Church members are called by the Lord a "covenant people," yet some youth have difficulty understanding the nature and importance of covenants and the power they can have in their lives.
To help youth, their parents and leaders better understand the blessings that result through honoring sacred covenants, Elder Jack H Goaslind and Sister Janette C. Hales shared their thoughts with the Church News. Elder Goaslind is a member of the Seventy and Young Men general president. Pres. Hales is Young Women general president.What is a covenant?
Elder Goaslind: A covenant is a contract or an agreement between two or more parties in which each side makes a commitment to a certain principle or principles. In the Church, we think of a covenant as an agreement that we as members of the Church make in return for blessings that Heavenly Father has promised all who willingly choose to live by His commandments. We often speak of covenants in connection with the temple, but each member of the Church also enters into a covenant at baptism, which we renew each week as we worthily partake of the sacrament.
Pres. Hales: When I think of covenant, I think of the word "promise." When we talk about our covenants with our Heavenly Father, we see that He has helped us in understanding His plan of life and has set out certain requirements for us. Then we make the decision to commit or not to commit to living by those requirements, and receiving the blessings He has promised us if we do.
Why do we have covenants?
Pres. Hales: As I've gotten older I've really come to appreciate covenants. When I think of making a promise to my Heavenly Father to do certain things, it's like a reminder to me that helps keep me committed while I grow in my experience and understanding. I also believe that covenants help us stay committed to those things that will sustain our families from one generation to another. When we are making choices, if we can understand the consequences and the way they affect not only ourselves and our families now, but also future generations, then we might take those choices more seriously.
Elder Goaslind: Covenants exist in the Church as part of the order of Heavenly Father's plan of salvation. They are there to teach us that everyone of us is equal in God's sight, and that He will extend His promised blessings to all who are willing to enter into the agreement to obey the commandments. Additionally, in our human weaknesses, the promise of receiving blessings by covenant - which God has told us He cannot break - helps motivate us to be obedient.
What are some of the covenants I have entered into as a youth in the Church?
Elder Goaslind: Every member of the Church enters into a covenant at baptism. As we accept membership in the Church, with every blessing that it brings, we agree to follow Jesus Christ with "no hypocrisy and no deception before God," we agree to repent of our sins, and we agree to "take upon" ourselves the name of Jesus Christ.
Pres. Hales: Many times as I listen to young people, I'm not sure they really appreciate fully the responsibility they take upon themselves when they are baptized. That is a very significant decision and many people make it when they are very young. But each Sunday when we partake of the sacrament we are renewing that covenant with Heavenly Father. The sacrament is a reminder of the responsibility of our baptismal covenant. In the words of the sacrament prayer we are promised that we "may always have His Spirit to be with" us if we keep His commandments.
In the Young Women program we talk about preparing to make and keep sacred covenants and receive the ordinances of the temple. Sometimes young people feel like that is a long way in the future and that they'll make the changes necessary to go to the temple when they are nearer that age. But if we really take our baptismal covenants seriously, we would be prepared at any time, if the circumstances were right, to go to the temple. I like to think that a temple recommend, whether or not we have one in our possession, is something we would want to be worthy for each day no matter what age we are or what we are doing.
How does honoring these covenants help me find happiness in fulfilling the objectives of the Young Women Values and the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood?
Pres. Hales: The Young Women values help us understand our identity in relationship to our Heavenly Father. The fifth value, for example, is choice and accountability. Choice is a gift that is given to us from our Heavenly Father. We are each an agent to act for ourselves, but I can't find anything in the scriptures that says our agency is free. There is always an accountability or consequence that's connected to the choices we make.
The satisfaction and happiness that come from living in harmony with God's plan come as a blessing from Him. We can feel peace, love and security. Our Savior provides the safety net as we learn. We are not judged by our peers or measured by worldly comparison, only by one who loves and understands us. Moving closer to our Heavenly Father allows our best effort, is less frightening, more secure and leads to happiness. The many false representations we have of happiness would make us think that only immediate gratification is important and that material things can sustain happiness. But it's the Spirit and comfort of our Heavenly Father that brings sustained happiness. The other is fleeting and temporary.
Elder Goaslind: The hymn, "Choose the Right," has a line that helps to answer this question: "Choose the right, there is peace in righteous doing." (Hymns, 239.) There is something powerful and valuable about doing right things for the right reason and knowing that we are right. It is not a boastful, prideful feeling. It's a quiet, calming assurance that allows us to be at peace - happy and fulfilled - with the way we have chosen to live and to act. It gives us a strength and a blessing that we can't get anywhere else. In the case of young men, it helps them focus on the desired outcomes of the Aaronic Priesthood purposes in a way that will help them prepare for the Melchizedek Priesthood, prepare for service to others, prepare to fulfill a mission, prepare for marriage and fatherhood, and prepare for a lifetime of commitment to true principles.
What unique covenants have I made as a holder of the Aaronic Priesthood?
Elder Goaslind: I think this question was answered best by John the Baptist when he appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, to restore to the earth, through them, the Aaronic Priesthood. Part of the promise that they received that day was that if they were faithful to this Aaronic or "lesser" priesthood, they would soon be ordained to the Melchizedek, or "higher" priesthood. That is the very nature of the Aaronic Priesthood and what is unique about it: it is a time of preparation for things yet to come. When an Aaronic Priesthood holder conducts his life in a way that is worthy of the ordination he has received, he demonstrates that he is able to accept additional responsibility and blessings.
What are temple covenants, and how can I prepare myself to worthily enter the temple?
Elder Goaslind: The covenants we make in the temple are very sacred and cannot be taken lightly. The world often confuses this with "secret," which they are not. Certain experiences, which are not secret, are personal in nature and we do not speak of them openly or lightly. The covenants of the temple are in this category. Essentially, they deal with additional instruction and the expanded blessings that Heavenly Father has for all His children if they choose to live by a higher law. We prepare for this as youth by doing our very best to live up to the covenants we have already made - baptism and ordination to the priesthood - and by doing our best to live a morally, mentally and physically clean lifestyle.
Pres. Hales: Because of the nature of temple covenants and the importance of the promises of eternal families and eternal blessings, it's very important that people understand at an early age that this preparation most often covers a long period of time. If the habits and the discipline and the characteristics that help us to be worthy of that blessing can be an ongoing part of our lives, we are much better equipped to sustain the kind of behavior that will allow us to honor those very important covenants.
I have been taught that to enter the temple I must be morally clean. Why is this important, and what does it mean?
Elder Goaslind: It is true that it is expected of all who would enter the temple worthily that they be morally clean. Heavenly Father has shared with His children the power to create life. He desires us to use it to bring earthly life to every spirit who wants to be born. To cause us to accept the responsibilities that come with creating this life, He has associated this power with strong feelings of attraction that relate to our physical bodies. This power is shared with us with the understanding that we will not misuse it, will not use it casually or lightly, and that we will use it only within the bonds of marriage. Heavenly Father desires us to use this power in this way so that children who come to the earth will have the benefit of two parents who love each other and love the children they help bring into this life. When we take advantage of the physical pleasure associated with this covenant without accepting the family responsibilities and duties that are part of the covenant, we have cheated or stolen. As with other sins, we can repent of this weakness, but it is more serious because God has given us access to a power that He trusts we are old enough and wise enough to use correctly.
Pres. Hales: I like to quote Elder Richard G. Scott, who said in an October 1992 conference address: "Please understand, no one has the privilege to choose what is right. God reserved that prerogative to Himself. Our agency does allow us to choose among alternate paths, but then we are bound to the consequence God has decreed."
I have faith in a prophet who has said that the young people were prepared for this day for a sacred and glorious purpose. If youth can understand that and choose to make covenants and try to follow Heavenly Father's plan, then their behavior would be consistent with that understanding. If you have been baptized, you have a responsibility to be sure you understand the commitment you have made to be morally clean. That commitment is ongoing throughout your life. You have already made that decision when you were baptized. There are eternal consequences attached. You must also understand the process of repentance if transgression has taken place. If you are confused about the standards of behavior that are comprised in moral cleanliness, make sure you talk to your parents or to your bishop, prayerfully read the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet section on sexual purity, and make sure you clearly understand.
How can I avoid relationships based too much on physical attraction?
Pres. Hales: First of all, make a conscious decision that you are going to choose behavior that is consistent with your covenants. Second, listen to the still small voice within that will sometimes say "I shouldn't be dating this person," or "I shouldn't be in this place." Third, rehearse how you will take charge, even make some rules for yourself. Fourth, develop talents, abilities and character that will help you appreciate things that are more than superficial.
Elder Goaslind: It is not wrong to feel physically attracted to someone of the opposite sex. God created it that way, and it is part of His plan of salvation. But that attraction needs to be carefully tempered and controlled. Sometimes we focus so much on how we or others look on the outside, that we forget there is beauty that cannot be seen. This is the beauty of the heart, the mind, and the soul. Heavenly Father has told us that "the worth of souls is great in the sight of God." (D&C 18:10.) Sometimes, when we focus too much on attractions to physical beauty, we are tempted to experiment with the feelings and powers that Heavenly Father intends for us to use only within marriage. Knowing and understanding these powers and the consequences of using them unwisely can help us redirect our thoughts and our actions in appropriate ways. If we know and understand these consequences, it helps us keep our relationships at an appropriate level for our age and helps us to look for the good in people beyond the physical.
How can the temple bless my life now and in the future?
Pres. Hales: The temple can be a symbol of worthiness that will enable us to live with our Heavenly Father again. That's why I like the idea that worthiness is with us all the time, not just something that comes later. Youth can enjoy the blessings of the temple now by performing baptisms for the dead. They can feel the security of that connecting link to ancestors who care about them. Then they can have hope and anticipation of eternal blessings of their own.
Elder Goaslind: We can look to the temple for many blessings throughout our lives. If your parents were married in the temple before you were born, you were "born in the covenant," and already have certain blessings that you may not even know about. If your parents regularly attend the temple, it brings harmony, peace and spirituality to your home, which is a blessing of the temple. Perhaps you are able to personally assist in baptisms for the dead, which gives you a kind of temple experience that adds to the spirituality and strength in your own life. Many live close enough to a temple that they can occasionally see it as they drive by. For others, pictures of the temple can be displayed in the rooms of our homes, in our lockers, or in a book. Just seeing the temple, or a picture of a temple, can often bring us great strength and comfort as we think of the blessings of that holy place and what it means to our lives.