My Farewell Talk!
A Farewell Talk Given by Matt Nielsen September 28, 2014
Following the death of a very dear friend of mine, I’ve been thinking of a quote my dad read to me in the wake of this tragedy. This quote gave me peace because it testified of God’s infinite love and understanding of me and of every one of us. It says, “One comfort is to be found in a God whose power is in His magnanimity as well as His wisdom. These two traits mean that His divine energies are spent not precluding chaos but in REORDERING it, not in preventing suffering but ALCHEMIZING it, not in disallowing error but in TRANSMUTING it into goodness.” I love that quote. It helped me to understand that all of the pain, and all of the grief, and all of the chaos created from this tragedy will be REORDERED into goodness and light through God’s infinite wisdom. Light will be found in the darkest abyss of life through the Savior and our loving Heavenly Father’s attentiveness and individual care for us. We are never alone. Trials build us, brothers and sisters. They move us toward God. Please turn towards him in your darkest moments and I promise that as you do so, you will find the peace and understanding that we desperately need in those moments of trial. And I also promise that as you do so, you will have a better and more personal relationship with our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ.
As many of you know, I have been called to serve a two-year mission in the Brazil Fortaleza East Mission and I will be reporting to the Missionary Training Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil on October 8th. I am so excited for this amazing opportunity that God has blessed me with to be able to go on a mission! And at this time, I want to express my sincere gratitude to family and friends who have come today to support me. I love you all so very much.
There are many people who have wondered why I would devote myself so fully to missionary work for two years. By no means do I think of myself as the “perfect” man for the job! (The people who know me best would definitely agree with that statement!) So preparation for a mission became very important for me! I needed to have confidence and personal conviction that what I would be preaching is true. It didn’t just come to me though. It took work, constant prayer, scripture study, and standing in Holy Places in order to get the knowledge and confidence I needed. And ultimately, I needed to have my own conversion.
Serving a mission has been something I have thought about since I was a young kid in primary, but never seriously considered until about a year ago. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and serving a mission requires a lot of dedication and drive. And it seems that I have always struggled in being prepared and staying really dedicated to something. I was straight up afraid that I wouldn’t be a good missionary and that no one would listen to me. And because of that fear, I had strong thoughts about possibly postponing a mission or not going at all. About one year ago, I attended the LDS youth camp called “Especially for Youth” in Palmyra, New York. One of the great experiences I had at EFY was being able to do scripture study in the Sacred Grove. I cannot possibly describe the feelings I had while sitting and pondering in that grove of trees. There was a peace there that I have never felt before at any other place. I know that there was something different and special that had happened there years ago. As I sat there and prayed about whether I should go on a mission, a powerful feeling came over me. The Holy Ghost said it was time – my time to get ready for a mission and to begin to believe in myself as a Son of God. After that amazing experience, I knew that God, his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost would be near to me and would give me strength when I needed it. And I have witnessed that helping strength throughout my preparation for a mission as I have worked on overcoming my weaknesses.
In order to have a lasting conversion, God requires us to “act”. As we begin to act upon the word of God, our thoughts and behaviors begin to change. Eventually we become new people. The experience I had at EFY prompted me to become better, to rise up from my weaknesses and lay them on the altar before the Lord, so that his atonement could begin to heal me and prepare me for service in the mission field.
Growing up in the gospel, I never really saw the impact or understood the impact that this gospel can have on people. I never realized it until I got older and entered high school. In high school, I saw so many people who struggled with serious problems and weaknesses, including myself. Over time, I began to realize that problems and weaknesses are actually gifts from God. We have them so that we can come to know the Savior and begin to rely on his atonement to overcome our weaknesses. As we humble ourselves before God and follow him, we are able to experience both peace and joy, even while living in a very troubled world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a sense of purpose. It helped me to understand that we are children of a loving God and that if we follow him, we will walk back into his presence again one day. I learned that we are not alone in life. I know that we are nurtured by loving people on both sides of the veil. The Lord tells us: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D & C 84:88) I know that there is a very powerful unseen force that prays for our success.
But once our hearts are turned to Christ, how do we remain faithful to him? Is life a continual conversion?
After having an amazing experience with prayer at EFY, things didn’t suddenly become easy for me. There was a lot in me that needed to change. I had to rely on the Lord more than ever before to help me overcome my weaknesses and to teach me how to ignore temptations. Receiving a mission call was wonderful, but it felt like the adversary ramped up his efforts to stop me from moving forward. I’m convinced that Satan doubles his efforts on an individual when they receive light and direction from God. And Satan will never change. I love the scripture in John 10:10 where it describes the difference between Satan and Christ. Christ says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” The difference between the two is very clear. Satan seeks to destroy everything that has real value. So if we are on a righteous course, he will do everything he can to derail us. A recent example of this happened to me while I was doing some preparation for the mission. As I sat in a chair reading, I began to feel a lot of darkness, doubt, fear, and feelings of inadequacy as a result of past mistakes and weaknesses. The adversary showed himself to me through doubts and fears that had no basis in reality. But it affected me. I fervently prayed for clarity and strength but received none. I asked myself, “Am I worthy? Do I have what it takes to be successful?” It finally dawned on me that I didn’t pray directly to God and as a result, he didn’t answer me directly. So as I got down on my knees, I offered up a prayer to God. “I AM worthy. I HAVE what it takes. Am I right?” I received an immediate answer to my prayer with an outpouring of the spirit. He confirmed in my mind and in my heart that he needed me to serve this mission.
That experience was special to me because I had never before felt the spirit that powerfully and I never had as much clarity in my life as I did then. But what was funny was that after I had that great experience, Satan attempted to give me those doubts again! But this time, I knew better! I had learned that with every spiritual experience, the adversary will always attempt to counter it in one way or another.
Even after that amazing spiritual experience, I knew I had to press forward and continue to grow in the gospel. We CANNOT stop from reading the scriptures, regularly attending all church classes, doing service, showing love and kindness to all of those you can, and not allowing our selfish natural man to express itself more than our spirit, because ultimately if we show any weakness in our resolve to stay connected to the Iron Rod, then Satan takes full advantage of the opportunity to divert us and stop our spiritual progression. Satan is only as strong as we allow him to be (2 Nephi 24:16). We cannot allow ourselves to fall back, but must press forward with unyielding faith in Christ.
One of my favorite accounts is in Alma 36, where Alma recounts to his son Helaman how he was turned from a life of sin through a miracle of God. It says that for three days and three nights that he was “racked with the pains of a damned soul.” But when his mind turned toward the Savior, he was able to find peace. Alma does not forget or neglect God after this spiritual experience, but presses forward, continually doing good in the world as a representative of Jesus Christ.
The scriptures tell us to REMEMBER. We are to remember the spiritual experiences that built our faith and led us to strive for bigger and better things. Remembering the good helps dissipate the bad in moments of weakness. Not long after Moses has his encounter with God, where he sees him face-to-face and is given a vision of the world, he is then left alone and in a weakened condition. Satan of course comes along and tempts Moses saying, “Moses, son of man worship me.” Remembering his recent experience with God, he says “Who art thou? For behold I am a son of God. For behold, I could not look upon God, except his glory should come upon me, and I were transfigured before him.” Satan persisted even further. And Moses, by remembering his past experiences with God was ultimately able to judge between Satan and God and draw power from those experiences and expel Satan from his presence. By remembering God’s tender mercies, we are able to expel doubt and fear and move forward with faith in God.
Finally, as we exercise our faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement, our confidence will grow strong. Then we can expect the miracles, if they are needed. We will have angels round about us to bear us up and the Holy Ghost to give us comfort and strength in moments of weakness.
I am so excited to serve the people of Brazil! I know I’m not perfect. But I also know that God will take the weak things of this world and make them into strengths. I’m counting on that! I look forward to the challenges and the joy that will come on my mission through service.
In the name of Jesus Christ Amen!