Welcome to 2014! It’s a brand new year full of possibilities. My hope is that one such possibility in my life will be an improved relationship with my Savior and our Heavenly Father. As I begin my scripture study this year, I’ve chosen to also focus on studying Christlike attributes and learning how to improve them in my own life.
Virtue is one of the many attributes of Christ. It is mentioned in my patriarchal blessing as one of the Lord’s standards where I should keep my footsteps. (To learn more about a patriarchal blessing, visit here.) So virtue is the first Christlike attribute I have chosen to study in the new year.
I was in my branch’s Young Women’s presidency when the First Presidency and General Young Women Presidency felt inspired to add the Godly attribute Virtue to the young women’s theme and program. In the October 2008 General Conference, newly-called Young Women General President Elaine S. Dalton spoke on a return to virtue. She reminded us that “virtue is a prerequisite to entering the Lord’s holy temples and to receiving the Spirit’s guidance. … It encompasses chastity and moral purity.” During temple recommend interviews with a bishop or branch president, we are always asked if we live the law of chastity.
According to Sister Dalton, the way to return to virtue is “unique to each individual.” She shared her personal training program “from instructions found in the scriptures:”
“Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” “Cleave unto [your] covenants.” “Stand … in holy places.” “Lay aside the things of [the]world.” “Believe that ye must repent.” “Always remember him and keep his commandments.” And “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, … seek after these things.” Now more than ever before, it is time to respond to Moroni’s call to “awake, and arise” and to “lay hold upon every good gift, and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing.”
The first phrase she mentions is from Doctrine & Covenants 121:45 – “let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly.” We’ve heard that phrase many times throughout our lives. But what does it really mean? Perhaps the answer is obvious, but I decided to take the phrase apart and look up the definitions of some of the words.
Preach My Gospel says that virtue is “a pattern of thought and behavior based on high moral standards.”
Merriam-Webster.com defines “garnish” as: “1 a. decorate, embellish; b. to add decorative or savory touches to. 2. to equip with accessories, furnish.” Its origin is Middle English, from the Anglo-French garniss-, stem of garnir – to warn, equip, garnish, of Germanic origin; akin to the Old High German warnōn, to take heed. Some synonyms for the word are adorn, ornament, dress, embellish, etc.
The word “unceasingly” is fairly self-explanatory; it means to never stop.
Put simply then, the Lord wants us to always let high moral standards guide our actions and thoughts. Much of the world seems to have lost sight of and become so desensitized against them. We have been told many times that we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are an ensign to the world. Paul’s words to Timothy to “be thou an example of the believers,” are probably some of the best advice ever given. As an ensign to the world, we can be an example by living the high moral standards that our Father has taught and asked of us. And where can we find those high moral standards? In the teachings of Christ.
Who can forget the thirteenth article of faith? “if there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, … seek after these things.” Knowing that we are children of Heavenly Father, and joint-heirs with His Son, Jesus Christ, should we not desire to seek after the things that remind us of them and that will assist in our ability to return to live with them? How do we know when something is virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy? As I pondered this question, I was reminded of the words of Mormon to his son Moroni in Moroni 7:12-13, 16-17.
“Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
“But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God…
“For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
“But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.”
When we come upon something, we ought to ask ourselves, “Does it inspire me to do good? Does it bring a good spirit? Is it in agreement with the teachings of Christ?”
Sister Dalton shared something I found interesting: the Latin root word for virtue is virtus and means “strength.” She then said, “Virtuous women and men possess a quiet dignity and inner strength. They are confident because they are worthy to receive and be guided by the Holy Ghost.” They are also able to reject the worldly temptations Satan seeks to destroy us with. After all, he is unable to have a physical body of his own. So he is trying even harder now to destroy that which should be held most sacred to both men and women.
But what can I do to “let virtue garnish [my] thoughts”? I can pray for Heavenly Father’s help, to be the virtuous daughter He wants me to be. I can seek out that which “inviteth and enticeth to do good continually,” anything that is of good report or praiseworthy. I have the words of Christ, found in the scriptures and in modern day Church leaders, as a guide. But just having them isn’t enough. I need to know them well enough to recognize when something is enticing me away from right.
I’m still working out my own “Return to Virtue” training program, but I think I’ll start with Sister Dalton’s and see where else the Spirit leads me.
Becoming Christlike is a lifelong pursuit, and I am just getting started. I definitely have more to learn about virtue, so I will be back next week with more of what I’ve learned. In the meantime, I’ll close with the words of President Monson:
“You be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone. Have the moral courage to be a light for others to follow. There is no friendship more valuable than your own clear conscience, your own moral cleanliness – and what a glorious feeling it is to know that you stand in your appointed place clean and with the confidence that you are worthy to do so.”