I gave a talk on virtue on 12/11/22 in my church Sacrament Meeting. It was wonderful to learn more about this topic. I knew as I was preparing that I wanted to add personal experiences to my talk. I prayed about which to share, and it was interesting to me which ones came to my mind. I hope you enjoy!
Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am delighted to speak to you today on the topic of virtue.
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “There is nothing in all this world as magnificent as virtue. It is the fruit of self-mastery.”
So what is virtue exactly? President James E Faust said that “virtue…encompasses all traits of righteousness that help us form our character.” He said that virtue can have many definitions, “such as moral excellence, right action and thinking, goodness of character, or chastity.”
Our Savior Jesus Christ exemplifies virtue in its purest form as every thought or behavior He exhibited on earth was based in righteousness and goodness.
There are more virtues than we have time to talk about today, but I would like to expound on several.
President Thomas S Monson spoke about the virtue of patience. He mused, “Who can count the vast throngs of the lonely, the aged, the helpless—those who feel abandoned by the caravan of life as it moves relentlessly onward and then disappears beyond the sight of those who ponder, who wonder, and who sometimes question as they are left alone with their thoughts. Patience can be a helpful companion during such stressful times.” He spoke of the patience of Job, who lost all of his possessions, his health, his children, but he focused not on his plight. Instead, he patiently awaited the day that he would be able to see God in the flesh, for he knew that His redeemer lived.
Bishop H David Burton spoke of many virtues that end in “ity” such as integrity, humility, charity, spirituality, accountability, civility, fidelity, and responsibility. He observed that personal traits of virtue are in steep decline and that we must “stand tall and be firmly fixed in perpetuating Christlike virtues in our everyday lives.”
He quoted President James E. Faust who suggested that integrity, a firm adherence to a code of moral principles, is the mother of many virtues. He said that “integrity is the light that shines from a disciplined conscience. It is the strength of duty within us” (“Integrity, the Mother of Many Virtues,” in Speaking Out on Moral Issues , 61, 62).
Speaking of James E Faust, he once gave a talk to the young women discussing 10 important virtues. Let’s talk about some of them.
The first he mentioned was faith, which he said was most important because faith in Jesus Christ is, as Joseph Smith said, “the foundation of all righteousness.” He said that “In exercising faith, we become cheerful and optimistic, charitable and courageous, because faith is the moving cause of all of these virtues.”
Another was honesty. We have all heard the phrase honesty is the best policy, and as parents, Jad and I have had countless discussions with our children about honesty. Kids are often dishonest because they don’t want to get in trouble or because “no” is not the answer they want. I know this well because I can think of many times in my childhood where I was dishonest. I was guilty of blaming a sibling for something I did, sneaking treats without permission, using hidden notes to cheat on a test, and even stealing. To share one story, when I was about 11, we were shopping at a department store and I saw a mood ring that I just had to have (they were all the rage back then). My mom told me that I couldn’t have it. I just couldn’t accept that answer, so I ripped it out of the package and put it in my pocket. I wore it to school every day, taking it off before I got home so my mom would never see it. The guilt started to eat up at me. Finally, one afternoon on the way to the bus, I took it off and dropped it on the ground. I knew I couldn’t keep it any longer. Looking back, I should have told my mom and took it back to the store, but at the time, that was my way of giving up that sin and turning back to honesty. I have always remembered that experience and do each time I have the choice to be honest or not. For example, just a couple weeks ago, I was at Goodwill. I made several purchases, including a side table. When I got to the van, I noticed I hadn’t been charged for the table. I could have said it was the cashier’s fault and went on my way, and for a second, I was tempted to do so. But, instead, I got out of the van, went inside, stood in the long line again, and committed to paying for that item. The cashier was truly shocked at my honesty, and I felt that her heart was warmed by it as well.
Another virtue is chastity. President Faust said: “Those who engage in physical intimacies with someone outside of marriage are likely to suffer feelings of guilt as well as deep emotional and physical hurt…Chastity before marriage followed by fidelity after marriage is a sacred passport to self-respect and happiness for everyone.”
Humility is another virtue, and President Faust said that it “is all about keeping one’s balance. For example, when you receive a compliment, receive it graciously, but don’t let it go to your head. A person who is humble is teachable. One of my favorite sayings is this: “Learn to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If used when appropriate, it will be often.” I would also like to add to that, learn to say “I was wrong,” and be okay not being right. It’s also take a lifetime of effort to recognize and remember that we are not better than anyone else, and we certainly are never going to be as smart, as powerful, or as accomplished, as God. We should always remember where we come from and that all good things that happen in our lives are from Him and not us alone. I have actually spoken to people who have rolled their eyes and said that God hasn’t gotten them anywhere – they had gotten where they are all on their own. If only they knew.
Another virtue he spoke of is Self-Discipline. He said: “You must have the strength to discipline yourselves so that you can accomplish your goals and enhance your natural strengths. The principle of work is part of self-discipline.” For example, when I was growing up, I remember my Granddad who taught me and my siblings piano, that we had to practice if we were going to improve. He was a very gentle man, but he always got upset with any of us when he knew we hadn’t been diligently practicing. Without self-discipline, we couldn’t improve and thus were wasting our God-given talents. I’m grateful for his example of self-discipline.
President Faust also talked about Fairness. He said “We need to be fair and compassionate in our dealings with other human beings. The Savior gave us the parable of the unjust servant who owed a large sum of money. His master forgave him the debt, but that same servant went out and had a fellow servant put into prison for a much smaller debt. Their master rebuked him for not showing the same compassion that he had himself received, and then sent him to the same fate as his fellow servant. If you will be fair to other people, they will more likely be fair to you.” Now, we know that life is not always fair to us, but when we have the ability to be fair to others, we absolutely should be.
The last virtue that I want to touch on from President Faust is Courage , courage “to stand up to peer pressure, to resist temptation, to withstand ridicule or ostracism, to stand up for the truth. You will also need courage to face the challenges of life.” It can be very scary to step outside of our comfort zones and into the arms of possible ridicule. It takes courage to bear your testimony, share your talents, stand up to a bully, and more. By so doing, though, you will change and bless people for the better, including yourself. I can think of times in my life when I haven’t had courage, and I still regret those today. One was when I was in history class in 9th grade and we were talking about religions. Our church came up, and someone said we aren’t Christians because we wrote our own book. I was too scared to raise my hand and testify of the truth. I use that experience now as a way to inspire me to have the courage to always share my testimony and the truth of the restored gospel when I have the chance. Another time, when I was also in high school, some bullies pulled off the hat of a young lady that had been treated for cancer. She had very little hair. They laughed at her and tossed her hat around, not giving it back. It broke my heart, but I didn’t have the courage to stop those boys. I didn’t say anything to them. I remember looking sympathetically at her. I hope that I told her I was sorry about what happened, but I could have done so much more. I use that story to inspire me to always stand up for the underdog in my speech, in my writing, and in my behavior. Nobody deserves to be treated badly, regardless of outward appearance or any other factor.
Elder Joseph B Wirthlin gave a wonderful talk about kindness, which is the last virtue I wish to discuss. He said “ Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes.
Kind words not only lift our spirits in the moment they are given, but they can linger with us over the years. Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes.
Jesus, our Savior, was the epitome of kindness and compassion. He healed the sick. He spent much of His time ministering to the one or many. He spoke compassionately to the Samaritan woman who was looked down upon by many. He instructed His disciples to allow the little children to come unto Him. He was kind to all who had sinned, condemning only the sin, not the sinner. He kindly allowed thousands of Nephites to come forward and feel the nail prints in His hands and feet. Yet His greatest act of kindness was found in His atoning sacrifice, thus freeing all from the effects of death, and all from the effects of sin, on conditions of repentance.
One way you can measure your value in the kingdom of God is to ask, “How well am I doing in helping others reach their potential? Do I support others in the Church, or do I criticize them?”
If you are criticizing others, you are weakening the Church. If you are building others, you are building the kingdom of God. As Heavenly Father is kind, we also should be kind to others.
When we are filled with kindness, we are not judgmental.
“But,” you ask, “what if people are rude?”
“If they are obnoxious?”
“But what if they offend? Surely I must do something then?”
The answer is the same. Be kind. Love them.
Why? In the scriptures Jude taught, “And of some have compassion, making a difference.”6
Who can tell what far-reaching impact we can have if we are only kind?
As our Heavenly Father loves us, we also should love His children.
May we be models of kindness. May we ever live up to the words of the Savior: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”7
These are all lovely virtues that when developed help us be more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. But how do we develop these and other Christlike virtues?
President Hinckley summed it up beautifully when he said: “Love of God is the root of all virtue, of all goodness, of all strength of character.”
So how do we build our love for God? Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf counseled: “We increase our love for our Heavenly Father and demonstrate that love by aligning our thoughts and actions with God’s word. His pure love directs and encourages us to become more pure and holy. It inspires us to walk in righteousness—not out of fear or obligation but out of an earnest desire to become even more like Him because we love Him. By doing so, we can become “born again … [and] cleansed by blood, even the blood of [the] Only Begotten; that [we] might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory.” The first step to walking in righteousness is simply to try. We must try to believe. Try to learn of God: read the scriptures; study the words of His latter-day prophets; choose to listen to the Father, and do the things He asks of us. Try and keep on trying until that which seems difficult becomes possible—and that which seems only possible becomes habit and a real part of you.”
As disciples of Christ and lovers of God it is essential for us to be an example of virtue. The 13th article of faith says in part – “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things”
President Gordon B. Hinckley: “We cannot hope to influence others in the direction of virtue unless we live lives of virtue. The example of our living will carry a greater influence than will all the preaching in which we might indulge. We cannot expect to lift others unless we stand on higher ground ourselves. … The home is the cradle of virtue, the place where character is formed and habits are established” (“Opposing Evil,” Ensign, November 1975, 38–39).
We have all heard the saying “Do as I say, not as I do.” That does not work and is not the right way to set an example of goodness. I see this quote all the time on social media: “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” That’s so true. I love how President Hinckley also talked about how the home is the “cradle of virtue.” That is the place where we set the greatest example. We are helping shape the next generation. Are we making sure to speak and act in a way that is based on the highest moral behavior, the behavior of Christ? As parents and siblings we will never set a perfect example, but we can humbly ask for forgiveness when we do something wrong and do our best to change, while also providing grace to our children as they learn and grow spiritually, emotionally, and otherwise.
Sister Elaine S Dalton spoke to the Young Women about being guardians of virtue. This concept applies to all of us. To the youth, she recommended making decisions in advance – making a list of things we will always do and things we will never do. Then we should live that list. I remember being taught this when I was a youth. I am not sure if I had a list, but I definitely made certain decisions in advance. I remember when I was in middle school, I was at the bus stop with other students, some of which were drinking. One of them walked up to me and offered me a beer. He tried to coax me saying that someday I would drink anyway, so why not now? I remember that without hesitation I said no. I had made a decision that I would not drink underage, or ever. Because my answer wasn’t yes, one of the other students shook up a beer can and threw it at me. It hit me and exploded around me just before the bus came. Thankfully only a little got on me. I was a little shaken up by that, but I knew in my heart I had done the right thing, even though I was persecuted for it.
President Thomas S. Monson has counseled: “You be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow. There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness—and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so” (“Examples of Righteousness,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 65).
I love this idea of your own clear conscience being your most valuable friendship. There were plenty of opportunities for me as a youth to give into peer pressure so that I would fit in and not be seen as weird or a prude. It was really hard to say no to things like not going to that party, not getting a fake ID, and not doing immoral acts that I was asked to do. It felt so much better not doing those things because I knew I was being true to myself.
God and His prophets have given many promises to those who live virtuously.
I read of many beautiful promises as I studied conference talks this week. I would like to share just two.
Bishop H David Burton said, “As we allow virtue to garnish our thoughts unceasingly and we cultivate virtuous traits in our personal lives, our communities and institutions will be improved, our children and families will be strengthened, and faith and integrity will bless individual lives.”
And then President Gordon B Hinckley taught, “The Lord has said to those who live with virtue: “Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God. …“The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever” (D&C 121:45–46). Could there be a greater or more beautiful promise than this?2 Is there a valid case for virtue? It is the only way to freedom from regret. The peace of conscience which flows therefrom is the only personal peace that is not counterfeit. And beyond all of this is the unfailing promise of God to those who walk in virtue. Declared Jesus of Nazareth, speaking on the mountain, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). That is a covenant, made by Him who has the power to fulfill.3You should recognize, you must recognize, that both experience and divine wisdom dictate virtue and moral cleanliness as the way that leads to strength of character, peace in the heart, and happiness in life.4 Let virtue be a cornerstone on which to build your lives.5
I’m so grateful I got to study some of the many Christlike virtues we have the privilege and honor of developing with heavenly help. I know that as we desire to build these and other virtues in ourselves, that Christ will help make our weak things strong. I also testify of the blessings that come from living a virtuous life. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.