Spoken Word Messages

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Not long ago, a university researcher decided to conduct an experiment on gratitude. But her motives weren’t purely academic. This researcher is also a mother of four teenagers. She explained, “I wanted to learn more about how I can raise my kids to be more grateful in an era of entitlement.”

God gives each of us a limited supply of time, and for the most part, we choose how to use it. The writer E. B. White once said, “One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.”1 And yet, we get very little good in return for nursing a grudge or ruminating over a past offense. Surely there are many more positive and productive ways to spend our time. 

A novel by French writer Victor Hugo tells of a small group of soldiers who met a starving woman and her children in the woods. Moved with compassion, the sergeant handed her a piece of bread from his rations.

Events in life sometimes come at us so rapidly and randomly that it can be hard to find any meaning in them. So much of life can seem like a series of unrelated accidents, tied together with nothing more meaningful than mere coincidence. 

Sissel, the Choir, and the Orchestra have just performed a heavenly song based on these words from the 46th Psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God” (verse 10). It’s an invitation to peace and reassurance that resonates through the ages.  

Early in His ministry, Jesus had only a handful of followers, most of them members of a small fishing community near the Sea of Galilee. But they were eager to spread His transcendent message to others. Among these early followers was Philip, who, soon after meeting Jesus, went to his friend Nathanael and excitedly declared, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth.”

Sometimes we see things so often that we don’t really look at them anymore. When was the last time you stopped to watch a beautiful sunset, gaze at a canopy of clouds, or look up in wonder at a cluster of stars? We are surrounded by the natural world, but we can only understand our place in it—our connection with all of creation—when we take the time to reflect on the beauty around us.

Jesus of Nazareth once gave this bold invitation: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). The message seems to be that God has more to give us—faith to impart, comfort to bestow, blessings to pour out. He wants to give more, but He waits for us to ask, seek, and knock.  

When he was nearing 80 years old, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was asked in an interview, “Have you found that your relationship to God has changed as you’ve grown older?” This deeply spiritual man, who has since passed away, thought for a moment and said: “Yes. I am learning to shut up more in the presence of God.”

Hundreds of years ago, Shakespeare wrote this timeless wisdom: “They do not love, that do not show their love.”[1] Yes, love is a feeling, an emotion, a noun. But even more, love is a verb, an action, a decision. Feelings may come and go, but actions—serving, sacrificing, expressing love—can support those feelings as the years unfold. Our actions show the depth and meaning of our love; they give substance to our feelings. And they help us remain steadfast and true.

On a Sunday nearly 400 years ago—August 10, 1628, to be exact—not far from here at the navy shipyard in Stockholm, the mighty Swedish warship Vasa set sail. Built by command of the king, the ship was to be the mightiest of the sea—a proud symbol of the nation’s wealth and military strength.

For two years, the pandemic has given us something this world has rarely faced—a common hardship. While everyone’s experience has been different, no person, no corner of the world, has been left untouched by this modern-day plague. The world feels different now; jobs and schools and so many other things have been forced to adapt. And yet, in the midst of all this change and instability, we’ve also rediscovered some things that never change—everlasting things that we value, now more than ever before. 

In one of George Bernard Shaw’s plays, a successful young woman challenges the idea that we are victims of our circumstances. “I don’t believe in circumstances,” she declares. “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.”1 

A young man once asked Warren Buffet, one of the world’s foremost investors, what advice he would give on how to be successful. He might have expected tips on how to invest his money wisely or what career to pursue. Instead, Buffet, in his mid-80s at the time, shared with the young man these words of wisdom: “Hang out with people better than you,” he said. “Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”1  

For many people, life is filled with busyness. There’s nothing inherently wrong, of course, with being busy. But it’s also not inherently a virtue—especially when the pursuits that keep us so busy do not reflect our deepest values. Religious leader Thomas S. Monson once said: “Were we to step back … and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find that we have immersed ourselves in the ‘thick of thin things.’…. Too often we spend most of our time taking care of the things which do not really matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, neglecting those more important causes.”1

Here at Copenhagen’s City Hall Square, on one of the city’s busiest streets, stands an impressive bronze statue. The street is known as H. C. Andersens Boulevard, and the statue honors one of Denmark’s favorite sons: a national treasure, a storyteller beloved around the world.

Have you ever felt like you needed a miracle? In the midst of calamities global and local, shared, and private, we wish we could change the world—or at least some small part of it. But big problems can make us feel small, powerless to help.

A few years ago, executives at a large theme park hired consultants to help them understand how to capture the attention of small children. The consultants spent a few hours in the park, observing the children to see what most interested them. What they learned surprised them: the children seemed to be most captivated not by the exciting rides, the costumed characters, or the colorful displays but, instead, by “their parents’ cell phones, especially when the parents were using them.”

We live in what some have called a “consumer society,” a society focused on buying and selling—then buying and selling some more. Such a society thrives on discontent, inadequacy, competition, and comparisons, because that drives us to make more purchases. The late British rabbi and writer Jonathan Sacks observed: “A consumer society … encourages us to spend money we don’t have, on products we don’t need, for a happiness that won’t last. … In a consumer society,” he explained, “we act to be envied rather than admired.”[1]

A story from ancient times provides a poignant example of how mercy and justice intersect in our lives and our relationships. A young man named Joseph was hated and mistreated by his brothers. They even contemplated killing him but finally settled on selling him into slavery. For some 20 years, Joseph toiled in Egypt, far from his home and family, with plenty of time to think about what his brothers had done to him.

New Year’s Day might very well be just another day—no different from the 364 that follow—if it wasn’t for our traditions. We gather with family and friends. We eat special foods together. We celebrate and reflect. We thank God for the blessings of the past year and the opportunities in the year ahead. No, there’s nothing inherently special about January 1. But in these and many other ways, we make New Year’s Day meaningful with our traditions of gathering, of love, of remembering, of gratitude to God—of looking back and looking forward. Let’s hear how some people around the world celebrate the New Year.

I’m standing at Wenceslas Square, in the heart of Prague, near a statue of the Duke of Bohemia, affectionately known as good King Wenceslas. A caring Christian ruler and patron saint of the Czech Republic, Wenceslas has come to represent kindhearted generosity and selfless giving. And because these attributes are at the heart of Christmas, it’s not surprising that good King Wenceslas is also the subject of a beloved Christmas carol.

In Ireland, the land of my ancestors, Christmas traditions have given the holidays a profound sense of meaning and purpose. They help families welcome the Christ Child into their lives—both on Christmas Day and throughout the year. For the generations before me, that meant cleaning the barn, whitewashing the cottage, scrubbing floors, ironing linens, and cooking a special meal for family coming home. As the Irish love to say, “Níl Aon Tinteán Mar Do Thinteán Féin”—“There’s no hearth like your own hearth,” or, in other words, there’s no place like home. And that’s especially true at Christmas. Today, while our family lives far from the Emerald Isle, we still get ready for Christmas in some of the traditional ways. But our most important preparation has to do with our hearts—with remembering others, reconciling differences, and returning kindnesses. Even the old Irish custom of a Christmas morning dip in the icy sea was an invitation to wash away the old and begin anew—to welcome the Christ Child into hearts made clean and pure for Him.

Every year at Christmastime, small children put on makeshift costumes and gather household props to act out the Nativity story while someone reads from Luke chapter 2. Never mind that the real Joseph didn’t wear a fuzzy bathrobe or that the sheep looks suspiciously like the family dog. Adoring parents and grandparents overlook the fact that the donkey missed his cue and the angel forgot her lines. These homespun productions are cherished because they’re a tender tribute to the beloved Bible story in which Mary “brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Christmas is a season of interesting contrasts. In many parts of the world, for example, Christmas comes in the darkest, coldest part of winter—and yet Christmas is a season of light and warmth, characterized by the warm glow of lights on houses and trees. People are kinder and filled with more compassion and love, but at the same time the stress of the season can make people busier, ruder, and more impatient. And while Christmas is traditionally a time of joyful gatherings with friends and family, so many feel uninvited, forgotten, and alone. Contrasts like these are with us all year long, but at Christmastime they are amplified, more tender and poignant. 

Christmas lasts much longer than one day. Weeks in advance, decorations are hung, and stores and streetlights are lit up in happy anticipation. Music...

Isn’t it interesting that sometimes those who have the least are the most grateful, and yet there are others who seem to have everything—except gratitude? As religious leader Henry B. Eyring observed: “We so easily forget that we came into life with nothing. Whatever we get soon seems our natural right, not a gift. And we forget the giver. Then our gaze shifts from what we have been given to what we don’t have yet.”[1]

Sometimes we feel like pilgrims on a sea of strife. A pilgrim is one who has journeyed far from home, and that journey can leave us feeling wounded, lost, and weak. But a pilgrim isn’t a lost or aimless wanderer. As pilgrims, we journey with a purpose. We know that this unsettled world—with its strife and pain and disappointment—is not our true home. So we set off in search of heaven’s strength and grace. When all else fails around us, we search in faith for something secure to hold onto, someone we can rely on, someone who will never let us down.

More than 20 years ago, Gene Scheer read a book about the creation of the Constitution of the United States. He read about the passionate dedication of the founders of this nation—a nation that would one day become a symbol of freedom for the world. As he read, he felt inspired—so inspired that he wrote a song and called it “American Anthem.” The song has been performed at presidential inaugurations and was featured in a popular documentary about World War ll. Scheer said he wanted it to be a “rallying call,” reminding citizens—including himself—of our responsibility “to get out there and … do something” for the country.[1]

Sometimes we see things so often that we don’t really look at them anymore. When was the last time you stopped to watch a beautiful sunset, gaze at a canopy of clouds, or look up in wonder at a cluster of stars? We are surrounded by the natural world, but we can only understand our place in it—our connection with all of creation—when we take the time to reflect on the beauty around us.