This was a tricky talk for me to study for some reason. I think it was because I had a hard time figuring out what the main theme was supposed to be. The majority of the middle was devoted to a list of different paths Jesus walked in life—paths of disappointment, temptation, pain, obedience, service, and prayer—and how we can follow his example. But the title seemed to give a different spin altogether—ponder the path of thy feet.
Eventually I realized that “ponder the path of thy feet” was the main theme and that we can’t follow the Savior unless we do a lot of pondering the path of our feet and figuring out how to adjust according to the Savior’s example.
This is when I realized how valuable this message is for us right now. Consider that we have so many things clamoring for our time and attention and so many distractions and so much media that we could lose ourselves in that we are liable to get alternately frantic and overwhelmed or lulled into a thoughtless stupor.
Living the life of a Latter-day Saint does not happen by accident in this day and age. This talk is about thinking about what we’re doing and carefully following Christ’s example, living our lives with reference to Him.
My beloved brothers and sisters, I am humbled as I stand before you this morning. I ask for your faith and prayers in my behalf as I share with you my message.
All of us commenced a wonderful and essential journey when we left the spirit world and entered this often-challenging stage called mortality. The primary purposes of our existence upon the earth are to obtain a body of flesh and bones, to gain experience that could come only through separation from our heavenly parents, and to see if we would keep the commandments. In the book of Abraham chapter 3 we read: “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”
The world gives us the sense that our purpose on earth is to get as rich and powerful and famous and attractive as we can as quickly as we can.
In contrast to that, what does President Monson say the purpose of our earthly existence is?
· Gain a body
· Gain experience from being separated from our heavenly parents
· Prove that we will keep the commandments
How are you doing with respect to those heavenly purposes?
Experience away from heavenly parents? Um, working on it. (Incidentally, I wonder how one would know they had gotten enough experience at this?)
Proving I will do whatever God commands? Um, working on that too. I think this encompasses not just following previously revealed commandments, but also learning to follow the guidance of the Holy Ghost through personal revelation.
When we came to the earth, we brought with us that great gift from God—even our agency. In thousands of ways we are privileged to choose for ourselves.
I love the way President Monson put this. We are sometimes liable to look on decision-making as a burden, when it is really a privilege.
Here we learn from the hard taskmaster of experience. We discern between good and evil. We differentiate as to the bitter and the sweet. We learn that decisions determine destiny.
In what way is pondering our path related to each of those things? Can we do any of those things without pondering our path?
I want to share how I’ve learned to ponder when I’ve made mistakes. I’ve learned that how I think can make the difference between it being a painful experience and a learning experience.
If I say to myself over and over, “That was terrible! I can’t believe you just did that! How could you do such a thing! You’re a terrible person!” then I’m beating myself up. What good does that do? None at all. There’s no learning involved, just self-flagellation.
I can make it into a learning experience if instead I say to myself, “Okay, self, you’ve made a mistake. Where did the mistake first start? What went through your head at the moment you decided to do that?” Then I try to piece together the thought process that led to that mistake. Then I tell myself to notice carefully the unhappiness that I feel because of the mistake or sin, so that I can remember that choosing the right will keep me from feeling that. Then I ask myself, “Okay, what should you have done instead?” And I try to think of better alternatives or I acknowledge that I should have done something different. Then I tell myself, “Okay, self, think about how good you will feel next time when you make the right decision,” and I allow myself to anticipate that and yearn for that. And then I tell myself, “Okay, self, what kind of temptations might happen that will make you want to still not make the right choice?” and I try to anticipate and imagine the opposition I might face and what my response should be.
By the time I’m done thinking these things through, I’ve committed to choosing the right, I’ve got a plan, I’ve seen what thoughts and reactions caused the problem, and I’m ready to change.
Am I ready to repent and use the Atonement? You betcha! Am I ready to ask for grace to strengthen me? You better believe it!
This pondering takes practice, but it is what helps you learn the lessons and forgive yourself and move on in a way that helps you show yourself the same respect that you’d give anyone else.
I also can’t help but observe how happy I am that it is possible to learn through the experience of others as well as our own. If we couldn’t learn through others’ experiences, there would be no point in sharing our experiences and stories with others and there would be no point in having the scriptures. We would be doomed to make the same mistakes over and over again every generation.
I am certain we left our Father with an overwhelming desire to return to Him, that we might gain the exaltation He planned for us and which we ourselves so much wanted. Although we are left to find and follow that path which will lead us back to our Father in Heaven, He did not send us here without direction and guidance. Rather, He has given us the tools we need, and He will assist us as we seek His help and strive to do all in our power to endure to the end and gain eternal life.
To help guide us we have the words of God and of His Son found in our holy scriptures. We have the counsel and teachings of God’s prophets. Of paramount importance, we have been provided with a perfect example to follow—even the example of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—and we have been instructed to follow that example. Said the Savior Himself: “Come, follow me.”2 “The works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do.”3 He posed the question, “What manner of men ought ye to be?” And then He answered, “Verily I say unto you, even as I am.”4 “He marked the path and led the way.”5
As we look to Jesus as our Exemplar and as we follow in His footsteps, we can return safely to our Heavenly Father to live with Him forever. Said the prophet Nephi, “Unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved.”6
It’s not enough to find the right way. We have to stay in it to the end of our lives. Since we’re prone to wandering, this is a continual challenge. It is also why pondering our path periodically is so important because that’s going to be when we discern we’re off and what we need to do to get back on.
One woman, each time she related experiences she had during a visit to the Holy Land, would exclaim, “I walked where Jesus walked!”
She had been in the vicinity where Jesus lived and taught. Perhaps she stood on a rock on which He had once stood or looked at a mountain range He had once gazed upon. The experiences, in and of themselves, were thrilling to her; but physically walking where Jesus walked is less important than walking as He walked. Emulating His actions and following His example are far more important than trying to retrace the remnants of the trails He traversed in mortality.
I don’t think President Monson means to discourage anyone from taking trips to the Holy Land because that can be strengthening to one’s testimony of the reality of Christ’s life. But when all is said and done, if seeing the geography that Christ saw is thrilling, how much more thrilling is it to chose what He chose, to testify as He testified, and obey God as He obeyed… so that we can be exalted as He was exalted?
We can find the spiritual geography he traveled and walk it ourselves.
And that doesn’t require being in the Holy Land. We can do that anywhere. (Yaaaay!)
This suggests another way of reading the Gospels—to look for actions Jesus did that we can emulate, also looking for things to do that He said to do. After all, He would not have said to do something if He hadn’t done it Himself.
When Jesus extended to a certain rich man the invitation, “Come, follow me,”7 He did not intend merely that the rich man follow Him up and down the hills and valleys of the countryside.
We need not walk by the shores of Galilee or among the Judean hills to walk where Jesus walked. All of us can walk the path He walked when, with His words ringing in our ears, His Spirit filling our hearts, and His teachings guiding our lives, we choose to follow Him as we journey through mortality. His example lights the way. Said He, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”8
What does it take to have Jesus’s words ringing in our ears?
What is required to have His Spirit filling our hearts?
What do we do to get ourselves to the point that His teachings guide our lives?
In a world with so many choices and voices and conflicting methods and opinions, how does it help us to know that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life”?
Why are each of those words—way, truth, and life—important to Jesus’s statement? What do they teach us about Jesus?
As we examine the path Jesus walked, we will see that it took Him through many of the same challenges we ourselves will face in life.
For example, Jesus walked the path of disappointment. Although He experienced many disappointments, one of the most poignant was depicted in His lament over Jerusalem as He closed His public ministry. The children of Israel had rejected the safety of the protecting wing which He had offered them. As He looked out over the city soon to be abandoned to destruction, He was overcome by emotions of deep sorrow. In anguish He cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”9
I thought it was interesting that President Monson brought this up about Jesus walking the path of disappointment. I started thinking about all the different kinds of disappointments Jesus experienced:
· People thought He had a devil.
· Some of the people didn’t have faith to be healed by Him.
· People wanted Him to feed them more than they wanted to believe in Him.
· Some people found fault with His healing miracles just because He did some on the Sabbath.
· He was not accepted in His home country.
· He was often not understood by His disciples.
· He was betrayed by one of His friends.
It is interesting that Jesus did not choose disappointment. He chose to be perfectly obedient, and yet He still experienced disappointment because of the choices of other people. Yet he did not allow disappointment to discourage Him.
I think it is easier to bear with disappointment with other people than it is to bear disappointment in myself from bad choices.
Jesus walked the path of temptation. Lucifer, that evil one, amassing his greatest strength, his most inviting sophistry, tempted Him who had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Jesus did not succumb; rather, He resisted each temptation. His parting words: “Get thee hence, Satan.”10
Did Jesus choose temptation? Of course not. He went about Heavenly Father’s business and temptation came at weak moments, such as described by President Monson when Jesus had fasted for so long and was tempted to turn stones into bread.
The three temptations that came to Jesus at the beginning of His ministry are probably the best known, but I wonder if it is possible to discern other points when He was tempted and resisted?
I like that President Monson points out those words Jesus said—“Get thee hence, Satan.” That reminds me that calling temptations what they are can really help us fight them.
I have a very good friend who once was a drug addict and drug dealer and who now lives a clean life. She likes to call Satan “Hoof Boy.” (When I’d tell her about the discouragement I was dealing with, she’d say, “And who is it that wants you to think that? It’s Hoof Boy! Flick him off your shoulder and tell him to get lost!”) I know someone else who calls Satan “that dirty rotten scoundrel.” Satan hates being called out because that means that he’s been unmasked and his tricks are uncovered, so we need to do that as much as possible. Also, we have to tell him to go away. Repeatedly.
This really helped me because as I was thinking about this section of President Monson’s talk, I thought about my life and I realized I am on a path of temptation right now. And remembering that is part of what is going to help me resist.
Jesus walked the path of pain. Consider Gethsemane, where He was “in an agony … and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”11 And none can forget His suffering on the cruel cross.
I really don’t like pain. I try to avoid it. It is amazing to me that Jesus chose to go through those pains for me and everyone else. His pain was for a great purpose.
It makes me wonder. If we are to strive to be like Christ, might we too find higher purpose in our pains? (Probably we’d need revelation for this.) Can Heavenly Father use our pains for the benefit of the rest of the world if we endure them bravely and well, just like Christ? Can Heavenly Father make our pains redemptive?
Each of us will walk the path of disappointment, perhaps because of an opportunity lost, a power misused, a loved one’s choices, or a choice we ourselves make. The path of temptation too will be the path of each. We read in the 29th section of the Doctrine and Covenants: “And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves.”12
Likewise shall we walk the path of pain. We, as servants, can expect no more than the Master, who left mortality only after great pain and suffering.
We know we will all experience disappointment, temptation, and pain. Do we know the best way to cope? How did Jesus cope faithfully?
We will also have people around us trying to cope with disappointment, temptation, and pain. Do we know how to help them? Can we live so as to not disappoint others, tempt others, or cause pain to others?
While we will find on our path bitter sorrow, we can also find great happiness.
These next paths President Monson are ones that we can choose for ourselves.
We, with Jesus, can walk the path of obedience. It will not always be easy, but let our watchword be the heritage bequeathed us by Samuel: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”13
The story that quote refers to has some important principles of obedience:
--Obeying a commandment with exactness
--Obeying a commandment completely
--Not modifying the commandment to suit our convenience or our desires
--Not making excuses about half-baked obedience as if it were full obedience
--Emphasizing obedience to those we have stewardship over instead of letting things slide.
Let us remember that the end result of disobedience is captivity and death, while the reward for obedience is liberty and eternal life.
I just wanted to emphasize that sentence because of its close linkage to the theme of pondering the path of our feet. It shows us the end of two different paths. Part of prophecy is being able to see the end from the beginning, seeing the end of the path and where it led.
When we’re pondering, can we point to the ways we were blessed for our obedience? Can we use that to extrapolate how we will be blessed in the future?
One of the things I’ve noticed in my life is that when I am disobedient, I almost never can discern the bad consequences that will come out of it. I can’t tell how my agency will be abridged. I’m pretty much blinded. But when I’m obedient, I know I will be blessed and I can discern how disobedience will bring negative consequences.
The story of King Saul in 1 Samuel is a pretty good case study of how disobedience leads to captivity and death. Even though he was king, his disobedience to the commandments made him more and more a prisoner of his paranoia and anger.
We, like Jesus, can walk the path of service. As a glowing searchlight of goodness is the life of Jesus as He ministered among men. He brought strength to the limbs of the cripple, sight to the eyes of the blind, hearing to the ears of the deaf.
There is plenty we can ponder about our service. Are we serving gladly? Are we looking for opportunities to serve? Do we see the little mundane things we do for our families as the services they are?
What is the result at the end of a path of service? I personally feel satisfaction and love for those I’ve served. I feel happy and less worried about myself.
Jesus walked the path of prayer. He taught us how to pray by giving us the beautiful prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer. And who can forget His prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine, be done”?14
I did a blog post on the things we can learn from theexample of the Lord’s prayer.
Under what conditions did Jesus pray? (Yet another thing to study in the four Gospels..)
Are we praying enough?
Other instructions given to us by the Savior are at our fingertips, found in the holy scriptures. In His Sermon on the Mount, He tells us to be merciful, to be humble, to be righteous, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. He instructs us to stand up bravely for our beliefs, even when we are ridiculed and persecuted. He asks us to let our lights shine so that others may see them and may desire to glorify our Father in Heaven. He teaches us to be morally clean in both our thoughts and our actions. He tells us it is far more important to lay up treasures in heaven than on earth.15
That was a fast version of the Sermon on the Mount.
Can we see the end of the path and how we will be blessed if we keep each of those commandments briefly mentioned above?
The merciful >> obtain mercy
The humble >> are exalted
The righteous >> _________
The pure in heart >> see God
Peacemakers >> are the children of God
Can you think of recent instances in your life when you’ve practiced these virtues? Can you anticipate events coming up when you will be challenged in those areas?
His parables teach with power and authority. With the account of the good Samaritan, He teaches us to love and to serve our neighbors.16 In His parable of the talents, He teaches us to improve ourselves and to strive for perfection.17 With the parable of the lost sheep, He instructs us to go to the rescue of those who have left the path and have lost their way.18
Can we see what will come to us if we keep those commandments? Can we see how we’d be changed?
As we strive to place Christ at the center of our lives by learning His words, by following His teachings, and by walking in His path, He has promised to share with us the eternal life that He died to gain. There is no higher end than this, that we should choose to accept His discipline and become His disciples and do His work throughout our lives. Nothing else, no other choice we make, can make of us what He can.
Great perspective there about how transformative discipleship can be. Do we have something about ourselves that we are trying to change, and are we getting Christ’s help? Can we see in our lives how we are being changed?
As I think of those who have truly tried to follow the example of the Savior and who have walked in His path, there comes readily to my mind the names of Gustav and Margarete Wacker—two of the most Christlike individuals I have ever known. They were native Germans who had immigrated to eastern Canada, and I met them when I served as a mission president there. Brother Wacker earned his living as a barber. Though their means were limited, they shared all they had. They were not blessed with children, but they nurtured all who entered their home. Men and women of learning and sophistication sought out these humble, unlettered servants of God and counted themselves fortunate if they could spend an hour in their presence.
Their appearance was ordinary, their English halting and somewhat difficult to understand, their home unpretentious. They didn’t own a car or a television, nor did they do any of the things to which the world usually pays attention. Yet the faithful beat a path to their door in order to partake of the spirit that was there. Their home was a heaven on earth, and the spirit they radiated was of pure peace and goodness.
We too can have that spirit and can share it with the world as we walk the path of our Savior and follow His perfect example.
I love this sketch of what the Wackers were like. How wonderful that even though they lived in obscurity, the way they lived attracted the faithful.
Now, think about the kind of choices the Wackers made that made them what they were. Let’s list them:
--they shared all they had
--they nurtured all who entered their home
--their appearance was ordinary
--their home was unpretentious
--they didn’t own a car
--they didn’t own a television
--they didn’t do things the world usually pays attention to
--their home was a heaven on earth
--they radiated a spirit of pure peace and goodness
Do all these things happen by accident? No. There are signs that the Wackers pondered the path of their feet and put their effort into following the Savior instead of striving for worldly success.
Maybe they were too poor for a fancy home, a car, and a TV. Maybe. But then again maybe they decided those things weren’t important to them. If their means were limited, they could have decided to hoard all they had instead of sharing. If they wanted a fancy home and a car and a TV they could have skimped their charity and/or gone into debt for those things. Many people do. But they didn't.
That they nurtured all who entered their home tells us that they thought about their childlessness and what to do to transcend their circumstances and gain experience helping others grow.
That their appearance was ordinary suggests they thought about what the consequences might be of putting emphasis on outward appearances and decided they preferred to escape a trap of temporary vanity.
That they didn’t do things the world usually pays attention to tells us they pondered where to put their energies and efforts and decided that quiet satisfaction was better than the world’s applause.
That they made their home a heaven on earth tells us that they pondered how to make their home a welcoming and loving place and practiced those principles constantly.
That they radiated a spirit of pure peace and goodness tells us that they pondered what impact they wanted to have on the people they met and they worked to be a positive influence. That kind of spirit does not happen by accident. It has to be cultivated on purpose and practiced even in adverse circumstances.
We read in Proverbs the admonition, “Ponder the path of thy feet.”19 As we do, we will have the faith, even the desire, to walk the path which Jesus walked. We will have no doubt that we are on a path which our Father would have us follow.
Here we get prophetic promises of blessings that come from pondering the path of our feet. We will have the faith and desire to follow Jesus, and we will enjoy certainty that we are in the right way. Those are great blessings, aren’t they?
The Savior’s example provides a framework for everything that we do, and His words provide an unfailing guide. His path will take us safely home. May this be our blessing, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, whom I love, whom I serve, and of whom I testify, amen.
I want to share a personal experience of a time when pondering the path of my feet prevented me from making a mistake which could have affected others in my family.
One year for summer vacation our family rented a condo for a week up in Wisconsin at a resort. The resort had a pool in the main building, and one day two younger brothers, my younger sister, and I went to swim in the pool.
As we enjoyed playing in the pool, some teenaged boys came in to swim too. I made friends with them. After some time, they got the idea to go up to a balcony that overlooked the pool and use it as a diving platform to jump into the pool. They did it a few times and made tremendous splashes. It looked rather fun to me.
I found myself wanting to go up there and do some jumps of my own. But just as I was about to get out of the pool and go do it, an impression came to my mind to ponder what would be the result if I did. I played the scenario through my mind and realized that if I did, my younger siblings would be very likely to want to imitate my example. They would probably think, “Older sister does cool things, and if older sister does it, it’s okay for me to do it too.”
Then I pondered further whether it would be a safe thing for them to do. The horizontal distance from the edge of the balcony to the pool wasn’t a problem for me, but would it be a problem for them? And then I realized that if it was a problem, or if there was the slightest mishap, our play could turn tragic very easily. I could see in my mind the result--one of my siblings falling nine feet onto the cement next to the pool and hurting him or herself very badly. And I realized if that happened, I would feel horrible for being the one to start it.
So I stayed in the pool. And a few minutes later, an adult from the resort got after those boys for their unsafe jumping and made them stop.
Again, pondering the path of my feet and considering the consequences of my example on my siblings, and whether it would be safe for them to do what I did restrained me from acting irresponsibly.
Ideas for teaching from this talk
Ask your class what things they ponder about. Are there specific ways that pondering has helped them?
Ask class members to share an experience they had when pondering helped them avoid making a mistake or helped steer them in the right direction.
Ask your class to think about what disappointments they are feeling about their life right now. Is this something they have control of, or is it something that they feel about others? What are good ways of coping with disappointment? (Ask the same questions about temptation and pain.)
How can we help our children and others learn to ponder their path and make good decisions?
What things get in the way of us having time to ponder? Are there things we can do to lower the noise in our lives?
(See also my blog post on 15 Ways to Study a General Conference Talk to Teach a Lesson)