“The Only Way to Be Happy”: Pat Holland


It was a real feeling of fear, she explained, that gave her “more than the usual desire to be ‘in’.” When Pat Terry Holland was 16, she moved with her family from a small rural town to a larger city. Recalling the anguish of that experience, she said, “I felt overly sensitive, very awkward, afraid, and unaccepted. I remember being really hurt at that time because my fear and hesitancy was mistaken for conceit and stand-offishness. It hurt so much to have people think I was stuck-up just because I was afraid to be outgoing and friendly.”

This timid young girl, in spite of her beauty, her intelligence, and the strength of her family, experienced the anguish of feeling left out and alone. She was hurting inside. “If I could just be really popular,” she had thought, “that would help me feel confident and happy. If I could just be a class officer, if I could be a cheerleader, if I could enter a queen contest and win, then I would be a really happy teenager.” These thoughts kept flooding her mind at that time when it appeared to her that no one else was suffering those terrible left-out feelings.

Years later, and still looking like a queen, but now more confident and happy, this young mother recalls those times as she relives and suffers a bit with her own children who are now facing the challenges that are so much a part of growing up. “You know,” she said happily, “all of those things did eventually come to me (class officer, cheerleader, and campus queen), and they did bring a lot of attention. But to my great surprise, I discovered that they, in and of themselves, were very empty experiences.”

She now draws strength from a more lasting and dependable resource, she explained: “Those honors, while rewarding, did not bring the real confidence and happiness that I was sure they would.”

There is unquestioning evidence that somewhere along the way Sister Holland has found the key, the source, and the secret to confidence and happiness. Her dark brown eyes radiate joy, peace, anticipation, and enthusiasm as she shares her thoughts and feelings so freely.

“What is it?” I asked, eager to hear her tell of what is better than those things she had one time yearned for so much.

“Well,” she said, her expression intense, her voice soft, but confident, “I remember once being very inspired by a talk given by President N. Eldon Tanner. He quoted from the scriptures, ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven.’ I realized then, even at a rather young age, that if I would seek first the kingdom of heaven, everything else would be added unto me. That left a great impression on my mind,” she explained. She also remembered the theme from Mutual that year and recited it with conviction: “‘Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers’ (D&C 112:10). That I clung to like it was gold,” she said, clasping her hands in front of her.

Sister Holland spoke of another very memorable experience that became “a real turning point in my life.” She said, “My parents had allowed me to come to Salt Lake City and live with a group of girls for the summer while I worked. They were all about my age. We had many happy times together, but in our apartment at one time we felt despondency and discouragement, and I remember feeling it so strongly one day that I decided to fast and pray about how to be happy, how to find the peace and security and confidence that a person needs. That evening my roommates and I decided to go to a movie. We first went to a grocery store to get some treats to take with us. At the store we pulled our car in right next to Elder ElRay L. Christiansen, then an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He walked right over to our car. He chatted with each one of us. He seemed very interested and asked us our names. I was so excited, I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.”

As if she were reliving that experience and sensing again the impact of that memorable occasion, she bore testimony: “Just before Elder Christiansen got ready to leave, he paused, looked right at me, and said, ‘Pat, the only way to be happy is to be obedient.’”

There was silence for a moment, each pondering the magnitude of this simple counsel and the direct answer to fervent prayer. She recalled her feelings on that occasion, “First of all, just to see a General Authority was a highlight in my life. It was the first time I had ever had any personal contact with Church leaders like that.”

This young girl, anxious to find the right answers and inspired by the counsel of a General Authority, had no way of knowing then that later, as the wife of Jeffrey Holland, former Church Commissioner of Education and now President of Brigham Young University, she would find herself in close and frequent association with many of the General Authorities. “To have my prayers answered so directly was another turning point in my life,” she said. “I realized right then and there that truly the greatest thing that I could cling to, the only way to be confident and happy, is to be obedient and live by the Spirit.”

While yet a teenager she discovered “there is just no substitute for obedience.” While obedience had not been a struggle for Pat, still the impact of receiving such an immediate and direct answer to her earnest supplication, and to receive it from one of the Lord’s chosen servants, a General Authority in person, was just more than she had ever hoped for.

Pat met Jeffrey Holland between her junior and senior year at high school. With a twinkle in her eye, she expressed much more of that sweet relationship than was spoken. “And that continues to be the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she said enthusiastically. “He continually amazes me, and it’s a wonderful privilege and blessing to be his wife.” Feeling the joy and happiness that she was expressing made it difficult to realize that she had ever had youthful feelings of discouragement or fear.

Speaking of their early friendship, she recalled that when he left for his mission, they so wanted to have a “forever kind of love.” Together they decided that they would do three things that would unite them even in his absence: (1) Read the scriptures every day. (2) Fast once a week. (3) Pray really often. “These have become habits that we have continued to this day,” she said humbly and gratefully, thinking of the far-reaching rewards of that early decision that kept them close while they were far away.

Her countenance and the tone of testimony in her voice gave me reason to believe that the unlimited reservoir from which she now draws strength and confidence has been filled through diligent obedience to this early commitment that has now become a habit. “And has that taken away all of the difficult times?” I inquired, since the spirit in her home seemed to be so peaceful and void of any stress. “Oh, no, not always,” she said, smiling. “I remember one time I had become very concerned,” she confessed. “I felt the pressures were great. For the first dozen years of our married life, Jeff was either a student or a teacher. We moved 12 times in 13 years. One of those moves was to Connecticut.”

At this time her young husband was a student at Yale University working on his Ph.D. He felt the pressure to do well as one of the very few Mormon students there. He was called to serve as counselor in the stake presidency, which required considerable travel within the boundaries of a very large stake. He also taught institute at Yale, which helped supplement their meager income. Sister Holland was called at that time to be the ward Relief Society president. She had two small babies. “The pressure was so great, I really wanted to give up,” she admitted. “It wasn’t easy.” Thinking back to her husband’s counsel, which seemed so hard to follow at that time, she explained: “He knew of my concerns and gave me direction.”

“Read your scriptures more meaningfully,” he gently but fervently counseled his young wife. “Because,” he said, “the only way we will survive (feeling considerable pressure himself) is through spirituality. We will survive through the strength of the Spirit.”

She said, “I tried hard to follow my husband’s counsel in righteousness, but I remember thinking, ‘That’s easier said than done.’” With the lesson on obedience deeply anchored in her soul, she was prepared to try. In an attempt to do just what he said, hard as it was, she told of fasting and praying one day. “His words kept coming to my mind about reading the scriptures more meaningfully. I remember walking over to my scriptures with the attitude, okay, we’ll just see if there’s something to this. And of course there was. The answers were there.”

Now, leaning forward, she spoke reverently of that very special experience: “That’s how the Lord uses the scriptures to talk to us,” she said. “He can’t be everywhere in person, but he guides us as we diligently search the scriptures, and he knows at what point in our lives certain passages will have meaning for us. That way he can provide the answers to things we earnestly seek.” Again she repeated, “That’s how the Lord uses the scriptures to talk to us.

“Truly, that was another turning point,” she said. In following her husband’s counsel, the scriptures had provided the answers she so much needed at that time. “It’s not always easy,” she explained in a cheerful, happy tone. “We’ll continue to have challenges and we’ll continue to be purified, but the time of greatest challenge is also the time of greatest spiritual blessings.”

“What kind of blessings?” I asked.

She paused thoughtfully, and while I waited for her response, I observed the beauties of her home and thought of her many and varied accomplishments. Her beautiful grand piano reminded me of her exceptional musical gifts and talents. She began her musical training very young and at one time was encouraged to go east and study, which she did briefly. But then she realized that she had to make some important choices.

“I faced what a lot of young women face—the choice between a career and marriage. I made the right decision. I have a wonderful husband, three beautiful children, and some music. My music alone would be a poor substitute for my family I love with all my heart.”

Speaking of that incident she said warmly, “Jeff was my first choice!”

Of his wife Brother Holland says, “She’s incredible! Absolutely stunning! She can lift an entire day’s burden with the curl of her smile and dry a child’s tear with one touch. She refuses to speak ill of anyone, trying always to understand and empathize and forgive. She’s funny and free and full of faith. I’ve never known a more spiritual, more disciplined, more gentle woman all rolled up in one beautiful package.”

Now interrupting the brief silence, Sister Holland was ready with her response. “About the blessings,” she said, “the greatest ones are really not tangible. It’s that peace and happiness and confidence that I was speaking of before.” Then, clasping her hands together to give emphasis to her response, she explained, “It’s a oneness with each other, with our children, with our neighbors, and with God. It’s as though the windows of heaven have been opened.” She glanced upward. The spirit of her message could be felt. She spoke of all the gloriously happy times with her husband and her beautiful children.

To be near Sister Holland is to experience the radiance of a truly good and happy person. She seemed so confident and at peace, I was prompted to ask just one more question: “Sister Holland, do you have any particular concerns at this time?” Her countenance changed. “Yes,” she said, “I’m saddened by some of the philosophies I hear. I hope our young people and everyone can sacrifice enough to receive the blessings, to give up things that might seem important right now for the greater things. I hope we will always be willing to pay that kind of price and in return receive the boundless blessings that are promised.” There was evidence of her intense desire for everyone to be happy, and her personal knowledge of the key to this great blessing is something she is so anxious to share.

Sister Holland, as a leader and teacher of youth, reaches out with deep love and understanding. She has genuine concern for their confidence and happiness—just as she had for herself at that age. As a final expression by way of testimony, she emphatically concluded, “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven; there is no other way.”

[photos] Photos by Eldon Linschoten