Published on January 25, 2009
Elder Perry uses the great writing from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden to illustrate how we can ease stress from our everyday life by doing it with simplicity. 1
Let me give you a little background on Thoreau, just in case you’ve never heard of him or it’s been awhile since you studied American lit in high school. Henry David Thoreau was a strong literary voice for the quintessentially American cultural movement called Transcendentalism that began emerging from New England in 1830. Led by writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller and Henry David Thoreau, among others, Transcendentalism was a group of new ideas, some would say the first generation of a truly American voice affecting literature, religion, culture and philosophy. 2
What else was happening in America around 1830? (Book of Mormon published. Church founded in 1831 and HQ was established in the Newell K Whitney store in 1832. The School of the Prophets was held in the store in early 1833. The Prophet Joseph received the revelation on the Word of Wisdom during this time (D&C 89). He did much of the work on the translation of the Bible here. Transcendentalists were strong believers in the power of the individual and divine messages. Walden encapsulates all of the major principles of transcendentalism: an individual’s ideal spiritual state ‘transcends’ the physical and empirical and that the individual needs to work to realize this state (education, self-reliance). 3
So when Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden pond, he did it in an attempt to simplify his life and live the reality of transcendentalist teachings. He built a modest cabin, planted a garden and 2 ½ acres of beans to sell to support the rest of his needs. The profit from the beans was $8.71. I wondered what that profit would equate to in 2009? How simply would we need to live in order to have that amount be sufficient?! Well, using a fancy economics calculator, I learned that $8.71 as income per person in 1847 is the equivalent of an (unskilled) income today of around $2,000. $167/mo. $38/wk. Doesn’t seem like a lot, does it? Consider that most welfare families are comprised of a mother under 25 and a dependent child. With aid and food stamps, she receives a combined weekly sum of $150 to cover food, housing, utilities and everything else. Now, in the Walden example, we know that Thoreau did not have to pay for housing because the cabin belonged to his friend and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson. So taking housing costs out of the welfare equation, the government still pays about $60/week as an absolute minimum for a single mom and one child. $2000 is $38/wk for everything including food. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first chapter of Walden is called Economy. 4
When everything is stripped away, there are, Elder Perry reminds us, 4 essentials in life: food, clothing, shelter and fuel. This is the essence of simplicity. 5
Elder Perry counsels us to quot;eat nutritious food, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. When you do these things, you remain free harmful addictions and have control over your life.quot; 6
Notice he said ‘harmful addictions’. On LDS.org we are given guidance that those who have engaged in addictive behaviors can stop and become free from addiction. Through personal effort, strength from the Lord, help from family members and friends, and guidance from Church leaders, anyone can overcome addiction. Pray for help from the Lord. Harmful addictions. Like sugar? Do you have to eat chocolate every day? Would you call it an addiction if you saw someone else doing it? What about salt? Grabbing the salt shaker and sprinkling liberally? If you eat too much of either could they be harmful to your body. What about food portions? Is it possible to be addicted to food? 7
Elder Perry is, of course, obliquely referencing the Word of Wisdom. On February 27, 1833, as recorded in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord revealed which foods are good for us to eat and which substances are not good for the human body. He also promised health, protection, knowledge, and wisdom to those who obey the Word of Wisdom. Ezra Taft Benson taught that God, our Heavenly Father, governs His children by law. He has instituted laws for our perfection. If we obey His laws, we receive the blessings pertaining to those laws. If we do not obey, we receive the consequences. The Word of Wisdom is a law—a principle with promise. If we obey the provisions of the law, we receive the promises. If we do not, there will be both temporal and spiritual consequences. What are the provisions of the law known as the Word of Wisdom? 8
The revelation defines and admonishes abstinence from harmful substances and beverages in these words: “Strong drinks [or, in other words, alcoholic or harmful beverages] are not for the belly.” (D&C 89:7.) “Tobacco is not for the body … and is not good for man.” (D&C 89:8.) “Hot drinks [defined as tea and coffee] are not for the body.” (D&C 89:9.) 9
Those foods which are good for man are described in these words: “All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man— “Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; “Flesh … of beasts and of the fowl of the air … are to be used sparingly.” When the Word of Wisdom was first taught to me many, many years ago, I understood it to be that meat should rarely be eaten -- maybe once or twice a month. I have often felt that the Lord is further counseling us in this revelation against indiscriminately killing animals, for He has said elsewhere in scripture, “Woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (D&C 49:21.) 10
“All grain is ordained for the use of man … to be the staff of life. … “All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine.” (D&C 89:10–12, 14, 16.) Wheat is particularly singled out as being good for man, as is the fruit of the vine— vegetables and all fruits. This is the wisdom of the Lord on the matter of sound nutrition and diet. 11
The Word of Wisdom allows us to know that the Lord is vitally concerned about the health of His Saints. He has graciously given us counsel for improving our health, endurance, and resistance to many diseases. The temporal promise for obedience is: They “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; … [they] shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” (D&C 89:18, 20.) Scientific studies have confirmed that Latter-day Saints have less incidence of heart problems, all forms of cancer, and other diseases because of their adherence to the Word of Wisdom. These studies have demonstrated that not only will we live a longer life, but also that the quality of life will be better. 12
The temporal promise is important to us as humans, but listen to the spiritual promise: “All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, … shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” 13
Clothing - The Lord has counseled us through the prophets to dress modestly. We should be aware of how we are presenting ourselves and what this impression says about the state of our spiritual health as well as the impression we are giving others about our self-worth. quot;Prophets of God have always counseled His children to dress modestly. The way you dress is a reflection of what you are on the inside. When you are well groomed and modestly dressed, you invite the companionship of the Spirit and can exercise a good influence on those around you. 14
From the Strength of Youth booklet, Never lower your dress standards for any occasion. Doing so sends the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval and that modesty is important only when it is convenient.quot; How we dress does affect how we act. We wouldn't want to wear formal attire when playing sports and who'd feel comfortable going to a formal dance in a swimming suit? I loved this quote from Elder Perry’s talk: “worldly trends in women’s fashion are always inviting extremes. With their latest styles many fashion designers appear to be trying to make two or three dresses out of the amount of fabric necessary for one. Mostly, they are taking too much off the top and too much off the bottom of women’s clothing, and occasionally they scrimp in the middle too.” 15
Men are addressed as well as Elder Perry reminds us “in my day they would be called sloppy and inappropriate. I believe very casual dress is almost always followed by very casual manners.” If you have any question about suitability of clothing, ask yourself: 'Would I feel comfortable with my appearance if I were in the Lord’s presence?' 16
Shelter - For this Elder Perry reminds us not to live outside of our means and to stay out of debt. We should practice and increase our habits of thrift, industry, economy, and frugality. 17
President Heber J Grant said, “I have listened to men standing in the pulpit...urging the people not to run into debt; and I believe that the great majority of all our troubles today is caused through the failure to carry out that counsel.quot; This is just a good reminder for everyone. It is so easy to be tipped from a lifetime of saving into debt, especially when you have a family. We started using a tool called Mint last year to track every dollar of our spending and perhaps the biggest surprise was that we spent the majority of our income on our children. Not just childcare, although that is a big part of it, but also ice skating lessons, theater camp, doctor consultations (like the orthodontist) and medicine, clothes, coats, and it never seems to end! 18
Elder Perry talks about how well-managed families don't pay interest, they earn it. Right now, we are not earning interest, although we used to. But that was a couple of children ago. I’ve seen the peace and joy that comes into the lives of families in this ward who live this principle. There are days when I do dream about the simplicity of a cabin in the woods like Thoreau’s Walden. We have a plan and are working hard to put Elder Perry’s counsel into practice which includes selling a lot of non-essentials on ebay and Craigslist! 19
Fuel – We are reminded about temporal fuel, specifically the limited supply and subsequent high cost attached to keeping our homes warm and our cars running. But Elder Perry is more concerned with what he calls spiritual fuel that powers the Lord’s plan of Happiness. He says, “We must acquire knowledge of God’s eternal plan and our role in it, and then by living righteously, surrendering our will to the will of the Lord, we receive the promised blessings.” 20
Personally, I found spiritual fuel at the beginning of Elder Perry’s talk when he teaches us that “One of the challenges of this mortal experience is to not allow the stresses and strains of life to get the better of us—to endure the varied seasons of life while remaining positive, even optimistic.” In other words, choose the right. Perhaps when difficulties and challenges strike, we should have these hopeful words of Robert Browning etched in our minds: “The best is yet to be” 21
Conclusion quot;We can’t predict all the struggles and storms in life, not even the ones just around the next corner, but as persons of faith and hope, we know beyond the shadow of any doubt that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true and the best is yet to come.quot; By following the counsel of our Heavenly Father, we will be blessed, each one of us and our progeny. 1. Follow the Word of Wisdom. It will lead to a long, healthy life to spend with your family here on earth. 2. Dress modestly to attract the right kind of attention 3. Stay out of debt to avoid money stress 4. Follow His Commandments Sisters, how do we make this happen? How do we really make the Lord’s way of living really happen? 22
Love. I want you to know that I love you all. Even if I don’t know you, although I think I do know most of you. Even if we have our differences because we view the world differently, I love you. The first time I met Sister Cameron and Sister Paxman they said and wrote that they loved me. Sister Lapine. Sister Crowley. Sister Harris. Sister Irwin. Sister Rowe. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. If you’ll pardon the pun, love is at the heart of life. I love my family. Deeply. As we all love our families. We want them to be happy. We want each other to be happy. The teachings of Elder Perry remind us that there is great joy in simplicity. Our Heavenly Father’s love for us shines through when we follow His Son’s example. As we approach Valentine’s Day next month and find ourselves wishing for those material signs of love: chocolate hearts or sparkly trinkets like diamond earrings, I ask you to read, listen and think about Elder Perry’s talk. Feel the love that he and every Apostle has for each one of us. President Monson always reminds us about the love that is felt by the Prophet and his counselors at the start and close of each General Conference. Love is one of the fundamentals of our doctrine, of Jesus Christ’s teachings. I pray that this lesson about joy, simplicity, righteousness and love stays with you until we meet again. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen. 23
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