This is the sacrament meeting talk that I gave a few weeks ago. This talk is based on thoughts from Dale G. Renlund’s General Conference talk “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying.” I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. The image above was taken by myself in Peru while we climbed a mountain for a better view of Machu Picchu.
We, as disciples of Christ have entered into the Straight and Narrow through the principles and ordinances of the Gospel. Simplified, these principles and ordinances are “first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” These are the principles by which we enter into the life-long path of the Gospel.
Now, what do we do after following those principles? Are we, then, perfected and purified by the blood of Christ instantly? I was baptized at the age of eight, does that mean I have nothing else to do on this path? Said Nephi,
“Behold, I say unto you, Nay … Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
This is a constant renewal of our covenants and the literal pressing forward, no matter the circumstances, until the end. This is the topic that I wish to address today.
This coming week, we will be studying together the talk “Latter-day Saints Keep on Trying” by Elder Dale G. Renlund and the associated doctrines and principles that are mentioned therein. I wish to discuss some of the greater principles that I found most interesting that you might want to look for as you study this week.
The tag line in the Ensign for this talk reads “As we try, persevere, and help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints.” Saint is an interesting word. A simple search for its definition yields “a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death.” However, we call ourselves saints as members of the Church. Does this mean that we are always holy or always virtuous? Absolutely not! Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, after his 27 years of imprisonment, commented to those who praised his forgiveness and actions to those who imprisoned him, “I’m no saint—that is, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” I’d like to repeat that fascinating perspective: “a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying.” He did not say a perfect person or a person with an elevated state of holiness. He said “sinner.”
So, what is a sinner? Well, a sinner, according to our theology, is someone who breaks the commandments of God. As said Paul to the Romans, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”, we can clearly see that we are all sinners, to some degree. However, what can set us apart or make us perfect is our obedience to the Gospel plan by “repeatedly and iteratively ‘relying wholly upon’ the doctrine of Christ.” As we live this Gospel plan, we can then, continues Paul, “[be] justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Elder Renlund notes that “as we do so, we become more like Christ and are able to endure to the end, with all that that entails. In less formal terms, God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were.” Now, I must note, this doesn’t mean that we are free from the consequences of our mistakes, but rather that God knows our potential and if we but turn to Him, we can be forgiven of our mistakes and sins and then become perfected in His Son. President Thomas S. Monson taught, “One of God’s greatest gifts to us is the joy of trying again, for no failure ever need be final.” That, brothers and sisters, is the power of the Atonement of Christ and the gift of mortality. We can try, try again.
Elder Renlund also pointed out that “even if we’ve been a conscious, deliberate sinner or have repeatedly faced failure and disappointment, the moment we decide to try again, the Atonement of Christ can help us.”
When I think of the word endure or persevere, I can’t help but think of the word “try.” One dictionary offers the definition of persevere as “continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.” That sure sounds like a lot of trying to me.
I believe that the concept of trying over and over again is a fascinating one that has driven humanity across the years. Not only does it drive significant chunks of history, from the creation of nations to leaps and bounds in technology and scientific discovery, but is also is something that we enjoy as a culture. Going back to our childhood inspirations, did Mulan get down to business… To defeat the Huns? Did Luke just try, or did he do when presented with the challenges the Empire threw at him? Did Frodo and Sam give up when failure, temptation, and incredible powers against them arose? There are reasons why we like these stories, because they tap into universal themes of striving against great odds. Even looking to the scriptures, Did Nephi, or Jacob, or Alma, or King Lamoni’s queen, or Moroni, or Mormon, or Joseph Smith give up when the powers of darkness combined against them? Did the Savior give up when He was faced with the ultimate challenge of taking upon Himself the sins of the world? Of course none of these men or women gave up. They tried and tried, they endured, and they succeeded. If they can, we certainly can, because we have hope shining brightly before us.
This act of trying requires faith. On my mission, I had to travel long distances in each of my areas and sometimes we had to set out with no clear idea of what was going to happen or how we were going to get there. I served in the high Andes of Peru in very remote areas. One of my areas was called San Pedro de Cajas, before serving there, I had no idea that Saint Peter liked boxes so much. Anyway, we had to travel about twice a month to a city called Tarma that was about an hour and a half away from our tiny mountain village. We’d have to get up at the crack of dawn to wait for the tiny Toyota corollas car service to arrive. We’d then proceed to push and shove our way into the cars wherever could fit in and around any passengers that might happen to be in the car previously and their items to have the chance of making it to our meetings on time. One time though, we were on our P-Day and went to a grotto that was along the same winding, mountainous path. We lost track of time, but figured we’d be able to get one of the cars to go back up. We waited for a car, but it was stuffed with people and belongings, much like a clown car. We figured we’d wait longer. Hours passed and all of the cars were full. So, being half an hour away, my companion decided that we should walk the rest of the way. I was skeptical, but being a greenie, junior p, and the American, I had no other choice. We left walking at about 6. We passed by some tiny towns, passed by vicious dogs, and eventually made it to the final stretch: a steep mountain path. I made it, but only by putting one foot in front of the other. A journey that should have lasted only 30 minutes finished at 10:30: nearly 4 and a half hours. It was a lot of hard work, but we made it. And I learned that sometimes things don’t go like you planned, but you have to keep pressing forward. What were my options, sit down and cry? No, I had no other choice but to keep trying. Plus it would have humiliated me to sit down in the middle of the road and cry.
We are given many opportunities in this life to practice perseverance. Even in something as fun as performing with the BYU Drumline, I know that even if I lose a shoe, or a stick, or zone out some of the music or drill I have to keep going with a smile on my face. Not that that’s ever happened to me.
However, as we continue trying in our own way, we must also recognize that others are trying in this life too. On that awful p-day, while I was still acclimating to an altitude higher than the highest mountain peak in Utah, my companion didn’t leave me for dead. Rather, he encouraged me and was there every step of the way. Together, we made it. We must realize that no one is perfect and that all of us have our own different challenges. Each person is different. “Just as God rejoices when we persevere, He is disappointed if we do not recognize that others are trying too. . . We must not only be tolerant while others work on their individual illnesses; we must also be kind, patient, supportive, and understanding.” We are a community, a refuge from the world. We must show love and compassion. Elder Renlund also promised that if we do this, “The Atonement will come into our lives in even greater measure. We will then recognize that regardless of perceived differences, all of us are in need of the same infinite Atonement.”
Repentance is a real power. As we try to get better, we can literally become different people. We can change the bad—or unwanted—parts of ourselves and make them better. We can hope to, through Christ’s Atonement, refine our good qualities, straighten and improve our not-so-good ones, and even flip our bad ones around. We may be the biggest sinners in the world, or even the most perfect, but all of us are in need of repentance and the atonement. We can say to Christ at the end of this life, just as the elder brother in As You Like It by Shakespeare, “‘Twas I; but ’tis not I.”
Elder Renlund concluded by offering an invitation to all. “My invitation to all of us is to evaluate our lives, repent, and keep on trying. If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites.” As you study this talk this week, I’d invite you to ponder these words. We can be sincere and not hypocrites. We can be finishers, and not quitters. And above all, we can saints in spite of being sinners.
May we all be able to say to the Savior, “‘Twas I; but ’tis not I.” In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.