“Achieving Eternal Goals Despite Life’s Storms”
Brigham Young University-Idaho Commencement
December 11, 2004
Elder Robert D. Hales
Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Expressing Gratitude For Your Education
I am so glad to be with you today at BYU-Idaho’s graduation commencement ceremonies. BYU-Idaho is a very special institution of spiritual development and learning. By the Spirit, inspired teachers have devoted their lives to instruct you about what is really important in your lives.
Many people have sacrificed so you could be here as graduates today. The instructors, administrators, and staff of BYU-Idaho have anxiously watched your progress and have supported your efforts. Your instructors have truly cared for you and have become an integral part of your life, never to be forgotten - always remembered. Above all, your parents and family members have supported you, taught you, and brought you through your childhood and adolescent years so that you would be worthy and ready to continue your learning here, in this sacred place. Would you take a few minutes before you leave the campus to individually express gratitude to those who have sacrificed and played an important part in your success?
You will not fully appreciate the greatness of your teachers here until you face challenges that require you to put into practice what they have taught you. With time and experience, those opportunities will come. As you draw upon the lessons they taught, your hearts will swell wide with gratitude for their dedicated service. It is their sacrifices, and your diligent efforts that have hallowed these halls of learning.
Commencement Upon Life’s Journey
It is a privilege to be here and share with you the joy of your graduation commencement. Some of you may feel that after several years of hard work, you have finally arrived at the end, but the word commencement is a key to the meaning of this day. You have achieved an important goal in your life, but it is not the end. It is a new beginning. It is an opportunity to commence upon the challenges of a mortal journey, and to do so in the Lord’s way. For you have kept His commandment to:
. . . be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms-
That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you (Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-80).
I would like to suggest a few of the most important goals in life that will give you joy as you fulfill your mission on this earth—eternal goals that will help you return with honor to your Father in Heaven. They include:
(1) Marry in the temple and cultivate eternal family relationships by prayerfully balancing the many facets of life, such as family, occupation, continuing education, hobbies, and entertainment.
(2) Faithfully and obediently live your religion and be true to your baptismal and temple covenants, always treasuring up the good things of life.
(3) Hold on to the eternal perspective gained here at BYU-Idaho, remembering that the things of the kingdom are eternal and the things of the world are temporal or temporary.
(4) Remember to give dedicated service throughout your life, and always care for the needy who may require your love and other support.
These are lifetime goals that take focus and time to achieve. Making these goals is not enough, we must make a plan to carry them out. Only then can we avoid those worldly diversions that so easily preoccupy and entice us away from path to eternal life.
Tonight or tomorrow, after the excitement of the graduation celebration has subsided, ponder what you want to achieve in your life and what your goals should be. Take the time to write them down and review them throughout the coming years. Then, spend a few hours asking yourself what you can do to accomplish these goals today, tomorrow, next week, and in months ahead.
How do you choose and define these important, eternal goals? And, just as vital, how do you make a plan to achieve them? Remember: time is the essential—even critical—element in your calculations. From where you stand now, it may seem that you have an indefinite amount of time to accomplish eternal things.
Everyone has time, it’s true. Time is the common commodity by which we all measure progress in our life’s journey. But just because time passes doesn’t mean we are making progress.
“This life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32).
I testify that your time on earth will be sufficient to accomplish your preparation and perform the labors of your life’s mission—if you use your time wisely. And there is no better time to do that than now, in your youth.
In the book of Alma we are taught, “O, remember, my son, and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God” (Alma 37:35). We learn “wisdom in [our] youth” so that we will not make mistakes and waste our time wandering in strange paths, getting lost, and then struggling back to the straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life.
Part of staying on the path is continuing to learn. This learning includes growing mentally and spiritually in this mortal probation. It means learning from the challenges, opposition, and tragedies of life and enduring to the end—for these are the purposes for which we came to live on this earth.
The scriptures are our curriculum for this continuing education. Consider the textbook we call Proverbs. In the words of Solomon, one of our educational goals should be “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding” (Proverbs 1:2). There is a difference between our intelligence, which is God-given, and our knowledge, which is gained by our own study and through life’s experiences. The Book of Proverbs helps us recognize that the real purpose of mortality is to accomplish this learning—to gain wisdom and understanding in our hearts.
“Incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). Through our actions and obedience, we turn our intellectual knowledge into wisdom. That wisdom brings understanding to our hearts. And with understanding, we are able to apply our knowledge in a way that blesses all God’s children, and helps us return to live with Him again.
As we continue learning, we must be certain we are always coming to a knowledge of the truth about God and our part in His plan. In the advanced curriculum of life, sometimes the more knowledge we gain, the easier it is to forget our Heavenly Father and the need for His guiding hand. The spiritual textbook of Proverbs addresses this most important subject:
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:6–7).
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding (Proverbs 4:7).
How do we gain knowledge in a way that does not cause us to be “to be lifted up in the pride of [our] eyes” (Alma 4:8), and forget that we “are dependent [on God] for [our] lives and for all that [we] have and are”(Mosiah 4:21)?
To answer that question, may I share with you a sacred truth—a golden key to humility and life-long happiness? If you will take all the knowledge you have been given here at BYU-Idaho, and all the knowledge you gain throughout your life and apply it to help others, you will have the wisdom and understanding to discover your mission on this earth. You did not acquire an education just so that you might earn more money, gain status, and have the physical things of this life or the titles of men. You acquired it to lift, bless, teach, and help others to come to the Savior, partake of His Atonement, live his gospel, and inherit eternal life.
Selecting and Achieving the Most Important Goals in Life—Effective Use of Time and Resources
Now, with that in mind, how do we effectively select and achieve our goals in life? We must be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and possess the Spirit of the Lord in our lives. Just think of the things the Lord asks us to do to obtain and retain the Spirit: prayer, obedience, scripture study, family home evening, taking the sacrament worthily and regularly, going on a mission, and going to the temple.
Each of us must make time for pondering and quiet contemplation in our lives. Regular scripture study, unhurried personal prayer, meditation, and temple attendance can give the Spirit the opportunity to impress its messages on our hearts. President Hinckley has said,
We live in a very mad world when all is said and done. The pressures are tremendous. We fly at high speeds. We drive at high speeds. We program ourselves. . . . There is hardly time to reflect and think and pause and meditate. [But] we need to (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997, 334).
Council with the Lord in prayer and with trusted advisors whenever you are going to make an important decision that will affect your life. More importantly, continue in prayer and, on occasion, fasting, after council is given. Remember Nephi still needed to be “led by the Spirit,” after he received his assignment, for he did “not [know] beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6).
You will not always know beforehand the things you should do. However, you can develop a pattern—a habit, if you will—to fill your life with doing—which the scriptures refer to as being “anxiously engaged.” And when you are engaged in “a good cause”—the cause of God’s Kingdom on the earth— the Spirit of the Lord will help you know what to do to accomplish your other goals. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
When I was about your age, a concept was taught to me by a family friend when I went to counsel with him about a very important decision I had to make in my life. He taught me about preparing for the storms of life. The story goes something like this:
A teacher brought a large jar into the classroom and proceeded to fill it with ping pong balls. He asked the class if the jar was full, and they responded “yes.” He then put small pebbles into the jar and shook it up until it seemed to be “full” once more. He asked the class if it was full, and they said “yes.” The teacher then placed fine sand carefully into the jar to fill many of the little spaces occupied by air. Once more he asked the question, “Is the jar full?” With nervous laughter, the students said “yes!” After a few seconds, letting the teaching moment sink in, the teacher brought out a large glass of water and poured it into the jar until the sand was saturated and more air was forced from the jar. Now the teacher asked, “What have you learned?” It was crystal clear to the students that the jar was like their lives—demonstrating to them that there are so many ways to fill the jar of life. It became clear to the students that if the professor had filled the jar with pebbles, sand, or water first there would have been no room for the larger and most important things in life represented by the ping pong balls. At the same time, even while doing the large and important things, there is plenty of room to accomplish the small and simple gestures of kindness and service—to be immersed in acts of love.
One thing is sure: as we go through life—there are always more things to do each day, week, month, and year than we have time and energy to accomplish. The secret is to choose wisely those activities that will help us achieve our divinely inspired goals, and then have the strength of character and conviction to disregard what would distract or detain us from our eternal destination.
As you commence on the journey that will be the rest of your life, it is important that you apply this principle of time—the principle of the ping pong balls—each and every day. “Seek ye first” those things that matter most. Only then can you be certain that you will inherit all that our Heavenly Father has to give us.
Be Able to Have Peace Through the Storms of Life
Finally, in this world, know that you are a Latter-day Saint living in the last days before the second coming, and that Lucifer or Satan is going to rule and reign upon the earth before the coming of the Lord. As difficult as it may have been to stay pure and worthy in the first two decades of your life, it is going to be even more challenging for you and your family to defend yourselves against the buffetings of Satan in the generations to come. My mother told me a story when I was a young boy that has always reminded me of what I need to do to be ready for the storms of life that inevitably come.
The story is about a rancher who was hiring a foreman to assist him with the care of herds and crops on a large ranch. The rancher had interviewed many for the position, asking each the same opening question: “Tell me of your personal background, ranching experience, and your most valuable quality of character.” At last, a man came in who answered the third part of that question a little differently than the others. Looking the rancher straight in the eye, he said, “My most valuable quality? I can sleep through a storm!” The rancher probed to try to find out what the man meant by his unusual declaration. The response was always the same simple but sincere one. With deep conviction, he repeated “I can sleep through a storm.” Partly out of the rancher’s curiosity, the man was hired. Weeks passed, and he was proving himself to be a good foreman. Then, in the middle of the night, an unexpected, violent thunderstorm hit the ranch with brilliant streaks of lightning, followed by ear-splitting thunder, shaking the ground and farm buildings with driving rain and gale force winds. As he lay in bed, the rancher became so concerned for his livestock, feed lot, and buildings—everything he owned in this world—that he got up, put on his rain slicker, boots, and Stetson cowboy hat, and made his way through the howling storm to the bunkhouse where the foreman was asleep. The rancher pounded on the door but to no avail. He could not wake the foreman. Finally, the foreman came sleepily to the door and was confronted by an angry and agitated rancher, worried for his livestock and property. The rancher said, “How can you sleep when the storm may be harming all that we own?” The foreman responded calmly, “When you hired me I told you I could sleep through a storm.” The rancher responded urgently, “Let’s go inspect the condition of the livestock and feedlot hay, farm equipment, and buildings NOW!” As the storm grew in intensity, they rode their horses through the storm and inspected all elements of the ranch and found everything to be safe, secure, and in order. Everything was tied down to protect against the violent wind and rain; the animals were safe in shelters; the equipment was covered; hay stacks were tied down with covers; the barn doors were secure and shutters closed. All was protected against the onslaught of the unexpected, violent storm. As they made the inspection together, the rancher was impressed and pleased with the preparation that the foreman had made to prevent damage, even pending disastrous and irreparable results, from the storm’s attack. Then, with a look of gratitude and relief, the rancher quietly turned to the foreman amidst the howling storm and said with a grin, “Now I know why you told me you could sleep through a storm—well done, partner.”
If I were a young woman and I were selecting a partner and companion for time and all eternity, I would ask him, “Can you sleep through a storm?” Meaning, have you prepared your life to withstand the fiery darts of the adversary and the trials of life? If I were a young man looking for an eternal companion, I would ask the same question. It is not a matter of preparation IF the storms are going to come in your life. It is preparation for WHEN the storms of adversity will descend upon you and your loved ones.
One of the reasons why we pray, study the scriptures, go to sacrament meeting, and attend the temple is because we are diligently and worthily preparing ourselves with spiritual armor to defend and protect us for the battles of life that lay ahead. It is so vital that we drive our spiritual tap root deep into the terra firma of life, so that our faith will be unshaken in these tumultuous last days. It is so vital that we let our Master, the Savior Jesus Christ, be the pilot of our ship so that we can feel peace despite the winds and waves of these tempestuous times. The question, “Will you be able to have peace and sleep through the storms of your life?” is a question that can guide all of us as we ponder and pray about our eternal goals and how to accomplish them.
Today is a commencement. It is a commencement of joy and happiness as you embark on a new life—as you use the knowledge you have, turn it into wisdom and understanding by your righteous actions, and use it to bless and serve others. Today is a commencement of making and keeping goals that will lead you back to your Heavenly Father. It is a day of praise and thanksgiving to our God. And so with you I raise my voice to speak the Psalmist’s words: “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24).