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President Russell M. Nelson is now living his 100th year, and he is sharing a century’s worth of life lessons in a new book.
“Heart of the Matter,” published by Deseret Book, contains some gems about President Nelson, the third surgeon in history to perform a successful open-heart operation and part of the team that developed the machine that made such surgeries possible.
We read the book and broke down some of the lessons from the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to seven key principles he highlighted.
“One of the profound learnings that 100 years of living have taught me (is) that divine laws and truths govern our lives, whether we realize it or not.”
This is one of the book’s foundational messages. President Nelson said the lesson sunk in deeply during three decades as a trailblazing, international heart surgeon and teacher. He helped develop the heart-lung machine and pioneered surgical procedures in the 1950s and ’60s.
At first, he wrote, “Frankly, each operation was a skirmish with terror.”
He scheduled a month between each early heart operation to analyze the previous one and do further research, then reentered what he called “the whirlpool of another operative experience.”
Absolute, irrefutable truths about the heart were available the entire time. They just needed to be discovered, he said, and they always work.
President Nelson called science and religion “beautifully compatible disciplines,” and said “scientific research is nothing more or less than the effort to discover laws, or absolute truths, that God has already put in place.”
He wrote that moral relativism is a house built upon sand that leads to anxiety and insecurity, while absolute, divine law is dependable and provides security.
“The only thing that is relative is our individual understanding of truth,” he wrote.
He invited readers “to find absolute truths upon which you can build a firm foundation for your life,” such as the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
“The relentless efforts of cancel culture to render another person unworthy of respect, just because they have a different point of view, are unfair, distressing and paralyze rich dialogue that could advance a society.”
In April, President Nelson gave a landmark address at the church’s international general conference titled “Peacemakers needed.” In his book, he said young people have too many bad examples today.
“Tragically, there is a dearth of men and women who model dignified behavior when interacting with those who hold differing opinions,” he wrote. “Dear friends, this should not be. We need to reach out, build bridges of understanding and seek to learn from one another.”
The book shows President Nelson living what he teaches across more than half a century, making his operating rooms peaceful places and disarming unwelcoming Eastern European leaders to gain recognition for the church in more than a dozen countries.
“From those earliest days, they encouraged my voracious thirst for information and knowledge, which continues to this day.”
President Nelson recalled convincing his mother to let him ride a streetcar to the Salt Lake City library, where he spent hours devouring all kinds of books.
Examples of lifelong learning pop up throughout the book: Earning his medical degree at 22. Hiring a tutor at age 54 to learn Mandarin Chinese. Hiring a tutor to learn enough Dutch to lead the Hosanna Shout at a temple dedication at age 63.
“The Church of Jesus Christ was restored so that families could be sealed and exalted eternally.”
One of the hallmarks of President Nelson’s presidency is his announcement of 153 new temples around the world. That’s an 84% increase. Reasons for that expansion are woven throughout “Heart of the Matter,” where he calls temples, which Latter-day Saints believe are literally the house of the Lord, “the foundation of our faith.” That is why, he noted, that he delivered his first message as church president from the Salt Lake Temple annex.
Temples are the only home for the sealing ordinance, which binds a man and woman and their children together in a loving family beyond death. Latter-day Saints also believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is the place for the gathering of Israel, as President Nelson says, “on both sides of the veil,” meaning church members should help share the gospel with the living and do temple ordinances such as baptism and sealings on behalf of those who have died.
“In the temple we covenant to live five laws: the laws of obedience, sacrifice, the gospel of Jesus Christ, chastity and consecration,” he wrote.
A Latter-day Saint can make each of those priesthood covenants and more (baptism, marriage) by proxy for a dead person, who can choose in the afterlife whether to accept the offering.
“The reward for keeping temple covenants with God is heavenly power,” President Nelson wrote. “His power strengthens us to better withstand our trials, temptations and heartaches.”
In a chapter titled “Treasure your family,” President Nelson also provided eight “ates” for helping husbands and wives build, strong, lasting relationships. He had previously shared the “ates” — such as anticipate, elevate and radiate — at some stake conferences.
He also updated the size of his family, which now has grown to 10 children, 57 grandchildren, 160 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.
“We need women who teach and model the doctrine of Christ. The Lord and his church need women who are fully engaged in helping to gather Israel. Righteous women shape the future! They are our hope for the future!”
President Nelson returned to themes from past general conference talks about the importance and power of women in the church, adding some new language.
He stated again that the heavens are just as open to women endowed with God’s power flowing from their priesthood covenants.
He also endorsed the previous teaching of his first counselor in the First Presidency, President Dallin H. Oaks, that Latter-day Saint women exercise priesthood authority in their church callings.
“One of our quests here in mortality is to learn how to solve problems and deal with setbacks.”
President Nelson is familiar with grief. His first wife, Sister Dantzel Nelson, died of a sudden rhythm of her heart; he had studied that malady and was at home with her but couldn’t resuscitate her. Cancer has claimed two of his nine daughters.
“Challenges and even hardships are not only part of life; they are part of a good life,” President Nelson wrote.
He reiterated the message of his Thanksgiving 2020 video about gratitude, noting that Jesus Christ, who Isaiah wrote about as a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, frequently expressed gratitude.
“We can pray to see (trials) as opportunities for growth, even for our transformation,” President Nelson wrote. “Therefore, no matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges and blessings, as well as for our afflictions and trials, is a fast-acting, long-lasting emotional and spiritual prescription.”
“Gratitude is medicine for the soul,” he added. “Gratitude heals.”
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
The first chapter is titled, “Begin with end in mind.”
“The end we would most like to achieve is to live forever with our families in an exalted state where we will be in the presence of God, our Heavenly Father, and his son, Jesus Christ,” President Nelson wrote.
He also taught this lesson with a question: Do you really want to end up where that first wrong step will lead you?”
Those lessons were reinforced when he and his second wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, were attacked in an attempted murder-kidnapping at a mission home in Mozambique in 2009.
One robber put a gun to his head, pulled the trigger and, when it failed to fire, kicked President Nelson in the face. Another robber put a gun to Sister Nelson’s back and said they were kidnapping her.
The attempts failed, but President Nelson said they left him with a deep reminder of the fragility of life and what is truly important.
“It did not make sense to feel at peace in the midst of guns and threats to our lives. And yet, we did,” he wrote.
The lesson is that by making Christ and his gospel the “end in mind,” joy is available despite circumstances.
“Jesus Christ is the source of all joy,” President Nelson wrote. “For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy ... Jesus Christ offers an intensity, depth and breadth of joy that defies human logic.”
“Heart of the Matter,” and the rest of President Nelson’s century lessons, is available on DeseretBook.com and at Deseret Book stores.
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