Don't Lose the Plot
Matt Eyring is the vice president of field operations at BYU-Pathway Worldwide after serving as the director of international field operations. He previously worked as the chief strategy and innovation officer of Vivint Smart Home, where he led strategy, product, and technology operations. He was a founding and managing partner of a global strategy and innovation consulting firm, Innosight, and was named one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business.” Brother Eyring began his career at the consultancy Monitor Company, where he advised senior public and private sector leaders in emerging markets on matters of economic competitiveness and prosperity.
Brother Eyring is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, the co-author of several Harvard Business Review articles, and holds 35 technology patents. He previously served as an Area Seventy in the North America Northeast Area. He and his wife, Amy, are the parents of five children.
DON’T LOSE THE PLOT
Thank you for that beautiful, inspired music, Lance for your testimony and President Kusch for your kind introduction. I am absolutely honored for the chance to speak to you this morning. Over the years, my love and respect for this great institution, its mission, its student body, its faculty, and its leadership has only increased.
When I was in high school, I participated in speech and debate. One year our program decided to raise funds for its regional and national competitions by having the students perform a mini play for parents, friends, and other interested audiences. I had little acting talent but was a assigned a speaking part with a number of lines. We practiced many early mornings over a period of months to prepare for a Saturday afternoon performance. The night before the show, my good friend called and asked if I wanted to go boating the next day with a group of young men and young women. The call was unexpected, and I was enthused. My friend had a very nice boat, it had been a long and tiring week, and without further thought I enthusiastically accepted. We had an amazing day on the reservoir. I was in a great mood on the way home until about 10 minutes into the drive. My face suddenly went white. I turned to my friend who was driving and said, “I’m in a play right now.” “What are you talking about?” he said.
My friend drove as fast as he could, straight to the high school, but it was too late. The event was over. One of my classmates was walking off the stage and said to me as he passed, “I’m sorry, they assigned me your part and I covered for you the best I could.” I then faced my highly bewildered and disappointed teacher, a wonderful but exacting man. He let me know he had no choice but to significantly lower my grade in the class.
“What just happened?” I thought. I had prepared early mornings for months for an important performance, and at the worst possible moment, I became fixated on something that momentarily seized my attention and completely distracted me from an important commitment.
When someone gets distracted from the overall purpose of an important task by stress, apathy, or irrelevant detail, we sometimes say they’ve “lost the plot.” Has this ever happened to you?
Have concerns and challenges that in hindsight really weren’t that important ever distracted you from an important goal? Have you lost the plot while working on a key assignment, building a key relationship, or pursuing a long-held dream? Instead of feeling successful, did you end up feeling embarrassed, confused, lonely, defensive, or even angry?
The consequences of losing the plot in our lives go up depending on the importance of the goal we are trying to achieve. Our most important goal is to achieve eternal life— to live forever in the presence of God, The Savior, and those we love. Establishing and growing relationships throughout eternity is the very definition of happiness. The plot that describes how we achieve this happiness is found in what’s called “The Plan of Salvation” or “The Plan of Happiness”. When properly understood the plan gives needed perspective and guidance to everything we do. It is the most important narrative we will ever learn. Forgetting the plotline of “The Plan of Happiness” can have disastrous consequences.
You have already heard the basics of the plan many times, but I’d like to repeat them briefly. I hope the spirit bears witness to you again of their truthfulness.
Long before you came to earth, you lived with Heavenly Parents as a spirit son or daughter of God. A council was convened by your Heavenly Father to consider a plan to send you to a proving ground called earth. There you would obtain a physical body and progress in important ways not possible in your premortal state. Agency—the ability to choose without compulsion— was a key part of this plan. To safeguard your agency, you would have no memory of your prior life, and progress would come through seeking God by faith and keeping his commandments. [i] He would give his children light and truth in differing degrees at different times in history and would require his children to be faithful and true to the light they were given. All his children, whether during earth life or after, would be taught the fullness of His gospel by authorized servants with priesthood authority. The truth of their message would be confirmed by the Holy Ghost. His servants would invite us to make sacred covenants and receive holy ordinances that would prepare us to live with Heavenly Father and the Savior. [ii]
Earth life would be challenging in two major ways. First, our bodies would be subject to physical law and would eventually deteriorate and die. Second, we would sometimes make choices contrary to the light we had been given. These poor choices, called sin, would leave us in a state of spiritual imperfection.
Both challenges— death and spiritual imperfection — would need to be overcome to enable us to return home. In support of our Father’s Plan, Jesus Christ volunteered to overcome both challenges. He was uniquely qualified to fulfill this mission. His only motivation was his love for you and me. He wanted us to succeed and was willing to sacrifice greatly to offer us eternal happiness. Because of Him, the plan would provide us with a perfect, resurrected body and a measure of glory after this life. If we exercised faith in Jesus Christ, repented of our sins, kept God’s commandments, and received sacred ordinances, we could receive the highest degree of glory in our Father’s kingdom, and a fulness of joy. [iii]
Most of our spirit brothers and sisters chose to follow Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and support the plan. Some did not. One of them, Lucifer, was driven by selfish motives to oppose the plan, and he tried to convince us to follow him. His pride and jealously left him miserable and determined to spread this misery to others. [iv]
One of his greatest misery-spreading tools is forgetfulness, encouraging us to forget the simple story I have just told you— to lose the plot. He knows he can cause great harm if the poor choices we make prevent us from feeling the Holy Ghost and remembering the big picture of why we are here. It is no accident the word remember is used extensively throughout the scriptures. A favorite scripture of mine repeats this word twice for emphasis. Helaman said this to his sons:
“And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation ; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” [v]
Modern prophets spend much of their time imploring us to remember. When we renew our covenants each week by taking the sacrament, we make a promise to “always remember Him.” [vi] Our ultimate success depends on always remembering the Savior and his role in the Plan. We are entitled to receive personal revelation from the Holy Ghost to help us know how to follow Him daily in our individual circumstances.
That said, as mortals we “see through a glass darkly” [vii] and as hard as we try, we all lose the plot at times to varying degrees. Each of us is at risk, and we must be vigilant to avoid what the scriptures call the “strange roads” [viii] that lead far from the covenant path.
Are you in spiritual danger of losing the plot? Is a preoccupation with a seemingly pressing issue causing you to forget the big picture? Here are just a few questions you might ask yourself:
- Are any worthy but peripheral interests in my life distracting me from serving God with all my heart, might, mind and strength?
- Have I become offended by the words or actions of a leader or member of the church in a way that is starting to color my view of the entire gospel?
- Do I obsess over a portion of church history that doesn’t make sense to me right now but is starting to affect my overall faith in Heavenly Father’s plan?
- Is there a current church policy with which I am not aligned that is causing me to question the bigger truths of the plan which I have always known to be true?
- Has a significant trial in my life or in the life of someone I love caused me to question the truth of God’s love for me or others?
- Have unresolved mistakes in my life caused me to question the strong faith I once felt?
If you find yourself answering yes to any of these questions, what can you do? In my experience many problems resolve themselves as we consciously choose to refocus on the broad plotline of The Plan of Happiness.
Let me suggest three ways we can do this:
First, we can focus harder on doing things that help us feel the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost testifies of the plan, brings “all things to our remembrance” [ix] , and provides the daily personal revelation President Nelson has told us we need to be successful [x] . When we begin to lose the plot, we need to do more, not less of the things that bring the Holy Ghost. Having faith in Jesus Christ, repenting, forgiving, reading our scriptures, praying, attending the temple, reading our patriarchal blessings, and serving others are all things that invite the Holy Ghost to remind us of who we really are, why we are here, and where we are going. Proximate worries fade when we refocus on the plan and do things that bring the Holy Ghost into our lives.
Second, we should take time to reflect on sacred events in our lives, the times the Spirit has borne sure witness of the truthfulness of the plan. I remember my father interviewing me as a young child preparing to be baptized. He asked if I had a testimony of Jesus Christ. Tears welled up in my eyes as I told him I wasn’t sure. He then invited me to kneel with him by my childhood rocking chair and pray for this witness. As I did so, a warm feeling of peace, calm, and assurance came into my heart. I knew that the Savior lived and loved me, and it was a feeling I couldn’t deny. For me, to remember that moment is to invite that feeling back. There have been many other powerful experiences in my life that have borne witness to me of foundational truths— the reality of our premortal life, the calling of living prophets, the truth of the Book of Mormon, the power of the priesthood, the importance of temple covenants and ordinances, and many others. We have all had key moments throughout our lives that have built our base of faith. Recording and remembering these events is crucial to avoid losing the plot.
Third, we need to lay our remaining doubts and burdens at the feet of the Savior. We can trust in Him, the plan, His restored gospel, His chosen servants, and His church. When we turn to Him in humility, he will heal us and give us the strength and assurance we need to avoid losing the plot. His role in the plan is to eventually make all things whole and to give us peace of mind in this life as we push forward in faith.
Our role is to remember the plot and remain faithful to the very end of this earth life. My wife’s third great grandfather was John Rowe Moyle. He joined the church in England and was part of the first handcart company to cross the plains from Iowa. In his journal, he describes a fellow pioneer in his company:
“July 26th, 1856. A flash of lightening killed Henry Walker as he held the bar of his handcart. His body was carried about two miles to camp for burial. As I saw him lying dead, I thought of his words at prayer meeting two or three days previous. He had said, "I would rather die with my hands ahold of my cart, with my face toward Zion than to falter and turn out by the wayside.” [xi]
Several years ago, I met a friend, who as a modern-day Henry Walker taught me what it means to courageously never lose the plot. My friend was a young father of six children when he found out that he had ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. By the time he and his family moved into our neighborhood and we became friends, he was already in a wheelchair and had great difficulty speaking. Even as this family faced tremendous challenges during this time, the faith of my friend and his wonderful wife in The Plan of Happiness lifted everyone around them, including our family.
My friend began to increasingly rely on text and email to communicate as his ability to speak waned. The messages he sent me during this time are treasures, as I know the effort it took to compose each one of them. Toward the end of his life, only specialized technology that tracked the movement of his eyes allowed him to continue to send and receive digital communication, but using it was slow and tedious.
This excerpt of an email during that time was typical of his faith:
“Miracles have not ceased, but our will cannot undo His. This life, this experience, this mortality is brief. It is the eternities we look to where all is made right, and all means all. Until then I pray, I grow, I try to be humble, I fight evil and I prepare to "see his face with pleasure". There have been insights and powerful deep personal revelation that He has provided to give me strength. I would have never ever received them otherwise. Exhilarating!”
And from another message:
“I'm in complete awe. It's undeniably humbling to see the care and detail He uses to mold all of us. He really is the Master of the Vineyard.”
As his disease progressed, he was in great pain and his young boys started to stay up with him in four hour shifts through the night to help him and relieve some of the caregiver burden of their mom. Even during these final difficulties, my friend wrote to me about his love and admiration for his wife and children, and his faith that the sun would shine brightly again for them after his death, which it has.
His last message was perhaps the most surprising. As background, the bishop of our ward felt inspired to call my friend as a Young Men’s advisor several months before he passed away. Several of us who served in Young Men leadership roles received an unexpected email from my friend on a Wednesday, our ward mutual night. Given the extremely precarious state of his health at this point, I was shocked to receive this lengthy communication. Here are a few excerpts:
“What do you guys think about a little survey [of] where the boys are in terms of interests, priorities, testimony, work ethic, and general background information? How do we plan activities without knowing what they need, what interests them, and what their goals and aspirations are?.…It is healthy for anybody to put pen to paper and ponder their future, what's next…especially [for] teenagers.”
He then proposed a long and detailed list of questions we might ask the young men of our ward in an email survey. He offered his boys to help with the project.
He finished the message with the following:
“Let me know your opinion. Do we do it? Any other questions you'd ask? I'd like to have [the surveys] back by Sunday so we can get after it.”
That Sunday morning my friend passed away. The truth is, he had not been able to attend any church meetings or activities for some time. We would bring the sacrament to his home on a weekly basis. I’m certain when he composed that email about finding ways to better serve the Young Men of our ward, he was keenly aware that his remaining time was very, very short.
I have never stood face to face with my faithful friend nor heard his natural voice in spontaneous conversation. I look forward to that day. I will thank him for his powerful example of an abiding faith in The Plan of Happiness. To the very end, he never lost the plot.
May we likewise not let trials, distraction or doubt cause us to lose focus on the great Plan of Happiness, and the healing role of our Savior Jesus Christ. He sacrificed all so that we could find peace in this life, and eternal life in the world to come. Of Him I bear witness, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
[v] Helaman 5:12
[vi] Moroni 4:3
[vii] 1 Corinthians 13:12
[viii] 1 Nephi 8:32
[ix] John 14:26