Tom Christofferson: The Healing Power of Charity
What if there is power in a Christlike attribute we have heard about our entire lives but have barely scratched the surface of understanding? In his new book, “A Better Heart,” Tom Christofferson writes, “The gift of charity is enormous in conception, its effect and meaning eternal. And yet, it is also small and intimate and personal.” On this week’s episode, we explore charity and how it has the power to give us all better hearts.
It’s that opportunity to be able now to simply be an instrument in His hands—to transmit as purely as we possibly can His affection, His knowledge, His intimate awareness of every individual, and then to strengthen them in their faith and then help them have hope.
Throughout all scripture, a theme and message emerges that Jesus is the medicine, He is the Living Water and the Bread of Life, He is the Good Shepherd, and through His love, He will heal our hearts. In A Better Heart, Tom Christofferson blends scripture stories, personal experiences, quotes, metaphors, and commentary to show that, like a doctor treating patients for diseases of the heart, the Master Physician cares for us and will change our spiritual hearts to work in rhythm with His. As we understand the love Jesus Christ has for us and our love for Him, and as we study and seek His precious gift of charity, we begin the daily process toward a better heart.
In That We May Be One, Tom Christofferson shares perspectives gained from his life's journey as a gay man who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then returned to it. After having asked to be excommunicated from the faith he was raised in, Tom spent two decades in a loving relationship with a committed partner. But gradually, the love of family, friends, and strangers and the Spirit of the Lord worked on him until he found himself one night sitting in his car in front of the bishop's house...
This book is about the lessons Tom, his family, and his fellow Saints learned while trying to love as God loves. It is about the scope and strength of this circle of love and about how learning the truth of our relationship with God draws us to Him. For anyone who has wondered how to keep moving forward in the face of difficult decisions and feelings of ambiguity; for anyone who needs to better understand the redeeming power of our Savior, Jesus Christ; for anyone who seeks to love more fully; this book offers reassurance and testimony of God's love for all of His children.
Tom Christofferson and Dave Checketts’ friendship: "Tom Christofferson and Dave Checketts Visit Southern Virginia with Message of Inclusivity, Faith"
All In episode with Melissa Inouye: Why Loving One Another is More Than Bringing Casseroles
2:34- London with the Checketts and Missionaries
5:47- “Let It Be You”
9:31- Seeking to Understand
13:10- A Righteous Mother
17:06- The Powerful Gift of Seeing Someone
18:37- More Used Would I Be
23:24- The Connection Between Blessings and Commandments
28:53- Luxuriate in the Feeling of Christ’s Love
32:02- Rooting Out Discouragement and Despair
34:46- "Communal Salvation”
39:50- Personal Power to Endure
43:59- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
In 1965, Burt Bacharach composed a song called, "What the World Needs Now Is Love." It was released as many Americans had differing opinions about the Vietnam War, but the song's message seemed to be something anyone could agree with.
As the world – and particularly the United States – once again finds itself divided across varying issues, I think there may be no better time than now for the episode you're about to hear, which is all about one kind of love – charity.
In his new book, A Better Heart, Tom Christofferson writes, "The experiences of our lives teach us to see the world in a particular way, and yet, in order to truly be of one heart with those around us, to love our neighbors deep, especially the ones who see and understand the world differently, we have to be willing to think in new ways. To open our minds and our hearts, and finally, our arms. This is true regardless of any unkindness or contempt they may have shown us. If our concern is for healing, if our hearts are set on obtaining the gift of charity, than our imperative is for continuous engagement. Only by persistently demonstrating genuine empathy can we rise above a conversation of contention, to one centered on sharing where we find meaning in life. Our sources of peace and of joy."
Tom Christofferson has spent his career in investment management and asset servicing, living in the United States and Europe. He has served as a director on corporate and nonprofit boards, and as a volunteer with agencies combating homelessness and long term unemployment. He is the author of, That We May Be One, A Gay Mormon's Perspective on Faith and Family,as well as his new book, A Better Heart: The Impact of Christ's Pure Love.
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 thrilled to have Tom Christofferson on the line with me today, Tom, welcome.
Tom Christofferson 2:19
Thank you, Morgan, good to be with you.
Morgan Jones 2:22
Well, this is such a treat for me, and I have been looking forward to this conversation, especially as I've gone through your new book, A Better Heart, and I just have so many questions for you, so I'll just dive right into it if that's all right. My first question for you, Tom – at the very end of the book, I caught something in the acknowledgments page, where you said that much of the final editing of this book took place in London, when you were invited to spend some time there as a guest of President David Checketts, and his wife, Deborah Checketts, and you called it a, “Daily immersion in Christ's pure love.” And so I wondered, first of all, I just am curious about this. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience, and why you referred to it as that, a daily immersion in Christ's pure love?
Tom Christofferson 3:10
So this, this occurred about two months into when we were all staying at home, related to the pandemic, and what in London was referred to as lockdown. But one day as I was sitting in my home in Mesa, Arizona, I texted President and Sister Checketts, and just said, "Hey, if I came over for a month or two, is there anything you could – any way you could use me? Is there anything I could do to be helpful?" And about 3.2 seconds, I got a response back that said, "How soon?"
And so I spent a good portion of May and June in London with them as the pandemic had begun, almost all of the senior couple missionaries had had to return to their homes. And so, you know, lots of things were happening on an ad hoc basis, and so the Checketts were generous enough to give me some projects and make me feel like I could do something helpful.
And the interesting thing about that was, because the missionaries were largely in their apartments, with the exception of exercise time, and some who were able to go to the chapel to use the Wi-Fi to do their activities during the day, we really didn't see them. And so it was kind of a strange experience of working with missionaries, but not seeing them.
But each evening, there was a zoom call with the mission. And each night had a different theme, and then with zone conferences and interviews, it ended up that over the course of that six weeks, I think I saw every missionary much more frequently than I would have had we been doing it in person. And having the opportunity to hear them speak about their experiences during lockdown, about being able to teach more frequently than they had before, of finding people who had more time to listen and more willing to engage and you know, that great feeling of their love for the people that they were meeting virtually, and having a chance to testify to them of Christ. And you know, when I was there, there were more people who had made a commitment to baptism during that period than would have been the case in normal times.
Now, there was a challenge of being able to access baptismal fonts, and so it was a long time before people could actually become members of the Church of Jesus Christ, but there was such a wonderful spirit of love and harmony – and even excitement – for doing the work in creative ways in a challenging time.
Morgan Jones 5:38
That's beautiful. That's such a neat experience. And I love, I love that you had that experience as you were wrapping up this book project. Tom, one thing that I have heard said around Deseret Book a lot as people have anticipated this book, is that it is not a sequel to, That They May Be One. It is a new book, and it's not about your experience of being gay, but you use your experience of being a gay member of the Church. For example, I love where you write in the book, "Perhaps you have had an experience similar to mine. Growing up, I felt there was something about me that the Lord needed to change. So I fasted, prayed, pleaded and tried to obey my way into perfect worthiness," –and those that are familiar with your story, know what you're talking about there. But I love – Tom – that what you describe in that little sentence is something that everybody's felt. And that's one thing that has struck me over and over again, as we've done these podcast interviews, is that while the situation may be different, the lessons that we're learning are often the same. And so I wondered, what have you learned about that, as you've kind of gone through your journey in life?
Tom Christofferson 7:00
You know, as we were talking with friends at Deseret Book about the possibility of this book, because the topic, the gift of charity, in particular, but how we come individually to feel Christ's love for us, and how we can be instruments to transmit His love to others.
I was talking with friends at Deseret Book about some thoughts in that regard, and I think I said, you know, "I really, I don't want to write a gay book, I just want to write a book about, you know, one person's search for the gift of charity." And as I turned in the first draft of the book, my dear friend, Laurel Christensen Day said, "You know this is wonderful, but I don't really get a sense of you in the search."
And I said, "Well, if I, if I do that, then you know then I'm bringing in my experiences as a gay member of the Church again." And I kind of wanted it not to be that and she said, "Just let it be you." And so there, there is more in there than I had originally intended. But it's, but it's really true, the way that I have come to feel the Savior's love is through the reality of my life, right? And one of those realities is that I'm gay.
And so I think, I think there is a universal message in all that. Which is – all of us have either aspects of, you know, physical challenges, or our personalities or, you know, or the things that life throws at us in one way or another, that can make us feel that there's something about us that is off putting to the Lord, or perhaps that if other people fully knew us, they wouldn't want to be associated with us.
You know, those experiences, I think, are more universal than we perhaps imagine, in our own hearts. And yet, I've really come to feel that it's those times when we are fully immersed in a desire to draw closer to the Savior, and overcoming the temptation to try and hide from him as if we could, you know, the aspects that we're wrestling with. But it's those, it's those moments, I think, in the, in the quiet of the soul, when we really do come to sense His knowledge of us as an individual and His love for us, encompassing every aspect of who we are – the things that we think are beautiful, and the things that we think are not. And yet His love encompasses everything.
Morgan Jones 9:29
I agree completely. I love, Tom, throughout the book, you talk about ways of sharing Christlike love, and you give a lot of different examples, but as you were looking for these, I imagine that you discovered more and more. I think it's like anything, right? The more that we're looking for something the more we see it. Are there any examples that you discovered that really stand out in your mind?
Tom Christofferson 9:56
You know, I guess because of COVID especially, and the challenges that we're facing in that regard, one that is so powerful to me is a couple that I know here, know well, who are having an assignment in a regional Public Affairs Committee relating to interfaith outreach. And, you know, they've invested years in getting to know the leaders of different faiths and congregations in our area. And they are – as a result, well-loved and known. I mentioned in the book sitting in a congregation with them when the pastor over the pulpit acknowledges their presence and says that they are representatives of our sister church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how powerful I thought that was, that their example causes others to feel that we desire to be their brother and sister, in an institutional sense, and in a personal sense.
But, you know, with COVID, it's been even more challenging to, to be able to keep those connections going when many congregations haven't been meeting, in reduced numbers, or online, and I've marveled at the extra effort they put in during this time. And then, you know, as we live in a time of great contention, especially as the elections were coming around, and the period immediately following, you know, they made that a part of their ministry as well. To be sure that they understood how different congregations were feeling and members were approaching some of the challenges and, and their efforts to be peacemakers in all aspects. To be ones who are eager to listen and learn, to empathize and to really sense the realities, the very real challenges in the lives of individuals, and to express through their actions the love of Christ for each person in the really, the most difficult of times, and finding ways to make common cause between our Church and other churches that can lift other people.
I think, in McKay Coppins recent piece for the Atlantic where he profiles President Nelson and the Church, I was struck by a comment that President Nelson made, and I'm not going to get the words exactly right, but it was something to the effect of, "The purpose of the Church is to make people's lives better." And you know, in my friends, I see that sort of a ministry. It's not an effort to convert, it's not an effort to change people's relationship with Christ, but it's an effort to be sure that everyone feels His love in ways that will make their lives better.
Morgan Jones 12:48
Yeah, I think that idea of, of the Church, that being the purpose of the Church, and then if you substitute in there – “What is the purpose of a disciple of Christ?” then “What is the purpose of a Latter-day Saint,” then very easily, it can just be to leave people better than we found them. And I think that's a powerful thought.
One of my very favorite examples in the book, Tom, of Christlike love is your mother. And I didn't get to tell you this after I read That They May Be One, but I was obsessed with your mom then and I'm still obsessed with your mom now. And every time that you tell a story about her, I am just in awe of her goodness, and of her example of what it means to be – not only a mother, but just a person of charity. How do you think that your mom became such a charitable person with the right kind of heart? And how has her example impacted your life Tom?
Tom Christofferson 13:49
Right. You know, one of my friends after reading that first book said something similar, said, you know, "After I get to heaven and greet my mom, I want to meet yours." But –
Morgan Jones 14:03
Seriously, sign me up for that line as well.
Tom Christofferson 14:06
She was a wonderful person. Saintly, with a great sense of humor. And a sense of humor about herself as well. I give an example or share an experience in this book that I mentioned is sort of sacred to my brothers and me. About six months after I was born, my mother was diagnosed with throat cancer and it was advanced by the time they had found it and so the surgery was scheduled almost immediately. I mean, she was really sent in the hospital the very next day, and very extensive surgery. And frankly, the doctors didn't hold much hope for a successful outcome.
And when she survived the first night they started to feel they could be hopeful, and then as the week went on, she got pneumonia. And then they felt again and her primary care physician told our father that he didn't think that she would last the night, and that he should say his final farewells and arrange the same for the family. So in the book, I tell that story in mom's words, she recorded it in her history.
And I think that experience of coming so near death and feeling in a sense that she could choose, whether to stay with pain and suffering ahead or to let it go, and, and the feeling of peace and love that came with that. You know, I think she really made a choice about her desire to raise her sons, and to be with her husband and family, and I think she had a real clarity of purpose in her life. She had another cancer scare later in life, she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was able to overcome that. Through my early years of growing up, her health was not great so she was often bedridden.
But I think she really had a clarity about what was important, what mattered, what she wanted to teach her boys. And both in the form of teaching by speaking and teaching by example. She was one who, you know, never made a show of her kindness or her outreach to others. It just was something she did so quietly and naturally, but always, always attentive, I think, to the, to the person in any group, who seemed on the outside, to someone who just seemed like maybe they didn't fit and her – that seemed to be a call to her, to go find a way to connect with that individual and bring them into the circle and have them feel loved and wanted and able to contribute themselves. To expand their ability to contribute, because they had felt both my mother's love and the Savior's love through her.
Morgan Jones 17:05
Yeah. I imagine, Tom, that in – and I'm basing this assumption off of things from That They May Be One, but I imagine that often in your family, you felt like that person on the outside and, and how important it was for your mom, to be somebody that could bring you in and make you feel a part. And I think that that is a special Christlike quality.
Tom Christofferson 17:34
Yeah, I agree. I think in my case, I can see pretty clearly the times when I felt like I was on the outside was because I – that was a perception or a way I was placing myself. I don't think my parents ever wanted me to feel on the outside, and each of us, in our own ways, tried very hard to make sure that we would stay united as a family. And so I, I think about that, in my own experiences, that there are things each of us can do, because of our internal feelings that cause us to put ourselves on the margins, or to find the margins a more comfortable place to be. And what a powerful gift it is for someone to see us and to extend their love in a way that allows us to lay down some of our barriers or our own feelings of insufficiency and to allow that love to permeate us.
Morgan Jones 18:36
I agree completely. Tom, I want to delve into a few things that you share in this book that I thought were particularly powerful. At one point you write, "Perhaps the greatest blessing the Lord has in store during time of adversity is to change our hearts, rather than changing our afflictions." And you already – we already touched on, you know, that kind of desire growing up that that the Lord would change something about you, and again, I think that's something that all of us have felt at some point, like, "Make me more like this person," or "Take this problem away from me." But I love this idea of asking the Lord to change our hearts, rather than our circumstance. How have you seen the power of afflictions in changing our hearts?
Tom Christofferson 19:24
You know, it's a, it's a thought that really struck me on Sunday, as we were concluding our sort of pre–Christmas sacrament meeting, and as we do now, with it being broadcast, the last thing we do in that meeting then is to actually prepare, bless and administer the sacrament. And what struck me in the sacramental prayers, Sunday, perhaps more than it has before was the word “sanctify.” That the emblems of Christ's offering are sanctified for us, the souls of all who partake of it.
And it struck me that, you know, the, that sacrament is an emblem of His sacrifice, His suffering, right? His broken body and blood. And that suffering is sanctified for us and to us. And I think, I think it can be the same for us. That in difficult circumstances, in our greatest challenges and trials, as we draw closer to the Savior, that suffering which becomes learning can be sanctified to bless others. That I think that our healing in some senses, not only comes from feeling the Savior's healing love, but also from being able to extend what we – our own healing, our learning, our experience, to convey more clearly, more powerfully, the love of Christ into the lives of others.
You talked not too long ago with a friend of mine, Melissa Inouye, and she said something I won't – I'm not gonna do her quote justice, but it was something to the effect of – “It doesn't matter how awesome you are, if you're not useful to other people.” I think that's – I think that's what we're saying here, that our own suffering is redemptive, in a sense, but its power is in its usefulness to other people. That as our – as we are refined, or our hearts are purified and changed, we become more useful to people around us. We become better, more effective disciples of Jesus Christ, because we're kind of getting out of our own way a bit, and the purity of His love can come through, you know, more clearly, as we interact with other people.
Morgan Jones 22:00
Yeah, that reminds me of the words of the hymn, "More Holiness Give Me," where it says "More used would I be." And I think it's interesting, when I think about my own life and things that have been hard, I look back and I'm like, "Oh, that was a way that the Lord was then able to use me in a way that I hadn't anticipated."
I've used this example before on this podcast, but one of the most powerful thoughts that I think has ever been shared with me – my aunt has a bunch of daughters. And she said that she used to – anytime somebody would come to church, and they were wearing like a short skirt, their daughter was wearing a short skirt, she would think like, "What on earth is that mom thinking?" And then she's like, “And then I had teenage girls,” and she, and she started to get teary eyed and I get teary eyed every time I think about it. And she said, "I know exactly what that mom was thinking. She was just thinking, 'I'm so glad they came to church today.'"
Tom Christofferson 23:04
Morgan Jones 23:05
So I think it's so interesting how once we have an experience, it shifts our perception so much, that then I think we are able to see things the way that our Heavenly Father sees them, and, and then we are more used in that way.
Another thing that I love that you touch on in the book, Tom, is you talk about how sometimes we have this tendency to think of the Lord as someone whose actions can be manipulated by our own. And I think that this is, this is a tendency that we have, and it is so natural, that I think often we don't think about it. But I wondered if you could touch on how we see that – how that manifests itself – and how we can avoid doing that.
Tom Christofferson 23:57
Right. I – you know, I think we focus on the promises sometime that "through obedience, blessings occur," right? That there's a blessing predicated on our obedience. And so in a sense, we can start to use our obedience as a tool to force God to do what we want Him to do.
Morgan Jones 24:18
Kind of weaponize it.
Tom Christofferson 24:18
Right. And you know when we say it that way, of course, it's ridiculous, right? No one really thinks that. But, but I think we have to take a step back and say, you know, in our prayers, are we always prescriptive? That's why I love the notion that the important element of our prayer is our gratitude, not our wishlist.
And I – you know, the Lord invites us to pray over our crops and our fields and our families and everything and that's, so that's certainly an important aspect of our communication with Him, to share the feelings and desires of our hearts. But I, but I also think there's a sense where we stop telling Him the way He needs to accomplish His purposes in our lives, and ask Him for the end result. Which is, you know, "My great desire is to know thee and to know thy son," or "My desire is to be a more effective disciple of Jesus Christ in the world." "I want to be someone who helps reduce the burdens of others," and let the Lord give us the experiences that teach us the lessons we need to learn in that sense.
I loved President Uchtdorf's talk years ago, "Perfect Love Casteth out Fear," that when our focus is love, we don't, we aren't fearful of not obeying. The only reason we want to obey is because we love so much. And we love our Heavenly Parents, we love our Savior, and want to do everything we can to draw closer to them, to reduce the noise in our lives, so that there's a pure line of communication between us and our feelings of their presence, our desires to draw closer become more constant.
Morgan Jones 26:17
Yeah. I love that you brought up that scripture from Doctrine and Covenants where it talks about, there's a blessing predicated. I just had a conversation on Saturday, actually, with a friend of mine who said that he had been thinking a lot about that scripture and about the idea that, you know, we think that we know what the blessing is, and the blessing that is attached to each commandment. But that oftentimes, that blessing may be different than the one that we think is the attached to the commandment. And I think that's a powerful thought. And I think it's something that can – I said, "Well, I think that's a very good approach." And he said, "Well, it helps me maintain sanity."
And I think it's true though, we, if we become so caught up in this idea that if I do this, then this is what Heavenly Father is going to give me, then we can easily become disappointed or discouraged, or even angry with Heavenly Father when that blessing doesn't seem to be coming. But if we look at it more broadly, we look at it as something where, you know what? I'm going to be surprised by the blessing that he gives me for that. And I love also what you said about prayer, because in the Bible Dictionary, my favorite Bible dictionary definition is the one about prayer where it talks about aligning our will with the Father. And I think if we recognize that what He wants to give us is always going to be better than what we have in mind for ourselves, then we do – we come bring ourselves into submission, and align our will with His. So, thank you so much. I think that's such a great thought,
Tom Christofferson 28:07
Oh, Morgan, I think that's a great insight you've shared. I once heard someone say that you know, "The purpose of life is to show that we will obey." And I said, you know, I think that's an effect. The cause is to choose to love – that we choose to love our Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, our Savior when we can't see them, and through that love, we then desire to align our lives with theirs. Align our will and our desires, and I think you said it exactly right. You know that that's – our hearts become changed as our desire is to love as they love – love what they love and how they love.
Morgan Jones 28:51
So beautifully said. Another thing that I love in the book, you share Joseph Smith's words, after the very first time he recorded the first vision and I may be the only person that has never heard this, but I loved it so much. So he said, "My soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great joy and the Lord was with me."
And then Tom, you go on to write, "Parents can often describe one particularly vivid memory of a joyful moment with a child and a twinkling flash of thought, 'I never want her to grow. I want this instant to be frozen in time.' That has been my feeling as well after precious points when I have become fully aware of Christ's knowledge of me and luxuriated in the feeling of His love." And I love that, Tom, because I think for all of us, when we hear those words, it kind of stirs something in us and we can remember times in our own lives where we felt that same joy, but I wondered for you, if you wouldn't mind sharing one or two of those precious points with Christ with us.
Tom Christofferson 29:59
There are moments big and small, right. And I, I worry sometimes we focus only on the big ones, when it's the small ones, the daily ones that have the real power because they're what keep moving us. But I, you know, the probably the earliest, most powerful one for me on my awareness of Christ's knowledge of me, was in my mid 20s. And I felt I'd kind of gone as far as I could go, I had been an active member of the Church, you know, served a mission, had been married in the temple for a brief time, and felt that, that I was gay and needed to figure out a different way to live my life.
And, and I just felt like, I'd come to the end of the rope and I knelt down to pray, and, and I think, in the – perhaps one of the purer prayers of my life, just said, "Do you know who I am? Do you know I'm here?" and received that incredible feeling of warmth and awareness and love. And it – that guided me. That awareness, the feeling that I wasn't here alone, was transformative for me in my life, and a touch point for the rest of my life. But I, but I think about the smaller experiences too. And for me, that's often you know, just that, that in an unplanned moment of seeing a need and being able to respond. And even better, seeing a need and being able to respond anonymously. There's in that moment, I have a feeling of love for, you know, my striving to act as the Saviornwould act. You know, it's not a gold star on the forehead, it's, it's just that quiet feeling of – you helped.
Morgan Jones 31:57
So good. I love that. Tom, one thing as you were just talking about that, I imagine that after saying that prayer, and feeling that feeling, like most of us, we have these moments of clarity where everything seems to make sense, and we know that we're loved by God, but then discouragement can creep in, and you write a bit in this book about the role that discouragement can play in our quest toward developing Christlike love. What have you personally learned about discouragement?
Tom Christofferson 32:33
You know, as we were reading the concluding chapters of the Book of Mormon, the message is repeated again, as Moroni quotes his father. But the idea that, you know, Faith is the foundation, right? We begin with a desire to believe, and then as we do believe and begin to have faith, we act on that faith and gain hope, right? In our acts – actions of our faith, we come to believe in Christ, right? And we come to see His reality.
And then because of that, we have hope in Him. We have hope that we will be able to become like Him, that we will learn the aspects of His character that can draw us closer to him and refine us, and we hope then that we'll be able to see Him and be with Him. And perhaps even to have Him consider us worthy servants. And it's, it's the hope, in that sense, I think that leads us then to charity, right? That we've come to believe in Christ, our hope in Him has become a sanctifying influence on our lives. And then we put that in action, through His gift of charity, that it's, that it's that opportunity to be able now to simply be an instrument in His hands to transmit, as purely as we possibly can, His affection, His knowledge, His intimate awareness of every individual, and then to strengthen them in their faith and to help them have hope. And also then to that virtuous circle, that, that they also then begin to desire, the gift of charity, the spiritual gift of charity, and to draw closer to Him as a result, and the ripples of that influence, extend and extend and extend.
Morgan Jones 34:29
Yeah, you know, it's interesting to me that the opposite of hope is despair. And I think despair is closely related to discouragement. And so when we root out that despair and replace it with hope, then I think that makes a lot of sense.
I love where you write Tom, "To fully absorb the divinity of Jesus Christ and His infinite Atonement, to know for ourselves that He is real and His doctrine true, requires an act of engagement. An honest interrogation of our own souls, turning to Him, repenting, acting again with greater intention to know, seeking and receiving personal power to endure through Christ's enabling power and His witness to our minds and hearts of truth and needed action. Failing to act to gain and grow this knowledge is like placing a beautifully wrapped gift in the middle of a table and admiring it day after day, enjoying its beauty without ever opening and experiencing the gift."
And then you ask, "So how do we open the gift? How do we begin this process of actively engaging with the gospel of Jesus Christ?" So I wonder, Tom, as you worked on this book, what you found about how we begin to open that gift? And I love that you, you term that as "Actively engaging with the gospel of Jesus Christ," rather than just allowing it to sit dormant on our table.
Tom Christofferson 35:57
Right? Listening to you read that reminds me of my wonderful editor at Deseret Book, Emily Watts, who said, "I'm going to give you the gift of periods" as she got into my . . . sentences.
Morgan Jones 36:12
I love it.
Tom Christofferson 36:13
The paragraph long sentences. Sorry about that. Anyway, um,
Yeah, I think the point of it all is that the reason Christ would feel it necessary to restore a Church, rather than simply to individually communicate with each of us and through the light of Christ, to draw us closer to Him to teach us the lessons. To me, the purpose of the Church is that there is an effort of communal salvation. That we only really experience the gospel of Jesus Christ as we engage with other people. That the essence of His gospel is the love of our neighbor, as well as of our Heavenly Parents, and gratitude for His gift I think goes beyond kind of our volunteer work, or taking meals, those are great and wonderful, and they matter, but I think it's like the way that the reworded temple recommend questions have included the word "Strive." You know, it's – are we striving to really implement our understanding of Christ's gospel, which is to mourn with those that mourn, to walk with one another, to comfort those and bless the lives to bear one another's burdens? Isn't that interesting, that our very first covenant is directed outwardly? That the way we live the covenant is how we engage with other people.
And to me, the great purpose of the restoration is the temple. And the purpose of the temple is to build a Zion society, right? It's not our – I mean, critically, we are each finding our ways to purify and cleanse and renew and turn toward the Savior, but it's all about the community, that communal aspect of bringing together the entire family of God. And forging those bonds so strongly, that they will never be broken again. That we will be united as a family of God, with our Heavenly Parents, with our Savior, and in a way that, you know, we never want anyone to be missing. And that we will do everything in our power to pull everyone into that family through the love we can communicate from Christ, and our desire to – our striving to believe that exaltation is a family of God event, more than an individual one.
Morgan Jones 39:11
I feel like this episode is going to serve as an endorsement from me for not only this new book, but also for, That We May Be One because I think, Tom, the story that you tell in that book is one of the greatest examples to me of what you were just talking about. Because from your family, to ward and stake levels, I think it – what you experienced and the love that you've received, was such a, just a beautiful example of the ways in which Christ-like love can affect us in our lives.
And I want to touch, really quickly, before we move past this quote, there's one part of it that really stands out to me and it's where you say, "Seeking and receiving personal power to endure through Christ's enabling power and His witness to our minds and hearts of truth and needed action." And I think Tom, that idea of receiving power to endure is so, so good. And all of us are going through things where it's like, "When is this going to be over? Where is the end?" And so I love that idea of being given the power to endure. And I wonder how you would say that you've experienced that in your own life.
Tom Christofferson 40:32
I think one example that comes to mind is, after my relationship of nearly 19 years, it ended with the, with the man who was my best friend and partner and, and the person who most taught me how to love someone more than I love myself. I soon after, was in a place where I just felt so completely alone. And lonely, and cold, dark and, and as I prayed in that moment, that this would not be my life, I had such a feeling of comfort.
And I've said in other places that when we describe the Holy Spirit as the Comforter, it's a literal truth. It's not just the name. But I also think of another moment, and it was, this was a more prolonged period, where I felt like I was, through some circumstances, was feeling very negative, and kind of going to a darker place and, and I prayed and prayed and prayed to know what to do. And the answer that came to me in that instance, was – finally, over a period of time – that I should pray for the spiritual gift of hope in Christ.
And not, not hope, like optimism as the antidote to discouragement, or courage as the antidote to discouragement, but – or even in a specific outcome – but the spiritual gift of hope in Christ that my mind would be centered on Him. And that, when I focus on Him, everything else can sort of, wash off my back. I can be reminded of how incredibly generous He's been to me in ways I could never merit. And certainly other people are more deserving than I, but His generosity to me, when I focus on my hope in Him of being able to have a heart like His, to become more like Him over time, and even in small ways.
And that hope that gives meaning to life, and purpose to life. And not always looking beyond life to what comes next, but that to hope in Christ allows the richness, even in difficult times of the day, because there is that sense that we are here in a way that can be meaningful to others. That we can be useful to other people, as Melissa said. That, that we can fulfill our baptismal covenant, that we can build a Zion people. That our individual contribution can be tiny, and insignificant in so many ways, and yet, it's essential. That what gifts the Lord has given me, I contribute. And then, Morgan, you do, and each one of us as we, as we draw our hope in Christ, then the opportunities are given to us in a day to be able to expand that, because we can see reflected back in the eyes of another.
Morgan Jones 43:52
That's so well said, I love that so much. My last question for you, Tom. And this is the question that we ask at the conclusion of every episode of this podcast, is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Tom Christofferson 44:12
To me, it's the first and second great commandment. It's, it's my desire to come to know Heavenly Parents and Savior, to know especially the Savior, to know His character. Because in the gospels, and in Third Nephi, we have such a vivid way to be able to observe His interactions with others, as well as to receive His teachings. But it's to strive, to develop a heart like His, to love what He loves, which is His children, in a spiritual sense, those that He has begotten because of His sacrifice in our behalf. And that's all in to me, is to be all in in my desire to draw closer to Him and feel and transmit His love in my life.
Morgan Jones 45:04
Thank you so much, Tom. Tom, it is always such a pleasure to talk with you. And I just, I appreciate your goodness and your willingness to share that with us today.
Tom Christofferson 45:15
Thanks for your time, Morgan. It's been a pleasure.
Morgan Jones 45:20
We are so grateful to Tom Christofferson for joining us on today's episode, I would just like to add on a personal note that I am convinced Tom has one of the best smiles of all time, and I was grateful to have had the chance to speak with him this week. You can find A Better Heart in Deseret Book stores now. Thanks to Derek Campbell from Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode, and thank you for listening.