Eleven years ago my brother Robes gave this talk while serving as the Bishop of the Boca Raton Ward. I always share it with friends this time of year.
CLOSER TO HEAVEN IN '97
A talk by Bishop Robes Patton to the Boca Raton Ward
December 29, 1996
[This talk was read by Ellen Patton at Robert Pitchforth Patton's funeral on October 2, 1998 with the following introduction: I had heard about this talk from Kim's sister Holly so when Robes visited me in Boston in February of last year I asked him to bring a copy on a disk. We sat at my computer and as I formatted the document I asked him to give it a title and he said, "Closer to Heaven in '97". Kim said a lot of people asked her if he really set that many goals in one year. He did set a lot of small goals and then chipped away at the list. She said she was the tortoise and he was the hare. He made lots of progress with small goals and was always satisfied with what he accomplished. He never reached every goal but would re-evaluate and move onto the next year.]
In the past, I have made various New Year's resolutions that were a bit out of the ordinary.
Once, I set a goal to spend the year not influenced by time except at work. So I arrived a tad late for a few engagements, but found my stress level decreased.
Several years ago, my wife and I made a resolution to find and contact people who had influenced our lives or people we enjoyed spending time with who had drifted from our lives. Since then, we have reconnected with a number of good friends and our lives have been enriched by these relationships.
When people move into the ward, I try to sit down with them and outline the goals I have set for members here. My goals are quite simple: Be happy and make progress.
Now, a lot has to fall into place for us to meet these objectives. More than likely, we must be keeping faithful to personal religious practices such as personal prayer, family prayer, Family Home Evening, temple worship, Sunday meeting attendance and magnifying our callings. Serving others, extending a hand of fellowship and becoming a ward family.
These goals may sound simple. And for some, they might be simple.
For me, they are not.
They are daily challenges.
If this stuff was easy, our leaders wouldn't have to remind us all the time that these factors bring us closer to the Lord and salvation.
As Brother Cano, our high council representative, said a few weeks ago, if we don't all get to the celestial kingdom, it won't be as much fun.
With just a few days left in 1996, I hope you will take some time to reflect upon what you learned and how you lived last year. Please take time to contemplate positive goals for 1997. They don't have to be complex. They don't have to be lofty. Simple, solid goals can help us reach high levels of spirituality, peace and happiness.
As we come to the end of a year, I have been thinking of goals and resolutions I can set for the upcoming year.
I would like to share some of the feelings I've had about my goals for 1997 in the hope that it might provide some food for thought as you evaluate your lives this week. Maybe my list will help you think of some goals of your own or maybe it will just give you a list of things to remind me during the next year.
So here are some of the things I hope to accomplish next year:
At serious times, be more serious.
At less serious times, be less serious.
Show fewer forehead wrinkles, which my wife says accompany a scowl.
Find more to care about deeply.
Listen to loud music softly.
Listen to soft music loudly.
Read more books.
Gain an appreciation for and a better understanding of fine opera.
Live with zeal and passion.
Continue to love my work.
I was disturbed by an article I read this week in which Nina Shea of Freedom House, a human‑rights organization, explained that Christians are the chief victims of religious persecution around the world today. So I would like to do what I can to alleviate or end such persecution.
In that same light, do whatever I can to promote peace.
Discover and articulate righteous dreams for myself and my family and work toward making them come true.
Honor my parents.
Be a better brother.
Be a better brother-in-law.
Be a better father.
Be a better bishop.
Be a better husband.
Use my baseball mitt more.
Ride my bicycle more.
Spend one less night in the hospital than I did in 1996.
Read one play by Shakespeare.
Pray more on my knees and less in my car.
Bring a feeling of family to Family Home Evening.
Find ways to extend our Family Home Evening to those who need to feel more part of a family.
Read my scriptures more.
Do enough genealogy to find out exactly where in England and Scotland my ancestors originated.
When I am in a city with a temple, attend that temple.
Be a more attentive listener.
Strengthen my testimony.
Be a good Christian.
Feel the power of the atonement.
Live my life and live the gospel at the same time.
Be more charitable, more Christ‑like and more compassionate.
It is my hope and prayer that we can all find peace, happiness and growth in 1997. That we can grow closer as a ward family. That we can feel the guidance of the spirit and the loving influence of Jesus Christ in our lives. Amen.