John Bytheway: Finding Joy This Holiday Season
A lot goes on in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but in the midst of cooking and shopping, are we taking time to reflect on the cause for our celebrations or the source of joy that we feel? Do we stop to think about the Christ child who became the Savior of the world? On this week’s episode, John Bytheway explores the miracle of Jesus Christ and why that miracle can bring us joy regardless of our age—and even in the midst of a pandemic.
We know the source of joy. We know where to go for that. And that's why we're all in.
The second verse of "Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful" begins, "Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning." In this inspiring Christmas book, John Bytheway explores the miracle of that happy morning and what Christmas should mean to us. Although Christmas can feel over-commercialized and stressful, Born This Happy Morning helps readers recapture the magic of childhood Christmases by focusing on how we can give the joy of Christ's light to those around us, reminding us that the spirit of Christmas is multiplied in our hearts when we share the spirit of Christ with others.
Book: Messages for a Happier Life Inspiring Essays from the Church News by William B. Smart
Book: Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright
Quote: "We could remember his magnificent but virtually unknown foster father, a humble carpenter by trade who taught us, among other things, that quiet, plain, unpretentious people have moved this majestic work forward from the very beginning, and still do so today. If you are serving almost anonymously, please know that so, too, did one of the best men who has ever lived on this earth" (Elder Jeffery R. Holland, “This Do in Remembrance of Me,” October 1995 General Conference).
Quote: "God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs" (President Spencer W. Kimball, "Small Acts of Service," First Presidency Message 1974).
1:58- Young Men general board
3:28- Why a Christmas book?
4:50- Covid and Christmas
7:11- The Three Levels of Christmas
11:29- Allowing Christ to Grow With Us
13:15- “That They ‘Might’ Have Joy”
19:55- Joseph- A Nearly Anonymous Giver
23:18- “It’s a Wonderful Life”
28:23- “All Is Well”
31:03- Christmas Memories
36:19- What Does It Mean To You To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
It's a Wonderful Life and The Grinch that Stole Christmas are pop culture staples at Christmas time. But are there important gospel lessons to be learned from George Bailey and Sam Wainwright? What about the Grinch and Cindy Lou Who? And how might we need these lessons this year––even more than ever?
John Bytheway, served a mission to the Philippines and later graduated from Brigham Young University. He has a master's degree in religious education, and was recently called to serve on the Young Men general board. John is the author of many best-selling books, audio talks and DVDs, including: How to Be an Extraordinary Teen, Life Rocks, and his first Christmas book which is out this year, titled Born This Happy Morning. He and his wife Kimberly have six children.
This is All In an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm Morgan Jones. And I am so excited to have John Bytheway on the line with me today. John, welcome.
John Bytheway 1:05
Thank you. It's good to be with you.
Morgan Jones 1:08
Well, this is such a treat for me. I mentioned this to John before we ever got started, but I grew up every night listening to cassette tapes of his voice. And so this is like my life coming full circle in this moment.
John Bytheway 1:23
Cassette tapes. Those were kind of indestructible. I mean, say what you want, but they last longer than CDs these days, and now that kids don't know what a CD is.
Morgan Jones 1:34
Exactly. And the – I will say the audio cassette tapes, they weren't indestructible because you could get the tape and get it all out.
John Bytheway 1:44
Oh yeah . . .
Morgan Jones 1:46
And my brother would do that. And it was not good. It was not a good situation in our house when he got a hold of my cassette tapes. But seriously, this is so exciting for me. And I just, first of all, I want to congratulate you. I guess congratulations is the word on your calling on the Young Men general board. I wondered, what are you most excited about with that new calling, John?
John Bytheway 2:10
Well, I think that the rollout of children and youth, the whole new program, was kind of interrupted by COVID. And so I'm excited to continue rolling that out and to let people know what it's all about. And particularly with the young men, the new Aaronic Priesthood theme – pay attention – you'll be seeing more things coming out about that. And, of course, the “For the Strength of Youth” conferences, that's going to be very exciting as we plan those. And we may not see them in 2021 because of the pandemic, but those are some things we're very excited about. And I'm just excited to work with some very – oh wow – very devoted, wonderful people. President Lund, Brother Corbitt, Brother Wilcox in the presidency are just amazing, energetic, and just love the Savior and love the youth. And I just love just sitting there and listening to them and watching them work.
Morgan Jones 3:04
I love that. Well, today we are going to talk a little bit about your newest book, and that is Born This Happy Morning. And correct me if I'm wrong, John, but I think this is your first Christmas book – is that right?
John Bytheway 3:19
Yeah. I always loved Christmas. But yeah, this is my first. Don't know if there'll be a second, but it's my first.
Morgan Jones 3:27
So I have to wonder after all the books that you've written – because you've written a ton – and given so many talks that we've all listened to and read, what led you to want to write a Christmas book this year? And what do you hope, or what did you hope to accomplish in writing it?
John Bytheway 3:48
Well, I think that Christmas is so much associated with the word “joy” and the feeling of joy. In fact, every chapter title in this book has the word “joy” in it. And I'm hoping especially the young people and everybody can recognize that the gospel is the path of joy. The covenant path is the path of joy. And it's not just a list of do's and don'ts. It's all about joy and happiness and really, it is the happiest way to live. It's not the easiest way to live. But it's easier than some of the alternatives because the consequences are so bad of not living it, and I just think it's the happiest, most joyous way to live. And so I wanted to write about that because there's so much Christmas cards and decorations, everything, sometimes just have one word on them: "Joy." And Christmas is the most joyous time that that I know of, and it was fun to write about how it brings me joy in many different ways.
Morgan Jones 4:49
Yeah. Well I think this year is an interesting year for us to approach the holiday season. I think everything may look a little bit different. We've had a different year thus far, why stop now? [Laughter] So I wonder, what are you most looking forward to about the holiday season this year? And why do you think maybe we'll appreciate it even – maybe not more – but differently this year?
John Bytheway 5:17
Well, for me personally, I had – my oldest daughter went on a mission to Leon, France, and then married someone that she met in the MTC who was going to the Paris, France mission. And, and then my son just came home in September from his mission in Iceland. And so for me, one of the things I'm looking forward to most is having all of my children home together again. And that hasn't happened for a couple of years. And to me, that's so much what Christmas is all about is family anyway, but having them all, all of my children home together, and having a Christmas together is, is going to be great. And as long as we social distance, right? But we're so glad to have them all under the same roof again.
Morgan Jones 6:04
So I love that you said that there's this song that just came out. I don't know if you're familiar with Ben Rector. But he has this song, “The Thanksgiving Song,” and I was actually listening to it on my way into the office today. And he says, "We've made it through I do believe the longest year in history. Thank God that it's Thanksgiving Day." And I think it's so true, like this year just feels like it has been years of our lives. And I think everybody will just be so happy to get to the holiday season.
And so today as we talk about this, one thing that I really love about your book is that it's based on Christmas books and movies and songs – things that we all love. But everything ties back to principles that I think apply year round. And so I kind of want to stick with that today. This episode will air in the month of November, and so we won't be quite to Christmas yet. But like I said, the principles will apply regardless. And I think hopefully, as we talk a little bit about Christmas and the holiday season, it will help people get excited for that.
And so first of all, John, you talk a lot in this book about something that you refer to as the "three levels of Christmas." And so I kind of want to start our conversation and set the tone by having you explain, if you don't mind, just what you mean by three levels of Christmas.
John Bytheway 7:28
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I actually, you know, with the way publishing works, and deadlines, and so forth, um, I wrote this before the pandemic actually hit. Or I guess it was just coming in. So there's nothing in there about that, but all these things have become more true about family and connection and everything. And the three levels is not original with me. William B. Smart wrote editorials for the Church News, and he wrote one called the "Three Levels of Christmas," which I just thought was very insightful. And it's actually in a book called Messages for a Happier Life, Deseret Book published a bunch of his church news editorials over the years in like 1989, so it's an older book, but he spoke of the Christmas holidays coming – and I'll just summarize – at three levels.
And level one is Santa Claus and Jingle bells, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and he said, “It's the level where we eat too much and spend too much and do too much and love every minute of it. And we love the level one Christmas.” And I thought, "So do I.” You know, I love that level.
And then he said, but there's a more deeper level, he called it the "Silent Night level." And this is the level of the story of Mary and Joseph and the angels, and the nativity scenes and the wise men. And we love that level. We love singing Silent Night. And then he said at the end of that, "But the man who keeps Christ in the manger will be empty and unfulfilled," And I thought that was the best line.
Because so many want to do that – keep Christ in the manger. We'll take Christmas, we'll acknowledge that baby Jesus part but – these are my words now – but Jesus, He grew. He increased in wisdom and in stature and favor with God and man as we all know. And then He began to teach and ask things of us and remind us of, of things.
And like in the book, and I have a picture of me, as probably, I don't know six years old or something with all of my siblings under the Christmas tree just deep in a level one Christmas, you know, the stockings hung by the chimney with care right behind us and everything, and next to the tree. And having no idea at that point how life would unfold for each one of us. And so in the book, I put that picture again at the end and then talked about some of the significant trials each of my siblings and family have been through and how we needed more than the baby Jesus at that point. We needed the level three Christmas. And that's what Brother Smart talks about. The level three Christmas is the adult Christ, the Savior, who loved and served and forgave and taught us how to do all of those things, and offered to completely change us and remake us. And that we wouldn't have level one or level two, had it not been for level three. And I mean, you could argue the level three is Easter, is the resurrected Christ, and we wouldn't have any of the others without that.
Morgan Jones 10:34
Yeah, I love that you mentioned the picture of you and your siblings when you were young, and how none of you knew at the time things that you would go through. And I think that's so true of all of us. I mean, I'm the oldest of six kids, and I'm 31 years old. And I still feel that way when I look at pictures of my siblings and I when we were little. And so I love that idea of, kind of that Christmas is so much about our families, and when you look at those pictures, and it brings back all of these feelings. But I also think it's so important for us to realize that the reason I think that we feel all those feelings that we feel at Christmas time is because the Savior starts to mean more to us as we grow and go through those things.
I love how you say that it wasn't the baby Jesus, it was the Savior that helped you and your siblings as you went through life's challenges. Why do you think it's so important John, that we don't leave Jesus in the manger, and that we allow Him to grow with us in our lives?
John Bytheway 11:48
I just love that title, "Savior." He is our only – not just our only hope, our last hope. He's our, He's the reason for everything and that acknowledgement, and I mean, we just, each of my siblings had to get to a point where we really relied on him. And it wasn't just our friend in heaven, like the baby Jesus or something like that. But we really got pushed against the wall in some places. There were health challenges and family challenges and still are, with each of my siblings. And we've, you know, I don't share all that in the book, of course, because everybody goes through things. Yeah, we've come to really rely on Him and our love for Him has grown so much more, because He's been there for us.
And that is, and that is the sweetest part of that. That's why I just I love the title of, in the hymn "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful," of “born this happy morning.” And what a happy morning it was because of the promise of what that child would become. And the question in the hymn, "What child is this?" Is such a great question, and who He would become and how He would rescue and save all of us makes this such a happy morning that He finally came. This Promised Messiah finally came.
Morgan Jones 13:14
Yeah. So I'm going to talk – there are several kinds of ironies that you point out in the book. Things that maybe don't make sense, and you break them down in a way that they do make sense. And I just, I really enjoyed hearing, and I kept picking up on them. I was like, "Oh, that's interesting. There's another one." So the first one of these things is you say that in the scriptures, we read that Adam fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy. And so there's that idea – "men are that they might have joy." And then you talk about the phrase, "the pursuit of happiness," and how we have these, life presents us an opportunity, but it doesn't present us with a guarantee of happiness. Can you explain and share that thought with our listeners?
John Bytheway 14:05
Oh, I'd love to. I think the, I think the "Men are that they might have joy," this incredible phrase from Second Nephi, here's Lehi talking to his son Jacob, who has never seen Jerusalem, who has seen "the rudeness of his brothers," – to use Lehi's words – all his life, and what a perfect place for Lehi to explain, "Son, there has to be opposition in all things,” and Adam fell and that started in the Garden of Eden. Lehi says, “And Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy."
My favorite word in there, of course, is "joy." But to me, the most intriguing word is "might." They might have joy, on other days, they might not. And that's the second Nephi 2:24, but then Moses 6:48 is a very similar sounding verse that says, "Because that Adam fell we are, and we are made partakers of misery and woe." So on some days, we have Moses 6:48 days, and sometimes we have second Nephi 2:24 – or is it 2:25? Days, you know? We have joy sometimes. We might have joy. And we have moments of great joy.
And I think it's helpful to know we'll go through hard times too. And that is why Christmas is so wonderful because this is one of those times when we might have joy. And I worry for my, my children a little bit that they're growing up in this world that is like, "Hey, if you ever have a bad day, it's probably somebody's fault." You know, "Somebody's not doing their job. Life should always be easy, and you have a right to have joy 24/7. You should never be nervous or challenged or anxious," I think well, that's not life, you know? We will have ups and downs. And, and I think, yeah, you mentioned the Declaration of Independence has that phrase, "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Happiness is not guaranteed, but we ought to be able to pursue it. And we learn lessons from that, you know? And I think we all come back to Christ as where we go for happiness and joy, and we're still gonna have ups and downs in this life, but in Him our joy is full.
Morgan Jones 16:12
Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. I wondered for you, John, you mentioned that you started writing this book, pre–pandemic. And so I wonder if you had been writing it during the pandemic, how it might look a little bit different. What has been effective for you in finding joy this year, in such a weird year?
John Bytheway 16:33
Well, I'll tell you, there's some things that have been harder, and some things that have, have improved. And I think a lot of people talk about this fascinating timing of having, you know, home church, and how that was rolled out before we were kind of forced to have home church. And boy, my wife and I looked at each other and thought you know, we've got to make sure that we do this, and – because we don't know how long this is going to last. We were doing the home church anyway, just like the third hour because we wanted to, but then it became the norm during the pandemic, you know? And it's been so fun to do that and to feel some closeness with family and then to have these missionaries come home and want to share and teach the younger kids how to do devotionals and things like that.
And something that President Steven Lund said, the General Young Men's president, that he said in a number of our meetings is that Satan hasn't taken COVID off, and neither should we. And I, in fact, I'm reminded of the war chapters where I want to say Alma 45, it says, "It became expedient that the word of God should be declared in the time of war." And it wasn't, "Hey, we've got a time of war, let's just kind of put religion on the back burner right here, we have other problems." And we might be tempted to do the same thing, "Well, we've got that pandemic here, let's kind of put religion on the back burner." And that is exactly the opposite. It should mean, it should mean more now than ever.
And family should mean more now than ever. I think I mentioned in the book, the Who's down in Whoville, an old cartoon, the cartoon version of the Grinch, and they sing in the song, you know, "Christmas is within our grasp, as long as we have hands to clasp." And even after the Grinch had stolen everything, including the last can of who–hash, you know, they could still sing together because they had each other and I think this has kind of taught us that a little bit.
Morgan Jones 18:38
Yeah, I think the only thing is we have had to sanitize those hands a lot this year. And we also haven't been able to clasp hands very much due to social distancing. But you have a point, John, don't get me wrong.
John Bytheway 18:56
Oh, that's great. Yeah. You have to reimagine the picture of the Who's in Whoville standing in a circle, but are all six feet apart.
Morgan Jones 19:03
Exactly. But no, I think that that's such an excellent point. And I, I had the chance to spend the first three months of COVID time with my family, with my parents and my youngest sister. And I had been away from home for a long time and had never – hadn't really had an opportunity to be home like that in years. And it was such a sweet time. And I have so many good memories from especially home church. I think home church is something that has kind of been like a light for so many of us where, no matter how fearful we might have felt at times or anxious or unsure, we'd come together for home church and it seemed like everything was a little bit better.
And so I love that you brought that up. I really love the thoughts that you share about how Joseph, the father, earthly father of our Savior, was a nearly anonymous giver. So you said, "When we give anonymously, we're in good company." And I think this is something that obviously resonates at Christmas time. I think of our fellow Latter–day Saint Jason Wright, started the Christmas jar thing, and that has – is a way that my family gives anonymously at Christmas time. But why do you think that anonymous giving has become synonymous with Christmas, and can you share a little bit about that thought about Joseph being a nearly anonymous giver?
John Bytheway 20:38
Yeah, I'd love to take credit for it, but it was Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and I'm not very smart –
Morgan Jones 20:46
It's so good.
John Bytheway 20:46
But I know how to quote people. And . . .
Morgan Jones 20:49
Hey, that's what I'm good at too.
John Bytheway 20:52
Elder Holland, he said, "We could remember Jesus's magnificent but virtually unknown foster father, a humble carpenter by trade, who taught us among other things, that quiet, plain, unpretentious people have moved this majestic work forward from the very beginning, and still do so today. If you are serving almost anonymously, please know that so too did one of the best men who has ever lived on this earth."
And Elder Holland's talk was about things we could remember during the sacrament, as we have covenant to always remember, always remember Him – always remember Christ. And he, he made a list, you know, in this talk, and one of them was Joseph. And I thought, "Boy, that's such a good point." And as far as Christmas is concerned, I think, part of – if I can use the magic words – part of the thing that makes it magic and fun is, is the anonymous part. When you can give or you receive a gift and you don't know who it's from, that is so fun.
And I shared in the book that someone in our ward helped my daughter when she was on her mission. And we don't even know who it was to this day. They wanted to remain anonymous. And the net effect of that is we look at everyone in our whole ward differently. It's a lasting effect and we feel such love. Somebody did this , and we don't even know who to thank for it. And I think there's a, there's a lot of joy in that. And I – the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says "Thy father who seeth in secret shall reward thee openly," like three different places. He talks about doing things in secret and being rewarded openly. And we hope those people feel rewarded openly, whoever they are, we still don't know.
Morgan Jones 22:42
Yeah, I think that's such a beautiful thought. And, and I think, you know, regardless of whether we're giving anonymously, or if we know the giver of the gift, there's something about that principle of giving, that then inspires us to then want to pay it forward and to give to somebody else. And I love how you said that it changed the way that you look at everybody in your ward, because I think when we are the recipient of a good gift, any kind of good gift, it changes the way that we see the world. I love how you talk about the movie, It's a Wonderful Life. That is in my top five favorite movies of all time. And you talk about the yet another irony that George Bailey in the movie is at the lowest of lows, he's considering taking his own life, and really the only thing that changes at the end of the movie is two realizations. One, the way that his life has blessed the lives of other people because he's been given the opportunity to see what his, what other people's lives would be like if he never existed; and the realization that he has friends. How do you think that we can be and attract the kind of friend that George Bailey was?
John Bytheway 24:05
Oh, it's such a – it's a heartbreaking movie to me at first, because I see this young man who's so excited and so ready for life and ambitious and, and "Do you want the Moon, Mary? I'll throw up a lasso and pull it down for you," you know?
Morgan Jones 24:23
John Bytheway 24:24
And he's gonna go see the world, he's gonna do everything and then he has to stay home so his brother can go to college. I mean, that's where his gift giving starts, you know? Well, "I'll stay and manage the building alone." But boy, as soon as you get home and then the war comes and everything and you just see everything he wanted, and he's, he doesn't get to have what he does, but he's generous to a fault. He helps people.
His little lecture to Mr. Potter is so good about you know, is it too much that these people who do most of the living and dying in this town can do it in a house with a couple of rooms and a bathroom, you know? And yeah the angel helps him to see, "You've really had a wonderful life George. You've helped so many people." And in the end – I mean to me, one of the unsung heroes that doesn't even appear at the end of the movie is Sam Wainright.
Morgan Jones 25:17
John Bytheway 25:18
Yeah, , "Hee Haw." You know, "Mr. Gower cabled you need cash, stop. My office instructed to forward you up to $25,000, stop. Hee haw and Merry Christmas, Sam Wainwright." And he looks at Mary in that moment – oh man. You remember that Sam Wainwright wanted to marry, M–A–R–R–Y , Mary! And George knows that he could have given her this kind of life of you know, a much better – he makes comments like, "Why do we have to live in this drafty old barn, in this car, the door won't close," remember he's kicking it, and maybe I know the movie too well, but I just think what brilliant writing. But all of that comes back to George when his friends suddenly show up at his house. And, “I wouldn't have a roof over my head if it weren't for you, George.” And they start throwing money in that basket.
And so it doesn't seem like a wonderful life, because of all that happens to him, but then at the end, it all comes around. And at the end of the movie, he's still, he's still there. He still has the building alone. You know that $8,000 that was unfortunately lost has been recovered. But that's still his life, but he has – his whole perspective is changed. And that's the main thing. I don't think his circumstances change as much, but his perspective changes. And he personifies for me, one of my favorite Spencer W. Kimball quotations where he said, "God does notice us and he watches over us, but it is usually through another person that he meets our needs."
And Sam Wainwright, that other person, George Bailey for so many other people. And we can strive to be that other person. I met a woman at a Timeout For Women conference and she showed me her phone. And she said every morning this comes up, she's programmed it so every morning, this phrase comes up, "Who needs me today?" And it doesn't – she doesn't say, "Does anyone need me today?" But, "Who needs me today?" And even if it's as little as a text of encouragement or a phone call, who needs me today, and how can I be that other person?
Morgan Jones 27:30
That's such a good thought. I think it's so easy, especially as you know, I feel like especially right now, I feel more isolated from other people than normal. I don't see as many people as I normally see. I'm at my home more than I normally am due to this pandemic. But I think Christmas time is a great reminder to turn outward. And I think at that time of year, we think more about what we can, what we can give and how we can be a friend, and how we can show up for things that matter to people because there are a lot of things going on. And maybe this year, there won't be as many of those, but certainly people will still need us, and so how do we make adjustment so that we can be what people need us to be this holiday season? I think that that's such a good thought. I love the parallel that you draw in the book between the scripture and Second Nephi 28 that says "Wo unto him that crieth: all as well in Zion" and the line in "Come, Come Ye Saints," I had never thought about that.
John Bytheway 28:37
Oh, that confused me as a kid. "Wo unto him that crieth all is well. And now we will sing 'Come, Come Ye Saints' and really belt out the last verse." And I mean, because in my child mind, I was thinking, "We're not supposed to say that, you know, 'all is well.'" And you know, it took me a while to take in what was being said there in Second Nephi 28 was more of an attitude of, "Oh, all is well, all is well in Zion, everything's fine." When all is not well, spiritually speaking. We were resting on you know, financial security or something and saying "All is well in Zion, Zion prospereth."
And then when I looked at the circumstances, as I, you know, got older and learned about the writing of "Come, Come Ye Saints," and here's people that are dying on the plains and they're having to bury people every morning, the handcart companies anyway, and singing "And should we die before our journeys through, happy day, all is well," was a completely different "all is well" in an eternal perspective, where the first "all is well," Second Nephi 28 they were warned against is in a very, you know, present tense, "Oh, I've got money, all is well" type of thing. It took me a while to make sense of that.
Morgan Jones 29:55
And I think you did such a good job of making sense of it because it is confusing. But I think it's that, it's that idea of from the outside looking in, everything looks like it's well, but it's not all well on the inside, versus on the outside everything looking like it's not well, but on the inside all as well.
John Bytheway 30:14
Yeah. And George Bailey went through that. All was not well, it was not a wonderful life. And so I kind of tried to connect those two as well. And in the end, he discovers with an eternal perspective, "No, it's a wonderful life." And the pioneers to be able to sing that at the top of their lungs, "And should we die, happy day, all as well" is amazing. And so yeah, "All is well" in times of great trial with an eternal perspective they could sing, and were warned against "All is well," in when we're talking about prosperity or something in it. What should we say as short term, or a perspective? And so yeah, it's still it's hard for me to articulate but I get it now. But it took me a while.
Morgan Jones 30:59
Yeah, but it's such a great thought. I also really appreciated – you shared a few thoughts about family in the book, and one that I really loved was you said that you had this thought – and remind me how old you were when you had this thought? – But you had this thought where you realized that the people that would matter most at a later point in your life, you had not even met yet. And I just think that's like such a hopeful, but also really beautiful poignant thought to have, so remind me how old you were, and then tell us a little bit about kind of that thought that you had.
John Bytheway 31:38
Yeah, thank you, Morgan. I married a little later in life. And so I had lots of Christmases where I would be home wishing I had a wife with me, you know. And sitting there in the room, watching all my siblings with their spouses and things and looking at my dad there, and it just occurred to me, and I don't know why, but I just thought "This is – mom and dad are in heaven right now, surrounded by, you know, happy family and noise and chaos of a bunch of grandkids, but they're, they're loving it." And I just thought, "Wow, look at dad, if I were in [his] spot, the people that are most important to my dad right now are all of us, and who will be most important to me when I'm a grandpa? They're not even here yet! Including my wife." So that was an interesting, an interesting thought. I can't remember what your question was. But yeah, that was the thought that I had.
Morgan Jones 32:38
Yeah, I love that thought. And I guess my question would be along with that, I hadn't even gotten to my question, so don't worry, you had not forgotten it. But how do you feel like Christmas has changed and evolved as you've gotten older?
John Bytheway 32:53
Oh, that's a, that's a great question. Because I think, and I love to watch my kids grow through this. Where, you know, in the past, I've gone shopping with them, just to have them shop for each other, and you know, a lot of them will do homemade gifts, and that's a whole different subject too, which is great. But to see someone find a perfect gift for someone and to literally laugh out loud and to kind of anticipate the joy that their sibling is going to get when they open this. "I'm, I'm so excited to give this," instead of "I'm so excited to get this," is great to watch that happen in my kids.
And now as a parent, I reflect on how hard my parents worked to make Christmas magical and wonderful, and I think that's my job now. I've got to make memories. And make happy memories for my kids so that they can also reflect on this magical time, and make sure that the Savior is the center of that.
My wife found, I think it was a Costco, but it's like a you know, super jumbo nativity scene that is just gorgeous. I mean, they each have little, it's not that the actual people, you know, or some sort of, I don't know, ceramic or plas – I don't know what to call it. But they have fabric clothes. There's, you know, the sheep has real – and I don't know the characters are, maybe each of them are about a foot tall or something, so it's pretty big – and I love it because we put that out on the table trying to make this more of the center of Christmas than the Christmas tree, right? But it's so beautiful and then my wife put little electric lights underneath it with some burlap or something and so that kind of sparkles. That nativity scene and that is another of one of our efforts to try to make a memory that this is, this is what it's all about. This scene, this level two Christmas right here of Christ, and then of course at Easter he became – fulfilled everything and performed the Atonement and we are rescued and saved and everything.
Morgan Jones 35:03
Yeah. I hope that people are picking up on as we've gone through this, that I think everything that makes Christmas what it is, and the reason that we all love it so much, it all is based on these principles that Christ taught.
And so I think sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, we miss some of that. And we don't recognize that like, these principles of being a friend, or these principles of, of family and turning outward, and seeking joy and, and pursuing joy even in times that might be more difficult – all of these things are things that the Savior taught us.
And so I really appreciated this book. I think, for me, it was kind of a nice lead into the holiday season, it got my wheels spinning and me thinking about what it is that I love. Like, that's the reason that we love movies like, The Grinch that Stole Christmas, or It's a Wonderful Life. We love these things because they teach true principles, and they spark something in us. And so I appreciate you putting this book together this year for us. John, the last question that I have for you is the question that we ask on every episode of this podcast, and that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
John Bytheway 36:31
Oh, that is such a great question. A few years ago, the theme for the youth was D&C 4:2, "Oh, ye then embark in the service of God, see that you serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength." And I used to try to write a talk for the theme every year. And I wrote one that year and it was fascinating. I discovered that the word "embark" only appears one time in the entire standard works. And it's in that verse. Since then, there's two or three of the chapter summaries at the beginning of chapters in the scriptures that, where modern day we've added the word "embark," but in the actual text of the scriptures – one time.
And when I looked it up, it says to board a ship or an aircraft or a vehicle as for a journey, and I just, you know, thought, "That's it. You can't sort of embark. If you sort of embark on an airplane and the airplane leaves, this can cause great physical discomfort, right?" And the safety is in fully embarking. And being a, as you said, all in. And if we're not all in, and if you read that verse D&C 4:2, "Oh, ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with," and here's the all in idea, "With all your heart, might, mind and strength, that you may stand blameless before God at the last day."
And when I wrote that little talk, I kind of made up a story about Marvin and Harvey, who are next door neighbors. And Marvin would get up at seven in the morning and eat a full breakfast and take a shower, get fully dressed, say to his mom, "I love you with all my heart," and he'd go off to school. And he would eat all of his lunch and do all of his homework and come home and eat a full dinner and he went to football practice where he was a fullback and then he came home and said all of his prayers, read all of his scriptures and went to bed.
But his neighbor Harvey was sometimes called Halfway Harv. Because he did everything halfway. So Harvey would – thanks for laughing – Harvey would get up after half a night's sleep, eat half his breakfast, get half dressed, think about that – okay, that's long enough. Say to his mom, "I love you with half my heart," – I wonder how that went over – and got halfway to the bus stop. He said "I wish the bus would meet me halfway." And then he'd go to half his classes at school. He'd eat half his lunch, he'd go to football practice where he was a halfback. He would come home, eat half his dinner, and go fall half asleep, you know?
It's just a joke, but the idea was to introduce – read that scripture again as if you are halfway Harv. "Oh, ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with half your heart, half your mind, half your might, half your strength." And here's the frightening part, "That you may stand half blameless before God at the last day," kind of changes it.
Yeah, and the "all in" part, it's a tall order. We have so many demands on our time and part of life is living in mortality, providing for our families having to work and do all those other things. But being all into the gospel means we fully embarked. I've got both feet in here. And I'm staying. And we will have questions, we'll have issues, perhaps. And I think we'll go to our death with unanswered questions. But we know what we know, and what we know, those primary questions that God is real, that He loves us, that the Savior is real, that He loves us, and that we can rely on Him, makes me want to say, "I'm all in, I'm staying. This, this is where I find the most joy, the most happiness. And this is where my children will find it, as well." And that is, that is my testimony. This is where it is. So of course, this is where I'm staying. I'm all in.
Morgan Jones 40:27
Thank you so much, John. That's a great analogy. And I think it paints a picture. And I think that's what you have always been really excellent at doing. So thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today and to share these thoughts and, and in advance I guess, Merry Christmas.
John Bytheway 40:47
Oh, yeah. Well, Merry Christmas to you, too. Let's find joy. When COVID is over, there will be another COVID. Maybe it won't be a COVID, but maybe it'll be something else. And we are going to have to, whatever life throws at us, Satan won't take COVID off. And we rely on the Savior and we go through all of these things and hold our families close. And that's, that there'll be something else, you know? Hopefully not another pandemic, but we know the source of joy. We know where to go for that. And that's why we're all in.
Morgan Jones 41:21
Thank you, John. A huge thank you to John Bytheway for joining us on today's episode. You can find John's new book, Born This Happy Morning on Deseretbook.com or in Deseret Bookstores now. We are also so grateful to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help on this episode. And to all of you listening with the holiday season upon us, I want you to know how thankful we are for you. Thank you for spending time with us this year and thank you for who you are. Happy Thanksgiving.