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Free to Choose

Elder David P. Homer General Authority Seventy
October 10, 2023 11:15 AM

"We are free to choose our path in life; but remember that once we make those choices we will be tied to the consequences that must follow. Repentance and forgiveness are available when we need them. Staying in the center of the gospel can help us avoid the effects of bad choices and access the many blessings that living the gospel brings. Pay no heed to those who demean or criticize your choice to believe."
Many thanks to the choir as they settle into their seats. I’m grateful for that beautiful song and the message that it gives to us. The school that you are studying at provides you with a unique opportunity, not to just get training in some technical aspects of some things that will help you be employed and move forward in your lives. You have the opportunity to pause and reflect on some things that are maybe more spiritual in nature. When we turn our attention to those things this morning, I hope and I pray that the Holy Ghost will be here, that it will help you understand what I am saying and together we can understand each other. 

In preparation for this assignment, I asked President Kusch for some information. After bragging a bit about you, he proceeded to give me some additional background. 

I learned that there are approximately 1,800 students enrolled at Ensign College and that you come from many different places and have had many different life experiences. 

I learned that some of you are married, but most of you are not. More than 1/3 of you live in Utah County while others of you live close to campus here in Salt Lake City. About 60% of you have recent roots in countries other than the United States. 

You study in more than 20 disciplines with many of you choosing to study business management, accounting, social media and digital marketing, interior design, and medical assisting. 

I have learned that the best place for students to nap between classes is on the couches on the student commons. Apparently, the mini outpost on the 5th floor is where couples meet to walk to devotional together. 

If a student needs a little energy boost, they get some candy from Karen in the Institute of Religion offices. Apparently, you love Chick-fil-A and Mo’ Bettahs, and the best-selling item in the Outpost is BYU Creamery’s chocolate milk. 

Now that is just a little bit about you. You might be interested in a little bit about us. You have heard from my bio where I worked professionally before being asked to do this by the church. Sister Homer and I have been married for almost 40 years. We have been blessed to live in many different parts of the world. We just recently returned from as assignment in Asia where we lived in Hong Kong and had the blessing and privilege to visit many different countries there. We have six children, five girls and one boy. We have nine, almost ten, grandchildren. We have eight granddaughters and one grandson. As you can see, we are much proficient in producing girls in our family than we are boys. Now you may not remember any of that but when you think back on this occasion you may remember this. I think I may be the only general authority who has successfully photobombed the tabernacle choir during general conference. Now this is not a photo shopped image. This is an actual image of something that happened during general conference. They made the mistake of placing me on the top row and because of my height and because the cameraman did not adjuster the focus of the camera, it looks like I am singing in the women’s section of the tabernacle choir. And so if you don’t remember anything about me, you can remember that he is the one who photo bombed the tabernacle choir.

Free to Choose

You stand at a remarkable moment in your life. The work you do here will prepare you for the future that is to come. I encourage you to be diligent in your studies, do your absolute best, and take advantage of the opportunities that come.

And today, more than anything, I encourage you to learn how to make righteous choices.

Before we were born, we lived with our Heavenly Parents as their spirit children. At a council with all of their spirit children attending, Heavenly Father presented His plan of happiness. [1] As part of that plan, Jesus Christ covenanted to be our Savior. [2] Lucifer rebelled and became Satan, and he and those who followed after him were cast out of heaven. [3] We, you and I, chose to follow Jesus Christ and accepted the conditions of the plan.

The war that began in heaven continues today. [4] The devil and his angels seek to deceive us so that we, “might be miserable like unto himself.” [5] He has been allowed to tempt us so that we can choose for ourselves the path we wish to follow. [6]

The prophet Lehi taught that we are “free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator … , or to choose captivity and death.” [7] So, we are free to choose our path in life. And the path we choose is a decision that we will make. There is no one else who can make it for us.

Speaking of this life, President Russell M. Nelson taught, “We came to be tried, to be tested, and to choose. Our decisions,” he said, will “determine our destiny." [8]

Years ago, I knew a young man who was a good athlete, extremely popular and well-liked by his classmates. He did not believe that rules applied to him. He frequently tested the boundaries between what was right and what was wrong. For many years, his charm and humor enabled him to talk his way out of trouble.

Then, one day, he went too far. I remember visiting him in prison. I remember weeping with his family. And I remember wishing that he had better understood what President Nelson taught. “While we are free to choose,” he said, “once we have made those choices, we are tied to the consequences.” [9]

My friends, decisions and choices matter.

In fact, it seems that our decisions are like hinges on which the doors of eternity turn. When we make righteous choices, the doors of eternal opportunity swing wide open to us. When we choose poorly, those doors begin to close. If we need help, Jesus Christ keeps the doors open so that we can enjoy every blessing we are willing to receive.

The Parable

Now I am going to talk for a few minutes about a parable. This is the same parable that Elder Uchtdorf spoke about in general conference just a few days ago. I considered whether I should change my message because of what he said but I decided I should continue with what I had prepared because I think this parable is important and has messages we need to consider. So let me tell you a little bit about the parable.

One day, some publicans and sinners gathered to hear the Savior speak. [10] As some Pharisees and scribes watched, they complained because He associated with sinners. The Savior then taught three important parables—the first two emphasized the urgent need to seek and find those who are lost, and the last stressed the themes of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption.

In His third parable, the Savior tells of a certain man who had two sons. The younger son was anxious to experience everything the world had to offer. He asked his father to give him his inheritance and “not many days after the younger son gathered together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.” [11]

This was a bad time to be without money. There was a serious famine in the land, and the younger son had squandered everything. In desperation, he entered the employment of a citizen of that country and was assigned to feed the pigs. As he did so, he was so hungry that he wished he could fill his belly with the husks that he gave the swine to eat.

Then, in a moment of personal reflection and honesty, the younger brother “came to himself,” seeing with clarity where he was and who he had become. He did not like what he saw; and so, he resolved to return home, confess what he had done, and beg his father for help.

As the younger brother approached his family home and was yet “a great way off,” his father saw him and ran to him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”

His father was filled with compassion and instructed his servants to “bring forth the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry. For this my son was dead,” he said, “and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”

About this time, the older brother approached. He asked about the cause of the celebration and was angry when he learned that the party was for his younger brother. It seemed unfair to him that so much should be done for someone who had behaved so badly. After all, the older brother had stayed home and been faithful, but no such party had been thrown for him.

The father spoke with the older brother, wanting to help him understand. And then, the father added these profound words: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.”


Perhaps, like me, you can see yourself in the characters of the parable. Have we not all made mistakes? Is it not difficult to forgive those who have hurt us? Do we not wish to be recognized for the good we do? Do we not watch carefully for the return of those who have strayed?

As is the case with all of the Savior’s teachings, we can learn much from this story. Here are a few messages to consider.

Message one. At some point, we, or someone we love, may lose our way. This may come as we neglect gospel basics like praying, fasting, reading the scriptures, or attending Church. It may come as we struggle with the unfairness of mortal life, or seemingly unanswered prayers. It may come as we are persuaded by those who distort gospel principles, practices, or history in an effort to destroy our faith. Or it may come because we choose to chase the empty, but bright and shiny promises so abundant in the world today.

Message two. While we are away, we may make choices that bring us and those who love us great difficulty. I recently spoke with a young man who has spent more than a decade away from the Church, experiencing much of what the world has to offer. He has learned for himself that the answers the world offers lack depth, meaning and durability. While much of what it sells is exciting and stimulating, it does not, in the end, bring enduring safety, happiness, hope, peace, or purpose.

Message three. If we are honest with ourselves, we will know in our hearts the condition of our lives and where to look for help. King Benjamin taught his people of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and that “the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.” [12]

King Benjamin was teaching that, when we indulge our selfish desires, we are carnal—acting contrary to God’s instructions and to our best interests. King Benjamin’s people listened carefully, and, in a moment of honest personal reflection, “they viewed themselves in their own carnal state.” [13] They made no excuses, they blamed no one else. And like the young man in the parable, they did not like what they saw. They immediately cried out saying, “O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified, for we believe in Jesus Christ.”13

Their honest, personal reflection led them to see that they needed help. And knowing that they needed help, they turned to Jesus Christ. After exercising their faith in Him, the Spirit of the Lord came, and they were filled with joy, and they felt peace. [14]

Message four. There is hope, both for those who wander and for those who love them. In our recent conversation, the young man who has been away from the Church for more than a decade asked, “Do you see a lot of people like me in the Church today?” When I told him that I did, he said, “I just assumed there was no place for me.” In other words, he felt there was no hope of being able to return.

After reassuring him that there was a place for him here, I thought of these words from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.” [15]

Message five. Repentance is possible and forgiveness is available. The younger son had wandered far and made many mistakes, but he was welcomed home and given the chance to repair the errors he had made. It can be the same for us. The Lord has promised, “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” [16] No more. That is the promise. No more!

A young mother and father recently spoke at a stake conference where they shared their joy at being sealed to their little boy in the temple. When they were young, each had desired a temple sealing. Then life got in the way. They wandered, and were not able to go to the temple to be married. But then, like the younger son in the parable, they were able to “come to themselves,” remembering that there is a better way and yearning for blessings that they had once desired.

The mother said, “Getting to the temple always seemed like such a faraway thing. I know both my husband and I felt so unworthy, and that we could never repent for our past sins. I am so grateful that we pushed through the feelings of guilt that Satan wanted us to feel and that we repented and were able to let our past transgressions go.” [17]

To this, her husband added, “If any of you out there feel like you are not worthy or that you are not enough, Stop. Stop thinking that way. Those feelings are coming from the adversary. He wants us to feel this way so that we won’t try to get worthy…Our Heavenly Father only wants us to come home. He loves us no matter what we’ve done. We just have to be willing to turn to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit.”17

Message six. It is better to forgive, even when it is difficult. The older brother in the story did not want to forgive his younger sibling—he had done too much, and the pain caused was just too great.

Unfortunately, one of the realities in this world is that we all make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes hurt. Holding to our bitterness and anger may feel perfectly reasonable, but it can divert our attention from the positive things in our lives and limit our access to the healing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

President Nelson taught: “There is nothing easy about forgiving those who have disappointed us, hurt us, cheated us, or spread false rumors about us. However, not forgiving others is poison for us. Grudges weigh us down. Angry disagreements separate us. Animosity and hatred can divide families. And yet, the Savior’s counsel is clear: ‘If ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.’

Now he continued and said, “Forgiving others does not mean condoning sinful or criminal behavior. And it certainly does not mean staying in abusive situations. But, when we choose to forgive others, we allow the Lord to remove the poison from our souls. We permit Him to soothe and soften our hearts, so we can see others, especially those who have wronged us, as children of God, and as our brothers and sisters.” [18]

Elder Boyd K. Packer once told a story of a young man who married his sweetheart. [19] Their life was good, and she was expecting their first child. When it came time to deliver the baby, there were complications, and they frantically sought the doctor who serviced the small community in which they lived. Finally, the doctor was located, and, in the emergency, he acted quickly. The baby was born and the crisis, it seemed, was over.

Sadly, some few days later, the young mother died from an infection the doctor had been treating at another home that night. The young man’s world was shattered. Because of a serious mistake by the doctor, his wife was gone, and he was left alone to provide and care for a new baby.

As the weeks passed, his anger grew. Then, one evening, his stake president invited him to visit and gave him this simple counsel, “John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.”

The young man struggled to decide what to do. A terrible wrong had been committed and someone needed to pay for it. Finally, he determined to follow the counsel of his stake president. He would leave it alone.

That choice was difficult but proved to be significant. Many years later, when recounting his experience to Elder Packer, the man said, “I was an old man before I understood! It was not until I was an old man that I could finally see a poor country doctor—overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient to patient, with little medicine, no hospital, few instruments, struggling to save lives, and succeeding for the most part. He had come in a moment of crisis, when two lives hung in the balance, and had acted without delay.”

“I was an old man,” he repeated, “before I finally understood! I would have ruined my life and the lives of others.” Many times, he had thanked the Lord on his knees for a wise spiritual leader who counseled simply, “John, leave it alone.” [20]

As difficult as it may be, forgiving brings peace. Over time, and with the Lord’s assistance, open wounds close and we find the strength to move forward with the positive things in our lives.

Message seven. The last, and perhaps most often neglected message from the parable of the prodigal son, is found in the father’s words to his older son. “Thou art ever with me,” he said, “and all that I have is thine.”

The point seems to be, “You have always been with me. Because you stayed, and did what was asked of you, you did not have to suffer the pain experienced by your brother. Because of your faithfulness, all that I have is yours.” As powerful as the messages of repentance and forgiveness in this parable are, we should never forget this message: It is good to stay.

We think often of those who leave us. And while we lament each departure, we should never forget the millions who stay.

Staying true may not get us the most followers on line or the most friends on social media but it does provide precious blessings we can get nowhere else. The truth is that the blessing we receive will not be found by altering our physical appearance or in extremes of grooming or dress and they certainly will not be found by breaking commandments to satisfy the next physical urge we are tempted to indulge. The blessings we seek are found in Jesus Christ and the center of His gospel, not in the societal fringe.

Stay in the Boat

Drawing on the words of President Brigham Young who used the term “The Old Ship Zion” as a metaphor for the Church, President M. Russell Ballard said, “Let us stick to the old ship, and she will carry us safely into the harbor. You need not be concerned.” [21]

We “stick to the old ship” because it is safe there, because others will help us there, and because it is there that we find God’s love for us.

Because God loves us, He gave us commandments to keep us safe. Because He loves us, He gave us covenants to keep us strong. Because He loves us, He gave us agency to help us grow. And, because He loves us, He gave us the incomparable gift of His Only Begotten Son who will show us the way and help us bridge the gap when we need it.

Staying in the boat requires effort. It is about doing our best to love God, to love and serve others, to actively pursue obedience, and to repent when we fall short.

I recently received a note from a wise woman who shared her perspective that choosing to stay is different than not leaving. Not leaving is passive, whereas choosing to stay is an intentional act that embraces all the positive things that living the gospel brings.

By staying, she experiences the love and support of a community that cherishes one another. Strengthening her faith in Jesus Christ enables her to develop meaningful relationships with her loved ones. Her covenant relationship with God helps her grow as a professional, with an ability to see and treat others as He does. Making healthy choices for her body allows her to lead an active lifestyle, be a nurturing mother, and partake in enjoyable activities. And so much more.

Heed Them Not

There are many who will say that unrestrained self-expression is to be valued above everything else. Others suggest that, because God loves us, it does not really matter what we do because He will forgive us in the end. Still others will argue that moral and ethical judgments are not objective truths but depend only on the perspective or context of the person or culture making them.

As enticing as these worldviews may be, they distort eternal principles, overlook the truth of God and His Plan, ignore the reality of sin, and risk sinking our lives into relativistic confusion.

Following the instructions of a loving God and accepting the implications of absolute truth may bring the derision and ridicule of some. It is like Nephi saw in the vision of the Tree of Life, “And great was the multitude that did enter into that strange building,” he said. “And after they did enter into that building they did point the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit.”

But no matter what those people said they could not deter Nephi’s resolve. He said, “we heeded them not,” [22] and so can we.


As we close, let us reflect on what we have discussed today.

You are amazing and stand at a remarkable moment in your life. Use this moment to do the work that will prepare you for the best possible future—including the safety, happiness, hope, peace and purpose that come when we live the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are free to choose our path in life; but remember that once we make those choices we will be tied to the consequences that must follow. Repentance and forgiveness are available when we need them.

Staying in the center of the gospel can help us avoid the effects of bad choices and access the many blessings that living the gospel brings. Pay no heed to those who demean or criticize your choice to believe.

I conclude with my testimony that God lives. He is real. You are His child, and He loves you. Jesus Christ died for us. He restored His Church through the Prophet Joseph Smith and directs it personally through prophets and apostles today.
He invites you to receive “all that [He] has.”

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


1] See Abraham 3:22-26
[2] See Moses 4:2; Abraham 3:27
[3] See Abraham 3:22-26
[4] Moroni 7:12, 17
[5] 2 Nephi 2:27
[6] See D&C 29:39
[7] 2 Nephi 2:27
[8] Elder Russell M. Nelson, Now is the Time to Prepare, April 2005 General conference
[9] Elder Russell M. Nelson, Addiction or Freedom, October 1988 General Conference
[10] See Luke 15
[11] See Luke 15, particularly verses 13-31
[12] Mosiah 3:19
[13] Mosiah 4:2
[14] Mosiah 4:3
[15] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Laborers in the Vineyard, April 2012 General Conference.
[16] D&C 58:42
[17] Quoted with permission
[18] President Russell M. Nelson, The Joy of Forgiving Others, Easter Video Message, April 2, 2023.
[19] Elder Boyd K. Packer, The Balm of Gilead, October 1987 and April 2021
[20] Elder Boyd K. Packer, The Balm of Gilead, October 1987 and April 2021
[21] Elder M. Russell Ballard, Stay in the Boat and Hold On, October 2014 General Conference
[22] I Nephi 8:33

About the Speaker

Elder David P. Homer

Elder David P. Homer was sustained as a General Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on March 31, 2018, at age 56. At the time of his call, he had been serving as a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy in the Europe Area. He previously served as a member of the Sixth Quorum of the Seventy in the North America Northeast Area from 2013 to 2014. He currently serves as a member of the Seventy with assignments at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Elder Homer received a bachelor of science degree in economics from the University of Utah in 1985. In 1987 he received a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania. For 31 years he worked at General Mills, Inc., including assignments in the United States, Latin America, Australasia, Canada, and Europe. When he retired, he was CEO of Cereal Partners Worldwide, a global joint venture between General Mills and Nestlé S.A. Elder Homer has served in a number of Church callings, including full-time missionary in the China Hong Kong Mission, bishop, stake president, and regional welfare chairman. David Paul Homer was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 25, 1961. He married Nancy Dransfield in 1984. They are the parents of six children.
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