On Preventing Inactivity

As a missionary, especially here in Utah, I have talked to many people who have gone inactive or less-active in the church for a variety of reasons. Like President Uchtdorf recently said in the October General Conference, the reasons for leaving the church are neither general nor simple. I won’t talk much about that talk, partly because I already talked about it (see: My Favorite Conference Talk) and partly because today I want to talk about what we as members can do to prevent our own inactivity in the Gospel.

Personally, I wish it was just as easy as saying, “I am always going to stay active in the church!” I wish that outward exclamation of will would be enough to prevent a possible falling away from the Church that I love, but having seen so many other people go inactive, I know that must not be enough. Even more disturbing to me is the fact that there are missionaries who serve honorable, full-time missions only to go inactive a year or two off their missions. I admit that I have been worried quite a bit lately about that possibility with myself. I really can’t see myself doing that, but what on Earth can I do to prevent such a thing from happening?

The answer (or rather, one of them) came to me during my personal study a few days ago. I was reading the October 1996 General Conference talks when I came across one by a nearly twenty-years younger Thomas S. Monson. The talk is titled “Be Thou an Example,” and it primarily talks about how we can receive blessings from following the Lord’s commandments and that our example can change the lives of those around us. As I was reading the wonderful discourse, I came across an entire paragraph devoted to missionaries and the council that he would give them. Here are the three things that he asked his missionaries to do when he was a Mission President in Canada:

  1. “Prepare well for your vocation, profession, or trade, and be the very best you can be at what you choose to do.
  2. Quoting Elder Bruce R. McConkie: “Marry the right person [at the right time], in the right place, [and] by the right authority.” Thus far, their responses were spontaneous and enthusiastic. Then I would counsel:
  3. Always be active in the Church. Some of the missionaries would look a little quizzical before responding, and I would say, “Let me put the matter another way. Three words provide the formula: Pay your tithing.” Each would affirm determination to do so. I truly believe that the payment of an honest tithing will go a long way to ensure continued activity in the Church.”

After reading the each of the first two points, I was nodding my heading and saying to myself, “Yes yes, this is very sound advice.” When I read the third point, I did a mental double-take. Was continued activity really as easy as paying tithing? I am not sure I even finished the talk at this point because I felt like I had been given a nugget of metal more precious than gold. Perhaps this was the answer I had been seeking the whole time.

Well, after thinking about it and pondering why exactly tithing would help with continued church activity, I realized that the solution was not as easy as I had first mentally exclaimed. I thought about my own struggles paying tithing over the years and how difficult it was to give up one tenth of a hard-earned paycheck. I thought about my parents who had been dirt-poor during college and the fact that they made a concentrated effort to pay their tithing every month. My mom still speaks with great reverence about the blessings they received during those years and how she attributes them to tithing. I realized that the tithing we pay blesses us more than anything else. While it is true that the Church uses tithing to fund building construction and other projects, the Church really doesn’t need the money. President Monson could tell the entire membership that there is no need to pay tithing anymore and he would be guided to some mountain to find an untapped gold vein or something in order to fund the Church. So if the Lord doesn’t need our tithing, why do we pay it? Why is it a commandment to pay one whole tenth of the money we make to a church that could get along just fine without it?

In Malachi 3:10-11 regarding the payment of tithing, it states,

“…prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Honestly, I think the opportunity to receive a blessing “that there shall not be room enough to receive it” is a good enough reason to pay tithing, but the Lord explains even further that “[He] will rebuke the devourer for [our] sakes.” Satan himself will be rebuked and have no power over us. The “fruits of our ground” will be protected and will be given to us in the correct time. While in many cases this includes financial blessings, it often also means our spiritual fruits as well. I assume that tithing helps our church activity in this manner. If we are paying an honest tithe, we will be blessed with more spiritual sensitivity and a desire to attend church. We will be given an increased capacity to serve in the church and opportunities to grow and progress, which is the ultimate goal of this life.

My invitation to you today is to pay your tithing and see how generous God will be in blessing you. I can testify that tithing has kept my own family afloat during difficult times in our life and brought us closer together. A family that pays tithing together attends church together. If you are currently inactive in the Church, I urge you to come back and enjoy the blessings that the Lord has (and wants) for you. Our Father in Heaven wants to bless us, but we have to follow His provided commandments in order to do so.

Broken Vessels

So this year’s General Conference covered a myriad of different subjects, from a woman’s necessary role in the world to the blessings of paying tithing. In this spiritually uplifting meeting, there was one talk that was very different than the rest: Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s talk during the Saturday afternoon session of conference. Elder Holland spoke on depression, a very real enemy in the stressful world of today. His talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,” reminded me of my own struggles with depression early in high school and college. I won’t go into the details of my own struggles, mostly because they were very minor compared to many people’s battles with depression, but I will pull a few quotes from the talk that affected me most.

“…today I am speaking of something more serious, of an affliction so severe that it significantly restricts a person’s ability to function fully, a crater in the mind so deep that no one can responsibly suggest it would surely go away if those victims would just square their shoulders and think more positively—though I am a vigorous advocate of square shoulders and positive thinking!”

Depression is so much more that merely a bout of mild discouragement, it is a crippling curse on the mind. I greatly appreciated that Elder Holland explained how serious depression is. It truly does affect one’s ability to think clearly and see anything positive in life. When I suffered through my mild depression, I wasn’t even able to plan more than a day ahead. Surrounded by the shadows created by my own worries and doubts, I lived day-by-day, struggling to do something that would give me a sense of purpose or accomplishment. Even thinking about it now gives a feeling of dread in my stomach that it could happen again. Luckily, I eventually found the answer that Elder Holland described later in the talk.

“So how do you best respond when mental or emotional challenges confront you or those you love? Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend.”

Like a ray of sunlight that pierces the dark clouds of a dispersing storm, I remembered my Heavenly Father and His love. I remembered that I could pray to him and ask him for strength. I remembered that He, above anyone else, could actually understand what I was going through internally. Where I was feeling such horrible anguish at the state of my life, I was able to see how great a gift it truly was. The skies cleared, and the sun shown brightly once again.

“Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it! Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter. Broken minds can be healed just the way broken bones and broken hearts are healed. While God is at work making those repairs, the rest of us can help by being merciful, nonjudgmental, and kind.”

This is the most powerful statement in the entire talk (in my opinion). While I never really considered ending my life as an option, I know that there are those who can see no other way to end the pain. Like Elder Holland pleas, do not end your life. There really is so much more to live for, but often the only way to overcome the darkness is to look towards the source of eternal light, God our Heavenly Father.

The divine potter is the perfect craftsman, able to fix any crack in the broken vessels of our souls. All He requires is that we reach out and grab the hand that He has offered us. Prayer, fasting, and pondering the scriptures, coupled with faith, allow us to grab that hand and begin the long process of mending the broken vessels. My invitation today is to everyone who is currently experiencing depression to reach out and turn to the divine potter. To those who have already trudged through that dark and lonely road, turn to help those who need your experience. Help them to see the light that got you through and provide support in their time of need.

My Favorite Conference Talk

So General Conference was this weekend, and there were a ton of amazing talks given. I would like to share one of my favorites, given by President Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church called “Come, Join with Us.” President Uchtdorf made many great statements on the Church as a whole, but one statement in particular stuck out to me. When talking about addressing doubts, President Uchtdorf said, “First doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.”

While leadership in the church may not always be perfect, the teachings and precepts that the church is based on are perfect. I have seen members of the church who do not exemplify Christ’s teachings and may act in a way that is not in accordance to God’s commandments and church expectations. I know that sometimes it is difficult to support our leaders if they are not doing all the things that they are supposed to, but honestly it doesn’t matter. We are not Mormon because some popular person in our community was called as bishop. We are Mormons because of our belief in Christ as well as the foundational beliefs that we learn from the Book of Mormon and words of the prophets.

My advice for anyone who is struggling coming to terms with something a church leader has done in the past is to do exactly as President Uchtforf says: Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. Remember the core beliefs that have created your faith in Christ and the church. I am not saying to ignore what your leaders do or follow them blindly, but do know that they are all called of God into the callings where they are serving and that sometimes a calling is for that person to grow and become a better person themselves. Remember that none of us are perfect, even church leaders.

I would strongly recommend you watch this talk, because President Uchtdorf explains this principle in a way that I cannot even come close to emulating. Plus I can’t do a German accent.

All of the General Conference talks can also be found on lds.org!