Sunday, August 2, 2015

“How can I keep my covenant to always remember the Savior?”: Insights on the Youth Sunday school lesson

I had my first experience last Sunday with teaching from the youth Sunday school curriculum “Come Follow Me” manual. 

I really like how it is structured around questions because I’ve found good questions to be one of the best ways to get me interested in learning. 

At first glance, these questions seem both easy and difficult.  Easy because you feel sure that there is a good fast answer that you could give and then be done.  Difficult because you wonder how you could spend a full lesson learning about that particular topic.

I’ve found that in preparing these lessons, it is very important to read all the scriptures and talks suggested in the prep material, especially since the little blurbs describing the scriptures don’t often give a sense of the full deliciousness thereof.

I learned a lot from the lesson “How can I keep my covenant to always remember the Savior?” and I want to share some of the things I got from it that have helped me.

For a long time I have pondered how the sacrament prayer says we promise to “always remember Him” and I have wondered, “Does that mean all the time?  How does a person even do that going throughout a typical day?”  I’ve pondered this for years.  I’ve seen how my mind works, and I know that I can only focus on one thing at a time.   As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about what I am going to say, and that only, though I may take little mental breaks to deal with low-level concerns about other stuff in my life that pop up at me.

Also, I’ve had this idea in my head that “always remembering the Savior” means to think specifically about the events of the Atonement and Crucifixion only.  I’m not sure where this idea came from.

So I want to share with you some of the scriptures and pieces of conference talks that expanded my views.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

I think it is neat that while we promise to always remember Christ, this seems to promise that the Holy Ghost can help us remember too.  And I suppose remembering Christ’s words is part of remembering Him, so that will work too.

36 Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
 37 Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day. (Alma 37:36-37)

These two verses seem to me to describe a bunch of different ways of praying and looking at things while remembering the Lord. 

I particularly like how Alma says, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings.” It gives me a picture of someone taking a problem to a counsel, much like ward counsels.  But of course, when you counsel with the Lord, it’s just you and Him. 

When I counsel with the Lord, I usually go to an empty room and shut the door so that no one can hear me, and then I talk out loud to Heavenly Father just as though He were right there in person listening.   “Heavenly Father, I have this problem and it is this: ________.  It is really worrying/frustrating/angering me.  I’ve tried ____, and I’ve tried _____ and I’ve tried ______.  I’ve thought about trying ____, but if I do that, then _____ will happen.  And if I try this other thing, then ____ will happen and I don’t want that either.  I don’t know what to do, and I need help."

When I get it all out, I sit there and think and feel. And the first thing I feel and know is that Heavenly Father has heard me.  That impression comes by itself and it is wonderful and comforting. And then the next feeling that comes is a great sense of hope and optimism, that things are going to work out. It is so buoyant and joyful.  And sometimes I get impressions of what to do, and sometimes I am led over a period of days to a solution, and sometimes things just… iron out by themselves.  Feeling heard by Heavenly Father helps me be patient when I don’t get immediate impressions of what to do.

One part of the lesson suggested showing the youth pictures of Christ’s life from the Gospel Art Book and inviting them to think about how remembering these stories could help them during their daily lives. 

I thought this was a curious activity, so I decided to try it on myself.  I had the Gospel Art Book at home and I looked carefully at the pictures representing stories from Christ’s mortal ministry and I found myself thinking of times in my life when I identified with someone in the picture, or with an experience Jesus had. 

When I looked at a picture of His baptism, I remembered my own and the sweet feelings of that.  When I looked at a picture of Christ ordaining his apostles, I remembered when I had been set apart for my callings by priesthood authority. When I looked at the picture of Christ talking to groups of children, I remembered experiences I’d had talking to and playing with children and what a joy that was.  So many pictures I could identify something in my own experience to link it with. 

That’s when it sunk in that remembering Christ could be more than just remembering His atonement and death.

From Elder Holland’s talk “This Do in Remembrance of Me” Oct 1995:

We could remember the Savior’s premortal life and all that we know him to have done as the great Jehovah, creator of heaven and earth and all things that in them are. We could remember that even in the Grand Council of Heaven he loved us and was wonderfully strong, that we triumphed even there by the power of Christ and our faith in the blood of the Lamb (see Rev. 12:10–11).
We could remember the simple grandeur of his mortal birth to just a young woman. . . .
We could remember Christ’s miracles and his teachings, his healings and his help. We could remember that he gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf and motion to the lame and the maimed and the withered. Then, on those days when we feel our progress has halted or our joys and views have grown dim, we can press forward steadfastly in Christ, with unshaken faith in him and a perfect brightness of hope (see 2 Ne. 31:19–20).
We could remember that even with such a solemn mission given to him, the Savior found delight in living; he enjoyed people and told his disciples to be of good cheer. He said we should be as thrilled with the gospel as one who had found a great treasure, a veritable pearl of great price, right on our own doorstep. We could remember that Jesus found special joy and happiness in children and said all of us should be more like them—guileless and pure, quick to laugh and to love and to forgive, slow to remember any offense.
We could remember that Christ called his disciples friends, and that friends are those who stand by us in times of loneliness or potential despair. We could remember a friend we need to contact or, better yet, a friend we need to make. In doing so we could remember that God often provides his blessings through the compassionate and timely response of another. For someone nearby we may be the means of heaven’s answer to a very urgent prayer.
We could—and should—remember the wonderful things that have come to us in our lives and that “all things which are good cometh of Christ” (Moro. 7:24). Those of us who are so blessed could remember the courage of those around us who face more difficulty than we, but who remain cheerful, who do the best they can, and trust that the Bright and Morning Star will rise again for them—as surely he will do (see Rev. 22:16).
On some days we will have cause to remember the unkind treatment he received, the rejection he experienced, and the injustice—oh, the injustice—he endured. When we, too, then face some of that in life, we can remember that Christ was also troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed (see 2 Cor. 4:8–9).
When those difficult times come to us, we can remember that Jesus had to descend below all things before he could ascend above them, and that he suffered pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind that he might be filled with mercy and know how to succor his people in their infirmities (see D&C 88:6; Alma 7:11–12).
To those who stagger or stumble, he is there to steady and strengthen us. In the end he is there to save us, and for all this he gave his life. However dim our days may seem they have been darker for the Savior of the world.
In fact, in a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, our Lord of this sacrament table has chosen to retain for the benefit of his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet and his side—signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and perfect. Signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you. It is the wounded Christ who is the captain of our soul—he who yet bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love and humility and forgiveness.
Those wounds are what he invites young and old, then and now, to step forward and see and feel (see 3 Ne. 11:15; 3 Ne. 18:25). Then we remember with Isaiah that it was for each of us that our Master was “despised and rejected … ; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). All this we could remember when we are invited by a kneeling young priest to remember Christ always.
We no longer include a supper with this ordinance, but it is a feast nevertheless. We can be fortified by it for whatever life requires of us, and in so doing we will be more compassionate to others along the way.
One request Christ made of his disciples on that night of deep anguish and grief was that they stand by him, stay with him in his hour of sorrow and pain. “Could ye not watch with me one hour?” he asked longingly (Matt. 26:40). I think he asks that again of us, every Sabbath day when the emblems of his life are broken and blessed and passed.

This helped me realize that always remembering the Savior doesn’t mean I am restricted to only thinking about his suffering in Gethsemane or his crucifixion.  I can think of all the other parts of His life too.  In fact, since many things I do are similar to things He did, I can think of Him at those times and ponder how He did those things.

From Elder Eyring’s Oct 2007 general conference talk “O Remember, Remember”:

When our children were very small, I started to write down a few things about what happened every day. Let me tell you how that got started. I came home late from a Church assignment. It was after dark. My father-in-law, who lived near us, surprised me as I walked toward the front door of my house. He was carrying a load of pipes over his shoulder, walking very fast and dressed in his work clothes. I knew that he had been building a system to pump water from a stream below us up to our property.

He smiled, spoke softly, and then rushed past me into the darkness to go on with his work. I took a few steps toward the house, thinking of what he was doing for us, and just as I got to the door, I heard in my mind—not in my own voice—these words: “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”

I went inside. I didn’t go to bed. Although I was tired, I took out some paper and began to write. And as I did, I understood the message I had heard in my mind. I was supposed to record for my children to read, someday in the future, how I had seen the hand of God blessing our family. Grandpa didn’t have to do what he was doing for us. He could have had someone else do it or not have done it at all. But he was serving us, his family, in the way covenant disciples of Jesus Christ always do. I knew that was true. And so I wrote it down, so that my children could have the memory someday when they would need it.

I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done.

More than gratitude began to grow in my heart. Testimony grew. I became ever more certain that our Heavenly Father hears and answers prayers. I felt more gratitude for the softening and refining that come because of the Atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. And I grew more confident that the Holy Ghost can bring all things to our remembrance—even things we did not notice or pay attention to when they happened.

The years have gone by. My boys are grown men. And now and then one of them will surprise me by saying, “Dad, I was reading in my copy of the journal about when …” and then he will tell me about how reading of what happened long ago helped him notice something God had done in his day.

My point is to urge you to find ways to recognize and remember God’s kindness.

I really liked this bit from Elder Eyring’s talk because it shows how looking back over the day to see what God has done for us is yet another way to remember Him.  And what’s even cooler is that it shows me that journaling about what we notice is actually a way to make a tangible memorial of how we’ve been keeping that covenant.  And that memorial becomes a memory aid for our future selves so that we can remember even more.  It builds on itself. 

From Elder Christofferson’s talk “To Always Remember Him”:

I wish to elaborate on three aspects of what it means to “always remember him”: first, seeking to know and follow His will; second, recognizing and accepting our obligation to answer to Christ for every thought, word, and action; and third, living with faith and without fear so that we can always look to the Savior for the help we need. . . .

You and I can put Christ at the center of our lives and become one with Him as He is one with the Father. We can begin by stripping everything out of our lives and then putting it back together in priority order with the Savior at the center.  Whatever we “get away with” in life or manage to hide from other people, we must still face when the inevitable day comes that we are lifted up before Jesus Christ, the God of pure and perfect justice.  We know that challenges, disappointments, and sorrows will come to each of us in different ways, but we also know that in the end, because of our divine Advocate, all things can be made to work together for our good.

So I see a bunch of different ways that we can remember Christ from what Elder Chrisofferson said. 
1)   Seeking revelation about what we should do.
2)   Looking at everything we do with an eye towards how Christ would approve or disapprove of it on the day of judgment (and of course choosing to not do what He would disapprove).
3)   Setting our life priorities with Christ first.
4)   Facing challenges by trying to discover how the Lord will make them be for our good.
5)   Looking to the Savior for help in our challenges.

It’s a good bet that a lot of this is pretty engrained in us already.  (Or at least it should be.)  It is neat to know that these things constitute part of fulfilling that covenant to “always remember Him.”  I guess I had never thought of it that way before.  I never thought they were related to that promise to “always remember Him.”

After all this, when I was studying, I remembered something I’d learned long ago as a writing tutor about Cognitive Load Theory.  This theory says that a person can only keep in their working memory a limited number of things at a time, and when more things are put on it, stuff drops off.  We can only remember so much.  As a writing tutor, this theory was the reason we encouraged students to write down on their papers what they were going to do to fix their paper so that they could still remember it all once the tutoring session ended. 

But I could see a new application of Cognitive Load Theory when I related it to the covenant that I would always remember Christ.  It meant that I would have my list of mental things that I’d need to remember, and Christ required that I place Him on that list and keep Him there all the time.  When I take little mental breaks, and check my mental lists, Christ needs to be there. 

As I’ve been trying to practice this, I’ve noticed that it really does feel like Christ is with me, at least in my mind.  I have to wonder if this is the same thing that Christ experienced with respect to Heavenly Father when He said:

And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)

I told the class I was teaching that they were lucky to be getting this lesson this early in their lives because it really has the potential to change everything.  Little changes in things we do often mean the harvest is multiplied.  I think if I had had this lesson and applied it at their age, my life would have been much better.  I would have been able to avoid a lot of the mistakes I made. 

I really want to be changed because of what I’ve learned from this lesson.  I think it could make a big difference my life.  I recognize it will be something I need to work on continually, and I really hope it doesn’t turn into something I do just for a week and then forget about.  Because I know that I have a tendency to do that, as Mormon wrote:

1 And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.
2 Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.
3 And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.
4 O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
5 Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom’s paths!
6 Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide. (Helaman 12:1-6)

It is likely that I will forget, but I want to remember.  I suppose Satan will try to tempt me to forget, to think that it is too much effort to try to remember Christ always. 

But it’s not.  It just requires a thought. You can’t get much easier than that.  I just have to mentally reach for Christ and keep reaching.

Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not. (D&C 5:36)

What do you do to always remember Christ?  What mental habits have you built for yourself?


Rozy Lass said...

Thank you so much for sharing these insights. This is something I've struggled with all my life and like you, wish I'd learned these things earlier. I'm a stay-at-home wife, mom and homemaker, and as such one thing I have done is to have pictures of Christ around the house so as I work I can see him and remember my covenants. We've been redecorating and I haven't gotten all my pictures back up so I notice a difference. We think about what we can see! When our children were very young I made a Reverence Book to help them think about the Savior during the Sacrament, and the rest of the meeting. I used pictures from the life of the Savior, from birth to resurrection, and on the opposite page typed up the scripture verses that talked about what was happening in the picture. At the time none of the children could read, but I felt impressed to prepare the book that way. As they all got older and could read they still enjoyed the Reverence Book and it honestly helped increase our reverence as a family.

Suzanne Benner said...

Spectacular message today. I especially liked the counsel with the Lord part. We talked about prayer today in my class, and I think that idea of always reaching for God, always thinking of him first is the key... he should be that best friend we want to call at 3am to tell everything to. :) Thank you for sharing. :)

Michaela Stephens said...

Rozy Lass, thanks for sharing those ideas. Our home could use more sacred art.

Hi Suzanne, sounds like you've been thinking along similar lines. That always feels validating, doesn't it?