The Gospel Doctrine lesson #11 manual objective is “To help class members understand the doctrine of Christ and have an increased desire to press forward, feasting on His words.”
To reflect on the meaning and application of what it means to have a “brightness of hope” and to “press forward.”
2 Nephi 31:20 “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
End, definition: 1 – the last part. 2. – a purpose or result.
1. End: the last part, finish, ending.
My sister and I used to walk five long blocks home from the subway together. When the weather was blustery and cold, I would count down the blocks as we struggled against the wind and imagine the warm comfort of our destination. She disagreed with that. “Don’t think about home,” she’d say. “If we imagine that our walk will never end, it’s not so bad.” She’d keep saying that until finally we got to our front door.
Which of us was enduring well? Which had a brightness of hope? I wanted to focus on the future, the ending. She wanted to focus on the present. I was hoping to get home as fast as possible so that I could forget the dismal cold. She was dwelling in the here and now, not denying the present for a more perfect future. If I apply Nephi’s phrases to our attitudes toward the bitter cold walk and the warm home at the end of it, then my sister is good at enduring, while I am the hopeful one.
But take these attitudes separately and apply them toward a Christian life, and they are incomplete. When Nephi talks about a brightness of hope, he doesn’t mean for us simply to count down until this difficult life or a even difficult stage of life is over. And when he talks about enduring, it’s not just the sheer work of the present. We need a paradoxical combination of both realities. How can that happen? because Christ’s atonement is eternal, not locked into the prison of past, present, and future, not tied to an ending. Because of Christ, the distant light of a future hope can illuminate our present — so that our here and now is receptive to the grace of inspiration, forgiveness, strength beyond our own, love that is a deep well of joy. And our endurance can go beyond resigning ourselves to current trials toward a realization that our present life is part of our eternity.
2. End: a goal, a purpose, the fruit of our labors.
When Pilate asked Christ whether he was a king, he replied, “To this end was I born,” declaring his own royal and divine purpose (John 18:37). What is our end? Toward what purpose do we need to endure or press forward?
Say “press forward,” and the first thing that comes to my mind is Hymn No. 81, “Press Forward, Saints.” This hymn is essentially 2 Nephi 31:20, set to resolute and invigorating music by Sister Vanja Y. Watkins, who is a composer of some of our best-loved hymns and Primary songs, such as “Families Can be Together Forever” and the Articles of Faith. Say, “press forward,” and you imply resistance and opposition. Hymn No. 81 is one of exertion, one that the Mormons crossing the plains should have sung as they were trudging through snow and wading through rivers to their promised land. Or the song that Nephi and his family might have sung on their own pioneer trek, pressing forward through “many afflictions and much difficulty, yea, even so much that we cannot write them all” (1 Nephi 17:6). The end of our existence is hard work.
But the story Sister Watkins shares about composing the music for “Press Forward, Saints” is not one of afflictions and difficulty: At a dinner party one evening, a melody started playing through her mind to the lyrics composed by Marvin Gardner. Even though these lyrics were already set to other music, this insistent melody didn’t leave Sister Watkins’ mind until she could get home to record it. In her words, the music “just came to me. I used my pencil to write it down, but I really know the source.” When copyright issues prompted the Church’s General Music Committee to look for a new hymn arrangement, Sister Watkins serendipitously submitted her already-composed music, and it was enthusiastically accepted for the 1985 hymnbook.
You can read or hear the story of this hymn here and here. It’s a story of the Spirit as an agent of grace, carrying Sister Watkins’s work forward through pure inspiration. –Which is the truer story of achieving purpose? The Nephites’ steadfastness during their difficult trek across the world, or the glorious grace of inspired melody?
Both, of course.
When Christ talks of his atonement, he calls it his “work and glory” (Moses 1:39)– requiring and granting both effort and grace. When we look for the purpose in our own lives, we will necessarily find the same paradoxical combination. To what end was I born? to write hymns? to immigrate to a new land? to marry? to grow a garden? to run a business? to teach a child? to help a neighbor?
The infinite and eternal atonement encompasses all these. Enduring to this end is both work and glory.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Snapshot Portrait, Meghan Decker
In one of my last meetings with my therapist, he challenged me to write a book about my experiences. I laughed.
I had come out of darkness and back into light; why would I ever want to go back and reexamine those terrible experiences? And why, after putting what little emotional energy I had into hiding my personal, private horror, would I want to reveal myself at the very time I was done with all that?
But my plans were not the Lord’s plans. Less than a year after starting to write my story with a collaborator who was a mental health professional, Reaching for Hope: An LDS Perspective on Recovering from Depression was published. As I said my prayers the evening of the book’s release, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and knew that events were out of my hands. I, at my very worst, in my moments of greatest failure, was now revealed to the world. I hoped the outcome would be worth the cost.
It has been. Just last week, a woman I had never met told me she had read my book. I’m never sure what to say to that: “Hope you enjoyed it!” isn’t right. People don’t read that book for relaxation or escape. But she said the words that I treasure each time I hear them: “Now we understand what our son is going through. And he knows that he is not alone, and he has hope that he can recover.”
Weeping may endure for the night, but joy can—and does—come in the morning.
Other Related Women’s Voices
We Have Great Reason to Rejoice, Carole M. Stephens
As ‘daughters in [the Lord’s] kingdom,’ we have made sacred covenants. We are walking in what Nephi called the ‘strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.’ We’re all at different places on the path. But we can work together to help each other “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.
Eternally Encircled in His Love, Bonnie D. Parkin
When I received this call, I pleaded with Heavenly Father to help me know what the sisters in the Church needed. I received a strong witness that we, His daughters, need to know that He loves us. We need to know that He sees the good in us. Feeling His love encourages us to press forward, reassures us that we are His, and confirms to us that He cherishes us even when we stumble and experience temporary setbacks.