“The Powers within Us,” Ensign, Feb. 1983, 58
“God has … made us the custodians of some great powers,” said Elder Sterling W. Sill. (The Power of Believing, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1968, p. 6.) We have the power and the capacity to inherit all that our Father has if we will begin the process and continue until we become what we are really meant to be.
Each individual is entitled to determine the ultimate destiny of his or her life. We can choose to use the powers within to have a happy life of continual growth and development that leads to eternal progression, or we can choose to follow the crowd of other people struggling to a top that leads to nowhere.
Let’s consider just three of the great powers of which we are custodians. Perhaps then we will understand more clearly the process necessary to become what we are really meant to be.
First, we have great physical powers. Our hands, arms, legs, feet, face, eyes, ears, mouth, and nose—all are ample evidence that we are magnificent creations. It is amazing how intricate these components are and what we can do because of them. If by any chance there is more of us than we would like to see, we can do something about it. And, if we do, it will make a great difference in how we feel about ourselves. Those of us who have five or ten or more pounds that we desire to lose may choose to do so in various ways. We might take in fewer calories or put ourselves on a consistent program of exercise or both. The point is that we have the power to lose weight. We have been blessed with the capacity to do what we want to do.
I like the statement made by Bryant S. Hinckley, father of President Gordon B. Hinckley: “When a man makes war on his own weaknesses he engages in the holiest war that mortals ever wage. The reward that comes from victory in this struggle is the most enduring, most satisfying, and the most exquisite that man ever experiences. … The power to do what we ought to do is the greatest freedom.” (… That Ye Might Have Joy, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1958, p. 83.)
I hope at some time we all will feel the reward of such a victory and will recognize the miracle of our mortal bodies in helping us to gain new-found freedom.
The miracle of the mortal body became apparent to me one afternoon while I was holding my first baby. Suddenly she seemed to stop breathing. I tried to force air into her lungs, and then I cried to the Lord in desperation. After only a few seconds that seemed like an endless hour, she began to breath normally again. The problem was diagnosed as an enlarged thymus gland that needed treatment. I shall never forget how grateful I was for the miracle of life and the power of the body that I knew that day. I determined to do my very best to help her use her life as the Lord intended when he gave her to me to care for and love.
I know now that the powers within our bodies are the powers not only to create life but to live life in such a way that mortality will be a happy and meaningful experience. It is only when these miraculous systems malfunction—and as we struggle to understand the body in order to treat the ailments it falls heir to in this life—that we fully appreciate its remarkable nature and the intricate interrelationships that exist. The human body is most remarkable. It can walk, run, jump, climb, swim, ski, play, jog, and on and on. But not the least of its remarkable capabilities are its compensatory powers. We gain an awareness of powers as we observe some of our friends and acquaintances, or ourselves, who have birth defects, accidents or illnesses that cause the functions we counted on to be lost so that other parts of the body have to substitute. When one avenue of activity is denied by a physical impairment, there is still a rich variety of alternate choices available to us.
We have these wonderful abilities because we are the offspring of our Heavenly Father. He, whose spirit children we are, provided us with a powerful instrument capable of vital, mortal living. However, Elder LeGrand Richards cautions, “There are many who think their bodies are their own and that they can do with them what they will, but Paul makes it plain that they are not their own, for they are bought with a price, and that ‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.’” (A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973, p. 380.)
Our great physical powers require us to take good care of our bodies. At the very least we should obey the Word of Wisdom, eat properly, sleep and exercise regularly, and abstain from taking anything into our bodies which will destroy their powers, for we will be held accountable for them as we strive to be what we are really meant to become.
Now let us consider our mental powers. Think of our infinite capacity to learn, our ability to control our attitude toward learning and our ability to adapt to and draw from the happenings of each day.
No mother can watch the progress of her child without being filled with wonder at his or her endless desire to learn. It is one of the joys of being a parent. There is a hunger and a frustration that accompanies the young child’s eagerness to grow and learn. We have all watched a child struggle to walk. Again and again he tries—up on his feet, down on the floor, bumps and hurts, cries of pain or frustration—until at last he walks. At first he holds on to the offered hand for support and then he pushes it away. A child must go through the process in order to grow and gain a sense of achievement.
This fundamental principle applies to us as well. If real learning is to occur, each of us must reach out to others, then struggle and stretch to the limits of our own capacities, to feel the ultimate sense of achievement. Even a brief look back over the centuries of mankind’s experience in mortality allows us to see the great learning that has come to us from others.
During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to visit the Air and Space Museum, a huge structure housing numerous machines of flight. In those walls are housed so many dreams. The history of man’s conquest of the moon is documented there in countless projects and written records. It is just one of the tiny fragments of human inquiry which has yielded enormous amounts of knowledge.
Walk the corridors of a great university and look into the libraries and the laboratories, and you will find more projects designed to overcome the ignorance and the unknown than could have even been dreamed about a few short years ago.
Knowledge builds upon knowledge. There is no end to the capacity of men and women to learn. The great vision of the gospel is that we grow in wisdom, in knowledge, and in favor with God and man. We must put ourselves to that task because we have the power.
When the Lord sent Adam and Eve out into the world from the Garden of Eden, he said to them, “Multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” (Gen. 1:28.)
So we are here in the midst of the work of subduing the earth. There is only one way to subdue the earth—it is to learn enough to dispel ignorance and to gain enough wisdom that we might apply what we know to the benefit of mankind.
There are no handicaps that cannot be overcome.
Joseph Larsen, a fine stake president in Illinois, was injured while serving his country. The accident left him without the use of his legs and confined to a wheelchair. But he, with the help of his lovely wife, went on to finish his education and he is now head of the School of Life Sciences at the University of Illinois. He is a spiritual giant among the brothers and sisters of his stake. His capacity to learn did not end when his ability to walk ended. He kept going.
A delightful sister, Ruth Knudson, took me on a tour through the National Art Gallery. When her husband passed away she decided that she would make good use of her time alone. She studied art history. It was so fascinating to her that she wanted to tell others about it, so she began conducting tours through various galleries. Then she took groups abroad to study art. People started coming to her home and requesting private lessons or group instruction, whichever she would give. Now her life is rich and full as she continues to seek more learning about art in order to constantly teach others.
Continuing education is one of the great gospel concepts for an enriched life. We can learn in so many ways. One family from this area keeps their learning alive by acquiring things like telescopes, looms, greenhouses and potter’s wheels, and they accompany each new piece of equipment with an intensive study so they can master new skills. Imagine the many productive, happy hours they spend together.
Once I made the statement to President Spencer W. Kimball, after returning from Mexico, that I wished I could speak Spanish. His quick reply was, “Well, you can learn can’t you?” At first I thought, “No, I could never learn Spanish at my age,—” but then I came to the understanding that I could learn. I haven’t learned Spanish yet, but I know I can. We all can come from the unknown to the known. We can develop skills.
But we must remember that one of the significant tools for learning is our ability to control our attitude. Fortunately we have the power within us to control and establish our own attitudes. All the knowledge in the world will not help us if we resist learning. There is no end to our capacity to learn if we apply ourselves diligently and with eagerness to the task.
A new point of view can open a whole new world. I remember descending into the Los Angeles Airport one day, seated next to a landscape architect. I was thinking about the myriad of houses and buildings below us when he said, “Can you imagine how many sprinkler heads there are down there?” That was a whole new perspective. I’d never even thought about the landscape problems of a big city before. Occasionally I do now.
Perhaps the most important point that we can discuss regarding our intellectual powers is the fact that each of us has the power to grow from our day-to-day experiences. At one time or another, we all will have occasion to choose between a life of bitterness and a life of beauty. We have the power within us to make such a choice. The Lord has promised that we can count on him for sufficient help to have an abundant life if we choose to live by the principles which lead to our personal growth and development.
President Larsen changed his life in a wheelchair to a life with sufficient optimism that he could stand tall in spirit and intellect even though his legs would no longer hold him. Sister Knudson accepted her situation and receives abundant satisfaction and happiness in sharing her deep insights into art with others.
This great adaptive quality is part of the power within us that can shape our lives into contributions and excellence if we so choose. When we use our mental powers wisely, we can more easily become what we are really meant to be.
There is a third great power within us—the power for enormous spiritual growth, the infinite possibility for perfecting ourselves.
One way we can develop our spiritual power is by sharing the gospel. The gospel has the principles upon which all growth is predicated. Once we understand those concepts we need opportunities both to teach them to others and to live them.
We also can render acts of loving kindness and compassionate service. They are only of real value to us when they are given out of personal choice, not pressure. Albert Schweitzer wisely said, “The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” (Readers Digest, Apr. 1951, p. 96.) Not long ago my former bishop and his wife entered the Missionary Training Center to prepare for their mission to Nigeria. A short time later their daughter entered the MTC to prepare for her mission to Peru. This family is well aware of the conveniences and luxuries they will give up, but they are anxious to serve the Lord by loving and serving his children.
The Lord wants us to be mindful of each other and be dependent upon each other, and so to one he has given a particular spiritual gift and to another a different gift so that we might bless one another.
In Doctrine and Covenants 11:30 [D&C 11:30] we read: “I say unto you, that as many as receive me, to them will I give power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on my name.” It is easy to think, “That can’t be true! How can there be that great potential in you or me when all I see is a struggling, imperfect human being?” I can only say, as did Lorenzo Snow, “Godliness cannot be conferred but must be acquired.” (Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co., 1884, p. 193.)
We must want that blessing so much that we will resist worldly enticements, have faith in God’s word, seek him in prayer, listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and proclaim his gospel within the reach of our influence. In the process we will develop the spiritual powers within us. For the power is in us: “Unto as many as received me gave I power to do many miracles, … power to obtain eternal life.” (D&C 45:8.)
We must nurture our spiritual powers. This is the only way we can become what we are really meant to be.
Where do we begin to develop our physical, mental and spiritual powers?
We begin in our homes—whether we are single or married, whether the home is an apartment, a house, or a dormitory. Our home is more than just the place where we go each night. It is the place where we grow in physical stature, in spiritual strength, and in mental abilities.
Doctrine and Covenants 88:119 [D&C 88:119] exhorts us to “organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” This scripture has reference to the temple, but I believe it can also be applied to our homes—those places where gods-to-be can be taught and trained, where they can develop the habits and attitudes that will prepare them to live in a celestial home. In such homes they will develop a sweet dependence upon the Lord. They will learn how to fast and pray in order to draw near to him. They will learn of him and his ways.
Someone once said, “All human power is a compound of time and patience.” (Honore de Balzac, in The International Dictionary of Thoughts, comp. John P. Bradley, et al, Chicago: J. G. Ferguson Publishing Co., 1969, p. 573.) And Benjamin Disraeli said, “All power is a trust.” (The International Dictionary of Thoughts, p. 574.) We must realize that time and patience are necessary for organizing our lives and calling forth powers. It may begin with something as simple as bringing order to our homes.
President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., suggested that our homes are holy places and that we should approach them as if coming to an altar. Let us ask ourselves what we have done to make our homes an altar—a place that sanctifies or prepares those who are there for celestial living. Do our actions focus on developing loving relationships, are there kindly acts of concern each day, does our routine bring about maintainence of that home and practices of provident living, and do our pursuits bring about learning and refinement? Are the relationships within that home those that can be forever?
As Latter-day Saints we must act worthy of ourselves and the glorious vision of truth and eternity which has been restored to us. That vision of eternal growth and gentle, loving persuasion is too great a dream to let go. The power is in us to reach out and claim those blessings.
Let us remember that beyond anything we have ever accomplished is the challenge of living the principles of heaven in such a way that we can connect the powers in us with the powers of heaven.
We have the power within us to be Christlike. That is what we are meant to become.