faith: our foundation

Marcel is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This is an address to the congregation he gave in the local Young Single Adult branch on October 17th, 2021.

In the recent General Conference, President Nelson started his remarks with a video about the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple. It is a massive structure, built from heavy materials such as granite. He said, “If we examine the foundation closely, we can see the effects of erosion, gaps in the original stonework, and varying stages of stability in the masonry.” Of course, he is using this as a metaphor for our spiritual foundation. As we have graduated from primary, the youth program, and moved away from families, are we having any erosion, gaps, or instability in our faith? If you were to really inspect yourself, how is your foundation doing?

Let’s backup for a moment. What is our foundation in? Jesus Christ and His gospel.

What isn’t a foundation? Carpet, painted walls, furniture, appliances. Even important items like the plumbing and HVAC are not the foundation. Even the load-bearing walls aren’t the foundation.

Each of those things can fail and get replaced without affecting the foundation. However, the inverse is not true. If the foundation fails, it can affect all the things above it. Walls start to crack. Pipes can get pulled apart. Floors can sag.

The foundation is designed to last a very long time. The things above the foundation are not. Walls get repainted different colors. Appliances get replaced every few years. Changing tastes and styles may trigger different fixtures and furniture. Even walls can get moved, bathrooms can get a makeover. But the foundation remains still and stable.

The policies of the church are not the foundation, any more than the appliances in our house and paint on the walls are not the foundation. Most of the handbook is being rewritten. Sunday worship was reduced from 3 hours to 2 hours. Wording in temple ordinances has been updated. Home teaching was replaced by ministering. Priesthood quorums have been combined. We just went through a period where most of our Sunday worship and instruction and partaking of the sacrament was in our homes instead of church buildings. Things that have never happened before. These are not the foundation. These are adjustments to our living spaces as our needs change. But the foundation remains constant.

One purpose of a foundation is to transfer the load of the structure to the ground. If we are to think of ourselves as the structure, and Jesus Christ as the foundation, what loads can we transfer from ourselves to Jesus Christ? The load of being imperfect. The load of loneliness. The load of sickness. The load of worry. The load of not knowing what to do.

Another purpose of a foundation is to anchor a structure against natural forces, such as wind, earthquakes, and frost heaves.

A frost heave is when it gets so cold outside that the water in the soil freezes, and then the soil expands as that water freezes, causing the soil to lift upward (heave). The frost line is the depth in the soil at which water in the soil doesn’t freeze during the winter. In North Carolina the average frost line is about 10 inches deep. In Wisconsin, where it is colder in winter, the average frost line is about 65 inches (5 ½ feet) deep. The foundation must be built below that frost line so it doesn’t get heaved up during the winter freezes. To be stable, the foundation needs to go below the reach of external influences. It needs to be based on things that are unchanging and stable.

Here’s the question: Is your faith, your participation in the gospel, based on things that are unchanging and stable?

When someone in church hurts us or offends us, or we hear something that we don’t understand or don’t like, that is not a failure in the foundation. It is a broken doorknob, a hole in the drywall, or a dented appliance. It still hurts, and it still needs repair, but it is not a failure in the foundation.

We don’t often see the foundation itself. It is out of sight and out of mind. So sometimes we get fixated on the things we can see, that are on the surface. In my home recently, a crack appeared in the drywall above a door frame. I could spackle and paint over it which may make me feel better, but really what is needed is to go back to the source of the problem and address it there, settling in the structure that may need some reinforcement.

The house I live in, we have been there 20 years, and it is 30 years old. I need to expect, and budget for, failures in the appliances. My fridge stopped working this week. I replaced all the plumbing last year, which involved ripping up the walls and ceiling. We replaced both HVAC units several years ago, in the same year, that was financially painful. We are on our 3rd dishwasher. I’m currently spackling and repainting walls damaged by my kids as they grew up in this house. It is unwanted effort and expense, but that is what happens as it ages. There is no way around that. How is it with our own faith, that as we age, things you’ve done before no longer work. You need to make adjustments and fixes to your life to get things working well again. That change should be expected. It is not an indication of failure, it is the effect of time and experience, of usage and growth.

This phase of your life has a massive amount of change. Over a 4 year time period, in the latter half of my college experience, I:

  • Got baptized.
  • Got married, after waiting a year to get married in the temple.
  • Graduated from college.
  • Moved across the country, far away from family.
  • Started with an employer that I was with for 24 years.
  • Bought our first (non-inherited) car.
  • Bought a house.
  • Had a baby (well, not me personally, my wife).

If that isn’t massive change, I don’t know what is. That massive change set the course of my life. It was a remodel and addition of epic proportions. But it was based on the same foundation. My foundation was able to bear the load of all these new things placed upon it. But I also needed to choose these additions to fit with the foundation. In choosing an employer and location, I needed to choose something that would be compatible with my family and my principles. Our house and car were fixer-uppers, not big and fancy like my parent’s house and car. The fitment between the house and the foundation matters.

I have family members that have struggled with their spiritual house and because of that are not currently active in church. Most of it seems to be concern about church policies. They are still good people and I continue to love them. I wonder if they have gotten too fixated on one part of the house and forgotten about the other parts, including the foundation.

Let’s use math as a metaphor for a moment. If I asked how many of you could do basic addition and subtraction, I think all of you would raise your hand. If I asked how many of you could do basic algebra, I’d still have most of you. But if I asked how many could do calculus, I think I’d have only a few. Let’s say I come across a calculus problem, and I currently can’t do it. I may recognize that I need to study and practice to learn how to solve that math problem that I currently don’t understand. Or I may need to get help, find a tutor or office hours. Or maybe for the time being I just let it go and that there are other priorities, calculus is not for now. Just because you don’t know how to do one part of something does not mean you give up on doing the other parts you already do know. Even though I don’t know calculus, I still use math for baking in the kitchen, for planning time for my day, for saving for that dream vacation.

Back to our house metaphor, if I get frustrated that the dishwasher is bad, I don’t bulldoze my house. If for some reason I’m not able to fix the dishwasher, then I work around it by washing dishes in the sink by hand. Or I start using paper plates. And that’s OK. I can still enjoy the rest of the kitchen, a comfy bed, a clean bathroom, and a relaxing family room. No house I’ve lived in has been perfect, there always is a long list of things that need to get fixed and improved. And I don’t have the resources to get all those things done at once, so I accept and live with the imperfections. It’s OK to have an imperfect house. It’s OK for you to be imperfect. It’s OK for your faith to be imperfect. When things are imperfect you don’t have to bail.

When I get frustrated with imperfect things, I ask myself “where else would I go?” I don’t see any place better. My family members that are not currently active, they haven’t gone someplace else. They hold on to what they learned in Primary and youth programs. They still believe in these fundamentals. Their frustrations are with the implementations of it. They still have a foundation.

A wise person said that all frustration comes from unmet expectations. Think about that. So when you get frustrated, inspect your expectation. Ask yourself if your expectation is appropriate. I’m frustrated that I don’t have 6-pack abs like I did when I was 20 and worked out every day. I’m 55 and don’t work out every day. My life is different than when I was 20. My body is different. And that’s OK. I shouldn’t expect to have 6-pack abs at this point. When I get frustrated, I need to check my expectations. Is it reasonable to expect to understand all things about the gospel right now? I don’t think so. We operate a lot on faith, which is less than a perfect knowledge. Even if you don’t understand something, or even don’t like something, do you trust God?

In case you didn’t notice, the people in the church are imperfect. This includes your quorum and class members. And your leaders, including us on the stand. And you. I’ve heard it said that in church we are a bunch of amateurs practicing on each other. And with our families and roommates, we are a bunch of amateurs practicing on each other, at really close range. Don’t expect perfection from people. So be patient with others. And the hard part, be patient with yourself, because you’re a person too.

So when President Nelson talks about foundations, why is it connected to temples? He said, “The temple lies at the center of strengthening our faith and spiritual fortitude because the Savior and His doctrine are the very heart of the temple. Everything taught in the temple, through instruction and through the Spirit, increases our understanding of Jesus Christ. His essential ordinances bind us to Him through sacred priesthood covenants. Then, as we keep our covenants, He endows us with His healing, strengthening power.”

The base of our foundation is Jesus Christ. What do you do to connect yourself with Him and to build upon Him? To integrate tightly and attach firmly, like a house on a foundation?

If we inspect our spiritual foundation, it should include this:

  • In Matthew 22:36 a person asks: Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
    Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
    [Look at that last sentence, this is a foundational element.]
  • You existed as a spirit before you were born on earth. And you will continue to exist after your earthly death.
  • You are a child of heavenly parents and they love you perfectly. They love you not because of what you do or don’t do, but because you are theirs and will always be theirs.
  • God listens to your prayers. Every single prayer from every single person in its entirety.
  • The Church of Jesus Christ is being restored on the earth.
  • There is a way for you to return to God and your family.
  • There is a plan.
  • The Holy Ghost testifies of truth, and you can receive personal revelation.
  • You have a purpose and are of divine worth.
  • Jesus Christ has already paid the price for your mistakes and shortcomings. You can be forgiven and redeemed.
  • God wants us to receive all that He has and all that He is. All of it.

Brothers and sisters, you are awesome. No matter how you feel about yourself, you are awesome. You have talents and you have potential. You have infinite worth. You are the leaders of tomorrow. What you contribute matters. Mistakes are the stepping stones as we progress in our potential, and unfortunately they are an integral part of how we learn. A life well lived is not a lack of mistakes.

The atoning help of Jesus Christ is not something you reach after you have endured to the end. He is not waiting at the finish line. His atoning help is for you right now, wherever you are at. He is with you every step of the way. Just reach out your hand, right now, and take His.

The power of your membership in the church comes from covenants and ordinances. Other churches have good people and good principles, but they don’t have the same covenants and ordinances, those that are found in the temple. This is why the temple is important. You have a role and a purpose in this.

Get a temple recommend. Go to the temple, participate in covenants and ordinances for yourself and as a proxy for others that didn’t get a chance. The temple is not the end, it is the means. For an hour or two, step out of the world and into the kingdom of God. Find peace. Find answers. Find belonging. Find a greater purpose. See the ordinances that are done for every person that ever lived, one at a time, by name, because they matter, just like you matter. When you look at life, remember that you can do this. You belong.

This I say in the name of our foundation, Jesus Christ, amen.

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