Sunday, November 8, 2015

What's Your Six-Word Resolution?

By Rodger Dean Duncan

What does Ernest Hemingway have to do with teaching
how to apply gospel principles?
We live in an age of 140-character tweets and other superficial forms and styles of communication. How we communicate has a profound influence on how we think (and of course vice versa). If a young missionary tells me he thinks the gospel is “freaking awesome,” I am impressed by his enthusiasm but have concerns about how much he really understands. But when he tells me a detailed story of an investigator’s conversion and specifies in concrete terms how the gospel and its saving ordinances will bless that person’s life, then I know he “gets it.”

For a few years in our home congregation in Missouri, Rean and I taught a Sunday School class for 16 and 17 year-olds. We constantly emphasized personal application of the principles discussed in class. We gave weekly assignments and asked the class members to return and report. At first, their responses were superficial. But over time they learned to think. (What a concept.)

At the end of the year we told them about the challenge Ernest Hemingway once accepted to write a novel in six words. (His novel: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”) We asked the class members to write a six-word resolution with an emphasis on specifically how they intended to be more effective covenant-keepers in the coming year. 

We gave them a week to ponder. Then another week to write. The results were very impressive.

This laser-focused exercise caused them to consider their testimonies and personal commitment in ways that had never before occurred to them. Sharing and talking about their six-word resolutions strengthened their purpose and courage and it helped them connect the dots with all the principles we had discussed in class the previous months. It helped them adopt a “Hey, I can do this!” spirit. 

Effective, soul-changing gospel living is all about application. As we are asked to teach and train the leaders in the Waco Stake, we are using this same where-the-rubber-hits-the-road approach. We like the results we're seeing.

Clarity is a Good Thing

In pre-Revolutionary Russia a man was confronted by a soldier as he walked down a road. Aiming a rifle at the man, the soldier demanded, "Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?" Unfazed by the sudden interrogation, the man replied with a question of his own: "How much do they pay you?" Somewhat surprised, the soldier answered, "Twenty-five kopecks a month." After a thoughtful pause, the man said, "I have a proposal for you. I'll pay you fifty kopecks a month if you'll stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions."

None of us has a "soldier" confronting us each day with life's tough questions. But we can honestly ask the questions ourselves. If we choose to, we can issue our own self-challenges to push ourselves not only to do better but to be better.

One of the verities of mortality is that we become what we want to be by being who we want to become.

As missionaries, we teach the beautifully simple and simply beautiful Plan of Salvation. For the sincere seeker, that Plan provides answers for all of life's most important questions:

  • Who are we? We are the literal spiritual offspring of a loving Father in Heaven. This seems to be news to some people, even those who habitually pray to their "Father in Heaven." The relationship is real. You can look it up.
  • Where are we going? As children of God, we came to earth to be tested and proved. Because we have agency, we can choose. Our choices involve everything from our favorite flavor of ice cream to how, or even if, we worship God. If we choose to worship God, and if we accept his son as our savior, we must decide how we will worship. That includes which doctrines we choose to follow. In other words, we can go along with God or we can go along with the philosophies of men. God has only one Plan. Men have countless.
  • Why are we going there? The answer to this question depends on how "there" is defined. If our "there" is a focus on Heavenly Father's plan and the generous grace of Jesus Christ, our motivation will be commitment and obedience to God's unchanging and unchangeable law. If our "there" is a worldly corruption of God's plan (no matter how well intended), our motive may be tainted with something like political correctness.

In the past few days we've seen a lot of media hubbub about the Church's clarification of policy regarding same-sex relationships. This is not at all "new doctrine." There is no "new doctrine" and never will be. It's merely a clarification of policy in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision.

In media outlets ranging from CNN to the usual trash-talking blogs, we've seen widespread misunderstanding and blatant misrepresentations of the Church's position on same-sex relationships. We've even seen social media posts by church members who are apparently confused or troubled by the policy clarification. For those who want the unvarnished account of the Church's position, click here to see an interview with Elder Todd Christofferson. You'll see that the policy clarification is all about compassion, reason, and a desire to protect children from conflict. And click on "New Additions to the LDS Handbook: Not the Perfect PR Plan" for an especially helpful and well-reasoned discussion on the subject.

Which brings us back to the three questions above. A wise man once said: "If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead."

We rejoice when we see good people accept baptism and confirmation in the Church. In most cases, they are already faith-filled Christians. We love to share in their excitement as they learn how to practice Christianity in the way specified by the Savior himself. Priesthood covenants really do matter. Priesthood ordinances really do matter.

And for those who try to re-tool God's laws to conform to the social trends and philosophies of the day, we refer to scriptural warnings: If we say "I have enough, I don't need or want to align myself with the teachings of the prophets, I'll go my own way," the Lord will accommodate us by ceasing to give us more and by withdrawing the understanding he's already given.

How grateful we are for a loving Heavenly Father. For the atonement of a merciful Savior. For a Plan of Salvation that is unchangeably fair and user-friendly. For the restoration of the Lord's authentic priesthood and the church exactly as he organized it during his earthly ministry.

Clarity is a good thing. What's your six-word resolution?


  1. I am standing with the Prophet!

    This is a brilliant post. Thank you for using your gifts and talents to bless my life. I love you both so much.