Ensign College Devotional
One Thing of More Importance Than They All: Jesus Christ
That was wonderful, thank you. That is a sermon in and of itself, isn’t it, trying to be like Jesus, every one of us want to be like Jesus. It’s such a pleasure to be with you, sisters and brothers. I have such admiration for each one of you who have come to school and are learning and working to make progress in your lives. And I know that your lives are very busy so I want to ask you how has your day been so far? Has it been busy? How has your week been? Hectic? How about your month? Has it been stressful? Maybe it is just me, but it seems that the speed of life has ramped up considerably these past couple of decades, with the accompanying levels of stress which can result in higher anxiety.
You would probably agree that the challenges of attending college can increase stress and anxiety. Is that a yes or a no? I see a lot of heads nodding, absolutely. What we call “traditional” students—those of you who started right after completing high school—are typically younger, and many are learning to take on more adult responsibilities at the same time that they are meeting the demands of academic life at a higher level. Non-traditional students, which are many of you—those of you who are older as you began or returned to college—are often employed full-time working to support yourselves, and may also have family responsibilities to a spouse and/or children, which can also create additional stress and anxiety.
Besides our individual pressures, we face the unique anxieties of this era: an overload of information, and a heightened awareness of global challenges such as natural disasters and “wars and rumors of wars”, these all increase our feelings of unease. In addition, political divisiveness, economic and employment uncertainty, and certainly the last two years of pandemic impacts have added to our stress levels. Now do you feel even more anxious?
There is an antidote for that. The phrase “unique anxieties of this era” caught my eye as I was reading President Russell M. Nelson’s Sunday morning talk from last general conference. This is what he said: “The Lord has declared that despite today’s unprecedented challenges, those who build their foundations upon Jesus Christ, and have learned how to draw upon His power, need not succumb to the unique anxieties of this era.”1 Isn’t that reassuring?
How do we build our foundation on Jesus Christ and learn to draw upon His power? Who can help us deal with the distress and anxiety we experience due to difficult circumstances? Where do we turn in our trials?
First, we must understand and value our divine identity. Everyone born on this earth yearns to know the answer to the basic question of “Who am I?” As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to understand that we are daughters and sons of God, who is our living and loving Father in Heaven. Recognizing and believing that eternal, absolute truth can help you make daily choices that lead to your ultimate happiness.
And we must learn to value ourselves without resorting to comparison with others. That is such a natural tendency in this fallen world! Even the self-reflection question, “How am I doing?” can become an exercise in comparison. Depending on where you look for an answer, that question can be helpful to your eternal progress—or not. Determining our worth based on how we compare to others is always a faulty measure because each person is unique; we have different interests, different talents, different backgrounds, different capacities—even siblings in the same household will have different life experiences.
Today, in the era of social media, unhealthy comparisons can escalate from occasional to nearly constant. The carefully prepared depictions of life we see on the handheld screen do not show the full picture and instead, contribute to the misperception that our peers aren’t also
struggling. Looking at those images, we think everyone else is gloriously happy and has little or no problems, which is blatantly false. Everyone has challenges.
How do we know that? Because Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness actually requires us to stretch as we learn and grow to fulfill our divine potential. That inevitably includes discomfort and even some emotional distress as we work through our learning experiences. No one in this life escapes challenges—not even our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God.
As President Dallin H. Oaks taught, “Sometimes our needed growth is achieved better by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquility. And none of this mortal opposition could achieve its eternal purpose if divine intervention relieved us from all the adverse consequences of mortality.”2
A couple of weeks ago in Come Follow Me we studied the fall of Adam Eve. We learned that the trials they experienced were essential to their progression, even though it was difficult. To quote that lesson: “The Garden of Eden was beautiful. But Adam and Eve needed something more than beautiful surroundings. They needed—and we all need—an opportunity to grow. Leaving the Garden of Eden was the necessary first step toward returning to God and eventually becoming like Him. That meant facing opposition, making mistakes, learning to repent, and trusting the Savior, whose Atonement makes possible [our] progression and ‘the joy of our redemption’ (Moses 5:11).”3
Second, it is immeasurably comforting to know that we are not left alone in our struggles. Prayer is our lifeline to help. I testify that Heavenly Father listens to and answers everyone’s prayers, even those of us who have made mistakes—which is every single person! Why? Because we are His children, and He loves us. His joy and His work are to help us progress and return to Him.
Years ago, my husband was in graduate school in Chicago, Illinois. When he was accepted to the prestigious program, he was surprised as well as elated. Yet he felt inadequate, particularly when he compared himself to other students in the group who he felt were smarter. He spent long hours preparing for each class, knowing that diligence and hard work would be required for success. In his words, “During that first quarter, I found myself under a great deal of stress to perform. I was trying to balance all the demands in my life: a new baby, an attic apartment in the heat of summer, a new Church calling and all in an unfamiliar environment. It was during this time that my stress level got to a disproportionate level.” In other words, he was extremely highly stressed.
One of the most difficult classes for him was statistics. One night he labored for hours over the required equations. As it got later and later, he became more and more frustrated until he couldn’t even add up four 2-digit numbers and get the same answer twice, let alone the correct answer. In despair, he threw down his pencil and stumbled down the long flights of stairs from our 3rd floor attic apartment into a drizzling rain. As he walked the dark streets, umbrella in hand, he poured out his heart to Heavenly Father, saying something like, “Father, I know life is supposed to be a test, but you’ve got to find a different way. I can’t take this any longer. I’ll just have to quit unless something drastically changes. Please help me!” His heart began to soften as his feet splashed through the puddles, and he felt the burden lift. As he returned and climbed the stairs to our apartment, he felt at peace. When he began again on the equations, miraculously, they worked! With continued focused effort, he was able to satisfactorily complete that course and all the others, graduate, and get a “real” job to support his family.
If you learn to pray, you need not fear. You will have the assurance that no matter how difficult the decision or how many trials you may have to face, you can always have the help and comfort of a perfectly loving and wise Heavenly Father4 and His Son, Jesus Christ who suffered the Atonement for each one of us. Time and again in the scriptures, we find His invitation to come unto Him, and His promises of help when we do. Among many others, in the Old Testament, we read “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). In the New Testament we find, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). In the Book of Mormon, you’ll remember this, Alma prays for help in his deep anguish: “O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; wilt thou comfort my soul in Christ. O Lord, wilt thou grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions which shall come upon me” (Alma 31:31). And in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Savior invites us to “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:36).
Because of His Atonement, Jesus Christ has felt and understands all our difficulties, whether we are male or female, old or young, living in poverty or excessive wealth, in debilitating sickness or mental distress. The prophet Alma taught that “The [Son of God] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this … that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). This was as comforting to the believers who heard it in the city of Gideon as it is in our day.
Building your foundation on Jesus Christ is the answer to every challenge. Know that when you are feeling overwhelmed, when peace has escaped as the burdens pile up, His perfect love, wisdom and mercy can “reach [to your] reaching”5 at any time, in any place and for any situation. His help is there any time we ask. His promise is to each and all of us: “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.”6
The other day I was reading the 37th chapter of Alma where the prophet Alma (the “younger’) is giving his last instructions and testimonies to his sons, about a year before he departs out of the land and is never seen again. In this chapter, he gives Helaman—and all of us—wise counsel on where we should focus our efforts to become happy and successful.
Starting in verse 33, we read: “Preach unto them repentance, and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; teach them to humble themselves and to be meek and lowly in heart; teach them to withstand every temptation of the devil, with their faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What a promise: humbly repenting and exercising faith in Jesus Christ will allow us to withstand every temptation.
He continues his counsel in verse 34: “Teach them to never be weary of good works, but to be meek and lowly in heart; for such shall find rest to their souls.” Find opportunities to serve others every day in small and simple ways and you will feel a spirit of rest in your busy life.
Verse 35 is spoken to each of you: “O, remember, my [sons and daughters], and learn wisdom in thy youth; yea, learn in thy youth to keep the commandments of God.” Learning and choosing now to follow the covenant path will save you and others untold anguish. And the Savior made it easy for us to remember His commandments: He identified only two that will allow us to keep all the others—Love God, and love our neighbor. Every time we keep those in the forefront of our minds and actions, we choose and act more wisely.
The next verse, 36, describes the focus on the first great commandment very well: “Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.” Our affection and love for the Lord can be expressed in the love we show to others.
Verse 37 is one of my all-time favorite scriptures, one that can take you through every day of your mortal life—and even promises eternal life. See if this verse resonates with you: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at
night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”
I don’t know about you, but that is a perfect reminder to pray to and counsel with my Heavenly Father morning and night, telling Him about my concerns and joys, my heartaches and happy thoughts, my questions and impressions, and asking for the help that He is so willing to give. As we strive to follow Alma’s counsel, we are promised that we will be “lifted up at the last day.” That may be at His Second Coming or the “last day” of judgment, but whenever that last day is for each of us, what a glorious promise!
That is how one draws upon His power. It seems so simple, not very grand, but it will make all the difference in your life. Daily praying with real intent, studying the word of God in the scriptures and in the words of our living prophets, striving to keep His commandments, repenting, and serving others will increase your ability to find answers to challenges and withstand the temptations that are both part of this mortal life. That’s literally just a handful of things to remember to do each day in this world which is over-saturated with distracting information. I know these don’t sound like heroic or spectacular efforts, do they, but focusing on these simple behaviors will have a profound influence on the joy you feel despite your circumstances, as President Nelson taught.7
President M. Russell Ballard shared some insights about doing the small and simple things which is taught in other verses in this same chapter. He observed that “Great and marvelous events seem to motivate us, but small things often do not hold our attention. Noting that the Liahona worked by faith, [in verse 41] Alma stated, ‘Nevertheless, because those miracles were worked by small means … [the people of Lehi] were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence, and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey.’
“Is our journey sometimes impeded when we forget the importance of small things? (see Alma 37:46). Do we realize that small events and choices determine the direction of our lives?”
Pres. Ballard continued, “… We need to have … personal prayers; study the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon; hold … home evenings; follow the admonition of the Savior to love one another; and be thoughtful, kind, and gentle….
“Through these and other similar small and simple things, we have the promise that our lives will be filled with peace and joy.”8
Joy—isn’t that a beautiful word! We were created that we might have joy. At the moment, that may not be what you are feeling. Yet as President Ballard noted, we have the promise of joy when we do the small and simple things that keep us close to our Heavenly Father. Choose to act on these invitations from ancient and modern prophets. Choose to act so you won’t just be acted upon by others or by your circumstances.9 You have the power to choose the direction of your life, even if you can’t always choose the circumstances of your life. Remember President Russell M. Nelson’s encouraging statement that “when we focus our lives on God’s plan of salvation and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.”10
Alma continues his counsel to his sons in the next few chapters. In 38:5, he testifies to Shiblon: “…as much as ye shall put your trust in God, even so much ye shall be delivered out of your trials, and your troubles, and your afflictions, and ye shall be lifted up at the last day.”
Despite the challenges in your own life and those around the globe, there is much good to be found. Remember that progress is often not immediate or obvious but takes time and effort. Look at the positives and progress of our day. On a global scale, there is better health and health care for more people than at any time in recorded history. For
example, in 1800, the health conditions were such that nearly half of the world’s newborns died before their fifth birthday. And the historical estimates suggest that the entire world lived in such conditions; there was relatively little variation among different regions, in all countries of the world. Now, in 2015, child mortality was down to 4.3 percent — a hundred times lower than just two centuries ago.11
Today, most people live in conditions that are more comfortable and convenient than the richest king or queen could have imagined in centuries past. In 1820, the year young Joseph Smith received the first vision, only a tiny elite enjoyed higher standards of living, while the vast majority of people lived in conditions that today we would call extreme poverty. Now, research suggests that the share of people living in extreme poverty has fallen below 10 percent worldwide.12
What about literacy? Again, in 1820, only 10% of people could read and write, and now 85% of people around the globe are literate.13 With that increased literacy rate and the resulting technology improvements, the ability to communicate quickly to and from just about anywhere in the world has vastly increased.
So, when challenges come and anxiety begins to climb, look for the good in life and express your appreciation to God, from whom all blessings flow.14 Remember that joy comes from and because of Him.15“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done. … So, amid the conflict, whether great or small, Do not be discouraged—God is over all! Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.”16
Do the small and simple things every day that will help you stay on the covenant path to your journey’s end and prepare you for the Second Coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, whenever that may be. Keeping that priority in mind will help you choose wisely for the future rather than
foolishly for today. “For behold, I say unto you there be many things to come; and behold, there is one thing which is of more importance than they all—for behold, the time is not far distant that the Redeemer liveth and cometh among his people.”17
I express my love and gratitude to each of you for your goodness and courage. I encourage you to see the good in others and find joy in life, despite the challenges. I pray you will remember who you are, keep an eternal focus, and build your foundation on Jesus Christ. I bear witness that Heavenly Father loves and knows each of us individually, that Jesus Christ has made it possible for every one of us to repent and improve because of His gift of the Atonement, and that following the counsel of our beloved President Russell M. Nelson, the Lord’s prophet for this day, will help us through the inevitable challenges of life and prepare us to welcome the Savior at His coming. I am grateful for my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ and I encourage each one of you to strengthen your testimony of our Savior and of this church and I bare my witness to you that as you do so, you’ll be lifted, you’ll be strengthened, you will be able to accomplish all that the Lord has in store for you for you were designed for greatness. I leave this witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1 Russell M. Nelson, “The Temple and Your Spiritual Foundation,” Liahona, Oct 2021, 94.
2 Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan,” Ensign, May 2020, 94.
3 January 10–16, Genesis 3–4; Moses 4–5: The Fall of Adam and Eve, Come Follow Me.
4 Lesson Seven: Heavenly Father Answers Our Prayers, Family Home Evening Resource Book.
5 Where Can I Turn for Peace, Hymns, 129.
6 3 Nephi 14:7-8; see also Matthew 7:7–8.
7 Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign, November 2016, 82.
8 M. Russell Ballard, “Small and Simple Things,” Ensign, May 1990, 6, 8.
9 See 2 Nephi 2:26.
10 Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign, November 2016.
11 Max Roser, “Proof that life is getting better for humanity,”Vox, Dec 23, 2016. https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2016/12/23/14062168/history-global-conditions-charts-life-span-poverty
14 “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow,” Hymns, 242.
15 Russell M. Nelson, “Joy and Spiritual Survival,” Ensign, November 2016.
16 “Count Your Many Blessings,” Hymns, 241.
17 See Alma 7:7.