As the end of the year draws to a close, I start thinking about what I’ve learned during the past 12 months. “It would be a poor result of all our anguish and our wrestling if we won nothing but our old selves at the end of [the past year]” (George Eliot). Each year I write a few pages of “Reflections” answering these questions:
- What are a few highlights to remember during the last 12 months?
- Describe an important truth I’ve learned.
- What are some ways I’ve progressed this year?
- What have I learned from someone’s example?
- Describe a trial and what I learned from it.
- Describe a book, poem, song, or scripture that affected me in a deep and personal way?
- Describe a happy moment this year.
- What were some tender mercies or miracles from the Lord?
- List some things I’ve accomplished this year.
- What are some things I will work to improve this next year?
Collecting these yearly evaluations into a binder makes them accessible to review and measure progress. If this list sounds daunting, try answering just one. I think you’ll find, as I have, that it’s worth the effort.
Do Actions Match Prayers?
Ever caught yourself in response to a disappointing exam result, saying, “What! I can’t believe that!”? I have. But in such cases, I had to truthfully assess how much effort I had expended to learn the material. Did I study all that was necessary to achieve the hoped-for grade? Or did I wait to the last minute and then run out of time, soothing myself with rationalizations? Was I wistfully and unrealistically thinking that things would turn out well without taking the steps to insure that they would? Similarly, I must work hard to prepare to meet Heavenly Father at the end of mortality. How much effort am I expending? My interview with God will reflect what I have overcome and what I have become. It will reflect my heartfelt desire to grow up in the Lord. It will reflect my faith as well as faithfulness to covenants. I want to avoid the sorrowful exclamation of regret: “If only!” The scriptures teach that “This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32). I want to push myself with renewed energy to make these eternal preparations.
On this beautiful Christmas night I am cradling our precious newborn Christmas baby, so pure and fresh from heaven. She adorns our family’s celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth—His ministry, ordinances, priesthood, miracles, and example. But especially I celebrate His marvelous gift of Atonement—which is the most sacred event in the history of mankind. As I learn more of the Atonement, my motivation to embrace its full effects in my life is also increased. Atonement literally means being “at one” or united with God. Christ has paid my debt, and through my sincere repentance, He cleanses me so that I can be worthy to dwell with Him eternally. The ultimate oneness is not only a matter of geography but oneness in identity. It’s not just being in God’s presence, but growing to become like Him in attribute. “Contemplation of the Atonement moves me to the most intense gratitude and appreciation of which my soul is capable” (Marion G. Romney). A prominent goal this year is to thoroughly study and stretch to apply the Savior’s Atonement in my life.
How deeply can you see?
When we look in the mirror, we see a reflection of our physical appearance, not what lies deep inside our souls. What if we could turn the inside out, and measure beauty and attractiveness only by goodness and refinement of soul? God measures us this way. “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It takes conscious effort to look deep into the soul of another, and not make hasty judgments from external, material, or worldly clues. I need to be genuinely interested in others, to ask questions and listen carefully to unspoken messages as well as those vocalized. I need to focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. “Charity is accepting someone’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn’t handle something the way we might have hoped. Charity is expecting the best of each other” (Marvin J. Ashton). I want to improve my ability to see and value the inner soul of every person.
What is a virtuous woman? The scriptures give a description and say her price is far above rubies. (Proverbs 21:10-31) In addition, a virtuous woman radiates an aura of light—expressed in faithfulness, purity, humility, and strength. Those around her can see and feel this light, and are uplifted, not intimidated. She does not flaunt her goodness; rather it is a quiet thing. George Eliot’s tribute to a virtuous woman adds a clear dimension of what I’m trying to become. “Her finely touched spirit…spent itself in channels which had no great name on earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculable…For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts…half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited graves.” A virtuous woman is the unsung, feminine hero in every nation of the world. She does not crave or receive applause, but her brilliant legacy makes the world a better place.
I am learning from my grandchildren some interesting acronyms. A new one to my ear is BAE, standing for “Before Anyone Else.” A more familiar one is “BFF” standing for “Best Friends Forever.” I met a beautiful lady many years ago and we soon became best friends forever. She was and is my “Before Anyone Else.” Over the years we have shared everything (including concerns) without reservation, criticism, or judgment. This bond has deepened and increased beyond measure, thus allowing our friendship to flourish. Our compatibility, affection, and respect have even deeper meaning when we consider the “forever” part of the acronym. We have been sealed in the temple of our God by one holding the proper priesthood authority. Ours is an eternal union. “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). I can truly say that I have a BFF who is my BAE—my beautiful wife, Lois. I will cherish her forever.
It’s a good idea for couples to discuss and actually write down strengths in their marriage relationship. This activity helps to identify and reinforce the positive things. We did this and listed the following strengths:
- Honoring. Respectful communication; many expressions of gratitude; loving affirmations; physical affection.
- Absence of Contention.
- Exchanged kindnesses. Anticipating needs in thoughtful gestures.
- Unity in priorities and values. Sharing a love of God and desire to be faithful; sharing similar goals; having reverence for life and each other.
- Playfulness and humor. We laugh a lot.
- Appreciation of each other’s differences and strengths. This is unifying.
- Shared enjoyment in serving others.
You might try this as we did, on a date night sitting across the table at dinner. It might surprise you to identify some delightful new dimensions of your partnership that were previously overlooked. By reinforcing the positive, this activity supports the commandment: “Thou shalt live together in love” (D&C 42:45).