We will soon commemorate the Atonement and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, by celebrating Easter. As Christians, we recognize Him not only as “God the Son”, but also as “The Perfect Man” and are committed to trying to be more like Him. Because we did not live with Him in mortality, our view of what it means to be like Him is limited by the accounts we have. My favorite summary of His life is the scripture that says, “He went about doing good.” And that is what we aim to do, as best we can. Often our best efforts at becoming more like Christ are when we try to imitate others we know who exemplify Christ-like traits.
It has been a great blessing to serve in the Church with many who have exemplified righteous leadership, men such as President Almond and President McCoy in the Graham Stake, Bishop Orgill in Orting Ward, and now Bishop Cain and Brother Lee in Sequim. I think, too, of great men I have known earlier in life: Bishop Waddell and President Don Wood in the old Portland 15th Ward, who tutored me as I came into church activity as a teenager; Brother Kent Duke, who was one of my fine missionary companions in Austria; and Bishop Giacalone of the Gateway Ward in Portland East Stake and Bishop Adams of the Pullman Ward in Moscow Idaho Stake, who mentored me as their councilor. I am thankful for each of them, and for many others who have touched my life.
But the best man I ever knew was my father, Edward Saxey. The army trained Dad as an x-ray tech, which enriched his education as a biochemist; he spent most of his professional life running a large medical laboratory. He loved living things, working the soil of his garden or raising sheep and dogs and cats and horses and cattle and geese and chickens on our farm in Sunnyside, Washington. He always had sheep, from when he was a young child until he died, but he didn’t herd them. He made a trilling sound in the back of the throat, very Germanic, and they came running.
Similarly with the dogs—he and Mom bred beautiful German Shepherds back when the breed was large and noble looking. They had the top-winning kennels in the Northwest in the late 1950s and early 60s. He would look deeply into the dog’s eyes and talk to it softly, then reward its good behavior, and they loved to obey him. He used to say that any dog could be trained if only it will look you in the eye.
Dad was a soft spoken man, which is not to say there was not a fair amount of “whoopin’ and hollerin’”, as he would have said, when we were little. But he usually had few words, carefully chosen, not wasted.
I only recall one spanking, though no doubt I deserved more. The whole family had gotten up early, before the sun, to harvest asparagus, a dusty, back-breaking business. We had a nice cup of postum to warm us before going into the cold. My parents and brothers filed out to the field, but I lingered in the kitchen, enjoying the warmth of the big coal stove. After a half hour or so, Dad came back in, dirty and dripping sweat. As he put me over his knee he said, “you’re not going to just sit around doing nothing while the whole family is out working.” Then he gave me a good spanking and I ran out to the field while my older brothers laughed. They stopped laughing when Dad caught up.
Dad did not need to spank us much because all he had to do was say a few words about how disappointed he was at our bad behavior, or worse yet, say nothing at all and shake his head. I love him so. To disappoint him was worse than any punishment could be.
He and Mom served in a variety of callings in the Church including many years as workers in the Portland Temple. Dad exemplified righteous, Christ-like behavior characterized by patience, persuasion, gentleness, and love. Whether calling sheep or training dogs or disciplining children, Dad obtained obedience not through force or fear, but through love: obedience was a choice.
It is no coincidence that the War in Heaven hinged on this principle of coercion versus agency. It is no coincidence that the continuation of that conflict in mortal life hinges on the same principle, and we see it over and over again in the conflicts of nations, in politics at all levels, in our families, and in our personal lives. To return to Him and receive His greatest blessings, our Father in Heaven requires complete obedience, but it must not be based on fear, but obedience based on our growing love for Him, mirroring His infinite love for us.
Let’s go back over a few things we know about the character of God, both Father and Son:
1. God works through councils; He is not arbitrary or secretive;
2. He is patient and long-suffering;
3. He is self-sacrificing on behalf of His loved ones;
4. He can speak in thundering tones if necessary, but His voice is usually soft, still, and small;
5. He is generous and kind, sending both rain and sun on the just and the unjust, for we are all His children;
6. He always keeps His objective in focus, namely, preparing His children to return to Him and inherit eternal life.
May we emulate the best examples around us and strive to incorporate principles of Christ-like behavior into our daily lives. As we do so, we will, little by little, become more like our Beloved Savior, and our Easter celebrations will become increasingly meaningful.