Finding and securing the blessing of greater inner peace in our lives isn't an impossible task.
I view women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all as nearly perfect saints, beloved women endowed with a divine nature. However, I also recognize, as many women do too, that each of us might have weaknesses and shortcomings that need our personal attention. After all, we are all mortal beings striving to improve ourselves in every way.
Many years ago, as a young man, I became the president and general manager of Ballet West, a well-known professional dance company in Salt Lake City. As you can imagine, I was not hired by the trustees because I could dance (which I clearly cannot), but to successfully manage the business side of the enterprise. As to my knowledge of ballet, I was clueless.
Given that I had no experience with ballet other than one time when my mother took me to see the Nutcracker ballet, my colleague and knowledgeable ballet aficionado Priscilla Stevens saw my need and took me under her professional wing.
One day, she invited my wife, Jeanne, and I to accompany her on a trip to New York to witness ballet at its finest and to help me better understand how to run Ballet West.
With stars in our eyes, we flew to New York City in the spring of 1980 for an experience of a lifetime. Most notable was our chance to see American Ballet Theatre perform Swan Lake. With two tickets in hand and dressed in our finest suit and gown, we entered the most magnificent auditorium I had ever seen to witness the opening night performance of ballet’s most famous production. As the curtain rose on the first scene, there on the stage stood ballet’s most renowned artist, none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov. As he appeared, the crowd roared its approval and the electricity in the air was palpable. Never in my life had I experienced such beauty and majesty.
As if the performance wasn’t enough of a treat, our hostess invited us backstage afterwards to personally meet Baryshnikov. Once the performance ended, we approached the backstage door where a large burly guard stood sentinel, only allowing those with the proper pass to enter. As we waited, I noticed an elegantly dressed patron standing near the backstage door who also desired to meet Baryshnikov, but lacked the pass to do so. However, this refined lady wasn’t just any woman. At the time, she was the most famous woman on earth.
Noting her dilemma, I suggested to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis that she could join our party backstage using our passes. “That would be fine,” she replied. So there we were, standing next to the most famous, perfect woman on earth! She was absolutely gorgeous with her beautiful black chiffon dress, perfect makeup, and coiffured hair. In time, the door opened and the guard let us enter the backstage area where Baryshnikov waited to meet us.
As we walked along, Jackie moved quickly, moving a few steps ahead of us. I suddenly felt a nudge on my shoulder and heard Jeanne quietly say, “Look at her legs!” “What?” I whispered. “Look at her right leg. She has a run in her nylons, Alan!” Sure enough, there in plain sight was a long tear in her sheer black nylons. Oh my goodness, there stood the most perfect, beautiful woman on earth with a run in her nylons. What do you know? She, like the rest of us, must be mortal after all.
So you see, my beloved sisters, even the very best among us have tiny flaws. We are just like she is: nearly perfect, but from time to time with a run in our nylons.
How do we, as spiritual beings, having an imperfect mortal experience filled with trials and challenges, secure peace in a troubled world?
Here is another personal story that will shed some light on this subject. It’s the story of the flower garden.
As I previously stated, I was a young executive when I began running Ballet West. I remember clearly that every day was a great challenge for me; I have never felt so much pressure and stress in my life. (Even now, after being in business for more than 40 years, I recognize that running Ballet West was perhaps the toughest assignment I have ever had.)
During this same time, I was also a new bishop with responsibilities over several hundred Mormon single adult college students. They, too, were in need of my time and counsel with many personal trials of their own. Add to this that Jeanne and I were the parents of four small, active children with two more joining us during my career at Ballet West. You might guess just how difficult this time was.
Needless to say, there were many moments during this period of my life when I felt completely overwhelmed and stressed beyond measure.
Fortunately, then-Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was on the board of trustees for Ballet West during this same time. Even with his busy assignment for the LDS Church, he found time to become better acquainted with Jeanne and me. In fact, I can vividly remember an evening when he and his wife, Ruth, hosted us for dinner before a ballet performance in Ogden. They were so kind.
Based on this warm reception, I knew President Faust, who later served as a counselor in the First Presidency before his death in 2007, would be willing to help me during this difficult time in my life. So, I contacted him to see if he would visit with me about how I might better manage my many multiple assignments in life. He graciously agreed and invited me to his office for a personal chat one beautiful spring afternoon.
During our conversation, we talked about the difficulties I was facing and I asked what advice he might have for me. He sat there very kindly and attentively, making some suggestions but not giving me complete answers; he wisely thought that I should come up with my own solutions.
At one point, he asked me to walk with him to the window on the west side of his office. He opened the curtains and we both stood there looking out his large window at the scene below.
After a few minutes, he asked, “Alan, what do you see?” I didn’t know what exactly I was supposed to find so I continued gazing out the window with him. Eventually, he put his arm around my shoulder, prodding me along.
“I can see the Hotel Utah,” I replied.
“Look lower on the ground,” he suggested.
I looked and said, “I see a garden. I see gardeners and gorgeous flowers.”
“Look even more intently,” he said.
To which I replied, “I see row after row of beautiful flowers, all arranged perfectly with amazing and dazzling colors.”
President Faust then paused and said, “Alan, I want you to remember what I am about to tell you for the rest of your life. What you see down there is exactly what I want you to become, a garden of beautiful flowers. I want you to be amazing, I want you to be splendid, and I want your life to reflect the glory and orderliness of that flowerbed. Your ability to achieve this quintessential way of life is highly possible if you will base your thoughts and behavior upon time-tested eternal principles. In short, all your decisions and actions, Alan, should focus on following the Savior’s gospel. If you do so, you will experience inner peace, joy and heartfelt happiness all the days of your life.”
What a glorious lesson I learned from President Faust that day. It has been many years since this conversation transpired and yet his message of comparing our lives to a flower garden has remained ever-present in my life.
Imagine that in our flowerbeds there is a very special gardener who is carefully weeding, watering, fertilizing and pruning each tender plant. Now envision that our gracious Heavenly Father is the gardener of our own personal flowerbeds, constantly and lovingly watching over us night and day.
Please know this is the case. For he does care for us and is always willing to nourish and provide us with his light and power so that like beautiful flowers, we too may flourish and become magnificent.
With this story in mind, and a flower garden as a metaphor for all of our lives, how then might we beautify our own flowerbeds?
Here are two steps that with God’s help, we can implement in our lives to help feel an increased measure of personal peace, joy and happiness.
First, we must ask God to change our hearts and remove our destructive habits. It is vital that we take a step back and examine carefully and honestly our own personal flowerbeds.
What do we see? Are we weed free or are there weeds in our garden that need pulling? Have harmful insects been removed or are there multitudes of voracious bugs eating everything in sight? Is our garden receiving sufficient sunlight or is it constantly in the shadows? Is it full of amazing life or is it dying? Are we happy with what we find or is there work to be done?
A thoughtful review of our lives will provide the answers we seek.
As I interview people in my calling as stake president, I often find that their gardens need immediate attention. Unrepented sin easily kills personal progress and joy. Guilt and shame tend to stifle growth like nothing else. Harboring ill will towards others is debilitating and consumes enormous amounts of time and energy when we won’t forgive and forget.
Are there other flaws holding us back from growing a lovely garden? Perhaps we punish one another, reproving harshly those who might step out of line. Or it could be that we are proud, arrogant and condescending, seeing ourselves as superior to others. Maybe our garden is filled with rebellion, envy, jealousy and stubbornness; an unwillingness to bend or compromise. Perhaps we lack focus, discipline and order. The list of vices and imperfections seems to be limitless.
Please know that at the very moment we remove from the garden of our lives even one unhealthy habit, joy, peace and happiness can replace it once again. When we deliberately push grievous misdeeds from our minds and our hearts, we are free to receive the full joy that God can place in our hearts.
Take the time to honestly examine your gardens and seriously inspect yourselves, asking, “What am I doing to my garden that is keeping me from growing to my true potential? What is holding me back from completely experiencing all the happiness that God has in store for me?”
I know it may seem daunting and maybe even a bit frightening, but please know that an all-powerful God will rescue us if we ask him to do so. Please know he will help us.
I have pleaded with him to change my heart on several occasions as I have had several things over the course of my life that have been difficult to shake. I have made errors and committed transgressions — albeit, nothing serious. But still, I struggled and knew I could not overcome these trials by myself.
During these times, I would pray to my Heavenly Father saying, “Please take this out of my heart. Remove it from my nature. Change me so this is no longer who I am. I don’t want to be this way.” And as I prayed with sincerity and genuineness and worked to change them, those wicked habits were taken from me.
Second, we must invite him to take our heavy burdens and heal our pierced hearts.
On occasion, metaphorically speaking, severe personal storms may destroy our personal gardens. It might be heavy and wet snow, destructive hail or a fierce windstorm that kills and uproots our tender plants. Perhaps vicious underground insects are to blame for a withered garden, or malicious feet that trample unprotected flowers.
I know many of us can relate to these types of unfortunate circumstances on a personal level. It could be that we have been betrayed by a loved one. Perhaps we have children or other relatives who have harmed or disappointed us. We may have been abused emotionally, sexually, mentally or physically. Some of us may have lost loved ones, lost children or lost the spirit. We may feel depressed or hopeless. Perhaps our minds are troubled with worrisome doubts and paralyzing fear. Some of us might feel unloved and unappreciated by those closest to us.
All of these hardships (and many others unmentioned) are wounds that pierce an aching heart. In addition to the pain and anguish they cause, these struggles also hold us back from growing into the beautiful creation we were meant to be.
What then can we do to remove or lessen the pain these maladies bring into our lives?
The answer once again is to call upon God, asking him to eliminate our burdens and pain.
As a loving, all-powerful God, he can lighten our heavy loads, heal our broken hearts, and sweep our minds clear of the terrible things that bring us sorrow and misery in this life.
Accept the Lord’s blessing of light, of nourishment and most importantly, of a greater level of inner peace in the beautiful gardens that represent our earthly experience through all of the days of our lives.
Editor's note: This was originally given as a talk to the women of the Roy North Utah Stake.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is chairman of the Utah Technology Council.