Over the past year or two, as I commute to and from work, I’ve been listening consecutively to the general conference addresses of my lifetime. Most recently, I completed October 1994, which was the conference where Howard W. Hunter was sustained as president of the church. Because of his predecessor’s failing health, it had been several years of recorded talks since I last heard from the president of the church. Knowing that President Hunter would only have a short time in office, I anticipated hearing the message the Lord wanted him to deliver before calling him home. This is what I heard:
“The Master...has ‘given unto us exceeding great and precious promises’ (2 Pet. 1:3-4)...and I invite all within the sound of my voice to claim them...I invite [you] to look to the temple of the Lord as the great symbol of your membership. It is the deepest desire of my heart to have every member of the Church worthy to enter the temple. It would please the Lord if every adult member would be worthy of—and carry—a current temple recommend. The things that we must do and not do to be worthy of a temple recommend are the very things that ensure we will be happy as individuals” (Howard W. Hunter - General Conference April 1994).
The deepest desire of both President Hunter and the God he serves is to see us happy as individuals, whatever circumstances we may be in. Individual happiness is rooted in a satisfactory relationship with God, independent of anyone or anything else that may be present or missing from our lives. The temple emphasizes this. When we enter it, we leave behind anything of this world, and within its walls, we individually covenant with the Lord. We are individually tested by him, and we are individually admitted into his presence.
There is a particular individual who adorns our temples: a shining, golden example of a man who, though alone in an antagonistic world, found peace and happiness in his relationship with God. After the battle that consumed his people, this Moroni wrote, “I am alone. My father hath been slain in battle, and all my kinsfolk, and I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not” (Mormon 8:5).
We don’t know much about Moroni. Perhaps he only particularly mentions his father to us because we’re acquainted with Mormon, but perhaps he had no other immediate family to mention. We don’t know Moroni’s age, but his father was at least 74 at the time he died, so it’s likely that Moroni was middle-aged when he found himself entirely alone. He carried on for at least twenty years before he buried the plates, and an unknown period after that. That’s a long time...to be alone.
I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. It would have been easy—even natural—for Moroni to succumb to swirling self-pity and fall into a false belief that God was indifferent, but that was not the song of this soloist. Instead, he engraved both on plates and in the “fleshy tables of [his] heart” the greatest dissertation on faith, hope, and charity the world has ever known (2 Corinthians 3:3). How could this be? I believe it could only be attributed to Moroni’s relationship with God.
Moroni records a prime example of that relationship in action at a time when his thoughts were waxing too self-critical. I think we all can relate to that. He took his personal weakness to the Lord and recorded the response he received: “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient...for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Furthermore, Moroni noted how the answer affected him, “And I, Moroni, having heard these words, was comforted” (Ether 12:27-29).
Moroni cultivated his relationship with God, accumulating hope in eternal life, reunion with relatives, and pending posterity. His faith increased in his Savior, and his “confidence waxed strong” (D&C 121:45). The Moroni who initially related his pitiable condition finished his life’s work with the bold declaration: “And now I bid unto all, farewell. I soon go to rest in the paradise of God, until my spirit and body shall again reunite, and I am brought forth triumphant through the air, to meet you” (Moroni 10:34).
Have you ever felt to pity yourself in a condition like unto Moroni when he found himself alone? Have you ever wanted to have the confidence Moroni had in his relationship with God when he exited this mortal life? Then follow the pattern Moroni did in the intervening years.
Look forward, not backward. Moroni spent an appropriate amount of time mourning the loss of what could have been, but then he turned himself about and faced the future. He wrote, “Behold, I make an end of speaking concerning this people. I am the son of Mormon, and my father was a descendant of Nephi. And I am the same who hideth up this record unto the Lord” (Mormon 8:13-14). In effect, he said, “I’m going to let the past be the past. It is what it is. I know who I am, and there’s a work for me to do.”
Sometimes we feel trapped by our past, defined by it, unable or unwilling to change. Other times, we feel our best days are behind us, and we look back longingly at a time since lost. There’s a song entitled “Good Old Days” (Macklemore) that captures some of these sentiments. In a couple verses, it recounts days long past, with the chorus:
I wish somebody would have told me [that]
Some day, these will be the good old days...
Someday soon, your whole life's gonna change
You'll miss the magic of these good old days
When I first heard those lyrics, my mind slipped into reminiscing about the good old days, wondering if the future still held anything in store that could be comparable to the past. But as I thought, the song continued:
Never thought we'd get old, maybe we're still young
Maybe we always look back and think it was better than it was
Maybe these are the moments
Maybe I've been missing what it's about
Been scared of the future, thinking about the past
While missing out on now
We've come so far, I guess I'm proud
And I ain't worried about the wrinkles around my smile
I've got some scars, I've been around
I've felt some pain, I've seen some things, but I'm here now
[These] good old days
With those words, my soul was suddenly filled with gratitude for the present. Maybe these are the moments. I wondered whence that wisdom came. What were the artist’s scars? I learned that he has struggled with substance addiction since his youth. He’s had some years of recovery and also some of relapse, but he’s here now.
I’ve got some scars, I’ve been around. I’ve felt some pain, I’ve seen some things, but I’m here now. Whatever your past, nice and nostalgic or strewn with scars, be here now, facing the future.
Elder Holland once taught, “The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is [for] the future.” ( Jeffery R. Holland - Remember Lot’s Wife).
Now, forgetting where we were in the past, where are we going in this future of ours? Ironically, back to the beginning, of course! Not just returning to the beginning of my remarks, to the temple, but the beginning, back home, because the “course of the Lord is one eternal round” (1 Nephi 10:19). It doesn’t get any more nostalgic than that, brothers and sisters.
But seriously, I testify that we’re going home, home to our Father in Heaven, but by the grace of our Savior, and the ordinances available in the temple, we’re going home clothed with power, glory, and eternal lives. If you haven’t been to the temple yet or haven’t been recently, be there now. These are the moments, these good old days.
I offer these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.