I am grateful to be with you young adults who are viewing this devotional from locations across the world. As has been noted, this devotional is originating in the chapel immediately adjacent to the Washington D.C. Temple. I purposely chose this location because it is next to the temple. I am so grateful that we live in a time when temples are spread across the world. We need the blessings of the temple in these very difficult times.
The world literally seems to be in commotion.1 There is a level of contention that is unprecedented. Peace of mind and feelings of security can seem elusive and even unobtainable. My message to you this evening is that we should not have fear even in a dangerous and troubled world. The scriptures assure us that we can have complete joy because of the Savior.2
There are certain wonderful events that many of you have etched in your hearts and minds in a very positive way. You can remember every detail of the event. Examples might include opening the envelope that contains a mission call, a sealing to a spouse in the temple, the recognition that the Holy Ghost has witnessed to your soul the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. These are the kinds of cherished events that bring not only a rewarding but a lasting joy. It is interesting that individual events that in any way relate to the Savior are usually the ones that bring the greatest joy.
But there are some events that are so shocking, or traumatic, that they impact us in a profound way.
The fall of the Berlin Wall, the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy, and the terrorist attacks on 9/11 are examples of shocking events where people can remember exactly where they were and how they felt when they heard the news.
Most of you would have been quite young when the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon, here in the Washington D.C. area, occurred on this very day, September 11, 2001, 15 years ago. I suspect most of you (regardless of where you live across the world) can remember where you were and the feelings of shock and dismay that you and those around you experienced. It was an event that destroyed the sense of peace and heightened feelings of vulnerability for many. As I have described in the past, it had particular significance for me and my wife, Mary.
Our oldest son and his wife were expecting their first child and lived three blocks from the World Trade Center in New York City when the first plane, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the North Tower. They went to the roof of their apartment building and were horrified as they watched the consequences of what they thought was a terrible accident. As they witnessed the second hijacked plane crash into the South Tower, they realized that this was no accident and believed lower Manhattan was under continuing attack. When the South Tower collapsed, their apartment building was engulfed in the debris that rained down over lower Manhattan.
Confused and terrified at what they had witnessed, and concerned about further attacks, they made their way to a safer area and then to the Manhattan Stake church building at Lincoln Center. When they arrived, they found that dozens of other members in lower Manhattan had made the same decision to gather at the stake center. We were relieved when they called to let us know where they were and that they were safe. We were not surprised at their location because modern revelation teaches that the stakes of Zion are “a defense, and … a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.”3 They were not allowed to return to their apartment for over a week and were devastated by the loss of innocent lives, but they personally suffered no permanent physical damage.
The plane that crashed into the Pentagon near where we are tonight, Washington D.C., was also a terrorist suicide mission with similar devastating results.
My purpose this evening is not to have you dwell on terrible events from the past. I want you to emphasize the joyful kinds of events I described at the beginning. But I also want to help you contemplate the trials, tribulations, and dangers that you either face or fear you will face in your individual lives. Some may be events that affect large numbers of people, others will be personal to you. I have decided to address three types of events: those that involve physical dangers; those that involve special challenges, some of which are unique to your day; and, finally, those that involve spiritual dangers and challenges.
Physical Dangers or Challenges
Physical dangers are the easiest to see and identify. Regardless of how or where you access your daily news, physical dangers, violence, and tragedy are the first reported—particularly on television and the Internet. One reason for this is that violence and death are very dramatic and usually are easy to portray visually as well as in writing. Violence and death, whether near or far away, capture our attention and can destroy our peace and tranquility. When we do not feel safe physically, we feel personally vulnerable.
Last March 22nd, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in the Brussels, Belgium, airport. Four of our missionaries were at the Delta checkout counter. All of them suffered significant injuries; some were very serious. A senior missionary, Elder Richard Norby’s injuries were very serious. Recently he indicated that while life will never be quite the same, “he has chosen to rely on the Lord and not fear.” He further said, “I’m going to live my life, and I’m going to teach my children and grandchildren that we [must] put our trust in God.”4
The Lord has emphasized that even those who lose their life, having been faithful to their covenants, “shall find it again, even life eternal.”5
I was touched by the comments of Sister Fanny Clain, one of the other missionaries who suffered injuries from the Brussels airport bombing. She said, “Passing through these kinds of things makes me better understand people, because people have really hard things in their lives, so now I’ve had hard things, too, so I can understand more.” In working through her recovery, she said, “When we choose to trust in God, we can see how He helps us and how extraordinary it is. I trust in Him more now than before.” She is particularly grateful that she has been able to continue her mission.6
In our premortal existence we knew that agency and opposition were necessary in order to grow, develop, and ultimately receive exaltation.
In the premortal council in heaven, the Father’s plan included agency as an essential element. Lucifer rebelled “and sought to destroy the agency of man.”7 Accordingly, the privilege of having a mortal body was denied Satan and those who followed him.
Other premortal spirits exercised their agency in following Heavenly Father’s plan. Spirits blessed by birth to this mortal life continue to have agency. We are free to choose and act but not free to control the consequences of our choices. Hence, our choices determine happiness or misery in this life and in the life to come. “Choices of good[ness] and righteousness lead to happiness, peace, and eternal life, while choices of sin and evil eventually lead to heartache and misery.”8
We cannot blame circumstances or others for a decision to act contrary to God’s commandments. We are all responsible and accountable to God for how we develop Christlike attributes, talents, and abilities, and we are responsible for how we utilize the time allotted to us in this existence.
The doctrine of opposition is closely related to and sometimes viewed as part of the doctrine of agency. But because opposition often comes from outside sources or third parties, it is helpful to view it separately. This doctrine is succinctly set forth by the prophet Lehi in 2 Nephi 2:11: “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, … righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”
Lehi goes on to explain that this doctrine is so important that without it “there would have been no purpose in … creation” and “the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes, and also the power, and the mercy, and the justice of God” would be destroyed.9
Lehi continues, “Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.”10
We knew in the premortal existence that the exercise of agency could result in opposition and conflict—the war in heaven is evidence of this truth. We knew that in addition to war and violence there would be significant sinful conduct across the entire world. We also knew that Jesus Christ was willing to pay the price for these sins. His suffering, which was beyond comprehension, would result in victory over sin and spiritual death. His Resurrection would overcome physical death. We had confidence that following mortal death, we would all live again. As we read in Preach My Gospel:
“This triumph of Jesus Christ over spiritual death by His suffering and over physical death by His Resurrection is called the Atonement. …
“As we rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ, He can help us endure our trials, sicknesses, and pain. We can be filled with joy, peace, and consolation. All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”11
The terrible experiences of our members soon after the Church was established in Missouri brought these principles of the Atonement into clear focus. Our doctrinal values were in direct conflict with the Missouri settlers not of our faith. Many Missourians considered American Indians a relentless enemy and wanted them removed from the land. In addition, many of the Missouri settlers were slave owners and felt threatened by those who were opposed to slavery. Many were in search of land, wealth, and even power.
In contrast, our doctrine respected the American Indians and our desire was to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ. With respect to slavery, our scriptures are clear that no man should be in bondage to another. Our relatively few early black members at that time worshipped together with white members, as they do today. Finally, our purpose was not to obtain wealth but to establish communities of brothers and sisters that loved one another and lived the principles the Savior taught. Other Missouri settlers felt threatened as large numbers of Saints, following the Lord’s revelations, moved to Missouri.12
This resulted in immense conflict and persecution for members of the Church. The Saints’ opponents destroyed their crops and some buildings, robbed livestock and personal property, and drove them from their homes. Some Saints were tarred and feathered, whipped, or beaten. Writing to Joseph Smith, who was living in Kirtland, Ohio, William W. Phelps stated, “It is a horrid time, men, women and children are fleeing, or preparing to [flee], in all directions.”13 In the chaos of the expulsion, families were sometimes divided and many Saints lacked food and other supplies. Church members struggled to understand why they had been driven after the Lord had commanded them to gather together in Missouri. After he received the devastating news, Joseph Smith prayed to understand. The Lord responded with this comforting message, now found in Doctrine and Covenants 101:35–36:
“And all they who suffer persecution for my name, and endure in faith, though they are called to lay down their lives for my sake yet shall they partake of all this glory.
“Wherefore, fear not even unto death; for in this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.”
The Lord has also promised us that the reward of righteousness is “peace in this [life], and eternal life in the world to come.”14
Thus the Savior’s Atonement allows us to have peace and tranquility even when there are physical dangers.
Special Challenges, Some of Which Are Unique to Your Day
As young adults, in addition to physical challenges, you have special challenges, and some are unique to your day. You are concerned about decisions relating to education, employment, marriage, and family. The doctrinal implications of these decisions have been addressed in many talks and are fairly well understood. The Savior, in paying the penalty for our sins, did not relieve us of personal responsibility for how we live our lives. The value of work, industriousness, laboring with our might, improving our talents, and providing for families have been universally proclaimed in scriptures from the beginning. In Genesis the Lord declared, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.”15
I believe these doctrinal concepts are widely accepted by members. However, in a complex world there is much confusion about how to implement these principles.
In my first general conference address, 20 years ago, I shared a somewhat humorous personal account that relates directly to these issues.16
When our children were small, my wife, Mary, and I decided to follow a tradition which my father taught when I was a child. He would meet with me and my siblings individually to help us set goals in various aspects of our lives and teach us how Church, school, and extracurricular activities would help us achieve these goals. He had three rules:
We needed to have worthwhile goals.
We could change our goals at any time.
We had to diligently work toward whatever goal we chose.
Having been the beneficiary of this tradition, Mary and I decided to engage in this practice with our children. When our son Larry was five years old, I asked him what he wanted to do for an occupation when he grew up. He said he wanted to become a doctor, like his Uncle Joe.17 Larry had experienced a serious operation and had acquired great respect for doctors, especially his Uncle Joe. I proceeded to tell Larry how all the worthwhile things he was doing would help prepare him to perform the work of a doctor.
Several months later, I asked him again what he would like to do when he grew up. This time he said he wanted to be an airline pilot. Changing the goal was fine, so I proceeded to explain how his various activities would help him achieve this goal. Almost as an afterthought, I said, “Larry, last time we talked you wanted to become a doctor. What has changed your mind?” He answered, “I think being a doctor would be good, but I have noticed that Uncle Joe works on Saturday mornings, and I wouldn’t want to miss Saturday morning cartoons.”
Since that time our family has labeled a distraction from a worthwhile goal as a Saturday morning cartoon.
There are two principles I desire to stress from this true account. The first is how you plan and prepare to achieve worthwhile goals in today’s world, and the second is the impact of the Internet and social media on our righteous goals. Each of these could be the Saturday morning cartoons that distract us from the joy we desire.
I am particularly concerned about how many young adults fail to set righteous goals or have a plan to achieve them. I am also concerned that many underestimate and devalue their own talents and capabilities. Resolving these two issues will bring much joy into your life.
A recent book by Professor Angela Duckworth, titled Grit, presents a compelling case that many, if not most, people overvalue so-called native ability and undervalue hard work and grit. She makes the case that success of all kinds is distinguished more by a good work ethic than by pure intelligence or ability. She points out that people with determination and direction (which she also calls passion and perseverance) consistently perform better than those with natural ability who do not have the same grit.18
When I was young I inadvertently became aware of a student’s mental capability test score, which was slightly below average. I observed him through school without saying anything to anyone. He took hard classes and studied diligently. In college he would sometimes be in two or three study groups for the same class. He ultimately obtained an advanced degree in a rigorous and exacting field and achieved significant breakthroughs in his specialty.
Now, I am not suggesting that everyone should achieve academically, but I am suggesting you can meet many of your righteous, worthwhile goals with planning, grit, and determination, especially if you eliminate the Saturday morning cartoons of life. You can also find more joy and happiness in your life.
I want to assure you that you can do hard things. Elder John B. Dickson, a marvelous Seventy, now emeritus, who served with distinction all over the world, demonstrated this in a fun and unusual way. Elder Dickson was called to serve as an LDS missionary in Mexico in 1962. Before he departed, he was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right arm. He was not expected to live more than a month. However, 10 months later he left to serve his assigned mission, having had his arm amputated.19 I will never forget how he taught missionaries at the MTC that they could do hard things. He invited four missionaries to come up to the stand and compete with him in a tie-tying contest. Think about tying a tie with one arm! I recently asked Elder Dickson to demonstrate. Let’s watch.
Elder John B. Dickson:[Tying a tie.] You know we all have challenges in our lives. Sometimes they are physical or emotional or economic or many other types, and if we’ll just be positive and keep the rules, have faith in the Lord, have faith in ourselves, we can handle anything that comes along. I guess we can even tie our tie. Would anybody like to have a race or a wrestling match?
Thank you, John.
At the MTC, Elder Dickson defeated all four of the missionaries, using his teeth, his shoulders, and his chest in a marvelous way. Please know that you can overcome adversity and do hard things.
Professor Duckworth notes that “enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.”20
One of the studies she cites emphasizes the importance of active preparation for life, including perseverance, tenacity, doggedness, and the “tendency not to abandon tasks in the face of obstacles.”21
She also extols having a higher purpose that contributes to the well-being of others.22 She states:
“Fortunate indeed are those who have a top-level goal so consequential to the world that it imbues everything they do, no matter how small or tedious, with significance. Consider the parable of the bricklayers:
“Three bricklayers are asked: ‘What are you doing?’
“The first says, ‘I am laying bricks.’
“The second says, ‘I am building a church.’
“And the third says, ‘I am building the house of God.’
“The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling.”23
My challenge to you tonight is to examine your goals and determine which ones will allow you to fulfill family obligations and keep you on your covenant pathway and allow you to have the joy the Lord wants for you. Remember, having a goal allows you to save time and effort by planning ahead and not missing important prerequisites and deadlines.
I now turn to the impact of the Internet and social media on decisions.
The Internet and social media contribute so much good to our modern society. They have great value! They can also be the Saturday morning cartoons that distract us from accomplishing our true calling in mortal life.
My earnest plea is that all of us will evaluate how and when we use the Internet and social media. The bright-line test should be: Does it assist our other worthy and important goals, or does it seriously impede our progress? Are we obsessed with social media for fear of missing out if we don’t check it constantly? Does the self-promotion of some social media cause us to have self-doubt and feel inadequate? Worse yet, does the Internet lead us to images and content that is impure, inappropriate, or contains half-truths that destroy faith? Do we ever hide our identity and subject others to unkind comments or opinions? Does social media interfere with the time we would normally spend with religious observance in the home or quality family time? Is the amount of time spent on the Internet with games and trivia preventing us from effectively pursuing serious goals? These are decisions I challenge each of us to contemplate, make adjustments, and repent where necessary to bless our lives.
In mentioning the above, I am fully cognizant of the enormous benefits that social media can be when used properly. Its contribution to family history alone makes it clear to me that the Lord has inspired this technology.
After I have finished speaking, I will post this portion of my talk on my Facebook page. I would like to have you share with me your concerns about social media but also how social media is blessing your life.
I also want to leave you with one additional thought on this subject. We hear a lot about being authentic in social media. Being sincerely Christlike is an even more important goal than being authentic. Let me say this once again: Being sincerely Christlike is an even more important goal than being authentic.
I now turn to spiritual challenges.
One of the most vital responsibilities in this life is to make and keep sacred covenants with God. This requires that we examine unworthy desires and separate ourselves from them. We also examine inappropriate expectations that we consciously or unconsciously place upon Deity. We regularly seek to learn God’s will for us. We continually refocus on faith, repentance, and saving ordinances. The Savior, who paid a price for all of us beyond what we can fully comprehend, did not achieve the Atonement so we can concentrate on non-eternal materialistic goals or, for that matter, frivolous, self-indulgent fun and games. Think about the Lord’s purpose when He stated, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”24
Some seem to say or imply, “Wouldn’t a loving Father in Heaven be satisfied if I am less than I ought to be? Would He really deny me blessings just because I like to drink alcohol and coffee?” Unfortunately, that is the wrong question and displays a lack of understanding of the Father’s plan. The real question is “How can I be the righteous, loving person my Father and the Savior would want me to be?” The scriptures declare, “[Where] much is given much is required.”25
In a world where rewards and trophies are often received for merely participating, standards and expectations may seem unfair or even cruel. This is particularly true for those who insist on following their own path without complying with the Father’s plan, regardless of the consequences.
Many justify sinful conduct and use as their defense, “Jesus taught us to love everyone.” This, of course, is true, but often those who advocate this position seem inclined to ignore His equally important admonition, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”26
It is not appropriate for us to negotiate the terms of our relationship with the Godhead. Having a broken heart and contrite spirit is the initial requirement for starting on the covenant pathway initiated by baptism. Humble supplication to Deity is called for. As we are taught by King Benjamin: “For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have … of every kind?”27
Our challenges can be difficult, and some can even be unfair. They cause our hearts to ache and our sympathies to be extended. This is true of infirmities and diseases that impact our very being. It includes those who are innocent and have been abused. It includes poverty and violence that saturates the environment into which we were born. It includes impulses and inclinations that we perhaps did not choose. We lament addictions that result from a single bad choice; there is much that can be unfair or unjust in this world.
What is our response? We must be kind and compassionate and treat everyone with respect, even when they choose a path that we know is not consistent with the Father’s plan and the Savior’s teachings. But if we really want to be kind, we must also teach repentance. It is not kind, and we don’t do anyone a favor, when we refrain from urging those we love to change their lives and accept the Savior’s Atonement. There are incredible, eternal blessings that await those who repent.
The Savior Himself made this clear in speaking to the Nephites when He said, concerning those who would repent, “Him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.”28 He went on to say, “And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.”29
Please know that you can become clean. You can find the joy you desire in this life. No one should leave this devotional and assume you are beyond redemption. You are not. At your core you are a child of God. You can have hope and joy. You can change your heart and repent. You can forgive and be forgiven.
Repentance is vital to the Father’s plan. In the Book of Mormon, we learn the relationship between mercy and justice. Christ establishes how mercy and justice meet.30
I love the optimistic words penned by Eliza R. Snow:
The glorious plan of happiness is just and merciful. We know where we came from, why we are here in this life, and where we will go after we die.
You are a magnificent generation. The scriptures are clear that in the last days there will be “wickedness and abominations.”32 However, the Saints, small in number and scattered upon all the face of the earth, will be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”33 The Lord promised that He will “preserve the righteous” and we “need not fear.”34
You need not be afraid, despite the dangers and challenges you will face. You will be blessed and protected when you seek righteous, worthwhile goals. Plan and work with grit and determination, avoid inappropriate use of social media and the Internet, and rely and focus on faith, repentance, saving ordinances, and the Savior’s atoning sacrifice as you endure to the end. Focusing on the temple will help you achieve these goals.
To paraphrase Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” You can avoid the Saturday morning cartoons of life and enjoy and achieve all that the Savior has promised us.
I solemnly testify of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Because of Him we need not fear, for in Him our joy is full. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 6/16. “‘Fear Not … in Me Your Joy Is Full’ (D&C 101:36).” English. PD60002153 000
2. See Doctrine and Covenants 101:35–38.
4. “Fear Won’t Stop Me,” Church News, Aug. 7, 2016, 9.
6. “‘Ready to Get Going’: Brussels Bombing Victim Serving in Ohio,” Church News, June 5, 2016, 7.
7. Moses 4:3.
8. True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference (2004), 12.
9. 2 Nephi 2:12.
10. 2 Nephi 2:16.
11. Preach My Gospel: A guide to Missionary Service (2004), 52.
12. On the conflict in Missouri, see Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, Brent M. Rodgers, Grant Underwood, Robert J. Woodford, and William G. Hartley, eds., Documents, Volume 3: February 1833–March 1834, vol. 3 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin, and Matthew J. Grow (Salt Lake City:
Church Historian’s Press, 2014), xxvii–xxx.
13. Letter from William W. Phelps to Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, Nov. 6–7, 1833, in Gerrit J. Dirkmaat and others, eds., Documents, Volume 3: February 1833–March 1834, vol. 3 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers (2014), 341.
15. Genesis 3:19.
16. See Quentin L. Cook, “Rejoice!” Ensign, Nov. 1996, 29.
17. My brother, Dr. Joseph V. Cook Jr., is still a practicing physician at 81 years of age. During this time he was Larry’s doctor and stake president.
18. Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016), 8.
19. See “Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 77.
20. Duckworth, Grit, 58.
21. Duckworth, Grit, 77; citing a 1926 study by Stanford psychologist Catharine Cox.
22. Duckworth, Grit, 143.
23. Duckworth, Grit, 149.
24. Moses 1:39.
26. John 14:15.
27. Mosiah 4:19.
28. 3 Nephi 27:16.
29. 3 Nephi 27:19.
30. See Alma 42:24–25.
31. Eliza R. Snow, “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” Hymns, no. 195.
32. 1 Nephi 14:12.
33. 1 Nephi 14:14.
34. 1 Nephi 22:17.