Matt Gemmell is switching careers. For years, he’s had a job programming and a hobby writing. Those will now be reversed. He’s feeling excited, nervous, and—my favorite part—alive.
I need to come back to fear at some point, but today I couldn’t stop thinking about this comment:
It’s a big gamble, but I walked into my office last Monday morning for my first full week of exclusively writing, I opened the blinds, and I felt something I’ve only felt one other time in my life: this is right. The last time I had that certainty, my next words were “I do”, and my fiancée became my wife.
I know exactly how that feels. There have been four times in my life when I’ve had that sudden clarity of thought, when I knew the right answer with complete confidence. They are rare, exhilarating moments that have occurred after spending time in deep thought or wrestling with a major decision over a period of weeks or even years.
I’ve found that the feelings of certainty don’t last. And doubts can begin to creep in almost immediately. But when I keep the memory of that moment alive, and trust myself to continue despite doubt and fear, it has given me the courage to move forward, commit, make a change, and keep going.
The artist Jordan Voigt mentions these moments of certainty too:
Sometimes it happens almost incidentally and you suddenly realize: I’ve got it! As soon as this moment of certainty is there, sometimes I can work for four or five months at a time on a single subject – and it’s a continuous flow. But I can also wait four to five months or longer for this moment to arrive!
I didn’t know what to call that feeling. Defining moment seems too general because those can be caused by external events happening to you. This seems more personal, the result of some internal process or effort.
Thinking about it again, I had a sudden flash of insight (of course) into what to call it:
Sudden moment of certainty (noun)
A point in time when you realize, with perfect confidence, that an idea is true or a choice is right.
I don’t know if it will catch on. I don’t know that it needs to. Good enough that I now have words to identify such a sublime and catalytic event.
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
Learning to ride a motorcycle, working yourself out of a job, asking someone you don’t know out on a date, traveling overseas, braving TSA agents at the airport — there’s quite a rush to living life as a daring adventure.
(Church talk given October 18, 2009)
In the Priesthood session of our recent General Conference, President Uchtdorf spoke of the principle of learning as one of the things that sustained him and his family after they lost everything in the years after World War II. As he grew older, President Uchtdorf struggled to continue learning and eventually got a job at a research institution where he could spend much of his free time in the library.
Speaking of that time he said, “In those days, I understood first hand the words of an old saying: education is not so much the filling of a bucket as the lighting of a fire.” That saying is old indeed. It dates at least as far back as Plutarch, a priest of the Oracle at Delphi, born around the year 45 A.D.
President Uchtdorf continued, “For members of the Church, education is not merely a good idea it is a commandment. We are to learn of things both in heaven and in the earth and under the earth. Things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass, things which are at home, things which are abroad.”
The Lord has always commanded his people to learn. The Proverbs say, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning”. In the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham learns about the sun, moon, and stars…, the eternal nature of spirits, pre-earth life, foreordination, the creation, the choosing of a Redeemer, and about the beginning of life here on Earth. And Nephi tells us that “having been born of goodly parents, therefore [he] was taught somewhat in all the learning of [his] father.”
In modern times, the Lord commanded the Saints to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God.” We are also “to obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, of laws of God and man, and all this for the salvation of Zion.”
The Prophet taught the Saints that “A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 217). “Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is…. In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because he has greater knowledge” (Teachings, 288).
Early in 1833, the Savior commanded the Saints, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
In response to this command, Joseph Smith organized the first School of the Prophets which began meeting on January 23, 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio. This school was to combine spiritual and temporal learning. They fasted, prayed, exercised faith, received revelation, grew in unity and studied the doctrines of the gospel. During one meeting, Joseph received the revelation contained in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, known to us as the Word of Wisdom. They discussed social and political issues relevant to the Church and met regularly until spring.
They met again during the winter of 1834 and again in 1835, this time expanding to include many more people and to hold classes in two locations. In addition to doctrine and spiritual preparation, they taught many secular topics including penmanship, English, Hebrew, grammar, arithmetic, philosophy, literature, government, geography and history. It was in this school that the Lectures on Faith were first published and studied.
Today the Churn owns and operates several universities and many institutes and seminaries throughout the world. In 2001, President Hinckley announced the formation of the Perpetual Education Fund to help faithful youth in developing areas “step out of the cycle of poverty.” As of last month, the Church had made over 38,000 loans. Clearly education and learning remain a strong emphasis today.
Throughout our lives, we should be furthering our education and learning more of the world around us. We are often busy with the demands of life: school, work, children, church callings, spending time with our family and friends, paying bills and other activities.
It may seem a little odd that I included school in that list. Mark Twain once remarked “I never let schooling interfere with my education.” And Albert Einstein used to say that “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.” School can help educate us, but learning is a personal responsibility with or without school.
In 1909, the arctic explorer Commander Robert Peary was the first man to reach the North Pole. Of 23 men who began the journey, only six made it the full distance: four of the native Inuit and Peary’s long-time black colleague Matthew Henson.
Born just after the American Civil War, Henson suffered the intense racism common in the late 1800s. And while Peary viewed him as an inferior, it was Henson who was essentially the leader of their expeditions. He took care of the other men, dogs, and supplies. He repaired the sledges. He spoke the Inuit language.
Booker T. Washington described Henson in these words:
During the twenty-three years in which he was the companion of the explorer he not only had time and opportunity to perfect himself in his knowledge of the books, but he acquired a good practical knowledge of everything that was a necessary part of the daily life in the ice-bound wilderness of polar exploration. He was at times a blacksmith, a carpenter, and a cook. He was thoroughly acquainted with the life, customs, and the language of the Esquimos. He himself built the sledges with which the journey to the Pole was successfully completed. He could not merely drive a dog-team or skin a musk-ox with the skill of a native, but he was something of a navigator as well. In this way Mr. Henson made himself not only the most trusted but the most useful member of the expedition.
Henson spent little time worrying about racism. He went to work and taught himself how to thrive in one of the harshest environments on earth. It was believed that blacks could not survive in the harsh cold of the Arctic. Henson proved otherwise, in part through continually improving his skills and knowledge.
In 2005, Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple, gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He began by saying, “I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation.” He went on to describe one of his experiences after dropping out.
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts…. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
By continuing to learn, even when it may have seemed impractical or unrealistic, Jobs later found his knowledge to be of great worth.
Closer to home are skills useful around the house, from fixing a leaking faucet to preparing a proper home-cooked meal. From etiquette and manners to gardening to putting up shelves. These things can be done well, with care. Or poorly, with neglect. The difference is in our attitude about learning how to do it well.
Joseph Smith taught that “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.” So we can add diligence and obedience to study and faith. And what did he mean by intelligence? The Savior revealed that “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” We can all grasp all of the light and truth there is, through the power of the Spirit, regardless of how the world measures us in what it calls intelligence.
Temples are a great example of how we can learn by diligence and study, and also by obedience and faith. Temples are deeply symbolic. The meaning of the symbols can be learned or recognized by study and experience. And the Lord will often supplement our knowledge by inspiration. In other words, he will teach us directly the mysteries of his Kingdom. Sometimes even in ways that go beyond the symbols.
We can have the same experience while studying the scriptures. Beyond the stories and instructions which, as Nephi tells us, can be applied to our lives, the Lord will often expand our knowledge beyond what is written. He knows us personally. If we are faithful and ask in humility, we can learn, through revelation, deeper truths meant just for us or for our families.
The Spirit will also inspire and teach us when reading other good books or when studying non-doctrinal topics. The gospel encompasses all truth.
I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter books and have often imagined how fun it would be to be able to perform magic. Sometimes it seems like fictional worlds are more miraculous than real life. But I must remind myself that Enoch moved mountains, Elijah called down fire from heaven, Nephi asked God to send famine, Moses parted the Red Sea, Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho, the brother of Jared saw the finger of the Lord and more, and Joseph Smith spoke with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Our world is full of miracles. Today, perhaps, more than ever before. As fun as it is to read good books, I stand in awe of the great wonder and potential of real life.
Spirituality is a skill that can be learned and improved through study and faith, through diligence and obedience. Through learning the doctrines and practicing them. Through trusting the Lord and following his commands. Through faith, repentance, and receiving the ordinances of the gospel. Through covenants and humility and love.
The end of the Plan of Salvation is that we become like God who is a father of spirits, creator of worlds and savior to others. Do we have to learn everything? Yes, eventually. But we have time as long as we keep learning. We should learn all we can about the world, about the heavens, about ourselves, and about our God.
When she was six, my daughter was excited to tell her grandmother, “I know how to read. I don’t even need the books.” As we continue to learn and gain knowledge, we will eventually come to know light and truth by heart. At some point along the path of learning, we will cross over into the next world and receive for ourselves a full measure of light and truth. Until then let us learn what we can by study and by faith.
(Download a printable version here)
During general conference in October 1856, Brigham Young announced that the Willie and Martin handcart companies had been stranded in the mountains of Wyoming and instructed the Saints to drop everything and go to their rescue. The rescuers battled deep snow and freezing temperatures. They put their own lives at risk in a very real way and succeeded in assisting many of the pioneers across the mountains and into Salt Lake Valley.
Speaking of the prophet, the Lord has said, “[T]hou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth…” (D&C 21:4-5).
The Saints who headed into the mountains that winter were obedient to the commandment of the Lord, as given through the prophet.
The first covenant in the gospel is obedience. We promise to keep the commandments of the Lord. At the waters of Mormon, Alma asked his people to be baptized “as a witness before [the Lord] that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments” (Mosiah 18:10). Those of us who have been baptized have made this same covenant.
We renew this covenant each time we take the sacrament. This is reflected in the words of the blessing on the bread. We witness unto God that we are willing to take upon us the name of his Son, and always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given us (D&C 20:77).
One famous story in the Old Testament is that of Naaman and Elisha. Naaman was a captain in the Syrian army and a favorite of the king. But he had leprosy. When he heard that the prophet Elisha might be able to heal him, he traveled to Israel and ended up outside of Elisha’s house. He had “his horses and chariot” (2 Kings 5:9) and gifts including “ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment” (2 Kings 5:5).
Elisha didn’t even come to the door. He sent word by a messenger that Naaman should go wash himself in the Jordan river seven times. Naaman was angry and turned to go. However, his servants approached him and said, “If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?” (2 Kings 5:13). Naaman changed his mind, obeyed the counsel of the prophet, and was healed.
I can only imaging the character of this man who must have traveled weeks to see Elisha and then didn’t even get to see him. He rejected Elisha’s advice as not being grand enough and then had his own servant point out to him how dumb we was being. That was the moment he repented and chose to obey the counsel he’d been given. Through his obedience he was blessed.
In the April general conference earlier this year, Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talked about how prophets are “inspired to provide us with prophetic priorities to protect us from dangers.”
President Heber J. Grant, the prophet from 1918 to 1945, was inspired to emphasize adherence to the Word of Wisdom, the principle with a promise revealed by the Lord to the Prophet Joseph. He stressed the importance of not smoking or drinking alcoholic beverages and directed the bishops to review these principles in temple recommend interviews.
At that time smoking was accepted by society as an appropriate, even glamorous, behavior. The medical profession accepted smoking with little concern because the scientific studies linking cigarette smoking with several kinds of cancer were far in the future. President Grant counseled with great vigor, and we became known as a people who abstained from drinking and smoking.
Starting in the late 1960s, illegal drug use reached epidemic proportions throughout the world. While there were some members who rebelled, the vast majority of LDS youth were able to avoid the devastating use of drugs.
Obeying the Word of Wisdom gave our members, especially our youth, a preventive inoculation against drug use and the resulting health problems and moral hazards.
Elder Cook continued:
President David O. McKay was the prophet from 1951 to 1970. One area of significant focus was his emphasis on the family. He taught that no success in life can compensate for failure in the home. He encouraged members to strengthen families by increasing religious observance. His teachings were a protection from the disintegration of the institution of marriage that came after his death. Because of President McKay’s teaching, the Latter-day Saints strengthened their commitment to family and eternal marriage.
More recently, President Gorden B. Hinckley often addressed the subject of being prepared. In the Priesthood session of the October 1998 general conference he read the story of Joseph of Egypt interpreting the dream of Pharaoh. There would be seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there would arise after them seven years of famine (Genesis 41:17-32). It would be so bad that the good years would be all but forgotten. The Lord gave Egypt a warning and enough time to prepare.
President Hinckley also mentioned Pharaoh’s dream during general conference in October 1991, October 2001 (one month after the 9/11 attacks), and October 2005 (two months after hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast). Each time he warned of the need to remember that there will be both good years and bad years.
to pay our tithes and offerings;
to avoid debt, with the exception of buying a modest home or paying for eduction or other vital needs;
to use a budget (to keep a record of how we spend our money, to review our income and expenses, then to plan how to live within our means);
to build a three-month supply of food that is part of our normal, daily diet;
to store a two-week supply of clean drinking water (14 gallons per person);
to build a financial reserve, even a small one, by saving a little money regularly;
to, where possible, accumulate a one-year supply of basic food that will last a long time;
and to teach our families the principles of hard work, frugality, and saving.
These aren’t necessarily in order. We can work on all of them a little at a time. I’ve seen these pamphlets on a table in the back corner of the building near the Relief Society room. They are also available on the Church’s Provident Living website.
We don’t know what will happen in the future, but it is wise to be prepared. We should not, however, “run faster than [we have] strength” (Mosiah 4:27). The First Presidency specifically asks us to “be wise” and to “not go to extremes.” There is nothing new in this counsel. The principle of preparedness has been taught by prophets and apostles for decades. It was in the April 1937 general conference that President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., first counselor in the First Presidency, challenged members of the Church to store a year’s supply of food.
However, President Hinckley reminds us that the economy is fragile. It is important to begin or continue our preparations. There are signs of economic turbulence not seen since the Great Depression, nearly 80 years ago.
On Friday, just two days ago, IndyMac Bank went bankrupt and was taken over by the federal government. It is the second largest bank in history to fail. It is important to note that everyone who had money deposited in the bank will get it back from the FDIC, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which took control of the bank.
The FDIC was created by Congress in 1933 to insure bank deposits and handle bank failures. It recently began bringing experienced agents out of retirement, specifically those who handled the turmoil of the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late ’80s in which 747 savings and loans institutions failed and over 750 more closed their doors.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the national unemployment rate is 5.5%, up from 4.5% a year ago. However, if you include people working part-time who would rather be working full-time and those who have been unemployed for so long that their unemployment benefits have run out, the number is almost 10%.
Last December, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released its official Financial Report of the United States for 2007. Unlike most government budget reports, this one follows the generally accepted accounting principles that all public companies are required to follow when reporting on their own finances. It states:
[T]he U.S. government’s total reported liabilities, net social insurance commitments, and other fiscal exposures continue to grow and now total approximately $53 trillion–up more than $2 trillion during fiscal year 2007.
…This translates into…approximately $455,000 per American household.
…[I]t seems clear that our nation is on an imprudent and unsustainable long-term fiscal path that is getting worse with the passage of time.”
To give you an idea of how much money that is, the government collects about $2.6 trillion each year in taxes. If the government spent all of its income on getting itself out of debt, and canceled every other service it provides, it would take over 20 years. This is the equivalent of someone making $50,000 a year owing $1 million on a credit card, though the interest rate would be relatively low. It is important that we are prepared for an uncertain economic future.
There is one other area of obedience that is mentioned so often that many of us have had it memorized since Primary. We need to pray, read the scriptures and go to church. In fact, scripture study, prayer and church attendance are three of the most important commandments. They are the first three actions our missionaries teach people who are learning about the gospel. They are also the foundation for any relationship we have with God.
Simple obedience to the word of the Lord, as given through His prophet, will strengthen our faith, confirm our testimonies, protect us from dangers, and prepare us for whatever the future holds. Some may view the commandments as restricting personal freedom. Anyone who has been addicted or trapped in debt can testify that commandments ensure our freedom and protect our agency. They teach us who God is and how we can be like him.
We have recently sustained a new President of the Church. Elder Cook described President Monson as having “been prepared by the Lord from his youth to be the prophet.” He was called as an Apostle at the age of 36 and has served for over 44 years.
In his first general conference address as President of the Church, President Monson said “it is our duty to live our lives in such a way that we may be examples of righteousness for others to follow.” He repeated the prophet Brigham Young’s counsel that “We should never permit ourselves to do anything that we are not willing to see our children do. We should set them an example that we wish them to imitate.”
I sustain President Monson and know that if we obey the Lord’s commandments, given through his chosen prophet, we will be blessed and protected in our lives.
Used by Nelson Mandela in his 1994 inaugural speech.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
I stumbled across a video of the British version of American Idol, called Britain’s Got Talent, where a cell phone salesman named Paul Potts sings opera in his audition for a crowd of 2,000 and receives a standing ovation. He’d taken opera lessons at his own expense and sung in several amateur shows but was basically unknown.
For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius.
This goes right along with Edison’s comment about “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
This is a clip recording the testimony of Mr. Rogers talking to Senator Pastore, the Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications. Senator Pastore was proposing to cut the funding of public television and Mr. Rogers asked him not to. It’s a great example of the power of being authentic.