They That Have Wandered
Ken Allen, Palo Alto Second Ward, August 29, 2010
Picture in your mind a tomato. Can you tell by its looks whether it is homegrown and vine-ripened or store-bought? But can you taste the difference?
Over the years my wife Sue and I have grown tomatoes. When our children were young they would help themselves to the rich red, juicy tomatoes right from the vine. One day our young son saw a bright red tomato on the kitchen counter, so he grabbed it, took one bite—and then spit it out. Despite its rich red skin color, that store-bought tomato was tasteless. We tried to explain the difference, but it was a long time before he touched another tomato.
Over the years we have experimented with different ways of growing tomatoes. Sue has been much more successful than I. For one, in the past I would enthusiastically water the plants every day with a gushing hose. Sue cautioned me to water seldom--but slowly, patiently and deeply. Deep watering, it seems, nurtures deep roots. And if the plant becomes accustomed to frequent watering, its roots remain shallow. Unfortunately when the heat of summer comes and the topsoil dries out, along with the shallow roots, the leaves yellow and wilt. It takes just the right amount of water meted out over time to promote a strong healthy plant that will withstand the rigors of the day and bear good fruit.
So what can we learn from tomato plants? Parents are the planters and keepers of the plants. The plants are offspring, to be nourished so that they can be self-sustaining and bear fruit. The tomatoes, whatever their flavor, represent the fruits of labor. Watering represents teachings. The style of watering can be compared with the style of teaching, whether with patient love and attention, whether thoughtful and deep--or shallow, artificial, and deceptively incomplete. Your offspring, whether plants or children, will respond accordingly.
Who are the good parents? According to Doctrine and Covenants 68:28, they are they who teach their children by example and precept to “pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.” Prayer means to communicate with the Lord and listen to the Spirit. To walk uprightly is to live a life of true integrity, for integrity is a person’s most precious possession.
We have a wonderful educational infrastructure in the Church. Primary and Sunday School provide year-round education at an age-appropriate level, seminary gives high school-aged students the opportunity to delve deeper into the Gospel, encouraging prayerful and independent understanding, and Institute of Religion courses provide the tools to understand the Gospel at an adult level. Missions provide the opportunity for an immersion experience to test all that learning and discover what one missed. One may be ill equipped to face the sharp-challenges to testimony with only a pre-school level of understanding.
However, an institutional education is not enough. Elder Robert D. Hales has said:
“It is impossible to overestimate the influence of parents who understand the hearts of their children. Research shows that during the most important transitions of life—including those periods when youth are most likely to drift away from the Church—the greatest influence does not come from an interview with the bishop or some other leader but from the regular, warm, friendly, caring interaction with parents.”
The challenge is to cultivate a loving, learning environment in the home. It is hard to be open to listening and learning when pulled onto different paths by the enticings of louder and more insistent voices. By nature, we respond to stimuli, with instant gratification a powerful motivation. Fast and flashy, funny and thrilling, ego-satisfying, sweet and stimulating highs are all around.
In contrast, it is so sad that some people have no desire to have a true spiritual experience. Spiritual experiences are simply not on the list of to-do items—ever.
Perhaps pseudo-spiritual experiences, just like store-bought tomatoes, have dulled the senses.
Perhaps a sincere prayer has gone unanswered for too long--and that has tried patience to a point of rejection of God and true faith.
I am reminded of the story of Heidi, the illiterate little Swiss orphan who had gone to live with her bitter and recluse grandfather atop a mountain, and then was sent away to the cold, loveless city where she was to begin her schooling. She prayed to no avail to return to the mountain. But then she gave up on God. Then a loving friend taught her that prayers would be answered by God when we are ready to receive and act the answer. She said: “Our dear God is a good father for us all, who always knows what is good for us, even when we do not know it ourselves. When we want something that is not good for us, He does not give it to us, but instead gives us something better, but only if we continue to pray sincerely and not flee from Him or lose all trust in Him.” With new resolve, Heidi learned to read. She fell in love with the parable of the prodigal son. Soon after Heidi did return to the mountain. There she read the parable to her bitter grandfather, who finally recognized the message expressed in that touching story of fatherly love for a wayward son. Grandfather realized that he had been the wandering, rebellious son. With that realization, he returned to his home and friends and family. It was the love of a little girl who had been prepared by God as a messenger that changed his heart. God does answer prayers—when we are prepared.
One of my most enduring memories is the image of our then-wayward son sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane, pondering what Christ did. There is nothing more profound than the personal impact of the atonement of Christ. When a wayward child recognizes the need to change and indeed makes the change by renouncing wayward ways, angels in heaven rejoice and mothers weep for joy—and Christ himself knows His sacrifice was not in vain.
Sometimes we feel helpless. Yet we are not powerless. I refer to the power in the priesthood that is upon us and our children. We can and should learn to put temple worship to work for us in our lives and in the lives of our children.
For those who are eligible to go to the temple, you must start by going to the temple fasting with a prayer in your heart and questions in your mind. Be a student who is open to the further light and knowledge the Lord has promised. Pay close attention to the ceremony and recognize it as a table of contents to understand the Great Testaments of the Savior. Recognize that the testaments are messages of, by and for God’s Children of the Covenant.
Look beyond the mechanics of temple worship. Come to appreciate that there is much to be learned in repetition. Recently I walked along the sidewalks the length of Palo Alto. So I had plenty of time to stare at the sidewalk. Every so often I came upon a random letter engraved in the concrete. An S, a W, a C--or was it G? The symbols kept reoccurring, seemingly at random. Yes, it was definitely a G. Then I looked around. Where were those letters? What did the symbols mean? Then came the epiphany. These symbols marked where underground utilities cross the sidewalk—sewer, water, gas. So it is with spiritual symbols.
Ponder the symbolism of the entire temple ceremony from the end unto the beginning--from baptism to sealing--in one eternal round with no sense of time but encompassing an eternity. Then open your heart to receive visions and personal revelation--revelation relevant to your deepest personal concerns.
As you listen to the words of the temple ceremony, your mind will resonate with familiar phrases and you will be revealed scriptures you have already studied suggesting to your mind answers to your questions. Pay attention to those promptings. Then return home and reread and ponder those scriptures. You will then continue to receive the further light and knowledge promised to you.
You will discover that priesthood power underlies all that occurs, priesthood power that is independent of age and gender and time. But to access that priesthood power, you must receive them by covenant and you must make and keep those covenants. To make and keep those covenants also requires that you think about how to implement the challenges of temple worship in your daily life. The sacrament and the sacramental prayers become an extension of those covenants, for example.
Formulate from what you have extracted from your very personal temple experience into a plan of action to implement the temple covenant principles in your personal life, in your home life, in your interactions with your spouse and family, and with your friends. I can promise you that it will be transformative.
I could go into much greater detail as to how some of the symbols of temple worship can impact your interactions with wayward children but time does not permit. So I will leave you with a few questions to ponder.
For example, were Adam and Eve poor parents? Were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob poor fathers? All had wayward sons. All play integral roles in the narrative of temple worship.
To those who are tempted toward different paths, do take the time to listen for a sweet heart song. Perhaps you may then see that much of the messages of the secular world are wrapped in a package intended to be alluring, and addictive and generally intended to cost you in time and wasted money for the profit of others. The messages are loud, incessant, at best confusing, often misleading and even deceptive, unhealthy, distracting and destructive. Of course it is not all bad, but the key is what your core set of values is. Are your roots deep enough to withstand the intense bombardments of the secular sunlight and to produce good fruit?
No matter who you are, you can ponder the scriptures as they relate to temple worship, particularly in the Pearl of Great Price. Drink deeply and quench your thirst from the fountains of living waters. You may discover the great sermons in the Book of Mormon—Jacob, King Benjamin, Alma the Younger, Christ—and there you may gain insights into some of the transcendent elements of the endowment. As you dig deep, you will find the water you seek at the bottom of the well of knowledge and wisdom.
To you parents of wayward children, past, present and future, take heart. You are not alone. Even the prophets of modern times have had their share of wayward children—Brigham Young, Spencer Kimball, Hyrum Smith—whose rebellious son Joseph F., like Alma the Younger, eventually emerged to become the Lord’s prophet. Some come back like the prodigal son. For others, it takes longer. It is indeed heart wrenching to feel so helpless. I have been there.
However, it has been the experience of observers of wayward children whose parents have followed the priesthood/temple path--that hearts soften, cracks in the defensive armor appear and the new-found perspective of power in the priesthood equips parents to respond with love and with a spirit appropriate to the occasion.
The secret is not that temple worship changes the wayward child, but that temple worship changes the parent, so he or she can see relationships in a whole new way—the way God sees them.
May you recognize that the power in the priesthood manifest in the sweet tasting pure love of Christ is the source of power for growth and change—every time you taste a real tomato.
They that have wandered.doc