Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Upward Pull: A Talk for Convocation

This is a talk I gave last night at Convocation, a sort of school year kick-off service for and by the LDS Stanford community. It's held in Memorial Church (so beautiful, see Procrastination blog entry below), and Elder Robert S. Wood was the keynote speaker. It was a very good evening; I felt such love for and from my community.

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Sometimes I feel an upward pull, a desire to be better than I am. Perhaps you, like I, have wondered if there’s more to life than this, if we can be better than we are. We go to school, to work, to our recreation. We talk with people we love, we try to find ways to serve others, and we try to read the good books always being recommended to us. These are the manifestations of the good desires within us. But we are flawed, too. We drop our pencils; we barely remember to take out the garbage, resenting that tomorrow or the next day, it will have to be done again; we miss appointments, are late, forget birthdays and the lyrics to even the songs we like. Amidst this—the good things in life and in ourselves, amidst the mundane, and, sometimes, the horrible—we wonder: Is this all life is? Is this all I am? Surely, there must be something better than this, even all of this. Surely, I can be better.

Henry B. Eyring, current First Counselor of the First Presidency of our church and a former professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, described this upward pull. In one of my favorite talks, he said: “That upward pull we have felt is far more than a desire for self-improvement. It is a longing for home.”

What President Eyring described is not a homesick longing for a childhood home, but is, I believe, our native human desire to, as President Eyring explains, “be again with the Heavenly Father we have loved and who loves us.” We may not know it, we may not call it that—but our individual desires to be better than we are, despite life being what it is, are manifestations of our inborn senses of how we can and should change in order to be with God again, feel his love, and live in his presence along with those we love.

Revealed scripture tells us that the prophet Abraham felt this longing, too. He was a good man, righteous. But he felt that there was greater happiness and peace and rest for him. He was righteous, but he desired to be a greater follower of righteousness. He had great knowledge, but he also wanted to add to this earthly knowledge a “greater knowledge,” of godly things. He wanted to be a father of many nations, to have children and a legacy that would impact humanity in peaceful and long-lasting ways. He wanted to receive instructions from God, and once given those instructions, he wanted to obey them.

I feel the upward pull President Eyring describes. I, like Abraham, try to be good. I want to be someone who knows things. I want to learn more, and to learn more about godly things. I want to be a mother. I want to be productive and to have children, both literal and figurative, who bless the world with their righteousness and with peace. I want, like Abraham did, for God to tell me what to do, and I want to be the kind of person who does what God tells her to do.

Revealed scripture tells us what Abraham did when he felt this upward pull. He sought for the blessings of the fathers and for the right to administer those blessings to others. LDS doctrine teaches us that the blessings of the fathers that Abraham seeks here are the blessings of the priesthood, the authority God gives man to act in his name. This priesthood is God’s power, a real power. It is not man-made pomp or influence or argument. It is not the dazzle of intellect or the sheer weight of tradition. The priesthood authority is the literal powers of heaven given to man to effect, to bind, and to bless. When Abraham felt the upward pull to be better than he was, he sought the blessings of the priesthood.

I have sought after and have begun to receive the blessings of the priesthood, the blessings of my physical and spiritual fathers. By the power of the priesthood, I have made covenants with God. I have promised I will always remember the Savior Jesus Christ and that I will try to keep the commandments that He has given us. I have covenanted to try to love others, to bear their burdens, to comfort them when they are in need of comfort. And I have promised to be obedient, chaste, and giving.

As I have tried to keep these covenants, I have felt God’s power in my life. A friend asked me this week if I could, with my faith, part the water in the fountain at CafĂ© Borrone. I haven’t seen God’s power manifested like that. But I have seen and felt and do see and feel God’s power in my life: I, as self-interested and flaky as I am, feel purpose in life and love for those around me. And I, as easily dissuaded and discouraged as I am, feel divine hope and patience, even in the face of my daily trials, when I spill food on myself, drop my pencils, say annoying things to my friends and my professors. Even as I take out the garbage, resenting it all the way to and from the garbage can, I do, I really do remember that I am bound to God by my covenants and that I am blessed and strengthened and protected by the priesthood, which administers the atoning grace of Jesus Christ. This power—the softening, changing, purpose-giving power—is some of the power of God that I see in my life.

Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want us to return to them. They want us to feel the upward pull and to, as Abraham did, seek the blessings of the priesthood—their blessings, given by their power. They want us to want to be better than we are, to change, and to covenant with them, that we may become like them and love others as they love, both here on earth and forever.

I pray that as we study this year, that as we pay attention to our desires to learn more, to run faster, to think more clearly, and to be kinder to our neighbors, that we will remember that our true-hearted desires to be like God, to be with God, and to feel His love again, are reminders of God’s plan for us, a plan the sole purpose of which is to help us find greater happiness and peace and rest, as Abraham did, by seeking the blessings of the priesthood, the literal power of God.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Abraham 1:2
"Making Covenants with God" by Henry B. Eyring


Mariah said...

Sarah you are once again amazing and an example to me.

Mariah said...

Sarah you are once again amazing and an example to me!

Samantha said...

Man, I miss you in my life. You are one of the best people I know.

Rebecca said...

I really liked this Sarah. It feels keen to correlate priesthood and upward mobility. Wish I could have been there.

Ashley said...

Sarah, I loved your talk. Thanks for sharing it with me. You are incredible. I love you!

heather said...

Thanks for sharing that Sarah! I just discovered that talk by President Eyring as I was preparing my own talk on coming to Christ a couple months ago. Don't you love how inspiration can be passed on to us, to have our own little moment with it even though we feel infinitely less worthy than people like President Eyring?