A firm foundation

Our world is full of illusions, some clever, some clumsy, some harmless and some dangerous.

Illusions exist to fool the mind. Those aren't real people we see on a movie screen, but a succession of still photographs flashing by so quickly the mind creates a personality for them. The color photographs in this newspaper are in reality tiny dots of just three primary colors. A fur coat worn by your neighbor may owe more to a test tube than to a forest for its birth.On that level we accept the illusion and in fact use it for our benefit. But accepting illusions brings a wariness reflected in our language. We say that something is "the real thing," or "the genuine article." We urge ourselves to "look beneath the surface" and to not accept something at "face value" because the facade may be just that.

Our wariness is justified, for the skills of illusion can also lead to deception, a deliberate misrepresentation of facts to further someone else's ends and not our own. Skillful manipulators can create a demand for a product, and with the same energy impose a sense of morals and values that exploit a culture's weaknesses.

As a result of this, a great deal of our energy is expended to discover what is true. Discernment becomes a prized tool, one to be honed and protected from corrosion because it is important to us to know what is genuine. That applies to our relationships with others as well. Conditioned by past experiences and prejudices, we often make quick judgments about the people we meet - judgments we often revise if not regret. After awhile, we learn that it's wise to withhold those instant appraisals until we know more - whether our concern is with objects or with people. After all, people don't go around wearing signs saying, "This is an honest person," and we'd be suspicious of anyone who did.

So we develop a set of standards by which we measure. Is something reliable? Does it fit well? Will it endure? What experience have others had? Is it made of quality material? When I need it, will it be there for me? Interesting how the same questions we pose of material goods can apply to the people we know. Indeed, we often say of someone that being with them is like putting on an old shoe, they fit so well, or that they are as solid as a rock.

The key is to have the right standards. If we value something solely because it looks nice, we may be in for an unpleasant adventure when its durability becomes very important to us. Similarly, if we judge a person's value solely by her or his appearance, we've lost twice: first when our expectations inevitably fall short of reality, and second because we've cut ourselves off from the rich variety of personalities and talents around us.

That's true of relationships. Will the friends of summer be the stalwarts of winter? Our standards will decide that.

How comforting it is to know that the same measurements we use to discern the shadow from the substance also apply to eternal things. As Church members, we know that our standards are found in the eternal truths and revealed doctrines of the gospel. Having made a commitment to our Savior, we also embrace His standards, among which are love, service, endurance, faithfulness and obedience. Love defines our relationship with others, service outlines our responsibilities, endurance holds the promise of the future, faithfulness is our commitment to God, and obedience is the road we must travel.

Fortunately, we're not left alone to discover and reinvent those standards for ourselves. Think of the help we have: inspired Church leaders, holy scriptures, dedicated teachers, loving parents and caring friends. As a special privilege of membership, we may put our trust in the Church itself and its leaders, knowing that their counsel and advice will be consistent with eternal truths, even as others equivocate.

We also have, as the Lord explained to Joseph Smith, the right to guidance from the Holy Spirit. "And now, verily I say unto you, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good, yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my spirit." (D&C 11:12)

That's a foundation for understanding eternal truths that will help us sort out the illusions of life from its realities. It's a foundation on which to build an eternal life.

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