Many Sparrows

Thoughts on Latter-Day Saint faith in the twenty-first century. will never be happier than you are grateful. “Hallmarks of Happiness” by Gary B. Sabin, October 2023 General Conference

A few weeks ago I wrote:

H ≤ G

on the chalkboard in my Sunday School classroom before class started. We were talking about the plan of happiness and how we can follow that plan. When I got to this topic, I explained that H ≤ G helps me remember that I need to increase my gratitude to increase my happiness. One of the students asked, incredulously, “is that you think? In algebraic formulas?”


Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

I really love that we are focusing on the New Testament this year in Come Follow Me, but that's not the point of this post.

This verse from Hebrews is so delightful. A major component of faith is trusting that Christ and the Father care about us as individuals. Which means that they want us to come home. We believe it on some level, but it's easy to say “but that doesn't really apply to me.”

So we need to read this verse. It was directed to the Hebrews, to whom the “Throne of Grace” or Mercy Seat, was accessible to the high priest on one day each year. The High Priest went in to symbolically pay for the sins of the entire nation of Israel once a year. Going boldly into the Holy of Holies was a sure death sentence in the years when Israel was in the wilderness.

And now we are told that we are all to “come boldly” to the throne of Grace! The way is open now to each and every one of us! Christ is the High Priest of the new covenant and invites us all to come to him.


...When ye are weary he waketh morning by morning... 2 Nephi 7:4

This verse spoke to me this morning. I'm often weary. Not just physically tired, but weary in my soul, tired of trying, tired of failing, tired of not being good enough.

And I'm not the first to feel this way, obviously. Every person has gone through this, has been weary. We are such inconsistent creatures, righteous today and wicked...well, the same day. We fall down a lot.

But not our Savior. he waketh morning by morning. He's always there, always ready to do the work we rely on Him to do. When we are ready to come to Him, to ask Him for help, He's there. Where we are inconsistent, He is consistent, faithful, and ready to apply His redeeming Atonement to cover our weaknesses, to give balm to our hurts.

© Nathanial Dickson. All Rights Reserved. Discuss...

He is Risen! He is Risen! Tell it out with joyful voice. He has burst his three days’ prison; Let the whole wide earth rejoice. Death is conquered; man is free. Christ has won the victory.

I love this hymn. There is so much in this song that speaks to me in this day and age, and yet it is also tied into an older and eternal world.

I have recently been called to be the choir director in my ward. We have a performance for Easter, in two weeks. No pressure. So I chose this as one of the songs we'll be singing.

Here's what I love about it: – The jubilant feeling. I don't know if the world does “Jubilation” any more, we are too saturated in low-grade “I'm okay I guess” to really be jubilant. This song is a massive wave of unbounded joy from being set free from a fate quite literally worse than death. – The gratitude built into every line of this song. Any mention of ourselves is in a passive voice, we are celebrating the victory of our God, our Lord, who has done these great things for us.

Come with high and holy hymning; Chant our Lord’s triumphant lay. Not one darksome cloud is dimming Yonder glorious morning ray, Breaking o’er the purple east, Symbol of our Easter feast.

  • As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we don't have the concepts of “feats” and “fasts” the way the Catholic church understands them. But feast days aren't just like, Thanksgiving, they are a time to celebrate a great good that has happened by re-creating a smaller good and spending time with one another in one of mankind's oldest and most joyful pastimes, a shared meal.

He is risen! He is risen! He hath opened heaven’s gate. We are free from sin’s dark prison, Risen to a holier state. And a brighter Easter beam On our longing eyes shall stream.

  • The last point (and the last verse) is such deep allegory. We have been in prison, we have been in the valley of the shadow of death, but now, this pure, brighter Easter beam cuts through the gloom and darkness that surrounds us, and we are, without any virtue or merit on our part, risen to a holier state, freed from dark prison, and given a path to heaven.

© Nathanial Dickson. All Rights Reserved. Discuss...

And now it came to pass that as Alma was journeying from the land of Gideon southward, away to the land of Manti, behold, to his astonishment, he met with the sons of Mosiah journeying towards the land of Zarahemla.

Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God. Alma 17:1-2

In 1998 I was called to serve in the Philippines San Fernando mission. When I arrived at the MTC I was a little worried that all my MTC gear said “Philippines Olongapo”, a word that made much less sense than “San Fernando” but it didn't really matter. It was still the Philippines, still Tagalog speaking.


And it came to pass that we lived after the manner of happiness. 2 Nephi 5:27

We read this and we think that Nephi was having an easy time of life for about thirty years. We're wrong of course. In that thirty years they made swords to protect themselves from attackers. They were still having illnesses, they were still living a mortal life.

What does it mean to live in the manner of happiness?


NOTE: During the COVID-19 Pandemic families have been invited to have sacrament meeting in our homes, with just our immediate family. This is done under the direction of the Bishop, with worthy priesthood holders officiating in the home. We don't actually print up programs and whatnot for our home sacrament meeting, but this is what it would look like if we did. There, I just explained the joke to death.

Conducting: Brother Dickson The Elder Pianist: Sister Dickson Chorister: Sister Dickson the Younger

Opening Hymn: Chosen by Sister Dickson Opening Prayer: Brother Dickson II

Sacrament Hymn: Chosen by Sister Dickson

Sacrament: Blessed by Brother Dickson the Elder Passed by Brother Dickson the Deacon


Closing Hymn: Chosen by Sister Dickson Closing Prayer: Brother Dickson the Second Youngest

© Nathanial Dickson. All Rights Reserved. Discuss...

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, we get the story of Philip and Nathanael. Philip comes to his friend and tells him that

We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. John 1:45

Nathanael's response, “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” sounds like the Chandler Bing of the New Testament. “Could this man BE any more Nazarene?”

Christ, who knows Nathanael perfectly, saw through his ironic persona and identified him immediately:

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! John 1:47

In whom there is no guile! Oh. Wow. What a compliment! What high praise!

Nathanael, impressed perhaps by the Savior's ability to see to the heart, abandons his witty cynicism and confesses:

Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. John 1:49

I have loved this story since I was a child, not only because my name is Nathanial, not only because I have a bent toward the sarcastic, but because I would love to be called “Nathanial, in whom there is no guile!”

Think for a moment: What if Nathanael had stayed under that fig tree? What if he had let his dismissive attitude stop him from following Philip?

This is the danger of sarcasm, of cynicism. Sarcasm feels like a way to deal with a world that is hard, that is trying to hurt us. In reality, cynicism and sarcasm are a form of guile in which we are lying to ourselves about the world around us, and in so doing, cut ourselves off.

In shielding ourselves from disappointments and distresses, what do we miss out on? The answer, it seems, is everything.

C.S. Lewis knew this. Said he:

There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. from 'The Four Loves' emphasis added

Shakespeare knew this. Hamlet remarked that Denmark was a terrible prison, and his friends disagreed. Hamlet conceded the point:

Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2)

Hamlet was ready to admit that Denmark could be a prison for him, but not for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. They were in the same country, standing right next to each other. But to him it was the worst dungeon in all the world, while to them it was...well, perhaps he wasn't ready or willing to consider what it was to them.

It's easy to dislike things. It's a “safe” position, intellectually. Everything on this earth is imperfect, so we can mock anything. We could ask “Can there any good thing come out of NBC/Marvel/Apple/Google/Novels/Comics/Your Favorite State to Dump On/Your favorite country to dump on?”

What does it get us? What good does it do us?

Hamlet was fictional, and Shakespeare built Hamlet's prison around him. But how many people are living in a prison they built themselves? How many people have made it impossible for themselves to find joy in anything, because they've become so adept at heaping scorn on everything?

C.S. Lewis and Shakespeare were both talking about the same thing:

Anhedonia: inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities. (Oxford Dictionary of English)

What's the solution?

I would suggest that there are two qualities we could foster in ourselves that would help:

  1. Humility
  2. Sincerity

And they are tightly connected.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child... Matthew 18:4

My youngest child is amazed and delighted by everything. Why not? The world is pretty amazing! From her perspective the world is mountains and the moon and unicorns! She can shout “Alexa, play 'happy people'” and her favorite song comes on instantly! And there's brothers to play with and dinner to eat and milk to drink and a trampoline to jump on and a plush dragon to snuggle and how could all these things exist in a world and you still call it a “prison”?

There are many people who don't have these nice things and we as adults need to be mindful that we are doing what we can to improve their situation. But does my ennui over the plight of someone I've never met improve that person's life? I would suggest that it is easier to enact positive change from a place of positivity, a place of child-like, Nathanael-like guilelessness.

So we need to become as a little child. If we see something that is interesting or impressive we need to say that it's impressive or interesting. We need to start from the position that the world around us is impressive, then work to make it more impressive for everyone.

Also, people are impressive. My youngest may be shy around people she hasn't met yet, but she's not afraid of them. We are teaching our children to be careful, not to follow strangers, not to get into vehicles without letting parents know, not to be foolish. But we aren't teaching them to fear everyone.

Most people are good. We know this, subconsciously. If we actually thought everyone else on earth was terrible we would never go outside. On some level we have accepted this, or else we have shut down completely. And our internal sense is right! Statistically, this is the safest time to be alive in recorded history. Whenever your childhood was, be it ten years ago or thirty, there was more violent crime then than there is now.

Yes we have urgent problems. Yes there are things we need to fix in our society. I'm not ignoring nor downplaying these things.

But it's okay for us to be grateful for the blessing of being alive right now. We can shed the ineffective armor of sarcasm and be honestly, humbly open to the blessings that surround us even as we seek to improve the world further.

© Nathanial Dickson. All Rights Reserved. Discuss...

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee... Luke 12:16-20

This parable has taken on new meaning for me lately. For a long time this parable has hung around in my mind for two reasons:

  • It's a good reminder that everything we have is temporary, so don't get too attached to material stuff.
  • It has a person talking to their own soul. That's the kind of thing I always find amusing.

I've always felt a little sorry for the rich man in this story. He didn't really do anything wrong. He has worked hard (presumably. I've always thought of him as a moderately prosperous farmer, not a slum lord or whatever), and now he wants to sit back and enjoy the literal fruits of his labors. But instead he dies. And gets called a fool in the process.

In early December 2019, I was looking forward to a luxurious two week holiday break from work. I had worked hard all year. I had graduated with an MBA. And now I was looking at my two weeks of free time and I said to my soul, “Soul, thou hast worked hard, so for two weeks, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.”

Instead my son went into Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which was a surprise to us because we didn't know he was diabetic. As I watched my son gasp, nearly comatose, unable to speak clearly, stand up unaided, or even feed himself, it felt like my soul was being required of me that night. My wise wife asked some diabetic friends to test him, and we got him to the hospital. He is Type 1 diabetic, but he's handling it with incredible grace.

And now I understand this parable on a different level. The rich man in the parable wasn't called a fool for collecting goods, or even planning on a bigger barn. He was a fool because he was relying on his wealth to bring him peace.

And so was I.

I was planning on somehow extracting peace from my time away from the office. I had designed a future by myself, without thinking about what God had planned for me. I couldn't have known that my son's pancreas was at the end of its useful lifespan, but instead of being grateful for each day I was putting my stock in tomorrow, in my stored up vacation days.

The Myth of the New Normal

In the early days (well, we're still in the early days) I started thinking about how we would re-center on a new normal with my son's condition. Things will never be the same as they used to be, but for a while I was planning on, indeed putting stock in, things getting to a new place of equilibrium.

But is that even a real goal?

The movie Ratatouille has the following line:

Change is nature, the part that we can influence. And it starts when we decide.

And, when I wrote that down, a few days before Christmas, It really resonated with me. I told myself, “Self, you get to decide when things change, and how they change.”

Thou fool.

There is much that is in our control, but not all. Many changes will come, regardless of my decisions. I can seek all day long for a “new normal”, or a sense of equilibrium, but what good does that do? If a disruption of my day throws me out of alignment, because there is no more normal, what good is it anyway?

So if a “new normal” isn't the goal, what is my goal?

I've been thinking about that and writing little notes to myself in my pocket notebook. Here's the best I've come up with.

Faith is being okay with change. Either God will change us, or we will stagnate. Change will be scary, but it still has to happen.

For me, this is the best answer to my desire for normality. Normality in this context means stagnation. It means I'm not growing. God has a better plan for me than I have for myself, and it's up to me to let Him be in charge.

Al Carraway has had similar thoughts recently, it seems. In her article Why Trusting God is Hard she speculates on why it's hard to give our life to a perfect God who loves us perfectly: could mean uncharted, unmarked, unwanted paths. Giving it to God means an unexpected outcome. It could mean giving up comfort or passions. It’s hard because we don’t know where any of it will lead us.

So what's the answer? What is the perfect, pithy thing that will fix all of this?

I don't know. Here's what's helped me, though:

  • Don't be afraid to lean on people who love you. We have had so much love poured out upon us from people around us, both inside the church and out.
  • Take it easy on yourself and accept that some days you're not okay.

And finally, Verse Two of Be Still, My Soul:

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake To guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last. Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be Still, My Soul in the Lutheran Hymnal

© Nathanial Dickson. All Rights Reserved. Discuss...

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear... —1st John 4:18

But how? What don't I understand about the relationship between God and myself that makes me so prone to fear sometimes?

I'm afraid of so many things. For six months after we moved into our house I would lay awake at night, worrying about everything. What if the house burned down and I couldn't get my kids out? What if someone broke in? What if the floor gave way and my bed landed on my kids? What if what if what if what if what if what if????


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