Editor’s note: This post is part of a collaborative effort of Mormon bloggers who are reading and writing about General Conference talks. We call it the General Conference Odyssey. We’ve started with talks from 1971. The goal is to read and write weekly until we have read of the talks from prophets and apostles. If we keep up the pace we have started, we will have caught up by July 2029 with the April 2029 Conference! The other posts from this week’s reading, which focused on the Sunday Morning Session of the April 1971 General Conference, are at the bottom of the post.  

It’s Christmas week. Were it not, I’d probably write something different for this week’s General Conference Odyssey. But I want to keep with the Christmas spirit. It helps me keep my center as I prepare for the holiday.

I was delighted to be reminded of Henry Van Dyke’s The Mansion in N. Eldon Tanner’s talk, “Choose You This Day.”

Henry Van Dyke’s story “The Mansion”… tells of the rich man who lived in a mansion on earth but was shocked to find that he had only a tiny hut when he reached heaven. But the poor man found to his surprise that he had a mansion in heaven because he had been laying up for himself treasures in heaven….

I read this to my family a few years ago on Christmas day while driving to my parents’ house. I wanted to read it after hearing that it is a book President Monson reads every Christmas season. (He also reads the Gospel of Luke and A Christmas Carol.)

Don’t tell, but I think I will wrap this book up and put it under the tree. (You can also get a free Kindle version here. (I get nothing for sharing that…just love to share free books!)) The story is such a simple reminder of the purpose of life. As I wrap little treasures for my kids, I am looking for ways to keep their minds pointed toward the real gifts, the real treasure that we are given.

Focusing on God’s gifts to us and our purpose on earth — to serve and love God — was the focus on Elder Tanner’s talk. He spoke as if it were his “last lecture” — what he’d want to share if he was at the end of his life. (What would you want to speak about if you were giving your last lecture?)

I loved Elder Tanner’s concept of making sure our lives have a “dominant direction.” I also appreciated how he lets us know that serving God doesn’t mean abandoning our temporal needs or existence; it just means making sure we never lose our center. (That’s a great Christmas message too, perhaps?)

As we go through life we are continually making choices which will determine what we get out of life. Are we going to take advantage of our opportunities to improve, or waste our time? Are we going to do right, or wrong? Are we going to go to church, or desecrate the Sabbath? Are we going to serve God, or mammon? We cannot have divided homage. Life must find its mastery.

This does not mean that man is wholly bad nor wholly good, but at any moment he must have a dominant direction, and the choice of God or mammon helps us to determine the other choices we will make in life….

The choice to serve God, worthily made, does not necessarily preclude a home or sufficient money or income, or the things of this world which bring joy and happiness, but it does require that we must not turn away from God and the teachings of Jesus Christ while in the pursuit of our temporal needs.

I also wanted to share a quote from his talk — which is actually a quote from Richard L. Evans. I actually posted this quote on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. It really spoke to me. I was glad to see it again this week in our Odyssey. What greater treasure is there than to know who God is and what He is like?

Our Father in heaven is not an umpire who is trying to count us out. He is not a competitor who is trying to outsmart us. He is not a prosecutor who is trying to convict us. He is a loving Father who wants our happiness and eternal progress, and who will help us all he can if we will but give him in our lives an opportunity to do so.

By laying up treasure in heaven, we are really just letting God serve and love us. I’m so grateful to know of God’s plan, of His Son, and of His love and desire for us to navigate this life safely and live in a way that points us toward our eternal Home. I’m grateful to have the Christmas season to honor the Savior and His role in this merciful plan.

As we open our temporary treasures under our trees this week, I hope we can remember and treasure the great gifts God has given and desires to give us. All we need to do is choose to align ourselves with Him to receive them. Thank heaven for prophets and apostles who help us know how to do that.

Merry Christmas!

More General Conference Odyssey posts from this week:

The Mormon Way to Love
The Fall of My Rome
LDS Conference April 1971- Broken and Contrite Empires
Avoiding “the destroying angel of domestic biterness”
 Progress or Decline