Joy in the Journey
January 2004

“Joy in the Journey,” Ensign, Jan. 2004, 48

Joy in the Journey

Lehi was right—the fruits of the gospel of Jesus Christ really are the sweetest of all.

When I was a teenager, my front teeth were removed due to an accident I had suffered years earlier. During the following years of corrective dental work, I lived with a toothless smile that resulted in a lack of social confidence. I reached maturity believing I could not marry a wonderful woman. Yet I had dreams. I formed a portrait of the woman I wanted to marry, down to her talents, personality, commitments, even the color of her hair and eyes. It was a dream I never believed could be true.

When I met the young woman I eventually married, I was surprised by how closely she matched the details of my portrait. Perhaps you can understand, then, how I felt as we knelt in the Cardston Alberta Temple to be sealed and heard the wonderful words of promise and knew that a unity and love that I never believed would come into my life would never leave it. As she placed her hand in mine, such a warmth of spirit and light and beauty rolled over and through me that ever since that time whenever I hear the word glory I think of that moment. In the temple, the Lord opens a window of heaven just a crack to let celestial light strike our souls. It is ours forever if we are true to our covenants.

Lehi wrote of similar feelings in the Book of Mormon when he described his glorious dream. In this vision, he saw “a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy” (1 Ne. 8:10). He partook of the fruit, and “it filled [his] soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, [he] began to be desirous that [his] family should partake of it also” (1 Ne. 8:12).

The Book of Mormon uses seven words to describe the fruit of this tree: white, sweet, desirable, beautiful, precious, joyous, and pure. Each word is used in a comparative sentence. The fruit is not only white and sweet, but “white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen” and “sweet, above all that I ever before tasted” (1 Ne. 8:11; emphasis added in this and subsequent verses). It is more than desirable; it is “desirable above all other fruit” (1 Ne. 8:12). Its beauty is “far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty,” and it is “precious above all,” “the most joyous to the soul” (1 Ne. 11:8–9, 23), and “pure above all that is pure” (Alma 32:42).

The following stories illustrate how the gospel can bring us joy. In sharing them, I do not wish to paint a picture that life is without problems. I realize that we all experience pain and sorrow. But the gospel does truly help, and the fruits of the gospel are sweet and precious. I believe that the Lord’s way is the way to joy, and happiness comes as we walk the path shown to us by the Savior.

Strengthened by the Word of God

My mother, who raised us alone, often told the Lord she didn’t have the wisdom to do it without His help. So whatever the Church counseled parents to do, she did. Every Monday night we gathered in the living room for family home evening. We had no manual, so my mother taught us from the Book of Mormon. I would lie under the table near our sofa, listen to Mother’s voice, and visualize the great Nephite prophets. Later in my life, those images often returned to warn, inspire, or comfort me. I can still hear my mother’s voice and see the black leather Book of Mormon resting on her lap. How grateful I am now that those images were there during the troubled years of my youth, when my immaturity made me so vulnerable to Satan’s deceptions and to the popular voices of the world.

The story of our first parents, Adam and Eve, gives us great insight into what makes a happy life. It is a subtle lesson and is found by comparing our Heavenly Father’s words to Adam and Eve with Satan’s words to them. After showing Adam and Eve all the beauty of the Garden of Eden with its multitude of fruitful trees, the Lord said, “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it” (Gen. 2:16–17). The Lord focused their minds on all they could freely have and do. In light of this, the forbidding of one tree did not seem so restrictive.

Now, notice Satan’s words to Eve: “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3:1). Satan focused her mind on the one thing she could not have and do. Our happiness in life largely depends on which of those perspectives we choose to accept.

Obedience Is Happiness

There is a suggestion in Satan’s words to Eve that a commandment from God is a limitation of personal freedom and therefore a cause of unhappiness. Satan would have us believe that obedience equals unhappiness.

In fact, the opposite is true—obedience is happiness. Obedience is liberating, not restricting (see John 8:32).

A mother in our stake recently shared a letter from her daughter who was living in a foreign land: “When I was growing up, I used to think you and Dad were too strict. You wouldn’t let me go to some of the movies, concerts, and activities that some of my friends were attending. Sometimes I would get angry at you because the standards of the Church seemed to stand in the way of my happiness and acceptance with my friends. Now that I am in an environment far from the teachings of my faith and I can reflect on those early years of training, I am 10 times more grateful than I ever was mad.” This young woman had learned that the counsels of the Church are really a barrier to keep out temptation and sorrow instead of a fence to lock us in.

Joy is the natural fruit of obedience. “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25), and joy is doing “all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command” (Abr. 3:25).

Uplifted through Serving

As Latter-day Saints, we can find joy in service and taste the sweetness of our Father’s work and glory as we serve. In the Lord’s Church, all callings are important. A brother in our ward taught this truth by sharing the following account of a calling he received from his bishop years ago. “I remember my first calling in the Church. I was eight years old. Our ward was building a chapel, and the members were helping with the construction. While watching the work, my bishop took me into the chapel, pointed to the beautiful wood paneling that covered the walls, then gave me a little can of putty and a putty knife. ‘There are tiny nail holes in these panels,’ he said, ‘and they won’t be beautiful until all are filled in. Can you do that for the Lord?’ I felt so important, as if the whole success of the building depended on how well I spread my putty. Since that day, I have had many callings. Each has lifted and blessed my life. Even today, I cannot enter that chapel without lovingly running my fingers over the tiny dots of putty.”

Service in the temple as a proxy for our ancestors is a unique and beautiful opportunity to serve. I learned as a young boy that family history begins with a love for our ancestors. One year when my grandparents were visiting, my mother brought home an old tape recorder. She put me to bed and then in the other room turned on the tape recorder as my grandparents related the events of their own and their ancestors’ lives. I crept to the door leading to the front room, opened it a crack, and listened to the wonderful stories.

I learned of Anders Jensen, my Danish ancestor, who defended a Latter-day Saint boy in the streets of Copenhagen from a gang who wanted to beat him up. Later, when he joined the Church, Anders was cut off from his family. He joined other Danish Saints and left for America. When he learned of the Word of Wisdom, he threw away his plug of tobacco for good, then scrubbed his mouth out with soap to be clean when he entered Zion.

I loved these stories and felt the “welding link” about which the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote (see D&C 128:18). I wanted to know all I could about my ancestors. Their lives strengthened mine, completed it, and gave me a sense of belonging—a wholeness that I cannot adequately explain. I wanted to do something for them, give them back in small measure what they had given me.

As I grew up, I learned that I could do something for my ancestors through the redemptive work of the dead, which reaches its fulfillment in the temple. When I did the baptisms for my ancestors, a wonderful temple worker said: “Many of these people for whom you will be baptized lived hard lives, and many died thinking God had forgotten them. But you will show them today that He has not forgotten them. For the first time in many years their names will be spoken again, here in the Lord’s house, in love, and they will know of His eternal concern, and yours, for their happiness.” What precious fruit the temple offers those willing to partake of its sweetness.

Finding Joy in Parenthood

For me, few fruits of the gospel have been more desirable than the sweet assurance of an eternal family. Like Jacob, who served 14 years for Rachel (see Gen. 29:9–20), I would serve all my life, and beyond, for the eternal companionship of my wife and children.

As Latter-day Saints, we, like Lehi, find joy as we watch our children partake of the fruit of the tree or sadness as they choose not to partake. We rejoice in watching them learn that they are children of God and that He is a God who communicates with us through personal revelation.

I was deeply moved recently as I listened to the testimony of a father, an acquaintance, who shared with me the joy he felt as his daughter discovered the personal care of a loving Father in Heaven: “A few years ago my daughter hungered, as we all do, to know that she was loved. She wanted to know, especially, that her Father in Heaven loved her but did not tell anyone her desire. When she turned 13 years old, she asked for a patriarchal blessing. She prayed that her Father in Heaven would tell her in it He loved her. She was deeply moved when the first words of her blessing were, ‘Heavenly Father is pleased that you have the desire to know of His feeling and His love for you.’ I did not know what a joyous miracle God had granted her until she told me later of her spiritual longings. What a happy moment we shared!”

Having the priesthood in our home has brought joy to our family. Some time ago my youngest son was baptized by his 16-year-old brother. I watched my older son enter the font, help his little brother into the water, raise his arm to the square, and begin this priesthood ordinance with the words, “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.” What remarkable words to hear a 16-year-old boy say. What dignity it gave him. Here was a perfect picture of priesthood, one brother helping the other while being edified and strengthened himself.

For weeks before this ordination I had watched my sons. There was unity and kindness between them. The thought of this sacred ordinance sobered and humbled my older son and filled my younger one with love and respect for his brother. Even now, the memory of that shared sacred time continues to elevate their relationship. That ordinary men and boys can bring such blessings into the lives of others in the Savior’s name is surely one of the purest fruits of the gospel.

Comforted by the Holy Ghost

The gift of the Holy Ghost is a great source of joy and wisdom. This “Comforter,” bestowed by the priesthood, “teaches [us] all things,” guides us into all truth, and brings “all things to [our] remembrance” (see John 14:16–27; John 16:13). “Put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good,” the Lord counsels, and it “shall fill your soul with joy” (D&C 11:12–13).

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught us to “turn not away the small, still voice; it will teach [us] what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruit of the kingdom … it will whisper peace and joy to [our] souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from [our] hearts, and [our] whole desire will be to do good” (Millennial Star, 23 Sept. 1873, 598).

There are many examples in the lives of Latter-day Saints that illustrate the power of the Spirit to bring joy. The following experience from a member of the Church may serve as an example.

“I first felt the deep joy of the gospel as a small boy in Primary. Our music leader told us we were going to learn a new song. She told us to listen carefully and she would sing it to us first and then we would sing it together. She had a beautiful rich voice, and slowly and distinctly she sang the words, ‘The golden plates lay hidden, deep in a mountainside, until God found one faithful in whom he could confide’ (“The Golden Plates,” Children’s Songbook, 86). As she sang, I was overcome with the Spirit. I closed my eyes, and I could see in my mind the Hill Cumorah and Joseph Smith climbing through the trees to lift the rock and look upon the records of ancient prophets. I knew it was true, and the thought filled me with happiness. I sang the song as loud as I could, and all that week I continued to sing my testimony into being. Since that time I have felt the joy that knowing truth produces. It has become the anchor of my life.”

Reason to Rejoice

What a blessing and honor it is to be a Latter-day Saint—to know the great plan of happiness, to know who we are and what our destiny will be, to taste all the fruits the Lord so graciously offers us. Surely we have great reason to rejoice. Surely no happier message can be carried to a troubled and unhappy world than the gospel message proclaimed by our missionaries.

The more I learn of the Savior’s great “plan of happiness” (see Alma 42:16), the more I love it and the more confident I am that it is the path of joy and fulfillment. I believe that a whole lifetime, perhaps even a whole eternity, is not sufficient time to enjoy all the splendors of the Lord’s glorious plan of happiness.

I feel that the wisest, noblest, and most significant thing we can ever accomplish as children of Heavenly Father is to discover His will and do it. Obedience to the Lord’s will has always brought peace and rest, fulfillment and joy.

Our Heavenly Father continues to issue His invitation, “Of every tree of the garden, thou mayest freely eat.” May eternity find each one of us feasting in his eternal Garden of Eden.

  • S. Michael Wilcox is a member of the Draper 16th Ward, Draper Utah Stake.

Illustrated by Cary Henrie