Thursday, February 9, 2017

“The Perfect Plan to Happiness”: Thoughts on President Monson's October 2016 general conference talk

President Monson's talks have been shorter the last few conferences than they've usually been. This makes them both simple and difficult to study. Simple because there is less to look at, but difficult because sometimes it seems like there isn't much to bite into. But that should only challenge us to search for and find the meat we are meant to feast on from it.

So, I'm taking the challenge to study this talk and comment on it. President Monson's words will be in blue, mine will be in black.

My beloved brothers and sisters, both here in the Conference Center and throughout the world, how grateful I am for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you this morning.

Fifty-two years ago, in July 1964, I had an assignment in New York City during the time the World’s Fair was hosted there. Early one morning I visited the Mormon Pavilion at the fair. I arrived just prior to a showing of the Church’s film Man’s Search for Happiness, a portrayal of the plan of salvation which has since become a Church classic. I sat next to a young man who was perhaps 35 years of age. We spoke briefly. He was not a member of our Church. Then the lights dimmed, and the show commenced.

As a preliminary note, one of the things I learned from studying this experience President Monson shares is how good a man he was, even 52 years ago. President Monson does not toot his own horn, but when I read between the lines here, I get the sense that he didn't have to stop by the Mormon Pavilion at the World's Fair. He also didn't have to take the time to watch the film “Man's Search for Happiness.” It is likely that he had viewed it quite a bit before then as a church leader in preparation for its release. And yet, he wanted to see it again. And I notice he calls it “a Church classic.”  To me that suggests that for him it is a film to be viewed again and again. Perhaps he was interested in gauging the audience reaction. Or it could be that he wanted to rejoice in the message of the Plan of Salvation.

I also notice that when President Monson went to see this film, instead of keeping to himself, he took the trouble to get to know the young man he sat next to, enough to find out that the young man wasn't a member of the Church. President Monson set a fine example of being friendly and out-going, meeting new people and talking to them. Perhaps he hoped to find someone who was interested in learning more about the church and wanted to make friends so that if the young man was interested in learning more, he could be there to help share the gospel. Or maybe he was just friendly.

We listened to the voice of the narrator as he posed the poignant and universal questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where do I go when I leave this life? All ears strained to hear the answers, and all eyes were fixed on the images portrayed. A description of our premortal life was given, along with an explanation of our purpose on earth. We witnessed a touching depiction of the passing from this life of an elderly grandfather and of his glorious reunion with loved ones who had preceded him to the spirit world.

Stop and think about those questions—Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where do I go when I leave this life? Do you still think about these questions and their answers? Do you think about how what you do everyday fits in with the grand eternal principles of the Plan? For me, sometimes it seems like the things I do are so rooted in the here-and-now that I have a hard time seeing their connection to eternity. (Or maybe that's a sign I need to re-examine my priorities.)

As part of my study of this talk, I actually went and searched online to see if I could find the film “Man'sSearch for Happiness” and watched it. It was delightful, with its early '60s vibe, but it was also powerful. The depiction of all the temporal distractions of pleasure, vice, wealth, materialism, and vanity as carnival amusements really helped underscore their fleeting nature. All of us want happiness more lasting than that. (And who can forget the ticking clocks?) I loved that the film pointed to the realities of love and family, work , and service to others as sources of more lasting happiness.

It seems President Monson took some time to watch the faces of the other people watching the film to see how interested and attentive they were.

At the conclusion of this beautiful portrayal of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us, the crowd silently filed out, many visibly touched by the message of the film. The young visitor next to me did not arise. I asked if he had enjoyed the presentation. His emphatic response: “This is the truth!”

It is interesting that President Monson carefully watches the reaction of the crowd around him after the movie too. He noticed they were touched. The young man he had made friends with reacted a bit differently. While others left, the young man stayed sitting, perhaps wanting to retain the spiritual feelings that had been stirred. But not only that, he also verbally affirmed and witnessed to the truth of what he had seen. (Hello, opportunity for missionary work!)

Our Father’s plan for our happiness and our salvation is shared by our missionaries throughout the world. Not all who hear this divine message accept and embrace it. However, men and women everywhere, just like my young friend at the New York World’s Fair, recognize its truths, and they plant their feet on the path that will lead them safely home. Their lives are forever changed.

We might ask ourselves, “How do I react to the Plan of Salvation?” Do we see it as a beautiful story that brings a tear or two to our eyes, or do we recognize its truth and then strive for the rest of our lives to follow it? President Monson says those who plant their feet on that path have lives that are forever changed. Can we say that about our own lives?

Because I grew up in the church, I don't remember exactly when I first heard the Plan of Salvation. But my mom told me a story that showed me that learning about it really did affect me when I was a child. My mom told me that at one point in my young childhood, she was having a lot of trouble with me and my little brother behaving badly, and she didn't know what to do. She prayed a lot about it, and she got the impression that she should teach a Family Home Evening lesson about the Plan of Salvation. So she did that. And she noticed it made a big difference in my and my brother's behavior. She said she could tell by how we improved that learning the Plan of Salvation motivated us. We wanted to be good and choose the right so that we could go to the celestial kingdom someday. (I'm soo glad she told me that story.)

I notice that President Monson doesn't give all the particulars of the Plan of Salvation in this talk, so it is sort of a teaser for the real thing. It should encourage us to study the Plan out for ourselves. Can we articulate it for ourselves? Are we ready to share it with others when the opportunity arises? I remember one time a few years ago I was in the middle of giving some spontaneous service to a neighbor and he asked me, “Why is there evil?” and the best way I could think of to answer that question was to tell him about pre-mortal life and the Plan of Salvation.

On another occasion, I was in the public library reading a book and a man came by and struck up a conversation with me. He was a sort of drifter and jobless, and we got into a conversation about life. He expressed that he had learned about different religions and he was confused by all the different things and he wondered what he was supposed to do next. I listened to him for some time and eventually in our conversation he asked me what I believed. I approached it from the questions of “Where did we come from, why are we here, and where are we going?” When I told him he was a child of God and we were sent here to become like God, he got incredibly excited and told me he had just learned a ton from me, and he knew there was a reason for wanting to talk to me. I told him about the resurrection, the judgment, about the degrees of glory, basically following the outline of the Plan of Salvation and where his questions led. Seeing how excited he got underlined to me how special it is to know what we know and what a difference it can make for people. (I don't know the rest of his story, but I am happy I was able to help with needed light at that time.)

Essential to the plan is our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without His atoning sacrifice, all would be lost. It is not enough, however, merely to believe in Him and His mission. We need to work and learn, search and pray, repent and improve. We need to know God’s laws and live them. We need to receive His saving ordinances. Only by so doing will we obtain true, eternal happiness.

This paragraph has the really practical bits in it, all compacted together in a list. (It also happens that a lot of it is a quote from the film “Man's Search for Happiness.”) It goes so fast that it easy to just dismiss it, but I hope you'll take the time to think about each thing on the list and how each thing contributes to lasting happiness.

What do we need to do?
  • Believe in Christ.
  • Work
  • Learn
  • Search
  • Pray
  • Repent
  • Improve
  • Know God's laws
  • Live God's laws
  • Receive God's saving ordinances.

How are we doing on these things? Honest self-evaluation is key here. These are things that can bring us real, lasting happiness. There are thousands of self-help books out in the world that promise their special formulas for happiness, but here we have a prophet of God telling us best way in the bare space of a paragraph. Can we look back on the experiences of our lives and see the truth of what he says? I'm sure we can.

We are blessed to have the truth. We have a mandate to share the truth. Let us live the truth, that we might merit all that the Father has for us. He does nothing save it be for our benefit. He has told us, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”1

It is one thing to know the truth, but it is the challenge of a lifetime to live it.

I love that statement--”He [Heavenly Father] does nothing save it be for our benefit.” That is both a challenging doctrine when going through an extended trials and tests, especially if it seems like following the commandments has placed us in that difficult situation. But it can be also be very comforting and help us develop patience and trust.

From the depths of my soul and in all humility, I testify of the great gift which is our Father’s plan for us. It is the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come.
My brothers and sisters, I leave with you my love and my blessing as I close, and I do so in the name of our Savior and Redeemer, even Jesus Christ, amen.

I love that-- the Plan of Salvation is “the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come.”

Suggestions for teaching:
--Show the film “Man's Search for Happiness”
--Ask your class, “Do you remember the first time you heard the Plan of Salvation? What did you feel? How did it affect you?”
--Ask your class, “How have you been changed since gaining a testimony of the Plan of Salvation?”
--Ask your class, "In what ways does the world say happiness can be found?" (make a list on the board of the class's responses.) Ask, "Why are these things fleeting?"  Ask, "How does this compare to the ways that President Monson and the film 'Man's Search for Happiness' say happiness is to be found?"
--Hand out sheets of paper to the class and ask them to make a list of activities they commonly participate in during the week. Ask them to see if they can classify the items on their list into the various categories of actions that President Monson and the film “Man's Search for Happiness” say will help us gain lasting happiness. Challenge your class to try to add more into their life of what will bring lasting happiness and remove activities that only give fleeting pleasure.
--Share experiences when you have taught the Plan of Salvation to others and encourage your class to share their experiences as well.