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A couple weeks ago Eric and I were assigned to talk about Obedience in our ward’s sacrament meeting. Since I put a fair amount of work into that talk I decided it would be beneficial to share it with everyone else as well. So, minus the story of how Eric and I met and who we are… here’s that talk!
I’ve decided to base my talk around a story shared by Elder Holland in last October’s General Conference. I apologize that it is such a long story, but it illustrated several aspects of obedience that I wanted to share. The story is of Elder Holland’s friend Clyn D. Barrus. Elder Holland said,
“Referring to his childhood on a large Idaho farm, Brother Barrus spoke of his nightly assignment to round up the cows at milking time. Because the cows pastured in a field bordered by the occasionally treacherous Teton River, the strict rule in the Barrus household was that during the spring flood season the children were never to go after any cows who ventured across the river. They were always to return home and seek mature help.
One Saturday just after his seventh birthday, Brother Barrus's parents promised the family a night at the movies if the chores were done on time. But when young Clyn arrived at the pasture, the cows he sought had crossed the river, even though it was running at high flood stage. Knowing his rare night at the movies was in jeopardy, he decided to go after the cows himself, even though he had been warned many times never to do so.
As the seven-year-old urged his old horse, Banner, down into the cold, swift stream, the horse's head barely cleared the water. An adult sitting on the horse would have been safe, but at Brother Barrus's tender age, the current completely covered him except when the horse lunged forward several times, bringing Clyn's head above water just enough to gasp for air.
Here I turn to Brother Barrus's own words:
“When Banner finally climbed the other bank, I realized that my life had been in grave danger and that I had done a terrible thing—I had knowingly disobeyed my father. I felt that I could redeem myself only by bringing the cows home safely. Maybe then my father would forgive me. But it was already dusk, and I didn't know for sure where I was. Despair overwhelmed me. I was wet and cold, lost and afraid.
“I climbed down from old Banner, fell to the ground by his feet, and began to cry. Between thick sobs, I tried to offer a prayer, repeating over and over to my Father in Heaven, ‘I'm sorry. Forgive me! I'm sorry. Forgive me!'
“I prayed for a long time. When I finally looked up, I saw through my tears a figure dressed in white walking toward me. In the dark, I felt certain it must be an angel sent in answer to my prayers. I did not move or make a sound as the figure approached, so overwhelmed was I by what I saw. Would the Lord really send an angel to me, who had been so disobedient?
“Then a familiar voice said, ‘Son, I've been looking for you.' In the darkness I recognized the voice of my father and ran to his outstretched arms. He held me tightly, then said gently, ‘I was worried. I'm glad I found you.'
“I tried to tell him how sorry I was, but only disjointed words came out of my trembling lips—'Thank you . . . darkness . . . afraid . . . river . . . alone.' Later that night I learned that when I had not returned from the pasture, my father had come looking for me. When neither I nor the cows were to be found, he knew I had crossed the river and was in danger. Because it was dark and time was of the essence, he removed his clothes down to his long white thermal underwear, tied his shoes around his neck, and swam a treacherous river to rescue a wayward son.”
Jeffrey R. Holland, “The Ministry of Angels,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 29–31
There are several principles that are taught in this story that I feel are important to this topic
1) Commandments are for our good
It’s very clear from the story that had Clyn been obedient to his parents counsel to not cross the river during the spring season he would have avoided a very dangerous situation. They knew that a young seven year old boy could easily be overtaken by the swift current. Because his parents loved him they had his best interests in mind when giving that rule.
This reminded me of a passage I read a while back in Doctrine and Covenants 59. A verse in that section that referred to the commandments in a way that I hadn’t considered before. Verse 4 in that chapter reads: …They shall also be crowned with blessings from above, yea, and with commandments not a few, and with revelations in their time—they that are faithful and diligent before me.
The phrase that struck me from that verse was that the saints would be “crowned with blessings [and] commandments”. Somehow I’d never thought of commandments as being blessings. They’d always seemed like those things that we had to do, which would help us obtain blessings, but I’d never thought of the commandments themselves as being blessings. However, as I thought about it they certainly are blessings. The commandments we have are given to us by a loving Heavenly Father who has our best interests in mind. Like young Clyn’s parents our loving Heavenly Father is trying to keep us from dangerous situations. Our Father in Heaven knows the outcomes of bad choices and wants to keep us from them. All commandments are for our protection and good. When we obey the commandments in the Word of Wisdom we keep ourselves free from the dangers of drunk driving, or lung cancer from cigarette smoke, or the loss of control that comes from using illicit drugs. You can find the same thing with any commandment we are given, they are for our benefit. What greater blessings could we ask for than guidance to keep us from choices that will cause us suffering?
But sometimes we are like young children who don’t seem to understand that the rules their parents give them are to keep them from danger. Recently we’ve been trying to teach our son Samuel that he is not impervious to gravity as he would like to think. Again and again we try to pull him from the edge of our bed so that he doesn’t climb right off. But each time he tries to climb right back to the edge. I’m sure in his mind he’s saying “But Mom, look, there’s cool stuff at the edge of the bed, I want to go see that stuff so I’m going to go that way”. Of course, I know that if he crawls off the edge of the bed he will fall and be hurt. I think Heavenly Father looks at us the same way. He gives us guidance and counsel, “No, really, you don’t want to break that commandment, it will bring you suffering”. But we turn back to him like a small child, “but look at all the other people who are doing it. They make it look so fun!” Of course, in the end Heavenly Father knows what’s best for us and if we disobey his counsel the suffering he foretold will come to pass, just like if Sam crawled off the bed he would fall and get hurt like I’ve warned him.
2) If we are not quickly obedient it wastes our time
In this story young Clyn decided to be disobedient because he wanted to bring the cows home fast so that he could enjoy a night at the movies. However, I’m guessing that in the end his disobedience cost him that night out.
It reminded me of the story of Lehi’s family. In 1 Nephi 17 verse 4 we find out that they spent 8 years wandering in the wilderness before getting to the promised land. I wondered if that time would have been considerably shorter if Laman and Lemuel had spent their time working towards getting to the promised land and obeying the commandments rather than murmuring about it the whole time. Likewise the Children of Israel could have probably saved a lot of their 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness by just quickly obeying the Lord’s commandments rather than stopping to build golden calves.
In a well loved primary song we are taught “when my mother calls me quickly I’ll obey”. It reminded me of a lesson on obedience that a home teacher gave my family many years ago. In his lesson he introduced to us what he called the obey sign. His proposed sign was this simple hand gesture. He told us that if our mom or dad ever gave us the obey sign that we had to remember his lesson and immediately obey. I know, it sounds really hokey, right? The strange thing is, it worked. For the next several years when one of us kids would complain about a chore inevitably one of the other kids would call out “Mom! Give them the obey sign!” As soon as my mom whipped it out it was like a hex, and the complaining child felt like they had to do whatever they’d been assigned to do.
What changed by introducing the obey sign? Nothing really. It wasn’t truly a hex that caused instant obedience. We were simply reminded of a commitment we’d made previously as well as the futility of complaining about the task at hand. Perhaps we should implement our own obey sign to remind us not to complain about the commandments we’ve been given. Life is better if we will “quickly obey” rather than making ourselves miserable complaining.
3) Our actions of disobedience don’t just hurt ourselves but also harm others around us
In Brother Barrus’ story not only was he put in danger, but his father then was put in danger as well. His father had to swim across the nearly flooded river to rescue his son. Also, if indeed his disobedience cost him his night at the movies, his siblings and parents likewise would have been kept from that treat. In the story of Lehi’s family Laman and Lemuel’s disobedience kept Nephi and Sam and all those who were being righteous from getting to the promised land as quickly as they could have. Furthermore, I’m sure that the righteous among the Children of Israel weren’t too happy that they had to wander for 40 years while the rest of their people got their acts together.
I have seen an example of this recently. A dear friend of mine has made some really bad choices in the past year. I’m sure that in the world most people would look at the things he did and say that he was only hurting himself and that he should have done whatever he wanted. However, I’ve seen how the choices he made deeply affected his family and friends. His personal bad decisions have since cost his parents a great deal of money, not to mention many many hours of hurt, frustration and betrayal spent by every member of his family and many of his friends. Although at the time he could have easily justified his actions by saying that it’s his own life and that he can do what he wants and just face the consequences later, he was not the only one who had to face the consequences. None of us live in a vacuum. Every decision you make effects those around you, whether you realize it at the time or not. Don’t ever let Satan catch you with the lie that your actions won’t hurt anyone else, it’s simply not true.
So far I feel like my talk has been on more of a negative note, but in Clyn’s story there is ultimately a happy ending.
4) Even when we go astray Heavenly Father loves us
When Clyn realizes his mistake he prays for forgiveness and in answer to his prayer his father comes, and takes him in his arms and tells him how glad he is that he’s safe. In a moment where young Clyn was probably in deep despair his father’s love and help erases the problems he is having.
We have the blessing of the Atonement in our lives which works much the same way. In the third article of faith we read:
We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. When we realize that we’ve done wrong we can turn to the Lord and he will take us in his arms. We can repent and Jesus Christ will erase the mistakes we have made. I would like to finish with a final quote from Elder Holland’s talk –
“I am testifying that God never leaves us alone, never leaves us unaided in the challenges that we face. “[N]or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man [or woman or child] upon the face thereof to be saved.” On occasions, global or personal, we may feel we are distanced from God, shut out from heaven, lost, alone in dark and dreary places. Often enough that distress can be of our own making, but even then the Father of us all is watching and assisting.”
As we prepare for General Conference this week I hope we can all take the challenge to listen to the counsel that we are given by those who we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. And when we get that counsel let’s remember to obey it quickly.
I know that as we are quickly obedient to the commandments given us we will be blessed.