Finding an Eternal Perspective
December 5, 2017
Theatre & Dance Department Chair
Gary Larsen was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. After serving in the France Marseille mission, he received a bachelor's degree in European Studies and French from BYU. He went on to earn a master's degree in Dance from UCLA, and a PhD in Ethnochoreology from the University of Limerick, in Ireland.
Brother Larsen has been a faculty member in the BYU-Idaho Department of Theatre and Dance for the last nine years, and currently serves as its chairman.
Brother Larsen and his wife Mindy, live in Rexburg with their three children.
On the discussion board in a few sentences, share about a time when you have experienced a great change of perspective or understanding and how did that change influence your behavior and identity?
Years ago, while teaching at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, I had the opportunity to work with a very well-known dancer and choreographer. At the end of our work together, she gifted me a beautiful bound journal. For the year that followed I used this beautiful book to record the exceptional experiences, miracles, and thoughts in my life. It was a very special thing and I treasured it. One day during church meetings, I opened it up to write in it and found that one of my small children had taken a pen and scribbled on multiple pages of my special book. I remember being annoyed at this and felt that my book was ruined. Months later, I sat in a similar sacrament meeting in Kazan, Russia, thousands of miles away from my family. I was homesick, I missed my wife and children. I open my 'ruined' book and began to flip through the pages. My perspective suddenly changed and I saw those once annoying scribbles as beautiful messages of love from my children. Instead of seeing value only in the object, the book became a more powerful vehicle for the messages it contained. I felt their love for me in a new way.
English author and satirist Douglas Adams often recounted a story that happened to him in the 1970s. He arrived at a train station a half hour earlier than necessary and decided to relax at a local café to pass the time as he awaited his train. He purchased a newspaper, something to drink, and a package of cookies. He found an empty seat across the table from an ordinary-looking fellow who was already deeply absorbed in a book. After placing his snacks on the table, he sat and opened the newspaper, looking forward to working on the crossword puzzle.
As Adams searched through the newspaper, his attention was drawn to the man who sat opposite him. He suddenly became aware that the man had reached across the table and was opening the package of cookies that sat between them. Adams was stunned as the man calmly extracted and ate one of the cookies. He recalled, "This is the sort of thing that the British are very bad at dealing with. There's nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies." Therefore, he did what most any Englishman would do in a situation like this: He simply ignored it.
He pretended to focus more intently on the crossword puzzle and nonchalantly grabbed a cookie for himself. He had hoped that his casual demeanor would put an end to the issue and allow the confused gentleman to realize his folly without making a scene. You can imagine his shock when not a moment later the man reached out, grabbed another cookie, and ate it. Adams decided he couldn't let this man eat all of his cookies, so he moved in for another. It went back and forth like this for several minutes until the package was empty and the other man stood up, gathered his things, and walked away. Adams breathed a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over and sat there dumbfounded by the thought that a seemingly respectable gentleman like that would knowingly take something that was not his.
A few minutes later, as his train approached, Adams finished his drink, closed his newspaper, and stood up to gather his things. It was then that he noticed at the edge of the table, underneath where his newspaper had been covering, sat an unopened package of cookies. That's right, he had just eaten half of a package of someone else's cookies.
Think, for a moment, about how this man's perspective had changed. He originally felt that he was the victim, only to realize later that he was a cookie thief! His incomplete perspective put him inadvertently in the wrong.
A perspective is a point of view, a frame of reference, or an interpretation of the world and the way things work. It is intrinsically tied to identity and is based on one's experience and awareness. It is a reflection of the way individuals identify themselves and others. Perspective is like a two-way filter: it focuses and interprets our sensory inputs, and it also shapes and influences the way we interact with the world around us. It is constructed from our experiences, tastes, traditions, social grooming, and choices, and it helps construct our actions and reactions. Therefore, our actions are a reflection of our perspective.
An excellent example of this comes from the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian civil-rights leader. It tells of a time when, as he stepped aboard a train, one of his shoes fell off into the gap and landed on the tracks beneath. To the amazement of those around him, Gandhi calmly took off his other shoe and dropped it into the gap. When he was asked about why he would do such a thing, Gandhi replied, "The poor man who finds the shoe will now have a pair he can use." Isn't that a fantastic perspective? He did not complain of his inconvenience or blame his bad luck. He knew he wouldn't be able to get his one shoe back, so he made sure that it was put to the best use possible. His perspective was not focused on himself and his comfort or pleasure, but rather on how his actions might bless others. His actions revealed his perspective.
This story inspires me to consider my own perspective and to wonder, How many times have I let a lost shoe ruin my day? Looking back, I have often bristled at an inconvenience or a frustration, only to later realize that the experience or obstruction turned out to be, or could have been, of great benefit to myself or others.
Recognizing our own limited perspective is a critical first step in maturity and spiritual growth. Often our perspectives become constrained or limited by the volume or intensity of current concerns and pursuits. Sometimes a career, hobby, or social group can become so dominant in our lives that the things that matter most begin to suffer. We unwittingly develop spiritual blinders that obscure precious truths about ourselves and the world around us, and we may lose track of our eternal purpose here on earth. Allow me to draw an example from my own experience.
By the age of 19, as I entered the mission field, I had achieved a high level of skill in dance that permitted me to compete and perform all over the world. When these two years came to a close, I vividly remember a conversation I had with my mission president's wife. She asked me about the future that awaited me: my hopes, fears, and plans. While I was sad to see my full-time mission come to a close, I was eager to return home and continue my dance training and performing. This conversation took a dramatic shift when she asked me, "Who are you?" How would you answer that question? Think about that. Who are you? Are you a student? An athlete? An artist? A dog lover? A Tolkien enthusiast or Harry Potter fan? At the time, I saw being a dancer as a foundational component of my identity; it was how many knew me and how I identified myself to others. It was something that made me special and unique. That was my answer to her: "I am a dancer." She then asked me the following question: "Who would you be if you lost the use of your legs tomorrow and you could never dance again?" In that brief moment, my identity and perspective were thrown into chaos. I did not have an answer for her, and she proceeded to teach me about having an "eternal identity and perspective."
For the weeks, months, and years that followed, my mind would often be carried away with the profound nature of that discussion, and it started me on a journey to figure out who I was. That day, I was asked to look beyond my immediate existence and pursuits, toward something that would provide more significance and meaning to my life. When I came to more fully understand that my identity was eternal, my perspective started to become eternal as well, and that changed everything in my life. And that is the message that I wish to share with you today.
In the closing lines of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni, who saw our day and was writing to us directly, encouraged us to "come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ." I believe, with this passage of scripture, Moroni provides us with a recipe for an eternal perspective.
First, I have come to understand Moroni's use of the word perfect in a way that provides me deep understanding and hope. I do not believe that he expected us to be completely free from fault or defect, as the word perfect would suggest with today's meaning. The Latin root of the word perfect means to "make complete" or whole. With this definition in mind, Moroni would not be suggesting that we must be perfect; rather he would be imploring us to become one with Christ and for our lives to be fulfilled, fully realized, and made whole through a relationship with our Savior.
Second, Moroni uses a well-known phrase found throughout scripture. He says we must love God with all of our "might, mind and strength." I don't think it's an accident that we often find these three words together. I believe that they are a thorough description of our true identity. These three words describe each of the three parts that compose our mortal existence. We have been taught through ancient and modern prophets that our spirits are eternal, and as a central part of our Heavenly Father's great plan of happiness and salvation, we were given two valuable gifts. The first was that of a body, and the second is our agency. When these gifts were combined with our everlasting spirit, we became a mortal soul. We can relate these three distinct parts to Moroni's petition. Our "mind" we can equate with our eternal spirit, our "strength" we can compare to our physical body and ability, and we can parallel our "might" with choice-making and effort.
Now let me reread the passage from Moroni and include these two new ideas. See if it provides you any additional insight, as it does for me. "Yea, come unto Christ, and be [made whole] in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your [choices], [thoughts] and [actions], then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be [made complete] in Christ."
I would like to suggest that Moroni is petitioning us to discover and maintain an eternal perspective through an integrated approach to our mortal journey. And I would like to identify three critical layers of integration that we should seek.
First Layer: Our True Identity
An integrated and eternal perspective will, first and foremost, recognize our true identities as spiritual sons and daughters of an eternal and loving God. This one important fact firmly establishes the uniting of an eternal, spiritual intelligence with a mortal, limited frame as a central feature of the plan outlined in the great Council in Heaven.
Imagine, for a moment, what it must have been like before we came to earth. We could think and understand, but we "felt" no sensations or emotions. In order for us to progress and grow, our Heavenly Father desired for us to receive a body, as He has. We understood that this body would gain knowledge and wisdom from feeling pain, frustration, sadness, and fear. We also knew that feelings of love, joy, and happiness were not possible without a body of flesh and bone. We fully understood that this was a necessary rung on the ladder of progression. We craved to know the things that our Heavenly Father knew and feel the things that our Heavenly Father felt. We celebrated at the thought of receiving a body that could "feel." I believe that we knew it was going to be difficult and painful, and much of that uncertainty led many of our precious brothers and sisters to reject the idea and refuse the gifts.
The physical body, though fragile and corruptible, is a vessel of great power. Our bodies are the channel through which our spirits grow. Our bodies are marvels of engineering and design. Take your hand, for example. More than 30 separate muscles and 27 bones, it is remarkably complex. When mastered by our mind and our might, this intricate device can accomplish extraordinary things. Think of all the things that can be done with hands. They can move, play, hold, push and pull, beautify, communicate, serve, and bless. They can be powerful and strong, or gentle and delicate. There is something so captivating about the masterful union between the body and the spirit. When we see the two working together in harmony, we witness an amazing integration of our might, mind, and strength. I believe that is what draws us to the arts as both observer and practitioner. We marvel at the intricately detailed stone carvings of Bernini or the evocative movement and energy of a starry night captured by Van Gogh. I'm sure we've all felt something profound when a piece of music or poetry has resonated and touched something deep within us. I believe those feelings are a reflection of our Father in Heaven and an echo of His infinite creativity. Dancing does this for me. It is an intensely liberating and soul-stretching experience for my body, mind, and willpower to work together to express things that words cannot and create something beautiful. It is that creative process that brings together the many parts of my being in purpose and meaning to experience and witness the sacred and marvelous power of creation. To create something that did not exist before, to beautify a space, to find the gentle harmonies in music, or to arrange words that cause reflection or inspiration is to engage in the majestic and godlike power of creation. The times when I have felt most fulfilled in my life and in touch with my Creator have been when I have found this harmonious union of my might, mind, and strength. It is beautiful and powerful.
I believe that we were sent here to earth to gain lived experience, grapple with the issues that accompany having a body and making choices, and strengthen the bond between body and spirit. There are profound purposes for using physical actions, like singing hymns, and rituals, like taking the sacrament, in conjunction with spoken words and thoughts in our worship services. They help us to strengthen the link between our body and spirit. They allow us to both act and feel with purpose and intent. The very existence of spiritual manifestations in our bodies can be seen as a pure demonstration of both body and spirit in union and harmony.
The spirit is meant to be the master of the body, the driver of the vehicle. President Brigham Young taught, "If the spirit yields to the body, it becomes corrupt; but if the body yields to the spirit it becomes pure and holy." When we allow our appetites and urges to control our thoughts or actions, we allow ungodliness to enter our soul, alienate us from our Heavenly Father, and ultimately leave us feeling empty and unfulfilled. By the same token, we must not compartmentalize facets of our lives into varying modes of morality. If we behave differently in one group of friends as opposed to another--if we hide behaviors or choices, or live one way in the light and another in the dark--then we are not living in harmony with ourselves.
When we only give part of our hearts to our eternal purposes, our full existence is lacking, and we are prone to filling the gaps in our soul with popular or pleasurable elements that leave us feeling that something is missing. We must avoid that which increases the authority of the body over the spirit. Conversely, when we discover that which fully integrates the might, mind, and strength in harmony and purpose, we find a feeling of completeness and fulfillment. It is the way we were intended to live throughout eternity, and it is central to the divine design.
An eternal perspective helps us to live with our "whole soul."
Second Layer: The Worth of Souls
I think we all understand that "the worth of souls is great in the sight of God," but have we taken time to ponder what that really means for us personally and individually? It reminds me of something that one of my colleagues in the dance department, Sister Sakota, once said. She said, "I matter because of what I can become." And as Elder Holland so eloquently stated in his Fall 2013 conference address, "we are infinitely more than our limitations or afflictions". An eternal perspective looks beyond potential alone to see our own present worth as infinite and limitless. I learned this the moment I looked into the eyes of my firstborn child. The love that filled my heart was powerful beyond expression, and I realized that my Heavenly Father saw me, and everyone around me, the same way. That completely changed the way I saw my fellowmen.
An eternal perspective will see the divine and eternal identity of every living soul, for one cannot truly love God and despise his fellowmen. One of my favorite authors, C. S. Lewis, wrote the following about seeing the worth of souls: "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.... There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. Is this the way we treat our neighbors? Family members? Roommates? Coworkers? A random person at the store? If we fully understood the worth of souls and treated everyone accordingly, this world would be a very different place.
For a country and culture that have been given so many blessings and opportunities, despair and depression are widespread. As someone who has suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, I can attest that those feelings are very real and can be debilitating. How can the most prosperous country in the history of the planet, with comforts and luxuries aplenty, have one of the highest suicide rates? I believe that we have become so distracted with things that have little or no eternal value that we have lost sight of who we are and what we are doing here. As we learn in the Book of Mormon over and over again, affluence, apathy, and pride can rob us of our eternal perspective.
So how can we find that eternal perspective when we are at our darkest moments, those times when we need perspective the most, when we forget the worth of our own very precious soul? It happens to us all, doesn't it? An eternal perspective understands that isolation and alienation will only hinder growth. An eternal perspective will seek to lift and serve our brothers and sisters. We need others in order to be saved, and others need us. At our lowest points, we must reach out to others and forget our own troubles. I know that when I put the needs of others ahead of my own, my troubles seem to melt away.
As Marianne Williamson notably suggested, "We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." An eternal perspective helps us to live in harmony and utility with those around us.
Third Layer: Our Greatest Example
One of the great truths revealed in the Sacred Grove was that God the Father and Jesus Christ are two separate, individual beings. For nearly two thousand years, many Christians have been confused by phrases like "he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" and "I am in the Father, and the Father in me" and "I and my Father are one." We have learned from revealed truth that our Heavenly Father; His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost are one in purpose. They are fully integrated and invested in our immortality and eternal life.
The third layer of integration is this: We have been invited to join that holy trinity in purpose and resolve. Speaking of His followers, Christ, our greatest example in all things, is quoted in John 17 as saying,
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.
What might happen in our lives if our goals, purposes, and minds are at one with the Godhead? That is the invitation here. How do we integrate our lives with the Godhead? In his fall 2002 general conference address, Elder D. Todd Christofferson explained it this way:
How glorious it is to contemplate that we have been invited into that perfect unity that exists with the Father and the Son. How may this happen? ...
Jesus achieved perfect unity ... by submitting Himself, both flesh and spirit, to the will of the Father.... Referring to His Father, Jesus said, "I do always those things that please him...." (John 8:29)
Surely we will not be one with God and Christ until we make Their will and interest our greatest desire. Such submissiveness is not reached in a day, but through the Holy Spirit, the Lord will tutor us if we are willing until, in process of time, it may accurately be said that He is in us as the Father is in Him.
I believe it starts with coming to know who we really are. That's what the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about. It tells us that there is a plan and we have a purpose. It's about seeing all of our brothers and sisters on this earth as precious, eternal beings. It's about seeking to take advantage of the restorative and unifying powers of the Atonement, which can be understood as "at-one-ment" (or fully integrated). It's also about understanding the adversary's goal to spread disunity, chaos, and alienation through cunning deception and counterfeit, while God seeks only unity, harmony, and peace.
My dear brothers and sisters, I want to challenge you to take some time to ponder on and ask yourself the following question: Who are you? That might just be the most powerful question ever asked. And the answer to that question might just be the most powerful bit of knowledge you can gain. It is the bedrock of an eternal perspective.
Knowing who I am tells me why I'm here, provides a view of where I can go, and offers an understanding of how I can get there. Knowing who I am gives me perspective when I'm faced with challenges or temptations. And when I make mistakes, it shows me how to overcome them.
My testimony is my perspective. They are really the same. I know that my Heavenly Father lives and loves me, that He sent my Elder Brother to provide a way for me to learn from my mistakes and the Holy Spirit of Promise to confirm truth to my soul. I know that my identity is eternal. I know that bringing my body, spirit, and choice-making into greater unity will lead to synchronization with the Godhead and the plan of our Father. I know doing this will make me an effective tool in the Lord's hands, help me to feel complete, and bring lasting happiness into my life.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Moroni 10:32.  Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 11:290.  Doctrine and Covenants 18:10.  C. S. Lewis, Made for Heaven (2005), 92-93, 95.  Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles" (New York: HarperCollins, 1992).  John 14:9.  John 14:11.  John 10:30.  John 17:21-23.  D. Todd Christofferson, "That They May Be One in Us," Ensign, Nov. 2002.