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Reader Voices: A fallen tree and 'whited sepulchers'

Published: Sunday, April 17 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

In the Midwest, spring storms sweep through small communities, often leaving destruction in their wake. Our family felt the full force of such an event while we were living in Illinois years ago. One morning the town's emergency siren sounded, alerting citizens of severe weather conditions. I rushed my infant and toddler to the lowest part of the house to seek shelter as torrential rain, hail, and damaging winds blasted over businesses and residences alike. When the storm subsided, we ventured upstairs and outside to survey the scene. Trees and branches littered the ground, and we found leaves, stripped from branches, plastered against the siding of our home. Hail perforated many of our window screens and lay on the ledges inside.

Shortly after the storm subsided, panicky parents received calls from schools to pick up their children. Frantic mothers descended on school grounds and found their students huddled in hallways because classrooms were full of shattered glass from broken windows. After I picked up my four older children, I decided to drive around on our way home and see what damage had been done. Although debris littered lawns and roads everywhere, the streets were mostly passable.

As our family passed the courthouse, we saw that a stately tree situated on the building's lawn had fallen like a forlorn friend to the ground. It had a massive base and long trunk; it must have stood there for many years providing summer shade and beauty to the area. We knew the winds alone could not have produced these results, so we climbed out of the car to get a closer look. What we found surprised all of us. The inside of the tree was almost completely hollow. What had occurred? Perhaps termites gradually gobbled up the interior over the years. Or was it some kind of beetle infestation or perhaps an undetected tree disease? We never knew.

While the tree had looked impressive and invulnerable on the outside, it could not withstand the powerful storm. It reminded me of a moment in the Savior's life where he denounced those who appeared to be one thing but were really something else. He said:

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleaniness" (Matthew 23:25-27).

As I stood and studied the tree, I pondered the difference between looking good and truly being good, in being active in the church and being active in the gospel. One will only make us "look" good while the other will truly make us "be" good. In his talk "The Practice of Truth," Bishop J. Richard Clarke reminds us that "our souls must be more than 'whited sepulchres,' which appear praiseworthy but inside are hollow chambers bereft of goodness (see Matthew 23:27). We must not only seem but also be what God would expect of his sons and daughters."

That fallen tree left a lasting impression on me. To this day, it is still a reminder that when the twin tempests of trial and temptation twirl around me, I need to be prepared.

How can we make our spiritual interiors match our outward appearance? We have been instructed to pray with real intent, taking time to listen and to ponder, not skim through the scriptures but feast upon the words of Christ, and to cling tenaciously to the iron rod so that we take the word of God into our hearts and our lives. These principles and practices along with others can create members of the church who are active in the gospel, and who will not only stand, but will stand "steadfast and immoveable" through life's severe storms (3 Nephi 6:14).

Gail H. Johnsen is from Spring, Texas.

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