"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
October 2, 2013
Last Words
by Marian Stoddard

Our Institute lessons of the new school year began with the book of Deuteronomy, picking up the Old Testament where we left off last spring. We had two lessons to cover the whole book, 34 chapters. I told the class that if they felt that was a big chunk, their two teachers agreed.

Deuteronomy is the record of Moses’ last words to the children of Israel before he would send them over the River Jordan. He reviewed for them all the experiences of miraculous rescue, the evidences of the Lord’s care.

He walked them through the outlines of the law that had been given them, which we call the Law of Moses, and reminded them that they had heard Jehovah’s own voice, those who were alive then. He exhorted them to abide faithful in that law and not succumb to the temptations of idols in their new land.

We have other examples in the scriptures of “last words.” The most perfect parallel is King Benjamin gathering his people, who were much more prepared because they had already been living the higher level of the law within the structure of the Law of Moses. They experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit; they opened themselves to it, humbled themselves, and were filled.

That converting experience was so profound that the explanation of those who worked against the Church in Alma’s day was that they were little children who couldn’t share the experience in the final days of King Benjamin, and did not believe. (Mosiah 26:1-4)

Lehi gathered his sons around his deathbed, and exhorted them, with all the pleading his love for them could summon, to choose righteousness. The profound teachings on the purposes of the Fall in 2 Nephi 2 are part of his final words to his son Jacob, and they have blessed our understanding, in this day, for generations. He had grateful confidence in some of his sons, and great fear for the oldest ones.

I asked, what would you say to your children if you knew they were your last words?

Would you feel assured that they were on the right path and would persevere? Would you hope that they would accept your testimony? How would you know whether it had been enough? Precept and example had to have been the foundation in your teaching, or, a transformation of your earlier life that they could see. It’s hard to make much impact if your final plea is your first real attempt to set them on the right way. We talked about those questions.

We have to give our children opportunities to experience the Spirit, not just hear about it. After all, how does Satan get to us? Not generally with logic, but with emotion. He finds a “hook” to sink into us and then he pulls.

He leverages fear, pride, distraction, uncertainty, or anything he can try that works; his aim is to torpedo who we really are as children of God. We can’t “logic” our children into a testimony, or lecture them into true obedience. Nephi said that he taught his people the scriptures and sought to liken them to themselves. Joseph Smith said he taught true principles and his people governed themselves. Those are wise examples.

When Moses spoke with the Lord face to face, Satan came to him afterwards and demanded worship. “And it came to pass that Moses looked upon Satan and said: Who art thou? For behold, I am a son of God, in the similitude of his Only Begotten; and where is thy glory, that I should worship thee?” (Moses 1:13)

Moses could judge between Satan and God because he had experienced God’s light and glory for himself, and we need to be able to do the same. It is no longer possible to endure through the perils and darkness of this world any other way.

My fellow teacher, Brother Dargan, went home from this class and pondered. He teaches the evening class the day after I teach the morning class, and we are on the same lesson schedule. He spent some time praying and pondering and writing, and gave me what he had written. This paragraph leaped out at me:

Having spiritual experiences, like the Children of Israel had on the banks of the Red Sea, at the foot of Sinai, and being preserved by miracles in the wilderness, is important, but there are much more powerful impressions than those, because miracles do not ultimately convert. How do we give our children spiritual experiences—the kind that will sink into their hearts like fire rather than astound them one day and be forgotten the next?
…The saving kind of faith is believing in, hoping in, trusting in, and loving the Lord enough to be willing to do whatsoever he should require, nothing withholding.

It requires a mighty change of heart. We cannot make that change in anybody’s heart but our own, but we can prepare the way. We can recognize that our Heavenly Father desires all to seek and receive that transforming experience. However it may come about for us or our children individually. He has a plan and a way; he can use anything we may have to go through to bring us to know Him and His Son, our Redeemer.

We hope that our children will come to hunger, like Enos, to know for themselves. We hope that those who go the wrong way will still have some portion of themselves that can be reached, like Alma’s son. We have to see, every step of the way, that our job is to prepare them for trials we cannot predict. We don’t know what they will have to go through, but it’s folly to think it will all be simple and painless.

It is my fervent hope that I have so taught my children that their trials and shocks — because I know they will come — will drive them to their knees in prayer for help rather than turn them away. I hope they will remember my witness that heaven is their one sure lifeline.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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