President Henry J. Eyring
Henry Johnson Eyring became the 17th president of Brigham Young University-Idaho in April 2017.
President Eyring and his family have had a long association with Rexburg and BYU-Idaho. He first came to the area as a child when his father, President Henry B. Eyring, served as president of Ricks College.
He returned to Rexburg and the relatively new BYU-Idaho in 2006. Over the ensuing 11 years at the university, he has served as associate academic vice president over Online Learning, advancement vice president, and academic vice president.
Prior to his work at BYU-Idaho, President Eyring worked as a strategy consultant at Monitor Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and as MBA director at Brigham Young University in Provo.
President Eyring has served in various callings in the Church, including as a full-time missionary in the Japan Nagoya Mission, bishop, mission president in the Japan Tokyo North Mission, and president of the Rexburg Idaho YSA 6th Stake.
President Eyring earned a bachelor’s degree in geology, a master’s degree in business administration, and a juris doctorate from BYU. While attending BYU, he married his high school sweetheart, Kelly Ann Child.
Sister Eyring graduated from BYU with a bachelor’s degree in English. She has served as a stake Young Women president and Primary president.
President and Sister Eyring are the parents of five children. Their three oldest children are graduates of BYU-Idaho, and their two younger children live at home. They also have three grandchildren.
Please respond to the question below on the devotional discussion board:
When have you faced opposition that seemed overwhelming? How did you overcome, and what silver linings did you find?
As always, I’m grateful to follow Sister Eyring at a beginning-of-the-semester devotional. She has a gift for connecting with other people and with the Holy Ghost. That makes it easy for me to follow her.
Sister Eyring and I are deeply grateful for your many comments on the devotional discussion board. We have learned much from you, and we trust that the testimonies you have borne there will be a blessing to you, as they have been to us.
Sister Eyring has taught us the gospel principle that there is an opposition in all things, especially important spiritual things. Opposition is also built into the physical forces of nature. I remember how a well-meaning uncle tried to teach me to waterski in the frigid water of Lake Tahoe, one of the deepest and coldest lakes in the United States.
I was a pre-teen from Rexburg, visiting my extended family in Northern California. I didn’t want to try waterskiing. Yet I also didn’t want to be scorned by my older and more-athletic cousins. They knew that I was a strong swimmer, having learned with them in the big pool at our grandparents’ house, where I lived as a boy.
But there is a big difference between a heated swimming pool and Lake Tahoe. And it’s impossible to swim when your feet are in water skis. Shivering and shaking behind the boat, up to my chin in frigid water, I was told to keep my knees bent, to lean back, and to wait for the pull of the waterski rope to lift me out of the water naturally, rather than trying to stand up.
You can guess what I did; you’ve probably done it yourself. Feeling like an almost-submerged ice cube, I wanted to stand up on those skis the moment the boat started to pull me. Of course, with the boat and me moving slowly at the beginning, the attempt to straighten my legs and stand had the effect of turning my skis into anchors. Then, by holding tightly to the rope handle—as admonished by the boat captain—I began to swallow water like a whale shark sifting plankton.
Fortunately, Lake Tahoe doesn’t have plankton, or I’d have needed serious medical attention. Regardless, after that one experience, I wanted nothing to do with waterskiing. It was many years before I tried again and finally succeeded in getting up.
What made the difference then was my increased faith in the instructions given by a boat captain I trusted, Dean Davies, now a member of the Presiding Bishopric. Dean gave me easy-to-understand-and-imagine instructions. He also expressed full confidence in me, even after my many failures. When I finally succeeded in getting up, after several waterskiing trips, Dean acted as though my success had never been in doubt.
We Are Born to Learn and Qualify for Spiritual Power
The experience of learning to waterski has become spiritually instructive for me. My struggles and eventual success in waterskiing and other challenging situations have become a kind of personal parable and a source of spiritual insight. Our Earth is a divinely designed laboratory, an earthly classroom. Newborn babies arrive in this classroom and immediately begin to adapt to their mortal environment. Within a week they can distinguish their parents’ voices. The next week they begin to focus on faces. In weeks three and four of life, they are snuggling with their parents and beginning to test their own voices.[i]
Infants learn naturally. It is evident that the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost can inspire, instruct, and encourage even the youngest people. They optimistically embrace the challenge of overcoming obstacles. Infants and young children also tend to be humble and teachable, making them natural learners and achievers. They are physically, emotionally, and spiritually designed to succeed.
Particularly blessed are those children born into homes where the gospel of Jesus Christ is taught and lived. They know how to apply in their lives what Elder David A. Bednar has called the enabling power of our Savior’s Atonement. Elder Bednar has taught us that “the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us.”[ii]
In the early years of life, the Lord naturally lives in us. And wise, supportive parents can build on this inherent spiritual strength. By lovingly and optimistically teaching the joyful doctrines of the gospel, parents can foster faith and obedience in their children. The blessings that flow from obedience lead naturally to righteous confidence. Then, as the children embrace the Lord’s charge to serve others, they receive blessings of strength and joy. They also realize His promise of bearing them up in trials. The spiritual result is a reinforcing upward spiral.
The Paradoxical Temptations of Pride and Self-doubt
This spiritual empowerment, though, is conditioned on eternal principles of righteousness. We cannot be blessed for our good deeds when we are simultaneously violating the spiritual laws of happiness. President Nelson taught that principle powerfully last week, when he said:
Eternal laws operate in and affect each of our lives, whether we believe them or not…
Exaltation is not easy. Requirements include a focused and persistent effort to keep God’s laws, and rigorously repenting when we don’t.[iii]
Knowing this principle of eternal laws and their consequences, our adversary Lucifer incessantly tempts us to thoughts and behaviors contrary to long-term happiness. He does so out of spite, jealousy, and twisted ambition to make us as miserable as he is.
Ironically, Lucifer’s misery began with self-confidence that turned into pride. He fell prey to his own ambition during the premortal Council in Heaven, imagining that his plan to save all souls was in the best interests of Heavenly Father’s children. His confidence and pride ultimately brought him into conflict with the principles of happiness and with his Father. Having learned a hard lesson from his own prideful mistake, the adversary now tempts us to “have it all,” as he unrighteously tried to do.
Even the best of us can become selfish and vain without recognizing it. Particularly tempting for members of the Church is the belief that success in temporal matters, such as higher education or a well-paying profession, signals superior leadership capability and value to the Lord’s causes. The same temptation to pride can also afflict Church members who are called to serve in ecclesiastical leadership positions. The adversary celebrates this kind of ambition. He knows from personal experience that seeking power and praise can be corrupting.
Ironically, the most likely outcome of seeking worldly wealth and high position is disappointment. For every high-paying or high-profile position, there are many aspirants. Only a small fraction of ambitious people can win the rich-and-famous sweepstakes. And, in fact, only a relative few of these apparent “winners” find their prizes as satisfying as they expected. Wealth is not only elusive, but also hard to dispose of unselfishly. Likewise, high position is hard to achieve. And few positions, other than those within families, last throughout our lives.
Paradoxically, the adversary works well not only with pride but also discouragement. He counters our God-given optimism with messages of doubt, often working through the pride and scorn of worldly people, such as the Pharisees of the Savior’s day. In this kind of environment, young learners, who are naturally confident, can be tempted to become discouraged. Our failures, which are in fact natural learning opportunities, may seem to belie our inherent, God-given optimism.
Ironically, human feelings of self-doubt can be as useful to the adversary as pride is. In either case, the associated emotions distance us from Heavenly Father, from our Savior, and from the Holy Ghost, our potential sources of true power. The result can be a downward emotional and spiritual spiral. The adversary’s persistent, devious strategy for ensnaring us can be characterized by the phrase “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.”
A Personal Parable
I fell prey to that devilish stratagem early in my professional career, as a management consultant. The prestigious Boston firm for which I worked paid well and entrusted me with leadership opportunities beyond my expectations. I became confident to the point of arrogance. Though I served faithfully in the Church, pride in my professional accomplishments led to a significant deficit of humility.
Providentially, I learned the hard way what Solomon taught: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”[iv] When the professional promotions slowed in Massachusetts, I decided to move home to Utah and open a Salt Lake City office of the consulting firm. I quickly discovered that I had overestimated my abilities and underestimated the challenge of selling high-priced consulting services to Utah’s independent and thrifty entrepreneurs. Before long, I had given up on a Salt Lake City office of the consulting firm. I was grateful just to be getting project assignments in distant cities.
In the meantime, my father had been called as an Apostle. Rather than becoming a high-profile person myself, I felt lost in his shadow. Gradually, disappointment and declining confidence began to show up in my hair. Before long I had lost all of it, from head to toe, leading friends to ask worriedly about my physical health. Having planned to become a “big wheel” in Utah, I instead found myself wanting to disappear.
At the time, I felt like a victim of cruel circumstances. Yet, in my pride, I had actually set myself up for an inevitable emotional fall. I had succumbed to worldly temptation without realizing it. In hindsight, I recognize that my striving for professional success was largely selfish. I had rationalized my self-serving behavior as motivated by desires to benefit my family and the Church. I thought that I could simultaneously bless other people while also fulfilling my personal ambitions.
Not realizing these spiritual faults at the time, I began to feel angry toward heaven, which seemed to be the source of my disappointment and despair. In self-pity, and ignoring my unrighteous motives, I wondered why the law of the harvest wasn’t working for me. It seemed that I was being treated unfairly.
Fortunately, Sister Eyring and other loved ones stood by me. Through wise words and kind deeds, they helped me see the need to repent of my pride and seek the healing balm of the Atonement and the ministry of the Holy Ghost. I increased my study of the scriptures. And, at Sister Eyring’s inspired suggestion, I began to keep a personal journal. In time, I began to qualify for Heaven’s blessings, which took a different but far better form than I had imagined.
Learning to Serve and See
Sister Eyring’s instruction to record my activities, thoughts, and feelings was hard to embrace at first. I seemed to be failing at everything I wanted to accomplish. But, thanks to her prompting, I began to look for signs of heaven’s hand in my life. When writing the events of the day, I tried to make even apparently trivial experiences seem more meaningful. Better still, I realized that I could create uplifting stories for the journal. I attempted to do things, especially in the service of others, that might allow me to write more optimistic and encouraging tales at the end of the day.
In the beginning, I was embarrassed to be “making up” happy stories, particularly somewhat trivial ones, such as a coincidental opportunity to start a conversation with a stranger and make a friend. The world tempts us to believe that notoriety and wealth are essential indicators of personal achievement and self-worth. By this logic, doing a good turn daily is inconsequential, even trivial.
Yet the Savior taught otherwise, in both words and deeds. The Savior declared, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant . . . and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”[v] The Savior also gave this warning: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”[vi]
Selflessly serving others, I have found, qualifies us for spiritual power. Service is a balm to both the receiver and the giver. Of course, our adversary knows this. He tempts us to put our personal needs and wants ahead of those of other people. Especially in cases of distress or want, we may succumb to the temptation to save ourselves first. That logic works in airplanes, where parents are advised to don their own emergency oxygen mask first and only then help a child.
However, spiritual oxygen is different. We breathe best, spiritually, when we are helping someone who is struggling. By putting a spiritual oxygen mask on another person, we find that we immediately breathe easier, no matter what challenges we face.
There is an eternal principle at work here. When we serve others with pure motives, Heavenly Father can bless us without reservation and without our falling prey to the natural what’s-in-it-for-me temptation. Those blessings of service will increase our humility and faith, as well as our desire to repent daily. In acting this way, we can be spiritually born again, as the Savior taught Nicodemus, the Pharisee.[vii] The inquisitiveness, optimism, and inspiring success of childhood can return to believers of any age. A downward emotional and spiritual cycle can be converted to a permanent upward one.
Optimism in the Face of Opposition
This doesn’t mean a life of easy success. Notwithstanding our best efforts and heaven’s support, opposition will be our lifelong lot. Opposition is designed into every aspect of mortality. Without it, we cannot grow physically, intellectually, or spiritually.
In Sunday’s devotional, Elder Bednar addressed the question “How can I overcome sin when I keep trying [but] repeat the mistake?” Elder Bednar suggested that “you just keep trying. The strength comes line upon line, precept upon precept. We overcome by continuing to try hard and seeking God’s strength.”[viii]
If challenging things came too easily, if getting up on a water ski on the first try were natural, there would be no humility and no drive to seek learning and persevere in trials beyond the point we thought possible.
From the beginning of this world, the daughters and sons of our Heavenly Father have faced stiff opposition. Adam and Eve, our first parents, experienced almost unimaginable trials and sorrows. Likewise, the early prophets, including Noah, Abraham, and Moses, were similarly beset by opposition.
So was Elijah, who stood alone against the so-called prophets of Baal. Elijah was given unusual power over earthly elements. His miracles included raising a boy from the dead, invoking a three-year drought, and calling down fire from heaven to consume unrighteous priests. Elijah’s last miracle was to be taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire.
Watching at that moment was meek Elisha, who had served as Elijah’s junior missionary companion for some six years. Elisha worried terribly about filling Elijah’s shoes, enough so that he asked for a double portion of his master’s spirit.[ix] Elijah replied conditionally, saying:
Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou seest me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.[x]
Providentially, Elisha had the gift of spiritual sight, which allowed him to see Elijah taken up.[xi] This gift of sight also allowed Elisha to subtly minister to people who tended to be overlooked. Calling on the powers of heaven, he ministered to the thirsty and hungry and diseased. Miracles such as extending the life of a meager supply of food may seem small compared to Elijah’s. In fact, some people of that time might have passed them off as products of human resourcefulness, lucky timing, or natural events.
But Elisha’s gift of spiritual sight was real, and each of us can develop it. Miracles are most likely to come when we are selflessly, humbly serving others. The faith nurtured in us this way will build our confidence in Heavenly Father’s power to lift and strengthen us beyond our natural abilities.
Seeing Miracles, Large and Small
The key principle to remember is the one Elijah taught Elisha: “If you see it.” Some people naturally have this kind of spiritual eyesight. In particular, many children have it, perhaps because of subtle memories of the pre-mortal existence. Nevertheless, life and its disappointments tend to create spiritual myopia and even temporary blindness. If we are at all doubtful or cynical, our hearts can harden and our desire to see spiritual realities become diminished.
I know of no better way to develop and retain Elisha’s gift of sight than by keeping personal records, especially written ones. It’s easier and more rewarding than you might think. You don’t need formal training in writing. And you don’t have to write every day or capture all of any one day’s events. I’ve found it useful to focus on just a few notable events and feelings, especially those in which heaven’s hand could be felt or seen.
Moreover, you don’t have to be strictly true to reality. In fact, one of the blessings of journal keeping is the opportunity to think critically about what really has happened during your day. By habit, I try to be slightly more optimistic and generous than an unbiased observer would be. In particular, I’m predisposed to give others the benefit of the doubt. It helps to see their good intentions, and to congratulate them on their efforts, even if the outcomes aren’t extraordinary. You can recognize the opposition they face, and portray them in glowing, even heroic terms.
I would encourage you to do the same for yourself. Take credit for what you have learned as you acted, not necessarily the way things turned out. See the would-be hero in yourself. Give yourself credit for acts of kindness and moments of courage. And look for the subtle charms of daily events. Make the weather a little milder and the scenery a bit prettier.
As Sister Eyring and our children will attest, that is the way I write my journal. Life is an epic journey, like those undertaken in Middle Earth or Narnia, by seemingly ordinary characters who are in fact heroes-in-the-making, destined to rise above all opposition. To avoid cynicism from your children, you can make the excuse I do. The subtitle of my journal is “Based on a True Story.”
I join Sister Eyring in testifying that Jehovah, our Savior Jesus Christ, stands at the head of this Church that bears His name. He is our captain, leading us by His matchless power and infinite love. Through repenting and qualifying for the direction of the Holy Ghost, we can overcome all spiritual and physical challenges to our happiness. With the Savior’s power and the Holy Ghost’s direction, we can create a life story that ends with the declaration “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”[xii]
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[ii] “In the Strength of the Lord,” David A. Bednar, BYU Devotional, Oct. 23, 2001.
[iii] “The Love and Laws of God,” Russell M. Nelson, BYU Devotional, Sept. 17, 2019.
[iv] Proverbs 16:18.
[v] Matthew 23:11-12.
[vi] Matthew 18:3.
[vii] John 3:3.
[viii] Elder David A. Bednar, BYU-Idaho Devotional, Sept 22, 2019.
[ix] 2 Kings 2:9.
[x] 2 Kings 2:10.
[xi] 2 Kings 2:11-12.
[xii] Matthew 25:21.
Rising Above Opposition
Audio of President Henry J. Eyring's BYU-Idaho devotional address, Fall 2019