Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Maintaining Our Spiritual Clocks*

Helen and Brent Goates

My father, L. Brent Goates, continues his tradition of writing to his former missionaries every six months at General Conference time. Last night I dropped by his home to see if he needed my help. "No," he replied, "it's all done! I figure as long as I'm able I should be as independent as I can be." Those words are coming from the lips of a man who is now in his 92nd year. It's no small feat for him to produce this semi-annual missive, messages he styles "Heart Lines." He first lines it up on the page in his old IBM Selectric (yes, at least one still exists). He types it several times until it approaches perfection. Then he drives himself to Kinkos to get 100 copies, individually signs each one, then folds them and stuffs each envelope after addressing them, seals them and licks a stamp for each. With very few editing corrections, I share it with his permission:

Almost every person and family has a precious story from their lifetime which is often associated with the possession of some treasured artifact or heirloom. These are tucked away in our memories or attics until some event causes their emergence. To validate this conclusion I refer you to current series on the BYU educational television channel entitled “My Story Trek.” Here the producer goes into a town, neighborhood and finally a house, chosen completely at random, and offers to televise spontaneously their precious story. After some persuasion most people agree to it because they do have a story they want to preserve in memory.

Of our five boys our late son, Drew (1952-2011), was the most sentimental toward family objects and traditions. He once presented to me a list of 14 items, requesting the documented history of each treasured physical possession or family story so he could pass on such a record to his posterity.

Number one at the top of his list was “Grandma’s Mantle Clock.” He had been fascinated by it as a child and talked about it so much my mother donated it to him as a keepsake. It now lies in a protective box where he left it, marked “Grandma’s Mantle Clock – Very Fragile.”

This is no ordinary clock. It’s a windup clock. That is, it is necessary every seven or eight days to wind up the mechanism with a key. If this is not done at such regular intervals, the clock eventually begins to lose time, its chimes become sluggish and off-tone. Finally, it stops until it is rewound again.

Great care is necessary in the rewinding process. If wound too tightly, the mechanism seizes up, or if not tight enough the process must be repeated too frequently. It requires a delicate, sensitive feeling to determine just how much tension is needed without applying too much.

When I think about the times I rewound this clock as a boy growing up in her home, and consider my now-declining physical condition, I think how nice it would be if I could somehow restore my physical powers to their youthful vigor in a manner just as simple as that.

In some ways, and to some degree, I can effect a partial rejuvenation through exercise, rest and proper nourishment. I realize, however, that my physical clock is gradually winding down. My mechanism, “very fragile,” is becoming increasingly sluggish. The chimes are now less vibrant and sometimes a little out-of-pitch (maybe even out-of-sorts too?). Someday, maybe soon, my clock will stop altogether, despite all my efforts to keep it going.

It is so also with the physical clock in each one of us. It is part of God’s plan. Our time in mortality is but one phase of an eternal existence. Gratefully, as our physical clock winds down we have the assurance through Christ’s atonement of a new beginning and even great possibilities as other glorious phases open up.

As I think about these sobering realities, there comes to mind another figurative clock that operates within me. It is my “spiritual clock.” It has some similarities to the physical one. It, too, needs regular winding to stay on time and to keep its true tone. Unlike the physical clock, however, the spiritual one is not necessarily destined for dissolution.

In fact, with proper attention and regular care it grows more vigorous, more perfect in its operation, more clear and resonant in its tones. But this is not an automatic process. Just as with the fragile clock on the mantle, unless there is a regular, careful winding up of the mechanism a spiritual sluggishness develops, the spiritual tone becomes off-key, and unless something is done to correct the winding-down process, the clock can stop.

In today’s spiritually decadent environment spiritual clock that do not receive regular attention can wind down very rapidly. Men are mortal and beset by many human frailties. It is so easy to be caught up with the complexities of life’s pursuits and snagged by ever-present Satanic temptations which lure us into sinful ways.

Thus, all of us must seek the ennobling compulsion to “wind-up” our spiritual clocks. Just as we found exercise, proper nourishment and rest are essential to our physical well-being, so are such religious and spiritual activities as prayer, scripture study and Sabbath worship, partaking of the sacrament and unselfish service to others, all necessary for our spiritual vigor. Without these continuing influences in our lives, our spiritual clocks wind down and we distance ourselves from God.

Consider more deeply these spiritual lifesavers –

PRAYER: Enjoy again “Amulek’s Anthem,” which says in part: “Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. . . But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:20-27).

SCRIPTURES: “Search the scriptures for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39).

SABBATH WORSHIP and PARTAKING OF THE SACRAMENT: “But remember that on this day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren and before the Lord.” (D&C 59:12-13).

UNSELFISH SERVICE TO OTHERS: The Savior (King) recalls our service, though we may have forgotten, to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger and prisoner and says: “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:31-40).

Beloved missionaries: The gospel is true, so let us be true to the gospel by keeping our spiritual clocks in the best of condition. We will be eternally happy if we do so.

Always, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I would just like to comment on the opening paragraph, if that is okay. That is amazing and rightfully valued as a "precious story"! I remember working on a Selectric Typewriter back "in the day." It was one of the tools I used in the Army when manual and electric typewriters were in style. I must admit, as soon as computers with word processing capabilities were introduced in the work place, I had no problem transitioning to that technology. That said, I am impressed that one, there is a Selectric Typewriter actually still working and being used today and not in the Smithsonian Institute somewhere; two, that (presumably) there is still a place to have the Selectric (or any typewriter) serviced, and three, that your father still has the patience and love to carefully prepare the semi-annual letters to his former missionaries. This says a Lot about L. Brent Goates. While I have never met this good brother, I already have a great respect and admiration for him. You come from good stock Dave! Greetings to Patsy and your parents...John Rail

  3. Thanks for your comments, John. He's quite a remarkable man to be sure!

  4. I cherish every Heart Lines I receive. In fact, I have a stack of past Heart Lines which I re-read when I need council, comfort, or wisdom. I am so grateful Pres. Goates is recuperating well from his surgery. A personal visit is on the top of our list when we're in Salt Lake in May.