Bridle Your Passions
Sister Hafen and I are SO GLAD to be with you today. We love this school and we love you. We will spend the rest of our days trying to show our gratitude for the gift of being allowed to live here with our family for seven years. Back then, the two of us occasionally shared the time at this pulpit. We want to do that again today, partly because our topic somehow invites us to teach together.
One of our daughters, then in her late teens, once asked me an interesting question: “Dad, how come there are only two kinds of guys in the Church? There are guys who are righteous –and boring; and then there are guys who are kind of wild—and pretty interesting! This is really hard!” I replied, “When I was your age I had the same question. Some girls I liked with my head—I knew I should date a girl like that. And other girls I liked with my heart—but I knew I probably shouldn’t date them. It was hard! But then, one day, I met your mom and my head and my heart got together. And the rest is . . . genealogy.”
Alma taught his son Shiblon that it’s possible to be both righteous and interesting. He said, “Bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love.” Good words, bridle and passion. So are passions good or bad? Is there a place in the gospel for passion?
Centuries ago, some early Christians thought passions—deep human feelings—were mostly evil. So they built monasteries and convents where monks and nuns would not be so tempted by those passions they believed were so worldly. I guess that is one option—to run away from passion. But now, partly in an over-reaction to the rigid and frigid controls of the past, society has swung the pendulum completely to the opposite extreme. Most people today say—be as passionate as you want to be, whenever and wherever. If it feels good, do it, and no worries about tomorrow or next week. This is the age of the disposable relationship and the one-night stand. The flame of casual sex burns like a comet through the sky and then it’s gone—sometimes burning your whole house down when it lands. In the words of one Broadway song, “When I’m not near the girl I love, I love the girl I’m near.” That’s the world’s current approach to passion, and it is wrong.
The truth is that neither the monasteries nor the modern world has got it right. Passion is actually good, really good. In fact, God himself has a body, parts, and passions. We know that Jesus wept, sometimes for sorrow, sometimes for joy—always over people He loved. He taught us to love with all our hearts—even to love God with a passion. And you know those romantic feelings inside us that respond with such power, or other deep feelings like joy and excitement? God gave us those feelings because they are part of His nature, and He created us, His children, to be like Him. God does not want us to extinguish the passionate yearnings of our hearts. He wants us to fulfill them, but He wants to teach us how to find their full expression. That is exactly why He gave us the bridle of the gospel—so we can be filled with the fire of our God-given passions without being destroyed by that fire.
Marie and I want to share with you our favorite illustration of what it means to “bridle your passions that you may be filled with love.” When President Hinckley sent us to Australia some years ago, we knew only two things about that country: kangaroos, and the movie, The Man from Snowy River, which was filmed in Australia. Some of our children had watched that video so often that they could say the dialogue before the characters did. So we were quite excited one day as we drove from Sydney toward Melbourne and crossed a bridge near a sign that said “Snowy River.” Not only is that a real river, but the movie is based on a true and much loved Australian legend about a young man who single-handedly rounded up a herd of wild horses in the mountains. Today we’ll show you two clips from this movie, which is full of memorable metaphors and lessons about horses and love and growing up.
Let me tell you about Jim Craig, the young man from Snowy River. Jim has grown up in the high mountain country of southeastern Australia. He is our hero, and Jessica Harrison is our heroine. Because Jim’s father has been killed in a logging accident, Jim comes down to the flat to find work. He finds a job at Harrison’s ranch, or in Australian terms, his “station.” Harrison is Jessica’s father.
In this first clip, watch how Jim’s and Jessica’s relationship unfolds. It is not a pretty start. As the scene begins, Jessica is practicing the piano, as her aunt Rosemary says, “with all the sensitivity of a road mender.” (That might mean like a jackhammer.) Play it, she says, “con amore.” Play it with love, with passion. Jim comes in. Both Jim and Jessica are frustrated because they have been left behind at the station while the stockmen (that’s Aussie for cowboys) have gone to round-up the cattle. Their meeting begins with a misunderstanding. But Jim finds a smooth way to patch it up. When Jessica sits down to practice again, for some reason, she does play with a little more “con amore.”
While you watch their friendship start to grow, notice how Jim handles Harrison’s high spirited, expensive colt. What does he mean when he says, “you work with a horse, not against him?” What do you think is the goal of “breaking” a horse? Is it literally to break the horse’s spirit?
As you watch this, ask yourself, “What does the breaking-the-colt analogy have to do with me?” Ask how that process applies to your lives--in dating of course, but also in your education, in learning another language, in playing an instrument or a sport, or in developing any discipline. And, at the very end of this scene, look for the fire, that symbol of passion. Where is the fire?
SHOW CLIP #1
Marie: So where was the fire? In the fireplace! Before we go on, let’s look at an actual bridle. Maybe we can see more clearly what Alma means by the metaphor “bridle your passions that ye may be filled with love.” Perhaps my handsome hired hand might help me here.
To explain: the “bit” is usually made of metal, with either a crook or a hinge in the middle, which is held in place in the back of the horse’s mouth by leather straps and buckles. When the rider wants to talk to the horse, he or she moves the reins so that the crook or hinge in the bit is forced into the soft palate of the horse’s mouth, or relaxed away from it. Through the movement of the “bit,” the rider communicates with the horse. A well-broken horse is one that has become very sensitive to the signals he receives from the rider—his master.
What did Jim do to break Harrison’s prize young colt so well? He took time—a lot of it—the horse and master talking to each other through the bridle and the bit. Through Jim’s patience and kind firmness came trust and responsiveness. As Jim told Jessica, “You’ve got to be firm with a young horse, not cruel. . . .That’s what my father taught me.” If a horse is not well-broken, he can’t receive or “hear” changes in the rider’s signals. Then the horse’s passions can go wild and bad things can happen. On the other hand, what is the goal of the horse being well-bridled, well-broken? You don’t want to break the horse’s spirit—quite the opposite. A well-broken horse will give more, not less; and the horse and the rider can work together as one.
Here’s an example. Our friend, Martha and her family, have a favorite horse, Hawkeye—a beautiful, high-spirited Arabian with lots of fire. He’s well-broken, but he can get too feisty when he hasn’t spent enough time with a good rider. One day a lot of inexperienced riders had been on Hawkeye and his energy started to run unchecked, literally. When she jumped on him thinking she’d settle him down a bit, they took off out of the barnyard too fast. He didn’t respond to her signal down the lane, and instead of turning right, he ran full-steam through a barbed wire fence. Luckily, neither one was badly hurt, but she saw that she and Hawkeye had some work to do. She made sure they spent a lot of time together over the next days and weeks. Nearly everywhere she had to go on the ranch she rode Hawkeye and they “talked.”
A few weeks later about 200 head of cattle needed to be moved to new pastures. The job fell to Martha and Hawkeye. They got the cattle rounded up and moving, but one cow spooked and the whole herd bolted. But because horse and rider had spent so much time together, and because Hawkeye was so well bridled now, they saw the job the same way. Hawkeye would instinctively jump towards the lead cow even as Martha was thinking the thought. Reeling around and riding from one fence line to the other they managed to turn the herd in the right direction, but not without having to dance eye-to-eye with a few cows. As Martha wrote, “We were completely together with every move. It was pure, well-bridled, highly passionate instinct! His instinct had become the same as mine. We were one! And it was so much fun!”
So how does the Hawkeye story apply to each of us? As we grow up, we are in some ways like a high-spirited horse, full of energy and passion, but we still need training and bridling—self-discipline. We need for ourselves what the wise old man told the young mother she needed to give her baby boy. “Teach him to deny himself,” he said. “Teach him to say ‘no’.” Heavenly Father will teach us this kind of self-discipline—when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes.’ He is our Master and He loves us. He will teach us that when we take His word into us, we learn to see with His eyes and to feel with His heart; our instincts meld into His instincts.
What are the bridles that teach us to hear and feel our Master’s slightest directions and guidance? In this analogy, a bridle is anything that trains the natural man out of us and conditions us in the discipline of Godliness. For example, we could talk about the bridles contained in For the Strength of Youth. We need to say ‘no’ to some things, like immodest dress, harsh and obscene music and language, or any immoral choices.
On the “yes” side, we could talk about all the good things you’ve already done. You have bridled yourselves to read the scriptures every day, to go to early-morning seminary, to pray, to treat your family with kindness, to repent of weaknesses, to say “no” to yourself so that you can say “yes” to maintaining your integrity, and to missions and endowments and marriages and children sealed in the covenant.
Most of you on this campus are not teenagers anymore. You are young adults and, “Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” You’re more mature, better at responding to the lightest touch of the Master’s signals to you. So are you ready to give more to Him? And are you ready to give more to others for Him? Which of your passions may still need more complete bridling?
We’ve heard some young adults be candid about where they need more self-control. Here are some samples:
Procrastination. Some lack the discipline to do what they need to do when they need to do it.
Diversions. Some spend too much time with electronic gadgets, playing games and wandering aimlessly through the virtual universe. They’re more interested in Facebook than in real faces. Others wish they had the discipline to study harder and to not go along with every distraction their friends dream up. I remember a sign one girl put on her apartment table, “Homework makes you ugly.”
Fears. Others are prisoners of their fears, fears about going on a mission or coming back from one; fears about being rejected by an employer or by someone they want to date; fears about the responsibility of marriage or of being a mom or dad in a very wicked world. Some don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. Others don’t want to change and repent.
A bridle functions much like a yoke—in essence, a bridle built for two. The Lord beckons us to take upon ourselves His yoke, His bridle, that we might become whole and holy. But that is a choice we must make. So what bridles do you choose to help you overcome your fears and your distractions from who you really want to be? Here are a few of mine.
I wish that every Moroni on every one of our 120 plus temples could trumpet this clear call to every young adult in every valley and mountain and city and town in the entire world--that He will help you, that He loves you and that He wants nothing more than for you, for all of us, to come Home, to be with Him, to be like Him, with our families, with our friends forever, “to go no more out.” I desire that for you with my whole heart—for you and for me. And I bear witness of Him as the Master who will teach us and help us to come Home. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
BRUCE: Let me add a couple of examples to what Marie said about certain bridles today. The electronic world is a runaway passion that really needs a strong bridle. Can you imagine what stirring romantic conversation would have occurred in that first movie clip if Jim had walked in listening to his i-pod, and Jessica had been playing a computer game instead of the piano? Their guardian angels would have needed to send them both a text message to let them know an interesting person of the opposite sex was even in the same room.
Do you think I’m kidding? Someone who was a student here several years ago recently came back for a visit and wondered if he was in the same place. Before, he said, students on campus often greeted and talked to each other. But now, many are so constantly connected to a virtual world than they have disconnected themselves from each other. Some even text during school classes and Church meetings. But if you are tuned out, how can you be tuned in?
One BYU-I faculty member sees a disturbing trend among some of his students. They have become so accustomed to easy answers on Google and short messages on their phones that they have a hard time coping with serious reading assignments, let alone the essential processes of research, analysis, and discovery.
One young couple loved playing computer games with each other as their favorite way of dating before they got married. After they were married, their basic needs forced them to talk through a few fundamentals, like actually living with another real person. They soon discovered that they hardly knew each other. Then one of them began computer dating again to escape the demands of paying attention to a live companion under real-life conditions. Before long, sadly, the marriage ended. Their foundation was just too shallow.
The urge to view pornography is another example of unbridled passion, especially when it becomes coupled with misdirected behavioral habits. I have talked with men who told me what it’s like to become literally addicted to pornography. Even when they wanted to quit, even when they hated it, they were as chained to it as if they were drug or alcohol addicts. Ann Poelman once said that an addiction is an ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing satisfaction. The downward behavioral spiral demanded by that ever-increasing craving explains how pornography can lead to conduct and attitudes that end up destroying marriages.
Imagine the tragic irony—fake romantic love can destroy true romantic love. What a dirty trick—one of Satan’s dirtiest, because it turns passion into the enemy of true love rather than letting passion fuel the fulfillment of true love. The problem with pornography is not that there’s something wrong with passion. The problem with pornography is that it makes you lose the bridle that connects your passions to the Lord.
Let me say that another way. Do you think God gave us the commandments because He doesn’t want us to experience the deepest satisfactions of which the human soul is capable? Is the gospel a wall built around joy and fulfillment to keep us out? The prophet Jacob said, “Do not . . . labor for that which cannot satisfy.” Remember that. Do not labor for that which cannot satisfy. Brothers and sisters, the problem is not that the world’s way is too satisfying. The problem is that the world’s way isn’t satisfying enough. It cannot satisfy. It doesn’t have the power. It is a tragically cheap imitation of the real thing. The real thing is full of authentic, bridled, eternally committed love and passion. Maybe that’s part of what Elder Neal A. Maxwell was thinking when he said, “The laughter of the world is just loneliness trying to reassure itself.”
One other perspective. Some years ago I knew a young woman whose life kind of wandered off the fairway and into the rough. She made some serious mistakes, but repentance and the Savior could have helped her come back. However, in utter frustration, her mother once said to her, “You are damaged goods! No worthy priesthood holder will ever want you!” The girl burst into tears. I’m sorry to say that she believed her mother, and she went on living as if she really were damaged beyond repair. If anyone today feels even a little as she did, or if you have a friend who does, please know that no matter what damage you have known, your condition need not be permanent. You are God’s literal son or daughter. He loves you and He can completely heal any damage. If you need to repent or you need to forgive, you will discover that because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you can learn from your mistakes without being condemned by them.
Well, let’s go back to Jim and Jessica whose relationship has been growing. In one later scene, Jessica has an argument with her father, stomps out of the house, and rides off on her horse to go find Jim who is in the mountains rounding up some stray cows. Jessica rides into a heavy thunderstorm. Jessica’s horse falls and she slides off a sheer cliff. She clings to a small ledge screaming for help. Jim hears her and comes to her rescue.
Jessica is cold, soaking wet, and terrified. Jim finds a place to build a fire and ties his rope between two trees where Jessica hangs her wet clothes. She wraps herself in a blanket and sits on a log. So there they are, young, in love, and alone by a cozy fire in the mountains. You don’t have to be very creative to imagine what they are probably thinking. But as they talk, they realize that they need to wait. They both need to settle things with her father before starting into their own marriage. So they choose to bridle their passions. Somehow they sense that even though they love each other, sacrificing short term cheap thrills will make possible their true long term happiness.
Later on, Curley, the ranch rascal, allows Harrison’s expensive colt to escape and run off with a herd of wild horses, the brumbies. He makes this look like Jim’s doing. So Harrison calls in all the neighboring stockmen to help him with a high action round-up, and he doesn’t want Jim’s help. But Clancy, the legendary local horseman, convinces Harrison that only Jim and his mountain horse know the mountains well enough to find and capture the brumbies. The men chase the wild herd until they are all exhausted and they return to Harrison’s place empty handed. Then suddenly, here comes Jim alone, having rounded up the brumbies all by himself.
Let’s pick up at that point with another clip. Watch what Jim is able to do because he and his horse are so well bridled. Listen for why he rode. Listen for the title he earns when he says he’ll be coming back for Jessica. You will hear “Spur” say, “He’s not a lad, brother, he’s a man.” Then in Clancy’s words, “The man from Snowy River.” So this is a story about how a boy becomes a man and a girl becomes a woman. Then listen especially when Jim’s horse runs in a big circle and Jim shouts just one word that says how he is feeling about all of this.
MOVIE CLIP #2:
So what was the word? “Wahoo!” Let me tell you about that little house in the mountains. It was built for the filming of this movie. When we were in Australia a few years ago, it was still there—about a three hour drive north of Melbourne. Because of how we feel about this story and the message we’ve shared today, we just had to see the house. We drove into the mountains as close as we could get, then hiked the last thirty minutes. As we walked across the front porch, I picked up Marie, kicked open that front door, and shouted, “Wahoo!”
So when you have kept your covenants and bridled your passions enough that you are ready to enter the temple with your eternal companion, you have our permission to look at each other just before you walk through the front door of the temple and say, “Wahoo! We made it!” What a day that will be—whenever it comes.
And when the two of you reach our stage of life in a few more decades, you will think of that same image of the little house and “coming home” in another way. Some day, Marie and I will be ready to go home, home with a capital H. I can already picture it. When we both get there, we will approach some sacred, eternal front door together. The light on the front porch will be on and inside there will be a fire in the fireplace. We will cross that threshold together, entering the presence of Him whose Atonement made our eternal sealing possible. And we will kneel together at His feet to thank Him for giving us the bridle that makes it possible for us to be filled with love—everlastingly. And we will stay there with Him, with our family, and with our eternal friends, and our fire will go no more out.