When I was a teenager I had a church youth leader who had a big impact on my life. Oh, how I could write volumes of how this person influenced me. Someday I will chronicle all the many things I learned from him. Have you had someone like this in your life, someone who really made a difference?
My father and I are the best of friends and had a great relationship growing up, but there was a time in those latter teenage years where we didn’t always see eye to eye. He was a hard-charging, high expectation, taskmaster of a father, a rather rugged individualist. Such a great man of whom I love and respect, but there were moments in those early years where our relationship struggled. It was not prolonged, but enough that I needed someone else to steady my rudder. It was during this time that this youth leader provided a level of guidance and mentorship to me that I will never be able to repay.
Each Sunday, Brother Vincent, whom we affectionately called him, would prepare an engaging 40-minute gospel lesson in our early morning priesthood meeting. There were about 14 of us, all young men from 16 to 18 years old, juniors and seniors in high school. As you might imagine It was a tough group with a broad range of interests and backgrounds. Let’s just say there was a lot of testosterone in the room.
Steve Vincent was a sort of John Keating, the unconventional English teacher at the Welton Academy for Boys in the famous film, Dead Poets Society. If you haven’t watched Robin Williams performance in this 1989 film then put it on your next Net Flix search. Oh, how we miss Robin Williams!
It seemed each Sunday Brother Vincent had a new object lesson prepared for us to help teach a spiritual principle or moral lesson. I could recount many of these that really pricked our interest and made us think, but for this post, I wanted to share just one. One morning, he brought a record player with a small 45 of the popular 1969 Peggy Lee tune, “Is That All There Is?” For those who don’t know what a record player is, let alone a 45, I will leave you to Google to figure that out. Oh, how technology has changed in such a short period of time.
He played the song for us at the beginning of his lesson launching a conversation regarding the purpose of life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? And, where we were going? But, as the lesson progressed he guided the conversation more directly to each of us personally. I felt as though I was the only person in the room. I had a deeply introspective experience that day as I contemplated and pondered the meaning of life, my life. I will never forget the lesson and discussion that day, but maybe more importantly, the thoughts and feelings that pressed upon my mind and heart.
To me, the song lyrics challenge our perspective of life’s meaning and purpose. Her words present a range of experiences to consider. The catastrophic event of losing one’s home in a fire, the superficial childhood experience of enjoying a circus, the deep feeling of a short-lived first love or ultimately the extended experiences across a lifetime. “Is that all there is?” Peggy asks. She queries that if that’s all there is then maybe we should just keep dancing, break out the booze and enjoy the party. Life is short, “just have a ball” she suggests. Take a moment and listen to Peggy’s song and it will likely leave you considering your own mortality. It certainly left me pondering that day, more than 40 years ago.
Many of us from Brother Vincent’s class decided to serve two-year missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some went to South America, a few stayed in the States, one reported to Puerto Rico and for me, the Philippine Islands. That experience in Southeast Asia introduced me to the feelings of incomprehensible joy felt when you are in the service of others.
(Yes, that’s me in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, July 1979 – 4 weeks later we left for the Philippines)
The joy I have felt from that experience has forever left an imprint on my heart. Many might suggest that a young man at 19 is at the center of a most self-absorbed stage of life. I would agree, but for me, my experience in the Philippines was the opposite. It was a truly life-changing transformative experience, an experience where I was introduced to the feelings of joy.
The concept of joy is different than the temporary fun or even the happiness we may feel in this life. Feelings of true joy are so much deeper and everlasting, so much more satisfying and sweet. Adam exclaimed after being expelled from the garden, “and in this life I shall have joy.” Eve added, “were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should’ve known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption.” Moses 5:10-11
Lehi, an early prophet in the Book of Mormon said, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” 2 Nephi 2:25 We can experience true joy, but it is a conditional principal. To lay hold upon this great blessing will be because our behavior and station in life is deserving of it. Then God grants it to us through His grace and spirit. Paul taught that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” Galatians 5:22 Joy has been described as a representation of the “love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all other things.” 1 Nephi 11:22
A couple past Presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Thomas S. Monson and David O. McKay have said respectively, “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves…no one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.” And David O. McKay said, “To be alive only to appetite, pleasure, pride, money-making, and not to goodness and kindness, purity and love, poetry, music, flowers, stars, God, and eternal hopes, is to deprive one’s self of the real joy of living.”
My experience in the Philippines began a trajectory of joy in my life only to be reinforced when I would engage and focus on what matters most. This has always included serving others, promoting the promulgation of eternal possibilities and in helping others make and keep sacred covenants with the Divine. As I have gotten older, my quest for true joy has intensified. I have come to feel and understand this sweet, lasting, penetrating feeling of joy is the most desirable above all other things.
I have often quipped that it’s better than a cup of Häagen-Dazs peanut butter chocolate ice cream, my favorite. Better than Mom’s Chocolate Chip cookies. Sorry, Mom! Better than your most favorite piece of See’s Candy. Better than an early morning ski ride on Lake Powell or a birdie on 18. Better than the view from Rockefeller Center. Better than a sunset convertible ride down Pacific Coast Highway. Better than the evening water fountain show at the Bellagio. Better than a quiet evening stroll along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris or the best play in London. All the fun things I’ve enjoyed, but none are lasting like the quiet peaceful moments of the heart that come when the Love of God is wrapped up in it.
The joy I felt in the Philippines was later compounded by the joy I felt when I married my wife Susan. The experience of becoming a father, parenting children through struggle, pain, and success, receiving answers to prayer, having Ah-ha scriptural moments and receiving heavenly direction while combating the vicissitudes of life are all experiences that have deepened my sense joy.
This is the McKell Clan – A new picture is coming soon. Three more grandchildren have been born (Kage, Rose, and Reece) and another new baby boy due in March 2019. My cup runneth over…
Experiencing Moments of Significance that I described in a previous post are what brings lasting incomprehensible joy, introducing someone to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and then having them decades later with tear-filled eyes express gratitude for the difference you have made in their life. These exchanges usher feelings that penetrate deep into the heart and leave a solace of gratitude, humility, and love that cannot be explained.
I could go on, but understanding one’s true purpose and having it confirmed by your Heavenly Father also brings true joy. A king with much material wealth in the ancient Americas, who was searching for truth, exclaimed, “I will give up all that I possess, yea, I will forsake my kingdom, that I may receive this great joy.” Alma 22:15 Quite a statement as to what really matters.
In a world that promises lasting fame and fortune to the seeker, of the lure of pop culture and extreme sports, of million-dollar book deals and Reality TV, of celebrity status, illicit drugs, pornography and the pull of materialism, do not be fooled. To Peggy Lee’s question, “Is that all there is?” I would emphatically say, “No! There is so much more!”
Let us reach for the joy that is eternal, the joy that is everlasting. And to Steve Vincent who made such a difference in my journey so many years ago, I am forever grateful.
Thank you for the contribution you made in my life.