Chris Styles recently passed away. I was reminded of a letter I wrote to her husband over 10 years ago about what I had learned from her. I have felt a desire to post some of these letters publicly here on my blog. Chris’s passing perhaps spurs the needed action. She will be missed, but she was wise enough to know death is not the end, and as eternal beings we have an endless supply of time in which to learn and grow and love.
December 12, 2009
During the last decade I have taken note of people whom I thought were either naturally gifted or able to become nearly perfect in a particular virtue. I call them my “Virtue Hall of Fame.” It’s one of the most enjoyable things I do to write these types of letters, and give them as gifts to family members of those I have been observing. I have decided your sweet wife Chris is perhaps the greatest embodiment of wisdom I have ever known. Let me explain why, and what I have learned.
I typically note something unusual about someone, and in a sense I “nominate” them for my list. I then observe and try to learn more about the cause of their actions, and what the virtue might be. A few years ago as your wife served as the Ward Relief Society President, my wife Kari had a problem. Kari had organized a book club, and Chris attended regularly. An issue came up about attendance, and Kari could see a series of occurrences which would have been very problematic; sisters might be offended or the book club might stop meeting altogether.
After struggling with how to approach the problem, Kari called Chris. Chris listened patiently, and then suggested that Kari take only the initial step she had decided upon. She said something like, “I find it is best not to worry about all the things that might occur, but make the best choice for the most immediate problem.” Unlike my other inductees when I can’t immediately name the virtue that caused the action, as Kari described that response I immediately recognized how wise it was, and decided I might learn more about wisdom if I continued to observe Chris.
I then look for other evidences of the virtue, a fuller expression of it, something that teaches me more about it. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to interact with Chris, but a few weeks ago as we entered the Gospel Essentials Sunday school, I put my hand on her shoulder and said, “I’ve come here to learn something from you.” I was surprised at my comment a bit and not only because Chris was not teaching the lesson. I was not surprised when one of her comments in the class helped me understand very simply how to practically apply a principle we were learning.
Again late last month I attended Young Women in Excellence. Chris was the guest speaker, and talked about the temple. As she spoke of her work in Initiatory with great love, she described the words spoken there as “perhaps the most affectionate blessings in the temple.” “Wow,” I thought, “What a perfect description of them.” I said to Kari as we went home that it seemed to me wisdom is practical knowledge, knowledge that exposes the true nature of things, and can be applied to real world problems.
From watching Chris’s example, I have come to comprehend a dictionary’s definition of wisdom: “The ability to discern inner qualities and relationships: insight”. Understanding those inner qualities and relationships allows us to solve difficult problems in very effective, practical and efficient ways. It helps us understand the hidden values of things and people.
If I have opportunity to explain to others what wisdom really is, I plan to describe Chris, for as it is written, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26)
Merry Christmas to you and your family,