We read in the Book of Mormon, “…men are that they might have joy.” One might ask, “How can we have joy when we are surrounded by so much wickedness and evil in the world?” One needs only to read the headlines of the news each day and experience profound sorrow from the ever-tightening grip Satan seems to have on mankind.
The dictionary defines joy as a feeling of great pleasure and happiness. Synonyms for joy are jubilation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy and exhilaration. If we ask the world what brings them joy, we might hear answers like, playing or watching sports, Disneyworld, a Caribbean cruise, gardening or building a new garage for a particular hobby. This type of worldly joy might be best framed as a form of happiness or material gratification.
On the other hand, we find some who feel their lives are devoid of joy. They may have a physical disability. They may be struggling with an abusive relationship, marital discontent, rebellious children, unemployment, addiction, depression, financial indebtedness or political issues. There are a multitude of reasons why someone might feel they have little or no joy in this life.
The gospel of Jesus Christ defines joy, or the lack of joy, differently than the world. President Russell M. Nelson had this to say about joy:
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation…and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening - or not happening – in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”
No wonder Alma wanted to “…go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every person.” Preaching the gospel (crying repentance) means teaching the atonement of Jesus Christ who is the center of the plan of salvation. When Alma considered the success he and his brethren had as missionaries to the Lamanites, he exclaimed, “…my soul is carried away, even to the separation of it from my body, as it were, so great is my joy.”
This type of joy comes from the Spirit of the Lord filling our hearts with love and gratitude for the exemplary life and sacrifice of the Savior. Our joy is full to the brim as we keep our focus on Jesus Christ. We develop a deep and abiding love for others and want them to have the same joy we do.
True joy, everlasting joy, comes as we put the Savior at the center of our lives. There are millions in this world that bask in the comfortable and even luxurious amenities of life. And, there are millions of others that face seemingly overwhelming challenges. And, millions in between these two ends of the spectrum. Whatever our circumstances may be, we choose to have and experience joy as we choose to follow the Lord. He is the source of true, eternal joy.
Our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness Talk
Pickerington 2ndWard November 13, 2016
Good afternoon, Brothers and Sisters. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Steve Lange. My wife is Anne and we have two children at home, Grace and Tanner. Some of you may not know but we have 2 other daughters, Hannah and Eliza. I’d like to start my talk today by speaking about one of them.
My second daughter, Eliza was born 5 weeks early. It was a bit of a traumatic birth. She was small and some of her blood work was a bit off but we thought everything had worked out okay. But then her tests started to indicate a larger problem. The doctors transferred her to the children’s hospital and the experts examined her.
The lead doctor there asked to meet with us. She sat across from us in a small room and explained, “Eliza’s liver isn’t working. We aren’t sure why. There have been some cases like this in newborns where the liver just starts working after a few weeks. That is what we are going to hope for.
However, if her liver doesn’t start working in 3 weeks. That means it probably isn’t ever going to start working and we’ll have to consider more drastic measures.”
In babies, one of the functions of the liver is to create coagulants in the blood—the stuff that makes blood thick. To keep her blood thick enough that it wouldn’t seep into her organs, they gave her plasma infusions every day.
Her small veins struggled to handle the infusions and would collapse after a time. The doctors were constantly looking for new veins to use to get the plasma into her system. She had shaved spots on her head where they had found veins. Her small body was purple with bruises from injection sites. Anne spent every day at the hospital holding her baby. The doctors continued to do tests.
One week passed. A second week passed.
We fasted and we prayed for her.
Our family and friends were fasting and praying for her.
And on the third week, Nothing.
Her liver still wasn’t working.
$75K worth of tests were. . . inconclusive.
We quietly began to discuss where we would bury our child.
The lead doctor met with us again about our options.
There are 2 options.
1. We can do a liver transplant.
· We can try to do a liver transplant here. We have never done one but we have doctors who have assisted on other transplants and we are willing to try.
· We can transfer her to another hospital in another state that has done a lot of transplants. You would live there until she crashes and then they would do the transplant then.
2. We can wait. She is stable. We can continue to wait and see. “
This was the early days of the Internet and I had access through work. I began searching infant liver transplants. The news was not good.
The survival rates for the surgery for babies much bigger than Eliza were terrible.
The quality of life for those transplant babies wasn’t good either. Their lives were filled with pain and drug regimens and hospitals. Most did not live past nine years old.
I shared this discouraging information with Anne.
We were barely out of college. We were making a huge decision.
We went to the temple. We prayed more to know what to do.
I had grown up in the church learning about our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness.
I had been taught about where we had come from, why we are here and where we are going after we die. These had been lessons from my childhood.
But now I had to dig deeply into my faith and my testimony and ask myself,
“Do I really believe all of this?”
“Do I believe there is a life after this one where things will be better?”
“Do I believe that if my daughter dies, that I will see her again?”
Today is our invitation Sunday.
We invite our friends and loved ones to hear these messages because these are critical questions.
· Where do we come from?
· Why we are here?
· Where we are going after we die?
· And, Do we really believe this?
If we can learn these things, it can give our lives meaning and direction.
Today I’m going to talk about God’s plan for us.
We call it the Plan of Salvation or God’s Plan of Happiness.
First, Where did we come from?
Before we were born on earth, we lived as spirits who had not yet received bodies. We lived with God, our Heavenly Father, and our brother, Jesus Christ and with each other.
We loved living there but we had progressed as far as we could go in the state we were in.
Our loving Heavenly Father presented a plan to us that would give us a chance to gain bodies and learn to live with them.
We would be tested and tried in a world that is not perfect filled with people who are not perfect.
And because we would be mortal and we would be learning, we would not be perfect.
BUT there is an eternal law that “no unclean thing can dwell in the presence of God.”
Our Heavenly Father knew we would fall short. That is one of the ways we learn.
He declared that there must be a Savior.
One who would take upon himself all of the sins and pains and sorrows of us all.
Jesus Christ is that Savior and if we would accept Him as our Savior, if we would accept His Atonement, his payment for our sins, we could repent and become cleansed from our sins.
All of usaccepted that plan and we came here to earth to receive bodies and to be tested and tried and to grow.
So then we were born into this life and this world.
Our spirits were given mortal bodies.
This mortal life can be hard at times.
In a recent BYU Devotional Talk, Audacious Faith, Brett G Scharffs told a story about a family in his ward that was involved in a terrible car accident.
One of the young boys in the family was severely injured and spent many months in the hospital. He was able to recover from his injuries but this was in the early 1990s and there wasn’t an understanding about the relationship between blood and HIVs.
The young boy recovered from his injuries, but contracted HIV from a blood transfusion. In the 90s an HIV infection was akin to a death sentence.
Following his release from the hospital, this young 12 year old was asked to speak in church about what he had learned from his experience.
The young man said,
“Some people asked me what I did wrong to deserve what happened to me.
I’m not perfect.
But I’m a good boy and I know this is not something I deserved.
Others have said, ‘you must be a really strong person for God to give you such a difficult trial’.
I don’t feel strong and anyway I don’t believe God did this as a reward for my being particularly righteous.
No, I don’t think this happened because I’m particularly bad or particularly good.
I believe it happened because I am mortal.
And this is part of the price of mortality.
We come to earth.
We exercise our agency and other people exercise theirs.
And sometimes we hurt each other.
And sometimes, accidents happen.”
This is the world we live in. It is not perfect. If it were then it would be heaven.
But our Heavenly Father loves us. He did not send us here to fail. He wants us to have joy in this life and in the next. We are all still His Children.
He loves us. He has given us prophets and scriptures, prayer and the Holy Ghost all to help us be happy and comforted and to find our way back to Him.
We find our way back to our Heavenly Father by learning of Him and His commandments. We grow closer to God by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and repenting of our sins and working hard to overcome temptation and our pride and our stubbornness and do what God wants us to do.
When we do that we grow stronger spiritually—and that is part of the Plan.
Death is also part of the plan.
Our bodies grow old, or sick or become injured and we die. Our spirits are separated from our bodies. But that is not the end.
Because of Jesus Christ and His atonement, we will all be resurrected. We will all receive new, perfect and immortal bodies.
Because of Jesus Christ and His atonement, we can be forgiven of our sins if we accept Him as our Savior repent and do our best to follow His commandments.
And there will be a final judgment.
I should stop and explain that this judgment will not compare how we have done compared to others. It does not matter if you were better or worse than your neighbor.
The judgment is yours. Each of us was given different abilities and challenges and opportunities. The judgment will be fair. That is why we shouldn’t get too caught up in comparisons in this life. We are all different. That is how our Heavenly Father made us.
The judgment will be how YOU did with all of the challenges and opportunities that YOU were given.
God will make sure that everyone will get the chance to accept the Savior.
The question will be did you accept the Savior when you were given the chance? Did you try to do the things He asked you to do? Did you follow the prophets? Did you listen to the Holy Ghost?
When you sinned. Did you repent and keep trying?
Our final state will be based on all of these things. There is a good place for good and honorable people. But we can only return to live with God by accepting the Atonement of Christ. Jesus Christ is the key.
I’d like tell you the rest of the story about my daughter Eliza.
I said I had been taught about our Heavenly Father’s Plan all my life. And I had to look deep into my heart and ask myself, “Do I believe all of this? Is this true?”
When I did this, my belief in God and His plan for us swelled in my heart and I knew that I did believe. I do believe.
I also got the impression that we should not rush into a liver transplant but that we should wait. Anne and I told the doctors that we didn’t know what was going to happen but that we were going to wait.
Anne asked if we could give Eliza her baby blessing at the hospital. For those of you not familiar with this. It is not a baptism. It is a special blessing usually given by fathers with the priesthood to their new babies.
I prayed before going to the hospital and in my prayer I told my Heavenly Father that I wanted to bless my daughter that she would live. And if He disagreed he should let me know. I went to the Children’s Hospital and I joined with my father, my father-in-law and bishop.
We gathered around her incubator in the neonatal ICU unit. We laid our hands upon her small head and we gave her a blessing that she would live.
Within the next week disparate pieces of information began to come together. The information gave the doctors inspiration to try a new, innovative treatment.
At four and a half weeks, Eliza’s liver began working.
At five weeks, she came home.
In a few weeks from now, Eliza will come home again . . .from her mission.
I hope you will all get to meet her. She is as wonderful as my other children.
This is a happy ending because Eliza was healed through a miraculous series of events. But I want you to know that if my Heavenly Father had told me that I was not supposed to bless her to live, I wouldn’t have because I had been assured that there is life after this earthly life and I would see my daughter again.
I want you to know that through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we can see our loved ones again. Our families can be together forever. We can be reunited with our loving Heavenly Father. We can leave our sins and pain and regrets behind because of the Atonement of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
If you would like to know more about these wonderful blessings, I encourage you to reach out to the missionaries. They have been called of God to teach the Gospel.
I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.