Sister Cheryl C. Lant
Former General Primary President
Cheryl Clark Lant (born January 30, 1944) was the eleventh general president of the Primary organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2005 to 2010.
Born in Provo, Utah to Charles Verl Clark and Vivian Keller, Lant studied early childhood development at Brigham Young University and married John Glen Lant Jr. in the Salt Lake Temple on September 17, 1963. The Lants are the parents of nine children and together they founded a large preschool and developed a phonics-based beginning reading program.
On April 2, 2005, Lant was called by President Gordon B. Hinckley to succeed Coleen K. Menlove as general president of the Primary organization. Lant chose Margaret S. Lifferth and Vicki F. Matsumori as her counselors. She was released at the church's April 2010 General Conference and succeeded by Rosemary M. Wixom.
It is a pleasure for me to meet here with you this afternoon. I love the feeling that is here at this university. It is strong and vibrant and alive. You are so blessed to be here. Today, I have felt prompted to talk about spirituality in our lives. And to begin with, I want you to ask yourselves a question: "Am I a spiritual person?" If your answer is an automatic "yes," how do you know? What does being spiritual mean to you? What does it look like? What does it feel like to you? If your answer is uncertain, why do you feel that way? Why do you question yourself? What are your expectations of being spiritual?
Perhaps answers to these questions will become clearer to us as we better understand what spirituality is, and how we experience it, and how we can strengthen it in our lives.
Let me begin by relating an experience to you that I had many years ago when my children were young. One evening while my husband and I were entertaining another couple in our home, the wife began telling us of several "spiritual experiences" she had had. They were comprised of dreams and visions and audible messages sent to her from God. As I listened, at first I was amazed. I didn't really question her experiences--and I still don't--because that is not my place. But as she talked, my feelings went from amazement of her experiences to doubt in myself, because I had never had manifestations of the Spirit that were like that. I began to question my faith, my spirituality.
Now, I knew that she was a good--really good--person. But I knew that I was really trying to be good as well. I was reading my scriptures, praying regularly, trying to keep the commandments, serving in the Church, working to be true to all the covenants I had made with the Lord. In short, I was like many of you--trying hard. I was not by any means perfect, but I felt worthy and I was working at it. I had felt that I was pretty much on the same level as my friend. But I was not seeing the heavens open to me in the same way she was describing and I really began to question myself.
Later in the evening, I began to ask my husband the same questions I am asking you to ask yourselves today. Am I a spiritual person? What is spirituality? What should I expect it to feel like and look like in my life?
Over the years since that time, I have learned a lot about myself, and about my Heavenly Father, and about spirituality. I would like to share some of what I have learned with you today.
There is much to learn about spirituality in the scriptures. We are all familiar with the story of Lehi's dream. We know about the large and spacious field, which represents the world into which we all are born. We can visualize the river running through it, the mists of darkness, the great and spacious building, all of which represent the distractions offered by Satan. We recognize the dangers of materialism, pride, temptation, sin, and fear. But we are encouraged by the safety and stability of the rod of iron, which runs along a straight and narrow path. This path and the rod represent the word of God that can keep us safe and take us to our goal. And the goal is to reach the tree with its beautiful white fruit, which represents the Savior and His great atonement, and which enables us to obtain eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ.
What do we learn from this? Well, one thing we learn is that we have to have a goal. We have to be determined to return to the Savior. We learn about what dangers to avoid and that safety comes only as we are true to gospel principles. We learn about being exactly obedient. We learn something about the happiness and peace that can be ours if we reach the tree with its wonderful fruit. But I think that most of all we learn that our whole attention must be focused on the Savior, all of the time, in order to make it back to Him. That is how we must live: focused on our Savior.
To me this is what spirituality really is. It is having our lives, our center, anchored to the Savior. It is living our lives in a "Christ" centered world rather than a "me" centered world. Spirituality is focusing our lives on Christ because we love Him, and then, we can have His Spirit, the Holy Ghost, with us constantly to help us. He has promised in 3 Nephi 18:11: "...and if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you."
In Mormon Doctrine, it states: "Spirituality is that state which enables men to enjoy the near-constant companionship of the Lord's Spirit."1
So, we might ask, how does the Holy Ghost help us to be more spiritual? Well, he draws us back to the Savior and Heavenly Father. He is their messenger to us. It is through him that they answer our prayers. He testifies of truth. He is a protector and comforter. He is a teacher. But he does much more. Listen to the insight given us by Parley P. Pratt:
"The Holy Ghost quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections; and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens, and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being."2
The Holy Ghost not only draws us closer to our Savior as we center our life on Him, he helps us become more like Him. Spirituality is strengthened in the process.
Now, what do we need to do in order to get to a place in our lives that this becomes a reality for us--where we have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and are really focused on the Savior in everything we do? Well, the answers are simple and straight forward. They are things we have been taught since childhood and they are basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will talk of just three of these principles today: prayer, scripture study, and obedience. They are true principles, and we are going to not only spend just a few minutes talking about them but we will talk about how we can apply them in our lives.
Let us consider prayer. In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told: "If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things - that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal" (Doctrine and Covenants 42:61).
This scripture gives us a commandment: "thou shalt ask." And it gives us a beautiful promise that if we ask we shall receive revelation, knowledge, knowing the mysteries and peaceable things and having joy and life eternal. All of these blessings would undoubtedly bring greater spirituality in our lives. But let me ask you a question: what do you think it means to "ask"? In Doctrine and Covenants 7:48 it says: "Pray unto the Father with all energy of heart..."
I think that prayers offered in haste or when we are falling asleep at night are not going to quite measure up. I think that if we want the promised blessings our prayers cannot be casual. They must be sincere and from our heart. We must give prayer more than just a passing thought.
Alma really describes the kind of prayer that we should offer in Alma 34:18-27:
"Yea, cry (Notice that he says "cry," not just "ask.") unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save." (This is talking about repentance.)
"Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him." (When we repent, we need to pray for the strength to continue to live as we should.)
"Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea over all your flocks." (Heavenly Father cares about what we care about and He will help us even with our temporal concerns.)
"Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day and evening." (He wants us to pray earnestly about everything in our lives, and He has specified that our prayers are to be pretty much continual--morning, noon and night.)
"Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies." (We pray for protection and help.)
"Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness." (We must ask for protection from temptation because only the powers of heaven can keep us safe.)
"Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them."
"Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase." (We are to pray for success in school, work, and life in general.)
"But this is not all, ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness." (What is your secret place or your wilderness? I think he is asking us here to pray diligently for help with things that challenge us personally--our secret weaknesses and desolate places and that we do not do it for the honors of man.)
"Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you." (This would be the prayer of the heart--a reaching continually to heaven for divine help in our lives even when we are not on our knees.)
But brothers and sisters, when we pray as described in this scripture, we are really seeking the help of the Lord. But even so, effective prayer isn't just about intensity. We must ponder and then pray. After praying and while going about our daily activities, we need to listen for the answers, and then we must do the things that we feel prompted to do. Truly, this kind of prayer would only be possible if our lives were focused on the Savior. This kind of prayer indicates a beautiful depth of spirituality.
Now what about scripture study and its effect on our spirituality? President Spencer W. Kimball said: "I find that when I get casual in my relationship with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns."3
I know that this is true. When I am consistently in the scriptures, messages that strengthen me are continually opened up to me. The scriptures are as a Urim and Thummim to guide me through life. As I read them faithfully, I am happier. I am more grounded and at peace. I am closer to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. My spirituality strengthens.
Our scriptures are a great gift from our Heavenly Father, but they are only a blessing to us if we read and study them. I have heard it said that we are blessed to have the Book of Mormon, but we are no better off than the rest of the world if we do not read it.
Now let's talk about obedience and its affect on our spirituality, because all of our prayers and the knowledge we gain when reading the scriptures do us no good unless we are willing to act upon what we receive. Heavenly Father has not given us the commandments in order to control us. He has given them to us to free us from the bondage of sin and to bless us with eternal blessings. He has given them to us so that we might travel that straight and narrow path in safety. He has given them to us to bring us safely home to Him.
Obedience requires that we overcome the natural man--overcoming pride, materialism, lusts of the flesh, and temptations of every kind--and turn to God's ways. President David O. McKay said: "Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self, and communion with the infinite." President McKay also said: "Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one's faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life's sublimest experiences."4
Do you really believe that we can claim to be spiritual if we are, through our disobedience and in moments of weakness, allowing the influences of the world to come into our lives whether it is through books, movies, television, the Internet, or other people? Can we tolerate just a little casualness in our modesty or our moral cleanliness? Can we rationalize certain activities on the Sabbath day just because everyone else is doing it or maybe we think it is something that is just not that big of a deal? Can we do these things and excuse ourselves thinking that we are not hurting anyone but ourselves? Can we expect our spiritual natures to escape damage when we do these things?
Certainly at that moment of disobedience we cannot. But on the other hand, do we have to be perfect all the time in order to receive the blessings of spirituality? Well, if that were the case, none of us would ever feel the Spirit. Heavenly Father does not expect perfection in this life. He expects worthiness. One of the meanings of perfection is completeness. You will remember that early in Christ's ministry He taught us to be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect. Then, after His atonement and crucifixion, He taught us to be perfect even as He and our Father in Heaven are perfect. It was not until after His mission was completed that He claimed perfection.
So worthiness means that we are on the path of righteousness, trying every day to be better than we did yesterday. It means that we keep our focus on the Savior, repenting when necessary, serving Him, being obedient to His commandments and honoring the covenants we have made, relying on the Holy Ghost to help us and strengthen us spiritually. It means that it is only through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we will eventually become perfect after all we can do. And it means that all of us are going to feel more spiritual at certain times than we do at others. It means that it is a process.
I believe that as we work to do the things that will bring us closer to the Savior, spirituality is not some vague concept that is hard to understand or bring into our lives. It is real and it is there. It is practical and tangible. It is something we can get hold of. Let me describe how it might work. When we have challenges in our lives, if we are strong spiritually, we turn our thoughts immediately to the Savior for answers and help. When we have decisions to make, spiritual strength turns us to the Lord for directions. When we see a beautiful sunset or a glorious morning, and our souls expand in gratitude to the Savior for all the blessings of this earth life, that is spirituality. When we experience sorrows or pain, the comfort we receive as we turn to the Lord, is a demonstration of our spirituality. If we are afraid or uncertain, the faith and confidence that comes to us as we seek the Savior's guidance and protection is a direct result of our spirits being strong. When we have sinned, we humble ourselves and turn immediately to the Lord for forgiveness. Each time we turn to the Savior, through prayer, scriptures, and obedience we demonstrate and strengthen our spirituality. Each time He answers us, the help comes by way of the Holy Ghost.
I have learned that spirituality is not necessarily having visions and dreams, although it might be. It is not necessarily emotional, although emotion might occasionally accompany a spiritual experience. It is not based on grand events alone, but rather on a daily flow of the spirit as we turn consistently to our Savior. It is the sweet, quiet whisperings of the Spirit. It is reaching to heaven in every need, every emotion. It is gratitude. It is joy and it is sorrow. In short, it is or at least can be in all of us if we live our lives in such a way that we can experience it--if we constantly turn to the Savior.
And this is what spirituality feels like. It is a softening of the heart, a bending of our will to the will of our Heavenly Father. It is a gladness of heart and a feeling of peace even in the midst of trials. It is a hope for the future and the confidence of faith as we move forward into the unknown because we know it is what Heavenly Father wants us to do. It is the desire to serve others. It is a brightness of spirit and a fullness of gratitude for all we have. It is love and it is beauty.
Now as you measure your spirituality against these sweet expressions, you will see that while you may not have visions and dream dreams or hear voices from heaven, you have had tiny, and sometimes even big, miracles every day in your life. You have felt the tender mercies that come from a loving Heavenly Father. You have felt a burning testimony in your heart. You have had answers to your prayers and you have felt the Spirit guiding you. You are experiencing spirituality in your life--sometimes more and sometimes less. May we remember the sweet moments we have with the Spirit. May these memories compel us to focus ourselves ever more fully on the Savior, doing faithfully the things that will take us there. Remember His promise: "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me..." (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63)
If any of us have strayed from that straight and narrow path, if our grasp on the rod of iron seems to be slipping just a little bit, we can decide today to get back on, grab hold of the rod, and begin moving forward in our life again. And in time, our grasp will become so strong that the rod of iron will no longer run along side of us, but rather, it will run through the very center of our being holding us upright and true as we draw ever closer to our Savior and Redeemer.
And, we do not have to do this alone. He will help us all the way. He knows each of us. He loves us. I had a special witness of this just the other day. It was a moment of deep spirituality for me. I was vacuuming, mulling over in my mother's mind all of the challenges members of my family are facing right now. Okay, I was worrying a little as mothers will. And I happened to look up at a picture on the wall of my son. Whenever I look at this picture I have particularly sweet, tender feelings because he is the son that we lost in an accident just three years ago at the age of 34. But this day, as I looked up and saw him, words came instantly into my mind so clearly, I could almost hear his voice saying to me, "Mom, everything is going to be alright, because He loves us more than you can even know." And I knew that he knew this because he has felt the arms of the Savior around him. He has looked into his face. He has gone ahead of us and has experienced things that we all long to experience. He understands, better than we do, life in the eternal perspective.
I testify that our Savior does live. He is our Savior and Redeemer. We can each feel His love. May we focus our lives more on Him and turn to Him in all things. May we each recognize and enjoy the blessings of rich, sweet spirituality in our lives, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Bookcraft, 1979, 760
2 Parley P. Pratt, Spirituality: The Key to the Science of Theology, Cedar Fort, 2007, 100
3 Edward L. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 135
4 Quoted in James E. Faust, "The Power of Self-Mastery," Ensign, May 2000, 43
Audio of Sister Cheryl C. Lant's BYU-Idaho devotional address Spring 2017