Monday, December 30, 2013

Becoming a Peacemaker

Family and Friends,

¡Feliz Navidad! I had a wonderful Christmas here in Ecuador with my buddy Elder Magill and it was lovely to talk with my family through Skype. I have pictures and experiences to share with you all from what happened this week of Christmas but I will be sending those pictures and sharing those experiences next week because I feel strongly impressed that I need to share some thoughts, feelings, understandings, revelations, and conclusions that have been weighing on my mind for quite some time now. It is something that has truly changed my life and now that we will be starting a new year soon I want to share this with you all and invite you all to study it, ponder it, and apply it into your lives.
One of the greatest struggles and weaknesses of my life has been my inability to be a peacemaker. This is a great challenge for many of us but based on this past month I can testify that living as an active and skilled peacemaker truly is a happier, healthier, and more meaningful way to live as a child of God (Matthew5:10). And I am here to say and promise that no matter how difficult it may appear, avoiding contention and achieving lasting peace at all times truly is possible.

As with all sins and weaknesses, pride is at the root of contention. I’ve observed that pride shows its ugly face and destroys peace in three principal obstacles: getting angry, arguing, and getting offended. There is a solution to each one of these obstacles and I would like to analyze how to overcome anger, arguments, and offense to be a peacemaker. While teaching these principles I will use multiple sections from several excellent conference talks and I will also quote advice given to me by two very wise friends. These talks and these bits of advice have greatly impacted my life and I invite everyone to not just read the sections of the talks that I will share but to look them up, print them out, study them, and apply them. I also recommend getting to know these two wise friends of mine who have greatly blessed my life and are outstanding examples of being a disciple of Christ and a true peacemaker.

President Monson gives wonderful counsel on the first obstacle to peace, anger.
Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything… 
Many years ago, a young couple called my office and asked if they could come in for counseling. They indicated they had suffered a tragedy in their lives and that their marriage was in serious jeopardy. An appointment was arranged. 
The tension between this husband and wife was apparent as they entered my office. Their story unfolded slowly at first as the husband spoke haltingly and the wife cried quietly and participated very little in the conversation. 
The young man had returned from serving a mission and was accepted to a prestigious university in the eastern part of the United States. It was there, in a university ward, that he had met his future wife. She was also a student at the university. After a year of dating, they journeyed to Utah and were married in the Salt Lake Temple, returning east shortly afterward to finish their schooling. 
By the time they graduated and returned to their home state, they were expecting their first child and the husband had employment in his chosen field. The wife gave birth to a baby boy. Life was good. 
When their son was about 18 months old, they decided to take a short vacation to visit family members who lived a few hundred miles away. This was at a time when car seats for children and seat belts for adults were scarcely heard of, let alone used. The three members of the family all rode in the front seat with the toddler in the middle. Sometime during the trip, the husband and wife had a disagreement. After all these years, I cannot recall what caused it. But I do remember that their argument escalated and became so heated that they were eventually yelling at one another. Understandably, this caused their young son to begin crying, which the husband said only added to his anger. Losing total control of his temper, he picked up a toy the child had dropped on the seat and flung it in the direction of his wife.
He missed hitting his wife. Instead, the toy struck their son, with the result that he was brain damaged and would be handicapped for the rest of his life. 
This was one of the most tragic situations I had ever encountered. I counseled and encouraged them. We talked of commitment and responsibility, of acceptance and forgiveness. We spoke of the affection and respect which needed to return to their family. We read words of comfort from the scriptures. We prayed together. Though I have not heard from them since that day so long ago, they were smiling through their tears as they left my office. All these years I’ve hoped they made the decision to remain together, comforted and blessed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
I think of them whenever I read the words: “Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything… I ask, is it possible to feel the Spirit of our Heavenly Father when we are angry? I know of no instance where such would be the case. 
From 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, we read:
“There shall be no disputations among you. … 
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Nephi 11:29) 
To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible. (Thomas S. Monson, School thy Feelings oh My Brother, Oct. 2009) 
Do we really understand what our Prophet is teaching us here? When we choose to become angry, get mad, be upset and bring in a spirit of contention we are choosing to invite the spirit of the devil and we lose right away the Spirit of God. Anytime that I have gotten angry or am in the presence of someone who gets angry I can feel right away (Bam!) the Holy Ghost leaves the room. He is sickened by anger. It hurts Him and He can’t stand to see us like that so He won’t come back to accompany us until we decide to control ourselves again.

It is important to destroy many of the myths and false ways of thinking that we sometimes have or share. Many of us (myself included just two months ago) think that it  is okay to get angry sometimes and do something foolish or something hurtful and then calm ourselves down say sorry and make things right. But that is not true. It is a lie that the adversary uses to make many good people feel justified in getting angry from time to time. When we get angry we lose the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost is our best friend and guide and comforter. We should do everything in our power to never offend Him and lose His company. It is just as ¨okay¨ to get angry as it is to steal, have an impure thought, lie, or break the Word of Wisdom. All of these things cause us to lose the Spirit immediately, offend God, and are not okay. Perhaps getting angry can be considered something natural but as we know we are all here on earth to put off the natural man through the Holy Ghost (Mosiah 3:19). Thus choosing to become angry is counterproductive, wrong, and not acceptable.

President Monson continues.
My brethren, we are all susceptible to those feelings which, if left unchecked, can lead to anger. We experience displeasure or irritation or antagonism, and if we so choose, we lose our temper and become angry with others. Ironically, those others are often members of our own families—the people we really love the most… 
May we make a conscious decision, each time such a decision must be made, to refrain from anger and to leave unsaid the harsh and hurtful things we may be tempted to say. 
I love the words of the hymn written by Elder Charles W. Penrose, who served in the Quorum of the Twelve and in the First Presidency during the early years of the 20th century: 
School thy feelings, O my brother;Train thy warm, impulsive soul.Do not its emotions smother,But let wisdom’s voice control.School thy feelings; there is powerIn the cool, collected mind.Passion shatters reason’s tower,Makes the clearest vision blind. (Thomas S. Monson, School thy Feelings, Oh My Brother, Oct. 2009)
Just two short years before this talk by President Monson, President Hinckley also gave a fabulous talk on how to avoid anger. Obviously it is an important issue for the Lord and we need to learn from His Prophets. President Hinckley teaches.
A proverb in the Old Testament states: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). 
It is when we become angry that we get into trouble. The road rage that affects our highways is a hateful expression of anger. I dare say that most of the inmates of our prisons are there because they did something when they were angry. In their wrath they swore, they lost control of themselves, and terrible things followed, even murder. There were moments of offense followed by years of regret… 
Divorce too often is the bitter fruit of anger. A man and a woman fall in love, as they say; each is wonderful in the sight of the other; they feel romantic affection for no one else; they stretch their finances to buy a diamond ring; they marry. All is bliss—that is, for a season. Then little inconsequential activities lead to criticism. Little flaws are magnified into great torrents of faultfinding; they fall apart, they separate, and then with rancor and bitterness they divorce. 
It is the cycle which is repeated again and again in thousands of cases. It is tragic, and, as I have said, it is in most cases the bitter fruit of anger. 
I think of my own marriage. My eternal companion passed away three and a half years ago. But we lived together for 67 years. I have no recollection of ever having a quarrel with her. She traveled with me and spoke on every continent, pleading for the exercise of restraint, kindness, and love… 
So many of us make a great fuss of matters of small consequence. We are so easily offended. Happy is the man who can brush aside the offending remarks of another and go on his way 
The story is told that reporters were interviewing a man on his birthday. He had reached an advanced age. They asked him how he had done it. 
He replied, “When my wife and I were married we determined that if we ever got in a quarrel one of us would leave the house. I attribute my longevity to the fact that I have breathed good fresh air throughout my married life.” 
Anger may be justified in some circumstances. The scriptures tell us that Jesus drove the moneychangers from the temple, saying, “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). 
But even this was spoken more as a rebuke than as an outburst of uncontrolled anger. [It is okay to give strong and firm correction when needed but it must be in a controlled, orderly, and loving manner and done not with the purpose of making ourselves feel better or simply to burn off stress but with the motivation and intent of really helping that person because we love them and want them to improve. D&C 121:43-44] 
Now, my dear brethren, in closing I plead with you to control your tempers, to put a smile upon your faces, which will erase anger; speak out with words of love and peace, appreciation, and respect. If you will do this, your lives will be without regret. Your marriages and family relationships will be preserved. You will be much happier. You will do greater good. You will feel a sense of peace that will be wonderful. 
May the Lord bless you and inspire you to walk without anger, without bitterness of any kind, but to reach out to others with expressions of friendship, appreciation, and love. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Slow to Anger, Oct. 2007)
I join my voice with that of the Prophets in likewise inviting all of you my dear family and friends to please make the choice to never become angry, control yourself, and be a peacemaker. It isn’t easy but if the desire to do so is strong enough it truly is possible. From personal experience I testify that the power of the Atonement can help you overcome anger if you truly desire it and do your part.

The second obstacle to peace is to argue and cause contention. Elder Nelson gives a great description of contention as the canker of the soul.
As we dread any disease that undermines the health of the body, so should we deplore contention, which is a corroding canker of the spirit. I appreciate the counsel of Abraham Lincoln, who said: 
“Quarrel not at all. No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention. … Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him.” (Letter to J. M. Cutts, 26 Oct. 1863, in Concise Lincoln Dictionary of Thoughts and Statements, comp. and arr. Ralph B. Winn, New York: New York Philosophical Library, 1959, p. 107.)…
 My concern is that contention is becoming accepted as a way of life. From what we see and hear in the media, the classroom, and the workplace, all are now infected to some degree with contention. How easy it is, yet how wrong it is, to allow habits of contention to pervade matters of spiritual significance, because contention is forbidden by divine decree:
“The Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal; that they should not take the name of the Lord their God in vain; that they should not envy; that they should not have malice; that they should not contend one with another.” (2 Ne. 26:32.)  (Russel M. Nelson, The Canker of Contention, May 1989) 
Once again, a man that we sustain as a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator teaches us very clearly and in a way that cannot be misunderstood that arguing and causing contention are not okay. There are many who will say (and I used to believe) that it is normal to argue and yell and get mad from time to time. That its just part of life and that if you don’t do it then your just shoving important issues under the rug and being false and fake. There are many who think that it is healthy and necessary to take it out of the rug and ¨work it out¨ fighting, arguing, and causing contention. They rationalize saying that’s just how marriage, companionships, life, and things are. But I am quite happy to report that this way of thinking, fortunately, is not true.

Life doesn’t have to be that way. I am not saying that we are never going to have a different opinion than other people, or have conflicting interests, or be in a disagreement. But I am saying that we can control ourselves, compromise, agree to disagree, and have the self-discipline and willpower and personal commitment to NEVER (yes I am saying never) raise our voice, get angry, argue, or cause contention. Two months ago I would’ve thought that was impossible and if you are reading this and think that I’m being idealistic and unrealistic frankly I don’t blame you. But you’ve gotta trust me here that IT IS POSSIBLE. Believe it! Know it! Open your heart to the idea and put it to the test. I bear strong and personal testimony through my own experience that you can do it. I used to be an expert in causing contention and arguing for the littlest of things in any situation but through study, fast, prayer, help from my companion and many others, a strong desire to change, and applying the power of the Atonement in my life I have gone over a month without having any contention or anger. And I am fully confident that I will continue to do so for the rest of my life and I promise you all that if you make the changes necessary you can achieve it too. I motivate you to do so and promise great blessings!! Look these talks up, read them, and live them!

It is my sincere hope and prayer that through this letter I can inspire many of my loved ones to action, to repentance, and to the changes necessary to be peacemakers. How truly blissful and heavenly the world would be if we could all do so. Elder Nelson continues with a masterful teaching of how to supplant contention.
To begin, show compassionate concern for others. Control the tongue, the pen, and the word processor. Whenever tempted to dispute, remember this proverb: “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.” (Prov. 11:12; see also Prov. 17:28.) 
Bridle the passion to speak or write contentiously for personal gain or glory. The Apostle Paul thus counseled the Philippians, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philip. 2:3.) 
Such high mutual regard would then let us respectfully disagree without being disagreeable. 
But the ultimate step lies beyond beginning control of expression. Personal peace is reached when one, in humble submissiveness, truly loves God. Heed carefully this scripture: 
“There was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15; see also 4 Ne. 1:2; italics added.)
Thus, love of God should be our aim. It is the first commandment—the foundation of faith. As we develop love of God and Christ, love of family and neighbor will naturally follow. Then will we eagerly emulate Jesus. He healed. He comforted. He taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9; see also 3 Ne. 12:9.) 
Through love of God, the pain caused by the fiery canker of contention will be extinguished from the soul. This healing begins with a personal vow: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” (“Let There Be Peace on Earth,” Sy Miller and Jill Jackson, © Jan-Lee Music, Beverly Hills, Calif., 1972.) This commitment will then spread to family and friends and will bring peace to neighborhoods and nations. 
Shun contention. Seek godliness. Be enlightened by eternal truth. Be like-minded with the Lord in love and united with Him in faith. Then shall “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Philip. 4:7), be yours, to bless you and your posterity through generations yet to come. (Russel M. Nelson, The Canker of Contention, May 1989).  
Simple but solid advice to complement the masterful counsel of Elder Nelson is found in these wise words from my loving Uncle Kimball Hansen;
Arguments and contention are sometimes caused by an  “I’M RIGHT and YOU’RE WRONG”  situation or attitude. 
I love the following quote:   “It is better to DO right, than to BE right” 
This means that even if you know that you are RIGHT (or think you are right) regarding any topic of discussion, life issue, method, problem, suggestion, action, habit, teaching style, etc., you just LET IT GO. 
The skill of crushing someone with the RIGHT answer might be useful as an Attorney…but it can make people dislike you when handling day-to-day situations and things that just don’t matter.  WALK AWAY and avoid an argument rather than try to PROVE a point…and lose a friend, tick-off your companero, or your future wife. 
DOING RIGHT sometimes requires you to back-off and let someone else make mistakes and/or be Wrong about something…when BEING RIGHT and proving a point might ruin a relationship or create contention.  There is no joy in being able to say “I SURE SHOWED HIM”…when he now hates you. 
The advice above mostly applies to non-critical day-to-day topics and situations. Just roll your eyes and walk away…and YOU WIN.  Just mutter in mind as you walk away “WHAT-EVER !!” and you will feel better.  As you develop this skill, you will get a thicker SKIN and little things won’t bug you as much.
Likewise the wise words from my awesome Uncle Matt Hawkins are of great value in avoiding and overcoming contention;
Christ knew all the answers and was perfect (He could have always been right) but he was the meekest of all and let people exercise their agency. 
Pick your battles.  There is a lot of stuff in life that is not worth the grief of always being right about.   In your marriage and your career you are going to need to make lots of compromises.  People don’t see things the same way.  Many times there is not just one right way.  Sometimes even your “better” way is really more about your need to win and control than getting to the right place.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know,  it’s my fault” should be very prevalent in our conversations.
These two bits of advice really hit home for me and greatly helped me change and have the proper perspective of things. I am quite confident that these bits of advice will help many of you as well.
President Eyring is a avid advocate of peace and unity in the church and in our homes. He wisely gives teaches the following principles to avoid contention and disunity.
A second principle to guide our progress to become one is to be humble. Pride is the great enemy of unity. You have seen and felt its terrible effects. Just days ago I watched as two people—good people—began with a mild disagreement. It started as a discussion of what was true but became a contest about who was right. Voices became gradually louder. Faces became a little more flushed. Instead of talking about the issue, people began talking about themselves, giving evidence why their view, given their great ability and background, was more likely to be right. 
You would have felt alarm as I did. We have seen the life-destroying effects of such tragic conflict. You and I know people who left the fellowship of the Saints over injured pride. 
Happily I am seeing more and more skillful peacemakers who calm troubled waters before harm is done. You could be one of those peacemakers, whether you are in the conflict or an observer. 
One way I have seen it done is to search for anything on which we agree. To be that peacemaker, you need to have the simple faith that as children of God, with all our differences, it is likely that in a strong position we take, there will be elements of truth. The great peacemaker, the restorer of unity, is the one who finds a way to help people see the truth they share. That truth they share is always greater and more important to them than their differences. You can help yourself and others to see that common ground if you ask for help from God and then act. He will answer your prayer to help restore peace, as He has mine. 
That same principle applies as we build unity with people who are from vastly different backgrounds. The children of God have more in common than they have differences. And even the differences can be seen as an opportunity. God will help us see a difference in someone else not as a source of irritation but as a contribution. The Lord can help you see and value what another person brings which you lack. More than once the Lord has helped me see His kindness in giving me association with someone whose difference from me was just the help I needed. That has been the Lord’s way of adding something I lacked to serve Him better. 
That leads to another principle of unity. It is to speak well of each other. Think of the last time you were asked what you thought about how someone else was doing in your family or in the Church. It happened to me more than once in the past week. Now, there are times we must judge others. Sometimes we are required to pronounce such judgments. But more often we can make a choice. For instance, suppose someone asks you what you think of the new bishop.As we get better and better at forging unity, we will think of a scripture when we hear that question: “And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.” 
Realizing that you see others in an imperfect light will make you likely to be a little more generous in what you say. In addition to that scripture, you might remember your mother saying—mine did—“If you can’t say anything good about a person, don’t say anything at all.” 
That will help you look for what is best in the bishop’s performance and character. The Savior, as your loving judge, will surely do that as He judges your performance and mine. The scripture and what you heard from your mother may well lead you to describe what is best in the bishop’s performance and his good intent. I can promise you a feeling of peace and joy when you speak generously of others in the Light of Christ. You will feel, for instance, unity with that bishop and with the person who asked your opinion, not because the bishop is perfect or because the person asking you shares your generous evaluation. It will be because the Lord will let you feel His appreciation for choosing to step away from the possibility of sowing seeds of disunity. (Henry B. Eyring, Our Hearts Knit as One, Oct. 2008)
I absolutely love the part where he teaches that a skillful (maintaining the peace in a world full of prideful, impatient, and impulsive people truly requires great skill, ability, and wisdom but with an understanding of the doctrine and a desire to apply the doctrine it is very possible) peacemaker looks for anything on which they can agree on and sees difference as an opportunity or as a contribution. Instead of being frustrated that we aren’t the same, we can see be grateful that through our differences we can complement each other and help strengthen the weaknesses of one another. My companionship with Elder Magill truly is a great experience because in many ways we are different but rather than get frustrated with that we work well together and I can without a doubt say that we both have greatly changed and helped one another improve in our different areas of weaknesses and it truly is a great feeling. All of our relationships can and should be that way if we have the right attitude and perspective and meekness.

I recently found a fantastic talk by Elder Ashton and it is so perfect that I’m going to share nearly the entire talk. Please do not skim it over or get bored here. Stay focused! I promise it’s well worth it! It is highly interesting and spot on with how to overcome contention especially in the home.
A few months ago word reached some of our missionaries in a remote South Pacific island that I would soon be visiting there for two or three days. When I arrived, the missionaries were waiting anxiously to share with me some anti-Mormon literature that was being circulated in their area. They were disturbed by the accusations and were eager to plan retaliation. 
The elders sat on the edge of their chairs as I read the slander and false declarations issued by a minister who apparently felt threatened by their presence and successes. As I read the pamphlet containing the malicious and ridiculous statements, I actually smiled, much to the surprise of my young associates. When I finished, they asked, “What do we do now? How can we best counteract such lies?” 
I answered, “To the author of these words, we do nothing. We have no time for contention. We only have time to be about our Father’s business. Contend with no man. Conduct yourselves as gentlemen with calmness and conviction and I promise you success.” 
Perhaps a formula for these missionaries and all of us to follow can be found in Helaman, chapter five, verse thirty, of the Book of Mormon. “And it came to pass when they heard this voice, and beheld that it was not a voice of thunder, neither was it a voice of a great tumultuous noise, but behold it was a still voice of perfect mildness, as if it had been a whisper, and it did pierce even to the very soul.” [Hel. 5:30] … 
Contention builds walls and puts up barriers. Love opens doors. Ours is to be heard and teach. Ours is not only to avoid contention, but to see that such things are done away. 
“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. 
“Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Ne. 11:29, 30.) 
We need to be reminded that contention is a striving against one another, especially in controversy or argument. It is to struggle, fight, battle, quarrel, or dispute. Contention never was and never will be an ally of progress. Our loyalty will never be measured by our participation in controversy. Some misunderstand the realm, scope, and dangers of contention. Too many of us are inclined to declare, “Who, me? I am not contentious, and I’ll fight anyone who says I am.” There are still those among us who would rather lose a friend than an argument. How important it is to know how to disagree without being disagreeable. It behooves all of us to be in the position to involve ourselves in factual discussions and meaningful study, but never in bitter arguments and contention. 
No home or heart exists that cannot be hurt through contention. It is sad when children are raised in a contentious home. It is just as sad when an organization has contention as one of the planks of its platform, declared or unannounced. Generally speaking, people who come from noncontentious households find themselves repulsed by those who would make it part of their daily diet. 
The family as an institution today is beset on all sides. Conflicts within the family are critical and often damaging. Contention puts heavy strain on stability, strength, peace, and unity in the home. There is certainly not time for contention in building a strong family. 
In place of arguments and friction between family members, ours is to build, listen, and reason together. I recall receiving a written question from a fifteen-year-old girl during a fireside discussion. She wrote, “Is there anything I can do to improve the feelings among members of my family? I am fifteen years old and hardly ever look forward to being home. Everyone just seems to be waiting for me to say the wrong thing so they can cut me down.” 
Another young woman, age seventeen, was asked why she was living in a city with her sister away from their parents. She replied, “Because of the hassle back home. I have had all that I can stand.” She continued, “There is always fighting. I can never remember when it was different. Everyone in the house, especially my parents, takes delight in bad-mouthing each other.” A few family expressions which cause hurts and lead to contention are: “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” “Why did you do that stupid thing?” “Your room is a mess.” “Why don’t you do as I tell you?” 
Almost five centuries ago a creative genius named Leonardo da Vinci lived and worked in Italy. While we remember him most today for such paintings as the Mona Lisa, he was also a fascinating debater, a polished orator, and a storyteller of great imagination. One of his fables, simply titled “The Wolf,” I would like to share with you. 
“Carefully, warily, the wolf came down out of the forest one night, attracted by the smell of a flock of sheep. With slow steps he drew near to the sheepfold, placing his feet with the utmost caution so as not to make the slightest sound which might disturb the sleeping dog. 
“But one careless paw stepped on a board; the board creaked and woke the dog. The wolf had to run away, unfed and hungry. And so, because of one careless foot, the whole animal suffered.” (Adapted from Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, “Fantastic Tales,” Bestiary, no. 1225.) 
There is an area, perhaps insignificant to some, that seems to me to be gnawing away at the spirituality of Latter-day Saints. The plights of these young ladies bring it to mind. Like the careless paw of the wolf, it is causing untold suffering and depriving many of spiritual growth and family oneness. I speak of arguing, careless words spoken in anger, disgust, and intolerance, often without thought. How sad it is when family members are driven from home by contentious tongues. 
Stories often reiterate the hate and bitterness caused by contention among neighbors. Some families have been forced to move because of bitter controversy. Going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, swallowing one’s pride, and apologizing are often the only ways in which contention among neighbors can be erased. 
From the Savior’s words we learn the source of contention, whether it be in the home, in the community, among the leaders, or in the classroom. “For verily, verily, I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Ne. 11:29.) This means that Satan has power over us only when we let him in. We have agency. We can choose our behavior. The Prophet Joseph Smith said on one occasion, “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him. The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181.) 
When one considers the bad feeling and the unpleasantness caused by contention, it is well to ask, “Why do I participate?” If we are really honest with ourselves, our answers may be something like: “When I argue and am disagreeable, I do not have to change myself. It gives me a chance to get even.” “I am unhappy and I want others to be miserable too.” “I can feel self-righteous. In this way I get my ego built up.” “I don’t want others to forget how much I know!” 
Whatever the real reason, it is important to recognize that we choose our behavior. At the root of this issue is the age-old problem of pride. “Only by pride cometh contention.” (Prov. 13:10.) 
If Satan can succeed in creating in us habits of arguing, quarreling, and contention, it is easier then for him to bind us with the heavier sins which can destroy our eternal lives. A contentious spirit can affect almost any phase of our lives. An angry letter written in haste can haunt us—sometimes for years. A few ill-advised words spoken in hate can destroy a marriage or a personal friendship, or impede community progress.
As we take a stand against the evils of the day, such as abortion, homosexuality, immorality, alcohol, drugs, dishonesty, intolerance, etc., can we express our beliefs without clenching our fists, raising our voices, and promoting contention? Can we talk about the beneficial principles of the gospel such as the Word of Wisdom, keeping the Sabbath day holy, maintaining personal purity, and the other truths found in the scriptures without making our listeners defensive? This is not easy, but it can be done. Ours is, if you please, to plow our own furrow, plant our own seeds, tend our crops, and reap the harvest. This can best be accomplished not only by plowshares rather than by swords, but by appropriate commitment rather than contention. 
Let me share with you some suggestions for alleviating contention:
  1. Pray to have the love of God in your heart. Sometimes this is a struggle, but the Spirit of the Lord can soften hard feelings and mellow a callous spirit.
  2. Learn to control your tongue. There is an old maxim and an excellent one: “Think twice before you speak and three times before you act.”
  3. Don’t allow emotions to take over; rather, reason together.
  4. Refuse to get embroiled in the same old patterns of argument and confrontation.
  5. Practice speaking in a soft, calm voice. The peaceful life can best be attained not by those who speak with a voice of “great tumultuous noise” but by those who follow the Savior’s example and speak with “a still voice of perfect mildness.” (Hel. 5:30.)
There is no time for contention. We must have the will and discipline in our daily lives to fight contention. I promise the valiant God’s help in their efforts to conquer this horrendous foe. Let us “Cease to contend one with another; cease to speak evil one of another.” (D&C 136:23.) We only have time to be about our Father’s business. (Marvin J. Ashton, No Time for Contention, April 1978)
The third key obstacle to peace is getting offended easily. Elder Bednar provides a masterful teaching on how to overcome offense. Please read and learn carefully.
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else. 
In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation… 
The Savior is the greatest example of how we should respond to potentially offensive events or situations. 
“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Nephi 19:9). 
Through the strengthening power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you and I can be blessed to avoid and triumph over offense. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165)… 
You and I cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. Please remember that you and I are agents endowed with moral agency, and we can choose not to be offended. 
During a perilous period of war, an exchange of letters occurred between Moroni, the captain of the Nephite armies, and Pahoran, the chief judge and governor of the land. Moroni, whose army was suffering because of inadequate support from the government, wrote to Pahoran “by the way of condemnation” (Alma 60:2) and harshly accused him of thoughtlessness, slothfulness, and neglect. Pahoran might easily have resented Moroni and his message, but he chose not to take offense. Pahoran responded compassionately and described a rebellion against the government about which Moroni was not aware. And then he responded, “Behold, I say unto you, Moroni, that I do not joy in your great afflictions, yea, it grieves my soul. … And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart” (Alma 61:2, 9).One of the greatest indicators of our own spiritual maturity is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others. A thing, an event, or an expression may be offensive, but you and I can choose not to be offended—and to say with Pahoran, “it mattereth not.” WOW!  
If a person says or does something that we consider offensive, our first obligation is to refuse to take offense and then communicate privately, honestly, and directly with that individual. Such an approach invites inspiration from the Holy Ghost and permits misperceptions to be clarified and true intent to be understood. (David A. Bednar, And Nothing Shall Offend Them, Oct. 2006)
Congratulations to all of you who really read this entire letter. I promise you that if you put into your daily lives these principles that you have read it will be very well worth the time spent reading it.

I wish to finish simply testifying of the truthfulness of every single one of these talks and pieces of advice from my Uncles. I have lived these principles and I know from experience that they are true and that they come from God. Live them and you will see. I love you all and spent all this time of preparation for weeks before preparing this taking out the best and most important parts of various talks and providing an analysis of them because I really love you guys and want what’s best for you. It is humble prayer and hope that this blesses your lives.

Happy New Year!

Elder Remington

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Attitude is Everything & Merry Christmas

Family and Friends,

I will now continue with last week's subject of the power of a good attitude. 

In Alma 17: 28-33 we learn a great lesson about the power of a positive attitude. Ammon had recently gone out with the other Lamanites as a servant tending the flocks of King Lamoni and then the robbers came and dispersed the flocks. First look at the bad example of the negative Lamanites and learn what missionaries never should do. Then watch the wonderful leadership and the powerful influence that Ammon's positive attitude on the rest of the group and see what a difference a positive attitude of one missionary can have on the rest of the district, zone, or mission. I've seen this happen!
 28 Now the servants of the king began to murmur, saying: Now the king will slay us, as he has our brethren because their flocks were scattered by the wickedness of these men. And they began to weep exceedingly, saying: Behold, our flocks are scattered already.
 29 Now they wept because of the fear of being slain. 
Little pause here. I'm sure many have heard missionaries and other people whine just like this when something goes wrong or a problem presents itself, ¨Oh no poor me¨ ¨That's not fair. Why me?¨ ¨It's hopeless becuase now ... will happen and there's nothing we can do¨ blah blah wah wah ¨This sector is dead¨ ¨I'm bored¨ ¨The members don't help here¨ ¨Its my companion's fault¨ these negative thoughts and the nagative attitude are sure to bring negative results. Instead of ACTING and solving the problem, these Lamanites just complain and worry. 
Now lets see what Ammon does and learn from his great leadership..
(29)Now when Ammon saw this his heart was swollen within him with joy; for, said he, I will show forth my power unto these my fellow-servants, or the power which is in me, in restoring these flocks unto the king, that I may win the hearts of these my fellow-servants, that I may lead them to believe in my words. 30 And now, these were the thoughts (positive thoughts thus positive results) of Ammon, when he saw the afflictions of those whom he termed to be his brethren.
 31 And it came to pass that he flattered them by his words, saying: My brethren, be of good cheer and let us go in search of the flocks, and we will gather them together and bring them back unto the place of water; and thus we will preserve the flocks unto the king and he will not slay us. 
He decides to act and inspires them to act as well and solve their problem. This positive attitude and rallying call of Ammon gives the Lamanites hope and cases them to stop complaining and follow Ammon in getting to work.  
32 And it came to pass that they went in search of the flocks, and they did follow Ammon, and they rushed forth with much swiftness and did head the flocks of the king, and did gather them together again to the place of water.
Wow! Those Lamanites went from whining, crying, and complaining to rushing forth with much swiftness and getting to work. That is the power of a strong leader with a good attitude. Think about it. Ammon could've whined and complained too and made excuses.. ¨Oh poor me its just my luck that while I'm trying to gain the King's confidence by serving him that these annoying robbers have to come over here and ruin everything. I'll bet Aaron and my other brothers are having more luck in their area... its not fair that now this happened so I won't be able to baptize anyone... this area stinks... my companions don't help me out... blah blah blah¨ There are lots of missionaries and zone leaders that I've seen with this kind of attitude and thus become victims of the circumstances. But Ammon didn't do that, he thought positively and thus became a creator of his circumstances, brought forth miracles, converted thousands of Lamanites, and was a powerful instrument in building the Lord's Kingdom. Let's decide to be like Ammon and be positive and lead others to work and be positive. Something interesting is that being positive and working hard are the best of friends and build off of each other. The more positive your attitude, the more you will work, the more that you work, you'll feel even better and have an even more positive attitude, and then you'll feel like working even more and then feel even better with a better attitude and want to work even more...etc.
Another great example of someone who had a positive attitude even in difficult situations is Nephi. As they were traveling in the wilderness they suffered many trials and their wives had to give birth while traveling but Npehi saw the blessings of the Lord and was positive and grateful. 
2 And so great were the blessings of the Lord upon us, that while we did live upon raw meat in the wilderness, our women did give plenty of suck for their children, and were strong, yea, even like unto the men; and they began to bear their journeyings without murmurings.
 3 And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them; wherefore, he did provide means for us while we did sojourn in the wilderness.
He had a good attitude and thus produced good results. Laman and Lemuel were in the exact same situation but had an attitude completely different...
20 And thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better that they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.
They had a bad attitude and thus produced bad results. Life truly is what you make of it and the success or failure, happiness or misery that we have depends upon our attitude. Whether we be in the wilderness, in our homes, in the mission, in the service of the King after having our flocks robbed, in an area with a tough companion, or in any type of situation... let us be positive and have a good attitude and I promise that we will see the blessings and good results that come. 

For the Christmas season, this last week my companion and I had the privilege of attending the temple three times with the various zones of the mission. I love to be in the temple. I love the peace that is felt and I love the personal revelation that one can receive while in the celestial room. It truly is like heaven on earth. After each visit to the temple we had a devotional with the zones and they each gave a little presentation. It was very fun. I really enjoy being with all the missionaries and getting to know them all better.

Elder Magill and I had discontinued the practice of calling and singing to people on their birthdays but then we realized how much it really meant to the missionaries because quite a few shared with us how special and important they felt when we called... so we put it back in practice a few weeks ago and its been great. It truly is something so simple but makes such a big difference. Its a great idea for teachers, coaches, grandparents, or church leaders.

An interesting subject came to my mind the other day and I feel the need to share my thoughts. It is about not being offended easily when people give us advice. The natural instinct is to get our feelings hurt or get mad or try to defend ourselves when someone tries to correct us. As parents, companions, and true friends it is our duty to help others by giving them advice and corrections with a spirit of love and humility. Likewise we need to be able to receive correction and feedback with grace, gratitude, and humility regardless of the way in which the correction is given. The scriptures are full of examples and evidences that it is important to correct others that we love and apply correction and counsel from those we love (Psalms 94:12, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 15:10). 

The purpose of this life is to have joy and prepare ourselves to live with God. All of us are imperfect and all of us have a lot to improve on in order to get to that point of being worthy to live with God in the Celestial Kingdom. We must change and progress little by little everyday to become better and better and more celestial worthy. Thus we should be GRATEFUL for corrections and suggestions from others and see them as opportunities to improve and grow like we're supposed to. When we get our feelings hurt or get offended we are only shooting ourselves in the foot and stunting our own growth. 
Merry Christmas everyone! I recommend watching the video ¨The Christmas Spirit.¨ It's very simple but very sweet. Remember to keep Christ in Christmas and you'll feel peace and joy. 


Elder Remington

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Attitude is EVERYTHING

Family and Friends,

Last week in our leadership conference Elder Magill and I gave a great training seminar on the three teaching skills that Elder Mestre taught in the mission tour (use scriptures, ask questions, and listen). We taught the principles that I shared 2 weeks ago in my letter reviewing what Elder Mestre taugth and putting emphasis on certain specific weaknesses that we've seen in the teaching skills of many missionaries from companion exchanges and district meeting practices. Elder Magill and I then did a practice in front of everyone showing how to use these principles we had just taught and it went really well. I felt the Spirit very strong as we were training and as we were teaching in the practice. At the end a lot of people really had their eyes opened and you could tell that it's really going to help them. That's a great feeling. Elder Magill and I are really working well together and getting to be pros at trainings, transfers, reports, interviews, etc, etc, etc, there's still a ton of stuff we need to learn and we make mistakes everyday but we've really gotten a lot better and we've both changed quite a bit. Most notably Elder Magill has taught me how to avoid contention and be a peacemaker. I know that through the things we've taught each other and learned together we will both be better in the future as husbands, fathers, and leaders in the church. It truly is a blessing to work side by side with Elder Magill. 

For the past month we have been visiting various zones with President Amaya about 2 times each week and while he is doing interviews with them we are with another companionship reviewing their area book and daily planner. We chat with them, listen, ask them what are the strong points of their area and what are the weak points, how they are doing in working with the members in the work of Salvation, listen with love, and then share ideas, scriptures, teach doctrine and principles from PMG and the mission manual to help them improve. We give them specific feedback on what they are doing well with their area book and daily planner and give them specific ideas and commitments in how they need to improve. Most of all we motivate them and get them fired up about missionary work. It truly is a wonderful experience and for me it is one of the best parts of this assignment. Truly it is a great blessing to be with them and serve them and love them. The greatest of all is when three months later (or sometimes sooner or much later) they tell you how they've been doing what you said and how much its helped them or you see their daily planner again and see that they've improved a ton and are having way more success because of it and they sincerely thank you. There is nothing like losing yourself in the service of your fellow being and seeing the fruits. The craziest thing is that there are uncounted fruits that we never see but are very real. 

In these revisions of area book sessions, in the leadership conference, in companionship exchanges, and in many places I've seen and heard time and time again that attitude is everything and the quality of your attitude (great, good, average, or bad) will affect the quality of your results (great, good, average, or bad) it truly is that simple! 

I am out of time but next week I will go into detail of attitude.

Love you all be happy,

Elder Remington 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Good Times

Family and Friends,

Two weeks ago a wonderful sister named Elina was baptized by one of her friends that had shared the gospel with her. Elina is best friends with his mom and it was his first baptism so it was very special and when she shared her testimony you could really feel her sincerity, happiness, and joy in the decision she had made and she felt God's presence as she entered the water. She had been taught by several missionaries and never went to church but now was her time and she went to church loved it and was baptized in 3 weeks.

President Amaya taught us several important lessons these past few weeks and the biggest three that come to mind are the following. First, he explained that there Turkish salesman always are very successful because they have the practice of not eating breakfast until they make their first sale of the day. This motivates them to work hard and sale and this discipline makes them successful. Elder Magill and I decided to apply it to missionary work in that we must earn the right to eat and relax when we get home by first finishing daily planning and updating the area book BEFORE we eat, drink, or even go to the bathroom (little extreme but it sure works for motivating you if you gotta go haha). This has really worked well for us and several other missionaries that we've shared this principle with too. Second, while analyzing D&C 4 he said that if we really want to serve God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength as God requires of us there is no room for a boyfriend or girlfriend. He emphasized that God is very demanding of his servants and that he wants 100% of our hearts and minds, thus if we want to be truly successful we must leave everything behind and not give half of ourselves to God and the other half to our boyfriend or girlfriend. This made me very grateful for choices that I made before the mission and sad for some of the Elders in our mission who didn't make such choices and now I see them suffering the consequences. For all those current or future missionaries reading this who currently have a boyfriend or girlfriend, I strongly and lovingly invite you to break it off completely and concentrate on your mission and serving the Lord. I know that President Amaya is inspired in what he teaches and I've seen with my own eyes how important it really is to dedicate ourselves 100% to the Lord. Just do it. Do it now. Third, he cited Elder Hales and taught that ¨darkness cannot overcome light unless the light is diminished or departs.¨ Be a light. Fill your life with goodness, happiness, and productive activities. Become so involved and busy with scriptures, service, prayer, lesson plans, thinking of how to help others that you won't even have time nor desires to do evil (Mosiah 5:2). That is the biggest key to overcoming weaknesses and becoming better. 

This week has been wonderful and reminded me that life really is what you make of it! Have a good attitude and you will produce good results!


Elder Remington

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Learning and Growing

Family and Friends,

This last Sunday we had the Primary Program in our ward and I must say that surprisingly I enjoyed it. To be completely honestly never really got a kick out of primary programs before the mission... lack of spiritual maturity I think caused me to think they were boring and silly. (Sorry to all you primary program participants and/or lovers but don't worry I've repented and my opinion since then has greatly changed). Months ago I read something about President Kimball in which he was asked, ¨What do you do when you're in a boring Sacrament Meeting¨ and he responded, ¨I don't know I've never been in one.¨ Wow! That hit me big time and made me realize that its all about our attitude as an audience that affects what we get out of a Sacrament meeting or class or primary program or anything for that matter. If we go Sacrament meeting with the right attitude and with a profound desire to learn then we will feel the Spirit and we will learn important and relevant things for our lives regardless of the speaker because the Spirit will be our teacher. I have been applying that principle and it has worked very well... even for the Primary Program! What a beautiful experience it was to see sweet and tender children of God sharing simple Gospel truths. I felt a wonderful spirit of love and happiness as they sang and shared their little messages. Most of all there was part where the mothers sang with their children of prayer and then they all sang Families Can Be Together Forever. In those two moments I felt a sweet confirmation of the Spirit that God really is there and hears and answers every child's prayer and knew that my family and I will be together forever. Primary Programs really are wonderful experiences.

Elder Mestre taught us several solid and important principles that really opened my eyes and helped me improve. It really was just what we needed. There is no way I'll be able to share everything but I will share the basic most important things he taught and what most impacted me. He taught us how to improve our teaching skills, study, and to focus on the doctrine and principles.

Three key teaching skills are to use the scriptures, ask inspired questions, and listen. In order to use the scriptures in an inspired and non-mechanic repetitive way, it is essential that we study and treasure the words of Christ in our minds (D&C 84:85) and then the Spirit will whisper to us what scripture we need to use for each investigator depending on their needs, interests, and circumstances. Obviously the Holy Ghost can't draw water out of an empty well thus we must do our part. Once we've done our part and keep doing our part of daily feasting up the words of Christ (2 Nephi 32:3) and treasuring it up and we have the scripture that we're going to use, PMG teaches us that there are three steps to using a scripture 1. Introduce 2. Read 3. Apply. Everyone knows step 2 and 99% know step 3 but almost everyone skips step 1 they just jump right into the scripture without setting it up. You have to help them understand the context of the scripture or else it won't have as much meaning to them. That is one of the most common mistakes I have seen and it really is necessary because it makes a big difference in the effectiveness of steps 2 and 3. Before reading the scripture do as PMG 180 says ¨Describe briefly the background of the passage you will use. Invite the investigator to look for particular points in the passage.¨ If you ask them a question before reading the passage to guide them then they will be more focused and pay attention looking for the answer while reading it and then when you ask the same question after reading they will be able to answer and that brings in the application quite nicely. For example before reading Moroni 10:4 you set it up explaining that Moroni was the last prophet writing in the Book of Mormon before he buried it and he makes us a promise of how we can know that its true. While reading this passage think about how God wants us to pray to Him. Then you read and then you ask them so how should we ask God if its true (Oh with a sincere heart and with real intent and faith in Christ) Exactly so when you read this and then pray... then you go into the application and then get it really well. Elder Mest

re invited us to memorize scriptures for each principle that we teach so that we won't just repeat the same ones over and over again but that it will be according to their needs and what the Spirit indicates. (He gave a great example of that because in all three places where he taught he cited various different scriptures word for word depending on what the missionaries in those zones needed. Elder Magill and I were quite impressed and it inspired me to improve in my knowledge of the scriptures.)

Asking inspired questions is all about prompting thought, soul searching, and commitment. We need to help them ponder and apply the principles we teach them through questions that we ask. Elder Mestre invited us all to highlight and analyze every single question that we see while studying the scripture to learn how we can formulate better questions as well. One of the biggest problems that many missionaries have is that they forget about this line in PMG ¨Avoid asking questions that: ...Pertain to doctrines that you have not taught yet.¨ For example lots of missionaries know they should ask questions so they think that a great way to start off a lesson is to ask (before having taught any doctrine) ¨So what's prophet to you?¨ or ¨What does faith mean?¨ This often leads to them feeling uncomfortable because they don't know or they try to make something up or they say something that is totally left field and after they've talked for 5 minutes (about how their grandpa is so smart he's like a prophet to them really) you have to steer them back to the lesson. It is so much better to begin teaching in simple and direct terms and using a scripture to back up your words and then ask them,  ¨Based on what we've taught, in your own words what is faith (a prophet, etc)?¨ Then they feel comfortable and you can see their progress and understanding of the doctrine you're teaching. 

After asking inspired questions and always while the investigators are talking we need to listen with great love and real intent. They need to feel that we really care about them and we're not just thinking about what to say next. Shut off the thinking and calculating part of your brain while they speak and don't stress... just listen with love and trust in the Spirit and trust in this wonderful promise by Elder Holland, “More important than speaking is listening. These people are not lifeless objects disguised as a baptismal statistic. They are children of God, our brothers and sisters, and they need what we have. Be genuine. Reach out sincerely. Ask these friends what matters most to them. What do they cherish, and what do they hold dear? And then listen. If the setting is right, you might ask what their fears are, what they yearn for, or what they feel is missing in their lives. I promise you that something in what they say will always highlight a truth of the gospel about which you can bear testimony and about which you can then offer more. … If we listen with love, we won’t need to wonder what to say. It will be given to us—by the Spirit and by our friends” (“Witnesses Unto Me,” Ensign, May 2001, 15; italics in original). After reading this to us, Elder Mestre pointed out the word ¨always¨ ¨What does always mean?¨ He asked us. He then explained that Elder Holland is a Prophet of God and what he says is law and is a promise that we can rely on. Every single time we listen to them with love we will know what to say. It really is true and that is when you teach people not lessons and they progress. 

Most of all he helped us understand that we must teach doctrine and principles not just applications in companionship study, district meetings, and lessons (D&C 43:8, D&C 50:22, D&C 88:77). We should never just tell people what they have to do. We must teach them the doctrine of Christ and when they understand it they will naturally desire to apply what they've learned and live the doctrine.

Love you all,

Elder Remington