A Perfect Brightness of Hope (Hardcover)
Are you or someone you know experiencing feelings of darkness and despair? Do you feel alone in your suffering?
In this volume, A Perfect Brightness of Hope, author Davis S. Baxter brings light to those of us who feel beyond help and hope, reminding us that we are not alone, however alone we may feel. He testifies powerfully of the need each of us has to draw hope from the Atonement of Jesus Christ—hope for a future that's better than the life we're living right now.
Based on real-life experiences of family breakdown, disrupted childhood, severe financial trials, and life-threatening illness, Elder Baxter illuminates gospel principles and scriptural insights with inspiring stories from his own experiences. He describes how we can "act in hope" and outlines changes that will come into our lives as a result of that action.
Through Elder Baxter's words and stories in A Perfect Brightness of Hope, you will find empathy, understanding, spirit-lifting counsel, and—most of all—real, lasting hope in the Savior, Jesus Christ.
- Size: 6 x 9
- Pages: 160
About the Author
Elder Davis S. Baxter, who was born in Stirling, Scotland, was called in 2006 to the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has served in area presidencies in Europe and in the Pacific. Elder Baxter holds a bachelor of science degree in business and economics from the University of Wales. In 2009, he underwent surgery for a brain tumor. He and his wife, Dianne, are the parents of four children and grandparents of seven.
An Abundance of Light
The smallest acts of kindness can make a world of difference in our lives. They can dispel darkness with a bright flame. One day, when I was a young boy living in Scotland during my mother’s second marriage, we were expecting a visit from my mother’s mother, an occasion not welcomed by my stepfather, who had great animosity towards her. To make a sarcastic point, he used red lipstick and wrote the word WELCOME in huge capital letters over our fireplace. It was deeply embarrassing, and I felt ashamed that my grandmother would see it.
The day before the visit, our local Church of Scotland minister, Reverend James Currie, called to see us. When he saw the message on the wall, he laughed, spread his arms out wide and in a rich baritone sang the traditional homecoming Welsh song:
We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside;
We’ll keep a welcome in the glen,
This land you know will still be singing
When you come home, sweet home, again.
There’ll be a friendly voice to guide you,
On your return we’ll always pray,
We’ll kiss away each hour of longing
When you come home again someday.
It was perfect.
The Reverend Currie, a true Christian, called again a day or two later to see how we were doing. He gave me a small “Matchbox” model of a coach. He said it was from a good person who simply wanted me to have a gift without my knowing who it was from. I suspected that it was from him, but I did not ask, and he did not say so.
These were relatively small acts of kindness, but they made a huge difference to me in defusing a tense and horrible situation. Gladness replaced sadness; dark feelings were brightened by the love and care of someone else.
I am convinced that in each of our lives are friends, neighbors and Church leaders who genuinely care for us and want to brighten our lives; we just have to let them.
I feel it is a truism to say that most of us, at some point in our lives, experience challenges and circumstances that cause us to lose hope, perhaps even for long periods of time. Some are born optimistic, but there are relatively few such persons. For the rest of us, it can seem at times that the clouds of trouble have taken up permanent position over our heads, and life takes on a sense of darkness.
The great news is that we do have access to an abundance of light that will dispel the darkness, brighten our lives and offer sunlit landscapes of our future.
There is a perfect analogy with the dark centuries of apostasy when there was an absence of truth and priesthood authority on the earth, when the light of the fullness of the gospel went out. We even refer to a portion of this period as the “dark ages.” As the Apostles passed on or were banished, as in the case of John, it was as if the lights had gone out, one by one, until only the darkness of falsehood and corruption remained.
Gladly, there came a time when truth began to be restored, true priesthood authority was returned and all of the principles, doctrines, ordinances and covenants of the gospel once again became available—a restoration of all essential elements of Heavenly Father’s plan for the happiness of His children. It is all perfectly summarized in one of the great hymns of the Restoration, penned by Elder Parley P. Pratt:
The morning breaks, the shadows flee;
Lo, Zion’s standard is unfurled!
The dawning of a brighter day, . . .
Majestic rises on the world.
The clouds of error disappear
Before the rays of truth divine;
The Glory bursting from afar, . . .
Wide o’er the nations soon will shine.1
It is my personal witness—and the compelling reason why I have written this book—that for each of us, the morning can break; the shadows can flee; glory can burst from afar; there can be a brighter day.
In the bleak, dark, desolate winter of World War II, Britain’s armed forces’ sweetheart, Vera Lynn, lifted hearts and spirits by singing with clarity, faith and hope:
When the lights go on again all over the world
And the ships will sail again all over the world
Then we’ll have time for things like wedding rings
And free hearts will sing.
When the lights go on again all over the world.2
Well, the lights did go on again all over the world, although at a terrible cost.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, referred to this famous Vera Lynn song during the October 2010 general conference in his message entitled, “Let There Be Light!” Elder Cook went on to say: “The song reflected an optimistic hope that freedom and light would be restored. For those of us who understand the role of the Savior and the Light of Christ in the ongoing conflict between good and evil, the analogy between that world war and the moral conflict today is clear.”3
We each have access to that Divine light of hope, peace, comfort, redemption and new birth. As we embrace it and allow it to reach even the darkest recesses of our lives, so we are surrounded by brilliant light; by the “perfect brightness of hope” (2 Nephi 31:20).
In this book I set out a number of ways, attitudes and behavior that can lead to an abundance of light. Each individual element plays its part, but it is a combination of all of them, perhaps in a different mix for each person, that brings the light of hope, which fully turns on the lights for us all.
My Own Experience
I know from personal experience that this is so.
My father swept streets for a living. My parents divorced when I was five years old. They had been married twenty years and had six children, of whom I was the youngest. The family broke up completely, we lost our home and I was left with my mother and the new man in her life, whom she promptly married. Three more children were then born to this union.
Unfortunately, my mother’s second husband was not a good man. He was totally lazy and worked only long enough to obtain the requisite National Insurance coverage so he could then claim unemployment benefit and social security aid. Thus began a decline into abject poverty and a life of living on state benefits. We moved frequently, drifting from place to place for the next seven years. All of our clothing was obtained secondhand from street markets in Glasgow, Scotland, or from the state.
My stepfather was an unpleasant, angry man, and life at home was difficult as there was continued family disruption. I was taken from home for respite and protection on several occasions and placed in government-run residential schools.
This marriage also failed, and my mother entered into a third relationship with a drunk she met on a bus; a stepfather who was permanently unemployed gave way to one who was an alcoholic. He also was abusive, and life at home remained very difficult. I recall the dread I felt in the pit of my stomach every time I heard his key in the lock of our front door. Life seemed without hope.
By the time I was fourteen, I had attended eight different primary schools and four different high schools. By the age of fifteen, I had had enough, and I descended into deep, personal despair, feeling that nothing would ever change. The future was so bleak, I became profoundly depressed.
The Italian poet Dante Alighieri suggested that the gates of hell would be adorned with the inscription, “Abandon all hope, you who enter.” 4 If so, it would be an apt message, for the extinguishing of hope is a key objective of Satan and his forces.
Without hope we are ever at the mercy of events; without hope there can be no faith; and without hope, faith and vision, “the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). If there is no hope for a better world, individuals stop trying to create it. If there is no hope of redemption, resurrection and eternal life, people live merely for today. As Nephi makes clear regarding circumstances in our day: “Yea, and there shall be many which shall say: Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die; and it shall be well with us” (2 Nephi 28:7) and then, “For behold, at that day shall he [the devil] rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, . . . and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.
“And behold, others he flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none—and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance” (2 Nephi 28:20–22).
Regarding Satan and his motives, Lehi taught his son Jacob, “And because he [the devil] had fallen from heaven, and had become miserable forever, he sought also the misery of all mankind” (2 Nephi 2:18).
As a direct result of Satan’s efforts there seems to be an ever-increasing sense of hopelessness in the world (see Postscript 1, page 130).
Faithful members of the Church are not immune from challenging world conditions or from the interest of Satan. Indeed, it may be that they are a prime target of his efforts. President Ezra Taft Benson taught:
“As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulation, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome the Saints with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.” 5
Some members of the Church and other people of faith undoubtedly feel discouraged as a result of guilt that is the consequence of transgression and sin; others, by broken or fractured relationships; some, from the unkind and unthinking behavior and words of others; and many, who simply feel that they can never live up to the high expectations of the gospel.
The answer, of course, is not to lower gospel expectations but to increase the level of hope that they can be met—and in this life, not just in the next where all earthly woes will be done away. Repentance, gospel living and action to increase the sense of self-worth all contribute to a greater feeling of hope and purpose.
Medical challenges can also lead to significant depression, even mental collapse.
One dictionary defines hopeless as “having no expectation of good or success . . . incapable of redemption or improvement.”6
Deep hopelessness can deteriorate into chronic clinical depression. Such degeneration can be brought on by stressful life events, including physical health challenges such as strokes or related brain trauma and cardiovascular illness. Some medications also have depressive side effects and may need to be counterbalanced with antidepressants, or adjusted until the depressive effects are ameliorated.
Deep depression is not just a factor of the modern age. It has been referred to for centuries. Some historians think that Abraham Lincoln may have suffered from depression; Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, certainly did, referring to his bouts of depressive moods as “the black dog,” a term coined by Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century.
It is not for me to offer solutions to all of this or give advice to those who suffer from clinical depression. From my limited understanding, however, I would suggest the following as helpful remedies:
1. Seek professional help. Talk with a doctor. It may also be advisable to talk with a psychotherapist. Medication may be helpful and even necessary.
2. Take time to be still. Find an opportunity to rest and relax. Sleep can help.
3. Resist making hasty decisions or painting yourself into a corner.
4. Look at photographs of your friends and family—of those who love you most. Be thankful for them; do not discount the depth of their love.
5. Look at a picture of the Savior and reflect on the thought that, even if you have not personally covenanted to give yourself to God, you have nevertheless been “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
6. Pray, study the scriptures, attend the temple, stand in holy places.
Traditional Christian theology, with its concept that all men are inherently worthless because of the false doctrine of original sin, does not foster hopefulness. Martin Seligman, in his book Learned Optimism, strongly criticizes the role of some churches in the “promotion of the idea that the individual has little chance or hope of affecting his or her life.”7
The Beginning of Hope
Fortunately, the teachings and doctrines of the restored gospel turn this thinking on its head, offering not only reasons for hope but also encouragement of the behaviors, attitudes and thought processes that engender hope, that bolster optimism and that lead to redemption from the woes of the world in this life and the next. I know this from my own experience.
In the depths of my own feelings of hopelessness in my youth, two great influences in my life began to converge, bringing a new perspective and a new vision; two strains of enlightenment, two golden threads that have become woven into the tapestry of my life, bringing hope, purpose and a vision of a brighter future.
The first was the blessing of falling under the influence of inspired and inspiring teachers in the secular school system. In the midst of family challenges and constant change came two or three teachers who seemed to see some potential in me and who then devoted themselves to helping me release it. They took a lively interest; they spent extra time, including after hours; they demonstrated personal care with many expressions of kindness. One such kindly teacher worked unceasingly to ensure that my mother and I finally could have a house that would become a more permanent home, so that we could remain in England where there was more opportunity than was available among the slum dwellings of Glasgow where we had originated. I shall never forget these good, generous individuals, whose abilities as teachers were also exemplary. They brought illumination in the midst of darkness—the light of hope in an otherwise hopeless situation at home.
Stunning examples of the care offered to me by high school teachers, and which still bring tears to my eyes, came from two teachers who were both regarded as harsh and unkind by most of my fellow students. One was the Latin master, whose demeanor was very severe. But as he came to know of my difficulties at home, he invited me to dinner and to spend time with him, his wife and his children, to give me some respite.
The second great example was my mathematics teacher, who was also my form teacher (something like the homeroom teacher in American schools). She was from Wales, and most of my fellow students walked in fear of her, regarding her as something of a Welsh dragon. They were unaware of a supreme act of kindness she showed towards me. The poor circumstances of our family meant that I received free school lunches. However, this was something of a stigma as the school was in a middle-class area, and most of the students came from reasonably prosperous backgrounds. I was the only one in my class in receipt of free school meals. Every Monday morning, all my classmates would line up to pay for their meals for the week. To save me from embarrassment, this kindly teacher arranged to meet with me before school each Monday and would give me money from her purse so that I could line up with all the rest and give her back her own money. This thoughtful act had great impact on me, and I will always be grateful for her sensitivity and kindness. Later, she also gave me after-school private tutoring at her home so that I could have somewhere decent to do homework as well as to overcome any difficulties I had with mathematics. Far from being a dragon, she was a saint.
As a result, I prospered in school. I went to university, the first in generations of my family to do so. My life became set on a path of learning and achievement. I spent a lot of time in school and public libraries, devouring books.
The second golden thread, and of course the most significant of all, was my embracing of the gospel of Jesus Christ and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missionaries from the Church had knocked on our door when I was twelve years of age, and I was baptized one month before my thirteenth birthday. As we opened our door to the missionaries, so we opened our lives to the transformational blessings of the gospel—to the “good news” that has continued to reach and enrich every aspect of my life—although it was only after experiencing my darkest hours that I truly began to feel, appreciate and achieve the hope the gospel brings. Again, I am eternally indebted to the good people who helped me along the way: the missionaries who knocked on our door and who made possible all the good that was to follow; and caring branch presidents and other members who became friends and who went out of their way to help me see that there was a better way to live and that there was hope in the midst of a seemingly hopeless situation.
I came to know a great truth: Gospel-centered education raises sights, expands vision and creates opportunity. It makes possible a watershed change in the course of life. The gospel helped me understand that what has been need not continue to be. However bleak the past, the future can be bright. The darkness and challenges of life, even though they had been experienced by generations before me, need not continue. I could make sure it all stopped with me and would not be passed on to the generations that were to follow.
It would be wrong and ungallant to conclude my personal story without crediting my mother, who also suffered through those dark days, including suffering a miscarriage as a result of being punched in the stomach by her second husband.
Her maiden name was Steel, and she certainly had a steely determination to overcome the challenges she faced rather than be overcome by them. She experienced dark days, too, but saw them through. She outlived all three of these husbands.
Then, while I was serving as a missionary in Scotland, my mother met a good man, a widower who was a recent convert. As required by British law, they were first married civilly and then sealed in the London England Temple where they were later to serve briefly as ordinance workers. In contrast to previous short-lived marriages, my mother and this good man, her fourth husband, had nearly a quarter of a century of happiness together before being overtaken by mortality. She at last realized the fulfillment of the hope that had remained in her heart through all the miserable years.
As I fully embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, there came to me a knowledge of my true identity, a sense of belonging and an understanding of the importance of truth, service, the Atonement and eternal marriage.
Notes: Chapter 1
An Abundance of Light
^2. Eddie Seiler, Sol Marcus, and Bennie Benjamin, “When the Lights Go on Again (All over the World),” © Marcus Copyright Trust, 2112 SW Racquet Club Drive, Palm City, Fla. 34990, and Hal Leonard Corporation, 7777 W. Bluemound Rd., Milwaukee, Wis. 53213; used by permission.
^3. Quentin L. Cook, “Let There Be Light!” Ensign, Nov. 2010, 27. Attributed to Sir Edward Grey: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.” See “When the Lights Go On Again (All over the World),” wikipedia.org.
Finding hope for better times!
by Stephanie - reviewed on August 01, 2012
In this book Elder Baxter touches on a subject that is taboo to many people...Latter-day Saints included. Depression and despair is very real, even in the church. Even those individuals who have the gospel are not immune to Satan's lies that we are not good enough and that we should feel beaten down to the point of giving up. After living a life of disappointment and abuse Elder Baxter created his own inspirational story by overcoming his despair and apathy and finding hope for the future. This book provides insight into how you can do the same by taking advantage of the gifts of the Savior and finding peace. A Perfect Brightness of Hope offers just that...a bright hope for those that are weary, discouraged and forlorn. Well written and easy to understand-- all who read this will feel that enduring to the end is not only possible but desirable. My husband and I read this together and enjoyed it immensely!