I’m a twenty-two year old college student, and I’m not ashamed to say that I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons. You’ve probably heard of us. Contrary to common consensus, I don’t have horns, I have nine siblings and… no my father only has one wife. We’re all biological siblings. We’re not a cult, though some would want to believe it. We don’t worship Joseph Smith. We believe in the Bible as the word of God as well as in the Book of Mormon. We believe that both volumes of scripture help us understand our relationship with Christ and with our Heavenly Father. Like most Christians, we believe in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world and that through Him we can be saved. We believe that God is the Father of our Spirits, Christ is our Savior and that they are two distinct and separate beings who have the same purpose. That purpose is to guide us and help us learn how to return to live with Them after this life. We believe in living prophets and we believe that family relationships can be perpetuated beyond the grave and along with this we believe that there is a life after this life because of Jesus Christ. If you have any questions about my beliefs, check the church website at lds.org or mormon.org. You can even stop those two young men or two young women who wear those black name tags that you see walking around your town. It’s totally worth your while. I was one of those awkward looking young men for two years in the Philippines. We don’t bite, but the happiness that comes from the message we share is contagious. You’ve been warned.
If I haven’t lost you yet, thanks for staying invested. It seems that whenever religion is spoken about, people tend to retract into a shell of so-called spirituality and politely say “Thanks, but no thanks.” This sort of response is very understandable. A lot of terrible things have been done in the name of religion. I do not condone in any way, shape, or form the many hateful acts that have been done under the ensign of ecclesiastical entities. But, what I am saying is that although a lot of people have a lot of negative things to say about the religion and a belief in God in the Christian sense, I believe that there is one thing in religion and a belief in God that can help everyone on earth especially in our current increasingly cynical and chaotic climate.
That one thing is hope.
You’re probably thinking, “That’s cliche. There’s no reason to hope for anything because scientists say that eventually we’ll all die and then there will be nothing.” Or you might say something that has to do with a “heat death,” or World War III. Although those are real worries, hope in something better is the spoonful of sugar that we all need before we all go six-feet down.
I was raised by parents that taught me that even though life is hard, I can find strength to overcome difficulties through hoping and relying on Jesus Christ and my Heavenly Father. I come from a litter of ten kids. It can be pretty easy to get lost in a family of that size, but my parents taught me that I was not only their child, but I was a child of God and that He loved me and had a plan for me. They taught me that if I keep the commandments, make and keep sacred promises with God, and help others do the same that I would feel happier and feel God’s love. My parents wanted me to be happy and they wanted me to know that I was more than just one of several billion people on the planet that was born, lived for a few years, and would die and that would be it. They taught me that there was something more. Something to look forward to. Something to give purpose to my life. We read from the scriptures of people who found hope in the promise that God would “provide some better thing” for us. They taught me to fold my arms, bow my head, and pray to Heavenly Father. They taught me to thank Him for my blessings. To ask for help when I need it. To ask for comfort when I felt scared.
Some might say that parents doing that to their kids is equivalent to brainwashing them. Filling their heads will false hopes. Well, you can think that if you so choose. Some might say that it prevents kids from learning to think for themselves. That it restricts their freedom. You could also think of it that way as well. Many people could say that religion in the life of a child is like classical conditioning. You know, Pavlov’s dogs stuff. Press a button, and receive a reward or punishment. Or say a prayer and blessings come out. Some might see this as a great way to turn children into mindless drones who can’t think or act for themselves. As one of those “drones,” I’d have to say that I’ll always be grateful for what my parents taught me as a child. They taught me not only to hope for good things to come, but they taught me that on top of hoping, I need to go about doing good. They taught me that if I had questions, I could ask God (James 1:5-6).
You might be thinking that I’m just a product of blind obedience, but that is far from the truth. Although I was taught these things by my parents, I ultimately had to find out if anything they were teaching me was true. I had to know for myself.
As a ten-year-old, my family experienced a tragedy. My oldest sister passed away in November of 2006 at the age of 26. There is a song in the LDS Hymnbook titled, “Families Can Be Together Forever”. The chorus says, “Families can be together forever / Through Heavenly Father’s plan. / I always want to be with my own family, / And the Lord has shown me how I can.” I sang those words so many times as a kid growing up, but after the passing of my sister, I wanted to know if this was true. Would I see my sister again? Is there a life after this life? What’s the point? These along with many other questions were queued up in my head until I decided to kneel down in my room and ask God. As a shaken little boy, I took some of life’s toughest questions to God. Along with this, I started reading the scriptures to understand for myself. The answer came to me as I relied on my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, through praying, going to church, studying the scriptures and the words of modern prophets. I remember reading in the Book of Mormon about a prophet named Nephi who, because of his unwavering faith in Christ before Christ was even born, was given power and authority to seal things on earth and in heaven (Helaman 10:7). In the LDS Church, the marriages that are performed in the temple are also called “sealings.” A husband and wife are sealed to each other and their children as one eternal family contingent upon their staying true and faithful to covenants and promises they make with one another and with God. My parents were sealed when they got married back in 1979. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so a sealing performed by the power of God was still valid in 2006 (and continues to be so even in 2018).
For me, answers came slowly. It didn’t happen all at once for me, but it came. I was able to understand that God had a plan and that sometimes I wouldn’t understand exactly why things happened, but I could understand that things would be okay in the end. God didn’t bring my sister back. Things didn’t go right back to normal. But, I was able to understand that part of being on earth as a human is the inevitability of trials and hardship. I came to understand that death is real and the pain associated with losing someone close to you is hard and sometimes impossible to quench. I learned that sometimes, life can really suck and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. But, above all, I learned that hope can be found even when you’re high atop a hill of hopelessness with no feasible way of getting down. This hope, for me, was found in Jesus Christ. It was a hope that although bad things happen, Christ suffered so that He could understand us and be there for us in our time of need. It was a hope that although we all will someday die, Christ made it possible for us to live again after this life. It was a hope that sacred promises that my parents made with God in the temple would allow our family to be together in this life and in the next if we stayed true to our promises. Ultimately it was a hope that in the end, things would be okay. I felt that. It wasn’t as much a voice telling me, “Everything is going to be alright” as it was an affirmation that I felt in my mind and in my heart.
This experience, along with countless others, has given me hope that as dark as things might seem, things will work out. Things will eventually be okay. A lot of times, that’s really all I need to know. Things are going to work out. I feel that in a time of such calamity as we find ourselves in now, religion and a belief in God can provide comfort and reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Religion and a belief in God have shaped me into who I am today. It has provided me with the strength that I need to face the world. If you have questions about religion, faith, trials, Jesus Christ, or anything in between you can ask them. You can ask me (I might not know the answer, but I can help you find it), you can confide in a friend, and above all you can ask God. You can find hope and answers to questions even when it seems like all of the lights are out. In the words of Lavar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to give it a try. What could a little extra light in your life do anyway?