Delivered by Nancy in a sacrament meeting of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Montgomery Ward, Cincinnati Ohio East Stake, Sunday 13 February 2005

Our master bedroom and its 48-inch closets, as it appeared when we purchased the house in 1996.

When we bought the house that we presently live in, we considered walling off one end of the master bedroom, which was considerably larger than our previous one, to expand the closet area, which was considerably smaller than our previous one.  Because this project was only one of many on the list of proposed improvements to our new home, however, and because it didn’t seem as pressing as some of our other needs—besides promising to be one of the messier and more expensive projects we could undertake—eight years later, Michael and I are still making do with a couple of closets that are only 48 inches wide.

For Michael, who may buy himself a new pair of pants every two years or so after I point out that the ones he is wearing are not only frayed around the cuffs, but nearly worn through the seat, a 48-inch closet is not much of a problem.  For me, however, a 48-inch closet is a challenge.  Unlike Michael, I enjoy shopping for clothes, and have a hard time resisting a flattering $200 designer dress that has been marked down to $19.99.  Moreover, there’s the size issue: since we moved to Cincinnati, I’ve changed sizes three or four times, so I have to keep at least two different sizes of pants and skirts to ensure that I’ll always have something that fits.  Finally—and Michael will tell you that this is the real problem—I seldom throw anything away.  Unless it got really threadbare or horribly stained, I still have it.  Hey, the red velvet empire-waist gown that my mother made me in 1972 came in handy last year when Stella needed to portray a Jane Austen character in her English class.  Besides, empire waists are coming back—really, they are!

Lately, I have begun to realize that I can’t go on like this any longer, because my closet truly has reached its capacity.  The hangers do not slide more than half an inch along the bar, and because the clothes are crammed so tightly together, I have to re-iron anything I take out before I can wear it.  Clearly, something needs to be done about the situation, and soon.

The way I see it, I have four options:

  1. We could implement the original idea to wall off one end of the bedroom and create an expanded, walk-in closet.
  2. I could move some of my stuff into the half-empty closet in Soren and Nat’s room.
  3. I could resist buying any new clothes until I wear out (or horribly stain) half of what I already own.
  4. I could decide that since Stella is unlikely to do another Jane Austen presentation in the next ten years, now might be time to get rid of the gown with the empire waist—and anything else I have no real need to keep.

Let’s look at the first of these options: We could implement the original idea to wall off one end of the bedroom to create an expanded, walk-in closet.  Notice that I had to begin that sentence with we could rather than I could, because this is a project I cannot undertake on my own.  I’d have to get approval from the person with whom I share the bedroom, and, considering that the project would be even messier and more expensive than it would have been if we’d done it eight years ago, it’s not likely to happen any time soon.

The second option, taking over Soren and Nat’s closet, is attractive because I could do it quite easily, all by myself, and it wouldn’t cost a thing.  The downside is that Nat, at least, and possibly Soren, will be home by the end of April, so I’d be able to enjoy the increased capacity of my own closet for only two and a half months, and then I’d have to move everything back.

The third option, avoiding the acquisition of additional clothing, is the one I’m currently practicing.  As a result, I’m developing better self-discipline, but I realize that I probably won’t be able to stay away from Stein Mart forever—especially if another of my children decides to get married and asks me to wear something in a color I do not presently own.

Taking the fourth option, cleaning out, is, of course, the most realistic.  Inevitable as it is, this choice will be the most difficult for me, because I realize that not only will I have to take the time to do it, but I’ll have to keep doing it for as long as I am stuck with this incommodious 48-inch closet.  In other words, not only will I have to make hard decisions; I’ll also have to change my habits and attitudes to avoid getting into the same situation again.

Now, this is a sacrament meeting talk, and Brother Prigmore did not ask me to speak about my bedroom closet, or even about setting our houses in order.  The topic he gave me was “Increasing Our Spiritual Capacity,” so stay with me as I try to liken my crammed closet to our spiritual situation.

Recently, President Jensen presented the members of our stake with a challenge.  He asked us to:

  1. Have personal scripture study for fifteen minutes each day.
  2. Hold weekly family home evenings.
  3. Attend the temple regularly.

Perhaps some of us looked at this challenge as three more items that would have to be crammed into the limited closet space of our lives.  Perhaps we thought: I want to accept this challenge, but how am I going to do it?  My closet is only 24 hours wide.

Trying to build an entirely new space in our household is not an attractive option for many of us.  Making a drastic life change is messy and expensive, it involves the cooperation of those with whom we share our lives, and it may require outside, professional assistance—but it can be done. For some people, such a remodeling project may be the most satisfying option.  If this is you, I urge you to begin work now, so that eight years hence you won’t wish you had done it earlier.  If you feel like you can’t do it by yourself, ask your home or visiting teachers for help—or call the bishop.  He can offer professional advice and help you pass the building inspection.

Perhaps you heard President Jensen’s challenge and thought: Reading the scriptures is hard for me because I don’t understand the words.  My family is not active in the Church, so I can’t really have family home evenings.  I don’t have a temple recommend, or I’m still too young to go to the temple, so that challenge doesn’t apply to me.  I think I’ll just hang all this stuff in somebody else’s closet right now.  After all, I do listen while other people read the scriptures at home or in Sunday School—can’t I count that as personal scripture study?  My family goes out together for ice cream every week—doesn’t that count as family home evening?  I’m doing genealogy and giving lots of names to my sister so she can do the temple work—doesn’t that count for me, too?

While it’s true that there may be times in our lives when it’s more convenient, or even appropriate, to let others carry some of our spiritual burdens, it’s still our stuff, and ultimately we must find ways to make room for it in our own lives.  These examples show places where we can begin, times when we can depend on the strength of others until we develop the skill and discipline to accept full responsibility for our own needs.  Children and others who are unfamiliar with the language of the scriptures can benefit from reading and discussing them with others until they develop the confidence to rely only on the Spirit to help them understand what they read.  A faithful family member can pray for the courage to suggest that some serious discussion be added to those weekly ice cream outings.  Those who do not hold temple recommends can work to prepare themselves for that sacred privilege and duty.

When President Jensen issued his challenges, he promised that doing these things would strengthen us as individuals and families, and bring us closer to Christ.  Such spiritual benefits far outweigh the benefit of a new shirt or sweater.  These are blessings that I don’t want to deny myself, so the option of “not shopping” isn’t one I would want to choose in this case.  I’d have to move on to the last option: disciplining myself to get rid of the habits and attitudes that are taking up space but not enriching my life.  I may be trying to preserve practices that worked well in the past, but no longer fit my circumstances.  I may be hanging onto outdated ideas that are preventing me from learning new and better ways of doing things.  If I were a recent convert to the Church, I may be clinging to customs that aren’t in harmony with principles of the restored gospel.

It’s also possible that our closets cluttered with stuff that wasn’t very useful to begin with.  In Doctrine & Covenants Section 88, the Lord admonishes us to organize ourselves and put our houses in order by ceasing from all light speeches, loud laughter, lustful desires, pride, light-mindedness and wicked doings.  Cease to be covetous, he goes on, cease to be idle, cease to be unclean, cease to find fault one with another, cease to sleep longer than is needful.  The Lord even supports my clothes-closet analogy by suggesting that we “clothe [our]selves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle.”[i] Surely, if we heed this advice, we’ll increase our capacity for the things of the spirit.

At some point, all analogies break down, and here is where this one does: a closet—even the big walk-in type I wish I had—has a finite capacity, limited by drywall and rigid wood frames.  A spirit, however, is made of much more pliable stuff: it can go through walls, right?  This means that it must be capable of infinite expansion.

Last week I went with one of the sister missionaries to visit a ward member who had been baptized as a child, but never attended church on a regular basis.  When Sister Fedor asked her how she felt about having a living prophet on the earth, she confessed that she wasn’t sure whether she believed in prophets.  She explained that she didn’t know much about LDS doctrine or the Book of Mormon or even the Bible.  The only thing she was sure about, she said, is that there is a God who listens to us and answers our prayers.

As she was speaking, I was reminded of the impoverished Zoramites, the people of the Book of Mormon whose ancestors’ knowledge of Christ had been lost to later generations through disobedience and indifference.  Alma, the great prophet and teacher, encouraged them to discover the truth of his words by “exercis[ing] a particle of faith,” even if they could do “no more than desire to believe.”  “Let this desire work in you,” he said, “even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”  In other words, simply clear a small place in your soul to consider the word of God.  Alma may not have been thinking in terms of closet space, but he was thinking metaphorically: “Now,” he said, “we will compare the word to a seed.  Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart . . . if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when ye feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea it beginneth to be delicious to me.  Now behold, would not this increase your faith?”[ii]

I read this passage to the woman we were visiting, and encouraged her to do as Alma advised.  “You already know that God hears and answers your prayers,” I said, “so if you want to learn whether God speaks to us through prophets and through the scriptures, you can begin by simply asking him.  Exercise that particle of faith; plant that seed, and give it a chance to grow.”

To all of you, I testify that if we will give place in our hearts for spiritual things by clearing away the clutter of our lives, our capacity for receiving the things of the spirit will grow.  The word of God will expand our minds, enlarge our souls, and enlighten our understanding, and all that space will be filled with truth, light, and eternal joy.

[i] See D&C 88:119-125

[ii] Alma 32:27-29