Strive to Live Without Regret
Some of you may not be old enough to remember him well, but some of you are, I suspect. I remember him very well, President James E. Faust. What a wonderful, beautiful human being. Every year after the First Presidency fireside, Christmas devotional, our families would get together, the Hinckleys and the Monsons and the Fausts, in a little social with all of the kids and grandkids, and we’d have a few light refreshments—mostly celery sticks and carrot sticks—and just talk and get together and have a good time together. President Faust, when it was time to leave, was nowhere to be found. And this happened every year. And we would walk in this little, itty-bitty kitchen which had no more room than for a refrigerator and microwave and sink, and he would be in there doing dishes, all by himself. And that’s just the kind of man he was.
This is a very interesting configuration, President Richards. My wife, who grew up playing competitive tennis, said, “I feel that I’m at a tennis match, sitting here.” We’ll make the best of it, and we’re so happy to be here. I think, President Richards, that I’ll turn the tables on you just a little bit, and our family will take full credit for what this college is today, because of the good work my grandparents did here.
Let me just say a word about my grandfather, Bryant S. Hinckley. He was born in 1867, ten years before the death of the Prophet Brigham Young, two years after the end of the Civil War, and he died in 1961 while I was a missionary. So I grew up for 20 years, 19 years, almost in his backyard, seeing him multiple times every week. What an interesting era of our history his life spanned. And he would talk to me as a little boy about his experiences on the frontier—Cove Fort, central Utah and elsewhere—and I think he probably instilled greater faith in my heart than almost any person who ever lived. He was just a wonderful man. I would sit on his lap—I was just a little fellow. (By the way, he sat on Brigham Young’s lap as a little fellow.) And he would just start to chuckle.
I’d say, “What’s so funny, Grandpa?”
He’d say, “You.”
And I’d say, “I haven’t said anything.”
And he’d say, “No, but you’re just funny.” Just great, great memories.
I’m just delighted to be here today. You come from all over the world and all over the United States, and let me just tell you how wonderful it is that you have chosen to be here at this institution. You are learning skills that will be invaluable to you. You are learning to weave the gospel into your daily lives. You are learning skills that hopefully will help you to secure employment in a competitive world, in a profession you love, and that will support your family and yourselves. I hope that you will make good use of every minute of your time here. I hope that you will live up to the divine potential within you, and know that part of that divine potential is preparing yourselves to engage yourselves in honorable and productive work in this competitive world.
I have a little book with me today that I purchased in a bookstore on the last day of my mission in 1963 in Germany. Our mission president encouraged us, on our last day, to spend an hour or two and go into a bookstore and buy a few books to take home. And this was one of them. Among the half dozen or so that I purchased was this little book called Glaubiges Herze. How many of you speak German? Nobody? One hand? Glaubiges Herze, which means “faithful or believing heart.” It is a compilation of letters and writings by a man named Matheus Claudius, who lived in the 1700s and was a theologian/philosopher.
It is a wonderful little book, containing a lot of wisdom. There is one little two-line rhyme that I am going to read in German, and then I’m going to attempt to translate it—because rhymes are difficult to translate into any language. But it reads like this:
Nichts ist zu Elend als der Mann
Der alles will und der nichts kann
So my interpretation, translation of that is “There is nothing so miserable as the man who wants everything, but nothing can.” In other words, miserable is he who would love to accomplish wonderful things but has no skills.
When I was your age, IBM was one of the fastest-growing companies on the planet. They had a very open policy, which they talked a great deal about, that when you went to work for IBM, you would never be fired, except of course for dishonesty or some other similar cause. And they lived by that credo for many, many years. Job security with them was a given. But, like all good things, that came to an end. Today, no company would dare to make that statement.
It has been my observation that there are just three things, if you boil it down to the simplest, that will provide job security for you in your generation: First, your work ethic. By that I don’t just mean putting in honest hours, but I also mean your integrity, your dedication, and your loyalty to your employer. Second is your ability to get along with others—that is, your interpersonal skills. And third, of course, is your competence; that is, your technical skills that you bring to the workplace.
You are at such a wonderful place in your lives, my dear young friends. Again, take advantage of this experience. Learn all you can. Learn to apply it. Look forward with optimism and faith, even in these difficult times. We are at a very unique time in our history, and a wonderful time, due to the candidacy of Mitt Romney. I don’t care which candidate you intend to vote for. That doesn’t matter. But having a member of the Church run for the highest office in the land has brought tremendous visibility to the Church, as never, ever before in our history.
My wife and I, when I went emeritus last year, were called in by President Uchtdorf, and he said, “What are your plans?”
I said, “I don’t know; I guess I’ll go fishing.”
And he said, “Not so fast.” And he extended the call on behalf of the First Presidency to both my wife and me to serve as directors of Church Hosting, VIP hosting. It’s been a very interesting year, this past year. Now, this is not about me or us, but I’m just going to tell you some of the things that have occupied my time and hers for the last month. Just to give you an idea of what the candidacy of a Mormon candidate is doing for the Church. We have hosted the ambassador of Switzerland to the United States, the ambassadors for Germany, Peru, South Africa, the Philippines. We had dinner last Saturday evening in Washington, D.C., as the guests of the minister counselor of education, Dr. Fong Maotian of China; we are preparing to host the ambassador to the United States from Spain tomorrow, the ambassador from Sri Lanka to the United Nations in two weeks. We just had the chaplain, the chief chaplain of the United States Air Force, Major General [Howard] Stendahl last week, just to name a few.
In addition to that, the press has been so interested in the Church, as a result of Mitt Romney, that they are being overwhelmed by requests by journalists for interviews—so overwhelmed that they’ve asked me to help them with some spillover. Just in the last month or so I’ve had the following interviews: Al Jazeera Television English, with an audience of over 100 million; Dutch National Television; Austrian National Television; BBC; Norwegian National Television; Der Spiegel, which is Europe’s largest weekly magazine; Wirtschaftswoche, which is Germany’s equivalent of Businessweek; German Focus Television; British TV; Swiss TV; a French newspaper; nine Belgian journalists; CBN, which is the Christian Broadcasting Network; Al Arabia Television, with whom I spent almost three hours yesterday; and French TV, which will be later this afternoon.
Now, I mention this because you will soon be going out into the world. Some of you will find jobs right here in Utah, while most of you will find them elsewhere in the United States or abroad. Because of the things that I have just mentioned that are the result of the current presidential campaign, your coworkers will be more aware of the Church than ever before in our entire history, and by a wide margin. They will be watching you. Some will be curious enough to ask you about your faith. You will find opportunities to bring the subject up yourself. It is more important than ever before that you live your religion, that you let your light shine. And in so doing, you will at times feel alone—very alone, perhaps the only Latter-day Saint among your peers.
Exactly 43 years ago a week from now, my father in 1969 gave a talk at BYU which was titled, “The Loneliness of Leadership.” I’m going to cite a couple of lines from that because it has application to my theme today:
“You are all [here] together… now [at BYU; at LDS Business College]. You are all of one kind; you are all of one mind. But you are training to go out into the world where you are not going to have about you [large numbers of] others like you. You will feel the loneliness of your faith.
“It is not easy, for instance, to be virtuous when all about you there are those who scoff at virtue.
“It is not easy to be honest when all about you there are those who are interested…in making ‘a fast buck.’
“It is not always easy to be temperate when all about you there are those who scoff at sobriety.
“It is not easy to be industrious when all about you there are those who do not believe in the value of work.
“It is not easy to be a [person] of integrity when all about you there are those who will forsake principle for expediency.”
“I would like to say to you here today, my brethren and sisters, [and think of yourselves as though he were talking to you] there is loneliness—but [men and women] of your kind [must] live with [their] conscience. [You have to live with your principles You have to live with your convictions. You have to live with your testimony.] Unless you do so, you will be miserable—dreadfully miserable. And while there may be thorns, while there may be disappointment, while there may be trouble and travail, heartache and heartbreak, and desperate loneliness, there will be peace and comfort and strength.”
“…I would like to offer the thought that no institution and no [person] ever lived at peace with [himself or herself] in the spirit of compromise.” (Nov. 4, 1969 BYU Devotional, http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1563)
When I went in the mission field nearly 52 years ago, there were no Missionary Training Centers. Instead, we spent one week in what was called the Mission Home, that stood on the property now occupied by the Conference Center, and we heard various speakers. If we were called to serve a foreign mission, as I was, our mission assignment was for 2½ years; for the sisters, two [years]. The extra six months [was] to help us get the language under control.
I remember very little from that week 52 years ago, but one thing does stand out. It was a principle that I reflected on throughout my mission. Forty years later, when I served as a mission president, I taught it repeatedly to our missionaries. It is a very simple thing, and it is the one thing that I hope you will write down, if you write anything down of what I say today. A speaker—I don’t remember who he or she was—simply said, “When you return home from your mission”—now, think of this in the context of your current lives in school—“when you return home from your mission, I hope you will be able to say, ‘I am glad I did,’ not ‘I wish I had.’ ”
Great thought. That is all about living without regret, a theme embedded in the talk my father gave those many years ago. It was also the thought embedded in President Uchtdorf’s wonderful message in the opening session of general conference just ten days ago. I hope you heard it. I hope you will read it and study it, either online or when the Ensign is published. I hope you will save it for future reference throughout your lives. It was titled “Of Regrets and Resolutions.” How many of you remember that talk? It was not about airplanes. Okay. I’m not going to embarrass you by having you raise your hand, but again, I hope you’ll study it when you see it in writing.
President Uchtdorf illustrated beautifully the idea that when we are young, like you here this morning, we tend to see an endless road ahead. I quote: “When we are young, it seems that we will live forever. We think there is a limitless supply of sunrises waiting just beyond the horizon, and the future looks to us like an unbroken road stretching endlessly before us.
“However,” he continued, “the older we get, the more we tend to look back and marvel at how short that road really is. We wonder how the years could have passed so quickly. And we begin to think about the choices we made and the things we have done. In the process, we remember many sweet [memories] that give warmth to our souls and joy to our hearts. But we also remember the regrets—the things we wish we could go back and change.”
He then told of a nurse, you’ll remember, who cares for people who are terminally ill and who sometimes asks her patients, “Do you have any regrets?” Their answers, President Uchtdorf says, were telling, are telling. The most universal regret this nurse’s patients have is, “I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.”
How many of you are from outside Utah? Do you miss your family? What do you do about it? Do you talk with them? Do you email them? Do you share your experiences with them? Do you tell them how much you love them and how much you miss them? If not, I encourage you to do so, even if you are the only member of the Church in your family—in fact, especially if you are the only member of the Church in your family.
Or is it just an occasional text you send them that is short and slick and rather meaningless? President Uchtdorf said of technology, “With the click of a mouse we can ‘connect’ with thousands of ‘friends’ without ever having to face a single one of them.” And he encouraged face-to-face communication wherever possible. He went on: ‘Isn’t it true that we often get so busy? And, sad to say, we even wear our busyness as a badge of honor, as thought being busy, by itself, was an accomplishment or sign of a superior life.”
How many of you are guilty of that? Everyone raise your hand, particularly these brethren on the stand. When you get to be our age, you feel that way. And then President Uchtdorf said, “Is it?” Of course it isn’t a badge of honor.
He continued: “I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished.
“I can’t see it.” Great thought.
The other two regrets of which he spoke were these: “I wish I had lived up to my potential,” and “I wish I had let myself be happier.” I’ll leave it to you to read the talk and to figure out the last one. You can find the answers in his talk.
“I wish I had lived up to my potential.” Isn’t that interesting? Does the little thought that I learned all those years ago as I was leaving [from] my mission make more sense in the context of that statement? I hope you can say, when you return from your mission, “I am glad I did,” instead of “I wish I had.”
President Uchtdorf then spoke of reaching our divine potential. When I was very young—and I was reminded of this during his talk—my father would often use a very interesting expression when he was offering family prayers. He would say, “Lord, please bless us that we might live without regret.” Quite frankly, it didn’t mean much to me as a small boy. In fact, it didn’t mean anything to me as a small boy. But as I grew older it took on great meaning, and I still think of it very often.
I’ll share a story with you from my childhood that has to do with regret, and I apologize if you have heard it. I mentioned this in a talk either at BYU or at BYU-Idaho years ago, I don’t remember. When I was about ten or eleven years old, my friends and I used to love to sleep outside in the summer under the stars. I grew up in a part of the Salt Lake Valley in those days that was considered country. There were open fields and gullies all throughout our neighborhood. One night while sleeping out, we decided to explore a new house that was under construction just across an alfalfa field that lay between us and the house. We were in a little gully, kind of hidden out of sight. So we walked across the alfalfa field, and we spied a big pile of discarded lumber.
In those days, when they poured foundations, they built up the foundations out of old pieces of wood and then poured the concrete, and then stripped this wood away and threw it away. Today they use reusable forms. But we took that wood. We didn’t ask—it was 10 o’clock at night or 11—we took it and we dragged it across that alfalfa field, got up in the morning very excited and built ourselves a hut. And then we went up to the edge of the little gully in which we were sleeping and noticed to our horror, that where we had dragged that lumber across this alfalfa field, the alfalfa lay flat. And there was a very defined trail from the house to the edge of the gully. And we were absolutely convinced that we were going to jail. We were 10, 11 years old.
So we made a pact, the three of us, and said for three days we will have no contact with each other and we’ll hide. And I went home and I sat in my parents’ closet, hidden behind their clothes. My mother said, “What are you doing there?”
I said, “I’m just resting.” She didn’t press it, thankfully. She just shrugged her shoulders and walked away. But every time we heard a siren, I was just terrified. Well, we weren’t arrested. We were never found out. But a couple of weeks later I went with my father, as I often did on Saturdays when he went into his office to catch up on his work. I went into his office and ran around that Church Administration Building—in those days there was no Church security, the place was open and it was heaven for a 10-year-old to go exploring, which I did. And as we were about to leave and walk out that east exit—if you’ve been to the Lion House and looked right across at the Church Administration Building, you see those stairs that come down and that east door? That’s…his office in those days was right back there. He was not yet a general authority.
But as we were about to leave, President McKay walked out of his office, which was right over in the other corner where the president of the Church’s office now is. And my father said, “Have you met my son?”
Well, I considered myself a wood thief to some extent, and I was embarrassed to meet him, so as I shook his hand, reached up and shook his hand, I looked at my shoelaces and could feel his eyes piercing right down through my head and reading the words “wood thief.” I felt miserable.
Years later when I was reading the 121st section of the Doctrine and Covenants, I came across this very interesting passage in the 45th verse. A part of the verse reads, “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” What great advice.
Now President McKay was God’s prophet, and I did not have any confidence in his presence. Why? Because just a few days earlier, my friends had taken something without permission. Now I was convinced then and I remain convinced to this day that that lumber was going to the scrap heap. But we should have asked, and we didn’t.
Now that rather homely little story from my life’s experience I think illustrates President Uchtdorf’s message, which resonated so with me.
President Uchtdorf concluded with some resolutions—namely, that we 1) “Resolve to spend more time with those we love,” 2) that we “Resolve to strive more earnestly to become the person [that] God wants us to be,” and 3) “Resolve to find happiness, regardless of our circumstances.”
And so, my young brothers and sisters, as you move beyond these halls, these very safe halls, into the work force in the cities around the world, you will feel the loneliness of your faith and of your convictions. But as you live in accordance with what you know to be right and true, you will find peace and comfort and strength, just as President Hinckley promised 43 years ago, and as President Uchtdorf promised ten days ago. May this be your lot, I pray as I share with you my testimony of the truthfulness and of the divinity of the great work in which we are engaged. May God bless you. May God bless you with peace, with happiness, with resolve, with determination to make the very best of this magnificent opportunity of attending this wonderful business college—that you may hone your skills, that you may develop your interpersonal relationships, that you may see the necessity of hard work and loyalty and goodness, I humbly pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.