Fathers have been a part of Heavenly Father's plan long before the world began and they are a vital and cherished part of family. A father isn't perfect, but to most of us he is a daughter's first true love, a wife's companion, and a mother's pride and joy. My own dad has been a fish-loving, more fudge than ice cream, cookie dough eating goofball, who loves me more than anything. It seems like he knows everything from how to jump start a car when you're stranded, how to comfort breakups and failed tests, and how to lick the brownie bowl clean without getting chocolate on your face. He also knows how to make your car immovable for April Fool's and how to beat up boyfriends with a baseball bat affectionately named "The Rules".
While these are great things that show how silly my dad is, I wouldn't be bragging until I gave him credit for making me do chores, finish school, and pushing me to make myself better. To say the least, he's awesome.
I have another dad who I have never seen or felt with my physical body, but I felt his love for me when I submitted my mission papers and accepted my mission call. I have seen the difference he has made in my life because of my obedience and love towards him. Two weeks ago my family visited the town that I grew up in. It's a little town in southern Oregon right on the lakeside just a few minutes from hundreds of national geographic worthy views. As we visited old friends and favorite vacation spots, I noticed that there were some things that had changed since I had last been there. Downtown was shadier and had many boarded houses or graffitied shops. The high school was being renovated with students in portables and there were rumors that the school was many millions of dollars in debt. We heard that our old ward now had less than five youth in the program when there had been close to twenty when I was first a beehive.
I looked at these changes and thought to myself, man, I'm glad we moved to Utah to be with all of you wonderful people. I have a wonderfully functioning school and a great neighborhood with kind friends. While I missed our camping grounds very much, it was clear that the move had been perfect timing and clearly Heavenly Father had a hand in providing opportunities for my family to grow. I have no doubt that because of the faithfulness of my father, he was guided to make these choices.
There is a general conference talk given last April by Mary Durham that has a wonderful story about the choices a father must make to protect his little ones. There was a young father who was literally sinking. He, his two children, and his father-in-law had gone for a walk around a lake. They were surrounded by majestic pine-covered mountains, and the sky was blue, filled with soft white clouds, emanating beauty and serenity. When the children grew hot and tired, the two men decided to put the children on their backs and swim across the short distance across the lake. It seemed easy until the moment when the father began to feel pulled down, everything becoming so heavy. Water began to push him to the bottom of the lake and a frantic feeling came over him. How was he going to keep afloat and do so with his precious young daughter on his back? His voice disappeared in the distance as he called out; his father-in-law was too far away to answer a desperate plea for help he felt alone and helpless. While working to stay afloat, he began to attempt to get his heavy shoes off his feet, but it was as if they were held on with suction. The laces were swollen with water, cinching the grip even tighter. In what may have been his last moment of desperation, he managed to pry the shoes from his feet and at last the shoes released their hold, quickly falling to the bottom of the lake. Free from the heavy weight that had been dragging him down, he immediately propelled himself and his daughter upward. He could now swim forward, moving toward safety on the other side of the lake.
This story reminded me of how I imagine my dad has felt many times-- struggling to stay afloat when things became heavy. He may not have literally feared for his mortal life like the story in the general conference talk but sometimes a job loss, a struggling marriage, mental problems, or an addiction will make you feel weighed down like soggy hiking boots. This weight not only endangers your life but the life of your family. To the boys, young men, and men of this congregation, please hold on. There is hope for you and your family. Your struggle is not permanent, though it may feel like you a drowning or perhaps feeling nothing at all. your role on this earth has been delicately assigned to you by your trusting Heavenly Father. If you do have a metaphorical set of boots strapped to your feet, turn to prayer. Act on the feelings of your heart and the thoughts of your mind that are inspired of the Holy Ghost. Your priesthood power is the power of a God.
As I have dated young men the past three years, every single one of them had what I termed, their demon. It was their weakness, their favorite sin that they did not want to place on the alter before God. I will be the first to admit that I'm not perfect either but my point is that everyone struggles. You are not alone in your fight with your demon. The demon of darkness cannot coexist with the light of the gospel and the influence of the Holy Ghost. So how do you lay aside every weight that might be holding you back? How can we save ourselves from drowning? Sister Durham counseled that we need to recognize the divine source of strength from the gift of the Holy Ghost. It seems like such a simple answer. I myself have been skeptical that talking in my head will help me with my problems, but then I feel peace. I feel love. I feel myself receive a small poke in my head saying "Hey, I hear you,,. try this." The answer seems so simple that it is easy to overlook it's importance but when you received the Holy Ghost at baptism, it wasn't a question if you received it or not. You did. It was an authoritative admonition to act and not be acted upon.
The attitude of today is to say here you go, figure it out, and good luck. I experienced this when I was dropped off at my college campus. I had to figure it out but not in the sense that society has tagged onto that statement. I wasn't left alone, though many times I felt like a bumbling buffoon with a couple hundred dollars worth of textbooks and dreams that resembled a game of shoots and ladders. Heavenly Father hasn't left us without help. He knows what your demon is and he wants us to be patient, humble, and open minded so that we will be able to see all of the tools that He has given us to better understand how to find satisfaction and happiness rather than sinking to the bottom of a lake after underestimating the danger of trying to drag our soggy hiking boots along with us.
In the first presidency's message for this month, there are six ways that we can use to fight your demon. They have reminded us that first, Heavenly Father has given us the priceless gift of the Holy Ghost, which has the potential to be our personal tutor as we study the word of God and attempt to bring out thoughts and actions into alignment with the word. As fathers, brothers, or sons, you may feel like there's no point. Or we justify skipping scriptures and prayer because not having enough sleep can kill you. When I was at college between the time I decided to submit my papers for my mission and the time I received my call, I set a goal to read the Book of Mormon in 100 days. It took me about that long to get everything submitted and to get my call. In that time I would wake up at 6 am and read between four and five chapters of the Book of Mormon before my first class. Then at night I also read four to five chapters of Book of Mormon. It was hard. It was hard to wake up early and come home with enough time for that scripture study. Any of you who went to college know that you go to class, study, work, eat, and then maybe get to sleep. But I learned more about myself, about others, and about Christ in those hundred days than I had in the past year. One of my favorite parts was Christ's visitation to the Nephites. He shows such a love for the imperfect people. He sought out to help each individual with their demon and asked them to give it up, to place it on the alter of sacrifice, and trust with full faith in the love of their Savior.
The first presidency reminded us of a second gift. We have 24/7 access to Heavenly Father through prayers of faith and supplications of real intent. When I read that I was like sweet I know what prayer and faith are! But supplication of real intent? What exactly is that and how can it help me with my demon and how does that help the people I would be speaking to? Well upon further research, and by that I mean I googled the phrase, and it led me to Moroni 10:4 and a talk by Elder Randall Ridd. Elder Ridd says that you need to have the right reasons in your heart in addition to your prayer. I find that my prayers are so much more sincere when I have a problem. I have something in mind. I encourage you to act on the prompting of the Holy Ghost about your demon or soggy hiking boots and pray in faith with real intent. Some of the worst wars are won when they are fought by someone on their knees. Moroni 10:4 says: "And when he shall receive these things, I would exhort you that you would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if he shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost." There is no room for excuses or justifications. The way to help yourself is to pray, listen, and then act.
The third and fourth gifts are the restored church and the holy scriptures. What marvelous gifts those are! When I think of my struggle with my demon, I feel a lot like Joseph Smith did when he tried to pray in the Sacred Grove. I feel as though I have "been seized upon by some power which will entirely overcome me." It feels as though it is a thick darkness and that I am doomed to sudden destruction because of the whisperings of how terrible my demon is. You may feel the same way. I took much comfort from the next words of Joseph Smith. He said, "But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction, I saw a pillar of light..." I think it is very interesting that Joseph felt overwhelmed to the point that he felt like he was slipping away forever and in the moment he hit the bottom of the lake with heavy hiking boots engulfing him in his demon, in that very moment there was light. There was a great pillar of light like the sun! Everywhere I looked there was the battle between light and dark and every time, light wins. That's the answer! Abandoning yourself to destruction, while it may seem like it is the only possible answer to such a burdensome weight, is not the answer because if you keep the commandments and strive with real intent, then you will be able to kick off your hiking boots that are dragging you down. You will rise triumphant to the light with your precious daughter on your shoulders.
To the fathers, sons, and brothers, I love you and your efforts to be valiant men of God. While you have your demon, it is not there to punish you. It is there because God trusted you to use your weakness to make yourself stronger. In each of you I see a noble King, sons of God, and Priests of the Holy Priesthood.
I learned a great lesson today. I was scanning tickets at work for the aquarium and this little boy, probably 3 years old, handed me his ticket, beaming with excitement and said, "Hi! My name is Tony! What's your name?" I smiled at him and told him my name. He then said, "Great! Do you make friends wherever you go?" I raised my eyebrows and glanced at his father in surprise, who gave a little proud smile. I looked back at Tony and said "Why yes, I sure try to!" The little boy beamed back at me and replied "Me too! We're friends now! Good Bye!"