bow properly.
If you don’t grip your bow properly you might end up getting hurt. If your arm is too close to the string, the string will hit your arm and it hurts. It really hurts.
In this life you aim at Celestial glory, but your spiritual bow (all your choices) are what get you there. If you mishandle your spiritual bow, you will miss your goal.
Lesson #5: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
In archery if you don’t get a bull’s eye, you adjust your shot. You can adjust your shot by adjusting your footing, your hold on your bow or your aim. One minor adjustment can earn you a bull’s eye.
In this life, if you can’t seem to get it right, you can always change how you’re doing it. Plus, if you make a mistake you can always use the Atonement. Jesus Christ will help you. He wants to help you.
I recently returned from “Man Camp” – two days of amazing experiences with a group of about 25 youth and some adult leaders. We went up into New Hampshire, far away from quality cell phone reception, and discussed what it truly means to be a man. The idea was based off a talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson called “Let Us Be Men.”
As leaders we put together workshops about dating, getting a job, and cooking for yourself as well as how to prepare to be a missionary, a husband, and a father. We all had some pretty amazing experiences.
The highlight of the camp (for me, at least) was the blacksmithing workshop. We were able to heat pieces of iron in a furnace until they were red hot. Then we were able to hammer them into knives (blunt knives, but knives nonetheless).
As we were doing this I had the chance to help 6-8 young men with the process before trying it myself. It’s hot and noisy work. The hammer that seems so easy to hold starts to feel like a million pounds after you’ve been swinging it for a few minutes. Sparks are flying everywhere and if the person holding the iron loses their grip and drops it, the grass below bursts into flames.
Of course this was only a simple demonstration of blacksmithing, but it gave all of us an idea of how important it is to start with quality metal if you want to create something that will stand the test of time. We learned that it takes time and a lot of effort to craft something that you can be proud of. We learned the care that has to be taken to protect yourself and others.
As we worked I kept thinking about the times that I have been that piece of iron – thrust into the furnace and then struck time and time again. Most of the time I have no idea what the Lord is trying to craft me into, but I appreciate the time and effort He must be expending to do so.
My kids and I recently built a safe. It’s not exactly the most secure safe, given that it’s made of wood, but it was a lot of fun to build. The kit gave clear instructions and allowed us to put it together in just a few hours.
The best part about it was that it gave me a look into how a combination lock works. A combination lock is one of those amazing devices that everyone has used, but that most people don’t really think about. In the case of our lock we have three tumblers, each with a notch in one specific part of the wheel. Only when all three tumblers are perfectly aligned does the lock disengage and allow you to open the door.
(In this photo the safe is empty as we hadn’t yet filled it with assorted candy treasure)
Once we had built the safe my kids immediately tried to open it. Considering that they didn’t know the combination you can probably imagine their frustration. Even after I had given them the combination they weren’t able to open it immediately. I had to explain that you had to turn the dial counterclockwise several times before stopping at the first number and then turn it clockwise past the second number before stopping on the second number…. and so forth. Any junior high kid who has struggled with their locker door knows how frustrating it can be to try to learn how to use a combination lock.
I tried to explain how the tumblers worked and why the lock has to be operated a certain way, but eventually I just had to show my kids that it works by simply showing them how to do it.
This got me thinking about how this is similar to testimony. As I teach my children about gospel principles, such as faith and prayer – I sometimes get bogged down in over-explaining things. It’s important for them to understand the principles, but it’s so much more powerful for them to see the principles in action. Once they know that the principle works they are better able to focus on how it works. Instead of talking about how service blesses our lives and the lives of others, it’s much better to show them service in action. Once they try it for themselves they begin to build their own testimony about the principle.
I guess that’s why the Savior always invited to act rather than simply asking his followers to listen. “Come follow me” rather than “Sit still while I talk to you about the gospel.”
I recently had to take a trip to Long Island, NY for a few days and so we decided to make a family vacation of it. As part of the trip we decided to visit the aquarium. The girls loved the sting ray touch tank, but my son was a bit nervous about it. He sat back and watched, but refused to pet the sting rays. I kept asking him why he was so nervous, but he wouldn’t tell me. So instead he just watched while we all had a great time petting the sting rays. Luckily the sting ray tank was right in the middle of the aquarium, so we passed it a few times as we went to all the exhibits. Finally he decided to test it out and tried petting one of the sting rays. Although he was nervous, he loved it and spent the next five or ten minutes petting as many as possible.
Given that he is normally rather adventurous, I was confused at his nervousness. It wasn’t until we came to the exhibit with the electric eel that things started to make sense. As we watched the electric eel he said, “Wait, this is the one that shocks you? I thought the sting rays did that.” During the ensuing conversation I found out that he had thought that sting rays had the ability to electro-shock their prey. He was convinced that if he put his hands into the touch tank that they would shock him. Once his fears were put to rest he loved the sting rays even more. On a side note, I never did figure why he was so willing to let the rest of his family run the risk of getting electrocuted by the “electric sting rays”…
I saw this same type of fear and misinformation many times while serving as a full-time missionary for the LDS Church. We would start chatting with someone only to have them suddenly become very nervous and ask us to leave. Most of the time they never told us why they were so upset, but every now and then someone would tell us that they had heard that Mormons [insert random rumor here]. It could be anything from concerns that we have horns or that we believe that women will be eternally pregnant after this life.
I was always very happy when someone would tell us why they afraid. It gave us a chance to talk about truth – and that’s what the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. He was no stranger to rumors – people often criticized him or claimed he was possessed. But he welcomed the chance to talk to anyone and everyone and then invited them to find out if what he taught was true – “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
I invite you to do the same. Bring your concerns and questions and find out for yourself. As I told my son at the aquarium, don’t stand on the sidelines watching when you could be so happy with us.
One of the great things about living in New England is the never-ending list of awesome museums nearby. My family and I love the Peabody Essex Museum with its amazing art and cultural displays. My favorite display contains and intricately carved Chinese puzzle ball – a series of concentric spheres carved from stone.
After seeing it for the first time I had to go online and get one for myself. It’s much smaller and less intricate than the one in the museum, but it’s a lot of fun to look at the carved spheres and imagine the amount of skill and patience it would take to carve them, one inside the other.
On a completely separate note (which may or may not tie in later), my family and I set a goal last year to read the entire Book of Mormon. We finished on Christmas Day. We had a lot of special moments throughout the year, but the one that hit me the hardest was when we read Moroni 8:3. In a letter to his son Mormon says, “I am mindful of you always in my prayers, continually praying unto God the Father in the name of his Holy Child, Jesus, that he, through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end.”
It’s a beautiful verse and one that I’ve read many times before. The difference this time was that we were reading from a copy of the Book of Mormon that was owned by my grandmother. Next to the verse, in her elegant cursive handwriting, was my name and a date – 9/29/00.
I was serving as a full-time missionary in McAllen, Texas on that date. It amazed me that even with all of the other things going on in my grandmother’s life she was thinking of me and kept me in her prayers.
Just like the puzzle ball, my grandma’s love and kindness had so many layers. As a missionary I could always count on her wonderful letters and her fabulous care packages. My mouth still waters at the thought of her banana chocolate chip cookies. She was always thinking of me, the missionaries I was working with, and the families we were teaching. But at the core of it all were her constant prayers for me.
I’m certainly not perfect, but her example inspires me to be a little better each day.