Instructor, BYU-Idaho Department of Religious Education
Brothers and sisters, I count it a privilege to associate with you. You are amazing young people whom I respect very much. You bring a wonderful spirit to this campus. When I teach Family History and read the biographies of my students, I am touched by the challenges I realize each of you is facing. I testify with Alma that the Savior can lighten your burdens (Alma 33:23), give you success and comfort (Alma 31:32), and succor you according to your infirmities (Alma 7:12). There is no manner of affliction you can suffer that cannot be swallowed up in the joy of Christ (Alma 31:38).
I am intrigued with a connection we find at the end of the Book of Mormon between hard, frightening days, and the need to have faith, hope and charity. Each of these words—faith, hope, and charity is centered in Christ and can help us find joy in life. Each of these concepts interconnects and strengthens the others.
We exercise faith in Christ in many ways––through sincere repentance, through loving service, and through righteous obedience. Those who falter and then are redeemed through the atonement gain a powerful love of Christ. Occasionally, we hear somebody go so far as to say they are grateful they sinned because of the joy and insights they gained through their repentance. However, my belief is that anyone who has truly repented of a sin wishes they could go back in time and pass the test they failed. What those who repent are really saying is not that they are grateful they sinned, but that they are amazed the Savior was able to turn something so negative into something so positive. They are grateful for redemption, not the thing that made them need to be redeemed.
Some of my favorite friends––heroes I have come to love and respect––are those who have had the faith and courage to seek forgiveness. However, even more impressive, and less celebrated in my estimation, are the accomplishments of those who exercise the faith not to fall. When temptations become powerful, they use the example and power of the Savior to control passions, to forgive, or to remain faithful in spite of adversity. They use the atonement to succeed instead of just using it to rectify failure. Elder David A. Bednar explained that “the infinite atonement is for both the sinner and for the saint in each of us” (CR, November 2007).
Do you remember Robert Frost’s poem about two roads that diverged in a yellow wood and the gratitude he felt for having taken the one less traveled? He knew that way leads on to way and that we often do not come back from detours (Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1920). While walking in the right direction just makes sense, it is also more exciting and positive to forge ahead on the productive path of the saint than retracing the thorny path of repentance.
It is interesting to note that the three great kings of Israel––Saul, David, and Solomon––all fell in spite of the amazing potential they possessed. They did much good, but each failed a test that destroyed their lives. Conversely, before the Savior began His mission, He also faced Satan and modeled the process whereby we refuse to be driven from greatness. I believe the accounts of the Savior, Joseph, and Moses all conquering Satan are provided as a pattern for us—not mythical stories that are impossible to duplicate.
Yes, we can be forgiven of sin through the atonement, but we can also overcome sin through Christ. His commandments, example, ordinances, and power can make it possible for us to succeed in life where we would otherwise fail. Indeed, the Savior intends to save us from our sins, but not in them (Helaman 5:10). As Elder Bednar once taught, “Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin” (CR, November 2007). Often, these victories are painful to claim, and represent the actions of a very mature saint. The young man who looks away, the young woman who will not compromise standards, the priesthood holder who forsakes gaming, the couple who prepares for the temple and prioritizes the family, all do so through great faith.
Brothers and sisters, life’s doors swing on small hinges. Many of us are facing tests right now that will be pivot points on which the rest of our life will swing. President Thomas S. Monson taught us about the importance of refusing to be tossed to and fro by the winds of the world by sharing a story from his childhood concerning boat races. He said:
“The toy boats of childhood had no keel for stability, no rudder to provide direction, and no source of power. Inevitably, their destination was downstream—the path of least resistance. Unlike toy boats, we have been provided divine attributes to guide our journey. We enter mortality not to float with the moving currents of life but with the power to think, to reason, and to achieve” (CR, April, 2012).
The process of recognizing when we are drifting in the wrong direction and choosing to change our course is a vital responsibility we each possess.
On one occasion, one of my daughters came to me and asked me to keep her cell phone for a week. She said that she felt it was consuming too much of her time and attention and she wanted to reset her priorities. I put her phone on a shelf and she reclaimed it a while later. I loved the desire for self-mastery she demonstrated and the introspective analysis she practiced as she sought to act and not be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:26).
When I was your age, people didn’t talk much about addictions, and when they did they were usually discussing problems associated with the Word of Wisdom. Sadly, your society no longer helps you recognize and avoid deception. Each of you must individually choose to stay free and useful in spite of the electronic haze in which you live. Ours is a day of addictions that cause us to relinquish our role in this great final battle. I testify that you have agency and you have power. You can choose to free yourselves from addictions small and great. You can follow the counsel of Lehi when he said: “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Nephi 1:23).
Satan is striving to cause us to become weak, pathetic victims. However, you are not victims—you are soldiers with a cause. President Boyd K. Packer once said:
“When you say, ‘I can’t! I can’t solve my problems!’ I want to thunder out, ‘Don’t you realize who you are? Haven’t you learned yet that you are a son or a daughter of Almighty God? Do you not know that there are powerful resources inherited from Him that you can call upon to give you steadiness and courage and great power?’” (Ensign, August 1975)
As you choose to win significant battles in life, remember the power of fasting. It can “loose the bands of wickedness…undo the heavy burdens, and…let the oppressed go free…that ye break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6). Additionally, remember the afflicted woman in the book of Mark who had received all the help the world could give her and was still not well. However, when she touched the hem of the Savior’s garment, in faith believing that she would be made whole, virtue flowed into her and she was healed (Mark 5:25-34). Finally, follow Helaman’s example and gain determination by thinking about your goals in life, your spouse, your children, and your desires to be free (Alma 58:12).
The tests many of us are facing would not be categorized as resisting sin so much as fighting distraction and selfishness. I challenge you to make an inventory of how you are using your electronic devices. You can still unwind with them and use them to recharge. But, see if you can also increase the good you do with them. They have the ability to prepare you to serve. They can help you save your brothers and sisters on both sides of the veil in a way that has never before been possible.
I am sure you remember the story of Esau despising his birthright and selling it for a mess of pottage (Genesis 25). Sadly, the way we use the amazing electronic empowerment we have been given may be similarly shortsighted. What if you played “Zithor the Megahunter” for one hour instead of three? You could then order an e-book on the atonement from Deseret Book and read the first chapter during the time you would have been destroying Zithorian moon bases? As you make adjustments in your usage of electronics, you might consider one or more of the following ideas:
Peruse a news website once a day to keep up on current events.
Place your profile on mormon.org.
Download the mobile scriptures application from lds.org. As you start marking your scriptures electronically, you can then use the Study Notebook on lds.org to keep a record of scripture insights and cross references you develop.
View or read conference talks on lds.org.
View and share Mormon Messages on lds.org
Help the Church make the records of mankind available for research by becoming an indexer on familysearch.org. There is even an indexing application you can load on your phone or iPad that allows you to index one person at a time. Engage in dozens of other family history and missionary projects that you are uniquely prepared to perform.
Rather than reserving your creative efforts for class assignments, perhaps you will be like Nephi and “labor diligently to write, to persuade your children, and also your brethren, to believe in Christ and to be reconciled to God” (2 Nephi 2:23, emphasis added). You will be able to come up with ideas that match your personal circumstances and interests. Such efforts to reorder your day-to-day activities will put wind in your sails and help you feel the joy of self-mastery.
As we exercise the faith to obey, we begin to acquire hope. Hope reinforces our faith as we seek to pass the tests of life. Hope in Christ has been equated with an “earnest expectation” (Philippians 1:20). It is behaving according to a firm belief in how things will unfold. It is expecting, not wishing. Hope orients our lives. Hope keeps our eyes focused on eternity. Hope-filled individuals cherish eternal promises enough to cling to them through trials and distractions, while those who lack hope give up what they want most for what they want at the moment.
The Book of Mormon provides a good example of the difference hope can make. Years before Lehi’s family built the ship to take them to the Promised Land, Sariah complained about her boys being sent back for the plates. Lehi comforted Sariah by explaining the effects of hope in his life. He said: “Behold, I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice; yea, and I know that the Lord will deliver my sons out of the hands of Laban, and bring them down again unto us in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 5:5, emphasis added).
Sariah was unable to find comfort and joy until the boys returned. Lehi, on the other hand, was able to find peace and confidence because his trust in God's promises enabled him to respond to life as though the things he earnestly expected had already occurred. Do you realize that you can claim peace and joy today because of your promised opportunity to marry, or the fact that you will one day be reunited with a loved one that has died, or the assurance that your sickly body will be made perfect? As you plow through the difficulties of life, remember Paul’s admonition to “plow in hope” (1 Corinthians 9:10). Let us follow the lead of Enos when his faith and hope in God allowed him to say that he knew that things “would be according to the covenant which he had made; wherefore my soul did rest” (Enos 1:17).
The immutable promises of God allow you to face the vicissitudes of life calmly. The temporary withholding of a promised blessing does not trouble those who keep their eyes riveted on the eventual fulfillment of the promise. Moroni explained that this kind of hope begins with faith and becomes “an anchor to the souls of men which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God” (Ether 12:4). I testify that God is omniscient and omnipotent, and therefore able to fulfill any promise. You can trust in this assurance from Him: “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16).
Faith and hope can change our lives. They help us productively face all of our challenges. However, the greatest change we will experience will result from the acquisition of charity. As the Savior's mortal ministry was ending He sought to help Peter bring closure to his training as a disciple. Just after the last supper, Jesus pled with Peter saying, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).
Peter responded to this plea from the Savior by saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33). Obviously, Peter felt fairly certain he would not disappoint the Savior. However, he had some painful experiences awaiting him as he finished his preparations to become the leader of the Church. Following the resurrection, Peter still had not fully arrived at the point where he possessed the vision and capacity to fulfill the Savior's command to strengthen his brethren. After experiencing the most glorious event in the history of the world––the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Peter remained somewhat aimless. Instead of walking the streets shouting the message, Peter said, “I go a fishing” (John 21:3). Because their leader chose this course, the other disciples went with him. These choices set the stage for the visit of the Savior to the brethren at the seashore that is recounted in John 21.
After discovering Jesus on the seashore, Peter must have looked around and realized he was not in a position to share the wonderful message he had witnessed with the world. Once again, he found himself embarrassed by his inability to translate his knowledge into appropriate action. John, who wrote more symbolically than any of the gospel writers, then stated, “Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher’s coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea” (John 21:7).
If you take this verse literally, it seems a little absurd. If Peter were barely clothed in a boat, why would he put on a coat before diving into the water to swim? However, taken symbolically, it becomes beautiful. Is it possible that the emotions Peter felt standing in the ship could best be described as feeling naked? Did he feel defenseless and embarrassed standing before the Savior doing what he was doing considering what he knew? Did putting on his fishers coat symbolize a point where a permanent clarity and commitment was achieved? Did Peter remember his call three years earlier when the Savior asked him to leave his nets and begin fishing men? Does it sometimes take a surprising amount of time for us to grow from loving Christ to finally being focused on loving His children?
On the seashore, the Savior completed Peter's transformation. With this final tutelage, Peter put on, and kept on, the mantle of his call to leave the cares of the world and invest himself in fishing men. First, the Savior reviewed what Peter had caught saying, “Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.” And, “Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes” (John 21:10-11). We should remember that our acquisitions are actually made possible by God. Peter caught nothing before the Savior assisted with his temporal nets. Similarly, God has filled all of our nets abundantly. However, His help is given as a means to an end––it must not become an end unto itself.
Appreciating our blessings and understanding why we received them will orient our lives. Occasionally, the many possible problems that lurk around the corner cast a shadow on today. We worry about natural disasters, economic collapse, and war. We worry even more about the spiritual poisons that surround us. In the midst of so many concerns, we can struggle with insecurity and depression. We may want to put off families, or disengage and pretend there is nothing to worry about.
These are the moments where charity can help us to stay involved and interested without becoming disillusioned. True charity frees us from selfishness. When we are focused on wanting things, we are vulnerable to losses. When we orient our lives around service and building the Kingdom, we become somewhat immune to financial reverses or temporal challenges. Think how unimportant the fish were to Peter as he stood before the Savior. At that moment, they were nothing more to him than a tool provided to help him work. The person who is focused on building the kingdom, sharing the gospel, and preparing for the Second Coming views these days as being filled with exciting opportunities that dwarf the pursuit of riches. The humble person guided by charity, knows happiness can occur in small homes and old cars. Like Paul, they have learned how to be content in any circumstance (Philippians 4:11-12). They revel in seeing days prophets have dreamed of, and doing things that have never before been possible.
Possessing charity dissolves worry and instills purpose. Rising above ourselves frees us from fear. We become filled with gratitude for the privilege of being part of the great winding up scenes of the world. This change in perspective makes all the difference in facing the future with joy, gratitude, and excitement. When we view our blessings as being given to us so that we can build the Kingdom, rather than as a means to fulfill selfish desires, life resolves into a choice adventure. This change in perspective steels us to face our fears and find purpose in life. Note the difference between Ammon and his companions as they guarded sheep for King Lamoni. When men threatened them and scattered the sheep, Ammon’s companions “wept because of the fear of being slain”, but Ammon’s “heart was swollen within him with joy” because he would be able to show the power that was in him and win the hearts of his fellow-servants so that they would believe in his words (Alma 17:29).
Each of us must endure the troubling introspection of Peter when the Savior held up the symbol of his life pursuits and asked “Peter, lovest thou me more than these?” How sobering would we find it if the Savior held up to us something other than a fish—perhaps something we spend our money or time upon? What if He pointed to our devotion to texting, social media, video games, or music? What if He asked us three times the same question about our devotion to Him versus our feelings for one of those distractions? Is there something God wants you to do that you keep putting off because of something else you love in life?
It appears that Peter finally embraced the second step of his discipleship on the seashore. He was now ready to focus on strengthening his brethren. He had been converted years earlier, and had come unto Christ. Now, he was finally ready to consistently help bring God's other children to Christ. Arriving at this second stage of discipleship is what we should each seek to achieve. When we do, God and His Church are able to quit worrying about us and start using us to help others.
Just as Peter felt naked when he caught a glimpse of things as they really are, we should be stirred to the depths of our souls when we review the comparison between what we know and what we do. As we are humbled by our nakedness we must choose to put on our fisher’s coat and start approaching those around us more appropriately. We need to wrestle with the reasons we spend so much time discovering and chewing on people's faults and so little time rejoicing in their successes and strengths. We need to ask ourselves why we gossip and judge when we plan to serve and build. When loving, laughing, and accepting are so delightful, why do we so often choose emotions which weigh us down? We need to ask ourselves why we don't invest more of our prayers in the needs of others. Why does our focus remain on getting more blessings for ourselves when we understand the purpose of life as clearly as we do?
Do we fail to share the gospel, care for the poor and the needy, or engage in family history and temple work because we have not mustered the love for others that would motivate us to action and sacrifice? When the Savior taught that we find our lives by losing them, was he trying to help us understand how important it is for us to stop worrying about ourselves and start focusing on the needs of others? Charity refocuses us so that we do not let the fish in our lives keep us from noticing the good we could be doing. Feelings of charity serve as an antidote to self-absorption.
In 1840, Alexis de Tocqueville completed the second part of his famous analysis of democracy in America. In spite of his admiration for the robust forms of democracy in America, he had concerns about how our interactions with our government would affect us. On one occasion he predicted that over the years, democracy could produce a group of people who:
“Turn about without repose in order to procure for themselves petty and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn apart, is a virtual stranger, unaware of the fate of the others: his children and his particular friends form for him the entirety of the human race; as for his fellow citizens, he is beside them, but he sees them not; he touches them and senses them not; he exists only in himself and for himself alone” (Paul A. Rahe, 2009. Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect. Yale University Press: New Haven, Connecticut. p. 187).
Tocqueville feared that our society would produce people that became so materialistic that they would obsess over petty things at the expense of grand and noble pursuits. Over 170 years ago Tocqueville was befuddled at the tendency for Americans to be discontent and unhappy because they “dream constantly of the goods that they do not have” (ibid, p. 180). He stated that an American behaves as though his singular concern is to “distract himself from the happiness that is his” (ibid, p. 180). He worried that a people who initially treasured freedom and liberty would allow a taste for comfort and materialism to stupefy them into losing the ability or inclination to use their will in meaningful pursuits (ibid, p. 184).
Tocqueville’s prescient insights serve as a piercingly accurate description of our society. The scriptures teach that in the last days “the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12) and that Satan will pacify and lull many away into carnal security (2 Nephi 28:21). I believe that charity saves us from the aimlessness and disillusionment that is plaguing our society. Charity inspires us to gather people in a world that seeks to scatter them.
I testify that our use of faith, hope, and charity will determine our happiness and our success. We must pass difficult tests of our faith in a quest to become more Christ-like. In addition to exercising faith, we must identify the things we hope for, and let them orient our lives and lend purpose to our daily choices. When we marry, we are not doing so because of what our partner and relationship is, but because of our earnest expectation of what they will become over the years under the influence of these attributes we have discussed today. Finally, we must put off the natural man and become a saint through the atonement of Christ so that our basic disposition changes (Mosiah 3:19; Mosiah 5:2). We accomplish this by praying to the Father with all the energy of our hearts so that we may be filled with the pure love of Christ (Moroni 7:48). I know these things are true; I pray that I can improve at doing them.