In the Pearl of Great Price we learn more about the Enoch of the Bible, who “walked with God: and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24). He was the leader of a city so righteous that it was taken up into heaven.
From time to time I hear variations on a common fable dealing with this scriptural account. For example, someone teaching about keeping the Sabbath day holy will joking say that the City of Enoch was taken up into heaven on a Sunday afternoon when some less committed citizens were out fishing, instead of worshiping as God commands. We, therefore, should be careful to keep the Sabbath day holy rather than going boating on Sunday in case (jokingly) the Savior comes again during Sunday school!
Another variation I’ve head is that, similarly, we should be careful to attend the Saturday night adult meeting (one session of the bi-annual stake conference) in case (jokingly) the Savior comes again then! (It is never as well-attended as it should be.)
Ironically, during the last stake conference I attended, the adult meeting was moved from Saturday night to Sunday night. I’ve heard whispers that this was to accommodate the BYU football game that was taking place on Saturday.
I’m not sure how I feel about that.
But that is neither here nor there.
These just-for-fun fables make sense, but I’ve always thought that it won’t be during Sunday school (to the peril of the boaters), or during the adult session of stake conference (to the peril of the football fanatics), that the Savior will come. Rather, it will be during the closing prayer of the general conference priesthood session, right after waves of men and boys have skipped out.
Why would the Savior come then? It is because, for some reason that is literally beyond my comprehension, scores of people get out of their seats as the closing speaker says “Amen” in a mad dash for their car, presumably to beat the traffic.
Spoiler: There’s not that much traffic coming out of a stake center. It was in college before I noticed any traffic at all. I had a father who’s expectation was for his sons to help set up chairs. By the time the chairs were put away, the parking lot was a ghost town.
Still, without fail, people – whether at a stake meeting, or a general conference meeting, or BYU devotional – will get up and leave during the closing song.
It boggles my mind.
You Can’t Pick
Why is this on my mind tonight?
Or rather, why is this on my mind other than the fact that I watched it happen in front of me, again, just last night?
Let’s take a step back to one of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned in a sacrament meeting.
I forget most of the content of the talk that this particular woman was giving, but a line that sticks out to me was this:
“You can’t choose the commandments your children break.”
I will do a horrid job of paraphrasing the talk of this wonderful woman, but I will try to explain her meaning. She was talking about parenthood, but it applies to being an example in any setting.
What she was saying was this: we will, through the choices we make, influence the perceptions of others. While we have control over how we act, we do not have control over how people perceive us. We may bend the rules in a case where we think the exception is acceptable, but those who see us won’t learn that it’s acceptable to bend the rules in that specific case; they will learn, rather, only that it’s acceptable to bend the rules. We don’t have control over the way they then bend the rules, or the cases where they deem it acceptable.
In short, as exemplars we can inspire or excuse, and in the instances we excuse, we have little control over what we excuse.
These men that jump from their seats as soon as the closing hymn begins may be exemplifying that it is acceptable to leave a meeting early if you want to beat traffic, or if you have a dinner at home getting cold.
The problem is that others may be perceiving that it is acceptable to become casual in our relationship with God when it’s more convenient to cut corners.
A Necessary Balance
As I was discussing this with my mother-in-law (who I love dearly), she gave me a bit of kind-hearted grief about being too invested in something that wasn’t worth the attention I was giving it. As she told me,
“It’s not worth having it rent space in your brain.”
Now, let me say this – her advice was very wise, and to tell you the truth, I can usually use a little grief.
And she’s right! This can be perfectly filed with other “pet peeves” of mine that don’t deserve a second thought, like when the young men who bless the sacrament wear goofy ties with Simpson characters, or adult priesthood holders wear bright orange shirts to church meetings even though they may be asked to officiate in some way. These are my personal standards, the gospel according to AlohaLarsen, if you will, and they should not be imposed on others who don’t feel the same way.
(Read: Don’t give me crap for drinking Dr. Pepper. That may be fine for you, but I love my “leaded” soda, and will drink it for years to come.)
But that does not make the principle any less true. We should be mindful of the example which we set before others who identify us with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In other words, don’t worry about leaving meetings early to beat the traffic, or wearing a goofy tie when you’re exercising your priesthood, or wearing bright shirts to church when you may be exercising your priesthood. I’ll think you’re kind of a dweeb, but that’s my problem – that tendency is a character flaw I’m still working on.
What should you worry about, though?
Actions Fit for Bearers of God’s Priesthood
In the priesthood session last night, Elder David A. Bednar spoke on priesthood, and told a personal story from his childhood. His father was not a member, but still attended the LDS Church like one. Elder Bednar says,
As a boy I asked my dad many times each week when he was going to be baptized. He responded lovingly but firmly each time I pestered him: “David, I am not going to join the Church for your mother, for you, or for anyone else. I will join the Church when I know it is the right thing to do.”
One week the conversation they had was different. Elder Bednar continues,
I believe I was in my early teenage years when the following conversation occurred with my father. We had just returned home from attending our Sunday meetings together, and I asked my dad when he was going to be baptized. He smiled and said, “You are the one always asking me about being baptized. Today I have a question for you.” I quickly and excitedly concluded that now we were making progress!
My dad continued, “David, your church teaches that the priesthood was taken from the earth anciently and has been restored by heavenly messengers to the Prophet Joseph Smith, right?” I replied that his statement was correct. Then he said, “Here is my question. Each week in priesthood meeting I listen to the bishop and the other priesthood leaders remind, beg, and plead with the men to do their home teaching and to perform their priesthood duties. If your church truly has the restored priesthood of God, why are so many of the men in your church no different about doing their religious duty than the men in my church?”
This is not a terrible question. If the LDS Church is true, and the men he met at the local ward really held God’s priesthood, then why did local ward leaders have to so desperately urge them to do their duty, week after week?
Elder Bednar concludes,
I believe my father was wrong to judge the validity of our Church’s claim to divine authority by the shortcomings of the men with whom he associated in our ward. But embedded in his question to me was a correct assumption that men who bear God’s holy priesthood should be different from other men. Men who hold the priesthood are not inherently better than other men, but they should act differently….
I have never forgotten the lessons about priesthood authority and power I learned from my father, a good man not of our faith, who expected more from men who claimed to bear God’s priesthood. That Sunday afternoon conversation with my dad many years ago produced in me a desire to be a “good boy.” I did not want to be a poor example and a stumbling block to my father’s progress in learning about the restored gospel. I simply wanted to be a good boy. The Lord needs all of us as bearers of His authority to be honorable, virtuous, and good boys at all times and in all places.
As Elder Bednar says, it is wrong to gauge the truthfulness of the Church based on the imperfections of Church members, but there is a stinging hint of truth in that question. As holders of God’s holy priesthood, what does it say when we don’t act in accordance with what we know to be true?
More importantly, what does this tell others?
In this case, it told a father that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not an organization he wanted to join. How tragic!
(Luckily, this changed some time later, and Elder Bednar was able to baptize his father.)
Actions Fit for the Lord’s Ministers
I don’t wish to belabor the point, so perhaps a short final example will suffice.
A prophet in the Book of Mormon named Alma had a number of sons who acted as missionaries. Most were faithful, but one son, Corianton, made some visible mistakes. His father told him,
“And now, my son, I have somewhat more to say unto thee than what I said unto thy brother…
“Now this is what I have against thee; thou didst go on unto boasting in thy strength and thy wisdom.
“And this is not all, my son. Thou didst do that which was grievous unto me; for thou didst forsake the ministry, and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites, after the harlot Isabel.
“Yea, she did steal away the hearts of many; but this was no excuse for thee, my son. Thou shouldst have tended to the ministry wherewith thou wast entrusted” (Alma 39:1-4).
And what was the result of Corianton’s poor example? His father continues,
“Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words“ (Alma 39:11).
Let us be mindful of the examples we set, even when it’s something so simple as leaving a priesthood meeting early to beat traffic. Let us consider the lesson we’re teaching.