Connecting to the Community Through Service
It is a bit daunting to look out among all of you, but I must begin by saying that I thought Jen did a wonderful job with the thought that she shared about not fearing, and I loved that Leah and Brittany together performed one of the most beautiful renditions I believe I’ve ever heard, of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” We’ve all three shared the podium already, and I think it is a little bit fearful to stand up in this room because the greatest fear I have in my heart is that I won’t be able to adequately express what is in my heart—to touch your heart in a way that maybe your heart needs touching today. But I firmly do know that my Redeemer lives, and I know that He helps all of us to do the things that we’re asked to do. I pray for His help today in these minutes that I have with you, that I might have adequately prepared, so that the Lord can touch my heart and help me deliver and give the message that maybe you need to hear and that I’m intended to share.
As has been mentioned, I am comfortable here, and I am delighted to be able to stand and be part of any event at LDS Business College. I have loved my opportunity to work with faculty and students. I had about five years of time that I intimately worked with LDS Business College, and then with my husband’s calling, I get to continue the association that brings me in these chairs often, with the 36th and 42nd wards.
Every time I sit here, I feel a purity that I don’t really feel in every other congregation, for maybe the commitment, the extra effort, and the lives of the people that come and are part of the LDS Business College. I was, last night, ice skating with some of you in the stake. And as I was circling around, a few of them said, “Hey, you’re going to be speaking tomorrow,” I had probably the biggest crash I’ve ever had on my ice skates. I don’t recall ever falling on ice skates, but last night amidst this crowd, I totally splatted on these skates, and I thought, “I just hope this isn’t an example of what I might do tomorrow, and that I won’t make a big splat.”
So with that, I just tell you that I’m so honored to be here, and just another layer that was added to my feelings about LDS Business College happened this fall, when Michael and I were invited to come and participate with the inauguration of your new president, Larry Richards. I feel fortunate that I’ve known Larry for a long time, and his wonderful wife, Julie. But it was very special for me that day to sit in the midst of many general authorities and President Eyring, and to hear President Eyring—and of course, it’s not surprising that he would weep, because he is so tender and emotional—but he wept about LDS Business College, and to understand the history of this great institution, and to understand the future and your future, and why this opportunity is here for you. I was touched in a way that I had really not understood before of the mission of LDS Business College and the purpose, and I feel fortunate to be one tiny thread in the fabric of what this institution accomplishes. I am delighted that I have the opportunity today to be asked to talk about a subject that I feel passionate about, and that is our opportunity to engage in the community.
As was mentioned, I am lucky, very lucky, to be associated with LDS Business College and other institutions across the state as all of us are endeavoring to bring community engagement to our college students and to the life of a college and an institution. And as the current director of the Bennion Center, if I were to identify one task that I have, it is a task of connecting. It is an opportunity to try to connect students to the community through service and service learning. And I am delighted to be able to address that topic today.
Behind me I brought a few posters, and one is of Lowell L. Bennion. I must tell you a little about Lowell. Some of you in this room would know Lowell Bennion, but others of you, that is only a name. If he were alive today, Lowell Bennion would be 101. Lowell, as a young man, pursued education, just like you are. In fact, he loved learning, and he studied psychology as an undergraduate. He served a mission to the Swiss-German Mission, and later returned to Europe to study with the famous psychologist, Max Webber. He earned a PhD before returning to Utah. Lowell became the first director of the LDS Institute at the University of Utah, and it was here that many students came to love him as he connected their academic studies with religion, a practice that LDS Business College has for every student attending.
Lowell was also a faculty member on campus, and pushed students intellectually. During his lifetime, he lovingly was known as someone who knew that one person made a difference, and it takes action and participation to make things happen. In fact, Lowell Bennion, in all of his free time, was known for helping individual people, mostly elderly widows, by taking them food, making repairs around their home, or just visiting. But he also advocated for causes. He lobbied at the legislature. He served on various boards, committees and councils. And he later started the Community Services Council, which began coordinating services in our city, and from which the Utah Food Bank began.
One of Lowell’s students, interestingly enough, was a person by the name of Dick Jacobsen. Dick left the University of Utah with his wife, Sue, and headed to begin his career, as many of you will. He moved away from Salt Lake City, and ended up in California. As he began his real estate and development career, he decided at a certain place that he wanted to begin to give back. And as Lowell had taught him to do, he saw that at Stanford University, which is close to where he lived, they had begun the first ever Community Service Center on a university campus.
Dick and Sue Jacobson looked at that and thought to themselves, “That should happen at the University of Utah, and we want to make that happen, but we want to do it in the namesake of Lowell L. Bennion.” And so those many years ago, Dick and Sue Jacobson launched this Bennion Center at the University of Utah. And next to Stanford University, it is the longest running center on a university campus, with a specific mission: to tie what many of us do in our religious or personal lives, and serve in our communities. More explicitly, tie it to a student’s education, and be very clear about the fact that it is during these critical years when you are deciding—what is your course of study? What is your course of endeavor? What is your pursuit?—that you tie that in a very intentional link to the way that you’re going to turn around and become the citizens of tomorrow. For I don’t think I can look at the newspaper any day and not think of the talent that is on your shoulders as you are going to help solve the problems you did not create. And what an opportunity and a challenge that is.
I want to tell you that we at the university feel a great responsibility to carry on the legacy of Lowell, and even though we have many students that do not know him personally, we try to share his passion. And we hope that for what we will pass along to students, we will help them get outside themselves and find their passion, so they can also give that back.
It is at the Bennion Center that we’re trying to engage students, and not in the type of engagement that many of you think of more often, but in community engagement—getting them to volunteer, organizing others, and tying it to their academic studies—so that they leave the institution with a passion and a knowledge about how to be a lifelong civic participant.
I’d like to share a short video clip with you today, and I appreciate the technological wizards that have made this work. We had a few glitches.
At the University of Utah, we host an annual event. And some of you, because of your involvement with the University 2nd Stake, might have participated with us last September. Each September we have an event called the Legacy of Lowell. It honors what Lowell did in the community. It helps our students think about the year ahead, and all the ways that they can get involved in the academic year. What it mostly does, I believe, is help people realize that one person, added collectively to a large group, can make a difference. And so, I’d like to just let this roll, and I might make a few comments as you see our little clip of “Legacy of Lowell 2009.”
As it begins, you’ll see that we have this ready for our next year, as our advertising to get students involved. This is looking back at what happened on that one Saturday morning. The paint was not always applied by very professional people, but we were excited to find ten very needy homes and one large warehouse that needed a lot of attention. And what was accomplished in one day was absolutely phenomenal to each of these individual home owners and business owners. Students from campuses came in great numbers.
As many of you intimately know, we have such a high refugee population in Salt Lake City, and our efforts are challenged. But it was a great opportunity to visit homes of refugees, help take disabled partners that we work with and offer an activity, and offer about ten different opportunities to serve in the community that day.
This project began about five years ago. Lowell Bennion started the Food Bank, and it’s been very exciting to expand it and have 15 different sites where students can serve and do so many things, from dental hygiene and food box delivery to activities for refugees. And then whether they just did one activity, they could come back and get a sense of all of the things that were accomplished in those two and a half hours, because so many people came.
This was definitely a very positive part of our service day. It’s always good to feed the troops, and mostly the feeding aspect, as you know, brings people together. It allowed us to celebrate the success and the folks that came out, and hopefully to encourage them to come next year, and to serve all throughout the year.
We do believe that Lowell’s legacy lives on. Lowell has written many books. One that I would recommend to you that I could give an entire talk on is a small little book, one of his first ones, called The Things That Matter Most. Another one that I love so much is a book called How Can I Help? I believe that Lowell Bennion is just one of many simple lives and examples, but his legacy has lived on, just as each one of ours can live on through community service and community engagement.
The First Presidency has addressed this topic in many ways. One comment that I would like to share is the statement that, “We wish to reiterate the divine counsel that members should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and to bring to pass much righteousness, while using gospel principles as a guide, and while cooperating with other like-minded individuals.”
Community service and service learning—some of you know these terms, and others, maybe have not heard or understood them. Service learning came about in the ‘80s as a national trend in response to the growing desire to tie academic study to the real pressing problems of society. As you all know, it’s a privilege to go to college. Many of you are here as first generation college students, and we must all remember the great responsibility as a college graduate. With that privilege comes a responsibility. There’s a public and private mission of higher education. I see it often at BYU, with their statement as you drive onto campus that we all really should take that to heart, to “Go forth to serve,” armed with knowledge, degrees, and passion.
Many of you have heard these statistics which came out so many years ago; I’m sure they would be a little different today. But I love the notion that if you were to shrink the world’s population to a village of precisely a hundred people, it’s a good reminder to think of not just the world that we live in, but the world that is out there. Of that hundred people, one of the most compelling statistics is that only one would have a college degree. Only 30 would be able to read. Only 20 of those hundred would live in housing. And over half would suffer from malnutrition.
Only one—I think that number has gone up—would have a computer. But I’m sure that with a college education, we all need to be reminded of the deep commitment and change of the world that we have in our hands. I can’t help but watch the news right now, with the destruction in Haiti, and realize all of the hands and all of the pieces that are going to be needed to solve the destruction and the crisis and the mayhem that shows on my television every night. And how blessed I feel to be part of a religion and a Church that has prepared in advance and is ready to serve. I know my resources and the things that I want to do can go straight to the cause, by missionary and service leadership that is part of the Church. But as a student here today at LDS Business College, I think that you are part of an engaged campus, and I think it is important for you to realize that an engaged campus is one that is consciously committed to reinvigorating the democratic spirit and community engagement in all aspects of student life—students, faculty, staff and the institution itself.
Community engagement includes service learning, which integrates community service into academic study. It gives students an opportunity to improve their citizenship skills, and it often renews a faculty member’s enthusiasm for teaching. Engaged campuses realize that beyond just service learning in a class, there are so many opportunities to connect to the community. LDS Business College, as you know, is probably one of our most directly placed campuses, as it sits right in the heart of a community. But it must be intimately connected to the public purposes and the aspirations of the community, tie academics to service, and our purpose of engagement.
I have watched faculty members, whether it’s here at LDS Business College, or up at the University of Utah, work hard to figure out how to replace book assignments with real life issues—take their students to the legislature and lobby, look at issues from a different perspective, bring speakers in, and deal with topics in a way that helps the material of the course be brought central and more specific to the issues and concerns of our community. Examples that I recall from my time at LDS Business College include professors who, instead of reading history accounts, did live history documents with veterans or folks from the community that lived through those times. They brought those living histories alive, documented them, printed them, and left a legacy. That history class went far beyond the books, because it dealt specifically with needs and issues in the community.
Doing tax returns in a business class for those that need that tax help is a common practice at LDS Business College, and I watched that and saw that. Great faculty members like Keith Poelman, and those that have led out here forever, set such a wonderful spirit of understanding that concept. I know too well from working with faculty at the University of Utah, and students, that it takes continued commitment to do that work. It’s hard. It takes more time. It’s labor intensive. But the payoff is a hundredfold what we get out of students and faculty and on campus if we truly stay committed to the real purpose of an education, which is to help us to understand ways to address the real issues in our society.
I also give a charge to students, because I have found in my experience that it’s always students who often know the most and have guided the work of service learning with more energy throughout history. It’s students that have often come to faculty members and said, “Could I replace that particular assignment with this particular community focus?” Or, “Could we put this as part of the course, and share a little bit more of a perspective with the community”? And I have had many faculty members that stayed committed to this work because of students and their interest and what they’re learning from the real life issues at hand.
I think it’s interesting that many people have written about citizenship and being a good citizen. We hear that term a lot, and indeed, many educators and politicians and community activists pursue agendas for change under the banner of citizenship and democracy. But how do you see yourself, as a citizen? What does that look like to you? And what does lifelong participation mean to you?
There are three types of citizens I’d like to take a moment to describe. I believe there is not one type that is ideal, but it’s a combination of all three that we need in society. And the hope is that your time here at LDS Business College—your time, spending service in your wards, and your personal lives—will give you opportunities to channel each type described.
The first type of citizen is one that you hear often, and that is the personally responsible citizen. This person acts responsibly in his or her community, by picking up litter, giving blood, recycling, volunteering, and even staying out of debt. We need people to be personally responsible, and that is a good citizen. Those are citizens that pay their taxes, obey laws, and help those in need during times just like what is happening in Haiti. The personally responsible citizen contributes to the food and clothing drives when asked, and volunteers to help those less fortunate, whether in a soup kitchen or a senior center. He or she might contribute time or money or both. This is an individualistic notion of community service, and it’s where most often we are encouraged to participate as Church members. Underneath the motives to act and serve are often charity, character, hard work, honesty, and self-discipline. The bottom line is to develop compassion by engaging students in volunteer activities.
Kurt Vonnegut actually elaborates on this when he says, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”
The second type of citizen is the participatory citizen. Those are ones that are actively engaged in civic affairs and social life at the local, state or community level. That would be some of you in here: you’re personally responsible, and you’re an organizer. Your focus is on how your church or community based organization works, and the importance of planning and participating in organized efforts to care for those in need, and to guide policies. While the personally responsible person might bring food cans to the drive, the participatory student organizes the drive.
The proponents of participatory citizenship argue that civic participation transcends particular community problems. It develops relationships, and brings people and collective commitment together. This perspective of a strong democracy adopts a notion of a political sphere in which citizens with competing but overlapping interests can live together communally. In many ways, the little video that I showed you brought a lot of people to do something individually, but it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of committee and participatory people willing to plan for large events. Every single small activity took the participatory type of citizen to plan and pull it together.
Rudolf Steiner quotes that, “A healthy social life is found only when in the mirror of each soul the whole community finds its reflection, and when in the whole community, the virtue of each one is living.”
Finally, the justice-oriented citizen is perhaps the perspective that is least commonly pursued. This is the advocate, the person who is most interested in the root causes and the issues. These kinds of students assess social, political, and economic structures, and consider collective strategies for change. They challenge injustice when possible, but mostly address root causes of problems. The justice-oriented citizens are less likely to focus on charity and volunteerism as ends in themselves, and instead focus on change. If a personally responsible citizen is bringing cans of food, and the participatory citizen is organizing the drive, then the justice-oriented citizen is asking why people are hungry and acting on what they discover.
Those that focus on justice issues would worry that the community committee may get so focused on collaborative actions that they often fail to focus or critically analyze the social, economic, and political structures that generate problems.
In this focus, educators help students emphasize the connection between the social ills of today and the interplay of economic, political, and social forces, working to develop skills and commitments to improve society.
Philip Randolph said that, “A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess.”
I feel lucky to be part of a gospel that is engaged. In these three types of citizens I can see the life of Christ. The gospel shows us His example of emulating personal and individual focus, and His discipleship and community pursuits. Most important, he was an advocate for alleviating suffering and getting to the root causes of the ills of society.
The living gospel is adapting and changing to meet the needs and crises of the world. Natural disasters are on the increase, and the Church is there, helping personally responsible people take action to help themselves, and also to participate as a team and collectively help in larger ways, supportong local governments to identify systemic change that must come out of the learning that goes on.
So whether it’s in New Orleans and Katrina, it’s in Haiti, or it’s right here at home, these are tangible examples of how to be a global citizen that cares and thinks and acts. I love the notion that, as the gospel is engaged, the whole notion of spirituality is from the Latin word “spiro” or “spirare” which means “to breathe.” To breathe means the essence of our lives. We wouldn’t be sitting here if we didn’t have oxygen. And even though we’re not even thinking about it today, our ability to sustain and be here is the fact that we’re taking in air and letting it out. The term of spirituality says to me that we need to think a little bit more about how our spirits need to give back—that we cannot just take in air and hold it in. We have to release air to breathe and live physically. I believe spiritually that we are nurtured and sustained the most, and we are most fulfilling the purpose of our creation to take all that has come to us—all of the opportunity, all of the education—and make sure that we in turn, just like oxygen, breathe that back out and share that back with the community.
I want to end my comments today by bringing this back to Lowell Bennion, because he was all three types of citizens—he got involved, he cared, he made a difference. And I want to bring it back to the most simple message of the gospel. In Matthew 22:36-40, we all know well the words that are spoken there, that say, “Master, [what] is the [greatest] commandment in the law?”
And “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”
And “This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, [that] thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
“On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
I love that it goes on in Matthew, when the Savior was asked, or told, “For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: [and] I was a stranger, and you took me in:… I was in prison, and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36).
And the righteous answer him and say, “When did we do these things?” And He responds back and says, “I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (verse 40).
I don’t know of any successful community engagement that doesn’t begin right at home in our personal lives. I love the admonition I read in Matthew, because it says to me, “Get out of our comfort zone and begin to be a good citizen.” It must be right close to home, and we must be looking for examples in our own personal lives that allow us to give back—whether it’s our roommates, or someone we visit teach, or a classmate in our class. I am convinced, without any doubt, that there are connections that are waiting just for you. And there are not only large issues in the community that you can get in and serve, but there are connections.
And I want to just end with sharing with you one example that happened to me in a personal way. It’s a very small example, but it shows me the power of being a good neighbor and the connections that are all about enlarging our world. And just so briefly, like many of you young men and women in here that have served missions—it’s a hard role for a mom to send a son on a mission. Our oldest son got a mission call to Prague, Czech Republic. And Prague, Czech Republic felt a long way away to me. I remember he left for that mission and sent us an email the day that he arrived. It simply said these words: “Arrived safe. Landed in Prague, and I have been transferred to Brno.”
Brno, Czech Republic was not a place I had imagined, but on that Saturday morning, I was thinking about my son in Brno, Czech Republic as I got on my bike and rode up Immigration Canyon. I was with my husband, but he tends to ride faster, so he had gone up ahead and literally this entire ride I was wrapping my head around the idea of where this son of mine was. And I was feeling kind of far away from him. As I rounded the top of the summit—a lot of people were up there that day—and pretty tired, and just thinking about getting water and doing what you do, and suddenly I noticed a man coming up the other way. And there were many other people, but there was something about this man that caught my attention. And he rode up quite close to me, and we exchanged a hello and a little bit of a smile. It must have made him feel comfortable, because he turned to me in a few moments and asked me if I knew more about the bike routes that you could ride to from the top of Little Mountain.
I told him what I knew, but I also detected a bit of an accent, and I said to this man, “Where are you from?”
And he leaned a little closer and said, “Oh, you won’t know where I come from, but I come from the Czech Republic.”
I about fell of my bike. I got a little closer to him, and I said, “I don’t know a lot about the Czech Republic, but I know a little. And I cannot believe I’m meeting you.” I shared with him that my son had just landed in the Czech Republic and said, “What city do you live in?”
He said, “You wouldn’t know it. I live in Brno, Czech Republic.”
And I said, “I’m now going to hug you.” And I got off my bike—this strange man at the top of Little Mountain got this hug from this strange woman that he didn’t know, but what I will tell you is that two years later when my son returned from his mission, Uri Frandsu and his family, I did know. They had come to our home almost twice a month, for all the holidays, and they became not just neighbors and community people, they became dear friends of our family. And we had a connection that I can stand here today and say without any question, that I felt divine intervention, that I was supposed to meet that man that day. And I know that it connected for us because we both had a need.
He had a need to meet somebody that could help introduce him and his wonderful family to Salt Lake City, because they had just landed here for two years as visiting professors in the geology department of the University of Utah. They were not LDS, and they had seen the Mormon elders in their country, in Brno, Czech Republic, but they didn’t know Salt Lake City. I got to help them negotiate their rent with their landlord, I helped them find their schools that felt comfortable for their children, I drove a car that they wanted to buy as a used car, they wanted my opinion. But mostly, I learned about the Czech Republic from this family that was Czech. And they were able to help us understand more of our son’s experience.
It’s a small example, but I share it as a powerful tool that people are out there for you to connect to. And you will not just help them; they will help you far more. And they will help you understand best the notion of engaging in the community, because it comes not out of moral duty—yes, I can be told at church that it’s a good idea to serve, and I might go to a service project because I feel the duty—but really, what the Savior wants us to feel and understand is that it’s the caring and the compassion and the love. And it’s that one person that will help us understand how to make a difference in a community. And it’s that way that we solve the larger problems.
I share my testimony with you that the Savior does live and that all of the things we’re seeing happening in this world that sometimes can make us feel very concerned about the future—we are so fortunate to understand that it is in the loving arms of our Heavenly Father, and it is our role to take the part that we can play, and He expects us to do that. I humbly pray that you will feel the motivation to personally figure out your passion and your mission and the way that you can give back, and I share these things humbly, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Agency, Love, and Learning
My wife and I recently visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a French-speaking country located in Central Africa. This is a country of nearly 70 million people, 80 percent of whom have no employment and many of whom go to bed hungry every night. We were in the city of Kinshasa, a city with a population of more than 10 million people. In the stake conference meeting we attended there, more than 1,500 Saints filled every available square inch in the stake center.
We were in Kinshasa for only three days, but I will never forget the feelings I had while mingling with those Saints. They had little material wealth, but they were rich inspiritual strength. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the faith of the people in such a tangible way. I asked a Church leader, “What is your biggest challenge related to teaching in the Church here in the D.R. Congo?” He paused for a moment and then said, “Well, the members spend so much time studying their Sunday School lesson each week that they create these long lists of questions, and during class time, the teacher can hardly get a word in edgewise!”
His response made me smile. But it also caused me to think: why is it that no Church leader in North America would give such a response? To the contrary, most in North America would say the opposite: “I wish we could get the members to study the lesson before they come to class.”
As we were leaving the stake conference meeting in the Kinshasa stake, a choir sang “Praise to the Man” as a postlude hymn.I noticed a 14-year-old boy singing along at the top of his lungs. He was not in the choir but was singing along with them just because he wanted to. I was impressed he knew all the words to the song. And I don’t think he memorized the words because someone forced him to do so. Those words were in his heart. They had become part of who he was.
I keep asking myself, why did that young man know all the words of that hymn and why did he want to sing it without being asked? Somehow the gospel had sunk down deep into his heart even at that early age. How did that happen? How did the gospel get deep into his heart at the age of 14? I pose that question to you today. Talk to the person next to you for a minute or two about how the gospel gets down deep into your heart. How does this happen?
I think part of the reason may have to do with the connection between our heart and our actions.I sensed from the Saints in Kinshasa that this connection was very strong. Their actions seemed to be motivated by nothing other than pure love for the Lord and for His gospel.
What I saw in Kinshasa suggests an approach to learning that I would like to talk about today. We can approach learning with either an insatiable appetite to improve or with a feeling of obligation and reluctance. And this very condition—the condition of our heart and its relationship with our actions—will to a large extent determine how happy we are in this life and in the life to come.
Most of us think of education as a means to something else. We enroll in a course so that we can get a degree. We get a degree so that we can get a job. We may even think of education as preparation for life. We go to school to learn how to live in the “real world.”As a result, some talk about education as something other than the “real world.” “In the real world we have to earn a living,” some might say. Or “In the real world we have to become responsible for someone other than ourselves.”
My message to you today is that education is as real as it gets. The decisions we make as students are as important as anydecisions we will make in life. It is here, right here and right now, that we are learning to draw closer to the Lord or to move further away from Him.
Not long ago I heard of a freshman who went to college and chose not to learn. Rather than going to class, he stayed home and played video games—not for an hour or two per day, but all day and sometimes all night. When it became clear that he would be asked to leave school because of his grades, he packed his bags and left. No one knew where he had gone. His roommates didn’t know. His family didn’t know. He went to another city and e-mailed his parents to tell them that he was all right but that he did not want to go to college. He wanted to keep playing video games.
I once had to confront a graduate student who had clearly plagiarized her entire dissertation. The majority of the words in her document were not hers. She had obviously copied them from another dissertation. Even in the face of irrefutable evidence, she denied having done anything wrong.
These are extreme cases. But what about the student who consciously decided not to keep the dress and grooming standards of the college? It did not seem like a big deal. But the student became a little proud that he could get away with it. He refused to change.
I’m quite convinced that all three of these students knew that their choices were morally wrong. The problem is that in each case the students stuck with their decision. On some level, these students rebelled against the truth that was in them. Like the rebellious Nephites in the Book of Mormon, “they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them” (3 Nephi 6:18).
A rebel is someone who not only does something wrong but does it knowingly. A rebel does not make an inadvertent mistake. A rebel makes intentional mistakes. Laman and Lemuel rebelled against their father, against their brother Nephi, and against God. They were not ashamed of their wrongdoing. Their intentions were as unrighteous as their actions.
So the rebel is a person who does the wrong thing for the wrong reason—a bad action with impure intent. It is the most dangerous of all places to be in life. And it can happen even while someone is going through school.
What about the student who does a good thing but does it without pure intent? Last summer I was in a seminar where we were discussing grading practices. One student raised his hand and told about an interaction he had had with a roommate the previous semester:
My roommate was doing his homework one night and asked, “Hey, you took this course last semester, right?” I nodded my headyes. Then he said, “I just don’t understand how to do this problem. How about a little help?” I sat down with him, looked at the problem in the textbook, and realized I didn’t know the first thing about how to help him. I remembered nothing from the course. And the amazing thing is that I got an A in that course. It made me feel ashamed. How could I have gotten an A and remembered nothing?
Now this was a student who, I’m quite certain, got A’s in all of his courses. He knew how to get A’s. He knew how to study, how to prepare for exams, and how to turn in assignments on time. But I think the reason he felt ashamed is because he realized that he was just going through the motions. He was studying, taking exams, and handing in assignments not because he was intent on learning anything but only so he could receive a good grade and get his degree. He knew somewhere down deep that he had been pretending to be a good student but that in reality he wasn’t really learning. He was doing good things, but he was doing them for the wrong reason.
There’s nothing wrong with getting good grades, but this student discovered that if the grade becomes your only motivation, then your intent is not truly pure. And when we do good things with impure intent, we are imposters or, as the scriptures put it, hypocrites. That may seem like a harsh assessment of someone who is trying to get good grades, but I’m using strong words to warn against a serious danger. Christ spent a good portion of his ministry teaching of the dangers of hypocrisy. He taught that when we say or do something, our motives must be pure. Our actions and words must match the intent of our heart. We do not want to honor God with our lips when our hearts are far from Him (see Mark 7:6).
Most of us have felt the shame that this student felt—a shame that comes from pretending to be something we are not. After hearing that student describe how that experience made him feel, I’m convinced that he changed his approach to learning and made a firm decision to learn not just for the grade but so that he could better himself for the purpose of serving others.
So we can do the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or we can do the right thing for the wrong reason. But more common than either of these is the problem of having good intentions and then falling short of those intentions. I have had more than one former student write to me from the mission field and say something like the following: “Dear Brother Osguthorpe, I hope you remember me (I always remember them). I took your course last year. Now I’m in the mission field, and I’ve got to tell you that I did not deserve the grade you gave me. Some of the work I handed in was not mine. I’m sorry. Could you please lower my grade?”
This is what I call the “natural man” condition.
Yes, these students made a mistake. But their mistake was different than that of the rebels.The rebel actually wants to do bad things. The rebel has no intention of repenting. The rebel lies about his or her sin. The rebel might even be proud of rebelling. The natural man, on the other hand, wants to do the good thing but succumbs to temptation. Paraphrasing the Apostle Paul, “Why is it that what I intend to do, I don’t do, and what I intend not to do, I do?” (see Romans 7:15). He wonders why his mind and his body are so at odds with each other. How can he know God’s law in his mind and intend to keep the law and then yield to temptation? Nephi likewise laments the fact that he can sin when his witness of the Lord and his love for the Lord is so strong: “My heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities” (2 Nephi 4:17).
We have all felt the condition of the natural man or woman. We have all fallen short of our good intentions. We have all experienced the gap between where we want to be and where we actually are. So we come to the Savior with a broken heart and contrite spirit, just as my former students came to me, and plead for forgiveness. When we do that, the “Lord is nigh” to us (Psalm 34:18).
Our goal in life is to find ourselves in this natural man condition less frequently—to “[yield] to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [put] off the natural man” (Mosiah 3:19), little by little, until finally we do the right thing for the right reason all of the time.
When we do good things with pure intent, we become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Savior taught us during His ministry that this is the pathway to happiness—that when our actions live up to our highest intentions, our most selfless intentions, then we automatically find ourselves close to the Lord. His Spirit is always with us when we are doing the right thing for the right reason. Any time we slip away from this in the direction of rebellion, hypocrisy, or mortal weakness, we distance ourselves from the Lord, and His Spirit cannot strive with us. From the scriptures we know that “if [we] receive not the Spirit [we] shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). I submit that without the Spirit we also cannot learn in the way the Lord wants us to learn (see D&C 88:118–19).
A freshman student in my missionary preparation course e-mailed me one day and asked if he could come and talk with me. He had been enrolled in my course for six weeks but had never attended class. I assumed that he had decided to drop the course. But the resident assistant, or RA,in his dorm overheard him telling his friend that he was still enrolled but had never come to class. This RA was a recently returned missionary and a full-time student himself. The RA asked him if he still wanted to try to succeed in the course. He said he did. The RA then encouraged him to e-mail me.
They both came to my office to discuss the issue. I had never had a student miss so much class and still want to complete it. I explained that it would not be easy to complete the course after missing so much. I told the student that he would need to hand in every assignment and that his grade may not be as high as he might hope. He agreed. Following our meeting he attended every class, gradually made up all past assignments, and completed the course.
I asked the RA why he had helped this young man. He explained that while he was serving his mission, he made a promise to himself that following his mission he would helpevery 18-year-old he possibly could to prepare well for his mission. In short, the RA cared for this freshman enough to reach out and help him.
Learning is a matter of agency and love. We cannot learn unless we choose to learn. And only when we are reaching out to others in love will our learning yield the fruits it is supposed to yield. Agency and love.
Of all the things you learn during your college days, I hope you learn above all how to be a disciple—how to do the right thing and do it for the right reason. And that reason is love. You can think of this every day. While you’re studying for an exam, is your heart really in it or are you doing it reluctantly? If we ever do a good thing reluctantly, it is of no worth. As Mormon taught, if we “do it grudgingly, . . . [it] is counted evil” (see Moroni 7:8). So we have to watch ourselves all the time. We need to learn out of love for the Lord and for His children.
I want to be like that resident assistant who reached out to someone in need. He did not reach out because of any benefit that would come to him but because he cared about a fellow student. I met that freshman on the sidewalk the next semester. He came up to me smiling and said, “You changed my life by letting me finish that course. I want to go on a mission now, and I wasn’t sure before I took your course.” I responded, “Oh, I didn’t change your life, your resident assistant helped you change your life. Without him, you would never have come to see me.” He agreed.
I wonder sometimes about that student who played video games all day. Could someone have reached out to him? Could another student have helped him as the resident assistant helped the freshman in my class?
When I was serving as a mission president, I used to ask my missionaries, “What if we did everything out of love? What if love were the only motive for all of our actions?” No one would be trying to look better than someone else. No one would be doing something because heor she had been forced to do it. Think what that would mean!
I want you to think about what it would mean for you as students if love were your motive. We learn so that we can reach our divine potential. We learn so that we can serve others more effectively. When we choose to do good and choose it because we love others, learning accelerates.
I’m not talking only of the learning that occurs in class. I’m not referring only to mastering the topic we are attempting to learn. I have no doubt that when we exercise our agency, choose the good, and do it out of love for others, we will become more proficient in computer science or nursing or whatever we are studying. But I’m talking about much more than mastering a topic, as important as this is. I’m talking about learning that leads to personal growth and change. Every time we choose the good and then act out of love, our power to make good choices increases.
“The powerisin[us], wherein [we]are agentsunto [ourselves]. And inasmuch as men do good they shallin nowise lose their reward” (D&C 58:28). This power comes from God. It is the power to choose. And there’s no better time or place to practice it than while we are in school. We need to watch ourselves continually that we never become rebellious as a student, proud of doing the wrong thing for the wrong reason. We need to make sure we don’t pretend to be learning when we really are not. And anytime we slip and fall, we must put off the natural man and seek forgiveness in meekness. Then, when we do the right thing for the right reason, that power that is in us to be agents unto ourselves will grow.
Every time we learn more truth in whatever field of study, our choices expand. The nurse who learns about the effects of the drug atropine can choose to administer that drug to a patient whose heartbeat is fading. The nurse who does not know about the effects of atropine cannot make that choice, and the patient might die. So our ability to exercise that power that is within us to choose increases as we learn. The more we choose to learn, the more power we have to choose. More particularly, the more we choose the good, the more power we have to be good and do good. Our power of agency expands.
Not only does our power of agency expand as we use it effectively, but our capacity to love others can also expand. Mormon teaches us that “if [we] have not charity [we] are nothing” (Moroni 7:46). This is one of the most powerful statements in all of scripture. No matter how good we are at what we do, no matter how successful we may become in any field, no matter how good-looking we are or how athletic we are or how competent we are, if we don’t have charity, we are still nothing. No other quality counts if charity is missing, because then we find ourselves in that imposter box. No matter how great our achievement, if our heart is not right—if we are not filled with the pure love of Christ—it doesn’t count.
That’s why the account of the resident assistant reaching out to that freshman is so powerful. It was a simple act. All he did was ask the freshman if he wanted to complete the course. He asked him to exercise his agency. And when the freshman saidyes, the RA sat down with him and helped him draft an e-mail to me. Then he accompanied him to my office. He even came with the freshman to my class the first time just to make sure everything went well. That’s charity. That’s a selfless act for someone else.
Do I think that the RA’s capacity to love increased as he continued to practice those selfless acts for others? I know it did. Do I think that the freshman’s capacity to love increased because he was willing to receive the RA’s help? Yes. Emphatically, yes. It’s a law of heaven. Love begets love. Those who are not loved as children have difficulty developing a capacity to love as they mature. They don’t know what love is. Love is not something you can explain. It is only something you can do.
Elder Scott recently taught us about the important relationship between love, agency, and learning. Describing a teacher in Mexico City, he said, “His sincerity, purity of intent, and love permitted a spiritual strength to envelop the room” (Richard G. Scott, in Conference Report, Oct. 2009, 5; or Ensign, Nov. 2009, 7). This teacher was choosing to do a good thing—teach by the Spirit—and he did it with pure intent. He was doing the right thing for the right reason, out of love for the Lord and for his fellow beings.
Agency and love are the motivational forces that can lead us away from rebellion, hypocrisy, and the weaknesses of the natural man. I’ve described how the natural man can change by yielding to the enticings of the Holy Spirit. But so can the imposter and the rebel. Alma the Younger was a rebel. He knowingly and actively fought against the Church. But he yielded to the Spirit and changed. The student who took a course just to get a grade rather than to learn anything also changed. He never wanted to do that again.
Some of you may know a rebel or an imposter who needs help. Maybe you have a friend who fights against the rules of the college and perhaps is even proud of it. Maybe you have friends who are pretending to learn but care only about the grade. Maybe someone is pretending to be faithful in the Church but is not. We can all reach out. Using our agency, we can choose to help. And we can help because we love our friends. We all need to work together to become true disciples. We need to exercise our agency and choose to do the right thing out of love.
This is the relationship between agency, love, and learning. It is not a loose, blurry relationship. It is a tight, irrefutable relationship. When we use the power within us to choose the good, we learn and we grow in our ability to use that power and we help others do the same. When we do everything we do out of love, we learn to give and receive love. Our capacity to love increases and so does the capacity of those who receive our love.
This is why your college years are so important. If as students you can become skilled at choosing the good and doing it out of love, then your whole life will be better. Your power to exercise your agency will increase. Your capacity to love will expand. You will be happy. You will be good wives and husbands, good mothers and fathers, good Church members, good neighbors, good friends. Personally, I want to be like the Saints I met in Kinshasa. I want my heart to be inseparably linked to my actions. I want to have the vitality, the eagerness, the dedication I felt in those good people.
I know these principles are true. I know that agency is a priceless gift from our Father in Heaven. He knew that it would be challenging for us always to choose the right. He knew that sometimes our motives might not match our actions. But He provided a Savior for us so that we would never need to remain in the imposter, rebel, and natural man boxes. To be in one of thoseboxes is to be in captivity. These boxes are inhibiting. They keep us hemmed in as if we were in prison. The only key we can use to escape is the Atonement. Through the Atonement we can be freed. We can be changed so that we have “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2). I know this.
My prayer is that we will always try to do the right thing for the right reason. I know with all my heart that if we do, then the Lord will magnify us. He will help us do things that we thought we could not do. He will lift us and strengthen us. He will expand our power to choose the good and increase our capacity to love. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Building the Brightest Future
My dear young friends and students, Sister Christensen and I are delighted to have this opportunity to be with you today. What a marvelous sight you are. To look out over this audience and be in your presence is humbling and exciting.
I’m even more awed as I contemplate your futures and what you will become as you use the experiences and training received here at the College and then go forth to serve. Many of you have come from other lands and cultures—60 countries I believe I heard—and from every state in the Union. That’s a compliment to you. I’m confident that the education, the training that you receive here will be the means of establishing social stability wherever you live or will live. That is so vital in today’s world.
Contemplating that, I am reminded of a conversation I had just about a year ago with a wonderful and observant Seventy in Central America. We were together on assignment in Honduras. As we walked to the restaurant of the hotel that morning for breakfast before beginning our day, we observed a brief television report having to do with something that had happened here in the United States. I don’t remember the details of the report, only that it dealt with an impropriety on the part of a civic or business leader. Although the details of the report are forgotten, I will never forget the essence of the conversation with my companion at breakfast that day. My wonderful companion was born in Central America and had lived and served and worked in several of the surrounding countries. As a faithful member of the Church, he understood well the role of this country in international affairs. He told me that, for as long as he could remember, our political and business leaders had been models to him and to the world. Then, in an obvious reference to the TV report that we had just observed, he said that in many ways that long-held respect of our country was no longer present. The honesty and integrity that had been the hallmark of our nation for centuries had now diminished in his eyes and in those of so many abroad who had previously looked to us as leaders and examples.
I mention that incident not to be judgmental in any way, for there is so much good that is done by so many in our society. I mention it only in the context of your futures, and what you will do for those societies in which you will live, and how you will be able to maintain the social and moral equilibrium so important to any society. The very norms that have qualified you to be students here at this institution of higher learning are precisely the attributes that you will need to be successful and to establish societies that are worthy of emulation where you live. Your example will be the most powerful influence you will exert, and will exemplify not only your feelings, but also the doctrines of the Church. You are the ones who have and will carry this message and this example to the world.
I have prayed and pondered much about this message, and as I have done so, I’ve been impressed to share with you a message related to remarks made by my famous uncle in a recent funeral service. When I say “famous uncle” I am admittedly personal and prejudiced. I would be surprised if any of you here had ever even heard of my uncle. As the world measures fame, his name is hardly more than a blip on the radar screen of life. Although he has been eminently successful in his profession, his renown comes not from his notoriety by worldly standards, but by his goodness, and the influence within his own immediate and extended family. I’ve always considered him a remarkable example, and one worthy of emulation in matters relating to family and the gospel.
In remarks at that funeral service, he referred to what he called an essay that he had recently written, in which he had endeavored to critically evaluate himself. When he mentioned the title of his essay, he immediately captured my attention. The title was, “After Much Searching, I Have Finally Discovered Myself. Now I’ve Decided that I Need to Keep on Searching.”
I’ve never read the essay. I have no idea what it said, and he didn’t elaborate. I can only guess at its contents. Based on the smile, and the chuckle that accompanied the remark, I suspect that it is both humorous and introspective. However, my impression then and now is that it introduces a timely endeavor that each of us will find beneficial if we were to carefully examine our lives. This essay brings to mind several questions that are worthy of our consideration which I would like to discuss with you today.
First, do you see yourself today as someone very special and of unequaled value in the sight of your Father in Heaven and your family? Do you have the willingness and the vision to see beyond the challenges of today? Will you accomplish in the future all that you envision for yourself today? Twenty years from now, will you be able to look back on your professional and spiritual lives and determine that you did everything possible to accomplish your goals? And finally, have you concluded that your future is bright, and are you willing to put forth the effort today to help you achieve your potential?
President James E. Faust once posed this question to the members of the Church. He asked: “Who do you think you are?” President Faust said, “Regardless of who we think we are today, we may become much more than we may envision today. However, we must be certain that we have our focus on that part of us that is truly worthwhile and enduring, and not on what others see in our exterior.”
He then cited the study of a prominent social worker, Dr. Fred Riley, who had treated many well-known athletes, who identified themselves only as athletes and not as sons and daughters of God. At the conclusion of the study, Dr. Riley asked the question, “What happens when they can’t play basketball” anymore? What will their identity be then? (“Who Do You Think You Are?” Ensign, Mar. 2001, p. 2).
President Faust observed: “Their self-worth is related to their physical skills rather than their character. Many who [have achieved] world-class recognition may not like themselves. Some of the rich and famous, even though they have great talent and ability, are insecure and succumb to drugs, alcohol, or immorality. …Their lives [have] become shattered. Instead of being happy with who they are, they become dissatisfied and discontent. They measure their self-worth solely in terms of their talent and accomplishments instead of who they really are inside. It is not always true,” said President Faust, “that the more you achieve, the happier you will be, or that you will like yourself more” (Ibid).
President Faust asked the question again. “So, who do you think you are?” Then he said, “Who you think you are and who you really are can be two different versions of yourself. From an eternal perspective, these two versions need to come together. God knows you and what you can become because He has known you from the beginning when you were His spirit sons and daughters. What you become will depend in large measure on how you follow righteous principles and do good works,” said President Faust.
Alma to his son Helaman gave this sound advice, which is timely in any age. Said Alma, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
“…Now, my son, see that ye take care of these sacred things, yea, see that ye look to God, and live” (Alma 37:37, 47).
I would like to share with you some ideas and brief stories that I hope will enlighten you and cause that in the future you need not look back with remorse regarding decisions that you may have made previously in your lives. I will always remember as a member of a bishopric, sitting with a young man from our ward on the bleachers of a softball field at the end of a ward softball game. He had refused to serve a mission and had chosen instead to go into the military. He had recently returned from the military, discharged early because of some lingering health issues. He was discouraged that his life had taken this course, and he was struggling to find direction for his future.
On that particular day, he was faced with an even more imminent and pressing decision. His parents and younger siblings were leaving the next week for a family reunion. His parents, particularly his mother had been pleading with him to accompany them to this family reunion, rather than spending time with his buddies from the service. It was obvious from our conversation that he was leaning heavily to spending the time with his buddies rather than his family.
We spoke of his having been away from his family for some time in the military, and how his family would cherish this time with him at this reunion. As a result of his being with his family, I told him that he likely would have a new perspective on members of his family, and his parents, and siblings, things that you perhaps have not previously appreciated. The alternative, of course, was to go with his buddies and possibly suffer the consequences of what at least had the potential to be an unworthy setting for a priesthood leader and a wonderful son of God. He informed me that he didn’t want to go to the reunion. He said that was no place for someone of his age and experience.
Just a week later, I received an urgent call from a bishop, asking for my help in locating his family who were then returning from the reunion. Their son was in the hospital as a result of an auto accident, probably paralyzed from the waist down. One of his intoxicated buddies had crashed their car into a tree or pole. As often happens, his so-called friend walked away unscathed, but my young friend spent the rest of his life incapacitated, and a good portion of his life in hospitals dealing with the results of that unfortunate accident—all the result of a decision that could have had a more positive outcome if he had looked to God in that critical moment, and had been willing to seek divine parental guidance in his life. I don’t know how many times he thought back to our conversation on the bleachers of that softball field that day, but I have agonized many times over the destructive and enduring unfortunate decision.
You’ll remember that Laman and Lemuel, like my young friend, sometimes wanted to be the contrarians. They often struggled with the invitation and counsel of their father Lehi and their younger brother Nephi. Nephi was deeply grieved as he observed the disputations and dissensions of his brothers. He knew in his heart the consequences of not following the counsel of the Lord given through their father, and the heartache and suffering that it would eventually bring. He recorded, “Now I, Nephi, was grieved because of the hardness of their hearts, and also, because of the things which I had seen, and knew they must unavoidably come to pass because of the great wickedness of the children of men.
“And it came to pass that… I spake unto my brethren, desiring to know of them the cause of their disputations.
“And they said: Behold, we cannot understand the words which our father has spoken concerning the natural branches of the olive-tree, and also concerning the Gentiles.
“And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
“And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
“Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
“Do ye not remember the things which the Lord has said, if ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you” (1 Nephi 15:4-11).
I suspect that my young friend was much like Laman and Lemuel. He was a member of a wonderful family, with righteous and exemplary parents. He had been taught for over twenty years the power of prayer and the influence of the Spirit of God. In one moment of decision, in which he should have remembered and practiced the example that he had observed in his family, he either forgot or ignored the teaching that certainly would have shielded him from a life of physical and emotional suffering.
President Faust taught that changing bad behavior was a way in which we could truly come to know ourselves, thus finding greater contentment and achievement in our lives. There is nothing so rewarding or enduring than to be truly happy, to find joy in all that we do each day, to be able to face each day with anticipation and the certainty that each daily experience will add to our joy and success. We must want to be happy, and diligent in identifying those accomplishments which will move us toward our ultimate goal. It would be a beneficial exercise for each of us to frequently review our objectives, and then note them in our journals, or post them in a conspicuous location for frequent reference.
Your futures are bright. They are as bright as you are willing to make them. In large measure, your mortal and eternal nature will depend on the extent to which you diligently and pleadingly look to God. Your futures are totally dependent on the choices and decisions that you make each day. We can make correct choices if our lives and our minds are centered, as Nephi and his successor prophets have taught, on keeping the commandments of God, regardless of the temptations or barriers that may be thrown up in our way.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith , 255-56).
Two weeks after arriving in Argentina to begin my service as a mission president, I received a call on a Sunday afternoon from a sister missionary informing me that her companion had fainted during church services that day. Her companion had arrived in the mission just four months previous. There had been no indication of any underlying health issue. Little did any of us know that this was the first indication of an enduring affliction that would haunt her for years. The sister was taken to a local hospital and evaluated. Her problem was serious enough that doctors could not identify or treat it. I immediately brought her nearer the mission home where we could more closely observe her condition. After more tests and days of observation, it became apparent that her condition was serious, that she would need to return home to be more properly evaluated and treated.
It has now been more than ten years since her illness began. She has had occasional moments of improvement in her health followed by relapse and continued serious impairment. Sister Christensen and I visited her recently. When I think about the challenges that can come in our lives, and the manner in which we face them, I always remember the wonderful example of this sister missionary. There she was, only four months into her mission. She was just beginning to feel comfortable with the language. She had a heartfelt love for the people. She was in the service of the Lord, doing precisely what she had promised Him she would do. Then she was struck with this terrible ailment that would not only end the missionary service she loved so dearly, but would lead to more than ten years of almost continuous pain, weakness, and inability to function.
Thankfully, after all these years, the diagnosis has been made and treatment commenced that we hope will eventually bring about relief and permanent healing. It would be so easy for anyone who had experienced such an ordeal to be bitter and ask, “Why did this happen to me? Why was I denied the blessing of continuing and finishing my mission? Why the years of pain and suffering when such a simple cure was so readily available?”
I would like to share with you a portion of a testimony and letter that we received from her the same day that we returned from our visit. She said, “I had a good testimony of the Church before I left on my mission, and though I had questions, I never doubted that what my parents taught me was true. But serving a mission, hearing myself bear testimony to others, and experiencing the Spirit so strongly and so often greatly increased my love for the gospel and dedication to it. I know the scriptures I read were written and experienced by real people, who have faced many of the same sorts of challenges I face today, and I am more grateful than I can express for the opportunity of having scriptures and being able to read and enjoy them. I know the scriptures are true, and I love them with all my heart. I often turn to them, including times of trial, knowing that even if the words on the page cannot necessarily solve my problems, I am creating the opportunity for the Spirit to touch my heart and at least provide comfort, if not personal inspiration. I dearly love the scriptures, general conference, and all the writings and talks given by the prophets. I know Jesus Christ is my Savior. I am deeply touched by the fact [that] His life and sacrifice make prayer possible for me. I don’t know how I would survive without prayer in good and bad times. Prayer is a great comfort and motivator for me.”
I am always deeply affected by her example. There is never any bitterness expressed, only gratitude for lessons learned and choice experiences remembered.
Near the end of His earthly ministry, the Savior gave this timely counsel to His chief apostle, The Lord said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32).
From this encounter, we learn several valuable lessons. Satan will always be present, endeavoring to tempt, weaken, deceive, and, if possible, to destroy. The sifting is constant and can be intense, if we allow him to intervene. He understands the Lord’s plan of happiness, and he knows that if we win, he loses. His determination from the beginning has been to destroy us and destroy the Father’s plan. His intent in the preexistence was to deny you your agency, and to bind you down to eternal suffering. It was his intent then, and his diabolical pleasure continues today, to ensure that you will find no joy in this life if his sifting can distract and destroy.
Thanks be to God for the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ who atoned for our sins and assured us that through faith, repentance, enduring to the end, and the ordinances of the gospel that Satan could not destroy us.
Last month, a new stake presidency was sustained in our stake. As often happens with new and overwhelming calls to serve, our new president expressed some feelings of inadequacy in his calling. He told of an experience several years before, when he and his wife had determined that they would construct a swimming pool in their back yard. It was determined that excavating machinery would not be able to enter to do the excavation. The only way to excavate was with shovel and wheelbarrow. So they began the task. He said after a day of toiling and trying to do this excavation, he looked at his wife and said, “This job is overwhelming. There is no way that we can possibly complete this excavation.”
He said, “She looked at me and simply said, ‘Yes, we can—one shovel and one wheelbarrow at a time.’” So it is with each of us. We achieve our goals and objectives, no matter how difficult it seems, one day, one task at a time, never giving up.
As the children of Israel were poised on the east bank of the Jordan River, prepared to cross into Canaan, the Lord gave counsel to Joshua that was timely then and is timely today. In fact, for emphasis, the Lord repeated the instructions three times in similar words. Said the Lord to Joshua, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
“Be strong and of good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land…
“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant has commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
“This book of the law, the commandments, shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then shalt thou make thy way prosperous, and then shalt thou have good success.
“Have not I commanded thee?” said Jehovah. “Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee, whithersoever thou goest” (Joshua 1:5-9).
I hope we have understood the significance of Jehovah’s instructions to Joshua and to us. We must be strong and of good courage. We must never be discouraged or relent. We will be able to achieve whatever the Lord calls us and instructs us to do—one day, one step, one shovel or wheelbarrowfull at a time. We must be strong and very courageous in observing the law given to us. Let not the law nor the commandments of the Lord depart from us. Do not stray from the commandments of the Lord, neither to the right or to the left. Meditate on them, ponder on them, think on them. Practice them day and night, and observe to do all that we discover therein.
Lastly, we have the enduring promises of the Lord that if we will be strong and of good courage, we need not ever be dismayed—for He will be with us wherever we are and in all that we do. The Savior assured us that His love and concern for us is constant. His plan and desire for us is that our joy will be eternal. God will not deceive us. He cannot deceive us. His love and desire for us are no less today than they were for Peter. Every being is a creation of our eternal God and is valuable in His sight. When we keep His commandments and draw near to Him, we are assured that the purpose of His plan on our behalf will be achieved. We will be happy in mortality and enjoy the blessings of eternal joy and happiness.
The final lesson in the Savior’s remarks to Peter is that when we understand and are converted, we have an obligation to reach out and to strengthen others.
In our dispensation, the Lord has reminded us of the imperative of watchful care over our fellow beings. His invitation is always present, to reach out and lift the load of those whose ability to meet the challenges of life exceeds their ability to cope. Said the Lord to Frederick G. Williams and to us: “Wherefore, be faithful; stand in the office which I have appointed unto you; succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. And if thou art faithful unto the end, thou shalt have a crown of immortality, and eternal life in the mansions which I have prepared in the house of my Father” (D&C 81:5-6).
We need look no further than President Thomas Monson for examples of service to others. His stories and examples of service are legend. Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested a way in which we can each measure our success. Asked Emerson:
What is success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.
(Quoted by President Faust in (“Who Do You Think You Are?” Ensign, Mar. 2001).
May the Lord ever be with us as we seek to find and establish the best in ourselves. May we ever be open to the Spirit of the Lord, as He who loves us most and knows us best seeks to make us equal to the potential that He placed in us when we left His presence. I bear witness that He lives and is ever present, and hears our prayers when we pray in faith. I bear that witness in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
There’s a saying—I don’t know who said it, but it goes like this. I kind of put my own spin on it, but—facts are facts, and stories are how we learn. So I’m going to tell you a couple of stories and in the 25 minutes or so that I have, I want to get just a couple of points across. I’ve learned not to try to cram too many things into a talk or try to unload the wagon all at one time—my missionaries used to do that. They’d ride into town, poetically speaking, and we had cars in South Africa and everything, but we want to tell everything that we know. It doesn’t leave much for the future. So I hope to not unload the whole wagon, but mention a few things to you that will help you in your studies, in your job search and in your life. Because there’s a blend that you have to have; there’s a mixture that you need that has to happen. You can’t become lop-sided. You have to have bits that make you well-rounded, and being well-rounded will make you desirous [desirable?] to a future mate or companion, or to a future boss or employer.
So I want to remind you that in Alma we learn that we should cry to the Lord over our flocks (see Alma 34:17-27). And in that metaphor, in that verbiage, we learn that we should cry over our business, our livelihoods, what’s important to us, the things that we’re responsible for, we’ve been told that we can pray over. So, brothers and sisters, your education, your studies, your righteous desires are things that you can pray over. In Doctrine and Covenants 64:29, one of my favorite scriptures especially as a mission president, it says: “Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business.”
And so, brothers and sisters, we’re about the Lord’s business. And you studying, you learning, you having a hobby, getting better at something, is the Lord’s business. And then when you go out and you have a career, you are about the Lord’s business. We know that everything was created spiritually before it was created physically. So it was well thought out. This world, this planet, this universe that we’re part of, our work, and our being, has been thought out and planned, crated physically. And so what we learn and study is that critical as well. So it’s important for you to pray over your flocks and to be about the Lord’s business.
Steve mentioned to you a little bit about my calling. I was a part of a family business that manufactured skylights. You can see our work all over this Triad Center. If there’s glass here that is curved or on a slope, Keller in 1962 did that. At the airport, at malls, churches, schools, all over—overhead glass is a niche that my former company does and still does. And I was, I turned off a welder to answer the phone when Elder Hales’ office called to see if Kelly and I could come visit and talk about being a mission president. We really didn’t know that was what he was calling about. In fact, we were scared pretty bad. It was a Tuesday, and I called Kelly in the afternoon and said, “Kelly, we’ve just been invited to Elder Hales’ office.”
“What about?” You know, that’s the first question.
“I don’t know.” So we got to his office, and this was on a Thursday.
And he said, “I suppose you know what we’re going to talk about.”
And I said, “Elder Hales, we really don’t. The answer is yes, but we don’t know the question yet.” So we knew that we were ready and willing for whatever, and we started this journey that took us—and what I’ve learned as a mission president, a couple of things: Enjoy the journey, life’s journey, this journey that we call life; and persistence is what I’d like to get across to you today. A couple of points about enjoying the journey and persistence.
A little bit about my career, and the new career that I’m on now. Three years is a long time, and so I came home unemployed. We had some changes at the shop, and I came home unemployed. I had a job at Welfare Square Unemployment Services, part time, and that’s when Steve and I got together. Well, I started doing things. I was working with priesthood leaders—stake presidents, bishoprics, stake presidencies, elders quorum presidents, and high councilors—to find them jobs. I’d come home and high-five my wife and kids, “Hey, I got this stake president a job!”
And my sons would say, “Why don’t you get you one?”
So it was—I had a lot of fun doing it, and I got sucked into the volunteer part of it—but I started doing things in this volunteer work, in this part-time work, that I learned how to do in South Africa as a mission president. I found that if I could get my black African missionaries a job before they went home, they would stay active and do the right things. If they went home to the same kind of poverty that they went on their missions from, it was very, very difficult. You see, they were young executives. They were very successful “about the Lord’s business” men and women. And to go back home to the poverty that they came to the mission [from] was very difficult and it was very hard on their hearts. And they would go inactive. If I found them jobs before they went home, they got married, they were branch presidents, they were high councilors, they were the leadership of the Church in their countries.
You see, we had black African missionaries from 15 different countries in Durban. And so, at the same time I was a mission president, I was also a stake president for a geographical area within our mission. We didn’t have any districts, so I was a set-apart stake president at the same time I was a mission president. I was also the Consulate General for the United States, so if a missionary or a citizen of the United States was injured, hurt, got thrown in jail, did something stupid, it was kind of my assignment to help them get out of the country and get back home. Or, in the case of somebody passing away…killed in an accident or something, we had to get their bodies home, which was a chore in and of itself. Well, I had connections at consulates; I had connections in different countries with branch presidents and with MTCs, temples, missions, all these areas. I was using my connections. I was networking for my missionaries. So I started using the same kinds of techniques in this part-time job.
Well, we started having great success, didn’t we, Steve? We had great success. The Presiding Bishopric said, “Danny, why don’t you come to work for the Church, and let’s use some of what you do to help employment. Your paycheck will come from the D.I. and you’ll work for the Welfare System, but you’ll work with these 43 D.I.s.” And that’s what I do now. I develop training opportunities for the associates that you see working at the Deseret Industries. You see, at Deseret Industries like the one in Centerville has 100 and something people they’re working. About 12 or 15 are actual full-time Church employees. The rest are people the bishop has sent to get training of one kind or another. So we’re finding jobs and training opportunities for them. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m networking, like you’re learning how to do. Like you did, I believe, yesterday. How many of you went to the meeting yesterday? Quite a few of you. And so that’s all about networking and getting to know people.
Well, this persistence made it possible for me to get my new job and my new career. So that’s a little bit about my life and what we’re doing now with my business. I’d like to—instead of—I planned on bringing my memory stick and we were going to show some things up on the screen and have a real high-tech PowerPoint and a couple of videos, but instead I brought my wife. So I’m going to ask Sister Brock, Kelly, to come up and talk to you a little bit about enjoying the journey. She’s got a great presentation that we used when she was the mission president’s wife and we were speaking all over. And still today, she’s the stake Relief Society president in Bountiful, and she uses this to speak to women about enjoying the journey. So I thought instead of throwing a slide up or something, I would bring Kelly and have spend a few minutes with you, and then I’ll finish with talking about being persistent.
That was quite an intro too. I hope that I’m going to just hit some highlights on some of the things that I’ve learned. I think that one thing I have learned is that life never turns out the way you think it’s going to, and I’m sure that a lot of you have had that happen already in your life. Even if we plan and hope to do all the things that are righteous and worthy, and those are our goals, sometimes they still don’t work out the way we planned. To illustrate that, when I was your age, my goal at that time was to become a nurse. I always wanted to become a nurse; that was never a hard question for me. I was going to be a nurse. And after my first year at Utah State University, I put in my papers. I knew I would get accepted. That was my plan. I had been working toward that. I felt like my patriarchal blessing guided me toward that, and it was just a no-brainer. Well, when the letter came a few weeks later that said, “Thank you for applying to the nursing program, but we’re not going to be able to allow you a place this year,” my heart dropped.
I thought, “Wait a minute. This is my plan. It’s my goal. It’s a good goal, it’s a worthy cause. It’s what the Lord wants me to do.” And it kind of threw me for a loop. And it was about that time I had a call from one of my friends who had gone to New York and was working for a Jewish family as a nanny. You’ve heard about girls who do that. She called me and said, “I’m going home the end of the summer and they want someone to take my place. Do you want to come out?”
And I thought, “Well, what do I have to lose?” So I said, “Sure. I’ll come out.”
Well, that changed my life. It made me think about my beliefs. It made me challenge my beliefs. I really wanted to know what I believed. And I read the Book of Mormon like I’d never read the Book of Mormon before in my life, and gained a very strong testimony. I gained a wonderful friendship with a wonderful Jewish family that we still keep in touch with. And I did get accepted into nursing the next year, but that delay put me in the right spot in the right time to meet my future husband. And so I have to keep reminding myself that even when things don’t work on our timetable that the Lord knows the whole picture, and he’ll put you in the places that you belong and where you need to be at the right time. And I just want to quickly give you five points that can aid on your journey through life. And if you put these to use, they’ll safely see you through.
The first one is to recognize and cultivate your righteous desires. I love the quote you’ve probably heard a hundred times from President Hinckley when he said, “You’re good. But it is not good enough… to be good. You must be good for something” (“Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, January 1998). And he’s right. Our greatest good and happiness in life is found in doing good. In Doctrine and Covenants 6:8, the Lord said, “If you desire, ye shall be the means of doing much good in this generation.” What plans that we make in our life, back those plans up with a desire to be the means of doing much good, and you can’t go wrong. Because the Lord knows that that is where you will be happy and you will have safety, doing good for others.
And then, prepare for the unexpected. That’s number two. You need to cultivate those righteous desires, but then you need to allow the Lord to put those desires to use in perhaps unexpected ways. Quickly, I’m not going to go into detail, but you know the story in chapter 5 of Luke, when the Savior is out teaching in Galilee and he’s sitting in Peter’s fishing boat. And when he is done teaching, that’s when he says to Peter, “Go out and drop down your net.”
And Peter says to himself, “I’ve been there all night.” And he’s a professional fisherman and he knows how to fish, and here’s the Savior, who’s probably not a professional, but He is the Savior. And He tells him, “Go out there and drop down your nets.”
And Peter says to Him, “At thy word, I will let down the net” (v. 5). And you know what happens. He gets more fish that day than he ever had before. So in our lives, sometimes the Lord will tell us to let down your nets in a place, and we say, “No, I’ve been there, done that, it didn’t work out. I’m not going to do it again.” But I’m saying, when the Lord is saying let down your nets, don’t go with what you think. Sometimes you just have to go with what you know is right, and go on faith, that the Lord is telling you what to do. The Lord will always work for our profit and our good; even when we don’t think they’re going to happen, miracles will happen. So prepare yourself. Learn. Accept opportunities when they come, even when you don’t think they’re exactly what you need at that time.
Number three is to accept adversity. It’s important to remember that even when we’re doing our best, and we’re doing the right thing, and we have righteous desires in our heart, that the Lord still will let us experience uncertain times and adversity. How do we react? We all crave peace; we all want to feel good, and we don’t like not seeing what’s ahead for that first step into the darkness. I have a great quote from Elder Boyd K. Packer that, the first time I heard this I wrote it down and I have it hanging up someplace, but I wrote it down here. And he said, “It was meant to be that life would be a challenge. To suffer some anxiety, some depression, some disappointment, even some failure is normal. Teach our members that if they have a good, miserable day once in a while, or [even] several in a row, to stand steady and face them. Things will straighten out. There is great purpose to our struggle in life” (“Solving Emotional Problems in the Lord’s Own Way,” Liahona, Jan. 2010).
I read that quote to my son this morning, who is in the process of finding a job. He’s just struggling right now, and I read him that quote and he said, “Well, what is that? What is the purpose of that struggle?”
And then I said, “Listen. Let me tell you the rest of this quote.” Because that made me feel pretty comfortable, knowing that it’s okay to be miserable once in a while.
But if we are doing all that we can to live the commandments, and challenges arise, we would be well to say, not ‘what is wrong with this’ but ‘what is right.’ What is the divine purpose that is being accomplished here? Peace comes when we learn to trust that such a purpose exists and we are willing to submit to that tutoring that such experiences will offer us.”
To go to the scriptures really quickly again, and not a lot of detail, the Jaredites in their barges—I mean, I always love the story when they touch the stones, and turn to light, but I love even more to imagine being in one of those barges that had air holes on both sides because the Lord knew that it was going to flip around so much that they had to have air holes on both sides. I get carsick, I keep trying to go deep sea fishing, and I promise I won’t again, because I get so seasick. I don’t think I could have done it, flipping around in the waves.
But in chapter six, it says, “And it came to pass that they were many times buried in the depths of the sea, because of the mountain waves which broke upon them, and also the great and terrible tempests which were caused by the fierceness of the wind” (Ether 6:6). That sounds awful, I think. I would have died on that journey, I am sure. But the Lord, in verse 8—well, the Lord didn’t say this; it is what Ether says: “And it came to pass that the wind did never cease to blow towards the promised land.”
And so all that adversity, all of that wind that just kept blowing the barges, is what got them to where they needed to go. So we have to remember that sometimes those hard things, the things that just keep going wrong, is what is pushing you, what is getting you to where you need to go.
And then to have the patience, that’s the fourth thing. Patience paves our path to the Promised Land. We all know in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” But you need to go to the verses before that. In verse 2, he says, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into many afflictions; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (vv. 2-4; verse 2, Joseph Smith Translation). So being patient, and knowing that the Lord’s time is not yours.
Then the last, number 5, and there’s a lot to this, but I’m going to be quick. Number five is to be active in the Church. I think this one is close to my heart because of sadness and grief I have felt when I have had close loved ones stray away from the Church. I invite you today here to make a commitment to yourself and to your Father in Heaven, to your children, to your future children, that no matter what challenges, adversities, temptations or doubts come into your life or into your heart, you will not walk away from the Church of Jesus Christ. Walking away from the Church of Jesus Christ is walking away from Jesus Christ. Too many of us convince ourselves that we can remain close to the Lord without remaining close to His Church, and that is a lie.
I just will leave you one more thought. If you have the idea that shedding that protective armor of the covenants that you have made will make your lives easier, that also is a lie. It’s those thoughts that Satan gives us that life would be much easier if we didn’t have all these Church callings or things that we had to do, when in reality, those are what is giving us the strength. Because if we let go of that, then we are on our own. We don’t have the Lord there with us. I love Mosiah when the Nephites are in bondage to the Lamanites and they cry to the Lord to help them. And He didn’t come down to deliver them from all the hardships; he made them have strong backs. That’s what he does for us. If we will pray and ask for help, He will give you all the strength you need to get through any of the hard times and the temptations you have in front of you.
So I’d just like to end that you will make it to your Promised Land. You will get through. You’ll get that degree. You’re going to find the job that you need. But it might be a different journey than you had planned. The Lord will never leave you. I’d like to end with this scripture from 1 Nephi 17:13: “I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, if it so be that ye shall keep my commandments; wherefore, inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall be led towards the promised land; and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led.”
I would just like to testify to you that I know that this power is available to all of us. I loved the talk that we heard on the Atonement today, because that’s for us. That strength is for us, and we can’t forget that Jesus Christ is sufficient to lead us through this mortal journey and all the hardships that we have. We need to enjoy each minute and look for the good, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Brethren, can you imagine having a missionary companion like that for three years? I’m telling you, we did so many things and traveled so many miles, and Kelly was the bright spot in so many places and touched so many people. And what she’s told you today is true. This journey that you’re on is watched over by the Lord, and like I told you earlier, when you cry over your flocks and you are about His business, He is going to be about your business.
When baby Jesus was born and the star was up in the sky, I don’t believe for a second that on that evening at that moment that Heavenly Father took a star and plucked it and moved it to the spot that it was at the night that he was born. I think that star was put into orbit eons and eons and eons before that, so that on the very perfect day as this star is in orbit, on the very perfect day that baby Jesus is born, the star is over His manger. So our lives are that way. We’re on a journey and this journey is like an orbit. Brothers and sisters, don’t do anything that would goof up this orbit. Don’t do anything that would make your star kick out so that you’re not in the right spot ant the right time. Do the right things. Stay away from pornography. Listen to your leaders when they counsel you to study and to do certain things. Follow the example of the Brethren. Do the right things. Don’t let your orbit go crazy. Keep your star in orbit; keep it in the right spot so that when you get to the right place at the right time, the blessings can come.
I wanted to show you a couple of things before I close. I want you to get a passion. You see, in all of this getting that you’re doing, in all of this learning and getting—you know, all of these teachers are here teaching you, and you come here and you absorb…I went down to the parking lot with Steve to get a few of these things out of my truck, and I bet in five minutes there were probably ten students that came to him, “Brother Asay, Brother Asay, Brother Asay.” So people are doing things for you all the time. Your family is doing things for you, your parents and loved ones are praying for you. Brothers and sisters, in all of your getting, do some giving. Find a passion in the neighborhood that you can do something, read to somebody, do something fantastic if you must, but do something. And this is just a reminder to me—I found a new little passion, and it’s sewing machines. This is an old sewing machine, but it doesn’t have to be an old one. There’s been a man here locally who has devised an $8 hand crank. These sewing machines have been cast out. They’re old. This looks old, but it’s not worth anything. It’s just an old sewing machine. Well, he puts and $8 part on it, and somebody with no legs, somebody in Africa can have this because you can put this in a backpack and put it in carry-on luggage and take it anywhere you want.
So I got this little passion and I find these sewing machines and we put these little cranks on them so we can take them places. That’s become this little thing for me. I’ve even learned how to sew these little teddy bears. You see, there’s a liter of rice in there, so this little sleeve kind of folds out. You open it up, you put a liter of rice in it, and you can ship these off to anywhere. This stays clean in a home that’s maybe not so clean, you use it, finished, and the kids can put rocks and dirt in it and play with it. You see? Ten minutes on that machine. Some of you could do ten of these in a minute.
National Geographic from December 1984 shows this man in a monsoon. You see him walking—it’s hard to see it, but you see him walking. He’s up to his chin in water, and he’s holding his sewing machine. His livelihood can carry on, because he’s got his sewing machine. You see? So I got passionate about sewing machines.
Get passionate about something. And read. Put those phones down, get off the TV, and pick up a book. Don’t read them on the computer, don’t read them on your Kindle. Pick up a book. And have a red pencil in your hand so you can make some notes. And these are awesome books. Blink is one. It’s by Malcolm Gladwell, the guy who wrote The Tipping Point. It is a crucial conversation to help you learn to speak to people. Indispensable by Monday will help you prove to your boss why he shouldn’t fire you. Freakonomics is just fun. Strength Finder helps you find out your strengths. You see, we need to be strength-based. We need to be positive, strength- based. If you’re—now, I can remember my son coming home, and he had his report card. And his report card was: History-B, English-B, Math-D, Physical Education-A, Engineering-A. What do you think I focused on? “Doggone it, son. Why did you get that D?” He had this wonderful report card, but wasn’t so good in math. So I beat him up over—I mean, you know, not really, but I worked him over because he had a D. Strength Finders helps you find out what you’re good at, and how we should work at and concentrate on what we’re good at. Outliers, Good to Great—there’s a million of them. Read some books, and turn off the TV and enjoy a little bit of time with the Spirit. The Spirit doesn’t listen to the TV.
Now, I don’t want you to think that Sister Brock and I are not fun people, because we—we watch a TV show now and again. In fact, we’ve got a couple, I’m not going to tell you what they are, but it’s kind of like date night. We watch a little of this or that, and we enjoy some TV shows. But we read things together. We read things at night. Kelly’s reading a book, a David O. McKay biography, and we talk about it at night and when we’re driving to places. We talk about books we’re reading, or we listen to books on tape, and it’s very enjoyable to be together.
I want to close, brothers and sisters, I hope that you can see by all these bits by Kelly and I, there’s a journey that you can be joyful about. Right now it includes school, it includes looking for a career. It includes some knocks and some getting worked over, and it includes some disappointment. But just like the Jaredites, the tough winds are going to blow you the right direction. Don’t let your star get out of orbit. Don’t let your barge get off course. Do the right things. Stay away from the things that aren’t right. Live your life the way that you know you should.
“That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task is changed, but our ability to perform the task has increased.” If you continue to gossip and backbite, you’ll be the best gossip and backbiter on this campus. Okay? Because you get better at what you do. If you get passionate about something, if you go help people, if you get passionate about learning something, if you go read books to the kids at the elementary school over here, or if you get passionate about tutoring or something like that, you’ll get better at it. You see, you can become whoever you want. I used to tell my missionaries, “You’re brand new.” They’d come off that plane scared to death, and I didn’t know who they were. And I said, “You missionaries have a chance right now to be someone that you’ve always wanted to be. Because I don’t know. I don’t know you. Maybe you’re conceited and ornery and critical of everyone around you. But I don’t know that. So if you’ve ever wanted to change, do it now.”
Change now, this minute, right now. Brothers and sisters, if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do—if you’ve wanted to learn the violin, if you’ve wanted to get better at chess, if you’ve wanted to wood burn or carve walking sticks—start today, and in a few weeks you’ll be better. In a few years, you’ll be better, and you’ll be great at a few things someday. I promise you that it is true.
Walt Disney’s definition of success was “Would the child I was be happy with the adult I have become?” This about it, brothers and sisters. Think about the child you were. Would that child be happy? Would Father in Heaven be happy with the adult that you have become? If not, make a few changes. Make them today. Make them one at a time. If there are ten things you want to change, pick one. Have success at it; go after another one. Kelly and I do it. We work at things every day. And it’s not because we’re old and smart, it’s just because we continue to do it.
So brothers and sisters, you are winners. The fact that you are here—Father in Heaven has blessed you. You’re on a winning team. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on earth, and of that I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Temples Bless Individuals, Nations
I am grateful, my dear young brothers and sisters, to be here with you. This is a very special occasion for me, and I just want you to know how grateful we are for you, and for what you do.
I know you know how blessed you are to be enrolled here in the LDS Business College. There are very few colleges that will provide students an educational experience rooted in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s a great blessing. We commend you for your quest for knowledge and spirituality, and we’re glad that you’re here. You’re blessed with a dedicated faculty—and, of course, President Richards is a marvelous president—who are committed to these goals. When President Richards was inaugurated as president of the College, I read his address and was greatly impressed with the following statements. He said, “What we do here is connected with the temple; indeed, we strive to emulate a temple of learning. When the College is viewed as a temple of learning, the Holy Ghost becomes an indispensable partner.”
Think of that. That reminded me of when the Prophet Joseph Smith was given the commandment to build the Kirtland Ohio Temple. Let me just read that, and see if these goals do not sound similar. The Lord said to the Prophet: “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God” (D&C 88:119, emphasis added).
Do those sound like the same goals and objectives that you have here? You’re grateful for that, to be here, with that goal. We appreciate you, President Richards, for your great vision and leadership, and this wonderful staff and faculty.
What you do here is connected to the temple. One of the blessings of presiding in the Salt Lake Temple is to see you young people come to the temple so frequently. We see you come early in the morning, before school, to do baptisms and initiatory work. We see you come in the afternoon after school, to do these same things. We see you probably when you should be in school. But we’re grateful for you, and we’re grateful that you are here.
In the past, there’s been a notion that temple work was for the elderly. Once you couldn’t do any other thing, you went to the temple. Now that is changing, and we’re grateful for that. Let me just read a statement by Elder John A. Widstoe: “Temple work is quite as much benefit to the young and to the active as it is to the aged who have laid behind them many of the burdens of life. The young man needs his place in the temple even more than his father and his grandfather who are steadied by a life of experience. And the young girl, just entering life, needs the spirit, influence and direction that come from participation in the temple ordinances. If I say nothing else tonight that will linger, I hope that you will remember that temple work is for the young and for the middle-aged, and for the aged. Temple work is for all.”
I think Elder Widstoe would be very pleased if he could see what is taking place throughout the world today with this marvelous increase in temple activity, particularly with our younger people.
Temple work has always been a part of our Heavenly Father’s plan. When Moses led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, he was commanded to build a temple, a tabernacle, a sanctuary. Of course, that temple had to be portable, because they wandered in the wilderness for some 40 years. But then they went into the Promised Land, and we read about the temple of Solomon and then the temple of Zerubbabel and then the temple of Herod when Christ was on the earth. We think that the temple of Herod was the last temple built on the eastern continent, but we know from the Book of Mormon that Nephi built a temple in the land of Nephi, patterned after Solomon’s temple. We know that in Zarahemla, King Benjamin had a temple. And then, of course, we know that after the resurrection of the Savior, He appeared to the people at the temple in Bountiful.
Well, what about in this dispensation? That same emphasis on temple worship and temple building. You remember, of course, the Prophet went into the Grove in 1820, and there received the vision from our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. That began the restoration of the gospel. Joseph was 14 years of age at that time. Three years later, which would have made him 17 years of age, our Heavenly Father was preparing him for his great mission here in life, which had as a main focus temple worship and temple building.
When Moroni appeared in 1823, the Prophet said that he quoted the Old Testament prophets. He quoted Malachi a little different than it is written in our Bible. We find that in the second section of the Doctrine and Covenants. And it’s changed a little bit different from Malachi. Let me just read that, because it’s significant for our dispensation. “Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (vv. 1-3).
So you can see, brothers and sisters, in Malachi it’s “turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,” but when the Angel Moroni quoted, he changed it to turn the hearts of the children to the fathers. The promises of their fathers—what were the promises? The Abrahamic covenant, genealogical, temple work. The Lord was preparing the Prophet Joseph at 17 years of age for this great activity. Now we know that there was a great emphasis.
I mentioned the 88th section, the 119th verse was a commandment to build the Kirtland Ohio Temple. That commandment was given in December of 1832. Now remember, the Church had only been organized about a year and a half. But the Lord gave a commandment to the Prophet to build a temple in Kirtland. The people were very poor, and there were not very many of them, and they were being persecuted. So the Prophet did not attempt to build a temple. Well, five months later, he received a rebuke from the Lord. Let me just read that, if I can find it here quickly. It’s found in the 95th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. And here’s what the Lord says—he chastised the Saints for not accomplishing that assignment. He said: “Wherefore, ye must needs be chastened and stand rebuked before my face; For ye have sinned against me a very grievous sin, in that ye have not considered the great commandment in all things, that I have given unto you concerning the building of mine house” (vv. 2-3).
Four days after that rebuke, the Saints began building the Kirtland Ohio Temple. It was completed in 1836, but as you know, we weren’t able to remain in Kirtland. We were persecuted and we were driven to Missouri. In Missouri, in Independence, a spot was selected for the House of the Lord. We were not able to build there. We were driven to western Missouri, to Far West. And in Far West a cornerstone for a temple was laid. We weren’t able to build there. We were driven in 1838 as you know, back to Nauvoo, Illinois. And there, in Nauvoo, shortly after they arrived, in the 124th section of the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord commanded the Prophet to build a temple. The temple was built. It was never totally completed. The Prophet would not have the opportunity of seeing the temple completed. He was martyred. But before his martyrdom, he received the endowment, a great gift from our Heavenly Father. And over 5,000 members of the Church received their endowment in the Nauvoo Temple before being driven to the Salt Lake Valley.
Four days after their arrival in the valley, Brigham Young laid out the spot to build the Salt Lake Temple. Look at what’s happening today. There are 130 operating temples scattered throughout the world and 22 more that are under construction or have been announced. Why such great emphasis on temple building from the very beginning of time? Why do you think that the Lord is so concerned about temples? Because, brothers and sisters, temples are absolutely essential for our salvation and our exaltation. And so the spirit of Elijah that we talked about will continue to move and go forward, and will fill the whole earth.
In 1853, when Brigham Young and the Saints laid the cornerstone of the Salt Lake Temple, he gave the best definition of what the endowment really is, this great gift from our Heavenly Father. Again, emphasizing the necessity of receiving these ordinances in the temple, he said, “Your endowment is, to receive all of those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, and being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the Holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 416).
You ought to read that, because it’s a marvelous, marvelous definition and example of why these temple ordinances and temples are so very significant.
Knowing that temple worship is so significant, we as members of the Church need to do whatever is necessary. The Lord is helping us by placing these temples throughout all the world. Sister Child and I had the opportunity, as the president mentioned, of living in the Philippine Islands for a couple of years, and living in West Africa. We learned to love those wonderful people in the Philippines and Africa. They are marvelous, wonderful people. In the Philippines, there are 7,000 islands, and it’s very difficult for people—there’s one temple, and that’s in Manila. In order for them to get to the temple, it takes several days, when they’re out in the Basayas or Mindanao, to come into Manila. In June, the First Presidency will dedicate a new temple in Cebu, which will be a great blessing to the wonderful Saints in the Philippines. We’re so excited about that.
One of the great blessings of serving in West Africa was having the opportunity of witnessing two temples built and seeing them dedicated. I’ll never forget the open house and the dedication of the first temple in all of West Africa. The people there never ever thought that they would have an opportunity of going to the temple. It’s about an eight-hour plane ride to Johannesburg, South Africa, and to England. It’s about halfway in between, and very expensive. When it was announced that there would be a temple there, you can’t imagine the joy and happiness of those faithful Saints that they were going to be able to go to the temple.
The open house was something that, as I mentioned, I will never forget. We knew that the many people who came and saw the temple before it was dedicated—most not members of the Church—would be very impressed with the beauty of the building and the grounds. It was the most beautiful building in all of West Africa. But what we were really excited about was that they still felt a very special spirit there, and they knew that there was something special in that temple. We had over 2,500 missionary referrals. We had people come up after and say, “How do we become a member of your church?” Wouldn’t that be wonderful, missionaries, if that happened throughout the world? And what a problem to have—we didn’t have enough missionaries to teach everyone. But they were so excited.
We had a good relationship with the president of Ghana, President Kufuor. We invited him to come to the open house and tour the temple. He didn’t want any of the people to know that. He was a good man. He was not a member of our Church, but we made arrangements and he came to the temple. As we went through the temple he was very, very impressed with what he felt there and what he saw there. And when we completed the tour, we walked out onto the front porch of the temple. The word had gotten out that the president of the nation was there, and there were reporters, newspapers, magazines, and television cameras. They all wanted to take a picture and see President Kufuor.
One of the reporters came up to the president, and he was very kind and he entertained their questions. One of them said, “President, what do you think of this building?” Now, here he is; he’s not a member of the Church. And he said, “There’s a very special feeling in this building. And this building, this temple, will bless the lives and raise the spiritual level of our entire nation.”
Think about that. He was impressed. He knew. I think in all of Africa, Ghana is one of the most upcoming and progressive nations. And, of course, members of the Church attribute that to the temple being there, and I do too. About two weeks later, President Hinckley came and dedicated the temple. In his dedicatory address, he said basically the same thing that President Kufuor said. He said, “This temple will not only bless the lives of the members of the Church, but it will bless the lives of this entire nation.” A wonderful thing.
As President Hinckley was there, he held a fireside for the members of the Church. Now here you think about this. Here a prophet of the Lord is going to speak to the members of the Church that he’d never had an opportunity of speaking to in person, but they had never seen a prophet of the Lord. So you can imagine, they came from all over the country to see and hear the Lord’s prophet. They thought this might be the only time that they would ever see a president of the Church, a prophet of the Lord. We rented the largest building that we possibly could, and of course it was filled to overflowing.
When President Hinckley stood and addressed these people—now, you think about this. Here he’s having an opportunity to speak to some people who he’s never spoken to before. You would think for sure that the words he spoke would be very pertinent, and were the words that he wanted those people to know and to remember and understand. As he stood, he said, “Brothers and sisters, tomorrow we’re going to dedicate the House of the Lord.” He said, “I’m an old man.” You know his sense of humor—marvelous. He said, “I’m an old man. I’ll not be back here to Ghana to speak to you again. So I want you to pay attention to what I’m going to tell you. It’s going to be very simple. I’m going to tell you four things that you need to do in order to remain worthy or to get worthy to go to the house of the Lord which we will dedicate tomorrow.”
These are the four things that he talked about, and I’d like to review those just briefly in conclusion, because they apply to each one of us. They’re significant. He said first, “These four things: First, pray daily. Second, read your scriptures daily. Attend your meetings, particularly your sacrament meetings, where you have the opportunity of renewing the covenants that you made with the Lord. And fourth, pay your tithing.”
Let me just refer to those quickly. As he stood there, he said to these wonderful people, “Think about prayer. It’s a miracle! Here we as personal mortals can speak to our Heavenly Father, and He hears us and He answers those prayers.” Think about that. He said, “It’s a miracle that we can actually talk to our Heavenly Father. Now sometimes He doesn’t answer the way that we’d like. But He answers them in the best—for our own well-being.”
I love the hymn that you sang this morning. Prayer really marked the beginning of the restoration of the gospel, the beginning of the Church. This young boy, Joseph, as he read James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5). As a result of that scripture, he went to pray. And as a result of that prayer, we are here today. The scriptures are very clear that prayer is not just a way of communicating with our Heavenly Father, but it helps us, humbles us, and it’s also a commandment. We know that in the Book of Mormon, Amulek said to pray often, pray always, pray over your crops and fields. We pray for everything (see Alma 34:17-27). I have a strong testimony that if a merchant, for example, prays about his business, he’s going to be honest in his dealings. I know if you as students pray about your studies, your classes, and the work that you do, you’re not going to cheat on the tests. Prayer is a marvelous thing.
We have a great neighbor, Alex, a wonderful man. We couldn’t ask for a better neighbor. He is not a member of the Church. A couple of months ago, I was shoveling snow off our driveway and Alex came—I could see him coming over and wanting to talk to me. He always comes, and we always have a wonderful embrace, and you could see that he had the weight of the world on him. He was not happy, and I knew that there was something seriously wrong somewhere in his family. As he got to me, and as I shook his hand, he said, “Sheldon, I need a real favor from you. In fact,” he said, “I need a big, big favor from you.”
I said, “Anything, Alex. You know I’ll do anything to help.”
He said, “I’ve just been diagnosed with phase four terminal lung cancer. I need your prayers.”
I said, “Our whole family will be happy to pray for you. But Alex, we’ll do even more than that. I’m going to the temple today, and I’ll put your name on the temple prayer roll where thousands of faithful members of the Church will be praying for you.”
And he said, “I will be grateful for that.” Well, just a couple of days ago, he was getting out of his car. He had just come back from skiing and he ran over. I said, “Alex, how are you feeling?’
He said, “I feel great.” He said, “Prayer works.” I don’t know what is going to happen to Alex, but I know that he has a strong testimony of prayer, and he’ll be a member of the Church someday. He’s such a great man, he and his wife.
First, pray daily. Second, scripture study. We know that in John it says, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: for they are they which testify” of Jesus Christ (John 5:39). The scriptures testify that Jesus is the Christ. Without scriptures, nations, families, individuals perish in unbelief. Let me just give you one quick example of that, and there are many.
Remember when Lehi sent his sons back to Jerusalem to obtain the brass plates of Laban, they had a couple of unsuccessful attempts. And then Nephi crept in and found Laban drunken with wine. Remember that the Spirit bore witness to Nephi to take his life. Well, he didn’t want to—he’d never taken the life of anyone. That seems like not a great thing to do. But the Spirit bore witness again, and then said this to Nephi: “It is better that one man should perish than that an entire nation…dwindle…in unbelief” (1 Nephi 4:13).
The Nephites needed the scriptures. They were going to the Promised Land here on the American continent. They needed the scriptures. Without them, they would dwindle and perish in unbelief.
The third thing—attend our meetings. Of course, we know that the scriptures are full of admonitions to meet together often. Where two or more are gathered in my name, He tells us His Spirit will be there (see Matthew 18:20). There is a marvelous thing about meeting together. A meeting like this, where people come together with the same goals, the same hopes and desires and the same ideals, is an example of that. When we meet together we feel better. You go to a testimony meeting and hear someone bear their testimony. Our testimonies are strengthened as a result.
It’s kind of like a bonfire. You know when a bonfire burns down and all there are are red-hot glowing embers and coals? They’ll remain hot and warm and red. But if you take a little stick and take one of those coals and flip it off to the side, how long does it take before the fire goes out and they become cold, with no heat? That’s kind of like we are, brothers and sisters. When we meet together, we gain strength from one another, particularly, as the prophet said, if we attend our sacrament meetings, and we are able to renew the covenants we make with the Lord.
Let me conclude with his last—tithing. Tithing is a commandment with a promise. I’m going to read that promise from Malachi, and you’re familiar with this. Malachi makes this promise: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.
“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:8-10).
That’s generally where we stop reading that scripture. You could quote that, without me reading it to you. Those are marvelous promises. Blessings will be given—material blessings, but mainly spiritual blessings that come as a result of paying our tithes and offerings. But listen to the next verse. This is a physical blessing:
“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.”
A marvelous promise, you see. And then the next verse:
“And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Whenever I read that twelfth verse—all nations—I can’t help but think of President Kufuor and President Hinckley, when they said that as a result of this temple the whole nation will be blessed. When there is a group of faithful, Latter-day Saint full-tithe payers, the Lord is going to bless the nation. Look at Abraham and Sodom and Gomorrah, when they were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah would have been saved if there had been even ten righteous people, but the cities were destroyed because there were not enough righteous people.
Let me just conclude by reading quotations from two of our prophets. President Joseph F. Smith made this comment about tithing: “The loyalty of the people of this Church shall be put to a test. By this principle [tithing] it shall be known who is for the kingdom of God, and who is against it. By this principle it shall be seen whose hearts are set upon doing the will of God and keeping his commandments … and who are opposed to this principle and have cut themselves off from the blessings of Zion. There is a great deal of importance connected with this principle [of tithing], for by it, it shall be shown whether we are faithful or unfaithful” (“Obedience to the Law of Tithing,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, p. 275).
A very strong statement.
And then, a statement from President Thomas S. Monson: “Always be active in the Church.” I will give you a formula which will guarantee to a large extent your success in fulfilling that commandment. It is simple. It consists of just three words. Pay your tithing. Every bishop could tell you from his personal experiences that when the members of the Church pay their tithing honestly and faithfully, they have very little difficulty keeping the other commandments of God. It is a benchmark commandment (see “Be Thou an Example,” Ensign,Nov. 1996, p. 44).
Let me just conclude in bearing my witness. In summary, those four areas that President Hinckley talked about—praying daily, reading the scriptures, attending our meetings and paying our tithing—if we do those things, my dear young brothers and sisters, we’re not going to get very far off the track. And we’ll be able to receive all of the blessings our Heavenly Father has in store for His children.
One of the great blessings of paying tithing is being able to have a temple recommend and going to the temple. There are many blessings that come from paying tithing, but I think that one of the very best and most choice is being able to go to the House of the Lord.
May the Lord bless you. We love you, and are grateful for you. We just love to see you in the House of the Lord, even if you ought to be here. We’re grateful for you and what you’re doing. I just want to bear my witness to you that I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. I’m so grateful for His atoning sacrifice in behalf of each of us. I’m grateful to have a living prophet on the earth today, who can receive direction from the Lord and pass that wonderful information to us. May the Lord bless you in your studies, in your schooling, and in your life, that you will find the joy and happiness that our Heavenly Father would want you to have, is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.men.