Jimmy and I have been married for almost 16 years, we have 2 children- it used to be 6, but our foster children were recently reunited with their parents. I love hiking, playing tourist in our town, a good garden tomato and going to concerts. I hate green bell peppers with a passion and just like everyone else here, my life is hard.
Even though we can all agree on the fact that our lives are hard, and may even participate in venting sessions with friends proving this fact, we have not been left alone in our difficulties. True that it is a remarkable time we live in, but an extremely challenging time as well. No one is immune from the influences of the world. The Lord’s counsel keeps us on guard. Throughout the scriptures there are many passages to warn, guide and direct us. Think of some of those warnings now, “Take heed, watch and pray” “Beware lest ye be deceived” “Be watchful and careful”
The road of discipleship is not for the faint of heart. Regardless of how we choose to live our lives, there are difficulties on each path. What I always say to my teenaged daughter, “Pick your hard.” You can be righteous and faithful. The path of righteousness is not an easy one. Or, you can choose the path of unrighteousness. This path is also a difficult one. The difference between these two paths are the end result. What do you want in the end? What is the end goal? What kind of hard are you willing to endure? Pick your hard.
When I was preparing for this talk, of course I was prayerful. The very first time I knelt in prayer to choose a topic, I was struck with a feeling to share the things I have learned in the addiction recovery program provided by the church, also known as the 12 step program. I literally said out loud while kneeling bedside, “Really, Heavenly Father? You want me to talk about that??” Rather than heed the answer I had received, I went about my day trying to find a topic on which to speak. I listened to conference talks and sang hymns. I kept waiting for a different answer than I had already so strongly received. After days of this unfruitful pattern, I picked my daughter up from school while listening to a conference talk in the car. She asked about what I was listening to (because it is a longstanding habit of mine to listen to conference talks while driving). I answered with my struggle to find the proper topic to address you today. She stated, “Why don’t you speak about the addiction recovery meetings?” And so, here it is.
Let me tell you a little about my journey. Many years ago, when the 12 step program was first adapted to an LDS format, the missionaries assigned to lead the discussion group toured our stake to speak in sacrament meeting about this inspired program. When I heard the benefits associated with the program, I was all in. Learn more about the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ? Sure, I’m in! Learn how to apply this atonement in my daily life? Yes, I’ll do that! I love self improvement classes. So, imagine my surprise when I tried to recruit friends to join me at this meeting and had many responses in the negative. It seems that this 12 step program has a pretty strong stigma. No one actually wants to admit that they are not perfect. I am hard pressed to find someone shouting from the rooftops, “I need help!!!” So, even though I was more than willing to join this discussion group, I was too much of wimp to participate because I had no one to go with me. You know us girls, we go to the bathroom in packs. And because I have already shared with you how busy our life can be, I forgot about the program and moved on with my regularly scheduled life. I continued to struggle through addictions that I had no idea even existed.
We all have something. We all have a back story. A struggle that is real. A temptation that seems to take on it’s own persona and sometimes is so great that it feels like a literal person standing next to us. For some it is substance related. For others, this temptation is cerebral. Some are codependent. Some are helicopter parents. Some refuse to forgive their shortcomings. Some choose to take offense easily. As David A. Bednar once stated. (quote) Offense comes in many costumes and continually finds it’s way on stage. “People we believe in disappoint us. We have unanticipated difficulties. Our life doesn’t turn out exactly the way we were expecting. We make mistakes, feel unworthy, and worry about being forgiven. We wonder about a doctrinal issue. We learn of something spoken from a church pulpit 150 years ago that bothers us. Our children are treated unfairly. We are ignored or underappreciated. It could be a hundred things, each very real to us at the time.” (unquote)
When I was a young teenager, my parents got divorced. We had recently moved from California to Rhode Island and my mom chose to move back to California while the rest of the family stayed on the east coast. The feeling of abandonment that came with her choice scarred all of us. It took many years for me to forgive my mother for leaving us, for not being there when I was a teenage girl in a house full of boys. I thought that I was really good at forgiving. I easily forgave others of their misdeeds towards me. The reason I found ease in forgiveness to others was because I was holding on so dearly to the hurt inflicted in my adolescence. I could brush off the harm done because I let the hate buried deep inside me to fester. On the outside, I was happy and optimistic and hardships evaded me like a water to a duck’s back. My heart was aching. There was a disease eating through it because I couldn’t forgive my mother for leaving me. My brothers and I all held this position. The damage worsened as I became a mother. I looked on my precious new baby and could not fathom how a mother could ever leave her children. As the love for my growing child deepened, so did the cavern in my heart that could only be healed by forgiveness. I did not see the toll holding on to the anger had taken. When one aspect of my life had come unmanageable, I finally realized the canker that was halting my progress. It took much prayer and study to finally approach forgiveness where it really mattered. My mom was staying at our home for the holidays and I stayed late into the night talking to her by the light of the Christmas tree. I finally gained the courage to bring up her decision to leave our family. She explained her side of the story, which I had never heard in all the years since the initial blow. Her reasoning was real. I may not have agreed with it, but that’s not what forgiveness is about. I listened with an open and soft heart. I used the atonement of Jesus Christ in a very real way that night when I looked at her and said, “I forgive you.” I meant it. I still mean it. That moment was a springboard to the rest of my life. Because when I uttered those words, the sense of relief was indescribable. I did not realize the heavy burden I was carrying until it was lifted. By holding onto my anger, I was in a weakened state. As Neil Anderson states, (quote) “In our weakened moments, the adversary seeks to steal our spiritual promises. If we are not watchful, our injured, childlike spirit will retreat back into the cold, dark crust of our former bloated ego, leaving behind the warm, healing light of the Savior” (unquote)
Because my spirit was injured and childlike, just as Elder Anderson described, I had let the anger control me by way of addiction. When I forgave my mother, the anger was gone. I had released it. And thus, I became spiritually strong which led me to master my addiction. It wasn’t until fairly recently I actually realized the addiction even existed. And it was like all the pieces leading up to my first meeting fell into place. I talked openly about wanting to attend meetings resulting in many encouraging responses, “What a great idea. You should do that! I should go with you!” This went on for months. I never attended a meeting. And once again, my life fell into busyness and I returned to my regularly scheduled life. And then when my soul was ripe for progression, a friend approached me and asked to join her in the meetings. I answered yes so quickly that she was actually startled. We attended our first meeting together where I learned an incredible amount about the love my Savior has for me. I have grown up in the church. I have been to countless classes, firesides, devotionals and sacrament meetings. I have relearned Lehi’s dream so many times that I could probably recite it from scripture word for word. But I have so. Much. to. Learn. Attending the addiction recovery program has taught me so much about the atonement of Jesus Christ. It feels like a Sunday School class geared towards using the Atonement in our lives. Who doesn’t need that? Who is too good for the Savior of the world? Addiction recovery meetings had become a regular part of my week when we had the missionaries over for dinner one night before said meeting. We love our missionaries and have them over often. We are thrilled to participate in the missionary program and do anything we can to helps the missionaries succeed in our ward. I think they feel our love for them and see us as helpmeets to their goals. I think they may admire us as much as we do them. Imagine their surprise when they attended a meeting and saw Sister Graham walk in the door. It took all the courage I had to attend that meeting. You see, we had spent the evening with them. The missionaries left our house, I left our house. I arrived at the church first and was sitting in the parking lot catching up on social media. (don’t judge, we all do it) The missionaries arrived and saw me sitting in the parking lot and thought I was there for a different church related meeting. We chatted it up and I let them go into the church. This Sister Graham sat in the car and had an internal conflict so intense, it started to come out in an actual outloud conversation with myself. The verdict reached between the two parties was this: practice what you preach. Be humble. Put on your big girl panties and do this thing.
You guys- I walked into that meeting. It was so hard and incredibly humbling. The humility required to progress can come in two ways. Choosing to humble yourself before the Lord or being compelled to humility. I prefer the former to the latter. I know. I have experienced both.
Ether 12:27 reads, “And if men come unto me I will show them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble. For if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
Simply living life can be and is often a humbling experience. Accident and illness, the death of loved ones, problems in relationships, even financial reversals can bring us to our knees. Whether these difficult experiences come through no fault of our own or through bad decisions and poor judgement, these trials are humbling. If we choose to be spiritually attuned and remain humble and teachable, our prayers become more earnest and faith and testimony will grow as we overcome the tribulations of mortal existence. Spencer W. Kimball says, “How does one get humble? To me, one must constantly be reminded of his dependence. On whom dependent? On the Lord. How remind one’s self? By real, constant, worshipful, grateful prayer.” I feel like I could give a whole talk on that last sentence. Prayer that is:
Prayer that is Constant.
Prayer that is Worshipful.
Prayer that is Grateful.
When our prayer reflects those four attributes, that is when true humility occurs. And what is the result of true humility? Growth. Progression. Knowledge. Power. If you really think about it, the most powerful people are also the most humble. Jesus Christ led through humble example. He did not force anyone to follow Him. Natural leaders carry with them humility that needs no coercement to gain followers. In the book of Helaman, Nephi was troubled because of the wickedness of the people. He prayed and pondered what to do. Nephi heard a voice saying, “Thou hast not sought thine own life, but hast sought my will. And now, because thou hast done this, I will bless thee forever, and I will make thee mighty in word and in deed. Yea, even that all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will.” (Helaman 10:4-7) The rest of the story teaches us that Nephi asked a famine to come upon the people to bring them to humility. It sure takes a lot of power to produce a famine throughout the land. So we see here that Nephi’s great humility brought great power.
Just think what you would be able to accomplish if you completely submitted to the Lord’s will. Who would you call? (You're not allowed to answer ghostbusters) How would you speak to your coworkers? Your family? Your friends? What would you post on social media? How would you choose to spend your spare time? If you chose to be humble enough to listen to the Lord, what would He say?
I don’t know if I could ever adequately express my gratitude for my Father in Heaven. I love Him. Because He gave me life, the tools to grant me success, amazing blessings and His beautiful son. Heavenly Father sacrificed so much for my joy. I want to return to Him someday. I want to look up at His face and confess in all honesty that I did my very best. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.