Brothers and sisters, Sherry and I are grateful for the close relationship that we have with so many of you, and we are eternally thankful for the impact you are having on young people across the world, especially our own family.
It was about this time last year that our family was found in a precarious situation. We just finished an evening of good food and fireworks at a local resort when we had to make our way down the mountain on a public bus. It soon became apparent to us why the resort provided free transportation. Everyone was intoxicated—everyone. Trapped at the back of the bus, my children were subjected to the foulest, most vile talk imaginable. Every minute that transpired, the passengers became more and more animated, and their lawless actions grew more unpredictable by the minute. I honestly began to fear for my young family’s safety.
At that moment I glanced down at my six-year-old daughter, who looked up at me with a surprising smile as she said, “O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men!”1 You know the rest. We had been memorizing scripture mastery passages as part of our family home evening lessons, but we had no idea she would be able to discern, in a moment of need, what a vain, frail, and foolish person looked like.
Our students and our children are expressly reserved for these days. They are not afraid of the dichotomy that exists between good and evil and light and darkness. Elder Neil L. Andersen reminded us in his February address that “those who sit in [our] classrooms are some of the most spiritually sensitive sons and daughters of God that have ever entered mortality. They are the hope of the future.”2
They are, brothers and sisters, just what President J. Reuben Clark said they would be:
“Not … doubters but inquirers, seekers after truth. …
“These students crave the faith their fathers and mothers have; they want it in its simplicity and purity.”3
While our young people are seekers of truth, they also live in a world that makes discovering such truth increasingly more difficult. In his October 2013 general conference address, Elder Quentin L. Cook compared some of the circumstances of our day to the period of Jeremiah before the downfall of Jerusalem. He described a day “where gospel truths are often rejected or distorted to make them intellectually more appealing or compatible with current cultural trends and intellectual philosophies. If we are not careful,” he cautioned, “we can be captured by these trends and place ourselves in intellectual bondage.”4
As a result of living in a world where gospel truths are rejected and distorted, our children and students will undoubtedly face challenging questions about Church history or doctrine or the position of the Church on social issues. They themselves may even ask these questions. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminded us in the October 2013 general conference: “It’s natural to have questions. … There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions.”5
We need not assume, brothers and sisters, that when our youth and young adults ask serious or sensitive questions they are expressing doubt or questioning their beliefs. In fact, just the opposite is true—their sincere inquiry is an expression of their faith. They embrace the word of God that exhorts them to “doubt not,”6 and they believe “the search for truth is appreciated [and] encouraged”7 and that our homes and classrooms are safe forums for such analysis. In an effort to encourage faithful study, therefore, it is critical that we, as parents and teachers, learn how to respond to such questions. On our “Seek Truth” website, we have identified four things we can do to respond appropriately to young people’s questions: First, we can listen; second, teach and testify; third, invite; and fourth, follow up.
First, we must listen. The educator Julian Treasure introduces us to the idea that we are “losing our listening.” Not our hearing, but our listening. His research confirms that we only retain 25 percent of everything we hear and, therefore, are guilty of losing our listening.8
We were warned against this tendency in our teaching when Elder David A. Bednar cautioned us: “Teaching is not talking and telling. Teaching is observing and listening so that we can discern and then know what to say.”9
We would do well, therefore, to engage in listening as an active process rather than a passive one. Listening is, after all, a verb.
Elder Paul Johnson shared a poignant story last February that reinforces this principle. You will remember he said that they have a four-year-old grandson who hates getting water on his face:
“It is an ordeal every time they wash his hair. Because of this fear he told his mother one day, ‘I’m not getting baptized.’
“His six-year-old brother heard this and quickly pointed out, ‘Then you can’t get to heaven.’”
This eventually left the younger brother in tears. Elder Johnson then taught this powerful principle:
“I wondered how many times as a teacher I resembled that older brother and was less than helpful because I missed the real issue.
“This young boy’s problem with baptism wasn’t that he didn’t believe the doctrine or even understand consequences. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be baptized. He just feared being submerged.”10
It is crucial, therefore, that we listen carefully to understand the true intent of a student or child’s concern or question and then respond with a desire to love and help. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, was the perfect example of one who allowed His followers “opportunities to ask their own questions and share their own insights, and He responded to their questions and listened to their experiences. Because of His love, they felt safe sharing their thoughts and personal feelings.”11 Who knows, brothers and sisters, what sacred truths might have been omitted in John, chapter 14, for example, had Thomas, Philip, and Judas not felt comfortable asking the Savior some very significant questions.12
Teach and Testify
Second, we help those with questions when we teach and testify of truth. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminded us that understanding and edification are more likely to occur when we measure “modern practices and proposals against what we know of God’s plan and the premises given in the word of God and the teachings of His living prophets.”13
I could share with you many examples of teachers who have used the framework of God’s plan to teach and testify of gospel truths, but today I would like to share an example of one of our youth.
Sydney Squires was a 15-year-old high school student when she had an opportunity to help someone learn truth earlier this year. One of her nonmember friends approached her with a challenging question—one many of us have been asked: “Why would a loving God allow trials and difficulties to come into our lives? If He truly loves us, why would He allow so much suffering?”
Sydney wrote her friend a letter in response. Five pages and 2,600 words later, she had taught her friend truths about our first and second estate, the Resurrection and Judgment, and the true character of our Heavenly Father.
I want you to hear about her experience in her own words:
Sydney Squires: “Since I was in fifth grade, I’ve been especially—I’ve been technically special ed. because of my stutter, my speech disorder. I’m not going to lie; my stutter is a greater challenge than you would originally think, and it affects the way I interact with everyone, from strangers to friends to role models to teachers. It’s embarrassing. It’s frustrating. It’s hard. And I just wanted my friend to know that I understood what it was like to have those challenges. I wanted her to know that Heavenly Father created a plan that helps us understand the truth behind why trials are allowed. And this is the testimony I wrote her:
“‘God is God, and if He wanted, He could change people and their actions, but He loves us and respects our agency. Learning how to choose is part of making our way back to Him. You have to understand that progression is eternal. One does not simply walk into Mordor, after all, and one does not simply become worthy of God’s presence overnight. It is a lifelong improvement and process.
“‘The scriptures have always helped me greatly. Exodus 14:13–14 states:
“‘“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew [unto] you to day. …
“‘“The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.”
“‘The idea of my tribulations being lifted by the Lord, who is fighting for you—not standing, not watching, but fighting for us—that brings me peace. The idea that I am so valuable that God would fight for me—I just can’t believe how lucky we are, despite our trials, as desperate and heavy as they are. God is out there, and He loves you.
“‘How do I know this? For one, the entire scriptures are a testimony of this, and so is the earth around us. But there is one scripture in particular I would like to point out. It’s in chapter 7 of Alma, verses 11 through 13: “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind. …” This scripture talks about more than just our sins; it’s about our pains, sicknesses, deaths, and our infirmities. Because of this Atonement, He knows how to succor us. And when struggles are placed in your life, Jesus Christ placed them in His too. And I promise He understands every one of your struggles exactly and that He knows you personally. I promise this with every fiber of my being, and I know I’m only 15 and just a girl, but I know that He lives and that this is all true, and I know that He loves you more than is humanly possible to imagine.
Isn’t she incredible!
Brothers and sisters, this is a great example of teaching doctrine simply and clearly from the scriptures, examining the question in the context of the plan of salvation, and bearing a testimony that expresses confidence in God’s promise to bless us.
Third, we must invite those with questions to act. A good first step, prior to inviting them to act, is to remind them of experiences they’ve had when they felt the Holy Ghost and to hold fast to the truth they have learned.14
Elder Paul Johnson reinforced this principle when he taught us, “The real protection for us and our students is in having the powerful spiritual knowledge that comes from proper seeking and learning and from past spiritual experiences.”15
The Apostle Paul clearly understood this principle. His counsel to Timothy for living in perilous times when “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived,” was simply to “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them.”16
Young people who remember past spiritual experiences will be more likely to respond to invitations to learn “by study and … by faith”17—“by study” when they turn to the scriptures and words of the prophets for answers, and “by faith” when they petition the Lord through prayers and demonstrate obedience through righteous living.
Brother Tom Valletta, director of our Curriculum Department, shared a story recently that demonstrates the need to invite youth and young adults to act upon gospel truths after they’ve been reminded of past spiritual experiences:
One day the Church operator forwarded a phone call to Brother Valletta from someone who was troubled about Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy. It was his initial opinion that the Church was hiding such things from its members. As Brother Valletta began to talk, the caller stopped him and asked, “Is this President Valletta?”
The young man had recognized the voice of his former mission president almost immediately. He eventually told Brother Valletta who he was and asked, “President, are you familiar with the claims against Joseph Smith?”
As soon as Brother Valletta acknowledged that he was familiar with the history and was not bothered by it, the former missionary said he too was satisfied and would likewise not be concerned. Just hearing his president confirm the truth was enough to remind this good elder of past spiritual experiences.
That’s not where this good mission president stopped, however. Upon further inquiry he discovered that the young man had grown casual in his personal worship and had not been praying, reading the scriptures, or serving in the Church. The phone call ended with a commitment for the young man to visit with his bishop, begin praying, and seriously study the Book of Mormon. An appointment was made, and several weeks later the two met over lunch, where the young man reported that he had followed through on his promise. Brother Valletta tried to present a file containing information that addressed the young man’s earlier concerns, but the young man seemed disinterested. He was only concerned about sharing the experiences he recently had with the Book of Mormon.
Finally, brothers and sisters, after listening, testifying, and inviting the youth and young adults with questions to act, it is imperative that we remember to follow up, as illustrated in Brother Valletta’s story. There is a well-known business adage that states, “The fortune is in the follow up.”18 How unfortunate it would be, brothers and sisters, if our young people sensed that their issues really didn’t matter to us because we failed to follow up. You will remember that Elder M. Russell Ballard reminded us in general conference of a great analogy found in Preach My Gospel: “Extending an invitation without following up is like beginning a journey without finishing it or buying a ticket to a concert without going into the theater. Without the completed action, the commitment is hollow.”19
Incidentally, the Book of Mormon concludes with an invitation for all to “come unto Christ.”20 It is our prerogative, therefore, to follow up on that invitation by teaching the Doctrine and Covenants’s message to “prepare ye, prepare ye for that which is to come, for the Lord is nigh.”21
Brothers and sisters, I know these are perilous times, as prophesied by the Apostle Paul, but I also know they are the fulness of times as spoken by the prophet Peter.22 Living in the fulness of times, our youth have never had more access to truth, and we’ve never been better prepared to teach it. I know that as our youth and young adults learn to discern correctly and seek to establish themselves in gospel truth—like my six-year-old daughter did—they will feel calm instead of threatened, secure instead of unstable, and steady, strong, and sure instead of uncertain. May we help these “seekers after truth”23 with their sincere questions by more effectively listening, teaching and testifying, inviting, and following up is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2014 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/14. “Seekers after Truth.” English. PD10051052 000
1. 2 Nephi 9:28.
2. Neil L. Andersen, “A Classroom of Faith, Hope, and Charity” (evening with Elder Neil L. Andersen, Feb. 28, 2014); lds.org/broadcasts.
3. J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. (booklet, 1994; address to religious educators, Aug. 8, 1938), 3.
4. Quentin L. Cook, “Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, 90.
5. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, 23.
7. See Marcos A. Aidukaitis, “If Ye Lack Wisdom,” Ensign, May 2014, 108.
8. See Julian Treasure, “Five Ways to Listen Better” (July 2011); www.ted.com/talks/julian_treasure_5_ways_to_listen_better.
9. David A. Bednar, “A Discussion with Elder David A. Bednar”(Seminaries and Institutes of Religion satellite broadcast, Aug. 2, 2011).
10. Paul V. Johnson, “Helping with the Real Issues” (evening with Elder Neil L. Andersen, Feb. 28, 2014); lds.org/broadcasts.
11. Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2012), v.
12. See John 14:5, 8, 22.
13. Dallin H. Oaks, “As He Thinketh in His Heart” (evening with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Feb. 8, 2013); lds.org/broadcasts.
14. See Jeffrey R. Holland, “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013, 93–95.
15. Paul V. Johnson, “A Pattern for Learning Spiritual Things,” (Seminaries and Institutes of Religion satellite broadcast, Aug. 7, 2012).
16. 2 Timothy 3:13–14.
18. See Glenn Thompson, “The Fortune Is in the Follow Up!”; www.campaignercrm.com/en/community/blog/crm/post/the-fortune-is-in-the-follow-up/.
19. Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service (2004), 200; quoted in M. Russell Ballard, “Following Up,” Ensign, May 2014, 79.
20. Moroni 10:30.
23. J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course of the Church in Education, 3.