The day after Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000 in Galilee with only “five barley loaves, and two small fishes,” He spoke to the people again in Capernaum. The Savior perceived that many were not so much interested in His teachings as they were in being fed again. Accordingly, He tried to convince them of the immensely greater value of “that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you.”
Despite Christ’s repeated insistence that the bread and meat he had given them was not only literal, but symbolic of the teachings and Atonement he would soon complete, his followers still didn’t understand and/or embrace the metaphor. Elder Christofferson then advises,
To eat His flesh and drink His blood is a striking way of expressing how completely we must bring the Savior in our life – into our very being – that we may be one… To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ means to pursue holiness. God commands, “Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
What is holiness? Ask the class members what they think holiness means in this context. Is it keeping the commandments? Embracing the teachings of Christ? Cleanliness of mind and spirit? What does it mean to be holy?
Chieko Okazaki offers an interesting take on holiness. In her book, “Aloha!”, she writes,
Se-i, the Japanese word meaning “holy” or “saintly,” is written with three characters derived from the Chinese pictographs, one the word for ear, one the word for mouth, and one the word from king. So a holy person is someone who has her ear near the mouth of the king, so she can hear his voice easily and clearly. Isn’t that a lovely way to think about holiness?
If Christ is our king, how do we have our ear near his mouth? Do we feel like we can hear Christ’s voice easily and clearly?
Sister Carol F. McConkie gave a beautiful address called “The Beauty of Holiness” in the April 2017 General Conference that’s worth reading as a resource to this lesson. In it, she says the following,
I see the beauty of holiness in sisters whose hearts are centered on all that is good, who want to become more like the Savior. They offer their whole soul, heart, might, mind, and strength to the Lord in the way that they live every day. Holiness is in the striving and the struggle to keep the commandments and to honor the covenants we have made with God. Holiness is making the choices that will keep the Holy Ghost as our guide. Holiness is setting aside our natural tendencies and becoming “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” “Every moment of [our lives] must be holiness to the Lord.
I admit that this sounds intimidating and overwhelming to me. Offering my whole soul, heart, might, mind, and strength to the Lord feels difficult when I’m driving kids to/from school, working long hours, studying late into the night, preparing meals, mowing the lawn, cleaning bathrooms, and countless other tasks that feel menial but are necessary to a functioning home and family. Sister Chieko Okazaki recognizes this struggle, and talks a lot about in chapter 11 of her book, “Being Enough.” She writes,
Our job is to be holy and to find holiness in what happens on Monday and Tuesday as well as what happens on Sunday.
She talks about how, if we want to be holy women, we need to have confidence in ourselves and trust in the Lord. She goes on to say,
I want to suggest that if knowledge is power – and as an educator, I truly believe that it is – then one of the most important pieces of knowledge we can have is self-knowledge. Yet there are powerful forces that work against self-knowledge. We are flooded with experience. We are busy from morning tonight. But what does our experience mean? What significance to our choices have? Can we see them connecting us to the sacred?
She continues to tell a story of a man who came to see Carl Jung, the famous psychologist. Jung instructed the man to cut back his laborious work schedule and spend the evenings in his study, quiet and all alone. So the man tried, and spent time in his study reading philosophy and listening to classical music. After reporting no change, Jung said, “But you didn’t understand. I didn’t want you to be with Hesse or Mozart or Mann or Chopin. I wanted you to be all alone with yourself.” The man responded, “I can’t think of any worse company!”
Sister Okazaki continues,
Jung’s patient was drugging himself with overwork to avoid facing himself. Many of us are doing exactly the same thing, plus abusing prescription drugs, plus indulging in other self-abusive and addictive behaviors because we really don’t like ourselves very much. Please don’t misunderstand. I am certainly not claiming that no one should ever need therapy or take anti-depressants if they have the gospel… This is the real world, and we have to deal with real problems. Nobody is ever rich enough or smart enough or spiritual enough to never have any problems. What we do have – what the gospel promises us – is that we do not have to be alone and we don’t have to be fakes.
How do we develop this kind of self-knowledge and self-compassion? She mentions five suggestions for liking ourselves better (each bullet point is a quote from her chapter, and would be easy to hand out for reading in class):
- “Lighten up! Ease off! Back up! Lots of us would call the SPCA if someone were to treat the family dog the way we treat ourselves. Instead of making a job list as long as your leg, lower your expectations. Make a list that contains only half of what you think needs to be done every day. That way, if you finish everything on the list, you can feel pleased. And if you have time to do more, you can really pat yourself on the back.”
- “Enjoy each job. Even routine jobs have pleasant parts to them. Don’t wipe down the counter while you’re mentally making a list of the three phone calls you need to make next. Really enjoy how clean the counter looks and how tidily you brushed all of those crumbs into your hand.”
- “If you have a job where you don’t need to be talking or thinking about it, sing while you work. If we’re supposed to hum a hymn to crowd a temptation out of our thoughts, then why not try the same thing when you’re trying to bring more sunshine into your life?”
- “Reward yourself for every job you get done. Remember in Genesis when God was creating the heavens and the earth? From the Book of Moses, we know that God the Father, Jehovah, Michael, and others were involved in this great creative effort, the culmination of a long process that had begun with spiritual creation. And after every step, what did these creators do? Did they say, ‘Good grief, the creation of the butterflies took ten minutes longer than we had planned. Put a burst of speed on the whales. And you’re grounded tonight until you’re sure that those sunflowers are all going to turn their heads to follow the sun.’ No, they didn’t beat themselves or each other up. And they didn’t instantly plunge into the next task. They enjoyed the accomplishment. ‘And God saw that it was good.’ When we have accomplished something worthwhile, we need to savor that accomplishment.”
- “Have some priorities that distinguish between ‘nice,’ ‘important,’ and ‘essential.’ Some things are important but they’re not essential… I refer to the laundry, for instance. Nobody would write down on their list of goals when they graduate from high school that in five years they want to do the laundry. It’s important, but it’s not essential. What’s essential are the principles of cleanliness, helpfulness, and self-reliance.
Why is this self-compassion and self-knowledge so critical to holiness? Why does it matter to know ourselves if we desire to be holy? Sister Okazaki concludes,
I’ve really stressed this point about being happy with yourself, making time for yourself, and enjoying being with yourself. I’ve done it because I think that we don’t have strength unless we have the strength from within of knowing ourselves and liking ourselves. A weak person does not feel peaceful. A week person does not feel holy. That doesn’t mean that we should ignore our faults and shortcomings, and it doesn’t mean that we should have low standards. But it does mean that we need to be the kind of person we like to spend time with. This is the peace that comes from our strength within.
You may think that you’re important because of what you do for people – that you’re important to the world because you take care of your children or your grandchildren, or teach lessons or volunteer at the shelter or take the Boy Scouts on hikes. You may think you count because of the salary you earn and because you provide for your family. Certainly those things are important. But those are jobs, chores, functions. They are things that someone else could do. What’s essential about you is who you are.
How does our knowledge of our divine nature as daughters of God instill a sense of holiness?
With this framework of self-compassion and self-knowledge in mind, how do we seek after holiness? Elder Christofferson talks about how Zechariah prophesied that in the Lord’s millennial reign, “even the bells of horses would bear the inscription ‘Holiness unto the Lord.‘” How can we imprint the message of “holiness unto the Lord” on our hearts, and show it in our daily lives?
When I think about serving with holiness, I think of Heather’s experience when she was asked to help clean an apartment in her ward. Needless to say, the apartment was filthy and required much more than Heather was prepared to take on. She is at the brink of quitting, and says,
I try to come up with a single good reason to stay and finish cleaning. No one deserved to pay for this inhospitality. I want to be a good person. I do. But I need a way to justify this. And then it hits me. I’m cleaning for Jesus. “I’m…cleaning for…Jesus,” I say it out loud, trying on this bizarre worldview that allows me to be covered in a stranger’s piss, cleaning for a woman I don’t like, and somehow still be okay with it. I’m feeling rather pentecostal but oddly at peace as I pick up the toilet brush and say again, “I’m cleaning for Jesus” and get the last of the ring off the bowl. I spray the mirror with Windex and chant, “I’m cleaning for Jesus” with each wipe. “I’M CLEANIN‘ FOR JESUS!” I shout this mantra as I dust and and tidy, thankful that the only person within earshot is deaf. My voice is hoarse by the time I leave.
How does our seeking for holiness affect our experience with partaking of the Sacrament? When we partake of the Sacrament, we take the name of Christ upon us. We try to act as Jesus would act, to serve as Jesus would have served, and speak as Jesus would have spoken. Elder Christofferson says,
Figuratively eating His flesh and drinking His blood has a further meaning, and that is to internalize the qualities and character of Christ, putting off the natural man and becoming Saints ‘through the atonement of Christ the Lord.’ As we partake of the sacramental bread and water each week, we would do well to consider how fully and completely we must incorporate His character and the pattern of His sinless life into our life and being.
In keeping with the theme of self-knowledge and self-compassion, this also means that we need to treat ourselves as Christ would treat us. When we get discouraged, how do we talk to ourselves or think about ourselves? Would we say the same thing to a dear friend? Would Christ say the same thing to us? How does internalizing the character of Christ affect how we deal with all around us, including ourselves?
I would close with a reminder of the Japanese word for holy, meaning that a holy woman is someone who has her ear near the mouth of the king. Remind the sisters to keep their ear attuned to the voice of Christ, to imbue our actions and our attitudes with holiness, and to develop a strength of self that is rooted in the teachings of Christ and in keeping with our identities as daughters of God.