So an altar—a covenant-making place—is no casual location. The sacrament table of a chapel fits this description. Each week at that modest altar, the Lord presents the symbols of his offering to us while we offer ourselves to him. We are not surprised to find altars in the temple, a perfect meeting spot for the three gospel offerings: the Father's, the Son's, and ours—the plan, the Atonement, the covenant. Christ and the family meet over an altar in the house of the Lord. Promises are exchanged like tender gifts.
What we profess in making promises, we prove by keeping them. Fidelity—doing what we say we will do—is the language of love. It is intensely personal, for only an individual can make a vow. And when inconvenience or pain arises, the decision to honor that vow can be made only in the privacy of a heart. Keeping a trust is a very private matter. A maxim often quoted by Church leaders says, "It is more important to be trusted than to be loved" (Marvin J. Ashton). 1
The covenant is a personal matter on the Father's part as well. Surely it was so when he made his original proposal to begin with. In a personal way he accepts the hourly gifts we make to him. And what could be more personal than the way in which he will fulfill his promise? (Leviticus 26:9, 11-12).
We are on earth to keep promises. Integrity makes a solid soul and glues us to each other. In great stories, unbending fidelity tips us off to the real hero, the genuine king or queen. Loyalty is royalty.
If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth (Numbers 30:1-2; D&C 82:10).
How shall we know our Father's heart? There is no better way than to do according to our vows, to be true to our word, to imitate him "who keepest covenant and mercy" (Nehemiah 9:32; 27-31; 1 Kings 8:56; D&C 98:3). We may have difficulty detecting his love in the occasional stern action he must take as the upholder of all things and defender of all law. But this is simply the greater proof that we can depend upon him.
The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed (3 Nephi 22:10; 22:1-9).
We find him unpredictable in a thousand ways because of the infinitude of his knowledge, the blinding rapidity of his thought, and the staggering innovation and beauty of his handiwork. But one thing about him is entirely knowable: he keeps his word. To subtract his covenant nature from our understanding of him is to downsize and demean him—a switching of gods. He has never been untrue and never will in all the eons that lie ahead.
[God] will never desert us. . . . He cannot do it (George Q. Cannon). 2
Daily life does not give much priority to our greatest treasure—the connection we have with God. Staring too much at the world, losing focus, we may forget or even forsake. Fainthearted bonds cannot last.
For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me (D&C 98:15).
To break the covenant is to stop cleaving to God, to break the embrace. He is always calling us in his direction. If we do wander away, he beseeches us to find our way back to the parental arms we left. "His hand is stretched out still" (Isaiah 9:17; 10:4; 1 Nephi 19:13-16). But if it is to be a real embrace, it must be mutual.
When such a perfectly trustworthy being gives his word, we notice. Our interest is awakened by knowing that he keeps promises and that he promises so much. His honesty is "an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast" (Hebrews 6:19; 6:17-18). He inspires trust. No wonder Nephi referred to the "many covenants of the Lord" as the "parts which are plain and most precious" of the ancient scriptures. And no wonder Satan schemed to have those very parts taken away in order to "blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men" (1 Nephi 13:26-27). If we lose sight of God's personal vows to us, the gospel seems to lose size and beauty. So the prophets constantly beg us to be "mindful always of his covenant" (1 Chronicles 16:15; Exodus 24:7-8; Deuteronomy 4:23; 2 Kings 17:38; 23:2-3; 2 Chronicles 34:30). All sorts of reminders, forever pointing at the covenant, are built into gospel culture: ordinances, special days, the written word, meetings, buildings, and even clothing (Genesis 3:21; Deuteronomy 31:25-26; Joshua 3:3, 17; 1 Kings 6:19; 8:21; Moses 5:6-7; 6:63).
On the title page of the Book of Mormon, the Lord gives us an assignment. He says that his latter- day people should know "what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord" (see also 2 Nephi 9:1). So what great things has he done for our ancient kindred?
Noah's family had the covenant we now have, and by means of it they were held in the Lord's hand. Consider the large clan of Jacob, surviving a famine and creating a legacy of faith against all odds. Think of Joseph being delivered from an Egyptian prison. Think of Lehi and Sariah coping with deserts and seas. The stories reach back and stretch on. They are stories of both deliverance and inheritance. We can read what God did for those of old, and we can believe that he will do the same for us (Isaiah 51:1-; Helaman 3:30; D&C 132:37).
Few things are more worthy of our attention than to "know of the covenants of the Lord," which is a prime purpose of the Book of Mormon. And few goals are more worthy of our families than having the covenant written "in their inward parts, and . . . in their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33). In this language of love, we invite him in.
The way of love and faith is the only happy way through this life. In fact, it is the only way through at all. Unfortunately, many families take another path—the dead end of discord and discontent. As charity covers sins, anger suffocates righteousness (1 Peter 4:8).
Life offers us a constant choice between the heaving surges of anger and the peaceful streamlets of grace. If we do not choose the grace of Christ, we choose the disgrace of Satan. To choose the way of our enemy is madness.
The Lord says, "Be of good cheer" (John 16:33; D&C 61:36). Satan says be downcast, be offended at this and that, be discouraged and discouraging, be negative, cranky, harsh, skeptical, angry, mad.
[Zion] shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another (D&C 45:69).
This stunning prophecy does more than reassure us that Zion will not be at war. It tells us that Zion's people will not be fighting "one with another." Among the Lord's covenant people, there will not be contention even on a private or family basis. That will be unusual for this old battle- worn planet. It will be a modern miracle: no ill will, no strife, no yelling, no hostility between acquaintances. They will be the "only people" on earth not cursed with the madness of anger.
The miracle must begin in the way we react to anger. It is in that moment when only one person is angry (so far) that anger either loses force or catapults into a miserable cycle. Though we may feel the lash of anger upon our own hearts, we must decide not to spread the pain any further. There cannot be a peaceful latter- day Zion if we get angry at anger (JST, Ephesians 4:26).
Our first mistake is to believe that resentment is healthy, that blame must be assigned, or that we have some right to vengeance. Somehow, these fatal germs of the fallen world can breed in the mind if we believe the wrong things. But the truth is that we have a right—an assigned and wonderful role—to close gaps, show hope, and soften hearts. This does not mean that we should be soft- headed, gullible, or foolish. We are to be redemptive and wise—bigger than anger and contention.
This is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away (3 Nephi 11:30; Ephesians 6:4).
How much conflict should there be at home? A moderate amount? A little? These answers miss altogether what the great Lord of our lives commands us. "Such things"—anger, contention, or anything similar—"should be done away." The commandment sounds as if it means now, within in the hour, today, before the sun sets.
Repeatedly reviewing and rehearsing the same painful events and the same hurts brings to mind the image of a cow rechewing and redigesting its cud. If we do not have the stomach for that image, how can we stomach something even more ghastly: the overripe and bitter refuse of old conflicts, chewed over and over?
Perhaps we believe our disputes ought to be reviewed one more time and that we have a right to all our claims and blames. Wherever we got that idea, it was not from the covenant of peace.
We are not even to rail (which means to speak with contempt or spite) against our worst enemy, Satan (D&C 50:33). Surely it makes no sense, then, to insult or upbraid our loved ones.
If I go all day without taking offense—without bitterness or even complaint—no blessing will be lost. If I should happen to miss something, if I fail to detect blame in some person, so what? Perhaps I can keep this up all year. If I get that far, why not continue in this good pattern for all eternity?
For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men (2 Nephi 28:20).
The sound of anger is Satan's echo among us. It radiates his presence. To be mad is to be a prosthesis, an artificial limb, for one or more evil spirits. If we cannot detect the darkness of our anger—if we do not notice the vast reduction in light—heaven certainly does.
Some people who live together have developed a tendency, maybe even an addiction, to be easily offended at each other. As a result, their eruptions become commonplace, occurring weekly or even daily. Life at home was never intended to be that way, and it does not need to be that way, even when living with the weak or wayward. We can hardly imagine how the curt and unkindly home strikes observers in heaven, where harmony is an unbroken way of life.
Even the angels, who have the moral authority of heaven, refrain from speaking evil of people. They avoid disdainful words and disrespectful tones about other people's failings (2 Peter 2:9-11). Someday we will have their higher perch, their clearer view, their fulness of light. At that day we will be very glad if we do not have to think back on mortal lives stained with the madness of anger.
This article is an excerpt from Wayne E. Brickey's recent book Inviting Him In: How the Atonement Can Change Your Family.