Brené Brown, a social science researcher who has dedicated her career to studying human connection, has interviewed thousands of people wanting to know why some people are able to forge strong, deep, and long-lasting connections with others while some people struggle with this their entire lives. She said:
“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”
This is important to me because I really struggled as a child in my relationships with my peers. I was extremely shy and this feeling was exacerbated by some experiences I had. The result was that I felt dull, uninteresting, and unloveable. I had a hard time seeing why anyone would want to be friends with me! Isn’t that a horrible thing for a child to feel? Unfortunately, I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling.
Satan knows just where to hit us to keep us from connecting with God, and distrusting we are worthy to connect with Him and be called His children is one of his most powerful tools.
Sister Joy D. Jones explained this when she said, “Satan is the father of all lies, especially when it comes to misrepresentations about our own divine nature and purpose. Thinking small about ourselves does not serve us well…”
In order for me to develop my relationship with Christ - I had to believe that I was worthy of that love and connection. And through small miracles in my life, I did come to change how I felt about myself.
Brigham Young said, “The least, the most inferior person now upon the earth … is worth worlds.”
Recently Natalie, my 8 year old, gave a Family Home Evening lesson on Agency and she read this statement from the Friend magazine: “With each right choice we make, we grow closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
Robert D. Hales said: “Our use of agency determines who we are and what we will be”. I am fascinated by how much choice we have in this life. We choose to be happy or sad. We choose to keep our covenants or not. We have to choose Christ and choose to be a friend to Christ.
President Monson reminded us that our decisions determine our destiny. With that in mind, I’d like to submit some concrete ways we can choose a relationship with the Savior.
1. We can choose to repent
Our mistakes can also cause us to erect barriers to our relationships with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Notice that I said WE erect barriers. Since we all sin, the problem is not that we are not worthy to talk to God; it is that we don’t feel worthy to talk to God, and thus we create a major barrier in our connection to Him.
“You are a child of God. You can’t ever become more child of God by your merits, and you can't ever become less child of God by your imperfections. Trusting deep down that you are loved by an eternal father is also the key to believing you are worthy of connecting with Him all the time, even when you mess up.” (LDS BLOG)
Brene Brown also teaches about the difference between guilt and shame. Do you know what the difference is? Guilt leads us to a course correction. It’s not necessarily a bad feeling. We acknowledge that we made a mistake and seek to correct it. Shame causes us to beat ourselves up and avoid change. Elder Holland reminded us that wallowing in shame comes from Satan, not God, when he gave this awesome definition of repentance: “You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. That’s another satanic suckerpunch—that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, ‘I’ll change’—and mean it”.
Wallowing in shame separates us from God because it blocks us from repenting and making the true and lasting changes that will bring us closer to Him.
1-B - Along with repentance, we can choose to take the Sacrament
Elder Christofferson illustrated the importance of this ordinance beautifully in his recent talk in October General Conference:
“The bread and water represent the flesh and blood of Him who is the Bread of Life and the Living Water, poignantly reminding us of the price He paid to redeem us. As the bread is broken, we remember the Savior’s torn flesh. Elder Dallin H. Oaks once observed that “because it is broken and torn, each piece of bread is unique, just as the individuals who partake of it are unique. We all have different sins to repent of. We all have different needs to be strengthened through the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we remember in this ordinance”
The layers of symbolism throughout the ordinance of the sacrament can teach us so much about the Savior and His love for us. I love the Spirit and closeness to Jesus Christ that I can feel when I take the sacrament.
2. We can Choose to Pray
Jeremiah 29:12-13 reads: 12 Then shall ye acall upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will bhearken unto you.
When the Savior appeared among the people on this continent, after his resurrection, he taught them how to pray. He used the words, “Pray always.”
We really do have an opportunity to connect with the Lord and counsel with Him when we pray and open ourselves up to receiving His guidance. I have had experiences where I have felt so powerfully Heavenly Father directing my prayer and helping me know who and what to prayer for and even sometimes the precise words to use. What a relief it can be to pour out all the fears and concerns of my heart. There was a time when I had been feeling quite down emotionally for months. It scared me to be feeling incapable of being emotionally available for my family. I felt like I’d lost my ability to be truly joyful. During that time I had been having nudgings that I needed to be willing to let another child join our family but I was so scared. I felt so drained and physically and emotionally tired all the time. But through the medium of prayer - of expressing my fears and concerns, and finally my faith, Heavenly Father was able to let me know that it would all be okay. My Faith - my daughter Faith - is a reminder to me of that experience of relinquishing my fears through prayer and trusting in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ to carry me through.
3. We can Choose to Bear Testimony
There is power in speaking words out loud. Not too long ago I had an experience with this. I was watching a short video about women’s self-esteem and the person on the video counseled women to look in the mirror and say directly, out loud, with power, the words “I am beautiful.” Well, I thought this sounded a little silly and I don’t consider my self-esteem to be too damaged, but just for kicks, in the living room, I looked up and said loudly to myself “I am beautiful”. Instantly I was so struck by overwhelming emotion and a feeling of love from Heavenly Father that I burst into tears. Faith looked at me in some consternation from the other room. I’ve had similarly powerful feelings when I read the scriptures and other books aloud to my children. I was amazed how simply speaking three words out loud had caused that intense feeling. It got me thinking about the importance of bearing our testimonies. I think that anyone who has stood at this pulpit has had the experience of an outpouring of the Holy Ghost confirming in our minds a simple truth that we have stated. For me personally, often that witness doesn’t come UNTIL I open my mouth and then the Spirit sends these words out and witnesses of their truth all at the same time.
Elder Ballard counseled: “too many of our members’ testimonies linger on “I am thankful” and “I love,” and too few...say with humble but sincere clarity, “I know.” Our testimony meetings need to be more centered on the Savior, the doctrines of the gospel, the blessings of the Restoration, and the teachings of the scriptures. ...that is because the Spirit cannot be restrained when pure testimony of Christ is borne.”
I think there is a reason that we have callings and that at their root, all callings are teaching callings - testifying callings. We are given the opportunity to testify of Christ and through that testimony, to grow closer to Him. From the Sunbeam teacher who speaks out loud to her class the words “Jesus loves me” and feels the Holy Ghost testify of the truth in that simple statement, to the ward clerk managing our ward records who testifies that we are loved and cared for as individuals, to the visiting teacher who shares a simple scripture and testimony of hope and Christ’s love to buoy a saddened heart, we all have opportunities to teach and testify of Christ. And that is a powerful way to strengthen our own - as well as other’s - relationships with the Savior.
4. Choose to Fast
When I was about 17 one of my little sisters confided in me that she really hated to fast. I wanted to convince her that her attitude was wrong, but I couldn’t think of a thing to say. In my effort to teach my sister, I spent an entire afternoon researching fasting and realized at the end of it that I hadn’t convinced her - but I had certainly strengthened my own testimony of the principle!
Sister Linda K. Burton taught, “In order to increase our ability to hear the voice of the Spirit, we would all do well to fast each fast Sunday and freely give our fast offering to help those in need. Through fasting comes the spirit of prophecy and revelation and the opportunity to be counseled by the Lord.”
5. Choose to be worthy and worship in the Temple
I love the idea that the Lord invites us to His home so that we can get to know Him better. Doesn’t that sound like something a friend would do?
Last October, Elder Bednar taught, “A temple literally is the house of the Lord, a sacred space specifically set apart for worshipping God and for receiving and remembering His great and precious promises. The principal purpose is to powerfully and repeatedly focus our attention upon Heavenly Father, His Only Begotten Son, the Holy Ghost, and the promises associated with the ordinances and covenants of the Savior’s restored gospel.”
6. Choose to Serve Others
If we were doing a countdown to the #1 way to develop a relationship with the Savior, I think service would occupy the top slot. How else can we learn to love as He loved and understand his character unless we do what He did - which was endless sacrificial service. What has helped me was recognizing that most beneficial service to myself and to others is rarely the convenient service. I also have a testimony that our simple acts of service are magnified to become “enough” for the Lord’s purposes. That gives me great comfort.
7. Choose to search the scriptures daily.
There is no better place to learn about the Savior than the scriptures.
I searched through the New Testament to come up with some examples of friendship between the Savior and His disciples - His friends. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I thought it was interesting to think about each of these things and how they can apply to ME in my efforts to be a friend to my Savior:
They prayed together
They ate together
They traveled together
They comforted each other
They served each other and others
They stood up for each other
They worshipped together
They trusted each other
They fasted together
They loved each other
He kept His promises to us - specifically when He suffered in Gethsemane and atoned for our sins.
This thought from Spencer W. Kimball has hung on a wall in our home for years:
“I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures, the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”
This has been a guide for me whenever I am seeking personal revelation and guidance and don’t feel that the answers are coming. In those situations, most often I am on my knees and praying hard, but I am not immersing myself enough in the scriptures. When I remember to do so, the Spirit comes, and I feel a connection with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ that I wasn’t feeling before.
Elder Hales taught: “When we want to speak to God, we pray. And when we want Him to speak to us, we search the scriptures, for His words are spoken through His prophets.”
In addition to what Elder Hales taught, I find that I receive inspiration and promptings when I study the scriptures more than at any other time.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to study. I like to use a multitude of resources and strategies to help me focus my studies. This month I’ve been using a study guide that suggested the following areas of study in order to strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ -
-Study His mission and participate in His work - how can you have a relationship with someone you don’t really know?
-Learn about those who knew Him and the encounters they had with Jesus. What do those teach us about the personality of Jesus Christ? When did I last “encounter” the Savior? Or, if I can’t think of the last time, when am I going to set aside time to seek Him out?
-Learn about adversity - the role it played in the life of the Savior, and the role it plays in bringing us closer to Him. John C. Pingree, Jr. recently described how “[o]ur trials help us discover and prepare for the work Heavenly Father has for us.”
-Consider the invitations extended by the Savior to follow in His ways - to develop His attributes and characteristics. Who is part of your flock?
Elder Faust shared a beautiful testimony and promise that I would like to share with you. “It is my testimony that we are facing difficult times. We must be courageously obedient. My witness is that we will be called upon to prove our spiritual stamina, for the days ahead will be filled with affliction and difficulty. But with the assuring comfort of a personal relationship with the Savior, we will be given a calming courage. From the Divine so near we will receive the quiet assurance:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7–8.)
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matt. 7:7–8.)
I testify to you is that a personal relationship with Jesus Christ can be a protection and a strength to us in the trials that inevitably come.
I testify that we are worthy of that connection, that the Savior waits with open arms to receive us as His friends and that there are small and simple steps that we can take that will forge that relationship.