What does it mean to pursue “a more excellent way”? It is a path of covenant making and covenant keeping. It means being totally converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and striving to become His disciple. Walking “a more excellent way” means hearing and yielding to the Spirit’s promptings. It means caring for and serving others with deep, considerate feelings rather than pursuing our own interests. We live in a selfish world where people give little thought to others; rather they are consumed in themselves. As followers of Christ, we must lose ourselves in the service of others. “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3.19).
What do you think of this definition of repentance? “It occurred to me recently that life is repentance, that progression and improvement and growth and maturity and refinement are all forms of repentance, and that the God-fearing live in a constant state of repentance…[having] desires for holiness and purity, longings to feel quiet confidence before God” (Robert Millet). This perspective helps me to see repentance as an ongoing attitude and movement through each day—a merging of all my thoughts, acts, desires, and longings. Repentance is my soul’s gradual unfolding and refining. Repentance requires a healthy dose of “divine discontent” to see my faults with an earnest desire to overcome them, and “a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Nephi 31:20) to maintain confidence that Christ’s atoning gift enables me to become holy. Understanding repentance in this way brings peace—another Reason to Rejoice!
Let’s think of people we know who exude a radiance of happiness, even when going through trials. We like to be around them. They lift us up. They see the bright side of things, and they help others see it too. For example, we have a neighbor who is bent almost in half with osteoporosis and can’t see into the faces of others. But she is always cheerful with a sparkle of humor and optimism. She jokes that when people approach, she has to identify them by their shoes. “So much depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference. To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances, whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment” (Thomas S. Monson). The ability to feel gratitude also contributes to genuine happiness. Instead of blaming others (or God) for our difficulties, we can focus on abundant blessings. We can seek and celebrate the uplifting aspects of our circumstances. With a buoyant attitude, we can make the choice to be happy every day. We have many Reasons to Rejoice!
As a child, sitting still in church was difficult for me. Talks at the pulpit seemed long. But when time came for congregational singing, my wiggles stopped and I sat upright. Even before learning to read, I felt something joyous in singing hymns of praise to God. Later, while driving as a family on road trips, my sister taught me to harmonize. I clearly recall peering out the window at rolling countryside scenes while singing, “Ere you left your room this morning; Did you think to pray?” Throughout my life, singing and accompanying church hymns have burrowed gospel messages into my heart. This is good counsel for all: “Let us use the hymns to invite the Spirit of the Lord…in our homes, and our personal lives. Teach your children to love the hymns. Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time. Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together. Sing hymns as lullabies to build faith and testimony in your young ones…Let us memorize and ponder them, recite and sing them, and partake of their spiritual nourishment” (First Presidency preface in our hymn book). I wish I had sung hymns as lullabies to my young children. Quality of voice doesn’t matter. There is a feeling that comes through music that is more powerful than words.
Home is a sacred place. It is where families are nourished physically and spiritually. “He’s looking for a home, ‘cause everyone needs a place; and home is the most excellent place of all” (Neil Diamond). Why?—because “It is in the home that we form our attitudes, our deeply held beliefs…Our homes are more than sanctuaries; they should also be places where God’s Spirit can dwell, where the storm stops at the door, where love reigns and peace dwells” (Thomas S. Monson). Happy homes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But the happiest of homes share these characteristics in common: “(1) a pattern of prayer; (2) a library of learning; (3) a legacy of love” (Thomas S. Monson). Parents and grandparents have the responsibility to prepare children for trials and challenges they will encounter in life. “We must teach them truth and encourage them to live it, and they will be all right no matter how severely the world is shaken” (Richard G. Scott). My wife and I work hard to make our home such a nurturing place. We aren’t perfect, but we continually strive to improve. We want all who enter our home to be welcomed by a happy glow of the Lord’s Spirit present here.
What is real beauty? What is counterfeit beauty? The adversary entices women in a frenzied quest to secure an unattainable, flawless image. Women obsess, starve, shop, spend, and go under the knife—yet still are not content. The adversary tauntingly dangles this elusive beauty just out of reach, while placing an increasingly high value upon it. This leads to discontent, even self-loathing. Instead of reverencing our bodies as sacred, holy temples, Satan tempts us to view them with disgust because they fall short of flawless images flashed before our eyes in the media. But I want to view myself (and others) the way Christ does—recognizing the exquisite beauty of the soul. I want to acquire and value the “beauty of holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29). It is deep beauty of the soul shining through one’s countenance. Beauty of holiness is marked by features of goodness, kindness and love. As I age, I want to accept the fair exchange of diminished external beauty for greater wisdom and refinement within. I will express gratitude every day for the gift of my body, and think positive thoughts about it. As I learn to honor my own body, I believe that increased reverence for others will naturally follow.
The phone rang in the middle of the night. As I scrambled across the room in total darkness, I staggered and bumped into things. This little experience reinforced the truth that without spiritual light I will also stumble, fall and fail. Jesus Christ promised, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). The Savior’s light is power. But I must follow Him to activate it. “The answer to our weakness is to plug into the inexhaustible power of the Lord. That plugging in process involves commitment. Once we truly commit to the Lord to do his will at all costs, we throw the switches that send his power surging to us” (Duane Hiatt). I can personally witness that committing to follow Christ and obeying His commandments enable me to do what I could not do alone. I am empowered beyond my natural ability to work, learn, serve, and find joy in life. Each week as I partake of the emblems of the sacrament, I eagerly renew my covenant to stay on the illuminated path of the Savior Jesus Christ.