In his professional life before being called to serve as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Gary E. Stevenson was part of the development, manufacturing and marketing of fitness equipment around the world.
The purpose of the equipment: to strengthen the heart.
“At our company, we went to great lengths to ensure that equipment users could accurately measure the condition and the activity levels of their heart through heart-rate monitors,” he said. “Today, many of us wear technology on our wrists that monitor our heart and encourage activities to strengthen our heart.”
"What if there were a way to measure the condition of your heart from a spiritual perspective — a spiritual heart monitor, if you will?" Elder Stevenson asked during the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional held in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City on Dec. 2.
“What would your (spiritual) heart monitor say? How spiritually healthy is your heart? The Christmas season seems like an ideal time for us to thoughtfully evaluate the status of our own heart.”
Just as the familiar Christmas hymn states, “Let every heart prepare Him room,” the apostle asked listeners how they can prepare room in their hearts for Christ, especially during the “busy yet wonderful season.”
“During this Christmas and throughout the year, our kind deeds and good works are the best indication of our love for the Savior written in our hearts,” he said. “As I consider the condition of my own heart, I find inspiration and great examples to follow in the hearts and sacrifice of those who helped establish The Church of Jesus Christ in the early days of its restoration.”
Sharing a Christmas story about an early Latter-day Saint convert from Immingham, England, Elder Stevenson spoke of how her spiritual heart was changed, even through difficult circumstances.
Mary Wood Littleton and her husband, Paul, heard the message of the Restored gospel while living with their family in England. The family was baptized, and just two months later, they sailed to America to gather with the Saints.
“They arrived in New York on Dec. 20, 1844,” Elder Stevenson said. “Five days later, they traveled by stagecoach to Nauvoo, Illinois. Just imagine — journeying in the cold weather over rough, difficult roads, they celebrated their first Christmas Day in America.”
One year later, the family spent Christmas Day in a wagon box that Paul had turned into a makeshift home while the family struggled to establish themselves in Nauvoo.
Dreaming of a time when the family would again celebrate Christmas with wreaths, Father Christmas and caroling like they did in England, Mary had hope for a better Christmas in the future.
“The following year in 1846, the family’s third Christmas in America, Mary and the children found themselves in Winter Quarters, preparing for what would be a long trek west in the spring,” he said. “Mobs had driven them from Nauvoo, and Paul was walking west with the Mormon Battalion — several hundred miles away.”
Again, the family was not celebrating Christmas like they had in years past in England. Instead of a large feast, the family was fasting and praying on behalf of Mary’s eight-year-old son, who was near death with severe malnutrition. Although the young boy survived, 25 others in Winter Quarters died on that Christmas Day.
It wasn’t until the family’s fourth Christmas in America, when they had recently arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, that they finally celebrated Christmas together in relative peace.
“Even then, it was not the kind of celebration she had experienced in England,” he said. “Yet, in some ways, it was even better.”
During the Sabbath day Christmas celebration held the day after Christmas in 1847, Mary and her family gathered with other Church members to pray, express words of thanksgiving and sing songs of praise to God. One of the songs was a heartfelt rendition of ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints,’ — a hymn written on the pioneer trail that had become an anthem of faith to these early pioneer Saints.
“I believe Mary’s challenges over the years did something to change her heart,” Elder Stevenson said. “She seemed to see Christmas more clearly, with new Christmas traditions and a new song in her heart. She had truly developed a heart of sacrifice, centered in her hope in and love for Jesus Christ.”
The Christmas season is an appropriate time to contemplate the health of one’s spiritual heart, Elder Stevenson said.
“I close with a simple suggestion that might help us monitor and strengthen our spiritual hearts: I invite each of us to choose to do something that expresses, in an outward way, our inward feelings about the Savior Jesus Christ as the gift we give Him this year.”