There is a story told of a young boy and his father. After a long and busy week, the father promised his son that they would spend some time on Saturday to play together. Saturday morning found that father at the kitchen table, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. Excitedly, the boy comes sprinting down the stairs, all amped up and ready to go out and play. But the man could use just a few more minutes to relax and finish up his morning routine. So, trying to buy himself some time, the father rips out a picture of the world from the newspaper and tears it into about 30 tiny pieces. He sets the pieces on the table and tells his son, “Here’s a picture of the world… as soon as you put this puzzle together we’ll go out and start our day.” The man goes back to reading, and is astonished when a couple of short minutes later, the boy tugs at his shirt and tells him that he’s done. Amazed, the father asks how he was able to complete it so quickly. His son explains that a piece of paper fell on the floor, and when he bent down to pick it up, he noticed that there was a picture of a man on the back of all the little pieces. So, he sat up, flipped all the pieces over, and put the man together. Once he did that, the world had fallen into place.
Nephi and Lehi understood the principle this story conveys. Helaman 5 tells of the wickedness of the Nephites, and their corrupt laws and governments. We read that as their governments were established by the voice of the people, and with a majority of people choosing evil over good, their laws had become corrupted. At this time, a righteous Nephi held the judgement-seat. One would think that a righteous judge can keep a society in order. However, with unjust laws, Nephi had no choice but to rule in favor of these stiffnecked people. He grew tired of this, and eventually gave up his position as judge to go preach the word of God with his brother Lehi for the remainder of their days.
Nephi obviously cared for the well being of his people. Why then would he give up his authority to punish or redeem them because of their doings? Nephi was more concerned about the eternal salvation of his brethren, rather than their mortal redemption. He knew that these people needed to come to terms with themselves and with their Heavenly Judge first. Verily, good works on earth start with a goodness within one’s own soul. The gospel transposes the character of Jesus Christ upon any who form a revelatory relationship with Him and the Father. As Nephi and Lehi set out to teach their people, they went forth remembering the words which their father Helaman had told them. Their father essentially said to remember that there’s “no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ” (verse 9), and to simply “do that which is good” (verse 7).
Everybody is seeking for things of temporal worth in their world to come together. Has our character come together first? Have we looked within, and done the work necessary to adequately represent the babe born in a manger, even He who changed the world by His good works? In trying to build our character, we need not to look any further than Christ. Taking His name upon us means to become like Him.
In celebrating our Savior’s birth recently, we mustn’t forget that on the 23rd of December, the Prophet Joseph Smith also had a birthday. Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles testifies that the Savior has had no truer friend than Brother Joseph. It is easy to see the character of the Redeemer in the character of he who died a noble death by martyrdom, just like his Friend. John Taylor, who was with Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Carthage, took four bullets himself and survived. He later said of the two, “If ever there was an exemplary, honest, and virtuous man, an embodiment of all that is noble in the human form, Hyrum Smith was its representative. In life [Joseph and Hyrum] were not divided, and in death they were not separated!”
Our characters cannot be finalized all at once, nor can the world fall into place all at once. Rather, they are to be developed one day at a time. A young Russell Nelson found Matthew 6:33 to be fundamental: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’ Seeking God’s kingdom will establish our character, thus spurring good works, and in turn laying up our own kingdom for the eternities.
To those who are looking for peace, happiness, or blessings in their own life, may I suggest considering the words of our Savior Jesus Christ to the Saints? ‘Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again’ (D&C 103:27). If you’re looking for your “life”, whatever that may be, I believe that you must selflessly embark on the difficult and lifelong journey of losing yourself in the service of God and your fellowman. Truly, then, you will find yourself.