Moving Upward with Grace
I am just really grateful that all of those lessons have paid off. All that small chunk of change that we set aside every month—this is a mom’s belated blessing. And I’m really grateful to you girls. I don’t know where they went; oh, there they are. They are my biggest reason to rejoice. And there’s one daughter in the middle that right at this moment is probably taking her exam on To Kill A Mockingbird, so she was not able to be here. But she is a part of the Piano Girls Band, and some day we hope to give her the sweet privilege of playing in this beautiful hall. It is a blessing, and I appreciate more than anything the opportunity to speak and to hear these girls play and see Lizzy kind of finish her piano career on a Steinway in the Assembly Hall. So thank you. Thank you for always saying okay, when I say to practice.
There is great cause to rejoice. I love the words of President Uchtdorf as he states, “The first step on the path of discipleship begins, luckily enough, in the exact place where [you] stand!” (“The Way of the Disciple,” Apr. 2009 General Conference.)
Welcome to the opening summer devotional. I bear testimony that as you attend these devotionals, you will receive inspiration in your life. I can’t tell you to come and receive inspiration, but I can bear testimony of how many pages in my journal are filled with the whisperings of the Spirit when I’m here every single Tuesday. And I hope that when I pass away and they are looking through my journals saying, “What was this Tuesday event?” that all the pieces will come together that it was a monumental part of my life where I received a lot of personal revelation. So as you’re walking over here, maybe you will pose a few questions to heaven, and you might find the answers while you are sitting in the pews. If anything, come here just to hear the music, and to look through the stained glass windows—that is my favorite thing to do when I am feeling like I am empty and I come here wanting to fill up. So the stained glass windows and the music always pack a punch, and the speakers are just the icing on the cake.
While my girls were playing that beautiful arrangement of “Now, Let Us Rejoice” (Hymn, no. 3), I hope that you were able to record some specific things in your life today that are causing you to rejoice. There is great power in recording your story, particularly when you are moved by the Spirit.
At the 2013 opening devotional, our friend President Richards, and I think that it would be sweet to just feel his spirit because this is such a big day for him to be gone, he said, “Write down in your book the things that the Spirit teaches you, the promptings of the still, small voice. What a wonderful opportunity we have every week to come and practice hearing the still, small voice for us, our individual needs, our wants, and our righteous desires.”
He says, “So I invite you today to start. Learn to listen to your heart and record what the Spirit would have you know. And then it won’t matter what the speaker says. You’ll have a great meeting” (“Choose Not to Hold Back,” LDSBC Devotional, May 7, 2013).
For the remainder of this time together, I’m just wondering if you will come and pitch a tent with me. I love being in a tent. My family knows that; it’s my favorite spot to be. And I love when my husband gathers us in his tent and starts throwing the Book of Mormon at all of us, and we put our headlamps on, and we snuggle down in for a sweet time reading the Book of Mormon under the stars.
We are literally in the shadows of the temple, and there was a part in the Book of Mormon where they came, and they pitched, and their doors were facing the temple (see Mosiah 2:6). And so today, I hope that you’ll pitch a tent with me.
On several occasions I’ve stood in front of a large painting from a local artist named Brian Kershisnik. So boys, if you need a really good date, here’s the deal—you’re going to drive down to BYU where this exact painting is housed, and you’re going to go to the arts museum, and then you’re going to go get a J-Dawg after. And that will be a killer Friday night date. So girls, get ready, because this will be a date.
Anyway, this is stretched on a canvas about the size of a U-Haul trailer. It’s big, measuring more than 7 feet high and 17 feet wide, and the painting is called Nativity. I know, it’s May and that’s a December story. Hold on and let me connect the dots. At the bottom of the painting is the Holy Family, a relieved Joseph, hand on forehead, and a very serene Mary cradled under the light of her new son, Jesus Christ. And above this sweet family three are angels everywhere, sweeping the canvas, displaying a range of emotions as they gather and they stream in rapidly in the left side. Their tears are windswept; their hair is a wreck. It’s a mess. And they rush close to be near to the Savior.
You know, in Kershisnik’s painting, the angels do not stay at the Nativity. They are in a constant upward state. They worship, and then they continue upward. They exit to the right of the painting and they make their way with haste to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, has been born. The more I study Kershisnik’s extreme Nativity scene, the more I realize this—this painting—this is where my story and your story begin. And each time I visit this painting, I am left with the same question: where was I that night? Was I in that heavenly throng of angels? Where was I?
But I have learned that perhaps the better question is not, where were we, but where are we? The very fact that you are here today tells me that you are still choosing to be a part of this heavenly throng and that you’ve not given up on this pathway to discipleship.
Let me do a little bit of bridging for you. Last semester the devotionals were centered around the Atonement. Studying the Atonement, and applying it, and making a place for it in our lives. How many of you made your way over to a few of the devotionals on the Atonement? [Audience members raise their hands.] Okay. So here comes the bridge. So my sweet friend David was a student of mine. And you couldn’t find anyone more credible to talk the talk and to walk the walk of service because this student, this young man, serves quietly and fiercely. So as he talked to you a little bit about service, the theme for these devotionals and for this summer is “A Summer of Service.”
Now, don’t shut down on me, because sometimes we don’t think we have room to serve. So hang on. So, with all the mountains ahead of you—whether they be feelings of not being enough, or of not having enough time to give, or of schedules maxed out with work, school, and trying to figure out Church-life balance—how do we take what we know about the Atonement and move upward into discipleship? One word: Grace.
I titled my talk today “Moving Upward with Grace” in hopes that you will feel a movement when you leave here and embark on this summer. The next few minutes are not about me talking, but are about each of you as you ponder what it means to you to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and what this means in your life as you ask yourself, “Where am I?”
To frame this pondering, I’d like to use a favorite line of poetry from the long-winded T.S. Eliot, who is not a favorite poet of mine, but this line is a favorite line. It goes:
At the still point of the turning world (“Burnt Norton,” Four Quartets).
Christ’s birth was a still point in a really tumultuous, turning world some 2,000 years ago. And the world is still tumultuous and turning, and His life continues to be a still point in the world today. It is through the gift of grace that we can then become His word and His light in the ever-turning world.
There are five still points to a star. And you all know the star—I’m going back to that December story. The sky held that star with five still points. And with these still points, I’m going to give you five principles of grace, each with a question for you to take home and to ponder. For the next few moments, I would ask the Spirit to be here and to help me because I have learned if I’ve learned one thing by teaching at this College, the Spirit is the best teacher, and by far it is just the best match to any of your instructors.
Still point number one: Grace is a power that flows from the Atonement. It is what the Savior uses to help us and enable us. If you just write the word enable, that is the only word you need. And here is the question for you to ponder: when was the last time you experienced this enabling power of grace as you moved from depletion and emptiness upward into fullness and abundance?
In my own pondering of this question, I was reminded of a student who gave a great talk about the symbolism of the sego lily blossom. Now, for those of you who are new, this is for you. It feels like I’ve sat in here a million times, and I never realized why there’s this big huge blossom, this sego lily, above you. And so that’s one of the reasons that I come in here every week, and I do not leave until I glance upward and I pay attention to that beautiful sego lily.
For those of you who are not local, that is our state flower. And it didn’t get to be our state flower because it’s just a really pretty flower. When those early settlers came into Utah and their crops were ravished by crickets and drought, in the middle of the winter when they thought they could go on no more, they dug up the bulbs of the sego lily and they ate them. And the sego lily reminded them of the enabling power and where they got their strength from. So you’ll see the sego lily in many, many of the artifacts that are reminder of the early settlers and Saints. Remember, remember, remember.
The symbolism is one that reminds me of depletion and drought, but also fullness. Look at that bloom. It’s in full bloom. The semester does not come without days where your soil will be cracked and you will feel dry, and you will just want to be watered down, like the words in Isaiah (see Isaiah 58:11). And this is where the gift of grace can grow inside of you, reminding you of the Savior’s love. This is His gift to each of you.
You might be thinking, “Sister Robbins, who has time for grace? Who has time for service? May is busy, and there are not enough hours in the day.” God gives us time on earth, but yet we can’t seem to find time for God.
Imagine that you have a cup of water and it is half full. If you fill it up with grace and it is overflowing, grace isn’t what is going to make it overflow. Grace, this steady stream of water in your life, the gift from God, and the gift that you can use every single day. Sheri Dew in her latest book says, “The Savior empowers us with His grace, not because we’ve earned it, but because He loves us perfectly” (Sheri L. Dew, Amazed by Grace, Deseret Book, 2015).
Perhaps taking this love that the Savior has for you and serving others can be something as simple as smiling at someone in the hall, or engaging in a classroom, or treating each other with love and respect, civility and kindness. When you collaborate in teams, make sure that you listen to each other, that you remember that that girl sitting across the way from you, she is a daughter of God. And that guy in your group that never shows up to the meetings, he is a son of God. And maybe there is something that you can do to encourage them to move through the mountains they are climbing.
Grace’s still point number two. Here’s the principle: “His grace can change our very nature”—keyword: change—“and over time transform us from who we are into who we can become” (quoted in Marianne Holman Prescott and Sonja Carlson, “BYU Women’s Conference,” LDS Church News, May 2, 2014). And that’s by Sheri Dew. Two key words: change and transform. Here’s a question to ponder: how has His grace changed or transformed your heart recently, within the last two weeks? Have you noticed?
I know there are missionary stories out there that happened two years ago. What has happened since then? How has His grace changed and transformed you since then? And how have you been illuminated by that light in understanding who you are and what you are truly capable of?
There were many on that night that Jesus Christ was born that were in search of a lot of things—a lot of strength and a lot of light. I love the quote by Dennis Rasmussen when he said, “When Jesus entered the world, all things were transformed, not because they looked different, but because he was in their midst. He knew their real worth. . . . Christ took common things and raised them up to sanctity. He led men to see, as they had never seen before.” How has the gift of grace done that for you? He took “leaven and salt, wind and sea, publicans and sinners—all revealed before his eyes their inner goodness.” (“Knowest Thou the Condescension of God?” Lord’s Question, 61-62, quoted in “Discerning Divinity,” BYU Religious Studies Center.)
One of the highlights to standing sideline to each of you in your education is that we have the privilege of watching you change, transform, and grow in a matter of 14 weeks. When I get to heaven and they ask me what was one of the biggest privileges of my life, that will be on my list.
This past semester on the last day of our leadership class, as we were reflecting one of my students profoundly made the conclusion about seeing things from her limited view. In her words, she said, “In this past semester I have learned a lot about leadership and leading others. But what I realized through the gift of grace is that I needed to learn how to lead myself before I could really lead others. I now see myself as a leader who has the right pieces in place, and I now have the capacity to see myself and others in a whole new light.”
This was the fruition, this was the happy spot of the semester, to see this student see herself with new eyes and attribute it to the Atonement and to that gift of grace.
Sometimes, our view of ourselves and those around us is hindered by our earthly view. But the gift of grace has a way of taking these earth-stained stories and making them illuminated and changed, so we are able to do all that is required of us. The very minute you begin to say, “I don’t have anything to contribute here on campus. I don’t have anything to give,” is the very moment you can initiate grace in your life and ask for a transformation.
Grace still point number three. Here’s the principle, from 1 Peter 1:13: “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind.” Isn’t that a great phrase? “Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” And here’s the question. It’s one of my favorite questions that I’m trying to ask myself weekly—what is one thing you can do to gird up your mind, to let go of something that is weighing you down, and to allow you to reach upward for more grace and have His Spirit with you more abundantly? In other words, what can you let go of in order for you to have the capacity and energy for you to reach for what you need to reach for?
As you list something that you can let go of, list something that you can reach for. It’s easy to say, “Well, I can let go of my terrible music, and watching Netflix, and I could probably do away with gaming a little bit more.” But give yourself a little leeway to give a reach. “I could get my temple recommend.” “I could spend more time in the mountains pondering and meditating and being more grateful.”
Think of the extra energy and capacity we would have in our life if we girded up our mind and released the worry, the anger, the distractions, the discouragement, and the heaviness of the things that we carry so we can reach for the things that the Lord needs us to reach for.
What if this became our greatest desire, to have His Spirit to be with us more abundantly and to reach for what He would have us reach for? It would be like Christmas all year long. I loved when Marlin K. Jensen, one day in this room, took my day and flipped it on its head. And if you want a really good devotional address, go onto the website and pull up Marlin K. Jensen’s devotional. But I’m going to give you the best part, and I’m going to ask you the same question he asked me when I was sitting right over there. He said, “Think back, if you would, just on your own prayer this morning. I hope you have offered one. If you have, honestly it’s a lot more important than anything I can say today. . . . Did you, in your prayer today mention the Holy Ghost, and tell God how much you desire to have that Spirit with you today?”
He continued, “Where our prayers are, there will our thoughts be also, really. And I just hope that . . . your level of consciousness about the need for, the desire for, the worth of having the Holy Ghost with you would substantially increase” (“Strive to Have Companionship of the Spirit,” LDSBC devotional, Nov. 26, 2013).
And from that day forward, I walked out of here and that has been a staple in most of my morning prayers, and when I miss it, I can tell by about noon.
Grace still point number four: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” This comes from 2 Peter 3:18. Grace upon grace, we grow just as Jesus Christ did. Keyword here: grow. So we’ve got enable, change, transform, and grow. If you leave with those verbs, that’s all you need to know about the gift of grace. They’re going to hold you down and anchor you so that you can continue on in your own personal study. Here’s the question: in a moment of sadness or darkness or discouragement, how did the Lord strengthen you through the gift of grace as He mended you? Given your weaknesses and shortcomings and lack of capacity at times, how were you able to receive the blessings of grace?
A few semesters ago in English 101, we were discussing two articles, which if you haven’t read, you need to read them: “Sweet Above All That Is Sweet,” by Sheri Dew, () and “His Grace Is Sufficient,” by Brad Wilcox (BYU Devotional, Jul. 12,2011). And this was in English, so we were analyzing the writing, the paragraphs, the rhetoric, the imagery, and the central messages. So those of you that are enrolled in English 101, you have a day to look forward to.
As we analyzed the principles of grace from these two readings and applied them, we talked about the gift of grace and what it meant in our individual lives. And then Brenda—a student from South Africa, a single mother of two, a woman who gave up everything to come to America to be educated—described the gift of grace and living without the Atonement like this: she said, “It’s like floating above your life to have no Atonement, and above everything else in a constant and exhausting search for something unknown and still feeling like you’re always missing something.”
When she said that in class, in English 101, College Writing, I will tell you that was one of the most profound moments that I have had on campus in one of these Spirit-centered classrooms—to see this beautiful voice and this beautiful woman teach her peers about what it would feel like to live without the Atonement. What does it feel like for you to have the Atonement in your life? Have you ever written it down? Have you ever told anyone what it personally means to you? And if it’s been two years since your mission you personally said that, go home, call your mom, call your dad, call your brother, and let them know what that means to you today. If you do one thing today, that will be gift enough.
Do not wait until you make a mistake to use the Atonement. Dig in for a lifelong study and let it grow. Let it grow beside you and throughout you—throughout your days, both the dark days and the light days. As many of you know, I have studied the Atonement by book and scripture, like all of you have. But I have felt the Atonement; I have seen it in my own life. And those close by who I love so dearly, I have watched the Atonement seep through the darkest, darkest places and bring out light and goodness, fullness and abundance. I can feel it. I can almost touch it, and so I know it. And if I know it, I have to continue to study it. I can’t just be complacent.
Last still point: When I get to heaven—and tell this to my family a lot because I’m crazy over Pau—I want to meet Paul! So this comes from Paul’s address to the Hebrews. And if you have not studied Paul—if it’s been a while—that would be such a great summer schedule for scripture study, to just dig into Paul’s addresses. He is a master of grace. And just go through and look at all the ways that he explains grace to those that he’s speaking to.
This is in Hebrews 12:28. “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence.” And here’s the question for you: how can we use the gift of grace to strengthen and enable us, as it is required that we serve others, particularly those whose burdens are heavy?
Friends, I invite you to pay attention to the gift of grace. If you leave here with that one thing on your list of things to do, just to start paying attention to it, to have a deeper awareness of it, and to build it into the conversations that you have in your prayers, we will have hit jackpot.
Let’s go to the very spot in the scriptures, in Mosiah 2, and there are people in their tents waiting for us. And you know this address because you have taught this address on your mission. But I want you to think about it in terms of grace and a Summer of Service. I’m in Mosiah 2, and this goes all the way from verse 15 to 23, but I’m going to take my two favorite verses. And we’re going to start in verse 20 and 21. And if it’s been a while since you’ve read that, don’t go to bed tonight without reading that. It is so great.
“I say unto you”—and you know who this is, it’s King Benjamin—“that if you should render”—go look that word up, and those of you who have taken the leadership classes, you know what the word render is, don’t you?—“render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that you should rejoice, and has granted that you should live in peace with one another—”
Here’s the why in verse 21: “I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you”—so you can go to lunch with your friends, and do what you need to do at work today, He is preserving you—“from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will”—and your own schedule—“and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”
Perhaps we hunger and thirst for this: to not know more about God but to know how to use His good news of this gospel in our lives so that we can be healed and transformed by grace.
I’m going to give you two last things to write down: “Give me the grace to . . . ” and “Give me the grace to see . . . ” This week in your journal, try to write a small paragraph. Try just one sentence. “Give me the grace to not pick up what I turned over to the Atonement.” “Give me the grace to see the other side of the situation and find a solution.” “Give me the grace to have an abundance of energy to climb the mountain that stands before me.”
Cathy, can I get that last beautiful image?—this is a local artist; his name is J. Kirk Richards. He’s awesome. If you have an Instagram account, you’ll want to go follow him today. My hope is that, for one small moment today, you felt confirmation that this is where you belong and that you are a part of His story as you are living and becoming His word. As you continue to ponder these five still points, I hope that you abound in grace and that you continue to rejoice this summer as you find small ways to serve Him, the One who is giving you breath every single day. Travel beside Him, and use the gift of grace as a tool. We give you tons of tools to go out into the business world—this is by far the coolest tool you will ever have to help you build your discipleship.
Be prepared, though, to start listening to your life. When you lean on the gift of grace and you pay attention to it, you begin to listen to your life. The key is to record and to trust yourself to write these things down. Thank you for being willing to ponder and capture some of the sacred feelings you have felt today. I love when Sheri Dew says: “Because Jesus Christ atoned, His grace is available to us every minute of every hour of every day” (“Sweet Above All That Is Sweet”) Perhaps it is only in pausing every now and then to gaze behind to where we’ve been, so that we can look at where we’re heading and see where we are.
I know this with all my heart, that on the night that Jesus Christ was born, I chose Him. And I’m still choosing Him today. And the fact that you are here today tells me you too choose Him. Keep choosing this. If you are on the fence, come over and dig in. It’s the best way to get off the fence.
Just like the earnest shepherds of long ago, you have to go with haste as you come unto Christ, as you stand as His disciples some two thousand years later. I testify that God is our Heavenly Father and this is His plan. I testify that Jesus Christ came to earth and laid down His life for us. I testify that He appeared to Joseph Smith, and because of Him, I know Jesus Christ better. And in the words of President Uchtdorf, “With the gift of God’s grace, the path of discipleship does not lead backwards; it leads upwards” (“The Gift of Grace,” Apr. 2015 General Conference).
During this Summer of Service, it is my prayer that you are enabled, that you are changed, that you are transformed, and that you are sustained and empowered and you move upward in His kingdom. I say these things humbly in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.