Yesterday as a family we went to a nearby beach. With three children ages 5 and under, going to the beach is quite a production. Packing the car, preparing meals and snacks, making sure we have sunblock and sources of shade, and, most importantly, making sure we have our swimming suits, is a daunting task. Successfully getting to the beach with everything we need sometimes feels like a Pyrrhic victory. After a 90 minute drive we spend another 30 minutes getting swimming suits and sunscreen on everyone. Then there are the inevitable diaper changes, baby feedings, and child chasings. But then we make it down to the beach and everyone has a great time running in the sand, building sand castles, and playing in the waves.
The one thing we usually forget to do is reapply sunscreen after a while. Being quite fair skinned, our family tends to turn crimson with relatively little exposure to the sun; this means that regardless of how much sunblock we apply we invariably return home with some sort and size of sunburn. They are usually mild but the burns are there. Another thing we often bring home from the beach is a lot of sand – sand from the shoes and clothes of all of us and sand in the folds and crevasses of the children’s bodies. Sand, especially the fine sand of our beaches, seems to get everywhere. It covers our bodies with a fine dusting, stuck to the sunblock that protects our bodies. Today (after two showers and a number of hours) I discovered more sand trapped in the crevasses of my ear (am I the only one who occasionally misses cleaning out some of the grooves in my pinna?).
All Latter-day Saints have been charged with remaining free from the sins of the world: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). The world is a dirty place – there is sand and grit that gets you dirty. This sand can stay with you even though you shower and get clean. Then there is the sun. It gives life but too much sun can result in burns and, eventually, cancer. So we slather ourselves up with protection – we don our whited armor, our helmets and breastplates and shields of titanium dioxide, in order to protect ourselves from the fiery darts of the sun. It works well, most of the time, but if we are not careful and make sure we cover every exposed part and then reapply our armor as needed, we will still end up burned. Over time, the sun can have lasting effects – wrinkles, spots, and cancers (I wrote about this topic of sunburns previously). But with well-applied sunscreen we can be protected and safe in the sun.
We can protect ourselves and we can wash ourselves when we get dirty but sometimes there is still residual dirt. But over time we can become clean again. There is a story told about a dream Joseph F. Smith had while serving as a missionary in Hawaii. Here is his dream as told by Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley in the April 2007 General Conference:
“I was very much oppressed [when I was] on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except [for] the friendship of a poor, benighted . . . people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a . . . man in the face.
“While in that condition I dreamed [one night] that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize . . . what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion. . . . I thought I knew that was my destination.
As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice [which read B–A–T–H], ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was [some] white, clean [clothing], a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my [clothing was] clean, and I put [it] on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and [replied]:
“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’
“He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door. I felt his hand just as tangible as I ever felt the hand of man. I knew him, and when I entered I saw my father, and Brigham [Young] and Heber [C. Kimball], and Willard [Richards], and other good men that I had known, standing in a row. I looked as if it were across this valley, and it seemed to be filled with a vast multitude of people, but on the stage were all the people that I had known. My mother was there, and she sat with a child in her lap; and I could name over as many as I remember of their names, who sat there, who seemed to be among the chosen, among the exalted. . . .
“[When I had this dream,] I was alone on a mat, away up in the mountains of Hawaii—no one was with me. But in this vision I pressed my hand up against the Prophet, and I saw a smile cross his countenance. . . .
“When I awoke that morning I was a man, although only [still] a boy. There was not anything in the world that I feared [after that]. I could meet any man or woman or child and look them in the face, feeling in my soul that I was a man every whit. That vision, that manifestation and witness that I enjoyed at that time has made me what I am, if I am anything that is good, or clean, or upright before the Lord, if there is anything good in me. That has helped me out in every trial and through every difficulty” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 542–43; emphasis added).
Being clean gives us power to face any trial that might come our way. Being clean allows us to have the Spirit of the Lord with us. Being clean allows us to face opposition knowing that we have integrity and fidelity to God. We can walk with our heads held high knowing that the blessings of God attend us. As we remain unspotted from the sins of the world – whether because we do not sin or because we repent and become clean – we will have increased faith in Christ and increased power from God.