Institutional Research & Assessment Managing Director
Ben Fryar grew up in the Portland, Oregon area and then moved to Soda Springs, Idaho when he was a senior in high school. As a teenager, Brother Fryar was a gymnast, wrestled, and played football.
Brother Fryar served in the Germany Hamburg mission. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Idaho State University and graduate degrees from Utah State University and Brigham Young University.
Brother Fryar started his career as a seminary teacher in St. George, Utah. He was hired at BYU-Idaho in 2012 as a curriculum designer in online learning and later became the director of the online course improvement department. Brother Fryar is currently serving as the managing director of institutional research and assessment.
Brother Fryar married Katie Palmer in 2000 and they have five daughters and one son.
Please respond to the prompt below on the devotional discussion board:
Prompt 1 – Best Listener Award: Who would you nominate for a “Best Listener” award? What makes them a good listener? How have they blessed your life?
Prompt 2 – Confession time: When have you failed miserably at listening? What were the consequences? Let’s keep this option light and fun – nothing too serious here.
A few years ago, I was on a committee tasked with making recommendations about how best to integrate BYU-Idaho and BYU-Pathway Worldwide systems and processes. The details aren’t important for this setting except to say that it was a technical and complex set of issues involving a lot of people and a lot of software applications.
We did our best and eventually presented a set of recommendations to the presidents and vice presidents of both BYU-Idaho and BYU-Pathway worldwide.
We felt like our highly technical analysis deserved a highly technical explanation, so we came up with this super sophisticated diagram as the first slide in our presentation.
The point of this slide was to convey the idea that we had worked through some of the complexity, but there was still much more to do.
I use this drawing at work a lot—probably too often. People I work with closely have been known to place bets on how long it will be in a meeting before I draw this on the whiteboard and then ask, “Okay, how do we move this issue to the right?”
My team gave me a small whiteboard with this sketch in permanent marker on it so I can just grab it whenever I need to. I think they meant it as a joke, but It’s actually been very helpful.
Major life decisions, like who to marry or what to major in often follow this pattern. Working on a new team where you’re not sure how to move forward can also take this path. Early on, on the left side, you’re not sure what to do and it can feel unsettled, insecure, and even chaotic. Hopefully, over time, you move towards the right: things calm down, there is a solid plan, and you have a good idea of how things are going to work out. It feels intentional, secure, and you are confident.
At times, I get frustrated that it can be so hard to move to the right. A German phrase I memorized as part of the old missionary discussions where we introduced our belief in Heavenly Father has helped me keep things in perspective: Er möchte, dass wir ihm ähnlicher werden. This is the German translation of: “He wants us to become more like Him.”
Think about that idea for a moment in the context of our sketch. Is Heavenly Father capable of navigating the complexities we face on the left? Of course He is, and part of why we are here is to develop that capability as well.
And we can! Just last week, Elder Uchtdorf said, “[Heavenly Father] knows our infinite potential. He sees the best version of us, the glorious person we have the potential to become.”  When I hear that, I feel confident that, with the Lord’s help, we can increase in our capacity to handle the uncertain parts of our lives.
My topic today is very simple—it’s on the power of listening. I chose this topic because I believe listening deeply helps us progress and become more like our Heavenly Father.
Listening to Your Voice
I’d like to tell you about a time my wife and I had some big decisions to make. We learned a lot about how agency and listening to your own voice can be an important way to move from the left, over to the right side of our drawing.
I was hired as a seminary teacher right out of college. While teaching, I completed a master’s degree in instructional design with an emphasis in distance education. I became so excited during my program because I realized the potential of the internet to expand educational opportunities for people around the globe.
Shortly after completing my master’s degree, I heard about a job opening at BYU in Provo helping in the development of online classes. It sounded like an interesting opportunity, so I applied and was eventually offered the position.
This is the part of the story where things began to feel like the left side of this drawing looks. Katie and I had a decision to make, and for us it was a hard dilemma. What could be more important and fulfilling than helping youth grow spiritually by continuing in my career as a seminary teacher? On the other hand, how could I pass up an opportunity in an area I felt strongly had great potential to do good in the world?
I knew the pattern from Doctrine and Covenants, section nine, where it says, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.” 
So we did—we studied it out: we made a pros-and-cons lists and thought a lot and discussed a lot and we “decided.” And then we prayed to see if it was right. But it didn’t work—we were just as uncertain as before.
During this time, the German phrase from the missionary lessons kept coming back to me about how Heavenly Father wants us to become more like Him. It dawned on me that Heavenly Father knows how to handle a fork in the road, and if I wanted to become more like Him, then I needed to get better at making decisions.
Looking back on our process, we hadn’t really decided—we’d just arrived at an answer to test out so we could claim due diligence, but if I’m honest, we were just waiting to be told what to do. I think that approach is contrary to the Lord’s counsel: “It is not meet that I should command in all things” —and later: “Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will.”  For us, for this particular decision, we felt like we needed to figure out what we wanted and find the courage to actually make a decision.
Katie and I arrived at these insights while out to dinner one night at a Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal, I unwrapped the fortune cookie and we joked about how we had handled this process as if God’s role was to just give out instructions through fortune cookies. But we were curious, so I went ahead and opened it—you know, just in case.
This is what we found.
It was blank. Apparently, someone at the fortune cookie factory had made a mistake, but it seemed appropriate somehow.
I learned some good lessons.
- Heavenly Father has a great sense of humor. He managed to package a life lesson, a gentle reprimand, and what I think may have been a joke all into one little fortune cookie.
- I learned more about agency and developing the courage to make hard decisions by listening to and giving weight to my own voice. I loved being a seminary teacher, but my interests and excitement centered around what online education could be. I wanted to be a part of it, so I accepted the job at BYU, and eventually a different job here at BYU-Idaho working in online education; I feel like the Lord has been supportive of that decision.
Your college years are full of big decisions, and it’s important to seek inspiration. Some people wonder, “How do I know if a thought is from the Holy Ghost, or if it’s just me?” I don’t worry so much about that now. I’d suggest that’s it’s okay if it’s you, because your voice matters.
Listening in Groups
President Henry B. Eyring has taught us, “The climbs to the places God would have us go are never for us alone.”  This tells me we need to be good at working together, whether that means being part of a group project for a class or on the board of a multi-national corporation.
Imagine for a minute a choir where everyone refuses to listen to each other. It just wouldn’t work. People would come in at the wrong time, someone would sing too loud, someone too soft. Each part might be beautiful as a solo, but if people don’t listen to each other, it’s a mess.
I was curious what that might actually sound like, so I recorded each of my kids separately singing the Popcorn Popping song, and then I merged the different recordings. As you listen to this train wreck, keep in mind my kids didn’t hear each other singing—it’s just a collection of solos played over the top of each other.
That’s kind of hard to listen to. For the record, my kids are beautiful singers.
When we work in groups, we shouldn’t operate as if we’re just a collection of solos. There are issues of timing, tone, and harmony that we need to be conscious of; it requires careful listening. Sometimes you’ll carry the melody, and sometimes you’ll be a supporting voice.
We know this principle from our learning model: Learners and teachers at BYU-Idaho love, serve, and teach one another. Underlying each of those three verbs is an assumption that we listen to each other.
Pahoran helps us see an important way we can listen in order to move a group forward. Paradoxically, he was a good listener because he largely ignored parts of what Moroni was saying. He barely even responded to Moroni’s rebuke and instead listened for the important parts:
- We need to stabilize the government.
- We need to get resources to the front lines.
- Those two things need to happen now.
He could have wasted time feeling wounded. But Pahoran didn’t justify, defend, or posture; he listened for what was important and worked towards that.
You can hear a listening attitude in Pahoran’s letter to Moroni:
And now, in your epistle you have censured me, but it mattereth not; I am not angry, but do rejoice in the greatness of your heart. I, Pahoran, do not seek for power, save only to retain my judgment-seat that I may preserve the rights and the liberty of my people. My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free. 
Sometimes when you’re working in a group, you have to ignore the parts that don’t matter. This kind of listening can require a great deal of humility.
Listening with Your Heart
You’ve probably heard that the majority of interpersonal communication is non-verbal. This means the ears and the eyes are required to be a good listener. I believe the heart should also be involved.
With their permission, I’d like to share some of Justin and Amber’s story. Justin is my younger brother and Amber is his wife. They have four kids. Justin had a hard time at BYU-Idaho when he first came here after his mission. He did his best, but financial challenges and anxiety impacted his grades and he eventually left the university without graduating. Later in life, Justin’s employment situation was not sufficient to provide for his family in the way he wanted. He started and stopped at least 8 times at different community colleges or universities over a period of 12 years. Each time something would get in the way, his anxiety levels would rise, and he would withdraw.
In what he describes as his final attempt at finishing a degree, Justin enrolled in BYU-Idaho’s online program. He and Amber didn’t tell anyone—not even their kids. They were juggling multiple jobs, taking care of kids, callings, and now a very demanding program of study. Their lives felt like the left side of our sketch looks.
In this video clip, Justin describes how Amber helped him through this time.
My wife supported me by providing all the materials that I would need, even some that I didn’t, just to help me get excited for school. It’s always fun to get new pencils or whatever, backpack or something. She set up my calendar. She had no idea what the interface was for their online program, but she went through it and learned it and put all the assignments on my calendar so I knew when they were due, so I didn’t overlook things. She even put them all on different calendars for each class, so I didn’t have to see them all at the same time. . . . She told me that I could do it, that she supported my efforts, and that she believed in me.
It’s not totally clear from the video, but Amber really did buy my 30-something-year-old brother brand new pencils and a backpack for school. Did you notice how he kind of lit up when he talked about that? How did Amber know that would help? She listened. By that, I don’t mean she listened to what he was saying. My brother is a pretty tough guy, and I doubt he ever said, “Hey, honey, I’m worried about school. What I could really use is a fun, new backpack just like when I was a kid.” She listened in the sense that she observed what was going on. She listened by seeing that he was experiencing the turmoil on the left of the drawing. By listening, she realized separate calendars and a backpack and some cool pencils might help.
The Savior taught us to listen this way when He stopped in a crowded street because a woman in turmoil touched the hem of His garment. She didn’t say anything, but He knew she had reached out because He was listening beyond the noise and commotion and so He was able to hear her and then heal her.
Listening as a Form of Compassion
It can be heartbreaking when a loved one suffers. We can’t always remove a person’s specific challenge, but simply listening can be an act of compassion.
Think of how often questions are asked throughout scripture. For example:
- Jesus asks Bartimus, a beggar, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?”  Bartimus was clearly blind. I think the Savior knew what he wanted.
- In Genesis 3, we read about how Adam and Eve hid from the Lord after they had partaken of the forbidden fruit. The Lord called out to Adam, “Where art thou?”  Let’s all keep in mind that the Lord created the universe—I think He probably knew where Adam was hiding.
- When Mary was grieving at the sepulcher, the resurrected Savior asked, “Woman, why weepest thou?”  Again, I think He knew why Mary was crying.
I doubt the point of these questions was to gather information. I think the point of these questions was to open an avenue for the individual to be heard, to be listened to. In each case, expressing their need or their condition or their sorrow to a listening ear was a first step in the individual’s healing. What is the invitation to pray? It’s Heavenly Father saying, “Come, pour out your heart—I’ll listen.”
Part of the way we become more like our Heavenly Father is learning to listen to others as an expression of compassion and as a way to relieve suffering through the chaotic, dissonant parts of life.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk and peace activist, expressed this sentiment:
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don’t interrupt. You don’t argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing. 
I feel this kind of listening aligns with a commitment we are all familiar with: to mourn with those that mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort.  Andrea Dabling made a comment on the devotional discussion board this past week that I thought was applicable. She said, “Being [a good listener] will allow you to enter sacred ground in people’s lives.” I think that’s a profound comment.
Listening for Perspective
Over the years, I’ve noticed that I subconsciously switch between two different ways of listening to music. My first and most common approach is to focus specifically on the melody; the other parts kind of fade into the background. My second approach is to listen more holistically—when I listen this way, I find beauty in how all the parts work together.
I’m learning that just like there is a holistic way to listen to and hear music, there is also a holistic way to listen to and hear answers from heaven.
The clip you saw earlier of my brother Justin is part of a short video being produced to tell his and Amber’s story about Justin’s experience finishing his degree. A friend from BYU-Idaho and I traveled to Colorado Springs, where Justin and Amber were living, to interview them and shoot the video.
When we got there, a painting on their wall immediately caught my attention. In the middle of juggling multiple jobs, kids, and college, Justin and Amber had needed a break. So, they got a babysitter and put all the demands aside for just one evening and together, they painted this series of pictures as a way to capture where they had been and where they were going.
Their painting caught my attention because it looks a lot like the sketches I draw at work.
Notice in both cases the progression from a meandering path to a more certain one.
Seeing these two pictures next to each other, and realizing we had created them independently, has helped me see that the work of the systems integration committee I mentioned earlier had very little to do with software applications and processes. What was really happening was that Heavenly Father was helping a family in Colorado Springs. In this case, that help included system integrations, but also a cool new backpack, some pencils, and probably a hundred other things.
We didn’t receive many fortune-cookie-style answers on our committee. I’m okay with that, because “Er mochte dass wir ihm ahnlicher werden”—He wants us to become more like Him. It’s the wrestle, not fortune cookies, that helps us progress.
That doesn’t mean He is a distant God who ignores us as we work things out on our own. He didn’t leave us alone; He blessed me with an entirely new way of thinking in the one second it took me to process what I saw hanging on Justin and Amber’s wall. I had thought the job of our committee was to work through the complexities of a system architecture, data flows, authentication issues, and so on. That was not the job of our committee. The job of our committee was to help our brothers and sisters work through their complexities.
I’m learning that if we listen holistically, guidance from heaven will sometimes come in the form of a broader or more accurate understanding of the big picture rather than a specific solution to a specific problem.
I think Psalm 46:10 is a good summary of my thoughts today. It says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  In the invitation to “be still,” I hear encouragement to develop confidence in using your agency by listening closely to your own voice. I also hear an invitation to listen to others in the way the Savior did, as an act of compassion and as a way to heal. We can “be still” by listening with humility as we work with others and focusing on the things that matter. And when we are reminded, “Know that I am God,” I hear an invitation to seek perspective by listening holistically.
I believe listening deeply helps us better navigate the complicated parts of mortality, and ultitmately, listening deeply helps us become more like our Heavenly Father.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Freedom to Become,” BYU-Idaho devotional, March 1, 2020.
 Doctrine and Covenants 9:8.
 Doctrine and Covenants 58:26.
 Doctrine and Covenants 58:27.
 Henry B. Eyring, “The Temple and the College on the Hill,” June 9, 2009.
 Alma 61:9.
 Mark 10:51.
 Genesis 3:9.
 John 20:15.
 See Mosiah 18:9.
 Psalm 46:10.