I was supposed to speak in Sacrament on Sunday, New Year's Eve, but there were so few people able to come to church that we simply took the sacrament, sang a few hymns, and left again. I was glad, because I felt both the Branch President's theme — Enduring to the End — and mine, New Beginnings, were things we all needed to consider.
Now we will both speak next Sunday, today being fast day. I don't know what he is going to say, except that he told me that sometimes we misunderstand what “endure” means in this context. We tend to picture someone hanging on with grim determination, teeth clamped, jaw set, knuckles white, as if surviving some awful pain.
It should not be like that. “Enduring” in this sense means remaining faithful, with hope and trust, being there in all ways, still trying our hardest, and enjoying everything that is good, with the trust that what is not so good will be for our blessing in the end, if we give it all we have. Even the hardest parts have a purpose which cannot be served any other way.
A New Kind of Resolution
To my subject, New Beginnings, I have given a lot of thought. New Year is a traditional time to make resolutions to do all kinds of things better. Many of us resolve to give up bad habits and start good ones. They can relate to any part of our lives. Sometimes they last all year, far more often a month or two is about it.
Of course we might well decide to eat sensibly, more fruit and vegetables, less starch, less meat, less fat, less sugar, or maybe even a little less of everything? We might exercise both more efficiently and more regularly. We might read scriptures with greater regularity, ponder, pray and cross-reference. There are many things we think of, probably every year.
I would like to try a few additional ideas. We could try new beginnings in something we have not attempted before, and where there is no past record of failure behind us. And there are things that could be fun as well.
As far as health is concerned, we could try some new exercises of the mind. Puzzles of all sorts are supposed to help memory that is not good, mental agility, even to stop such terrible afflictions as senile dementia, and Alzheimer's. Even simple arithmetic helps, and then more complex stuff — a skill that may be useful, but an exercise to help the mind.
And on the more fun level — berries are said to be good for all aspects of health. Here's a New Year resolution: Eat more strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants and blueberries! That should not be too onerous!
Housework is supposed to be good for preventing certain cancers too! Not sure about that one! Wonder who thought of it? Although I quite enjoy ironing clean linen. I love the smell of cotton sheets airing.
But on a more serious, spiritual level. Now is always a good time, whether it is January or October, to begin thinking harder before we say things that might hurt others, even if not meant unkindly. I have given more time lately to considering what things most seriously damage our courage and spirit to do better, be kinder, wiser, more generous. I believe in most cases it is a lack of belief in ourselves as good people, worthwhile, brave, and perhaps more than anything else, likeable.
If I believe I am liked, I am automatically gentler. If I believe people admire something in me, I try harder, and I more easily admire them. If I think I am brave, I struggle to become brave. If someone says I am honest, I try harder to make sure I am always honest, and then I try to be tactful as well, to think more carefully before I say something that may be thoughtless, not intended to be cruel, but demeaning and discouraging nonetheless.
Am I different from others? I don't think so. We all blossom in the warmth of the sun. We all tend to wither in the frost. But praise must be honest, or it is insulting, as if we think the other person is not worthy of the truth.
Which means I need to see the good in people first, then speak it. And if there is something I think is poor, I need to weigh carefully what to do about it, if it is my place to speak, or only my opinion. Is a warning right? I want to be warned! I don't want to walk over a cliff edge because I was too prickly for anyone to dare to tell me I was going the wrong way.
“You are wrong!” seldom helps, but “Are you sure?” can do, if said with care and not criticism.
New Beginning with Prayer
What about a new beginning with prayer? Am I becoming repetitious? Am I giving the Lord a string of instructions, as if He were my servant? Please do this, do that, care for this person, help that one? Surely it should be, “Please help me to know what I should do to help. Please help me to see the need, even if it is unspoken. Please help me to be tactful, generous, and sensitive. Please help me to know what to say, and when to say nothing.
“Please help me to understand. When I am confused, please help me to see clearly. Above all, please be with me, even if I am not always with you.”
I do not believe any of those prayers will be unanswered. Of course the answer may not be what we want to hear, but that is one of the dangers of asking the Lord — you really are stuck with what you hear.
As Joseph Smith said: not only do I know it is the truth, but God knows that I know it. There really isn't any way out of that! But should we want a way out? God is not going to stop the world for any of us to get off. We signed on in the pre-existence; we are here for the duration. We saw what it was then, and wanted it. We agreed to all the terms and conditions. The ones who did not are elsewhere, and heaven knows, we do not envy them.
We chose life then, passion and courage with its dangers, rather than safety, and its spiritual price. The Adversary offered us safety — a sure reward, but a small one. Christ offered us high risks — and Godhood as the reward, endless learning, love, creation and joy. But there was no certainty to it.
Perhaps at times we have to make that decision again in life; high risk and sublime reward — or no risk, and the reward of having had the chance of heaven, and thrown it away. Is that not hell? Heaven was there, and we threw it away, afraid to grasp for it, afraid to trust God?
I need to make a new beginning with courage, and of course with faith.
I need a new beginning with honour, more exactness in living up to the best I believe, keeping my word both to the letter and to the spirit, being someone who can always be relied on.
I could do with a new beginning with patience too — in fact, I could do with one of those at least every week.
But that is the most marvelous thing about Christmas — the coming of Christ into the world — He brought us hope, and new beginnings as often as we want to have them, and have the courage and the honesty to admit they are needed, and to go back and undo the old, and start again.
Therein lies the rub. To begin again, we very often have to undo what we have done that was sub-standard. That may involve apologies, repentance, repayment — it certainly involves the humility to accept that the past way was not as good as it could and should have been. Better lies ahead, if we want it.
Dare to Explore the New
How about starting something new and more daring? Do not look for unnecessary danger to the spirit, but do not play it safe and shrink from opportunity. To succeed at what is easy is a small victory. Try something harder! Push the edge of the envelope. Now is the time for courage and dreams. Never say, “If only I had tried, I could have!”
One of Marlon Brando's most famous film lines was, “I could have been a contender! I could have been someone!” You are someone! Be all that you can be — now — in 2007!
Allowing Others to Change
And then of course there is the other great part of new beginnings — if we want this for ourselves, then we must be prepared to allow it to others. How often have you wanted to put some sad or ugly thing behind you, wash it clean and not be shackled by it any more? Only other people keep reminding you, bringing up the fact you failed, made a mistake, did it wrongly, were not as good or as kind as you could have been? You work to take the shackles off — and they put them back on you again.
Can we honestly claim to love everyone, or have any right to mercy ourselves, and the new start we hunger for, and no doubt need, the hope we desire with all our heart, if we deny it to others? If we do it accidentally, or intentionally, by raking up failure or embarrassment they are trying to forget, it is casting up a stumbling block for both of us.
To start again, we must wipe out our own failures, undo them where possible, at the very least remember them only to learn. Then as we would wish the mercy of forgetfulness for ourselves, we must extend it, with pleasure, to others.
We can all begin again, as often as we want to and are willing to. We can be wiser, braver, kinder, more honest, more generous; less thoughtless, less quick-tempered, less judgmental, less arbitrary, less arrogant — closer to the people we want to be, this year, this month, this week. And if today isn't perfect, there is tomorrow. As long as we are willing to keep on trying, and helping others to try, we are in our own way, perfect.
Perfection is doubling what we have, using our gifts, whatever they are, and trusting God will add to them as He has promised — as long as we do not buy them! Remember the parable of the talents. Do not compare yours with others, simply go out and work with them.
100,000 U.S. dollars a month is a lot of money. 1 U.S. dollar per day, doubled every day for 31 = one month, is literally millions of dollars. That sounds preposterous, but it is true. I keep re-calculating it because it is so hard to believe, but it always works out the same. One dollar's worth of talent, of virtue, is within the grasp of all of us. Multiply it, and the sum at the end of 31 days is astronomical.
Try your very best every day, and nothing will be impossible. Today is a great day to start.
By the way this is the 8 th January, 2007, and we have had only one day of really hard frost this winter! Mostly the sky is clear and the temperature about 40 degrees F or 5 or 6 degrees C. It's crazy!Happy New Year, and good health of heart and a new beginning to multiply your faith, your hope and your achievements.