In our most recent General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson asked an insightful question which I invite you to answer yourself: “What would you do if you had more faith?”
Some years ago, I participated with my youngest daughter in a youth mountain climbing activity. This activity included the use of a steel safety cable, iron rungs, and carabiners. This was a new experience for me. An experienced guide taught us how to use the basic equipment. He then shared this important piece of information. He said, “As you climb, you are going to confront obstacles and barriers that appear to block your way. When you get to these obstacles, you need to know that there IS a way to get past them.” The obstacles were generally an outcropping of rock that appeared to block your climb. The guide further instructed us, “When you come to these obstacles, use each of your limbs, explore all of the possibilities with your right arm, left arm, right leg and left leg. Reach beyond your sightline. Feel for slight fingerholds in the rock that may allow you to move a few inches up or sideways that may give you access to another place or foothold for one of your feet. If your arms don’t find anything, try pushing with your legs. But, most importantly, keep trying and know that there is a way.”
His instructions were simple. The climb was a lot of fun, and as promised, we came to obstacles. When confronted with the first obstacle I assumed I would quickly figure it out and move on. This was not the case! I used my arms and legs as instructed. I thought I tried every way possible. Nothing worked. I could not see or feel a way over or around this challenge. I thought to myself, “This is impossible!” After several failed attempts, I came to an important realization: If I had not been assured that there was a way, I would have given up. I would have accepted the illusion that this obstacle was insurmountable and quit the climb. However, I remembered the promise of the guide that there will always be a way to successfully overcome every obstacle and make progress on the climb. I simply needed to stay attached to the cable, choose faith, and keep trying.
By giving a slight push with my right foot on an angle, and with my left hand reaching out and feeling beyond my sightline, I was finally able to get a hold of a lip of rock and pull myself up a few inches. This slight adjustment allowed my other hand and foot to find leverage, and soon I climbed over and past the obstacle. It was a rewarding experience. More obstacles blocked my way – some easier, others more difficult. Nevertheless, every obstacle was successfully navigated. I came to realize that my initial perception of these obstacles was an illusion. These barriers were not a burden, but a blessing, an essential element that made the experience more meaningful.
My invitation for you today is simple: Choose faith. Through the trials, fears, or doubts you are facing, exercise your agency and choose faith. Choose to act in faith and not just to be acted upon by doubt (2 Nephi 2:14-16, 27-28). Choose to believe that there is a way for you to overcome the obstacles you face. Trust that you can experience an abundance of joy, confidence, love, and genuine peace by choosing to exercise faith in Jesus Christ.
In addressing this doctrine, I assure you that I do not mean to minimize or trivialize the very real problems and challenges and obstacles each of us face. Each of us have, or are, enduring very real struggles. I mention this so that you know this message comes from someone who has, like you, had the problems and challenges that are common to most people in life. And who also, like you, has experienced other unique and unexpected challenges. When you, or someone you love, struggles with spiritual, physical, or mental challenges (anxiety, depression, or discouragement), it is often difficult to see any eventual good coming out of it. However, I humbly, but boldly, invite you to exercise your agency to choose faith.
Elder Dale G. Renlund together with his wife Sister Ruth Renlund taught:
“Faith is a choice that each person must make. Faith is not just whimsically wanting something to be true and fancifully convincing yourself it is. Faith is the assurance of the existence of things that we have not seen in the flesh. It is also a principle of action. Perhaps it could be said that faith is a sort of spiritual memory of our premortal existence…
“God … wants us to have faith so that He can bless us. … Faith is the key that unlocks God’s mercy. …For faith to grow, one must choose to have faith. One must desire to have faith. One must act in faith.”
(Elder Dale G. Renlund with Sister Ruth L. Renlund: “Doubt Not, but Be Believing,” Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Training Broadcast • June 12, 2018).
In our most recent General Conference, President Russell M. Nelson taught:
- “Faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest power available to us in this life.”
- “The Lord does not require perfect faith for us to have access to His perfect power. But He does ask us to believe.”
- “Your growing faith in Him will move mountains — not the mountains of rock that beautify the earth — but the mountains of misery in your lives.”
- “Your flourishing faith will help you turn challenges into unparalleled growth and opportunity.”
- “Everything good in life—every potential blessing of eternal significance—begins with faith.”
(President Russell M. Nelson, “Christ is Risen; Faith in Him Will Move Mountains,” April 2021 General Conference).
Focusing on his faith in Jesus Christ allowed Peter to walk on water until he allowed fear to replace his initial focus on the Savior. A woman with a devastating health condition was healed instantly when she chose to act in faith by reaching out and touching the Savior’s robe. Choosing faith in Jesus Christ is the key that unlocks the way to greater strength and joy regardless of the obstacle or challenge.
Each generation has had to endure hard things. Throughout history, there have been plagues and pandemics, droughts, and destruction caused by nature and by men. People during every age have had their share of obstacles. My mother and her family experienced World War II up close and personal in Germany. We are living through our own difficult times. Regardless of where and when we live, we all have difficult things to deal with that invite those who believe in Jesus Christ to choose faith.
I would like to highlight a few examples of choosing faith in difficult times demonstrated by my German grandparents, Friedrich and Emma Birth.
My grandfather Friedrich was drafted into the military late in World War II. He was rather old for a soldier, in his mid-fifties. The city of Schneidemuhl, where he had raised his family, would soon be overtaken by the Russian military. Shortly after he was drafted, my grandmother Emma and the children fled their hometown traveling southwest towards Berlin. Meanwhile, my grandfather and his regiment were captured by the Russian army and taken prisoners. During his captivity, he became very ill and after more than two months of intensive pain and fever, his right arm was amputated in a Russian hospital. His health rapidly returned after the amputation, and with the ending of the war, he was released. He found his family in Cottbus, Germany, 175 miles from their hometown of Schneidemuhl, staying in a building together with other Latter-day Saint refugees. He chose faith and went to work immediately applying for a license to begin a business again. He found a dingy apartment which his family soon cleaned and made livable.
Following the war, food and resources were extremely scarce in Germany. Several times I have heard my aunts and uncles refer to the opportunity of eating raw potato peals as a treat. A photograph taken of my mother’s family during the months after the war ended shows a rather emaciated group of people. Clearly, the war had taken its toll on them. Yet, in spite of the very challenging time they were experiencing, my grandparents demonstrated great faith in the Lord, as recorded by their daughter Edith who wrote:
“My father came home from work one Saturday afternoon and my mother told him, 'We have nothing to eat.' We were out of bread, potatoes, flour – everything. Father didn’t say a word. He went down on the street, paused for a moment and prayed, ‘Heavenly Father, thy servant David said, I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread (Psalm 37:25). Father, my children are hungry. My wife and I can fast, but the children need something to eat. Please help.’ He walked down the street passing the businesses they normally patronized and saw in a window one large carrot. He walked in and asked, ‘Do you have any carrots?’ 'Yes,’ the business owner said, ‘How many do you need?’ The impression came to my Father, ‘Don’t hold back, buy as much as you can,’ and he said, ‘100 pounds.’ ‘Yes, you can have it.'"
On the way home my father offered a prayer of thanks to our Heavenly Father for the carrots.
At home my father said to my mother, "We have carrots!” [Turning to his children he said], “Please take 10 pounds to the Schroeders; their large family surely need something to eat." Not only did the Shroeder family receive carrots that day but several other families as well.
Edith later said, “My father would always help wherever he could. We shared our bread allowing many to be fed. We were always taught that whatever you give away will come back to you many times over.”
My mother shared with me another post-war experience that left a powerful impression on her. One cold evening her family sat down at their table to eat a very scanty meal. The food was divided equally, and all were very hungry. They blessed the food and heard a knock at the door. There, in the doorway stood a group of ragged, cold citizens who had been released from a Russian prison and were trying to find their way home. These refugees apologized for the interruption and said, “We are exhausted and cold. All we want is a place for us to sleep tonight on the floor.” Her father invited them in, and as the family sat at the table with their small meal in front of them, he said to his children, “Who of you is willing to share your dinner?” My mother’s sister Ruth spoke first. “I will,” she said. Then rest of the family followed Ruth’s example and divided their scanty meal with these strangers.
As these refugees conversed with the family during their dinner, they were impressed with the attitude of this one-armed patriarch. My mother remembered one of these guests saying, “You know, when we came here, we felt sorry for ourselves. We have lost everything. And here you are with your wife and nine children. Like us, you have also suffered much loss. You’ve lost your home, your two oldest sons, your right arm, and your business, and yet you only speak words that are faith-building and positive.” These strangers expressed profound gratitude for the optimism and hope they now felt after being with Friedrich, Emma, and their children. Choosing faith will be a light to you and to others who feel they are in the midst of darkness and in the most difficult of times.
“What would you do if YOU had more faith?” Faith is yours to claim! It is a gift, but it is also your choice. You can choose to take hold of faith in Jesus Christ. And as you do, not only are you blessed but you become a blessing to those around you in ways you may never know. You choose faith by what you choose to read, to watch, to listen to, to focus upon, and especially to act upon. As you focus upon the Savior, your faith cannot help but grow until you can testify with the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God…” (Romans 8:28).
Here at Ensign College, I have met amazing students from all over this world who have chosen faith. Your faith-filled stories are inspiring! And yet, I know that each of us can be full of faith in some areas of our life and have weak faith in other areas. I invite you to choose faith for every part of your life. Know that the obstacles you are facing can become stepping-stones to increased faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I testify, as I learned from that youth mountain climbing experience many years ago, there is a way. Do not give up! Keep trying, praying, and serving until the right way is opened to you! In other words: Choose faith.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.