Who I Am Makes All the Difference
Years ago, while attending a conference on the campus of Ensign College, I stood in a classroom looking out at an unobstructed view of the Salt Lake City Temple spires beautifully highlighting the landscape. In that moment, I felt a sacred reverence for this place, as I received a quiet witness from the spirit that day. I am humbled to be back in this assignment to share with you my thoughts and testimony.
Thank you, President Kusch, for this invitation.
Some time ago, I had an experience while attending a ward council meeting that left a significant impression upon me. While discussing a particular family a comment was made that this family was “not worth our time.” In that moment I immediately inserted myself into the narrative as I began to picture my family being discussed. I felt a personal connection as I quickly responded that, “Everyone is worth our time.”
Growing up I was not raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter -day Saints. My story is unique to me, but in many ways, I know others can relate. My parents were sealed in the Los Angeles, California temple in July 1978 and quickly started a family. After 4 difficult years of marriage, and not long after I was born, my mother made a very brave decision to leave my father, taking her three kids, with whatever she could quickly fit into a few black garbage bags. I am grateful for my mother’s courage to make that decision.
Unfortunately, circumstances eventually lead my mother away from the church and our family was not raised with any gospel knowledge in our home. During my early childhood years my siblings and I spent weekdays at home with our mom, and weekends with our dad. When I was 8 years old, on a visitation with my father, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, I have no memory’s, photos, or stories to share beyond a date on my membership records. Growing up it was as if that never really happened.
Although I don’t remember my baptism, I do have memories of members from the local church reaching out to me. I look back with greater understanding of the milestones these interactions represented. One in particular was around my 12th birthday. I have a memory of a man calling our home asking me if I wanted to receive the priesthood. Having no idea what the priesthood was at the time, I obviously responded no, I’m sure in a typical snarky teenage way. But he simply responded, “Ok, just thought I’d check.” Even more significantly, beyond those random phone calls I remember simple acts of kindness extended to my family. Some of those memories include a man named Brian who would show up in his 1970’s red Volkswagen and take my brother and I bowling. Another memory I have is of a couple named Brother and Sister Bingham who took us to Disneyland. At the time I had no idea why they wanted me to call them brother and sister, but my mom seemed to understand, and who’s going to turn down Disneyland? So off we drove with our new “brother and sister.” Things were different in the 80’s.
I had members of my extended family who were faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who were always such good examples, but I did not consider myself a member of their church. During my youth I spent more time in an evangelical Christian church connecting more to the music than I did the message. When I was 19 years old, I met an amazing family that helped soften my heart. They introduced me to two young men that would forever change my life.
I think back to those years as they relate to the comment made in that ward council meeting. My assumption is that I was discussed at some point, if not frequently in council meetings. I can almost hear them say, “Well, that Sutherland kid is almost 12, who wants to call him?” to which I hope no one responded, “Don’t bother, he’s not worth our time.” I know that I said, “No” when the invitation was extended, but that invitation lead to future invitations, and future covenants to which I eventually said yes, when I was finally ready.
I have now been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints longer than I was without it, and I testify of the reality of a loving Father in Heaven and of his son our Savior Jesus Christ. I testify of their love for each of us and of their unique interest in our lives, both in the good and in the difficult moments. Today I hope to speak more about the process of our lives, our eternal worth, and how we can come to understand these things more fully for ourselves. Life is a journey that will require effort. It will require of us a process of growth, change, discipline, and intentional decisions. It will require of us our best efforts if we are to truly reach our full potential.
It has been said that, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”i
In the course of this human experience we will have opportunities to learn, opportunities to fail, and tremendous opportunities for success that will shape the course of our lives. However, these experiences or circumstances can also lead to an unfortunate practice of viewing ourselves by comparison to others. We measure our worth by what talents have been outwardly recognized by others, or by what we have accomplished. We choose to define ourselves by these events or comparisons and often fail to recognize our most significant characteristic.
Each of us who has ever lived, or who will ever live, has an inherent worth. This worth is far beyond our own perceived value or the status of our self-esteem. We tie our self-esteem to this identity, to self-imposed limitations, or even to our fears. When we think of identity, we usually make connections to our family or background, our interests, talents, occupations, or our area of study in school. As important as these things are, they are not who we are. Self-esteem is a subjective sense of value that we place on ourselves, but in contrast self-worth is a recognition of our divine value and an acknowledgement of the eternal worth of every human soul; ourselves included.
Our true identity is eternal, and it begins with knowing who we truly are, sons and daughters of Heavenly Parents. President Boyd K. Packer has taught this truth. “You are a child of God. He is the Father of your spirit. Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven. Fix that truth in your mind,” [He said] “and hold to it.”ii
Our worth to our Father in Heaven is not attached to any worldly accolade, position, or accomplishment. We are important to Him not because of our resumé, but because we are His children. Our Father loves every single one of us, even those that feel they are flawed, those that are awkward, arrogant, or even unrepentant. Regardless of where we are in this mortal journey, no matter where we are in our process, our Father in Heaven desires us to draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.
President Thomas S. Monson has taught that, “Your Heavenly Father loves you—each of you. That love never changes. It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account. It is not changed by your talents and abilities. It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love. It is simply always there.”iii
Our mortal life is a process of coming to understanding our true self-worth, a process of developing faith, a process of change, a process of becoming. But as we are busy living our lives, we often find ourselves in such a hurry that we never slow down to clarify where we are headed and why. We are simply busy being busy.
While in graduate school I participated in an activity where I was asked to sort through a stack of cards each having a word or phrase on it that represented different values. Some of those values included family, comfort, achievement, spirituality, and service among others. As part of the exercise I was asked to place these values into categories of how I related to them, such as not important, somewhat important, important, or very important. This activity pushed me to slow down and self-identify what was important to me. Self-reflecting questions were then asked about how I saw my life in comparison to what I self-identified as being very important. I was asked to look at my daily decisions and evaluate if those decisions aligned with my values. Being able to search within ourselves and determine what truly matters most will help to define our priorities. As we align our daily living with those values, we begin to use our momentum to move with purpose. That purpose helps us to see who we really are, and we can begin to know of the infinite and inherent capacities we possess. Our need to seek after and find our true worth consistently, and intentionally is of eternal significance.
In Jeremiah the Lord teaches us that, “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”iv
I have found overtime that doing things with, “all your heart” is no small thing, but we can turn our hearts to him in meaningful ways. I want to share a few ideas with you that overtime have helped me in my process of discovering my own self-worth.
These examples are not intended to be an exhaustive list, nor are they meant to be used as a measuring stick of our successes or inadequacies. Rather, these suggestions are intended to be reminders as we journey together.
First of all, we must strive to be worthy.
Being worthy does not mean being perfect, rather striving to be worthy means trying with great effort. Striving to be worthy means recognizing our need to repent, doing so quickly when needed, and as Elder Bednar has described, it means working towards “small, steady, sustained, incremental spiritual improvements.”v When we make mistakes and sin, the pain that accompanies those actions can sometimes diminish our sense of self-worth. But as we strive, we will feel a greater desire to sincerely repent and make changes. As our faith grows through righteous living our reliance on and understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ will grow as well. It is through that gift that our guilt, shame, and even pain can and will be swept away.
As we live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost the spirit will teach us more about who we really are. That includes making us more fully aware of some of our spiritual gifts, talents, and capacities. By seeking to magnify those talents and gifts we draw closer to Jesus Christ and develop Christ-like attributes that help us to become more like Him. A realization of our divine potential helps us to see with spiritual eyes who we really are, and more fully who we were created to become. This process can help us to focus on what is inside of us, rather than what was behind us, and bring the peace and true sense of self-worth we long for.
Another reminder is our need to serve others.
Serving others is turning outward rather than inward. Service can help us to see true self-worth in others, and that in turn can be part of our own self-discovery. Recognizing that eternal worth exists in all of God’s children and serving them with that perspective helps them to feel our Saviors love. Elder Marion G. Romney has taught that, “Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”vi Simple acts of service are intended to lift the human spirit, bring hope and happiness to others, and in these simple acts we are blessed to feel God’s love both for ourselves and for those we serve.
In serving others we will become more. President Spencer W. Kimball taught this concept most powerfully: “The more we serve our fellowmen in appropriate ways”, [He said], “the more substance there is to our souls. We become more significant individuals. … Indeed, it is easier to ‘find’ ourselves because there is so much more of us to find!”vii
This growing of self will help us to recognize our dependence on our Father in Heaven.
Another way to experience your self-worth more fully is to seek after our Father’s guidance in all areas of our lives. Looking to Heavenly Father for guidance can also help you remove the limits you’ve set for yourself—in your career, your education, your home, or in your personal life. As we experience our true capacities, even if only in small moments and in little victories, we must be grateful to our Father for his hand in our lives and for the blessings that come.
As I’m sure we all have experienced, there will be times of discouragement and self-doubt as we engage in this process of self-discovery and spiritual growth, even when we try our best. These moments can leave us feeling empty spiritually, physically, and emotionally.
We must remember to consistently replenish our spiritual reservoir in order to avoid those empty feelings. We do this through our daily righteous routines by engaging in quiet, personal, spiritual practices that draw us closer to our Savior and to our Father in Heaven. As we do these things intentionally, we are preparing ourselves to receive some of the greatest blessings that our Father has to offer us as His spirit children.
When we figure out who we really are, what matters most to us, and as we begin to get a glimpse of our true eternal identity and worth, we must make daily efforts to remember that worth. A clearer understanding of our self-worth will empower us to reach our God given potential. This empowerment will set us free and remove the weight of self-doubt, the weight of fear, and help us to accomplish so much more with God than we may attempt to stumble through without him.
It is in our process that we begin to see our purpose. But as we work towards something better, as we struggle with our imperfection, be patient with yourself. The Lord instructed us to “Continue in patience until ye are perfected.”viii Knowing that perfection will not come in this mortal experience can help us to be patient with ourselves. Understanding our need to hold off at times our own wants and desires for what the Lord would have of us will help us to develop and progress toward an eventual perfected state with him. This is a purifying process that will strengthen our faith and help us to obtain hope in a future with Him.
My dear friends, I hope that in something I shared today you find comfort. I hope that you are able to draw from this knowledge of who you truly are and of your eternal worth as a source of strength and courage as you move through your process wherever you are in this life. I hope that you have felt a desire to improve, a desire to be more, a desire to connect with heaven in meaningful ways.
In closing, I want to share one more lesson I learned years ago to help illustrate an important point as we forge forward with a new perspective and renewed hope.
During the early years of my marriage, after graduating from BYU-Idaho, my little family that now included our newborn son moved back to California to pursue additional education. During the summer months leading up to graduate school, I worked on my wife’s family grape vineyard. I had never worked on a farm before, that included never having driven a tractor. On my first night back in town, with the trailer still attached to the car and suitcases still packed, my father in law took me to the farm for my first lesson on the tractor.
I sat on the fender of the tractor as my father in law made his way through the rows of the vineyard. There was one lesson that stood out to me that night that created a lasting memory and a reminder that has never left. When driving through the narrow rows there is a natural tendency to look back at the ground to make sure you are keeping the tractor straight. The problem comes if you turn around to look and move the wheel, you can run into and damage the vines. The lesson was to teach me how to keep from looking back. He told me to, find something to fix your eyes on in front of you. Focus on that object and drive straight. If you look back, you can lose your focus and get off course. He taught me to keep my eyes forward and focused on the mark.
Brothers and Sisters, that mark in our lives was and will always be Jesus Christ. Just as my vision needed to remain focused on that mark to avoid looking back, so must our vision remain focused on who Christ is to us, and what he means for who we are and who we were created to become. Looking back never allows us to move forward, but it can distract us long enough to cause damage that can set us back and take us off course.
Each of you are of eternal and divine worth. Created in the image of a loving and eternally compassionate God. His love for you is forever, His plan for you is all encompassing yet personal in design for the least of us. When you begin to see who you really are it will change your life. When you begin to understand more fully who you were created to become and the potential you have, it will change everything. Be patient in your process, strive to be worthy every day, find yourself in the service of others and seek to see others as He sees you. Strive to improve your private daily worship and find reasons to be grateful.
I share with you my witness of a loving Father and His selfless son, my Savior Jesus Christ. May we each strive to be like Him and find who we truly are in the process, it will make all the difference.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
i Newell, Lloyd D. (1998). The Divine Connection. Shadow Mountain Press.
ii Packer, Boyd K. (1989, April). To Young Women and Men. General Conference. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
iii Monson, Thomas S. (2013, October). We Never Walk Alone. General Conference. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
iv The Old Testament: Jeremiah 63:13 (King James Version). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
v Bednar, David A. (2007, October). Clean Hands and Pure Hearts. General Conference. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
vi Romney, Marion G. (1982, October). The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance. General Conference. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
vii Kimball, Spencer W. (1974). Small Acts of Service. Ensign, December.
viii Doctrine & Covenants: Section 67:13. (2013). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.