I’ll Be What You Want Me to Be

November 8, 2016

Brother Stephen W. Owen

Young Men General President

Stephen W. Owen, 57, was sustained as the Young Men general president on April 4, 2015. His previous Church service includes serving as a full-time missionary in the Texas San Antonio Mission, president of the California Arcadia Mission, stake president, as a counselor in the stake presidency, bishop, high councilor, Scoutmaster, ward Young Men president and elders quorum president. 

He received a Bachelor of Science degree in finance at the University of Utah and is a business owner in Provo, UT. He is married to Jane Stringham, and they are the parents of five children.

Spiritual Preparation

We invite you to study and ponder on the scriptures and other preparation resources below previous to attending devotional. As you come more spiritually prepared the Spirit will have greater power to inspire you, teach you, and to testify to you of the truthfulness of the principles that will be taught.

President and Sister Gilbert, Jane and I thank you for this opportunity. Being on this campus today has brought back a flood of memories for both of us. BYU-Idaho looks quite different than it did when we were students here 40 years ago. For one thing, this conference center didn't exist back then. And, as you may know, Ricks College once had a football team--in fact, I came to Ricks as a football player. Back then, I was one of 4,500 students; now there are almost 18,000. I don't think any of us imagined 40 years ago what this school could become.

If you don't mind hearing a personal story, I'd like to share with you my BYU-Idaho experience. I do so not because I think my story is noteworthy but because it might help those of you who are looking at your next 40 years--or even your next semester--with trepidation.   

Canada Trip, 1976
The day after I graduated from high school in 1976, I left with a friend for a weeklong road trip from Utah to Canada. We borrowed my grandma's car and packed it with the essentials: two sleeping bags, several cans of fruit cocktail, and a couple dozen frozen burritos.    

The trip was great until the last few days, when we ran out of food and most of our money. Then, somewhere near Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, we noticed that we were almost out of gas. We found a gas station, but the price of gas was 20 percent higher than we had paid in a previous town. Thoroughly offended by this literal example of highway robbery, we kept right on driving, thinking to ourselves, "We'll show them who's smart." Well, 15 miles down the road, in the middle of nowhere, we ran out of gas. We hitched a ride back to the town and humbly begged for the use of a gas can. Two hours later we were back on the road, a little humbler, a little poorer, and hopefully a little wiser.  

First Semester at Ricks College
I had planned to attend the University of Utah, but in August I had a strong impression that I should go to Ricks--an impression that may have been amplified by the fact that Jane Stringham was also planning to go to Ricks. I called the football coach, and he said he could offer a scholarship. Before I knew it, I was on the football field during the first day of practice. Coach Tiny Grant shook my hand, assigned two players to be my roommates, and told me to get a haircut--my hair did not quite meet the dress and grooming standards. Now, at about 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, Tiny Grant was not so tiny, so I obeyed!  

I made the first team as a running back, but soon I faced a dilemma. My sister was getting sealed in the Salt Lake Temple the next weekend, so I asked Coach Grant if I could go home for her wedding. He said it was my choice, but I might not retain my starting spot when I returned. I chose to go. I got tickets for an 8 a.m. flight from Idaho Falls to Salt Lake.  

This would be my first time flying alone, but I wasn't worried. I had everything planned out: I woke up that morning at 7, got ready, and made the 30-minute drive to Idaho Falls. I arrived at the airport at 7:55 feeling pretty good--I had a good five minutes to spare! On my way from the parking lot to the terminal, however, I learned that my plane was about to leave. "You'll never make it," the airport personnel told me. In a panic, I ran onto the tarmac--you could do that in a small airport in those days--and waved my hands in front of the plane, yelling, "Don't leave! I need to get on the plane! It's my sister's wedding!" The next thing I remember was two security men hauling me off the tarmac, saying, "You're not getting on that plane!"  

Needless to say, I missed my sister's wedding. But I did manage to convince security that I was not a serious threat, and I caught a later flight in time for her reception. When I returned to Rexburg on Monday, I also learned that I had lost my starting spot on the team for the next week's game.  

As you can see, I had plenty of growing up to do during my first few months at Ricks College.  

Spiritual Milestones
But I don't want you to think that all of my learning experiences were misadventures with planes and automobiles. I also made some wise decisions. For example, it was during my first semester at Ricks that I decided to read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. Somehow, I had never done that before. I'd read from the Book of Mormon--I had even taught lessons from it. I could tell you why we have the Book of Mormon and why it's important, and I could bear testimony that it is the word of God. But now a full-time mission was approaching, and I sensed that my conviction about the Book of Mormon was more in my head than in my heart. I knew that as a missionary, I needed more than just a working knowledge of the Book of Mormon--I wanted to teach from the heart!  

So I set a goal to finish the Book of Mormon before the Thanksgiving break. I read every day after football practice. This was a life-changing experience. For the first time, the stories I had heard in pieces started flowing together. I could almost see Nephi, Alma, and Captain Moroni; visions of their experiences formed in my mind, and I can still see those images to this day. It was my first real experience "feasting upon the word of Christ,"[1] and it was "delicious to me."[2]  

On the day before Thanksgiving, I was in Ether, so I stayed up all night and accomplished my goal. When I finished, I prayed, as Moroni suggests, to "ask God ... if these things are not true."[3] Did I receive a dramatic revelation? No. But I did receive a feeling of peace, consistent with the feelings I had while reading the book. I now had the ingredient that was missing, not just in my mission preparation but in my conversion to the Savior.  

At the end of the semester came a rapid succession of spiritual milestones--I received the Melchizedek Priesthood, my patriarchal blessing, my endowment in the temple, and a call to serve in the Texas San Antonio Mission. By March 17, 1977, the young man who ran out of gas in the middle of Idaho and ran out onto the tarmac at the Idaho Falls airport was serving the Lord in the mission field.  

When I returned, I had decided to go to BYU in Provo, not to Ricks. But yet again, the Lord seemed to be nudging me back toward Rexburg--in His own wisdom and for His own purposes. Two of my friends, who had also just returned from missions, were going to Ricks, and they encouraged me to go with them. So, in the fall of 1979, here I was again for my second semester, this time much more mature spiritually.  

Now, this story wouldn't be complete without the perspective of my wife. I'd like to invite Jane to join me here and give her side of the story.  

Sister Owen's Memories
[Sister Owen]
It wasn't obvious at the time, but now we can both clearly see the Lord's wisdom in prompting Steve to return to Ricks--and I am thankful to be married to a man who follows such promptings. By that time, I had graduated from Ricks College, but it just so happened that my sister Patricia was living in Rexburg. She has always been a stabilizing influence in my life, so I found myself visiting her often. Coincidentally, this allowed Steve and me to see each other more often. To make a long story short, by the end of the year, Steve and I were married. And at the end of Steve's fourth semester, our first child was born.  

Those were sweet, happy days--but they were also lean days. We were poor as newlyweds, trying to live on $15 per week. One of Steve's coaches used to leave two gallons of milk from his cows on our doorstep. Acts of kindness like that kept us fed physically, and there were just as many loving friends and mentors who kept us fed spiritually--people like Patricia; Sister Blakely, my dance coach; President Eyring, who was the president of Ricks when we began our studies; and many others.  

There is an undeniable spirit at BYU­-Idaho. It's difficult to describe but easy to feel. I felt it when I was a student, and I feel it again today. Even visitors who know little about the Church or the Holy Ghost sense that there is something unique about this campus. There are many reasons for this, but I believe part of the reason is you--the pure, humble, valiant people whom the Lord brings to BYU-Idaho to fulfill His holy purposes.   

God Wants to Change You
[Brother Owen]
Like Jane, I know the Lord guided our lives during our years in Rexburg. He shaped us significantly, and He continues to do so.  

So I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that this campus has changed so much in 40 years. After all, I've changed a lot too. But one thing hasn't changed: BYU-Idaho is still fertile ground in which to nourish seeds of faith. Here you can deepen the roots of your conversion and prepare for a lifetime of discipleship.  

Have you ever thought about the Lord's purposes for bringing you to BYU-Idaho? Perhaps you thought you were here to obtain knowledge--to take some classes about biology, economics, or advanced writing--and then get a diploma and hopefully a job. But I believe God's intentions are much broader than that. He wants to change you--to "convert" you.  

Elder Dallin H. Oaks once said, "In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something. ... [It] is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become."[4] This statement describes well the difference between BYU-Idaho and other schools. Most teach their students to know something, and they do a fantastic job. But this university, like the restored gospel on which it is founded, challenges you to become something. I hope you see your BYU-Idaho experience as a critical part of your challenge to become.  

Examine Your Heart
But what are you to become? Answering that question is part of the challenge, isn't it? You might start by asking yourself, "Where am I spiritually? Where do I want to be? Am I making any progress in that direction?" Or, to use Alma's words, "Have ye experienced [a] mighty change in your hearts?" and "If ye have experienced a change of heart, ... can ye feel so now?"[5] It was this type of self-examination that inspired me to set a goal to read the Book of Mormon as a freshman. It could also inspire you to take the next step in your spiritual progress.  

Elder Dale G. Renlund called this doing a spiritual "biopsy" on our hearts. To illustrate, he shared an example from his life as a busy young physician. He often had to work on Sundays, and one Sunday, it looked like he would finish in time to make it to church. On the other hand, if he stayed a little longer, his family would leave without him, and he could stay home and take a much-needed nap. Ultimately, that's what he decided to do.  

But he couldn't sleep. He was troubled by his decision. Didn't he used to love going to church? What had happened? In humility he examined his life and realized that his busy schedule had made him casual about prayer and scripture study.  

Elder Renlund recalled, "I got off the couch, got on my knees, and pleaded with God for forgiveness. ... The next day I brought a Book of Mormon to the hospital. On my to-do list that day, and every day since, were two items: praying at least morning and evening and reading in the scriptures. Sometimes midnight would come, and I would have to quickly find a private place to pray. Some days my scripture study was brief. I also promised Heavenly Father that I would always try to get to church, even if I missed part of the meeting. Over the course of a few weeks, the zeal returned and the fire of testimony burned fiercely again. I promised to never again ... [become] casual about these seemingly small actions."[6]  

Can you imagine what would have happened if Elder Renlund had decided that because of his busy schedule, he was excused from praying and reading the scriptures every day? What if he had reasoned that he was just fine spiritually--after all, he wasn't committing any grievous sins; he was just taking a nap! Fortunately, he was humble enough to notice that he was drifting and correct his course. And now this deeply spiritual man is a blessing to the Church and the world as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  

My young friends, I urge you to spend some time in quiet conversation with Heavenly Father. Ask Him, "What lack I yet?"[7]  

The answers may surprise you. The path of conversion--the road between who we are and who Heavenly Father wants us to be--is a long one. There will be times when, for example, you drive past a gas station where you should have stopped. There will be wrong turns and flat tires and even some terrible accidents. Don't let any of that discourage you. Learn from the experience; let it humble you. Submit to some tutoring from the Lord. And whatever you do, don't sit stubbornly or demoralized on the side of the road. Do what it takes to get back on the road and keep driving.  

Please remember that the Savior loves you. He has promised, "Be of good cheer, for I will lead you along."[8]   

Let the Lord Guide You
Often, that will mean altering the plans you have made for your life in favor of His plans. Before the summer of 1976, attending Ricks College was not at all part of my plan. But looking back now, I recognize the series of events by which the Lord invited me to change my plan. How would my life have been different if I had not come to Ricks? I don't know, but I do know that God had pivotal, life-changing experiences and relationships prepared for me here. He has similar experiences prepared for you, and I encourage you to accept His plan for you, even if it differs from your plan for yourself.  

Consider this example from the life of Elder Dallin H. Oaks:  

When he was a young man, he looked forward to serving a full-time mission. But one week after he graduated from high school, war broke out in Korea, and young Dallin Oaks was sent into military duty and was unavailable for missionary service.  

Many years later, when Elder Oaks was 48 years old, he was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court. At that time, Elder Oaks and his wife, June, made a plan for the rest of their lives. They determined that he would serve for 20 years on the court and then retire at age 68, after which they would submit their mission papers and serve, as a couple, the full-time mission neither of them got to serve in their youth.  

Well, it didn't quite work out that way. Just four years later, Elder Oaks was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles--not exactly the kind of thing you plan ahead for. He would still be serving the Lord, just not in the capacity he anticipated. Then, when he was 66, his wife, June, died of cancer. And two years later, he married his current wife, Kristen.  

Elder Oaks observed, "How fundamentally different my life is than I had sought to plan! My professional life has changed. My personal life has changed. But the commitment I made to the Lord--to put Him first in my life and to be ready for whatever He would have me do--has carried me through these changes of eternal importance."[9]  

Kristen Oaks learned a similar lesson in her life. I've asked Jane to share Sister Oaks's experience.  

[Sister Owen]

Sister Oaks was 53 when she married Elder Oaks--something she surely never could have foreseen earlier in life. When she was a young adult, she wondered why her desire to be married was not being fulfilled. Wasn't it a righteous desire? Was she doing something wrong?  

Then a conversation with a friend prompted her to think differently about her life. Instead of always praying to find a husband, she said, "I asked for opportunities to serve and to help others. As a direct result, I began to better understand the needs of those around me." She learned that "Am I doing something wrong?" was the wrong question. Instead she began to ask, "What more can I do that is right?"  

"I wasn't doing anything wrong," she explained. "I had simply forgotten to maintain an eternal perspective. I had overlooked the many ways I could be an instrument for doing good, for doing the Lord's will. Heavenly Father's timing is not our timing," she concluded, "and we have to trust in Him."[10]  

Brothers and sisters, it is good to have your own plans, but underlying every plan you make should be this one: "Regardless of my own desires, I will seek and follow the Lord's will for my life, no matter what He asks of me." Or, to use the words of the hymn, "I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. ... I'll be what you want me to be."[11]  

That, brothers and sisters, is hard work. It's the work of conversion, and it's the work of a lifetime. It means changing our hearts so that we want what God wants. As Elder David A. Bednar recently taught, "As we do our best to go where He wants us to go, ... say what He wants us to say, and ... become what He wants us to become, ... gradually, our desires align more completely with His desires, and His purposes become our purposes."[12] This is what the Savior wants to convert us into--men and women who are so much like Him in our thoughts and actions that we are one with Him, just as He is one with the Father.  

Understand the Plan
[Brother Owen]
As Sister Owen said, submitting our lives to God is not easy. But we can make it easier for ourselves. To show you what I mean, I'd like to turn to an example from the lives of Adam and Eve.  

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, they received a commandment that, at first, they did not understand: Take the firstborn of your flocks, and sacrifice it to the Lord. They trusted the Lord enough to obey, but when an angel asked Adam why he was making sacrifices, Adam said, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me."[13]  

Then the angel taught Adam and Eve about the spiritual significance of sacrifice. This wasn't about giving up one of their animals. It was about redemption. It was about "the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father." It meant that although they had fallen, they could be redeemed. The Holy Ghost fell upon them, and they saw the whole plan with new eyes. "Blessed be the name of God," Adam said, "for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy." Eve exclaimed, "Were it not for our transgression we never should have ... known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption. ...  

"And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters."[14] Even when temptation came, "Adam and Eve ... ceased not to call upon God."[15]  

My friends, do you see parallels between your life and the experiences of Adam and Eve? Do you sometimes receive counsel from the Lord that you do not completely understand? Sometimes we have to say, "I know not, save the Lord commanded me," obeying out of a sense of duty. This is admirable, but remember that Adam and Eve found joy and the strength to persevere after "God ... made known unto them the plan of redemption."[16] This is why we obey the commandments. This is why we raise families. This is why we make sacrifices joyfully--because we know the plan. Seek to understand the doctrine, for as President Boyd K. Packer often reminded us, "True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior."[17] It is not enough just to know with our mind; we must understand in our heart. It can't just influence our thoughts; we have to let it change our very nature.  

Look to Christ
None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. But we do know one thing: We can put unreserved faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. No matter what happens, eternal life is available because of Christ. Death, pain, and sorrow will eventually become only memories because of Christ. Every inequality, every injustice, every iniquity can be made right because of Christ.  

This is why Helaman pleaded with his sons to build their foundation "upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God"--because no other foundation can withstand the devil's "mighty winds ... [and] all his hail and his mighty storm." We live in an era of secularism, when people are increasingly putting their trust in worldly philosophies, institutions, and wealth. But all of these will fall, and if we anchor ourselves to them, we will fall also. Christ is the only "sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall."[18] Faith and righteousness will prevail. Such faith gives us strength to accept the unknown. It will carry us through anything the future may hold. So "look unto [Him] in every thought; doubt not, fear not."[19] Seek to become "a greater follower of righteousness."[20] And "press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men."[21]  

I have always loved these words from the epistle to the Hebrews: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."[22] Brothers and sisters, I stand before you today as a witness of things not seen. I have the assurance that the Lord has guided my path. I could not always see where that path would lead, but now the evidence of God's hand in my life has been revealed in many ways. Most often, they were subtle and gentle manifestations--opportunities and feelings. Isaiah described it this way: "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it."[23]  

I don't know how the hand of the Lord will manifest itself in your life, but I invite you to look for it. And then, someday, 40 years from now, maybe you'll have the chance to return to BYU-Idaho. Maybe you'll notice impressive changes to the campus. I hope you will also see profound changes in yourself, and you will be filled with gratitude that during this pivotal time in your life, you allowed the Lord to help you become what He wants you to be. I testify of the Father's great plan of happiness for you and for me, and of the Savior Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice in our behalf makes that plan possible. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] 2 Nephi 31:20 [2] Alma 32:28 [3] Moroni 10:4 [4] Dallin H. Oaks, "The Challenge to Become," Ensign, Nov. 2000 [5] Alma 5:14, 26; emphasis added [6] Dale G. Renlund, "Preserving the Heart's Mighty Change," Ensign, Nov. 2009 [7] Matthew 19:20 [8] Doctrine and Covenants 78:17-18 [9] Dallin H. Oaks, "Timing," BYU devotional address, Jan. 29, 2002, speeches.byu.edu/talks/dallin-h-oaks_timing [10] See Dallin H. Oaks and Kristen M. Oaks, "Trust in Heaven's Timing," Ensign, Feb. 2016, 24-27 [11] "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go," Hymns, no. 270 [12] David A. Bednar, "If Ye Had Known Me," Ensign, Nov. 2016 [13] Moses 5:6 [14] See Moses 5:7-12 [15] Moses 5:13, 16 [16] Alma 12:30 [17] Boyd K. Packer, "Little Children," Ensign, Nov. 1986 [18] Helaman 5:12 [19] Doctrine and Covenants 6:36 [20] Abraham 1:2 [21] 2 Nephi 31:20 [22] Joseph Smith Translation, Hebrews 11:1 (see Hebrews 11:1, footnote b) [23] Isaiah 30:21