Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The One Source for Happiness

(From Meridian Magazine, by Wallace Goddard)

It was always nice to sit with my Dad and talk of the gospel, his favorite topic. From time to time his words come back to me.

"Many decisions are difficult because we are trying to justify a choice beneath our highest standards."

The things he taught become truer and truer, more and more meaningful as the years pass. His wisdom was reaffirmed for me recently. A friend called and asked for my advice. He told me of many years in a loveless marriage. At work he has become friends with a wonderful woman with whom he had beautiful gospel conversations. She was also in a loveless marriage. Recently they had shared their feelings for each other: They discovered that they were both very much attracted to each other. "What should we do?" he asked me. The next day she called me and asked the same question.

From the phone conversations it was clear that both of them were ready to do almost anything to open the way for their relationship. Both had begun to think about ways the Lord might open the way for them. It was also clear that both generally had garden-variety discontents in their marriages. Neither was being destroyed. They were tired of their current marriages.

My initial questions to them may have seemed quite unrelated to their dilemma: "Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you trust Him completely? Do you know that He will always act in your best interest?" Affirmative answers to these questions are very liberating. Submission to God is the path to happiness.

And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; . . . and save they shall cast . . .away [learning, wisdom and riches], and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. 2 Nephi 9:42

We often walk away from sacred promises for alluring prospects. We turn our backs on yesterday's impressions in order to grasp today's whims. We devalue past joys as we lunge at prospective satisfactions. We reduce covenants to mere options.

The veil obscures our pre-mortal enrollments. In that heavenly setting long ago, many of us may have signed up for advanced courses on long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love. When we get to mortality, and the challenging assignments almost overwhelm us, some of us quickly drop classes. Stretching experiences surprise and discourage mortals who have forgotten their long-term education and career goals.

Brigham Young taught us boldly:

There is no enjoyment, no happiness, no comfort, there is no light to my path, for me there is no real pleasure or delight only in the observance of truth as it comes from God, obeying it in every sense of the word, and marching forward as a good faithful soldier in the discharge of every duty. (Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, pp.42-43, emphasis added)

Dishonor does not lead to goodness. Wickedness never was happiness. The only path to enduring peace is obedience. Working at our appointed station doing the pick and shovel work of relationship-building may seem unglamorous and unpromising. But those who are faithful in duty will enjoy eternal rewards that are unimagined--even unimaginable--in our mortal way of thinking. Even as we labor along, God will hum hymns of comfort and joy to our souls. Duty and drudgery will be burnished to a bright finish. There is consolation in growth.

I recommended to both the man and the woman who called that they do everything in their power to make their respective marriages work. After they had done all they can, they still should pray for the Lord to provide miracles to open further ways to bless their marriages. Only as we honor our promises with our best efforts and heaven's help can we expect to find happiness.

When we imagine happiness to be in some exotic place outside our mundane commitments, we will be everlastingly disappointed. When we chase happiness, we will be frustrated. When we obey with full purpose of heart, a peace beyond understanding distills upon us. Brigham Young gives the example of Lyman Johnson who left his covenant obligations for something that seemed more promising.

Lyman E. Johnson said, at one of our Quorum meetings, after he had apostatized and tried to put Joseph out of the way. . . . "Brethren--I will call you brethren--I will tell you the truth. If I could believe `Mormonism'--it is no matter whether it is true or not--but if I could believe `Mormonism' as I did when I traveled with you and preached, if I possessed the world I would give it. I would give anything, I would suffer my right hand to be cut off, if I could believe it again. Then I was full of joy and gladness. My dreams were pleasant. When I awoke in the morning my spirit was cheerful. I was happy by day and by night, full of peace and joy and thanksgiving. But now it is darkness, pain, sorrow, misery in the extreme. I have never since seen a happy moment.." (Journal of Discourses, Vol.19, p.42)

What a keen irony! We often do something because it seems more promising in our current mood--even though it may not be in total harmony with the counsel of God and His servants. We imagine that we know better than they or that unusual circumstances justify our desertion. For example, we resolve to pay tithing after the bills are paid. We determine that food storage is folly. We take on debt with disregard for counsel and conscience. We minimize those parts of the Book of Mormon that do not agree with our advanced educations or humanistic philosophy.

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)

As I talked to the woman who called about her relationship with her co-worker, I saw a miracle. She originally called with the desperate sense that she could not be happy without him; when I encouraged her to honor her promises and entrust her happiness to God, she did not resist. She embraced God as the only true source of happiness. She trusted Him.

The miracle grew--as it always does when we trust God. She called the next day to report that she had gone home and apologized to her husband for her coolness and unkindness. They had spent a joyous evening together--something she had never imagined possible. Their marriage is not suddenly idyllic, but there is hope.

And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions. (Mosiah 24:14)

There are, of course, marriages that must end because of abuse or betrayal. Those who need to end a damaging relationship have the right to specific direction from heaven. But Satan would lead millions more than the unavoidable ones out of their sacred promises by prospects of something better, sweeter, or finer. But Satan is a liar. He will "not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell" (Alma 30:60).

Satan weaves elaborate fantasies to deceive us. He mixes mild discontent in our current relationships together with idealization of a prospective partners. Then he stirs in some hints of divine purpose and inspiration. He is quite able to make preposterous options look wise and inspired. There is always, however, some voice in us that protests: "Please don't do this. Please don't dishonor your promises. Please don't give in to the father of lies."

There is only one Source of enduring happiness. When we act contrary to promises, covenants, counsel, and impressions, we are acting contrary to the nature of happiness.

For ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head. (Helaman 13:38)

As Dad taught, when we make up our minds to be obedient to the counsel of heaven, we will find peace, joy, consolation. We will be happy. Forever. God knows the path to Happiness. He will lead us there if we obey Him.


H. Wallace Goddard is a son, a husband, a dad, and a grandpa. He works as a Family Life Specialist for the University of Arkansas Extension Service in Little Rock and has written several books and programs including The Frightful and Joyous Journey of Family Life (Bookcraft) and Principles of Parenting (Alabama Cooperative Extension System). He claims to be living proof that a person who makes lots of mistakes can still be blessed with joy beyond any deserving.

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