When Jesus Christ turned 12 years old, his parents traveled to Jerusalem to attend to the custom of the Passover feast. After the family was done celebrating and worshipping, they began their return journey home.
Meanwhile, the Savior stayed behind in Jerusalem unbeknownst to Joseph and Mary. Somewhere along their journey home, they realized that their son — the Son of God — was not with them. I couldn’t imagine the feelings and thoughts they must have been experiencing.
There were no cellphones and no Internet. (I know, how did we ever survive?) What if they lost him, never to find him again? What if something had happened to him? Someone had taken him? Someone had hurt him? Even though none of them were recorded, the worries must have been endless.
It took them three days to find Jesus and when they did, he was in the temple, preaching and teaching some of the smartest holy men in Jerusalem.
Mary said to him, “why hast thou thus dealt with us?” (Luke 2:48). It’s easy to see the flustered and probably frustrated yet patient mother asking her son, who also happens to be her Savior, “why did you stay behind and cause us so much worry?”
He responded by asking, “How is it that ye sought me? (Knew) ye not that that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). In other words, he was asking, “where did you look for me? Didn’t you know that you could find me in the temple, doing my Father’s work?”
It took Joseph and Mary three days to find Jesus. I often wonder where they looked for their son. How many different places did they look for Jesus before they had the idea to go to the temple?
This story forces us to ask some honest questions of ourselves: Where do we look for Jesus? Where do we look for salvation — something that only he offers? Where do we look for the other things that only he offers ultimately — peace, forgiveness, strength?
One misconception about the gospel of Jesus Christ is that he gives us a bunch of rules that we are required to obey in order to gain salvation. This is obviously not the case.
Timothy Keller said in his book, “The Reason for God” that “freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones.”
Keller adds that “a fish is only free in water.”
With the proper restrictions in place to set us free, the Lord gave us the first of these freeing commandments. Keller goes on to explain that of the original Ten Commandments written by the hand of the Savior, the first is to “have no other gods before” him.
By that definition, we learn that sin comes down to putting our happiness in the hands of anybody or anything other than God. Keller says, “the primary way to define sin is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.”
In essence, where we look for God is our ultimate test. Do we look for him in academia, the glory of the workplace, popularity and fame, sports teams or other worldly pursuits? Or do we look for him where his representatives tell us we should look — in the temple, at church, in the scriptures, through prayer and priesthood leaders?
Central to our earthly existence is the need that we, as human beings, have to have worth.
As I grew up, I worked for everything that I gained. My father knew many people in high places, so when I reached any level of success there were always doubters, “haters” as they’re called now. When I got a job, it was deemed nepotism. The phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” always came up when my personal success was discussed.
Whether rightly or wrongly, this along with many other similar factors was one of bigger factors in my decision to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although I knew that every worthy Mormon young man should serve a mission, I also knew that it was a personal decision between the Lord and me. I knew that if I was going to be a successful missionary for the LDS Church, the Lord was going to have to confirm to me that it was the right thing for me to do. But I also knew that it would give me an immense sense of worth.
It would be something that I could own, something that the Lord and I would work on together. In my mind, the personal growth I had on my mission would give me a sense of worth that nothing I had accomplished up to that point ever had, because it was mine — mine and the Lord’s. No one could give credit to my parents or to luck or to outside influences or to anything other than my own hard work and obedience as well as the Lord’s grace.
Little did I know that the relationship I would gain on my mission would be the only thing that could give me any amount of redeeming worth. Had I not had the success I thought I should have and had I not gained a secure relationship with my Savior, my soul would have been shaken.
When we put our trust in and base our identity on anything other than our relationship with God, we risk complete personal and spiritual destruction.
Our need for self-worth is so basic and so powerful that we will find anything on which to base our identity. I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times in my life when I based my identity on the rise or success of my favorite sports teams. Many have done likewise with their sports teams. With the rise and fall of these teams, our self-worth does likewise.
This is sad, but common. However, it is far more common for us to place our worth in the hands of our employers or sheer luck. When we are promoted or climb the corporate ladder our self-worth rises. This is often outside of our control, however, and when things don’t go as planned or hoped, it shakes us so badly that is it can destroy us.
We even look for human beings to define us. We worship celebrities, mentors and sometimes even church leaders. Although it is good to have mentors who we can model our lives after, the Lord is the only model who can bring us salvation.
However, when we rely on another person more than God, we run the risk of that person not living up to our expectations of them. Does that mean they are not worthy to be our friend, family member, or spouse? Of course not. But whether our expectations are too high or our friends or family members are too human, our worth cannot be placed in the hands of other human beings, as close to them as we may be.
In his book, Keller quotes the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said that “no human relationship can bear (this) burden of godhood
If your partner is ‘All’ then any shortcomings in him (or her) becomes a major threat to you
Nothing can bear that burden. No sports team, no career (no matter how amazing), no accomplishment, no relationship can replace God in our lives. This is surely part of the burden placed upon the Savior as part of the Atonement.
We are all building our identity on something. That is the power of the human urge for worth and to know that our existence is not for nothing. If our identity is based on anything other than God, we are destined for spiritual destruction.
As Keller concludes, “Jesus is the only Lord who, if you receive him, will fulfill you completely, and, if you fail him, will forgive you eternally.”
I challenge you to look in your life for what defines you. Is it your job? Your career? Your circle of friends? Your favorite football team? Your favorite movie star? Your biggest crush?
In other words, where do you look for the Savior and the salvation only he offers? I promise you that where you will find the Savior is the same place his parents found him — about his father’s work. That’s where he is. So if you want to find him, that’s where you must be.
“For how knoweth a man the Master whom He has not served?” (Mosiah 5:13).
For a person to find his or her eternal worth fulfilled, they must be about the Father’s business. They will find him in the temple, in the mission field, in the living rooms of the people they home and visit teach. They’ll find him in the scriptures, at general conference and in sacrament meeting. They’ll find him in the seemingly few-and-far-between moments when their kids are smiling and laughing instead of arguing and yelling.
The scripture says that Joseph and Mary did not quite understand what Jesus was asking them, but one thing is sure. Mary eventually got it. Remember, she was one of the first people (along with Mary Magdalene) to immediately go to the tomb to verify her belief that her son had been resurrected.
If someone has searched for the Savior somewhere where he’s not, it’s never too late to look in the right places. If a person had his or her heart broken by the dreams they've made lords over your life, it can be repaired — by the Savior who’s heart was broken for everyone under the burden that only he could bear.
Begin wherever you are. If you need to talk to the bishop to become worthy to find him in the temple, begin that process now. However, you need not meet any requirements to serve your neighbor. You just need to begin thinking of others. For “inasmuch as you’ve done it unto one of the least of these
ye have done it unto (him)” (Matthew 25:40).
comments on this story
You’ll find him in that service, however small it may be.
The Savior’s message is “come unto me.” He doesn’t say “get your act together and then come unto me.” Wherever you are, start there. He’s not hard to find. You know where to look.
Trevor Amicone is a seminary teacher at Bountiful High School. He served his mission in Boston in 2007 and 2008. He is also a sports contributor for KSL.com. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter @TrevorAmicone.