Skips to main content

Be One Who Holds Fast, Put Spiritual Things First

Elder Brent Scharman Ensign College Senior Missionary
Sister Jan Scharman Ensign College Senior Missionary
September 20, 2022 11:15 AM

""You are fortunate to be attending a college where administration desires to establish an environment where each student is encouraged to succeed.""
— Elder Brent Scharman
"Brothers and Sisters, Ensign College is a place where you can receive an excellent secular education. But don’t forget how important is your ongoing spiritual education."
— Sister Jan Scharman

Be One Who Holds Fast

By Elder Brent Scharman
I am honored to have an opportunity to speak in today’s devotional.

For years, when I’ve read the Ensign or Liahona, I’ve underlined comments about prayer. I believe I started doing this because in spite of the results we’re promised, I could go long periods of time feeling like my prayers were not answered. Now as an older observer I can say with confidence that prayers are answered, but you have to accept the frequently stated caveat that they are answered in the Lord’s own time and way. You don’t always get what you want, but you do always have the Savior’s influence which takes you in a positive direction to the degree that you will allow it.

In the early 90’s I was the director of an LDS Family Services agency that was housed in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. In that assignment I was blessed to work with the best young people this world has to offer. They were worthy and hopeful and desirous of doing good, but were sometimes consumed with fear, pain and confusion that was shocking to them. A common theme they tearfully expressed was “I have never prayed harder, and tried to do everything so correctly, but felt so alone. My prayers are not being answered.” These young missionaries were experiencing the anxiety that is sometimes part of being away from home for the first time and entering the mission field, the military or college where new expectations feel overwhelming and their former support system is not closely available. Often, we were able to help the new missionary resolve his or her concerns in the few weeks available but occasionally we weren’t. The answer to some of their prayers was a longer-term process.

My first clear memory of an answered prayer was in response to the question, “Should I serve a mission?” It was January, 1965 and I had completed two years and one quarter at the University of Utah and the day of prayer was the first day of winter quarter. It was a time of uncertainty for me. The prompting I felt following the prayer was, “Yes” and that night I met with my sainted bishop Clayton Dunford who was responsive and asked me if I had a suggestion of where I’d like to serve. I said I did and said, “Either Hawaii or England would be nice. “

My next clear memory of a spiritual impression was when I opened my call. I had not prayed about where I wanted to go, so I can’t say that the assignment was an answer to prayer, but it was a dramatic evidence to me that my life was in God’s hand. I was assigned to serve in the Southern States which included Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. My words upon opening the letter were “This is perfect.” I knew it was right for me.

After one week in the MTC, early in March, I was on a train to Chicago and we flew from there to Atlanta. Nobody ever entered the mission field with less understanding of what to expect than I did. After one night in a hotel, I boarded a bus alone to Huntsville, Alabama and met my first companion, Paul Dunham. He was welcoming. In retrospect, I can clearly see that what I was entering into would be life changing and would be another indicator that my life was in God’s hands.

We started my first real morning in the field by knocking on doors. My companion took the first few doors and then said “It’s your turn.” I knocked and a woman answered the door, burst into tears, and said “Thank heavens you’ve come.” I thought to myself “A baptism already. This is easier than I expected.” but I was in error. It turned out that an hour prior to our knocking, her neighbors had forced their way into her house and emptied a box of anti-Mormon literature on the floor. The pile was still there. She was a relatively new member and my companion did not know her. While he talked with her I opened one of the books and began reading. I remember exactly what I read. I said to myself, “I didn’t know we believed that. I picked up another which contained another surprise. I was only a few hours into my mission and had been introduced to the fascinating world wherein each of us has to, at some time in our lives, make decisions about what we’re going to do with aspects of the gospel and religious practice that defy our expectations.

Perhaps because I had completed two years of college, my response was less about being shocked and more about “What does this mean?” I remember specifically thinking, “People much smarter than I know about this literature and they’ve maintained their membership. There must be an explanation.” From then until now, I’ve probably gone a little too far out of my way to expose myself to any of the controversial texts or sites that have always been, and will always continue to be, available.

Most of the people we met were cordial and pleasant even though they were not interested in hearing our message. Nevertheless, in the South in the 60’s, religious bookstores contained sections of anti-Mormon literature, and the billboards contained messages like, “Come to a Lecture on the Menace of Mormonism.”

At 77, I am happy to say that my study of doctrine, observation of Church leaders and reflection on the role of Church membership in my own life causes me to thank my grandparents for sacrificing everything and leaving Germany and Scotland so that I would be born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and live in Salt Lake City, Utah

While writing this talk I asked Google how many world religions there are. The answer was roughly 4,200. I asked how many different Christian denominations there are, and was informed that there are 200 in the US and a staggering 45,000 globally. I understand that these numbers may not meet a scholarly standard, but they’re adequate to make a point I want to make.

The world needs something that can bring order to confusion and it has it in the Book of Mormon. This Second Witness for Christ, ignored by most of the world and mocked by many, is the solution to a world of chaos. It doesn’t answer all the questions we have about why certain things have happened or been said during our 192 years of development, but it provides tangible evidence of Christ’s presence and His teaching on at least two continents and of the promise that everyone who ever lived will have an opportunity to be taught the gospel so they can ultimately make an informed choice. Indeed, we have a rod of iron which is strong enough to take us safely home.

Student Success

Sister Scharman and I believe that our mission at Ensign College is an answer to prayer and an evidence of God’s direct intervention in our lives. In the winter and spring of 2021, she and I reviewed many options for senior missionaries. By accident, we came across one that said Success Coach at Ensign College. Sister Scharman said “That sounds interesting” which was the first time I felt like her heart had really been in her response so we called right away. We couldn’t have been more surprised when our call for information was answered by someone who said, “Brent Scharman, I know you.” The person who had answered was Lynette Sharp. Lynnette and her husband, Paul, correlated the senior missionary program at Ensign College, and I had known them in Orem in 1975 (42 years ago). Within 24 hours the Sharps were taking us on a tour of the college and within a week or two we were visiting online with students via zoom due to Covid 19.

You may not be aware that the term ‘Student Success,’ and the role of success coaches, is a thing. It is and it’s more than a pep-talk or wishful thinking. Rather, Student Success is a title used by colleges and universities to describe a comprehensive intention that begins prior to the first day of school and extends beyond graduation. “…[It] includes development of traditional academic skills…critical-thinking abilities, competence in written and oral communication, and the ability to solve complex problems. It also considers social and emotional well-being…establishing meaningful relationships, and developing the ability to work collaboratively with others…[with] post-graduation outcomes such as employability, civic engagement and overall life satisfaction...” 1

You are fortunate to be attending a college where administration desires to establish an environment where each student is encouraged to succeed. That may not seem remarkable to you but it is. The world of higher education is competitive. Ensign College has high standards, but desires those who administer and teach to help students succeed.

Those of you who have visited the 9th floor will have learned that it is a positive, welcoming setting. The advisors, tutors, peer mentors, activity coordinators, mental health staff and administrators are dedicated and knowledgeable. As coaches, we help students with a wide range of concerns which include anything from time management and study skills to rebounding from probation or suspension.

Students need support regardless of where they’re studying. In April general conference Elder Jeffrey R. Holland referenced an experience at Yale University where a class entitled Psychology and the Good Life had recently been introduced. He reported, “The first year the class was offered, nearly [one-quarter] of the [entire] undergraduate student body enrolled. Over 64 million people then visited her podcast.”2 In gathering more information, I learned that the professor got the idea to start the class after spending time with students in group settings outside the classroom and talking with them about their college experience. She reported being surprised by what she heard which included frequent references to being overwhelmed with stress. College, as she heard it described, was not being a pleasant experience for many.

Attending college should be enough of a challenge that it does create some stress. Part of the benefit of attending college, as is also the case with serving a mission, is learning to adapt to realities and successfully learning to cope with stress.

Elder Adrian Ochoa accurately stated in April general conference, “The plan was not for us to glide easily through life, never stumbling, never sinking, with a smile always on our face...When we struggle, for any reason, that does not mean the plan isn’t working. That is when we need the plan the most!” 3 Liahona, 2022, page 48

Meeting with students, we attempt to be welcoming, positive and non-judgmental. We offer hope and tangible suggestions. Regarding the Student Success effort, one student is quoted as saying, “My perspective toward learning shifted, I started to embrace challenges and believe I could be successful if I worked hard, and felt safe involving others. As we meet with students we attempt to help them understand the importance of their college education, but also help them glimpse this experience as part of their eternal journey. How is being a student at Ensign College related to their eternal identity?

We love the observation of Elder Gerrit W. Gong who said, “Each of our stories is a journey still in progress, as we discover, create, and become with possibilities beyond imagination.” Liahona, May 2022, page 65

Dr. Allen E. Bergin, a noted LDS psychologist and retired BYU professor, has written about the circumstances in which we all find ourselves on earth as we attempt to understand who we are, why our lives are the way they are and what we can do about it. He talks eloquently of the necessary bonding of our physical body, with its mortal overlay of worldly factors, and our spiritual reality with its eternal potential.

I will conclude with an account Dr. Bergin relates of being at a picnic and catching a glimpse of the eternal identity of a friend who previously had confided strong feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. I do it in the hope that each of us can gain some comprehension of our own potential. His description gives me one way of conceptualizing eternal identity. He writes, “I saw my friend Laura standing and holding my infant son in her arms…when suddenly it seemed as though the trees and fields behind them opened up and I could see into the far distance. I no longer saw the mortal Laura nor my son. Rather, I saw a different Laura in a celestial setting.

He continues, “Though I recognized Laura, she did not look the same as the friend I see here on earth. She looked regal, but not regal in an earthly sense. Her appearance, her stature, her poise, and the look on her face had a refinement, dignity, and power I had never before experienced. Her body and countenance appeared to be perfect. There was something compelling about her but at the same time totally non-coercive – unlike any earthly attraction that I am familiar with. But the most indelible impression was the look on her face. She was perfectly serene. She was utterly radiant. There was infinite peace in her countenance and manner. Her deep joy in the situation was total. There was a sense of absolute security and complete fulfillment…It was as though I was seeing her eternal identity, unfettered by her mortal deficiencies…I saw her essence, both what she could become and what she already was.”

He concludes, “I was especially affected by the incredible inconsistency between the brilliant eternal personality I had perceived and the conflicted, distressed mortal person I had known and counseled with”.

I believe we all have positive eternal identities similar to that just described, and pray that we may all have an awareness of this reality while making the important decisions which shape our lives in this challenging earthly experience. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


1. Baldwin, A., Bunting, B., Daugherty, D., Latoya, L., & Steenbergh, T. (2020). Promoting Belonging, Growth Mindset, and Resilience to Foster Student Success, 1.

2. Holland, J.R. (2022, May). Fear Not: Believe Only!. Liahona,

3. Ochoa, A. (2022, May). Is the Plan Working?. Liahona, 48.

4. Gong, G.W. (2022, May). We Each Have a Story. Liahona, 65.

5. Bergin, A.E. (2002). Eternal Values and Personal Growth, BYU Studies, 29-30.

Put Spiritual Things First

By Sister Jan Scharman
We’re all familiar with the scripture found in Moses 1:38, “This is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” His work and His glory are to bring His children back home to His presence. I understand that to mean that there is nothing more important to the Lord than having His children prepared to be with Him eternally.

By divine design we, His children, are privileged to be living at a time and place when the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth, when there are unparalleled advances in medicine, science, and technology. It’s a bit overwhelming to think of how many decades, centuries, millennia that have existed on this planet Earth since the time of Adam and Eve – and how many of our spirit brothers and sisters preceded us on this sacred journey.

I believe it is not by accident that we are where we are right now. The Lord is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is in charge and He has chosen each one of us to come to earth during this winding up season to do His work. Our efforts during our pre-mortal life prepared us for where we are right now. I believe we have been chosen, not because we are better, but because He would have us make contributions to the world when there would be great need of our unique abilities. There also may be specific things we need to learn or talents we need to develop during this particular time and place. We each have a calling and we have been uniquely positioned to participate in significant ways to the building of His kingdom.

Because we don’t fully understand His design – and perhaps because we don’t always recognize His help and support in the process – we may sometimes feel inadequate and unprepared to meet the tasks ahead of us. If that is true for you, you’re not alone.

Think of the Old Testament prophet, Enoch and his response to the Lord’s call: “Why have I found favor?” he asked. “I am but a lad and all the people hate me.”]   [1] Enoch was not being overly modest. In truth, at this time he lacked some experience and people really didn’t want to listen to him. But, he trusted the Lord.

Even our great spiritual leaders in this dispensation have had some of those feelings. As you’ve studied former presidents of the Church you likely think of Spencer W. Kimball as a man of resolve, ready to tackle any worthy task head-on. “DO IT” read a sign on his desk. It’s hard to imagine him shrinking from any assignment or challenge, and yet consider his immediate response when he was called to be an apostle. “The predominant thought was my own limitations and incapacities and weaknesses and I was overcome. The tears came then, an inexhaustible flood … I wept and wept … I was in convulsions of sobbing.” [2]

Gordon B. Hinckley, shortly after being sustained as 15th president of the Church, commented: “I do not know why in His grand scheme one such as I would find a place….The burden of my prayer is that I will be worthy. I hope that I may be remembered in your prayers.” [3] At other times he commented on feeling overwhelmed by this calling.

When I face challenges and have feelings of inadequacy, I like reminding myself of this thought shared by Pres. Henry B. Eyring. “Your life is carefully watched over...The Lord knows both what He will need you to do and what you will need to know to do it. You can with confidence expect that He has prepared opportunities for you to learn. You will not recognize those opportunities perfectly… But when you put the spiritual things first in your life, you will be blessed...” [4]

Pres. Eyring said that the Lord has prepared opportunities for us to learn. We read in the Doctrine and Covenants that we are to seek learning “by study and also by faith.” [5] It is by faith that we can be prompted to do those things the Lord has prepared for us. Some of the first efforts of the Saints when they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley were to establish schools and opportunities for learning. Consider Brigham Young’s direction as a school was being organized in Utah Valley. “ ought not to teach even the alphabet or multiplication tables without the Spirit of the Lord.” 6 We here at Ensign College are privileged to be a part of the ongoing tradition of the Church Education System where we are supported in learning both by study and by faith.

As was mentioned in the introduction I had a career at BYU. I finished my formal secular education prior to beginning my work at that university, but my spiritual education continued and is ongoing to this day. I am so grateful for the many experiences I have been blessed to have. I’d like to share a rather unique learning opportunity I had while working there.

One morning early in 2007, during a regular meeting, a group of us were informed that, following some discussions at another level, representatives from Washington, D.C., notified our Board that the U.S. Vice President, Dick Cheney, may be available to speak at our upcoming spring commencement exercises. Our feedback was invited. Although the vice president – an accomplished and impressive man – would be welcome, I expressed concern that the highly emotional political climate – not unlike what we are experiencing today – could lead to media blurbs and protests both on and off campus that could detract from the positive graduation celebrations. I also assumed that the security and details associated with a vice presidential visit would be both expensive and very time consuming. However, …. only two days later we were informed that an invitation had been extended to Vice President Cheney by the chair of the Church Education Board of Trustees. The chair and vice chairs of this Board are the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No more discussion was needed about a possible invitation.

Representatives in Washington said they wanted just one point person at the university to deal with the details of a vice presidential visit. That assignment was given to Gerrit Gong, who is now Elder Gong, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. At that time, he was serving as Assistant to the President of BYU. Brother Gong is one of the smartest, wisest, most capable people I have ever met, and he was also well acquainted with Washington protocol and their expectations. He immediately pulled together various groups from the university and established a general plan for how to proceed. I felt some peace knowing who had extended the invitation, and I had a great deal of confidence in the expertise and experience Brother Gong would give this assignment.

About 6-8 weeks before the actual commencement day, I received a call at home from the BYU President. He began by saying that he had a “growth opportunity” for me. “Growth opportunity” was really just code for: “I have a really hard assignment that you won’t want to accept, but I need for you to do it anyway.”  He went on to explain that Church leaders needed Brother Gong to do some work that would take him away from the university for several weeks – right during the time when a lot of coordination would be needed between BYU and the Vice President’s Office.

Since I had oversight responsibility for campus security and involvement with the commencement exercises, I now needed to be the BYU point person. As an aside, oversight for this event was not something that I would or even could do alone. Many, many of my colleagues stepped up and took on major responsibilities and were extremely supportive. No one – at least that I heard – complained about my leadership of this assignment. But I was realistic enough to know that I was an extremely poor substitute for Brother Gong, and I felt quite overwhelmed. And at some level I confess to wondering why our Prophet would have thought this was a good idea.

During the next few weeks a meeting was scheduled with an advance team of six Secret Service agents to come on site and make a plan for their support team. Our campus police chief, the manager of the Marriott Center where the commencement would be held, and I met with this team. As we were introducing ourselves that day, the lead from their team asked me if I had ever worked with the Secret Service before. I said, “No, but I have watched 24.”  Many of you are likely too young to remember the TV series titled 24 where each week Jack Bauer and his agents uncovered deadly plots against the government and key officials.  With their exceptional skills they foiled the evil villains and saved the day. I thought I had given a clever response to the question. But not one of them laughed or even smiled. They just rolled their eyes. It was not an impressive beginning.

Everything associated with this event ended up being more complicated and harder than I had anticipated. As just one example, when the advance team toured the venue, they determined that about 100 more secret service personnel would be needed to assist with all the security and screening processes. The list of details to be addressed went on and on. These additional individuals, coming to Provo from areas all around the country, were well qualified and experienced in dealing with high level events. Nothing was easy, but somehow, things kept moving forward and the big day arrived. My last highly stressful responsibility was to brief the guests before the commencement exercises began. I was nervous but, apparently, the briefing went well enough and the official program began.

The actual event went smoothly – and much to my surprise, I would even say perfectly. A major highlight was that President Hinckley had made arrangements to come, and he personally escorted Vice President Cheney, which made everything so much more special for everyone.

When the commencement exercises had ended, the honored guests had departed and graduates joined their families and friends outside, I went back into the arena just to sit quietly for a moment, take a deep breath, and ponder all that had taken place. The lead secret service agent who had worked closely with me in preparing for this suddenly came into the arena and walked over to me. He said something like: I don’t understand.  All of these people we brought in to support these commencement exercises are experienced professionals.  Typically, they come in and quickly set up, and when an event is concluded they quickly pack up and leave, anxious to return to their homes.  But today no one seems to want to leave.  Do you have any idea what might be happening?

All of a sudden – and I was embarrassed that it hadn’t occurred to me earlier – I thought of the great benefit of President Hinckley having extended this invitation. In addition to the Vice President of the United States, there were many, many individuals from places all over the country, people skilled in assisting with high level government functions, all who had come to Provo, Utah, and who had been given the opportunity to be in the presence of the Prophet of God. They felt something they couldn’t explain, and they didn’t want to let go of it. I knew then what was happening. They were feeling the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. Because during the previous days and hours I had been so focused on potential challenges and problems, I neglected to notice the many miracles and blessings that had also become a part of this opportunity. But others noticed, and in spite of my doubts and personal weaknesses, Heavenly Father allowed me to be a part of this amazing experience. My participation in this event proved to be an important part of my continued spiritual education and of my trust in and testimony of the prophet of God.

Brothers and Sisters, Ensign College is a place where you can receive an excellent secular education. But don’t forget how important is your ongoing spiritual education. I would like to conclude my remarks with some counsel shared with students, like yourselves, who are participants in this great Church Education system:

“You who are here are so richly blessed with a great and precious opportunity.  Do not waste it.  Do not regard it lightly.  It is sacred and of great consequence.  Be thankful every day of your lives while you are here.  Pray for guidance.  Pray for help...Cultivate and invite the direction of the Holy Ghost.  Every one of you is precious.  You are precious in the sight of God.  You are precious to your parents.  You are precious to us who count on you to take advantage of this great season of preparation for the world in which you will live.”7

I add my love, confidence, and testimony to His.


1. Enoch. Moses 6:31
2. “Spencer W. Kimball’s Call to the Apostleship,” Meridian Magazine, Oct 1, 2015
3. Hinckley, Gordon B. “This Work is Concerned with People,” General Conference April, 1995
4. Eyring, Henry B. “Real Life Education,” Ensign, Oct 2002, p. 14
5. D&C 88:118
6. VanWagoner, Richard S. and Walker, Steven C. Book of Mormons, Signature Books, 1982, p. 180
7. Hinckley, Gordon B. “To a Man Who Has Done What This Church Expects of Each of Us,” BYU Devotional, Provo, Utah Oct 17, 1995

About the Speakers

Elder and Sister Sharman

Elder Brent Scharman

Brent Scharman is a licensed psychologist who who retired from LDS Family Services as an Assistant Commissioner. He received his Bachelors and Masters degrees at the University of Utah and Ph.D. at Brigham Young University. He served as president of the Utah Psychological Association, Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists and chair of the Missionary Mental Health Committee. He has served in many ecclesiastical positions including as bishop of the maximum-security unit at the Utah State Prison.

Sister Jan Scharman

Jan Scharman is a licensed psychologist who retired from BYU after serving in the Counseling Center, as Dean of Students and as Student Life Vice President. She received her Bachelors, Masters and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Utah. She formerly served as president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists and as chair of the BYU Women’s Conference. Her church callings have included Stake Relief Society President, ward Primary and Young Women’s president, Sunday School teacher and nursery leader. She and her husband have a blended family of 10 children, 37 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren.

The Scharman’s have enjoyed their service mission assignment as Student Success Coaches at Ensign College.
Close Modal