By Sean Hirro
In the extension of this invitation to speak, I was guided by the bishopric on some tender feelings by some who may not be as celebratory as much of the world due to circumstances within or without their control. With fervent admonishment, I was invited to speak on a closely related topic to lessen any rawness that may come with today.
And as in the true nature of spiritual education, my thoughts and impressions kept me thinking and returning to the “one”: that “one”, who may not feel (at times) nor part of the “everyone”. With the guidance of the Spirit this morning, and a week-long submission to much prayer and vigilance to the voice of the Spirit, I would like to speak to that “one” who may feel apart from the rest. Apart from relationships, both physical and spiritual associations. Apart from conditions, situations, places, and statuses that one should find themselves in the most ideal circumstances in life.
As someone who doesn’t fall within the “ideal” setup in the Church, I have learned over the years to consider and point my attention to the great plan of happiness. The plan
I committed to before my earth life and the plan I covenanted to in the waters of baptism.
When I give trainings to managers about getting their direct reports (the people they manage) to be more involved, be to more committed to action, and be participatory in their change initiatives, I ask the managers a very simple question: the question being, “Do they (their direct reports) know what the big picture is (the change initiative, the goal) and do they know what their role is in that ‘big picture’?”
A good amount of time, managers failed in sharing with their direct reports what the details and specifics of big picture are: and they have poorly outlined if not missed, how their direct report’s participation would affect the outcome and eventually bring about the desired changes or the accomplishment of the goal.
Similarly, the gospel’s plan of happiness is a, if not the “big picture”. Through ancient and modern prophets, and local church leaders, we are given directions through revelations within the bounds of their authority, in addition to our own personal revelations, the desires of a thoughtful Father in Heaven.
We know the plan: (1) Come down to earth, (2) Have a physical body, (3) Be tested, (4) Go through refining and defining moments and experiences that will enable us to return to the presence of loving Heavenly Parents.
As in any purifying process, pain and suffering are not exempted. We know that. That was explained as part of our preparation for mortal life. We spent some time deliberating on the plan. In fact, in the midst of all the discussion, there was an opposition or an exercise of free agency but contrary to what is right and just. The opposition was so severe that the banishment of some happened. And those who opposed, those who were banished, continued to negatively influence if not destroy the plan. And the “influence” of the adversary is so blatant and open and can be encountered everywhere. Their leader’s influence in fact was used to fulfill the beginning of our mortal experiences where the true tests need to and must happen.
A few years ago, I invited a friend to go to the temple with me as I knew he didn’t have the transportation and might be interested. Jeff, not his real name, and I visited as we drove to the temple. I was slightly aware of some of the personal matters in his family life. A few months prior to that drive, Jeff lost his brother. His brother suffered from mental health issues: battling depression and anxiety most of his young life. One day his brother didn’t come home. They searched, reached out to other family and friends but to no avail. They found his car in the process, randomly abandoned at a mall parking lot. The abandoned car didn’t provide adequate evidence to help their search, until the time their search came to an eventual end.
Roughly four months after his brother’s disappearance, a dreaded phone call was received by the family. The call informed them that a body was found at the bottom of a cliff matching his brother’s identity in a considerable distance from where they found the abandoned vehicle. It was tragic. It was heart-breaking and painful.
As we visited, I shared with Jeff what I felt as the best explanation a friend could offer (at least in my mind – and heart) on what happened.
Insightfully, I said, “We always limit our attention to what the fall caused to Adam and Eve. How the fall affected the earth and everything in it in relation to Adam and Eve. But we never consider how the Fall affected us on a personal level."
Perplexed, Jeff asked for more clarification.
I cited, “You see, because of the Fall, I have a heart murmur. I didn’t cause it, but I was born with it. Best explanation is I inherited it from my dad who suffered his first stroke at age 35."
"Just like your brother," I added, "the Fall manifested itself in his mental health challenges as displayed by his anxieties and depressions. That was the effect of the Fall on him. Just like “cursed is the ground” [and] “thorns also and thistles” being introduced in paradise”.
I then added, “What I know now to be the effects of the Fall to my body, I can take extra precaution on my activities. I must be vigilant of habits and lifestyles that may worsen my condition”.
Jeff was quite taken aback by my comments. He said he never looked at it that way. Never from that perspective. That day, I saw a degree of relief in Jeff’s eyes. I felt like there was an added closure. A bit of an enlightenment, if you will, on his brother’s mortal journey. A deeper understanding. A measure of acceptance.
I do remind myself and extend the same caution that with this reality on the effects of the Fall, complacency and excuses should never be attitudes worth entertaining to defend worldly propensities and behaviors. Rather, a reference for actions, a template for conduct and a guide for decisions.
In the recent April 2021 general conference, our prophets spoke about the “hope in Christ”, “waiting on the Lord”, trusting Him, and having faith and dependence on His love. I testify of that. I find peace and comfort in that. Discipleship is what the Lord measures. It’s not so much about the title nor the labels we carry in this life, although these help create part of our identity. It is what we put value in and prioritize in this life gifted to us regardless of our circumstances that gives it meaning and makes the eternal difference. It is the qualifier for the gifts and blessings reserved for us based on our obedience and faith. Discipleship is our response to God's love. Discipleship is faith exercised.
I offer that same consolation my dear sisters and brothers.
The great plan of happiness should be our big picture. I may not get a full explanation today, however my heart rests on the fact that a loving Heavenly Father prepared me for this as he did to you. I know I sat with Him as He explained what my life will be like here on earth. What my weaknesses will be and how I will confront them and get past them as he did with you. He promised me talents and people (family, friends, and church leaders) who will help me as he did with you. I know He placed His hands on my head, with tears in His eyes, as he did to you and pronounced a blessing and a promise necessary to live a mortal life that will enable us to return to his presences. I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.