Sunday, August 30, 2015

I'm the most humble person I know

At 8:20 this morning I was still in my underthings, running around the house—doing hair, dressing Benjamin, bathing the baby, packing the diaper bag, choosing my clothes—but we managed to make it out the door by 8:30 and as I opened my yogurt in the car I silently prayed that it wouldn't spray all over me. It didn't. Hallelujah.

I sat with Andrew and the kids until the intermediate hymn so that I could do things like nurse Zoë (twice) and run a screaming Benjamin out of the chapel after he banged his head on the bench (once).

My favourite part of my talk was when I quoted Matthew 5:14–16 and Rachel and Miriam looked up and mouthed the words along with me. It's one of the scriptures we've been working on this year—and not the only one they knew that was quoted in sacrament meeting. Hannah, the girl woman (I guess we're grown ups now) who spoke before me quoted James 1:27 and the girls quoted it along with her.

I told Hannah I was happy when I saw her name on the program because I had been so nervous about being the second speaker—this was my first time. The second speaker, see, has to bend their talk to fit within the time parameters of the meeting. Did the first speaker(s) take too much time? Better trim that talk on the fly. Was the first speaker a very nervous youth who wrote a single-paragraph talk? Better drum up something else to say...

Being the first speaker is much more comfortable, but I was told I was going to be the second speaker and to prepare a 15 minute talk, so I did. There's this nifty calculator that will tell you how many words a speech should be to fill a certain amount of time. Fifteen minutes is 1950 words (Rachel has to give a two-minute talk in the near future, so that will be about 260 words). My talk ended up being 2384 words (or 18.3 minutes) long and I delivered the whole thing, along with some off-the-cuff remarks relating to Hannah's talk and other things I thought of, and we ended the meeting right on time, much to my relief. I was so worried I'd run out of things to say and still have, like, ten minutes left in the meeting. Usually the bishop just calls on one of the youth to give their testimony (they're forewarned about this probability annually).

Hannah said she was worried for the opposite reason. The last time she spoke she left her husband about two minutes so she did her best to keep within the 15-minute timeframe as well. I told her I wouldn't have minded if she had gone over because I also wrote in, and underlined, early escape routes in case time was running short.

Anyway, here's my talk in case you want to read it:

Good Morning Sisters and Brothers,

For those of you who don’t know us, I’ll take a few minutes to introduce our family. Like many of the transient families in the ward, we’ve been in school forever. My husband, Andrew, is working on his PhD in Public Policy at Duke University. It’s a five year program and we’ve been here for three years so we have about two years left, which seems surreal. It’s hard for me to believe that there’s actually an end to schooling. 

We have four children. Rachel is eight years old and is in grade three. Miriam is five and she’s in grade one. Benjamin is three and is currently my most challenging child, but he’s also a joy. And Zoë is three months old, which means that I’m tired, so we’ll consider ourselves lucky if I can string two coherent sentences together for you this morning.

My name is Nancy, and I love blogging, which could possibly be ranked as one of the most narcissistic pastimes known to man, and I was asked to speak today about humility. 

A few years ago Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk in General Conference titled, Pride and the Priesthood. He said, “Every mortal has at least a casual if not intimate relationship with the sin of pride. No one has avoided it; few overcome it.” President Benson once called pride, “the universal sin.” Humility and pride are on opposite ends of the same spectrum, so it’s difficult to talk about one without mentioning the other. In fact, if you were to look “humble” up in the dictionary, one of the definitions you’d find is “not proud,” so you can’t even really define humility without pride. At any given moment we each have the potential to embrace humility or pride, so understanding what humility is is crucial since, as President Benson said, humility is “the antidote for pride.” Furthermore, he proclaimed that “God will have a humble people. Either we can choose to be humble or we can be compelled to be humble,” so we’d better all start working on being humble quickly before we’re compelled to do so!

So, what is humility?

In True to the Faith we learn that humility is the grateful recognition of our “dependence on the Lord—[it’s] understand[ing] that [we] have constant need for His support. Humility is an acknowledgement that [our] talents and abilities are gifts from God. It is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that [we] know where [our] true strength lies.”

I’ll take a few minutes to elaborate on each of those three points: that humility is recognizing our dependence on the Lord, that humility is acknowledging our talents are gifts from God, and that humility is a sign of strength, not weakness.

First, humility is recognizing our dependence on the Lord. 

Nephi is a favourite scripture hero at our house. Recently Miriam gave a Family Home Evening lesson on friendship and for part of it she talked about the behaviour of Nephi versus the behaviour of Laman and Lemuel, pointing out that Nephi would have made a much better friend. She challenged us each to be like Nephi—and why not? He’s awesome. He’s faithful, obedient, smart, kind, and “large in stature.” He becomes a prophet. He saw visions and angels. He wrote the first few books in the Book of Mormon! However, Nephi was only great because of his humility. In 2 Nephi 4:19 Nephi—this great leader—bemoans the “temptations...which do so easily beset [him],” and says, “when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions.... He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.”

Nephi, a great man, recognized that he was completely dependent on the Lord, he knew where to place his trust. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Part of the reason Nephi was great is because he embraced humility—he chose to be humble. Matthew 18:4 tells us, for example, that “whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Second, our talents and abilities are gifts from God. Ammon from the Book of Mormon is a wonderful example of this. His story is another one that my children really enjoy. Ammon went to preach the gospel among the Lamanites. Rather than marry one of King Lamoni’s daughters as he was offered, Ammon suggests he instead become a servant to the king, which was a humble gesture in and of itself. As a servant Ammon bravely defends the king’s flocks, striking off the arm of his offenders. He must have been a skilled swordsman to take on so many foes at once. But rather than go boast to the king about his victory he goes to the barn to care for the horses. 

To Ammon, I think, the real victory of his mission was not the memorable moment when he “saved the sheep by fighting fearlessly.” Rather, Ammon rejoiced over the success he and his brethren had in giving service and spreading the gospel among the Lamanites. 

In Alma chapter 26, Ammon is going on and on about the work they’d been doing and his brother Aaron thought he was getting a little carried away. He said, “Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.”

And in verse eleven Alma answers him, saying, “I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things….”

Heavenly Father has blessed us each with talents and abilities, and while it’s our responsibility to develop our talents, as we learn from the Parable of the Talents, it’s important to recognize that they are gifts from on high. 

This month’s home teaching message was on standing as a light and as we were talking about this with our home teachers Matthew 5:14–16 came up. It says, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid, neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

If we’ve been given a talent, the humble thing to do is first recognize that talent is a gift from God and then we are obligated to both develop and share that talent—with the goal of “glorify[ing our] Father which is in heaven.”

Not everyone is blessed with the same talents but everyone is blessed with some talents. 

I was blessed to marry a very talented man. In our previous ward he was the organist, a calling which he loved. One Sunday, he also ended up playing the clarinet for a musical number. A ward member—who was also a friend, so I know her intentions were kind—stopped me in the hall after sacrament meeting and gushed, “Is there anything Andrew can’t do? I mean, he plays the organ and the clarinet. He’s super smart and he speaks, like, a billion languages. Does being married to him ever make you feel like you’re incredibly untalented?”

If there had been crickets around to witness this conversation we’d have surely heard them chirping while I stood agape, trying to come up with an adequate answer. Finally I said, “No?”

No, being married to Andrew, however talented he might be, does not make me feel like I’m untalented. After all, I have talents, too. Andrew and I are a team. We work together. I can do things he can’t. He can do things I can’t.

In April’s General Conference, Sister Linda K. Burton gave a talk titled We’ll Ascend Together. Sister Burton says, “Brothers and sisters, we need each other! As covenant-keeping women and men, we need to lift each other and help each other become the people the Lord would have us become.” Later she quotes a section from the Church handbook on families, which I think also extends to ward families. “‘The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other.’ [Then she says,] Please note that it does not say ‘compete with each other’ but ‘complete each other’! We are here to help, lift, and rejoice with each other as we try to become our very best selves….When we seek to ‘complete’ rather than ‘compete,’ it is so much easier to cheer each other on!” End quote.

Feeling jealous of other people because of their talents is another form of pride that we should avoid. We should rejoice in the success of others because, after all, Heavenly Father gives us talents not so that we can enrich our own lives but so that we can enrich the lives of others. 

If I can get back on track’ll recall that I was discussing humility within the parameters of the definition laid out in True to the Faith. The third and last part of their definition was that humility is not an indication of weakness.

Bishop Richard C. Edgley explained that “...humility is often misunderstood and considered a weakness….Yet as we learn about the workings of God, the power of a humble and submissive spirit becomes apparent. In the kingdom of God, greatness begins with humility and submissiveness. These companion virtues are the first critical steps to opening the doors to the blessings of God and the power of the priesthood. It matters not who we are or how lofty our credentials appear. Humility and submissiveness to the Lord, coupled with a grateful heart, are our strength and our hope.”

Humility is the foundation for numerous spiritual strengths. Elder Richard G. Scott once called humility the “fertile soil where spirituality grows and produces the fruit of inspiration to know what to do.” Humility is a precursor to greatness, because it is how we show our dependence on the Lord, it’s how we recognize that everything good in us has come from the Lord. 

Proverbs 15:33 states, “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour [or greatness] is humility.” The Lord created us endowed with talents, but also riddled with faults. Unearthing those weaknesses and overcoming takes humility, but also sets us on the path of perfection—since our ultimate goal is to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

In Ether 12:27 the Lord promises, “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Since humility is acknowledging the power of the Lord in our lives and then using that power to bless the lives of others, it’s truly the key to greatness. Humility is the power to build others up while also unraveling our own weaknesses, and it’s imperative, as followers of Christ, that we do so, as it says in Mosiah 3:19, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

Less than six months after his beloved wife, Frances, passed away, President Monson talked about overcoming trials in General conference. He said, 

“Our Heavenly Father, who gives us so much to delight in, also knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials through which we must pass. We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were—better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before.”

However, our testimony and faithfulness should not necessarily be tied to times of trial in our lives. Although trials may remind us to turn to the Lord, humility is also a choice that we can actively make in times of repose as well as in the face of affliction. In fact, choosing to be humble is really the ideal.

Alma 32:15 states, “he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed—yea, much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble.”

I will leave you with a plea from our prophet, Thomas S. Monson: “My brothers and sisters, may we have a commitment to our Heavenly Father that does not ebb and flow with the years or the crises of our lives. We should not need to experience difficulties for us to remember Him, and we should not be driven to humility before giving Him our faith and trust.”

I bear my testimony that as we turn our lives over to the Lord and rely on the enabling power of His atonement, that our lives will be enriched and we will become instruments in His hands to bless the lives of others. [Finish testimony].

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

After sacrament meeting my friend Marian (F.) stopped Andrew in the hall and said, "Does being married to Nancy ever make you feel incredibly untalented?"

That was, hands down, the best comment the entire day.

The second best comment (or perhaps it can tie for first) was when Sister Yeates stopped me in the hall and said, "Hearing you give that talk was amazing! It was like a whole new side of Nancy that I've never seen before. I don't think I've ever heard you speak two consecutive sentences! I've sat beside you in choir for years so I know you have a beautiful voice but I just wasn't sure you could talk. But you can!"

I laughed so hard (inside) because when I was about three or four years old (we lived in Burnaby) my regular babysitter—the one that watched me while my mom went off to work—once asked my mom if I knew how to talk.

I rolled my eyes (inside) and thought, "How dumb is she? Of course I can talk!"*

Apparently I just didn't ever talk to her.

Talking is hard.

*Thought I'd clarify that I thought that about the babysitter, not Sister Yeates

Probably an incomplete list of sources:


  1. Although when I first glanced at the title, I thought it said, "I'm the most horrible person I know" and was prepared to read about a major disaster!

  2. Great talk, Nancy! My earliest talker! Six months old, saying "Hi!" and meaning it.