As some of you may know, my unique form of making New Year’s resolutions is to carefully choose one word for the year that I will study and that will be a guide to me in learning and in becoming better.
On Jan. 1st when the words “2020” rolled off my tongue, I thought, “what better word for me this year than “vision” – “20/20 vision”, or in other words, perfect sight. Since then I have been thinking about all of the ways this word might be instructive and helpful to me this year.
Here are five of them:
1. Since this is the bicentennial of the Restoration, the most obvious one is the First Vision, celebrating the glorious event that opened the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this last dispensation.
2. Also of great importance is the vision of prophets for their people. In Proverbs we learn that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” It is no wonder that it was absolutely crucial for Lehi to obtain the brass plates so his people would have the past prophets’ guidance and commandments in their lives.
3. Arguably the most important prophet in any age is the living prophet because of his current vision for his people. An early Church leader, John A. Widtsoe said, “The most important prophet in any age is the living prophet. … To follow the living prophet, the interpreter of the past, is the essence of wisdom. The very strength of the Church lies in the doctrine of continuous revelation through a living prophet”.
4. Next, is personal vision for my life. This is important in two ways: (1) having the vision to see and know who I really am as a child of God with His divine characteristics and abilities to fulfill the mission He has for me here. (2) And having the vision to know what that mission is.
5. Finally, is the vision of who others are. I am commanded in the 2nd Great Commandment to love my neighbor. 20/20 spiritual vision allows me to see others as God sees them, to look upon their hearts and not outward appearances.
There is a sermon in each of these points and many lessons to be learned and practiced for a lifetime – and many other perspectives on vision. I hope each of us will perfect our vision this year.
But for today, I will emphasize the importance of our living prophet’s vision, especially for women. He sees and affirms the unique strengths and gifts women have in building and sustaining God’s kingdom on earth. He views us as a positive moral force in the world. He said, “Let me be very clear about this: if the world loses the moral rectitude of its women, the world will never recover.” This strong statement of revelation provides a vision of our paramount divine identity and mission.
I worry that our women do not understand this. Are we losing our vision of who we are and what our purposes are? Good examples of the type of women the prophet envisions help me both see and live what he teaches. I want to be this type of woman. I want you, our BYU Hawaii women, to have and live his vision for you too.
My other mother, President Tanner’s mother is such a woman. She passed away 5 days ago at 99 ½ years of age. Her spirit continues to hover over us. She had a vision of who she was and knew of her divinely appointed mission. She is an example of the prophet’s vision.
Let me tell you two ways that she lived what he teaches, not to discourage you like Mothers’ Day talks sometimes do, but in the hope that her life will inspire you, as it has me, to fulfill the vision of the prophet. (1) She lived joyfully because she focused her life and testimony on Jesus Christ. And (2) she partnered with God in building souls.
First, she was joyful through sunshine and shadow because she lived with faith in and a testimony of the Savior. Pres. Nelson taught,
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation. . .and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening –or not happening—in our lives.”
One of Athelia Tanner’s notable sayings was not “have a good day,” but “make it a great day.” She learned this lesson early in her life, growing up in the very humble circumstances of the Great Depression. She and her siblings worked hard to have even the necessities of life. But they sang as they worked, inventing clever lyrics, laughing and bonding—making hard times into good days, choosing optimism, knowing God was always with them. Those early habits, both of singing and having faith in Jesus Christ, stayed with her into her 100th year.
When she married Bill Tanner at age 21 they had an idealistic vision of the important things that should be part of their eternal unit -covenants, family, and education. Even when the difficult details of reality set in, she “made it a great day.” It was 10 years later after 2 years of military service in World War 2, 20 moves, and 6 babies, that Dad Tanner finished his PhD degree and finally got his first “real” job. During those long, difficult years, they often lived off of nothing more than gleaned potatoes from an already harvested field and on a healthy dose of faith in Jesus Christ. Even in the hard times, she lived joyfully because she was focused on Christ.
Now the second point. Mom believed in the prophet’s words that her divine mission was, “To help another human being reach one’s celestial potential . . . . As mother, teacher, or nurturing Saint . . . and in partnership with God, to help spirits live and souls be lifted.” In the following 12 years, they added seven more children to the fold. Financially the way was rough, often with an unstable income and unsuitable housing. But she focused every conversation on how blessed they were to have 13 children and that each one was wanted and cherished,
She embraced the prophet’s vision and partnered with God in helping each of those 13 children live joyful, faithful lives. While “working her fingers to the bone” as she liked to quip, in meeting the mere physical demands of such a large family, she also found the time and energy for nurturing -- fostering development in each child. She taught her family the scriptures, the plan of salvation, the value of working hard, a love for God and neighbors.
Her vision and hard work paid dividends. Eleven children served missions for the Church and all have continued faithful. All worked their way through to university degrees and 10 have advanced degrees. But more important than receiving a degree is that they love learning; they continue to be lifelong learners. Have you ever seen President Tanner’s eyes sparkle and his excitement level increase when he starts talking about literature or history or philosophical or religious ideas? Her love for books, ideas, words, and scriptures was contagious. She taught and lived with exuberance those things she wanted her children to learn and follow. Mom had a vision of who these eternal souls were. And she exercised her gifts to mold and build their lives.
During the last 7 years, she has had dementia. And although her memory declined, her pleasant nature, sweet love, grateful expressions, and fervent testimony continued until the final day.
My dear mother-in-law is an example to me of the women of moral rectitude envisioned by President Nelson. I love, admire, and appreciate her. One of the wisest things my own mom said to me just days before our marriage was, “John’s mother is a noble and amazing woman. You must learn everything you can from her. Keep the vision of her example ever before you.”
Now I know that we will not all be mothers of 13 children and duplicate Mom Tanner’s life in that way. But both she and my own mother and other women who have been eulogized from this pulpit, represent a generation of women who lived nobly and faithfully through the Depression, through poverty, through wartime. They provide vision and examples for me.
I pray that, like them, we all may follow the prophet’s vision for women by living joyfully our testimonies of Jesus Christ and by partnering with God to nurture and build others.
Then we may receive the blessings of the Lord as promised by President Nelson:
“Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before. . . And I promise you in the name of Jesus Christ that as you do so, the Holy Ghost will magnify your influence in an unprecedented way.”
I testify that his vision and promises for us are current and continuing revelation from our Father in Heaven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.