The Practical Work of Building Zion in Your Apartments and Homes
Director, Housing and Student Living
My dear brothers and sisters, today I would like to discuss the practical pursuit of building Zion specifically in your apartments and homes. According to the beautiful opening hymn, for Zion to cover all the earth, the saints must keep God’s law and live in love and peace.1 Zion, therefore, is characterized and established by the way we live wherever we live. I pray that the Holy Ghost will attend us. I pray that my remarks may be useful and provide you with functional knowledge and personalized impressions of the practical application of key principles that shape, support, and sustain Zion.
The great prophet Brigham Young declared:
The work of building up Zion is in every sense a practical work; it is not a mere theory. A theoretical religion amounts to very little real good or advantage to any person. To possess an inheritance in Zion or in Jerusalem only in theory—only in imagination—would be the same as having no inheritance at all. It is necessary to get a deed of it, to make an inheritance practical, substantial and profitable. I have Zion in my view constantly. We are not going to wait for angels, or for Enoch and his company to come and build up Zion, but we are going to build it. 2
There are three extremely important interrelated messages taught by Brigham Young in this brief excerpt from one of his discourses. First, Zion cannot be established through theoretical or speculative musings. At its core, Zion typifies real striving, struggle, and strength. Second, to possess an inheritance in Zion requires a unique title deed that cannot be purchased by money or transferred from one individual to another by a mere signature. The deed required to inherit Zion is obtained through the deeds of righteous living. In other words, the practical, everyday work of living the basic principles of the gospel leads us to and places us in Zion. Truly, “we no longer think of Zion as where we are going to live; we think of it as how we are going to live."3Third, Zion will not build itself, nor will anyone build it for us. We must take personal and collective ownership of the effort to establish Zion wherever we reside.
Just about three months ago, one little girl resolved within herself to establish a special place where only goodness and kindness were permitted—her own little Zion. While visiting our children’s grandparents’ home, I observed our youngest daughter, Sophia, spend most of the morning in a small playhouse situated under the stairs. When she finally finished arranging everything just the way she wanted it, she came upstairs and began writing something on bright orange paper. After inquiring, I learned that this paper and, more importantly, its message, represented the finishing touch to the playhouse. Before entering the small opening under the stairs and posting the orange paper, little Sophie posed for a picture. When I finally examined the paper, I was amazed at what I saw. Would you like to know what it said?
Don’t be bossy.
Don’t be annoying.
Don’t be mean.
Don’t be bad.
In the simplest, yet most profound way, a six-year old girl established behavioral guidelines that would lead to peaceful and profitable interaction—her own little Zion.
Brothers and sisters, there are 2,129 individual apartments and 36 additional houses in BYU-Idaho Approved Housing. These numbers provide the potential for about 2,200 little Zions within three blocks of campus. Minus the proximity to campus, the same potential exists for our married students across the roughly 3000 community apartments that house BYU-Idaho student families. Think about the apartment where you live. Think about your roommates. Think about your room-roommate. For those who are married, in case you didn’t know, your room-roommate is your spouse and your roommates are any children you may have. Think about the culture of your apartment or home. How do you live? Consider the following questions:
What can I do now to build Zion in my apartment?
What can I do consistently throughout the semester to build and maintain Zion in my apartment?
What can my roommates and I do, collectively, to build Zion in our apartment?
How can my roommates and I live in a way that leads us to and places us in Zion?
Perhaps some of you want to build a little Zion in your apartment, but aren’t quite sure how to go about doing it. If only we could guarantee that no one would be bossy, no one would be annoying, no one would be mean or bad. Wouldn’t that be great? It may be working for little Sophie in her playhouse under Grandma’s stairs, but reality reminds us that the only guarantee is that roommates will be bossy and annoying at times. They may even be mean or bad. There will be miscommunication. There will be disagreements. There will be moments of offense. There may even be conflict. Remember, Zion does not exist in some ideal, theoretical realm comprised of a massive population of clone-like individuals that think, speak, and act alike. Zion is characterized and established by the way we live together in the face of reality. Zion is built through the practical, everyday work of individuals with diverse backgrounds, personalities, and interests.
So, the question remains: What is the practical work required of you in your apartments and homes that will create and cultivate a culture of Zion? Student Living provides an answer. Allow me to clarify one very important point: Student Living at BYU-Idaho is not a program. It does not require registration or sign-ups. Student Living is a model that governs the way we live through the application of basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As BYU-Idaho students, you are all inherently and automatically enlisted in Student Living.
Student Living represents a blueprint—a pattern of principles and practices—that you and your roommates can apply now, throughout the semester, and over the course of your entire time at BYU-Idaho that will lead to the establishment of Zion in your apartments and throughout your apartment complex. The three guiding principles of Student Living are love, shared responsibility, and mutual respect.
Principle #1: Love
Often when we speak of love in relation to Student Living, we emphasize the need for roommates to love one another. This is certainly the desired goal, but sometimes, too simplistically, we say, “If you would just love your roommates your apartment would be a lot happier.” Or, “You have to find it within yourself to love others and see them for who they are.” Or, my favorite, “You don’t really have to like your roommates, but you better love them!” May I offer an alternative emphasis?
In the first and only chapter in the book of Fourth Nephi we read: “And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people” (emphasis added).4 As he synthesized the records, Mormon thoughtfully, purposely, and specifically attributed the societal peace the people were enjoying at that time to their love of God.
In the next verse, Mormon continues: “And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings . . . nor any manner oflasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.”5 This people’s love, centered in God and undoubtedly His Son, clearly had a remarkable direct effect on their interpersonal relationships.
In today’s language, there was no resentment, jealousy, bitterness, vindictiveness, discord, dissension, friction, disorder, or turmoil—all synonyms of envyings, strifes, and tumults. There was simply love one toward another and, as a result, peace and happiness. Loving roommates, then, will be a natural extension of your love for Heavenly Father.
“But I do love God,” you might say. “He’s much easier to love than my roommates!” OK. How do you love God? Love is certainly a feeling; but “love—the feeling—is a fruit of love the verb.”6 Your love for God must be more than a declaration made in your prayers or in your journal or in a testimony you bear from the pulpit. Love requires action; it is something you do. What more can you do to love God than to love His children? Your love for God is ultimately manifested in the way you live and in the way you love those with whom you live.
The following statements represent the practical manifestation of your love for God as it applies to where and with whom you live.
I love God by spending time with my roommates.
I love God by asking my roommates questions about their interests, desires, and pursuits.
I love God by smiling at my roommates.
I love God by being honest with my roommates.
I love God by making my room-roommate’s bed.
I love God by acknowledging my errors and saying “I’m sorry.”
I love God by frankly forgiving my roommates regardless of an apology.7
I love God by sending a text of encouragement to a roommate.
I love God by sharing my milk.
I love God by speaking up and persuading my roommates to turn off the indecent movie or TV show.
I love God by doing the dishes for a roommate who is strapped for time.
I love God by praying with my roommates.
I love God by helping my roommates honor their covenants and uphold the tenets of the Code of Honor.
This is the practical work of love that will lead you to and place you in Zion. Because your love for God is personified and manifested in the way you love your roommates, God will bless your apartment and prosper your relationships and provide peace and happiness to you and to those with whom you live.
Principle #2 Shared Responsibility
The second principle of Student Living is shared responsibility. Roommates share responsibility for creating an atmosphere of righteous living and obedience in the apartment. Shared responsibility gets to the very heart of our baptismal covenant to “bear one another’s burdens . . . mourn with those that mourn . . . comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in.”8 Shared responsibility addresses the ever-stirring question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”9 Some feel uncomfortable by this question and even believe it carries a negative connotation. Both ancient and modern prophets, however, have collectively and consistently testified of our covenant responsibility to care for, protect, and rescue our brothers and sisters.10 Perhaps a slight modification to the question may be helpful and more intuitive: “Am I my brother’s brother?” or “Am I my sister’s sister?” The answer to these inquiries is irrefutably and emphatically “Yes!”
How then do we apply this understanding? What exactly does shared responsibility look like in the apartment? The practical application of this principle and its companion principle of love is well demonstrated in the following video.
My dear brothers and sisters, you can be your brother’s keeper! You are responsible for one another. In a Zion apartment, roommates support and strengthen one another. In a Zion apartment, roommates combat the code of silence and get involved. In a Zion apartment, roommates refer for help when needed to provide additional strength and love and assistance to brothers or sisters spiritually wounded on the battlefield of life. Consider this covenant responsibility a privilege, not a burden. I know it’s not always easy. It may even be uncomfortable, awkward, or risky at times. But, through your love for God and faith in the Savior, Jesus Christ, you can truly partner with your roommates to create an apartment culture in which you look out for one another, take care of one another, lift one another, and encourage one another to stay close to the Lord and honor sacred covenants. This is the practical work of shared responsibility that, with the practical work of love, will lead you to and place you in Zion.
Principle #3: Mutual Respect
The third principle of Student Living is mutual respect. By standard definition, mutual respect implies a sense of value, appreciation, and esteem shared between two or more people.11 The scriptures define mutual respect in the following way: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”12 This timeless and transcendent value, taught by the Savior Himself, has come to be known as the Golden Rule.
“[Mutual] respect is an expression of our sense of universal brotherhood or sisterhood—a testimony of our membership in the human family. Acting disrespectfully suggests we do not esteem others as ourselves.”13 Everyday forms of disrespect include gossip, backbiting, mocking, ridiculing, fault-finding, selfishness, indifference, and the dreaded silent treatment.
Mutual respect is naturally and inextricably linked to the principles of love and shared responsibility. It is ultimately personified as roommates treat each other the way they want to be treated and value one another as sons and daughters of God. In a day-to-day, hour-by-hour practical sense, mutual respect is manifested in the apartment in a variety of small, yet significant ways.
Let’s explore the practical application of mutual respect through a bit of an interview. Do you reliably complete your part of the apartment clean-check? Or do you neglect your assigned tasks or leave them undone for others to complete? Do you wash or load your dishes immediately after each use? Do you pick up what you drop, put away what you get out, ask before using, return what you borrow, and take turns buying the toilet paper? Do you replace the toilet paper when you use the last square on the roll? Or do you leave the empty brown tube on the dispenser fully expecting someone else to reach into the cabinet and replace the roll before nature calls you again? Do you remove your clothing from the washer and dryer in a timely manner? When you find clothing left in the only washer available, do you rip it out and throw it in some dusty corner or hide it to teach the person a lesson? Or do you gently remove the clothing and leave it in a clean and conspicuous place? Do you leave enough hot water for roommates on Sunday mornings? In essence, do you think of others and how your actions will affect them?
Do you address an offense or concern directly with a roommate or neighbor as the Savior taught in Matthew 18?14 Do you genuinely listen to roommates’ point of view without rolling your eyes or interrupting? Do you refrain from criticism if a roommate doesn’t load the dishwasher exactly the way you would do it? Are you a “backseat driver” or an “armchair quarterback” constantly correcting and nitpicking?
Elder Joe J. Christensen taught:
Don’t be too critical of each other’s faults. Recognize that none of us is perfect. . . . ‘Ceaseless pinpricking’ (as President Kimball called it), can deflate almost any [relationship]. Generally, each of us is painfully aware of our weaknesses, and we don’t need frequent reminders. Few people have ever changed for the better as a result of constant criticism or nagging.15
A few short months ago in October, my wife and I performed vicarious sealings in the Rexburg Temple. During the ceremony, the sealer paused to share an inspired thought with the assembly. He asked us to consider the beautiful sunsets that are frequently present on the horizon in the great state of Idaho. He reminded us that we never look at a sunset and regretfully sigh, “Oh, I wish there were more hues of red or stronger hues of purple in this sunset. If there were only a little more orange or not so much yellow. It’s a bit off-center or not quite evenly distributed.” We simply enjoy the sunset for what it is and cherish and value its distinctive beauty. Though he wasn’t very explicit in stating why he shared this thought with us, we all recognized the lesson: see the good in others and accentuate the positive. People change as a result of God’s love and our love and respect for them. Do you lift roommates through kindness and compliments? Do you do all you can to make them feel good about themselves? Do you overlook certain idiosyncrasies or harmless habits and accentuate the positive?
“[Mutual] respect is [truly] an expression of Christlike living.”16Together with love and shared responsibility, the practical, everyday work of mutual respect will lead you to and place you in Zion.
Brothers and sisters, building Zion is a practical work characterized and established by the way we live wherever we live. Your love for God and your genuine efforts to love and respect roommates, assume responsibility for the culture in your apartment, and honor the commitments and covenants you have made while helping others do the same will lead you to and place you in Zion.
Student Living—the principles and associated practices of love, shared responsibility, and mutual respect—represents a pattern for you to build little Zions in your apartments so you can build Zion in your home. And why is this so important? “Zion readies us to see the Savior come again.”17
Now, finally, when you think about an apartment where Student Living really works, what do you see?
May your apartments be filled with light; may your lives be filled with light; and may you build Zion now and wherever you go in preparation for the Second Coming of the Savior. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. “We will sing of Zion,” Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 47
2. Brigham Young, “Building Up and Adornment of Zion By the Saints,” Journal of Discourses, Volume 9(56), pp. 282-285, http://journalofdiscourses.com/9/56
3. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Israel, Israel, God is Calling,” CES Devotionals, September 9, 2012
10. See John 15: 13. Think about the phrase “lay down his life” in this passage in terms of your busy life, personal preferences, and selfish habits or desires. See also D&C 81:5, 82: 19; Matthew 22:37-39, 25:35-40; James 1:27. See also Henry D. Taylor, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” in Conference Report, April 1972; Dallin H. Oaks, “Brother’s Keeper,” Ensign, Nov. 1986; Thomas S. Monson, “My Brother’s Keeper,” Ensign, May 1990; Howard W. Hunter, “A More Excellent Way,” Ensign, May 1992; Thomas S. Monson, “My Brother’s Keeper,” Ensign, Nov. 1994; Michael J. Teh, “Out of Small Things,” Ensign, Nov. 2007; Richard C. Edgley, “This is Your Phone Call,” Ensign, May 2009; Henry B. Eyring, “Man Down!” Ensign, May 2009