Discovering Yourself: A Journey of Faith
January 16, 2018
Academic Support Math Faculty Member and Math Study Center Director
Brother "Rich", as he is known by his students and colleagues, has been teaching at BYU-Idaho and Ricks College for 21 years. He is the founding director of the BYU-Idaho Math Lab and Developmental Math Program, and teaches math in the Academic Support Department. He has also been a local business owner for 20 years.
Brother Llewellyn is from both San Diego and Bellevue, Washington. He has served in several capacities in the Church, including a full-time mission in the England Bristol Mission in the same town where some 130 years earlier his great-great grandfather was born, converted to the gospel, and called by Brigham Young to return to and serve a mission.
He received a bachelor's degree from BYU and a master's degree from Purdue University. While at BYU, he met and married Toni Stalker of American Falls, Idaho. She and their three sons and three daughters are everything to him. They reside in Sugar City.
Probably the most pressing questions facing students are "What am I going to do with my life?" and "What is my place in the world?"
Mary Gormandy White, a corporate trainer and consultant writes in regards to college students facing the future:
"While some students have a clear vision of the lives they want to enjoy as adults, many feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. College students feel pressure to make educational and career decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. Choosing a major can be stressful, as can making choices about where to live, which relationships to continue to pursue, and more."
In addition, President Thomas S. Monson has stated:
"Youth of today are faced with monumental decisions... Our lives will depend on the decisions which we make-for decisions determine destiny... What are the three most important decisions? First, what will be my faith? Second, whom shall I marry? Third, what will be my life's work?"
On the discussion board, share how you relate to these quotes.
What stresses/anxieties do you feel as you contemplate what you are going to do with your life and what your place in the world is?
How does President Monson's statement about our lives depending on the decisions we make impact you?
When I got the call to give the devotional for today, I immediately started thinking about what would benefit you the most. And I remember being in your seats some 25 years ago and some of the things that plagued my mind back then, like trying to decide what to do for a career, changing my major a few times, and stressing about these critical decisions. Ultimately the "What am I going to do with my life?" decisions. The journey of self-discovery that enveloped my life over the next decade was awesome, and I want to share some things with you today that will help, as I believe this is the number-one thing that consumes your thoughts and anxieties at this time in your lives.
Now, before we begin, I've got a challenge for you. Those of you who have taken classes with me probably know what I'm about to ask you to do. But I want you to get "unplugged." I truly love the technology we have at our fingertips. But I equally think we have to unplug from it at times and totally plug in to the moment. I promise you if you completely immerse yourself in this moment and unplug from the rest of the world right now, you will get way more out of this experience, and the Spirit will speak to you individually. I just know that when the Spirit is involved in what we are doing, we don't want to miss anything. So let's power-down/airplane-mode. Here, I'll give mine to Sister Llewellyn--she's way too excited about this.
Let's get started with a few questions. Feel free to raise your hands and participate. By raise of hands, how many of you right now are wondering what to major in (some of the faculty here are raising their hands--we have a concern) or if you're unsure if the major you have picked is the right one? How many of you wonder at times, "What am I good at? What are my talents?" How about "What will I do for work? What profession should I pursue? What kind of job should I get?" How many of you ever wonder, "Whom will I marry?" or are stressed about developing meaningful relationships? How about, "Should I go on a mission?" How many of you ever wonder if you're good enough, capable enough, or can make it in this world--i.e., if you will be able to find a job, provide for your family, be a mom, a dad, etc.?
How many of you didn't raise your hands? We'll have something in this devotional for you too: the closing prayer. Just kidding.
Your questions about what to do with your life and associated stresses are normal and expected at this time of life. Mary Gormandy White, a corporate trainer and consultant, writes in regards to college students and facing the future: "While some students have a clear vision of the lives they want to enjoy as adults, many feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. College students feel pressure to make educational and career decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. Choosing a major can be stressful, as can making choices about where to live, which relationships to continue to pursue, and more."
President Thomas S. Monson, has stated:
Youth of today are faced with monumental decisions.... Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make.... What are the three most important decisions? First, what will be my faith? Second, whom shall I marry? Third, what will be my life's work?
I can't stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny.
Now, this journey of discovery about yourself and about your Heavenly Father is one of the most incredible opportunities. If you do this right, you'll learn what you are capable of and what He is capable of and how, together, you can achieve great things. In other words, in this journey He will reveal Himself to you, and He will reveal you to you.
This idea of discovering ourselves being an opportunity to know our Heavenly Father is exemplified in the statement by Joseph Smith: "If men do not comprehend the character of God, they do not comprehend themselves."
So what can I share with you today that will help you the most in your journey of self-discovery and decision-making? You must understand that the fuel to getting you where you want to go in life's journey is faith. Exercising faith builds us into who we will become no differently than exercising your body builds muscle and physical strength. Our journey to self-discovery has and always will be about exercising faith. It is why a veil has been placed between us and our heavenly home. Now, some of you already may be saying, "Oh man, that's all you gotta tell us today, Brother Rich: have faith. I'm dying out here. I need to know what to major in before I run out of financial aid."
Sometimes we wish that God would just reveal to us what we should major in, whom we will marry, what profession we should choose, the names of our future children, if we should buy Bitcoin--you get the picture. This would eliminate faith and choice and, in essence, destroy the very plan God has for us to discover who we are and who He is in our lives. President Boyd K. Packer shares the following story:
Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.
I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, "The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning." I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: "You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you." Then he quoted these 18 words from the Book of Mormon: "Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith" (Ether 12:6).
So how can we exercise faith in our unlit steps on our personal path to self-discovery? I believe there are four key aspects to faith in our journey:
Here they are:
1) Faith in God:
- God is the Guide
- Stay close to Him
- He is in the details of your life (big or small)
2) Faith as a principle of action:
- Must be doers and workers
3) Faith as a principle of attitude:
- See everything as an opportunity
4) Faith in yourself:
- You choose for yourself what you will become.
Principle 1--Faith in God: God is the Guide
Our loving Heavenly Father is guiding us on this journey. He lives. He loves you. He is your Father. He knows you better than anyone on this earth, including your earthly parents, spouse, siblings, best friends, and even or especially more than you know yourself at this point. He is perfect, and in being perfect He loves you in the most magnificent way. He is guiding your life, and if you allow Him to do so, He will take you on a journey more amazing and rewarding than you could ever have mapped out for yourself.
What scriptural evidence is there that God is the Guide? In His own words:
1) Mormon 5:23: Mormon declares, "Know ye not that ye are in the hands of God?"
2) Psalms 46:10: Be still and know that I am God"--not telling us to physically be still. He's telling us to not let our anxieties and emotions be stirred, but be calm and know He is guiding your efforts.
These first two I challenge you to memorize. These are words to live by; let them come to you in your times of need and comfort you.
3) 1 Nephi 2:19-20:
And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou has sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land ... which I have prepared for you: yea, a land which is choice above all other lands. (Emphasis added)
Will he not lead you into your individual lands of promise? Are we not to liken the scriptures to our own lives? Are not our heaven-approved goals and aspirations our promised land we seek?
4) Proverbs 3:5-6:
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart....
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
Wow--so powerful. God is the guide. He will direct thy paths!
As with any journey into the unknown, anyone will tell you, you need a guide and to stay close to them.
Because God is our Guide in our journey to self-discovery, we must understand our reliance upon Him and stay close to Him. How do we stay close to the Guide?
You've been answering those questions since Primary. Go ahead--say them with me:
- Read your scriptures
- Say your prayers (pray to Him over all you do)
- Keep the commandments
Now, I want to add something briefly and powerfully about "read your scriptures" and "say your prayers." These two terms are used so often in our religious jargon that we take them for granted, but these two things are everything. They are our spiritual lifeline. Remember the Lord told Nephi He'd lead him to a promised land prepared for him because he had been diligent in seeking the Lord. Consider this statement: "You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine" (John C. Maxwell).
One of the greatest things I've done in my life that has brought me closer to God and let Him guide me is being diligent about daily prayer and scripture study. I challenge you to not let a day go by that you don't pray and read your scriptures. Your lives will be different. These two acts must be a part of your daily routine if you want to achieve the greatest joys in your journey to self-discovery.
In regards to keeping the commandments (live righteously), you don't need to be perfect, but striving.
As the Lord guides you, you can have faith that He will be in the big picture and the small details of your life. Many years ago, as a young subcontractor, I sometimes worked long stints away from home in the summer. A big forest fire threatened the area in which we were working, and we were evacuated. I was really looking forward to being forced to take a few days off and just be with my wife and two small children at the time.
My neighbor had been asking me to help him put in a small brick paver sidewalk in front of his house. He heard that I would be off work for a few days, and before I had even made it home, he called me and asked if I could do his project that weekend. I really didn't want to; my heart yearned to just spend all the time off with my family, but I had told him that I would help him do this, and I knew there would probably not be a better opportunity. I came up with an efficient plan to knock it out that very night so I could take off the rest of the weekend and enjoy my family.
Knowing that the brick shop was going to close for the weekend, I drove straight there. I calculated down to the very brick how many bricks we would need to do his job.
We hand loaded them into the bed of the pickup one at a time. As we loaded them, a voice in my head said, "Get two more." I knew my calculations were exactly correct. I said to myself, "No, we don't need two more. It's a waste of money." As we counted the last bricks, the voice again came to me: "Get two more." I loaded two more.
So many times in life, we're not sure if that voice is the Spirit or not; we tend to negotiate with that voice as if it were our own. But in this instance, I decided to heed the prompting.
As we pulled out, the brick shop locked up the gate for the weekend. I drove straight to my neighbor's house, where we unloaded all the bricks rapidly.
As we unloaded them, exactly two pieces fell to the ground and broke.
Does the Lord care about us? Is He aware of our needs, big or small? If I had not heeded that prompting, I would not have been able to finish the project for my neighbor, and, in turn, it would have impacted my time with my family. This was not life altering or detrimental, but a sweet, caring bit of inspiration that showed me that my Heavenly Father was with me in the details of the greater journey of my life. It was a tender mercy.
Principle 2--Faith as a principle of action
Listen to the following by Elder David A. Bednar regarding faith and the children of Israel as they transported the ark of the covenant.
Recall how the Israelites came to the river Jordan and were promised the waters would part, and they would be able to cross over on dry ground. Interestingly, the waters did not part as the children of Israel stood on the banks of the river waiting for something to happen; rather, the soles of their feet were wet before the water parted. The faith of the Israelites was manifested in the fact that they walked into the water before it parted. They walked into the river Jordan with a future-facing assurance of things hoped for. As the Israelites moved forward, the water parted, and as they crossed over on dry land, they looked back and beheld the evidence of things not seen. In this episode, faith as assurance led to action and produced the evidence of things not seen that were true.
I love that story. It perfectly illustrates that while we might not always know what's coming next, we can move forward in faith that God is the Guide, that great things await when we do our part.
How do we do our part? Brigham Young has been claimed as stating on occasion, "Pray as if everything depends on the Lord, and work as if everything depends on you." I love that statement because it ties together what we've already established--we need the Lord--but it also equally establishes that we must work as if all we desire hinges on our efforts. This is the "If it is to be, it is up to me" principle.
In my personal path to self-discovery, I have found that work has been the medium by which the Lord has taught me the most and frequently where He has revealed Himself to me. Work is the great emancipator, the great sanctifier, the great equalizer. There is a price to pay for every success--whether it be spiritual, intellectual, academic, professional--and that price is work.
Work is the "make it happen" principle. We cannot sit around waiting for the Lord to reveal our path, for the waters to part, for the phone to ring, for opportunity to come knocking. You must create your own opportunities. If when the Lord comes to bless us He finds us not making a mighty effort, can we expect much in return in our path to self-discovery?
Also note the lesson learned by the children of Israel, placing their feet in the River Jordan before it parted: We cannot merely make a great effort only when we can see the outcome. Right now in your lives, the jobs you have, the classes you are taking, the calling you have, or the commandment you struggle with may not seem to you to have anything to do with what you really envision for yourself. And this leads to our next principle.
Principle 3--Faith as a principle of attitude: See everything as an opportunity
Many years ago, a few young men that were friends took a class with me. They were intrigued that I owned a company and more interested because the nature of the company was based around high-end construction. They all had some amount of construction experience.
After class one day, toward the semester's end, they offered me their phone numbers and said to call them if I ever needed help. That semester ended, and over the next few months, I occasionally reached out to those young men for help.
One came consistently; in fact, other than once, he was the only one who came each time I called. The first time, I did not pay them (maybe that's why no one else came from that point forward).
Sometimes I paid this young man; sometimes I didn't. It depended on the work--sometimes I was just letting him tag along to learn; other times, I was genuinely needing his labor and assistance.
His friends asked him, "Why do you always come when he calls?" He said, "I don't know. I guess I just view it as an opportunity."
Now I want you to remember that statement: "I guess I just view it as an opportunity."
What if we all did that? What if we looked at all things as opportunities? Faith is not merely a principle of action; it is a principle of attitude. When we understand that a loving Heavenly Father is the Guide, that He is in the details of our life as well as the big picture, then we can have faith that we are not wasting our time, that the Lord is bringing to us hosts of opportunities. Do we have the faith to act on them with hard work and a positive attitude?
How big was this opportunity for this young man that took a class with me and came each time I called? I don't think either he or I had any clue at the time.
Some time passed, and I hadn't spoken with this young man for a while. During this time, I was contemplating some different tuggings in my life and came to the conclusion that it was time to sell my company. I compiled a list of whom to pitch the sale of our company to, mainly those who had the capital to buy us out. For some reason, this young man came to my mind. I began to reason that thought away ("He doesn't have the money," "It doesn't make sense," "These other companies are established"), but I couldn't shake the thought and for some odd reason felt good about it.
This made me consider if this were not merely one of my own thoughts, but one with a little more inspiration behind it. So I called this young man up. To make a long story short, he bought the company. It has become his livelihood. He's blown it up to five times the size I had it.
He's been profitable and prosperous every year. That company has blessed and defined his life in many regards. That was over 13 years ago.
I remember this young man as a student, just like you, wondering what he would do with his life, questioning himself, unsure what avenue to go down. The Lord brought us together, and because this young man viewed things as opportunities, the simple was made great in his life. Neither he nor I could have scripted that.
What simple opportunities abound in your life but are overlooked as mundane, annoying, difficult, or in the way? What if you ask the Lord for something great in your life? Are you ready to receive it? What if the small things that you neglect to positively take part in are the preparations the Lord has placed in your path to bless you with that which you desire the most?
What if the ultimate profession for you requires a level of dedication you are not ready for yet? The Lord may place an opportunity of work in your life right now that strengthens your capacity for hard work and endurance. What if the perfect eternal companion for you awaits, but you will scare them away with your lack of patience? Maybe that new calling in the ward will help create the attributes in you that will prepare you to receive such an incredible person in your life.
An all-wise, loving Heavenly Father, who is the Guide, will fill your path with the opportunities needed to take you to the greatest places. Will you miss those opportunities or seize them?
Last week, President Eyring challenged us to be quick to observe and obey the university dress and grooming standards. What if you viewed these as an opportunity?
When the young man in my story bought my company, part of the sale was some mentoring from me to ensure a successful transition. On his first day, I told him to meet me for his first "lesson." He brought a notebook and was eager to listen. I looked at him and asked, "Are you ready?"
"Yep," he replied.
I then said: "Lesson one: Dye your hair back to its normal color, get a pair of pants that fits you, and put the stock tires back on your truck. You will be working with millionaires and billionaires and asking them to trust you with their projects and their money. You will need to look the part. You can't look like a kid. Class dismissed."
This young man was a good-looking and normal 20-something. He had bleach-frosted spiked hair, wore designer jeans that were cooler than anything I own but tended to fall off his backside, and he had tricked out his pickup truck.
The next day, he came to meet me for lesson two, and I was impressed. His hair was back to its brown, normal color, and the spike was tamed. He had on a pair of Carhartt work pants, and he had put the stock tires back on his truck.
Many young people would have been put out by this first lesson, thinking, "This is what I paid for? Don't tell me what to do." He was teachable and prepared to receive this counsel. If he couldn't look the part, we couldn't transfer trust our clients had in me to trust we wanted them to have in him.
His positive attitude of seeing everything as an opportunity made teaching him easy, and his past experience with BYU-Idaho Dress and Grooming standards, mission rules, and For the Strength of Youth principles made this a non-issue as he was prepared to accept it.
Principle 4--Faith in yourself
At the end of the day, we must recognize that we choose for ourselves what we will become. This is one of our Heavenly Father's greatest gifts to us. We make the life we live; we choose the person we are.
Put faith in yourself and your ability to do this. He has. Your perfect and loving Heavenly Father has put total faith in you. He knows you better than anyone, and He believes in your capacity to make good choices. What greater stamp of approval do you need?
I love the story of the brother of Jared, in the Book of Mormon. When he brought his problems to the Lord about the barges he built under the Lord's direction, the Lord gave him solutions to some things, but He asked the brother of Jared to come up with his own solution to how the barges would be lighted. The brother of Jared had to make a choice and come up with a plan.
[And] the brother of Jared ... did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones ... and cried again unto the Lord....
...Touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness.
In our lives, sometimes after we've done all we can and sought the Lord diligently, we just need to chart a course, make a decision, and then bring it to the Lord and, like the brother of Jared, ask Him to touch our efforts, to illuminate our choices and make more of them than we can alone.
The brother of Jared's effort to employ the faith the Lord placed in Him was rewarded not only with a solution to his problem, but he saw the very spirit body of Christ, who declared to him, "Never [before] has man believed in me as thou hast."
Brothers and sisters, my challenge for you today is this:
- Make a list: Go home today, offer a prayer to the Lord, and ask Him for inspiration, and write down everything you envision for yourself on a piece of paper. Write down who you want to be, what you want to do, where you want to be spiritually and temporally in 5 years and in 10 years from now. Ask the Lord to touch this list, and believe in yourself. He does.
Keep that list close by. Read it on occasion. Add to it when you feel so inclined, and proceed to do the following every day.
- Believe that God is the Guide, and stay close to Him. Make a commitment today to diligently read the scriptures and pray daily.
- Show your faith through your actions and your attitudes: work hard, and see everything as an opportunity.
Brothers and sisters, when this life is over, if you have put your faith in Him, you will look back with utter amazement and joy at what He has guided you to become. In that moment you will feel a personal sense of accomplishment as you realize what you have become through your own work and choices, and at the same time unbelievable gratitude for His matchless wisdom and love--as you will know He has brought you to where you have arrived.
Listen to the following by President Monson. You can almost hear his voice:
Well, my young friends, [and some not quite that young,] what a thrilling life awaits you!
This is your world[, my young brothers and sisters]. The future is in your hands. The outcome is up to you.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Mary Gormandy White, "Stress Causes of College Students," Health, LoveToKnow.com, http://stress.lovetoknow.com/Stress_Causes_of_College_Students, 2010.  Thomas S. Monson, "Decisions Determine Destiny," Liahona, July 1980, https://www.lds.org/liahona/1980/07/decisions-determine-destiny?lang=eng.  "Chapter 2: God the Eternal Father," Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2011), 343.  Boyd K. Packer, "The Edge of the Light," BYU Magazine, Mar. 1980.  David A. Bednar, "Seek Learning by Faith," Ensign, Sept. 2007, https://www.lds.org/ensign/2007/09/seek-learning-by-faith?lang=eng.  Ether 3:1, 4.  Ether 3:15.