Hanging on the wall in my office directly opposite from my desk is one of my favorite paintings. Liz Lemon Swindle has captured my feelings about the Prophet Joseph Smith in this painting and it is a constant reminder of the man I look to as my prophet-hero. In the painting, a young boy stands next to Joseph with his hands in his pocket just like the Prophet. Many times, as I have walked the streets of Nauvoo or stood on the banks of the Mississippi River near his grave, I have wished to be able to stand next to Joseph like the boy in the picture. I long to hear his voice teach the sweet things of the gospel and open my eyes to the blessings of heaven.
My first summer living in Nauvoo, as a fifteen-year-old young man, was spent reading everything I could find on Nauvoo and the Prophet Joseph Smith. At an age of decision, the move to Nauvoo had given direction to my life with a hero to emulate. While my worship is saved for the Savior, I have great respect for the man who was known as Brother Joseph. As a teen, the challenge of “being perfect” as the Savior and Father in Heaven are perfect seemed impossible. And though I knew my ultimate goal was to be like Jesus, my reality was to simply try to live as Joseph. To be like him seemed possible to a young teenage boy finding his own place in the world.
The anniversary of his birth that first year in Nauvoo motivated me to do something to honor this man I had grown to love and respect. I didn’t want the birthday of my hero to be forgotten among the Christmas carols and celebrations. With the support of wonderful parents, I wrote a script for a program on his life. I gathered a large selection of pictures and slides that coincided with the script. I asked at the visitor’s center if we could use their theater for the program. With an audience made up mostly of missionary couples, they graciously sat through a program of words and music on the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Their kindness and gracious words were a great encouragement to a fifteen year old, and today I am more grateful than ever for their support that night so many years ago.
Joseph was born December 23, 1805, near the small town of Sharon, Vermont. His family was not rich or well known and carried the common name of Smith. As a child, he knew happiness and pain. The story of his operation as a young boy cultivates courage in my own life as I face daily challenges. His faith to enter a grove of trees near his home inspires me to pray with greater faith. His strength as he spoke in a meeting, to the very men who had tarred and feathered him the night before, gives me strength to move through my life with greater determination and hope. His expressions of love to his family and friends fosters within me a greater love in my relationships. His willingness to forgive encourages me to repent and to forgive others. His patience in enduring hardships is an example to me as I experience trials in my own life. His expressions of kindness and service influence me as I try to develop similar characteristics of charity and happiness.
To understand and love Joseph you must understand his motivations. In a letter written to Edward Hunter on January 5, 1842, he wrote, “The store has been filled to overflowing and I have stood behind the counter all day, distributing goods as steadily as any clerk you ever saw, to oblige those who were compelled to go without their Christmas and New Year’s dinners for the want of a little sugar, molasses, raisins, etc.; and to please myself also, for I love to wait upon the Saints and to be a servant to all, hoping that I may be exalted in the due time of the Lord.” (Brother Joseph, p. 131-132).
His whole purpose and motivation was to serve others, build Zion, strengthen the Kingdom, and prepare a people for the return of Jesus Christ to reign on the earth. As their prophet leader, he taught them the reality of a living Savior and restored the power of the Priesthood to the earth. He declared the purpose of the Church was the “bringing of men and women to a knowledge of the eternal truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer and Savior of the world, and that only through belief in Him and faith which manifests itself in good works, can men and nations enjoy peace” (Brother Joseph, p. 178).
During the First Presidency Christmas Devotional of 1999, President Gordon B. Hinckley, requested that families take time on December 23 to read the Joseph Smith history, as recorded in the Scriptures, and contemplate all that we enjoy as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a result of this man fulfilling his mission here on the earth. How grateful we should be for all he accomplished, his example, and his faithfulness.
I love the Prophet Joseph Smith. As I have walked where he walked, studied his life and learned of his character and personality, my respect and love have increased. I hope someday to meet him, talk with him, and express my gratitude to him. I strive to join with him on his journey to become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ.