© 2007, Debra Brown Gordy. All Rights Reserved.
Joseph Smith once attempted to comfort a woman upset by the unkind and untrue comments of others about her. Joseph shared that whenever someone approached him with a grievance against himself, he first "let his mind go back to the situation", to discern if he had done something that could have been interpreted in a way that contributed, however small, to the hurt feelings of the other. If nothing came to him, then he immediately forgave and let the incident go. If something did come to his awareness then he made the changes he was guided to make, and "thanked God for the person who was willing to risk his (Joseph’s) friendship" to bring the fault to his awareness. 1
I love this story from Joseph’s life. It not only shows the magnificence of his spirit and character, but illuminates one of the reasons for it, and gives us insight into his own journey of self-mastery.
As we are focusing on patience this month, I am grateful to have the opportunity to study and pray and be taught about the topic of patience and self-mastery, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you some of what I have learned. I pray for the presence of the Spirit with each of us today, that we all will be taught the perfectly personalized messages we each can benefit from at this time in our lives.
Our Heroine's Journey of Self-Mastery
King Benjamin describes well our mortal Heroine's Journey of self-mastery. (See Mosiah 2–5). He reminds us of how the Nephite people had been taught about God, and to keep His commandments given to them by generations of righteous prophet kings. They had learned about the history of God’s interest and involvement, love and leadership of their people, and their forbears, the Jews. They had learned that all blessings come from God, and to be thankful in all things. They had also learned righteous conduct, as captured in the commandments of the Mosaic Law, which they lived as a forerunner, to bring them to Christ.
Through King Benjamin, the people learned once again, about the coming of the Holy One of Israel. They learned His Name, and about His Atonement, the only way by which they could ever receive salvation. The Nephites learned about faith and repentance and reunion with Jesus Christ after sin and error and separation from Him. These righteous people as a group experienced the miracle of the healing of their hearts through their faith in Jesus Christ.
Part way through his address, King Benjamin looked down on the people and saw:
They had fallen to the earth, for the fear, (or in other words, reverence), of the Lord had come upon them.
"They had viewed themselves in their carnal (or mortal) state . . . And they all cried aloud with one voice, O have mercy, and apply the Atoning Blood of Christ, that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth and all things; who shall come down among the children of me.
And it came to pass, after they had spoken these words the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ who should come" . . . Mosiah 4: 2 – 3.
Through the ministry of King Benjamin, these righteous Nephites took further significant steps on their journey of self-mastery. The people awakened spiritually, and came to a personal, first-hand knowledge and experience of the "goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience and his long-suffering towards the children of men;
And also the Atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments" . . . Mosiah 4: 6.
Later in Mosiah, the people entered into a covenant with the Lord "to do his will and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command (them), all the remainder of (their) days" . . . In so doing, they became the sons and daughters of Christ, having been spiritually born of Him, through faith on His name. Mosiah 5: 5, 7.
In faith, they were obedient to the light and knowledge they had received. They kept the ancient Law of Moses, including all the "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" commandments. Obedience to the light and truth we currently have is prerequisite for receiving further light and truth (see John 7: 17; D&C 93: 20, 28).
They received with faith this further light and truth given them. They allowed the light of truth to penetrate their hearts, and they were changed. Their hearts were healed so that they had "no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually" (Mosiah 5: 2).
Does the story of the Nephites’ journey of faith and conversion sound familiar to you? We have read and heard this beloved passage retold time and again - does it resonate in your heart?
We commonly think of this story of the people of King Benjamin as one of the great conversion stories in Scripture, and that it is. It stirs our souls and fills our hearts with hope and love and gratitude. In languaging that is as familiar and well known as the Christmas story in Matthew, King Benjamin illuminates the step by step journey of faith and conversion that the Nephites took.
It also illustrates the path and the process of self-mastery that all of us here have embarked upon. The people of King Benjamin are much like us. We relate to them – good people, doing their best, sometimes struggling, to live according to the light and truth they have received, and progressing on their journey of self-mastery, until that blessed day they receive salvation and eternal life.
Self-Mastery Leads to Perfection
In a real and practical sense, it may be said that self-mastery is one of the great purposes of mortality. Gaining spiritual ascendancy or mastery over our physical dimension is the pathway of the journey of perfection itself. Thus King Benjamin taught that famous principle about the ‘natural man being an enemy to God", meaning the appetites, passions and impulses of our physical bodies, and our egos. He taught that the way to become a Saint, a holy, Christ-like person, is to yield our physical appetites or "passions" to the "enticings of the Holy Spirit . . . through the Atonement of Christ" and thereby become as meek, patient, full of love and submissive to God as a child. (see Mosiah 3:19). In so doing, we gain spiritual mastery, or in other words, Self-mastery.
And ultimately, we become perfected. Perfected, not in that paralyzing, never-make-a-mistake, cast-discouragement-into-the-heart-of-many-sisters sense, but perfected truly in the scriptural sense. When the Savior instructed us to be perfect as He and our Father are, the term means to be complete, fully ripe, or finished, to become all that we have the capacity to become. In other words, to become like the Savior Himself, fully developed in our expression of all godly attributes.
When we are finally perfected in this sense, we will have become fully "his sons and his daughters" and in this fullness, we will see Him as He is, for we will have become like Him. Being like Him, we will become heirs with Christ of all that the Father has – we will inherit that most sacred and precious of all heavenly inheritances – eternal life and exaltation. (see Mosiah 7:48; D&C 76: 50-60; 93: 1-40).
Patience in the Process: Engaging the Journey of Growing into Perfection
Sounds ambitious, doesn’t it? To some it may seem daunting, and a long way away. How do we engage this process of Self-mastery, and ultimately become a fully developed Christ-like being?
That’s where patience comes in. Remember that King Benjamin taught his people to do all things in wisdom and order, for we are not required to run faster than we have strength. He also taught us to be diligent and focused, and keep moving toward our heavenly goal. (See Mosiah 4: 27).
Self-mastery is Developmental
Just as physical and mental growth and Self-mastery are developmental and comes one step at a time, so too is our emotional and spiritual growth and Self-mastery. In fact, the Savior himself grew that way. Luke makes two insightful and intriguing comments: "the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him:" and later, after Jesus as a youth instructed older Jewish men , Luke summarizes his childhood this way: "Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." (Luke 2: 40, 52).
The Savior grew line upon line, precept upon precept and from grace to grace. The Savior grew in light and truth, with time and as a result of his responses to His own experiences. Step by step, He increased in "favor with God" through his obedient responses to the light and truth He was given. Thereby He was prepared to fulfill the Atonement for all of us.
Similarly we are instructed to grow in light and truth, and to be engaged in the process of Self-mastery and perfection. To the faithful, God gives "line upon line, precept upon precept. . . here a little and there a little, giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope!" (See D&C 98: 12; 128:21). He confirms and encourages our hope and faith, as we increase in Self-mastery by patiently learning and obediently applying line upon line, precept by precept, day by day, and experience by experience.
Light and Truth Added Upon for the Obedient Until We Receive the Fullness
Growing in light and truth, and Self-mastery leading to perfection, is predicated upon obedience. Over and over in scripture, and born out through personal experience, we are taught this principle.
In modern scripture, the Lord reaffirms these principles and teaches once again how we become like Him:
I give unto you these sayings, that you may understand and know how to worship and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fullness.
For if you keep my commandments, you shall receive of his fullness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace. D&C 93: 19-20.
A few verses later, the Lord says:
"Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.
The Spirit of Truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth; and John bore record of me, saying: he received a fullness of truth, yea, even of all truth;
And no man recieveth a fullness unless he keepeth his commandments.
He that keepeth his commandments recieveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things." D&C 93: 24-28.
Diligence and Persistence to Realize Self-mastery
After the comforting instruction to move forward step by step, King Benjamin teaches us to be diligent, "that thereby we might win the prize".
Alma taught Helaman something similar, adding his own practical insights and application. In teaching his son about the type of the word of Christ that the Liahona represents, Alma comments:
Because (miracles worked by the Liahona) were worked by small means, it did show unto (the Nephites) marvelous works. They were slothful and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey;
Therefore they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted . . . because of their transgressions. Alma 37: 41-21.
Diligence and focus helps us keep progressing in our journey too. Diligence and focus keeps us moving in a straight course toward our ultimate goal of Self-mastery and perfection. Patience in our diligence is crucial. It is easy in times of struggle or discouragement, or when we have stumbled again, over the same hole in the road, to get discouraged, or decide we really can’t do it or that it isn’t really worth it after all.
In times like that I claim this verse from Alma, wherein Ammon recalls how he and his companions were comforted and encouraged by the Lord in times of their discouragement:
"Now, when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, the Lord comforted us and said: Go amongst thy brethren the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success." Alma 26:27.
The Lord gives us grace for grace in the present moments of our lives, here and now, according to our present needs, and not only at some far distant time and place there and then!
As I approach the conclusion, I feel to share another story. This one is from my own experience, and I share it to impart hope and encouragement.
Long ago and far away, in another community and I might add, a different marriage, in what gratefully seems like a different lifetime to me now, I found myself in the midst of a family crisis. It was so horrific and painful, that I could not imagine how I was going to survive it, let alone grow in that experience. I was thrown into a state of pain and panic and fear that was overwhelming and immobilizing.
I knew only one thing to do, and that was to throw myself at the feet of the Savior and plead for help; and that is what I did.
And He did help. He calmed my fears and panic, comforted my pain and sorrow and grief. He gave me a daunting teaching calling with a class I felt intimidated by, and that required me to study the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon and the Book of Isaiah, deeply and with a hunger to be taught and a yearning for light and truth. He taught me about the power of prayer and the power tool of fasting.
Mostly, the Savior taught me to trust in Him by teaching me the truth of who He is, what the Atonement is, and who I am, and who I am capable of Becoming. Line upon line, step by step, precept upon precept, day by day and grace for grace the Lord taught and led me along the pathway up and through and out of that crisis of my heart and home.
It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t quick, especially in the midst of the experience. It took time, and many times I stumbled and doubted and questioned and got in my own way. One of the most surprising things of the experience, was that the Lord taught and led me along the personalized pathway of my own change, my own healing, and my own Self-mastery.
He taught me what I needed to change about me, and He empowered me with the faith in Him and in myself, to do so. Step by step I was led. As I acted upon the light and truth I was given, more light and truth and the next step was revealed to me. I learned to hear the voice of God in my own mind and heart and to rely upon it, and to trust in Him and His voice, independent of others’ opinions and advice. I was taught what to change within my own actions, beliefs and feelings, and mostly within my own perception of myself, and I was empowered with faith to do it.
At one point in the experience, it was confirmed to me that even though I had done everything required, in faith and through faith, to bring about the resolution of the crisis in the way my heart yearned for at the time, it was not to be the case. Another’s agency had been exercised toward a different result, and I was to let go of that dream. Once again I dropped to my knees in prayer, and once again, the Lord led me step by step, line upon line, here a little and there a little, through to the completion of that very painful experience.
What I learned then and what has been confirmed to me countless times since, through my own experiences and those of others I am privileged to know, is this:
- God knows us. He knows us better than we can imagine, better than we know ourselves, because He truly is our Father. He knows our beginning in the world of spirit, and our mortal path. He knows what we came here to do and why, and the larger reasons for the challenges and opportunities, the strengths and weaknesses we have. Our Father knows what we have inherited from our earthly families, both good and bad, and why. Most importantly, he knows our Divine origins and our Divine potential.
- Therefore, in those times when we doubt ourselves, we can trust the witness of the God of Truth, when He tells us that "before (He formed us) in the belly", (He knew us), (Jeremiah 1:5), and knowing us as He does, that we have the potential to become like Him - perfect, whole and complete, like He and our Savior are.
- We engage or re-engage the process of growing in Self-mastery and perfection at the beginning – with Faith, strengthening our faith in God, and then in ourselves.
- We increase our faith in God by partnering up with the Savior. To me, that is ultimately what the beautiful image in Matthew means, when the Savior entreats us to "take (His) yoke upon us and learn of (Him)" (Matthew 11:29). In taking upon ourselves His yoke, we take upon ourselves His power, strength and grace for the journey. Truly we can "do all things through Christ (who strengthens us)." (see Philippians 4: 13).
In partnering up with God through the Savior, we place ourselves in position to receive personalized instruction, guidance, and encouragement. We place ourselves in position to receive His grace into our lives, and His confirming hope (see D&C 128: 21) that we are on the path, that we can do it, and that all that He promises to the faithful, He promises to us.
Nothing strengthens me more in partnering with the Savior than drinking in the Living Word of God as found in the Book of Mormon. The book itself testifies, "the pleasing word of God healeth the wounded soul" (Jacob 2:8) and the "preaching of the word of God had . . . a more powerful effect upon the minds of the people . . . than anything else which had happened to them" (Alma 31:5).
The word of Christ, according to Alma, will also "point us in a straight course to eternal bliss" . . . and "carry us beyond this vale of sorrow, into a far better land of promise". (Alma 37: 44, 45).
I far prefer the straight pathway to bliss into the land of promise, than wandering around in the wilderness, which is what happens when we become lax and forget to exercise faith and step out of the yoke of partnership with the Savior. (see Alma 37: 41-42).
If we have never experienced this transforming power of the word of God, particularly as contained in the Book of Mormon, or if it has been a while since we have, may we "try the virtue" of this amazing book. (see Alma 31:5).
Partnering up with God through the Savior and the scriptures also brings the Holy Ghost more fully into our lives. The Holy Ghost is our personalized tutor; available to us anytime we need or seek the Spirit's help. The role of the Holy Spirit is to "guide us in wisdom’s paths, that we may be blessed, prospered and preserved" (Mosiah 2: 36).
Our mortal journeys of Self-mastery leading to perfection are personalized journeys, and we need the personalized, ever-available guidance, instruction and occasional warning of the Holy Ghost, who also brings us a greater desire and ability to obey.
- The next step in our Heroine's Journey of Self-mastery is always the step where we are. If we are not sure what that is, that is a good question to ask in prayer. Ask that your mind be enlightened and you be shown what your next step is. I testify that when we ask in faith, being willing to receive, we will receive the answer.
- After we are personally instructed and given light and truth, we must act in faith. The Lord gives us light for the next step, and when obeyed, for the next step, then the next. When we write down the personalized instruction we receive, and what we feel prompted to do in response to it, we greatly assist ourselves in actually doing it.
The process of Self-mastery is just that, a process. It happens step by step, as we increase in light and truth a little at a time, and not just in our mental understanding only, but in our hearts and the very innermost fiber of our beings, as we act upon the truth we have received. Of necessity, the process requires patience. If our Father and our Savior, who have reached the fullness, being perfect, whole and complete in all the Godly attributes, extend to us "(their) wisdom . . . patience and long-suffering" (See Mosiah 4:6) in our process of becoming, then we can find peace and hope in the Savior’s encouragement to "continue in patience until (we) are perfected" (D&C 67:13).
Toward the end of my experience, I was impelled by the Spirit to go to Temple Square - one of the places in all the earth where I feel closest to God and to the things of eternity. I went by myself, and as I walked around that day, I listened to the tabernacle organist, the brother of friends of mine, play his improvisation on Come, Come Ye Saints. I thought about his family and all they sacrificed so he could study the organ with Alexander Shreiner in that very tabernacle. I listened to his soaring and plaintive and sweet variation on the greatest hymn of the Restoration, and I began to feel so grateful. His faithful family had been significant influences in my coming to join the church.
I looked at the temple, and though it was closed for cleaning and therefore, I could not attend a session, I felt so grateful to have made covenants there, covenants that bind me to my children and to God and to all the light and truth that Temple Square represents.
I walked up the ramp in the North Visitors Center, looked around me at the rotunda with the Christus statue, and really saw it all, as if for the very first time. In that room, the Creator of the Universe and Savior of the World stands in majesty and invitation with his hands outstretched, to every one of us:
"Behold, I am Jesus Christ… I created the Heavens and the Earth, and all things that in them are. I was with the Father from the beginning… 3 Nephi 9: 15
…I came into the world to do the will of my Father… 3 Nephi 27: 13
…my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross…that I might draw all men unto me…3 Nephi 27: 14
Learn of me and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. D&C 19: 23
Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet…D&C 6: 37
For behold, I … have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer, if they would repent. D&C 19: 16
Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. John 14: 1
A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples…John 13: 34-35.
In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . I go to prepare a place for you. John 14: 2.
If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14: 15.
I testify that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. I testify that He is reaching out to each one of us. As we reach up and take His hand in partnership with Him, He will lead us step by step, day by day, line upon line and grace for grace, in loving patience along our personalized journey of Self-mastery toward perfection, and into all that the Father promises us. In the Sacred and Holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
1. I have searched and searched for the reference citation for this experience from the life of Joseph Smith. I have read it personally, and know the author to be reliable. I believe it was Truman Madsen who tells this story. When I locate the citation I will post a revised version, with this detail included.
A reader has shared another reference for this story. It also appears in Remembering Joseph by Mark McConkie.