More Than Words
February 2002

“More Than Words,” Liahona, Feb. 2002, 28

More Than Words

I sat in the living room one Saturday with my scriptures opened to section 20 in the Doctrine and Covenants. As I read slowly through the sacrament prayers in verses 77 and 79, I underlined words that could be difficult to pronounce—sanctify, remembrance, commandments.

I was one of the older priests in the ward, and giving these prayers had become almost second nature for me. I always tried to read the words slowly and clearly to help maintain a reverent spirit during the sacrament. But when our priests quorum adviser asked me to help Matt, our newest quorum member, prepare to bless the sacrament for the first time, I wondered if he would be able to make it through the prayer.

I had known Matt ever since my family moved next door to him when I was nine years old. Matt, who has Down syndrome, was about my age, and we became friends. Through the years, as we got older, I was excited to see Matt receive the Aaronic Priesthood, play on Church basketball teams, and participate in Scouting and other activities. But because Matt had difficulty pronouncing words, I wondered if he would be able to perform this priesthood responsibility.

When Matt arrived at my house to practice the prayers with me, he had a wide smile on his face.

“Peter, guess what,” he said enthusiastically. “My brother is coming home next week. I’m excited.”

“That’s great, Matt,” I said, realizing that his first experience blessing the sacrament would be in the same meeting as his brother’s mission report. All of his relatives would be there. I knew this would be an important day for Matt and his family, and I wanted everything to go well.

As we struggled through the words of the prayers, I was impressed with Matt’s determination to learn how to perform this priesthood duty. We read the prayers several times, concentrating on the words I had underlined. When we finished, Matt had made considerable improvement and was able to read through both prayers. Still, I wondered if those who did not know him well would be able to understand the words.

A week later, as we sat together at the sacrament table, I had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Members of Matt’s immediate and extended family looked up at him from their seats near the front of the chapel. Their eyes were excited, encouraging. Matt beamed back at them and didn’t seem nearly as nervous as I felt. We had practiced the prayers again the day before, and I had explained the process of breaking the bread and handing the trays to the deacons. He had seemed to understand everything, but I was concerned I might have left something out or he might not remember all the details.

When it came time for the sacrament hymn, we stood to break the bread. Matt solemnly broke it into even pieces and spread them across the tray. He kept an eye on me to know when to sit.

“It’s time to kneel now,” I whispered to Matt when the hymn was finished. We knelt, and then Matt carefully and deliberately read each word of the blessing on the bread. Despite our best efforts, I realized as he spoke that most in the congregation would not understand his words. And yet, as Matt read the prayer, I felt the Spirit come over me, witnessing of the importance of this sacred ordinance. When Matt finished, we stood and handed the trays to the deacons to pass to the congregation.

After we sat down, I looked out over the audience—full of Matt’s family and ward friends. I saw tears in the eyes of many as they partook of the sacrament that Sunday. I realized that although the words may not have been clear to everyone, all had felt the Spirit and had been moved by Matt’s desire to serve.

Matt, now an elder, continues to find ways to serve others. He directs the music and chooses someone to offer the prayer in priesthood meeting opening exercises, he has served as an assistant Scoutmaster and a stake missionary, and he attends the temple regularly.

Whenever I open my scriptures to Doctrine and Covenants 20, I am reminded of Matt’s determination to serve, despite his disability. Matt’s example of service to the Savior has helped me and many others to do as the sacrament prayers remind us—and “always remember him” (D&C 20:77).

  • Peter B. Gardner is a member of the Lakeview First Ward, Orem Utah Lakeview Stake.

Illustration by Sam Lawlor