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More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth taught a higher, holier way—higher than what religious leaders of His day were teaching and certainly higher than our natural inclinations. Perhaps the most stunning of His invitations is this one: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
It probably goes without saying that everyone wants to be happy. It seems logical, then, that we would spend most of our time and energy in search of happiness and that the harder we search the happier we’ll be. But it turns out that this isn’t necessarily the case.
The scriptures give wise and loving counsel for all kinds of situations we might face in life. Even so, when those situations get to be particularly thorny or complex, we naturally worry about doing the wrong thing. We might ask, “What does God want me to do?”
Most would agree that the world today seems to be in turmoil. Troubling events large and small swirl around us, from war to poverty to natural disasters. During such tragedies, it’s inspiring to see compassionate people come to the rescue. Humble heroes see others in need and provide essentials like food and shelter, but they also provide something less tangible—though not less essential: they give hope. And quite often, that hope comes from faith in God. People need physical strength to rebuild their homes, but they need spiritual strength to rebuild their future. Food and water sustain life, but spirituality gives life meaning.
We all know that some days can be full of peace and happiness, while other days seem to be unrelentingly hard. As one six-year-old so wisely said, “You can have a no problem day, but you can’t have a no problem life.”
For generations, people who want to live in harmony with others have been guided by a well-loved saying: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”
It was a cold, snowy December day in 1891, and the students at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, were getting restless. Their physical education teacher, James Naismith, decided they needed something they could do indoors. So, he got two peach baskets from the janitor, nailed them to the balcony on either end of the gym, 10 feet from the floor, and handed the boys a ball. Some suggested that he call this new game “Naismith Ball,” but he simply called it “basket ball.”
The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. For nearly a thousand years, teachers have taught, and students have learned at this venerable institution, which now includes 39 colleges and a variety of disciplines. Among the many important subjects taught here over the centuries, one of the first was theology.
It has been said that if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. We all want to be ready for future storms and difficulties in life, but we can’t always predict what’s coming and what we need to do to prepare. Sometimes it feels as if we’re playing chess, doing our best to think two or three moves ahead.
Books have been a centerpiece of civilization for centuries. And nowhere is the precious legacy of books more apparent than here at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, home to one of the most impressive libraries in the world. Especially remarkable is a room called “the Long Room”—a two-story chamber more than 65 meters long filled with over 200,000 of Trinity’s most ancient books. Among them is the Book of Kells, a revered illustrated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament, created by monks more than 1,200 years ago.
When you hear the word history, what comes to mind? Many of us have memories of a high school history class, where we had to memorize dates, names, and places. Because of such experiences, we might think of history as kings and presidents, wars and treaties, maps, and timelines. But history is so much more than that.
Most of the world’s best work is done by teams. Whether at school, in the office, on the stage, or on the ballfield, the most effective teams deliver the best performances. Learning how to succeed means learning how to work together. And life provides so many great opportunities.
Many years ago, a man resolved to write in his journal at the end of each day. It’s a resolution many people make, but his journal entries were different. They weren’t just a log of what happened that day. Before he wrote, he pondered this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As he made it a habit to reflect on that question, he began to see evidence of God’s loving intervention that he hadn’t noticed before. It was as if simply asking the question “allowed God to show [him] what He had done.” Somewhat unexpectedly, the more he recorded God’s goodness, the more he became aware of it.
Here in this cottage in the Scottish lowlands during the late 1700s, the poet Robert Burns was born and lived his early life. The Burns family were tenant farmers. Here they worked the land, ate their meals together, and gathered by the hearth at night to read. In their village of Alloway, Scotland, about 60 kilometers or so south of Glasgow, young Robert’s poetic imagination was kindled. From this humble beginning, Burns rose to fame and left an enduring legacy as the national poet of Scotland.
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.
Many years ago, I was filming in Seattle. One evening after shooting, I turned to the writings of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.
Here inside the Charles Dickens House in London, England, sits a desk that once belonged to the great novelist. It was here that Charles Dickens wrote many of the works that are now considered classics of English literature.
As Christmastime approached, a young boy carefully counts a handful of coins and bills. This is money he has earned by doing odd jobs around the house and around the neighborhood. It is also his Christmas-giving fund. As much as he enjoys receiving gifts for Christmas, he loves giving them even more. His fund isn’t particularly large, but his heart is. And soon he will take that money and roam through a store looking for the perfect gift for each person on his list. In some cases, he’ll find that nothing in the store is quite right, so he will hand-make a gift that properly represents the love in his heart.
It’s been said that “getting there is half the fun.” That’s true of vacations and road trips, and it’s even more true of Christmas. It’s as if Christmas is so full of joy and cheer that one day simply isn’t big enough to hold all of it. Almost unavoidably, the bright lights, the colorful decorations, and the spirit of sharing spill over into the weeks preceding December 25th.
Even during difficult times, perhaps especially during difficult times, we need the blessing of gratitude. Consider this invitation from President Russell M. Nelson: “Our first noble deed of the morning should be a humble prayer of gratitude.”
On the western bank of the Hudson River, 40 miles north of New York City, stands the United States Military Academy at West Point. For over 200 years, this well-known institution has emphasized the values behind a simple and inspiring motto: “Duty, Honor, Country.”
The word strive means something slightly different from the word try. To strive suggests purposeful effort. To try, on the other hand, connotes something a little less certain. You try something when you’re still exploring whether success is possible or even desirable. If it doesn’t work out, well, at least you tried. But when you strive, you keep going, no matter what. In the effort to overcome our weaknesses and change for the better, we don’t just try; we strive.
With good reason, we often admire people who are persistent, resilient—those who face hardship but simply refuse to quit. We stand in awe of their grit and self-confidence, and we say to ourselves, “If only I had that kind of willpower.”
Many years ago, a family experienced a little annoyance (like the kind we all face)—they had a leaky pipe in the bathroom ceiling. Drip, drip, drip, until a plumber was called, and the leak repaired. To access the broken pipe, the plumber had to cut a hole in the ceiling. As he finished his work, he instructed the family to wait several days for everything to dry before patching the hole.
I’m standing in front of a home called “The Kilns,” located in Headington just outside of Oxford, England. The home got its name from the fact that it was built on a brickworks site long ago. It’s a lovely house surrounded by beautiful gardens, but it would be unremarkable except for the fact that the beloved writer and Oxford University professor C. S. Lewis lived here for more than 30 years until his death in 1963. He wrote his most notable books here, including The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Mere Christianity to name a few.
Over the past year, a loving niece has regularly called her widowed, 94-year-old Aunt Helen. They smile, laugh, even shed a few tears together as Aunt Helen recounts her life while her niece records the conversation for posterity. Over the course of these visits, the niece has been struck by how clearly Aunt Helen remembers people and experiences from so many years ago. In particular, she seems to remember best those who were kind to her. Of course, she also remembers some hard times, but in recalling her life, she talks most vividly about moments of joy and acts of kindness.
A university student recently had a life-changing insight. But unlike most things he was learning as a student, this insight didn’t come from a lecture or a textbook. In fact, it was sparked when he forgot something from his textbook.
A family recently went on vacation together. The hope was to create lasting memories and opportunities for family bonding. But, as with most family vacations, those high hopes were soon tempered by reality. There were good times, but there were also unexpected delays, noisy crowds, and hidden expenses that disrupted the family’s carefully laid plans. Not surprisingly, this led to some frayed nerves, miscommunication, and discord among family members. At times, it was tempting to wonder whether the vacation was even worthwhile.
Here in Northern Ireland, the countryside is famously green and fertile, nourished by beautiful rivers and lakes. But sometimes when a coastal fog settles in, even locals lose sight of familiar landmarks. At such times, we are reminded that faith is believing in things we cannot see.[i]
Some days, reading the news feels like reading those prophecies in the Bible about the end of the world. “Perilous times,” the Apostle Paul called them—when peace would be taken from the earth, when the heavens and earth would shake, and when hearts would fail with fear. Even if it’s not quite the end of the world, feelings of fear and anxiety plague us. What’s worse, too often these feelings come to the surface in the form of anger and hostility toward others. All of this stress is having a profound effect on the health and well-being of so many of us.