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Ralph Kern

 

Brigham Young University-Idaho Devotional

October 4, 2011

  

 

"Hold to the Dream"

Ralph Kern

Director, BYU-Idaho Library Services


 

My dear brothers and sisters I am so grateful to be here with you today, to look into your beautiful faces and feel your pure and tender spirits. I am grateful for the beautiful, uplifting music inspired to calm our souls and prepare our hearts to be taught by the Spirit. I am here primarily to testify that I know the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is real. It is as real as life itself.

 

The scriptures are truly the word of God recorded by prophets inspired of the Holy Ghost to be written for our day even by direct instruction of the Lord Himself. I know by very sacred experience that Heavenly Father loves and cherishes each of us. He knows each of us personally––who we are, what kind of people we are. He knows our character. He created us spiritually so he knows our spirit and our disposition as well as any parent. There is nothing He desires more than we return to live with him again after our mortal experience.

 

Along with life and each breath we breathe, He has given us the gift of agency, a most precious and costly gift. Having the power of agency He expects us govern our own lives, to choose good or evil, to choose to be obedient or disobedient. And then He waits patiently, hoping and exercising great faith in us that we will not disappoint him and let him down as we pass through this life of great blessings, tribulations, and sorrows.

 

Even as Nephi begins the record of his people in the first chapter and first verse of the Book of Mormon, after recognizing his “goodly parents” he writes of “having seen many afflictions” in the course of his days yet he is quick to acknowledge that he was “highly favored of the Lord” … and had “great knowledge of the goodness of God” (1 Nephi 1:1). Like Nephi, you too are “highly favored of the Lord.” Your very presence here today and at BYU-Idaho is evidence you are highly favored among many who do not have this opportunity. We hope, and I am sure you hope, that while you are here you will learn “great knowledge” especially of the “goodness of God.” 

 

When I was asked to be the Director of Library Services for the university, one of the first things that came to my mind was an experience that one of my beautiful young daughters had as she was leaving the McKay Library. A young man approached her and commented,“ Wow, you must have a lot of overdue books.” She turned to him with a puzzled look and replied,  “I don’t have any overdue books.” The young man responded, “Well, you sure have ‘fine’ written all over your face.” Obviously a superficial “pick up line,” the attempt to create a relationship went no further.

 

Sometimes, parts of life are not fine. In the course of your days, like Nephi of old you will most likely experience at least some degree of affliction, sorrow, and pain. You might even find some classes are harder than others and you might even struggle to earn the grade you desire. Today I would like to address the principle of affliction or opposition, and how we might maintain the constant hope and gratitude of Nephi. How we might maintain our faith and hold to the dreams of our youth.

 

We might ask: “Why does the ‘fine’ sometimes fade and go away? Why is college so much harder than high school? Or perhaps why I do I not feel so ‘fine’ or perfect or beautiful as others seem to be? Why do I seem to struggle with my studies more than others? Why is the ‘fine,’ the beauty, the energy of our youth sometimes unexpectedly interrupted? Why do sad and unfortunate things happen to good people?”

 

In a more global sense, there are earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, murders, divorce, casualties caused by political unrest, wars, and accidents that affect the lives and dreams of innocent people every day. Lives are lost, bodies maimed, children left without parents with no explanation or justification.

 

So we ask the age-old question: “Why do sad and bad things happen to innocent and good people?”  This question is sometimes followed with an attempt to judge God: “If God is kind and loving and good why would He allow such things to happen?” Some people, unable to reconcile the pain and sorrows of mortality with the love and goodness of God, lose faith, reject God, and fail to embrace his plan for them. We don’t want that to happen to you.

 

There is actually an answer to this question as taught by Elder Orson Pratt. He explained that when God created man, specifically Adam and Eve they were not created as mortal beings.

“It would be contrary to His great goodness to make man mortal, subject to pain, subject to sickness, subject to death. When … He made these two intelligent beings and placed them upon this creation, He made them after His own likeness and His own image. He did not make them mortal, but He made them immortal, like unto Himself. If He had made them mortal, and subject to pain, there would have been some cause, … to say that the Lord subjected man, without cause, to afflictions, sorrows, death and mortality. But, He could not do this; it was contrary to the nature of His attributes, contrary to the nature of that infinite goodness which dwells in the bosom of the Father and the Son, to make a being subject to any kind of pain.”  (Brown, 2003, pp. 62-63)

Lehi understood this doctrine and taught further: “Adam fell the man may be; and men are that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). James E. Talmage wrote, “Adam and Eve could never have been the parents of a mortal posterity had they not themselves become mortal; mortality was an essential element in the divine plan respecting the earth and its appointed inhabitants …” (Talmage, 2003, pp. 72-73).

 

Let me assure you God is kind, loving, and good. Everything He does is eternal and perfect. While God is perfect, by design and by principle, mortality was never intended to be perfect. Lehi made it clear to us that “there must be opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). Moroni taught that we will “receive no witness until the trial of our faith” (Ether 12:6). Peter assured us that the trial of our faith is more precious than gold … though it be tried with fire (1 Peter 1:7).  

 

Perhaps the more responsible and more important questions are: “How can we maintain faith and happiness amidst disappointment, tragedy, loss of health and misfortune?” “How can we ‘hold to our dreams’ when life or mortality is not what we wished it to be?” 

 

On one occasion when President Hinckley addressed this topic, he used a favorite quotation from Jenkin Lloyd Jones: “Anyone who imagines bliss is normal is going to waste a lot time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just ordinary people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey – delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting us have the ride” (Hinckley, 1997).

 

Although the very nature of mortality includes trials and tests, it is difficult to deny that our lives are truly blessed with “beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.” I believe the Lord hopes we will use our agency to have faith to dream of greater and more frequent, even perhaps eternal vistas rather than to fall into despair because of delays, sidetracks, and the dusty smoke of life.

 

Let me suggest three things taught by our Savior that we can choose to do to maintain our faith and happiness amidst disappointment, tragedy, loss of health, and misfortune. Three principles that, if remembered and applied, will help us hold fast to our dreams.

 

First, learn to Love and dream with someone

 

I don’t mean love in the selfish, distorted sense that Hollywood portrays. I mean in the most human yet God-like compassionate and caring manner Christ exemplified. When answering the Pharisees question, “ … which is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all they soul, and with all they mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

 

Here we are taught to love in three ways: Love God, love ourselves, and love our neighbor. To me that means keep the commandments, take care of ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually. It also means we should be unselfish and think of the needs and feelings of others around us. In our family we learned to apply this commandment to the neighbors within our own home. Brothers and sisters and even roommates are neighbors to be loved, however difficult that may seem.

 

Let me be so bold as to encourage you to work hard to develop significant relationships during this time of your life. Find someone who will dream with you. Talk about your dreams with someone and listen to theirs. Dream of both heaven and earth, dream of relationships you hope to develop, dream of lives you hope to live. Not all these relationships will work out; that’s the way it should be in this stage of life.

 

You will find some people have dreams compatible with yours others dream differently. You will learn important things about yourself and others as you learn to understand and to care for one another’s most tender hopes and dreams. Goals and dreams and life itself is meant to be shared. The Lord never intended man should live alone. Unshared dreams are little more than selfish, temporal fantasies.

 

In the priesthood session of a recent general conference, President Monson counseled in a very practical sense:

“Now, I have thought a lot lately about you young men who are of an age to marry but who have not yet felt to do so. I see lovely young ladies who desire to be married and to raise families, and yet their opportunities are limited because so many young men are postponing marriage. Much has been said concerning this matter by past presidents of the Church. Said President Harold B. Lee, ‘We are not doing our duty as holders of the priesthood when we go beyond the marriageable age and withhold ourselves from an honorable marriage to these lovely women.’ I realize there are many reasons why you may be hesitating to take that step of getting married. If you are concerned about providing financially for a wife and family, may I assure you that there is no shame in a couple having to scrimp and save.  … Perhaps you are having a little too much fun being single…” 

Let me add, perhaps dreams are too limited, perhaps too selfish. President Monson continues:

“Brethren, there is a point at which it’s time to think seriously about marriage and to seek a companion with whom you want to spend eternity. If you choose wisely and if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness” (Monson, 2011). 

To this, I add my testimony of the great happiness found in a committed marriage. Marriage is the relationship where dreams of eternity are shared and carried out and love can be experienced in its most eternal form. You are now in the season of life to begin dreaming those dreams and making them become reality.

 

Second, learn to have faith and develop trust that helps you endure all things

 

Connie, my wonderful loving wife and mother of our children, is not here with me today. She is home listening to this devotional on the radio as she lies on her couch. She cannot walk. In fact she is unable to sit for more than about an hour a day. Her body is frail and withered, it moves slowly or not at all because it has difficulty responding to the messages sent from her brain, she needs help with the most basic of lives processes. She suffers from the slow, progressively debilitating, and humiliating effects of multiple sclerosis, a disease that randomly attacks and destroys her nervous system. 

 

Once we were young as you are and our hearts were full of dreams and our minds full wonder as we studied and prepared for the future. While attending Ricks College, Connie served as a student body officer and had many wonderful experiences that she shared with me in cherished letters while I served a mission in Finland. Here she is enjoying a devotional luncheon with President Joseph Fielding Smith. One of my dreams was to take her to Finland someday. We did that; in fact, we were able to live there for almost a year. In this picture we are attending an event at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki.  

 

As a young mother she would share her love of nature with our children walking through the forests and fields naming and explaining the individual characteristics of virtually every wildflower they could find. She loved to cook and I loved her thoughtfully prepared meals. She shared her musical talent with our children as she accompanied their string quartet on many occasions. She even tolerated the emptying of spit valves on her plants as she accompanied our son’s Boy Scout brass band practices in our living room.

 

After our children were in school, she graduated from college and taught kindergarten for 13 years. She was always ready for a good hike into the forest to find a hidden waterfall or a secluded lake. She seemed interested in so much of the goodness and beauty in the world around her. Most of all she loved her family and the people in her life. She was a happy, fun, wonderful mother. She was quick to offer service, to provide a delicious meal, or lend a listening ear.

 

She can do none of those physical things now. She is confined to her bed and her couch and has difficulty talking but maintains a positive attitude even as the beauty of her smile fades with disease. We have a firm hope in the resurrection and an eternal relationship. I know when she is freed of this disease she will once again fill our home with music and accompany her daughters who now thoughtfully bring their instruments and play for their mother. I hope she will once again cook me a delicious “Connie meal,” run with her children and grandchildren, and enjoy all the goodness that abounds in eternity. I have faith and trust in who she really is.

 

One of the beautiful paintings by the Danish artist Carl Bloch, which is displayed in the foyer of this building, depicts Christ at the pool of Bethesda. I watched with tears in my eyes this summer as my struggling son taught the story of this painting to his six children. Tradition held that at certain times one could be healed at the pool if that person were to be the first to enter. On a particular Sabbath day, Jesus visited the pool and saw a man crippled for 38 years who with great faith in this tradition was lying at the edge of the pool hoping to be the first to enter.

 

Knowing how long the man had patiently hoped to enter the pool, Jesus compassionately asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” The afflicted man replied, “I have no man to put me in the pool; but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” Jesus said, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:1-15). Immediately the man was made whole and took up his bed and walked. 

 

I look at this painting and a see a very familiar languishing foot attached to a leg in an unnatural position. I see a familiar weakened reclining posture needing support and protection. I see my wife at the pool of Bethesda with her frail helpless body and constricted hands that can no longer make music, cook food, or move as they once did. I know how desperately she wishes things were different and how patiently she waits to be whole. I also have complete faith and trust that although she can do nothing physically, she does her best and tries her hardest. I know this because that is who she is. My service to her is made easier because I have faith and trust in her. 

 

Then I wish as did Alma: “Oh that I were and angel and could have the wish of my heart” (Alma 29:1). But I am not quite so missionary minded at the moment. I only wish I could take the sorrow and disease away from my dear companion. I wish Christ would have her pick up her bed and walk again as he did with the man at Bethesda. I know He can and I know He will; it just may take more than 38 temporal years. But like Alma I recognize I sin in my wish. I am only a man, only a person, but that is what my wife needs: someone to lift her into the pool. There will be someone in your life who also needs to be lifted or blessed by you I hope you will be sensitive to that need.

 

I am learning to be content with things which the Lord has allotted me and to have a firm faith and trust in all He has promised: the resurrection into a perfect body, eternal life and progression. And, I cannot deny his hand in blessing our lives for many, many years with all that we ever dreamed of: a companion to love, knowledge of the gospel, a good education, children, a comfortable home, rich memories of good experiences, good work, and opportunities to serve. For this I am eternally grateful.

 

Third, do your best, seize the day, create memories and live without regret

 

The Lord sacrificed to give us his greatest gift: agency. It is up to us how we use our time, resources and abilities. Each moment we live, each decision we make, each thought we have creates a memory in some way. Hopefully we are creating memories of value that will inspire and lift our souls during times of need or despair. Memory is a powerful eternal tool, so powerful that a veil was placed over memories of our pre-mortal experience causing us to live by faith and trust in the word of the Lord to guide our choices.

 

Perhaps this veil of forgetfulness also serves as a witness that the new cache of memories we store are a direct result of use of agency.  In the Book of Mormon, Alma speaks to his to his son Helaman: “…never be weary of good works … for such shall find rest to their souls” (Alma 37:35). Then Alma teaches his son the great lesson we all have heard: “Oh remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.” In our family we call this being a “try hard person;” someone who works hard to do their best and strives to keep the commandments. This concept is the foundation upon which a lasting, eternal relationship is built, even with our Heavenly Father.

 

As my wife’s health continues to deteriorate and her condition requires more assistance, I take heart in the fact that I know she is doing all she can physically and emotionally. She has always done her best and worked her hardest. There is no question in my mind she continues to try her best, when her body will not respond to her signals and desires.

 

Sometimes we wish things were different. Nephi, the son of Helaman, recorded a lament not a lot different from when his grandfather Alma wished to be an angel some 50 years earlier. Nephi, the grandson of Alma exclaimed with the agony of his soul:

“Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; … yea if my days could have been those days, then would my soul have had joy … But behold, I am consigned that these are my days …” (Helaman 7:7).

Then Nephi went about his work with vigor. Brothers and sisters, these are your days! I invite you to do as Nephi did and accept your discipleship in these your days. Seize these days, do your very best, and make memoires, leaving no time for regret. These days will be filled with happiness and sorrow, joy and disappointment, good grades, and challenging course work. Don’t expect anything different, don’t expect life to always be easy and don’t expect school to always be easy. Have faith in Elder Maxwell’s observation: “The Lord has his own unique way of getting good things out of bad situations, again and again. So many positive and prophetic promises are there to help young latter-day disciples to cope” (Maxwell, 2004) … in these your days.

 

The loss of my wife’s health and abilities has played an important role in my personal and spiritual growth. The experience has brought me to my knees in tears and pleading on many occasions because I needed further instruction from a wise Heavenly Father. It has opened my heart to truths I had desired to better understand. I do not yet have all the answers to “Why me?” or “Why her?” I do, however, have an increased understanding of many principles; an understanding that is priceless to me.

 

These, the last days, will certainly be more challenging to you young disciples than simply coping with sharp economic downturns and a rapidly changing world. The scriptures tell us in these, your days, “the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12) resulting in a loss of hope and widespread despair. Such symptoms need not characterize you, nor your responses to life. You will experience trials and affliction, but if managed in a framework of faith it need not weigh you down. Elder Maxwell encouraged us to allow the Lord to be our tutor. Enoch rejoiced, and so can you, over the grand peaceful comforting of God. Enoch was discouraged when the Lord showed him the workmanship of His hands and explained he had “given the people a commandment to love one another and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7: 32-33).

 

Enoch saw the resulting wickedness caused by not keeping this simple first commandment. He wept and told the Lord that he would “refuse to be comforted.” But “the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look.” Then Enoch saw the big picture including these, your days and he rejoiced! Remember, as did Nephi, you are highly favored of the Lord. Do not “refuse to be comforted” in your times of need. I pray that in all your challenges, large or small, you will have faith to allow the Spirit to comfort you and guide you. Let the scriptures refresh you. I pray that your hearts will remain warm with love and not wax cold with wickedness and wrong choices. 

 

Elder Orson Pratt reminded us that in the resurrection “perfection will swallow up imperfection; the healing power will be done away, for no sickness will be there … (other gifts of the Spirit will also be done away). But, charity, which is the pure love of God, … will sit enthroned in the midst of the glorified throng, clothed in all the glory and splendor of its native heaven. If man would win eternal life, he cannot afford to neglect the duty of love to his fellowman, for ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law’” (Talmage, 2003, p. 445).

 

I pray that as you dream of your futures and eternal life, you will love one another. Have faith in the divine compliment God has given you by placing you on the earth now, in these your days.  Make use of these, your days, and there will ever be more that the Lord will give you to do. I bear witness to these simple and pure principles restored with the gospel in these latter days in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

 


References

 

Brown, M. B. (2002). The plan of salvation (pp. 62-63). American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, Inc.

Hinckley, G. B. (1997, Oct.). A conversation with young adults. Ensign

Maxwell, N. A. (2004, Oct.). These are your days. Ensign

Monson, T. S. (2011, May). Priesthood power. Ensign

Talmage, J. E. (2003). The articles of faith (Signature Mormon Classics edition exact reprint of the first 1899 edition ed., pp. 72-73). Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.

Talmage, J. E. (2003). The articles of faith (Signature Mormon Classics edition exact reprint of the first 1899 edition ed., p. 445). Salt Lake City, UT: Signature Books.