This excerpt is from Be Your Best Self by President Thomas S. Monson, which was published in 1979. This excerpt originally ran on LDS Living in July 2017.
Recently I was a passenger on a flight that took me from the Pacific Coast across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean. At many points along the way, serenely seen through white, billowy clouds, were the fertile patchwork fields and majestic mountains of this great land. The words of Katherine Lee Bates, author of "America the Beautiful," coursed through my mind and found lodgment within my soul:
Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.
The Lord Himself gave a divine promise to the ancient inhabitants of this favored country. He said: "Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ" (Ether 2:12).
Are we today serving the God of the land, even the Lord Jesus Christ? Do our lives conform with His teachings? Are we entitled to His divine blessings?
Headlines from America's leading newspapers, depicting recent events, pass silently in review, that you and I may judge: "Serious Crime Registers 10% Increase in Past Year," "Violence Rocks South," "Racial Strife Hits East." Murder, rape, arson, burglary, assault, narcotics violations are all on the increase in the America of today. These are the headlines of today's newspapers.
The revered Abraham Lincoln accurately described our plight: "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown; but we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us." (Proclamation for a National Fast Day, March 30, 1863.)
Can we extricate ourselves from this frightful condition? Is there a way out? If so, what is the way? We can solve this perplexing dilemma by adopting the counsel given by Jesus to the inquiring lawyer who asked: "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:36-39.)
First, then, I would suggest that each American love the Lord, our God, and with our families serve Him in righteousness.
The road back to God is not nearly so steep nor is it so difficult as some would have us believe. The gentle invitation of Jesus yet beckons: "Come unto me." Paul advised, "He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." (Hebrews 11:6.) The channel by which we seek Him and find Him is personal and family prayer. The recognition of a power higher than man himself does not in any sense debase him; rather, it exalts him.
Divine favor will attend those who humbly seek it. If we will but realize that we have been created in the image of God, we will not find Him difficult to approach. One cannot sincerely hold this conviction without experiencing a profound new sense of strength.
By seeking God in personal and family prayer, we and our loved ones will develop the fulfillment of what the great English statesman, William H. Gladstone, described as the world's greatest need: "A living faith in a personal God." Who can evaluate the real worth of such a blessing? Such a faith will light the pathway for any honest seeker of divine truth. Wives will draw closer to their husbands, husbands will the more appreciate their wives, and children will be happy children, as children are meant to be. Children in homes blessed by prayer will not find themselves in that dreaded "Never, Never Land"—never the objects of concern, never the recipients of proper parental guidance. Our children will be taught integrity, which is primarily a matter of early training. To teach the young to love the truth above personal convenience is the basis of it. They will be taught true courage, which becomes a living and attractive virtue when it is regarded not as a willingness to die manfully, but as the determination to live decently. They will be taught honesty by habit and as a matter of course. Our children will grow physically from childhood to adulthood, and mentally from ignorance to knowledge, emotionally from insecurity to stability, and spiritually, to an abiding faith in God. Such is the power gained from loving the Lord, our God, and serving Him in righteousness.
Second, I would suggest that each American love his neighbor as himself. Before we can really love our neighbor, we must get the proper perspective of him. One man said, "I looked at my brother with the microscope of criticism, and I said, 'How coarse my brother is.' I looked at my brother with the telescope of scorn, and I said, 'How small my brother is.' Then I looked into the mirror of truth, and I said, 'How like me my brother is.'"
Paul counseled us, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2.) No burden is heavier to bear than is sin. When we show our brother, our neighbor, the way back to God through applying the divine principle of repentance, we help him to build a new and better life.
If we are not careful, our thoughts and plans to aid others in making this a better world in which to live will remain just that—thoughts and plans. As humans we cannot really see very far ahead; we need, therefore, to take each step with all the wisdom we can muster. While sensing what lies dimly ahead, we must do confidently what lies clearly at hand. Decision is of little account unless it is followed by action.
One of the finest examples I know of helping one's neighbors is that of a prominent businessman who, at the height of his success, generously gave his prosperous business to his faithful employees and determined to devote the balance of his life to charitable service. He withdrew from the world of gold and silver and each day can now be found at a large Church welfare distribution center doing his part to relieve the suffering and need of human souls and to make America a better place to live. He is fulfilling the responsibility to "succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees." (D&C 81:5.) He humbly declares: "This is the happiest period of my life."
The rich satisfactions that come from loving our neighbor as ourselves are not ushered in at any age to the sound of drums and trumpets, but rather the satisfactions grow upon us year by year, little by little, until at last we realize that we have reached our goal. It is achieved in individuals not by flights to the moon or to Mars, but by a body of work done so well that we can lift our heads with assurance and look unflinchingly at the universe.
One of the most famous enlistment posters of World War II was one depicting Uncle Sam pointing his long finger and directing his piercing eyes at the viewer. The words read "America Needs You." America truly does need you and me to lead out in a mighty crusade of righteousness. We can help when we love the Lord and with our families serve Him, and when we love our neighbors as ourselves.
The frightening trend toward crime, lawlessness, and violence will then be arrested. God will continue to "shed his grace on thee," America, "and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea."
Lead image: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Be Your Best Self can help in the constant struggle for perfection. Adapted from the powerful discourses of President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this book is divided into three sections: Ask in Faith, Be Thou an Example, and Called to the Work. Pertinent advice and faith-promoting stories in each of these vital areas combine to create a valuable blueprint for self-improvement.
“The road back to God is not nearly so steep nor is it so difficult as some would have us believe,” says President Monson. “The gentle invitation of Jesus beckons: 'Come unto me.'”