Jeffrey R. Holland, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
I think of newly called missionaries leaving family and friends to face, on occasion, some rejection and some discouragement and, at least in the beginning, a moment or two of homesickness and perhaps a little fear.
I think of young mothers and fathers who are faithfully having their families while still in school--or just newly out--trying to make ends meet even as they hope for a brighter financial future someday. At the same time, I think of other parents who would give any earthly possession they own to have a wayward child return.
I think of single parents who face all of this but face it alone, having confronted death or divorce, alienation or abandonment, or some other misfortune they had not foreseen in happier days and certainly had not wanted.
I think of those who want to be married and aren't, those who desire to have children and cannot, those who have acquaintances but very few friends, those who are grieving over the death of a loved one or are themselves ill with disease.
I think of those who suffer from sin--their own or someone else's--who need to know there is a way back and that happiness can be restored. I think of the disconsolate and downtrodden who feel life has passed them by, or now wish that it would pass them by.
To all of these and so many more, I say: Cling to your faith. Hold on to your hope. "Pray always, and be believing." Indeed, as Paul wrote of Abraham, he "against [all] hope believed in hope" and "staggered not . . . through unbelief." He was "strong in faith" and was "fully persuaded that, what [God] had promised, he was able . . . to perform."
Even if you cannot always see that silver lining on your clouds, God can, for He is the very source of the light you seek. He does love you, and He knows your fears. He hears your prayers. He is your Heavenly Father, and surely He matches with His own the tears His children shed.
In spite of this counsel, I know some of you do truly feel at sea, in the most frightening sense of that term. Out in troubled waters, you may even now be crying with the poet:
It darkens. I have lost the ford.
No, it is not without a recognition of life's tempests but fully and directly because of them that I testify of God's love and the Savior's power to calm the storm. Always remember in that biblical story that He was out there on the water also, that He faced the worst of it right along with the newest and youngest and most fearful. Only one who has fought against those ominous waves is justified in telling us--as well as the sea--to "be still."
Only one who has taken the full brunt of such adversity could ever be justified in telling us in such times to "be of good cheer." Such counsel is not a jaunty pep talk about the power of positive thinking, though positive thinking is much needed in the world. No, Christ knows better than all others that the trials of life can be very deep and we are not shallow people if we struggle with them. But even as the Lord avoids sugary rhetoric, He rebukes faithlessness and He deplores pessimism. He expects us to believe!
No one's eyes were more penetrating than His, and much of what He saw pierced His heart. Surely His ears heard every cry of distress, every sound of want and despair. To a degree far more than we will ever understand, He was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."
Indeed, to the layman in the streets of Judea, Christ's career must have seemed a failure, a tragedy, a good man totally overwhelmed by the evils surrounding Him and the misdeeds of others. He was misunderstood or misrepresented, even hated from the beginning. No matter what He said or did, His statements were twisted, His actions suspected, His motives impugned.
In the entire history of the world no one has ever loved so purely or served so selflessly--and been treated so diabolically for His effort. Yet nothing could break His faith in His Father's plan or His Father's promises. Even in those darkest hours at Gethsemane and Calvary, He pressed on, continuing to trust in the very God whom He momentarily feared had forsaken Him.
Because Christ's eyes were unfailingly fixed on the future, He could endure all that was required of Him, suffer as no man can suffer except it be "unto death," as King Benjamin said, look upon the wreckage of individual lives and the promises of ancient Israel lying in ruins around Him and still say then and now, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."
How could He do this? How could He believe it? Because He knows that for the faithful, things will be made right soon enough. He is a King; He speaks for the crown; He knows what can be promised. He knows that "the Lord . . . will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. . . . For the needy shall not alway[s] be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever." He knows that "the Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit." He knows that "the Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate."
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To those who may feel they have somehow forfeited their place at the table of the Lord, we say again with the Prophet Joseph Smith that God has “a forgiving disposition,” that Christ is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, [is] long-suffering and full of goodness.”
I have always loved that when Matthew records Jesus’ great injunction, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” Luke adds the Savior’s additional commentary: “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” — as if to suggest that mercy is at least a beginning synonym for the perfection God has and for which all of us must strive.
Mercy, with its sister virtue forgiveness, is at the very heart of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the eternal plan of salvation. Everything in the gospel teaches us that we can change if we need to, that we can be helped if we truly want it, that we can be made whole, whatever the problems of the past.
Now, if you feel too spiritually maimed to come to the feast, please realize that the Church is not a monastery for perfect people, though all of us ought to be striving on the road to godliness. No, at least one aspect of the Church is more like a hospital or an aid station, provided for those who are ill and want to get well, where one can get an infusion of spiritual nutrition and a supply of sustaining water in order to keep on climbing.
In spite of life’s tribulations and as fearful as some of our prospects are, I testify that there is help for the journey. There is the Bread of Eternal Life and the Well of Living Water. Christ has overcome the world—our world—and His gift to us is peace now and exaltation in the world to come.
Our fundamental requirement is to have faith in Him and follow Him—always. When He bids us to walk in His way and by His light, it is because He has walked this way before us, and He has made it safe for our own travel here. He knows where the sharp stones and stumbling blocks lie hidden and where thorns and thistles are the most severe. He knows where the path is perilous, and He knows which way to go when the road forks and nightfall comes.
He knows all this, as Alma says in the Book of Mormon, because He has suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind … , that he may know … how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” To succor means to “run to.” I testify that in my fears and in my infirmities the Savior has surely run to me. I will never be able to thank Him enough for such personal kindness and such loving care.
President George Q. Cannon said once: “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is [against] His character [to do so]. He is an unchangeable being. … He will stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and the purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep His commandments.”
Those who will receive the Lord Jesus Christ as the source of their salvation will always lie down in green pastures, no matter how barren and bleak the winter has been. And the waters of their refreshment will always be still waters, no matter how turbulent the storms of life. In walking His path of righteousness, our souls will be forever restored; and though that path may for us, as it did for Him, lead through the very valley of the shadow of death, yet we will fear no evil.
The rod of His priesthood and the staff of His Spirit will always comfort us. And when we hunger and thirst in the effort, He will prepare a veritable feast before us, a table spread even in the presence of our enemies—contemporary enemies—which might include fear or family worries, sickness or personal sorrow of a hundred different kinds.
In a crowning act of compassion at such a supper He anoints our head with oil and administers a blessing of strength to our soul. Our cup runneth over with His kindness, and our tears runneth over with joy. We weep to know that such goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and that we will, if we desire it, dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
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[Spoken in General Conference - Elder Holland was President of BYU at this time.]
Early in our married life my young family and I were laboring through graduate school at a university in New England. Pat was the Relief Society president in our ward, and I was serving in our stake presidency. I was going to school full-time and teaching half-time. We had two small children then, with little money and lots of pressures. In fact, our life was about like yours.
One evening I came home from long hours at school, feeling the proverbial weight of the world on my shoulders. Everything seemed to be especially demanding and discouraging and dark. I wondered if the dawn would ever come. Then, as I walked into our small student apartment, there was an unusual silence in the room.
“What’s the trouble?” I asked.
“Matthew has something he wants to tell you,” Pat said.
“Matt, what do you have to tell me?” He was quietly playing with his toys in the corner of the room, trying very hard not to hear me. “Matt,” I said a little louder, “do you have something to tell me?”
He stopped playing, but for a moment didn’t look up. Then these two enormous, tear-filled brown eyes turned toward me, and with the pain only a five-year-old can know, he said, “I didn’t mind Mommy tonight, and I spoke back to her.” With that he burst into tears, and his entire little body shook with grief. A childish indiscretion had been noted, a painful confession had been offered, the growth of a five-year-old was continuing, and loving reconciliation could have been wonderfully underway.
Everything might have been just terrific—except for me. If you can imagine such an idiotic thing, I lost my temper. It wasn’t that I lost it with Matt—it was with a hundred and one other things on my mind; but he didn’t know that, and I wasn’t disciplined enough to admit it. He got the whole load of bricks.
I told him how disappointed I was and how much more I thought I could have expected from him. I sounded like the parental pygmy I was. Then I did what I had never done before in his life—I told him that he was to go straight to bed and that I would not be in to say his prayers with him or to tell him a bedtime story. Muffling his sobs, he obediently went to his bedside, where he knelt—alone—to say his prayers. Then he stained his little pillow with tears his father should have been wiping away.
If you think the silence upon my arrival was heavy, you should have felt it now. Pat did not say a word. She didn’t have to. I felt terrible!
Later, as we knelt by our own bed, my feeble prayer for blessings upon my family fell back on my ears with a horrible, hollow ring. I wanted to get up off my knees right then and go to Matt and ask his forgiveness, but he was long since peacefully asleep.
My relief was not so soon coming; but finally I fell asleep and began to dream, which I seldom do. I dreamed Matt and I were packing two cars for a move. For some reason his mother and baby sister were not present. As we finished I turned to him and said, “Okay, Matt, you drive one car and I’ll drive the other.”
This five-year-old very obediently crawled up on the seat and tried to grasp the massive steering wheel. I walked over to the other car and started the motor. As I began to pull away, I looked to see how my son was doing. He was trying—oh, how he was trying. He tried to reach the pedals, but he couldn’t. He was also turning knobs and pushing buttons, trying to start the motor. He could scarcely be seen over the dashboard, but there staring out at me again were those same immense, tear-filled, beautiful brown eyes. As I pulled away, he cried out, “Daddy, don’t leave me. I don’t know how to do it. I am too little.” And I drove away.
A short time later, driving down that desert road in my dream, I suddenly realized in one stark, horrifying moment what I had done. I slammed my car to a stop, threw open the door, and started to run as fast as I could. I left car, keys, belongings, and all—and I ran. The pavement was so hot it burned my feet, and tears blinded my straining effort to see this child somewhere on the horizon. I kept running, praying, pleading to be forgiven and to find my boy safe and secure.
As I rounded a curve nearly ready to drop from physical and emotional exhaustion, I saw the unfamiliar car I had left Matt to drive. It was pulled carefully off to the side of the road, and he was laughing and playing nearby. An older man was with him, playing and responding to his games. Matt saw me and cried out something like, “Hi, Dad. We’re having fun.” Obviously he had already forgiven and forgotten my terrible transgression against him.
But I dreaded the older man’s gaze, which followed my every move. I tried to say “Thank you,” but his eyes were filled with sorrow and disappointment. I muttered an awkward apology and the stranger said simply, “You should not have left him alone to do this difficult thing. It would not have been asked of you.”
With that, the dream ended, and I shot upright in bed. My pillow was now stained, whether with perspiration or tears I do not know. I threw off the covers and ran to the little metal camp cot that was my son’s bed. There on my knees and through my tears I cradled him in my arms and spoke to him while he slept. I told him that every dad makes mistakes but that they don’t mean to. I told him it wasn’t his fault I had had a bad day. I told him that when boys are five or fifteen, dads sometimes forget and think they are fifty. I told him that I wanted him to be a small boy for a long, long time, because all too soon he would grow up and be a man and wouldn’t be playing on the floor with his toys when I came home. I told him that I loved him and his mother and his sister more than anything in the world and that whatever challenges we had in life we would face them together. I told him that never again would I withhold my affection or my forgiveness from him, and never, I prayed, would he withhold them from me. I told him I was honored to be his father and that I would try with all my heart to be worthy of such a great responsibility.