Kia Ora and Aloha.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share some thoughts today. I want to express my gratitude for my wife, Pria, for her thoughts and for the sweet and wonderful person that she is. She is the love of my life. I am very grateful for her influence in my life. She mentioned my parents and some of the work ethic I get from my parents, and another thing I get from my mother is a bit emotional from time to time, so hopefully I won't get too emotional today. I am grateful for the song that was sung, and the spirit that it brought, and the message that our Heavenly Father knows more than us about the things we need to be doing.
As I have pondered what I might share today, my mind kept reverting back to the second half of Nephi 2:25 “Men are, that they might have joy.”
This has long been one of my favorite scriptures, firstly because it is short. As a teenager going to seminary, I really struggled to memorize any scripture. My older brother went to seminary and was the great "scripture mastery guy" who memorized things and knew where to find stuff—I had a terrible time, I couldn't remember things, so that was one scripture I really enjoyed. Secondly, because as a young man growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this was my go-to scripture for trying to convince my youth leaders that activities and attending Church was supposed to be fun or at the very least enjoyable. As a young man, joy equated to happiness, which meant doing things
, I enjoyed, which meant having fun. The church, and attending church, was supposed to be fun!
As my wife likes to keep reminding me, by the end of this year I will celebrate my 50th birthday. As I reflect on the past 49 years on what joy or happiness has looked like to me, it is clear that my interpretation of joy and what has brought me joy in this life has changed somewhat through the various stages of my life.
With this thought in my mind as I attended the Temple in January, I was surprised at the number of times the word joy was used in the endowment ceremony, it stuck out to me, and it was re-impressed upon my mind that our God, my Father and your Father in Heaven, he who has all power, really, really, wants us to be happy.
President Nelson spoke of joy in the 2016 October General Conference as “a principle that is key to our spiritual survival” and asked us to consider the context associated with Lehi’s declaration. Lehi had been persecuted, left all his possessions, and fled Jerusalem into the wilderness, and was living in a tent..."
“Clearly, Lehi knew opposition, anxiety, heartache, pain, disappointment, and sorrow. Yet he declared boldly and without reservation a principle as revealed by the Lord: “Men are, that they might have joy.” Imagine! Of all the words he could have used to describe the nature and purpose of our lives here in mortality, he chose the word joy!”
President Nelson continues:
“My dear brothers and sisters, 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. Joy comes from, and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”
The spiritual principle, that the very reason we exist is to have joy, can fill each of us with hope, faith, and knowledge that there is a bigger, better, brighter future awaiting us, made possible by our Fathers plan and the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Joy is a gift for the faithful. 29 It is the gift that comes from intentionally trying to live a righteous life, as taught by Jesus Christ.”
With that context in mind, I have five principles from the experiences in my life that have helped me recognize where my joy is and has been found.
Principle 1: Understand and Really Believe in Who You Are
We hear about it in primary when we sing, "I am a Child of God," we read about it in the scriptures as God addresses Moses and states “thou art my son." When we understand who we are and what our potential is, we gain a perspective that lifts and enables us. I believe each of us experiences in our lives moments where God reaches out, to help us understand that perspective, just as he did to Moses, He wants each of us to know who we are.
For me, this first occurred through an experience I had as a young boy when my Mum asked me to go and pick up a loaf of bread from the dairy. Now a dairy in NZ is a small convenience store; think 7-Eleven but smaller. The store was just under half a mile from our house, and my Mum gave me 50 cents to go get bread and milk. This felt like a lot of money to entrust to a five to six-year-old boy. A pint of milk was only 8 cents at the time and a loaf of bread, about 20 cents. I’m not sure why, but I can only imagine it was because I was young, and I could, I ran - up the hill over the road and down the street to the Dairy as fast as I could. When I was in sight of the dairy I tripped and tumbled to the ground. As I gathered myself, I realized in a panic that the 50-cent coin which I had been holding tightly and safely in my hand was no longer there. I immediately began searching the ground where I had fallen, patting the grass and dirt in the hope of finding the coin. It was not to be found. Frantic and worried about returning home without bread or money, I knelt in the grass at the edge of the road, closed my eyes, and asked Heavenly Father to help me find the money so I wouldn’t get in trouble. I opened my eyes and immediately in my view was the coin which I proceeded to gather, and I finished my errand as fast as my legs would let me.
I share this as I have often reflected on the impact of this one event in my life. I had been taught that God existed, taught to pray, and taught God answers prayers; praying at that time was a completely natural response to my problem, and God providing the answer hoped for, was an expected outcome for a young boy.
Knowing who I am and my relationship to God and His son is an unchanging, constant, invariable source of peace and joy that allows and enables me to see beyond momentary struggles and have hope of a promised future.
Just as Satan tried to deceive Moses by calling him a “son of man,” so too he wants to deceive each of us from an understanding of who we really are as sons and daughters of God. There is a peace and intrinsic joy in truly knowing who we are that frees us from the shackles of Satan’s lies.
I encourage you to ponder upon your own life and remember. Too often, through the trials and disappointments in life, we forget what we already know. We forget more than we remember. Instead of doubting our doubts, we forget, and focus only on the present, ignoring both past lessons and future hope.
Principle 2: Strive to Understand God - To Know God
In John 17:3 we are told: "And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent."
Knowing and understanding God is no simple task; it is the work of a lifetime. While the study of God is an important part of learning to know Him, I believe the greater part of that learning comes from striving to be like him. To know God, we must try and be like him, to be Christlike in our actions, in our thoughts, in our deeds and our desires; seeing and treating people as he does and doing what He does or would do if he were in our place.
He is a creator, He is a teacher, He is a worker, He is married, so yes you should be earnestly striving to get married, He is a Parent, He is a Judge, He forgives, He loves… I could go on listing the attributes of God, all are important, but I would like to focus on a few of the things He does, which again I illustrate with an experience:
My Father has kept a garden most of his life and encouraged us as children to help him. While still rather young, he encouraged me to work a small patch of garden to try and grow my own vegetables. So, I worked, I dug, I weeded, I planted seeds, I watered, and eventually over a period of time, I was able to harvest my first rather small misshaped cucumber. To me
, it was the sweetest cucumber there ever was, and I remember feeling very proud. It made me happy. I felt joy in the results of my labors.
I share this because we know that God creates, he works, he is the ultimate gardener - He is the creator of Heaven and Earth and all things thereon. The work of Creation brings him joy, and when we emulate that work in the right context, we feel good, we open ourselves and our souls up to feeling joy. When we participate or act in doing Godly things, in doing that which God does, even in the smallest or simplest of things, it resonates with who we are.
The Same is True of Learning and Teaching
D&C 50:22 “Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together.” Why are we edified, why do we rejoice? Because we are doing something that is intrinsic to our very nature. When we do God-like things we feel joy.
Pria, my wife, is going to school here at BYU–Hawaii. She did not have an opportunity to finish her education when she was younger, so it has been a blessing for her to be able to attend both Pathways and now classes here on campus. Often as I finish work, Pria will walk across the road from our home to pick me up, and we walk around the car park sharing our day. As she tells me about different classes, tests, and assignments, and how difficult it can sometimes be, she always comes back to the accomplishment and joy it brings her.
God expects each of us to magnify the gifts and talents we have for his purposes. In referring to learning both secular and spiritual he tells us why learning is important in D&C 88:80:
“That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.”
We each have a purpose or mission to fulfill in this life associated with God’s plan, and the more we prepare ourselves through whatever education we are able to attain, the greater our ability to magnify our talents in God’s service and accomplish our mission.
I cannot adequately express how thankful I am for that clear direction I received as a 16-year-old young man in my patriarchal blessing to finish my education, it has blessed my life and brought me much joy.
What Else Does God do? Well, He Works
Moses 1:39 says, "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
Adam received the commandment “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Gen 3:19) and “cursed shall be the ground for thy sake” (Moses 4:23). We are supposed to work, it is for our benefit!
There is a satisfaction that comes to those who spend their time and talents in good honest work. We are not supposed to be idle, the Lamanites are described as “full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Nephi 12:23) Ezekiel in describing Sodom’s iniquity called it “an abundance of idleness” (Ezekiel 16:49).
A few years ago, while attending a Priesthood Leadership meeting, I was feeling a little sorry for myself, I had a busy calling, young family, and demanding job. During the meeting, one of the brethren commented on the demands associated with serving in various callings. While sympathetic to getting a balance in life, the leader at the meeting referred us to D&C 123:13, where the Lord proceeds to tell us “that we should waste and wear out our lives” in His service. Work is a blessing from God, it is a fundamental principle of salvation both spiritual and temporal.
If you want to have joy in this life, work and work hard, work on yourself, work on your family, work on your marriage, work on your work and work, waste and wear out your life in God’s service.
Principle 3: Keep your Covenants
As a 16-year-old young man, I started to become more interested in members of the opposite sex. It was my 5th form year, which is the equivalent of a sophomore here in the US. I had been pursuing a young lady for several months, and we were “going out” as we called it back then. As somewhat typical teenagers, we were being tempted to participate in inappropriate behavior, and the pressure to do so was building. In an attempt to mitigate the growing temptation, we decided to make a promise to each other, and God, that we would not break the commandments, we wrote it down. In making this promise, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of complete peace, joy, and love. I did not fully understand what I had experienced; at the time, I even wondered if this was God telling me that this was the girl I was supposed to marry.
The girl moved away shortly thereafter, and for some reason, there were no more girlfriends for me in my teenage years. In fact, I blamed the adversary for having no girlfriends for the next three years as I thought Satan had just given up trying to tempt me. What I did learn from that experience is that God is a God of covenants. He is a covenant maker and covenant keeper, and when we choose to honor our covenants, he is bound to bless us. If you have ever doubted this, please just pay your tithing;
, it is the simplest commandment to obey perfectly, to live 100% and therefore qualify for the resultant blessings.
When we approach our covenants with honor and integrity, we will do everything we can to stay true to promises made
, and when we do slip up, the power of the redemption of Christ will recognize our honest efforts, and we will have joy in the cleansing power of the atonement.
God keeps his promises and I believe he rejoices when he is able to bless us when we keep our side of the covenants we make. Be true to self, be true to covenants made, be self-respecting, and claim the joy and peace that obedience to covenants enables the faithful to feel.
Principle 4: Act in Faith
While my focus years ago was on having joy as stated in the second half of 2 Nephi 2:25, over time I have come to recognize and appreciate the preceding statement, “Adam fell that men might be.” If Adam hadn’t fallen, if he had not partaken of the fruit, if he had chosen to stay in the garden without Eve, if he had not exercised his agency, which God had specifically expressed to him, if he had not taken that leap of faith to follow and be with Eve, there would be no joy.
Adam knew who he was, a son of God, he knew God, he knew what God had commanded him to do and with that knowledge, he acted in faith and hope that his action would work for his good, that he and we might have joy.
The first time I saw my wife Pria was at a Church dance. She was a new convert of a couple of weeks and she caught my eye. Now to have any hope of getting beyond just thinking she was pretty, I had to act and push beyond my nerves and insecurities. So, I crossed the dance floor and boldly invited her to dance in the hope she would accept. She did. While dancing I tried to start a conversation, but the music was too loud and all Pria would do is nod her head, I suggested we move to the back of the hall, away from the speakers, she nodded her head again, so, I proceeded to move through the crowd thinking she would follow. When I turned my head to make sure she was behind me, she was bolting in the opposite direction. I had struck out.
The next time I saw Pria was as she was walking out of church a few Sundays later. I moved towards her to try and start a conversation (I was the ward YSA rep and wanted to invite her to an activity), as soon as she saw me approaching there was an abrupt 90 degree turn, and Pria walked off the path and up a grassy hill in her high heels, sinking into the sod as she went. Needless to say, I was a little perplexed, but the message was clear.
I didn’t know what had happened at the time, and I later learned that Pria had not heard a word I had said on the dance floor and thought I had just walked away from her in the middle of a dance. I had messed up.
Pria proceeded to avoid me for the next three months.
Fortunately, a perceptive Ward Mission Leader intervened. He asked that I join him to give a blessing to Pria’s flatmate who was also a new covert. Pria was at home so after giving her flatmate the blessing I proceeded to act again; I invited her to join the ward YSA in attending an upcoming regional YSA dance, I thought I was doing my calling, she thought I was asking her on a date. As you can tell, our courtship was clearly not smooth; I had a lot of work to do on my communication skills and, at times, still do.
I took a chance and acted in the hope of something good. It didn’t pay off initially, and I got another chance, acted again, and the rest has become history. The point is, I acted. Good things in life require us to act in faith or in hope of that future goodness.
If we want joy in this life we must act in hope and in faith, we must move forward, we must sometimes step out into the unknown and trust the impressions and promptings we receive, and if you strike out, get back up to the plate and act again!
Principle 5 – Without Sorrow We Cannot Truly Know Joy
Life is clearly not easy. We are each tested and tried, often unfairly and at times to what we think is our very limit. Our hearts break, we struggle, we feel disappointment and despair. It is through these trials that we can learn to appreciate the good in life and our struggles are often the means of how we become acquainted with God.
Growing up, I always loved being around children. As such, I have always had a desire for a large family. I wanted to have lots of children, twelve to be exact. Once we got married, things didn’t exactly go the way I had planned. I found this very hard to understand. Why wasn’t God blessing me? Having children is part of His plan. Why would He deny me this? In my mind, I had been a good faithful member and deserved to be blessed. After a while, I began to realize that this was to be my trial, I didn’t want it, it was hard, and at times difficult to feel the joy that I had hoped for in marriage and family.
We would pray and call on the powers of heaven hoping for an answer where none seemed to exist. The absence of this blessing and associated disappointment filtered into other aspects of my life. We sought guidance, and strived to carry on.
After six years of marriage, the answers finally came, not in my timing and not in the way I’d initially hoped but, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Through many miracles we now have five children, 3 of them came within 10 months of each other which brought its own set of trials. Again, we sought out the joys and held onto them to sustain us.
Adam acted in faith that we all might have joy, each of us must act and exercise faith for ourselves to receive our portion of joy in this life. I cannot help but conclude that for me without my Eve, my wife Pria, without marriage and the leap of faith we took to bind our lives together to God, there would be no lasting or fullness of joy for me.
I testify—God wants us to be happy. He wants us to have joy in this life. As we are obedient, as we keep our covenants and the commandments, as we remember who we are, as we strive to be like God as we endure the trials of this life, we will and can find joy. To this, I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.