Counselor, Counseling Center
Reed Hendricks grew up in Sugar City, Idaho. He attended school at Ricks College, Utah State University, Eastern Washington University, and BYU. He holds a Master of Social Work, and has done work toward a doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology. He worked with LDS Family Services in the bay area in California, at a psychiatric hospital in Idaho Falls, and has worked at the BYU-Idaho Counseling Center since 1998.
Brother Hendricks served in the California Sacramento Mission from 1975-77. He has held several church callings, including being a counselor in four bishoprics, a high councilor, and the bishop of a YSA ward. He is currently the bishop of the Rexburg Married Student 34th Ward.
Brother Hendricks and his wife, Lynette, have 5 children and 18 grandchildren. Sister Hendricks is an adjunct instructor on campus. She and Brother Hendricks met at Ricks College in a class called "Preparation for Marriage," the same course that Sister Hendricks now teaches.
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.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here and to speak to you today. But, observing how large this congregation is, and having a sense of the limitless value that God places upon you, I feel a bit intimidated. So, I made a concerted effort this morning to say a long and heartfelt prayer. But as an extra precaution, I also took my blood pressure pill and then ate a double stuff Oreo cookie! I hope I'm ready!
One of my wonderful sons-in-law does the sound engineering here at the BYU-Idaho Center and he told me that, if I wanted, he could pipe in any of Elder Holland's talks, and I could simply lip sync. That was tempting! But you would see quickly through that charade.
Now, brothers and sisters, I love this university! I grew up in a nearby little town and have associated either directly or indirectly with this wonderful institution since my youth. I have personally met or had interaction in some small way with each of the former presidents who have served here going as far back as President John L. Clarke.
Like those who have preceded him, I have felt a personal confirming witness of God's hand in bringing President Clark Gilbert here to guide and to bless us. We are also very grateful for the notable contribution and sacrifice of Sister Gilbert and their children. Behind any great university president is a supportive and surprised wife!
Now, I have worked in the fields of social work and psychology for 33 years. I have a vested interest in helping clients and friends change and improve their lives. Likewise, I have a deep personal desire to improve myself as well. I wish, as many of us do, that I would be further advanced in this process of self-mastery than I am as I approach my 60th birthday this very week. I assure you that a YouTube video of me walking on water is not likely to be posted anytime soon.
But, it is a consuming desire in my heart to be a better man, and to be of some small service to others that intersect in my life and who likewise desire to improve. It is the topic of overcoming "the natural man," that I wish to speak of today. I know such a topic is good for me to review and I hope that it will be of value to you as well.
It is the desire of my heart that the influence of the Holy Ghost will be present for both you and me as we consider this topic.
As we understand from the scriptures, the "natural man is an enemy to God."1 The natural man is also an enemy of ours. From time to time when you or I look in the mirror, or consider in our minds who or what we are, we might see ourselves in a distorted and negative way, as though we are seeing a reflection in a carnival mirror. That distorted view of self, that magnified view of the natural man, can be painful and overwhelming.
Have you ever noticed how remarkably easy it is to see the flaws you have? I've noticed that my natural man has put on some weight, has lost a fair amount of hair, and is still as stubborn as a mule. I see that my natural man still has far too many negative habits and patterns that ought to have been set aside a few decades ago.
If you have struggled with your humanness, then you surely find solace in the words of Nephi as I do, as that extraordinary prophet empathically spoke for all of us when he proclaimed, "O wretched man that I am!"2 Or, when the apostle Paul lamented about his "thorn in the flesh." 3 Add to that list, the valiant apostle Peter who, at one point, was willing to die for or at least with Christ, followed only hours later with a relapse into fear and self-doubt as he denied his beloved Savior three times.
Somehow, it gives me hope to know that even the best of the best also feel a sense of their own humanness. This wrestling match we have with the natural man is not like playing a delightful game of Candy Crush, but rather is hand-to-hand combat that will stretch us to our very limits.
Now, as mentioned, I have worked as a counselor for over three decades. I love my profession! The understanding in my field about human behavior has seemed to grow exponentially. We know more now than at any prior time, of how to help people change their attitudes and their behaviors. What a wonderful thing!
But, as much as I care for my profession and can better help people increase their knowledge of how to change their behaviors, I have learned something of great importance about overcoming the natural man. In addition to changing attitudes and behaviors, ultimately we must also change our nature. Psychology does not have the answer to that. God does! Changing the nature of man is His specialty. Changing our attitudes and behaviors certainly is a part of the solution, but it tends to have a short shelf life. Changing our nature, with the help of our Father in Heaven and our beloved Savior, leads us to lasting change. It is with His help that we can get to a point where, "we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually."
You and I cannot make permanent change in any meaningful aspect of our lives without the help of our Father in Heaven, without the enabling and cleansing power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and without the influence of the Holy Ghost.
I have come to believe that it does not matter whether we are seeking to improve how fully we live God's commandments, or if we are trying to move away from the revolving door of addictive sin-we must have God's help. It is impossible to fully change without Him. The natural man in us always wants to do it on our own. How well has it worked for the world to depend upon "the arm of flesh?"
When we work to improve even basic attitudes or daily habits, we will do it sooner, more effectively, and will see it last when we truly seek and have God's help.
No matter what we are trying to change or master in our lives, there is only one way, and He is the "way, the truth, the life."4 We are utterly dependent upon God, without whom we are "less than the dust of the earth."5 We access His help to overcome the natural man through increased acts of faith and obedience.
It is also helpful for each of us to understand that overcoming the natural man requires real intent, in other words real commitment, to do whatever it takes.
The Savior had brought to him a father whose son was possessed with evil spirits. The disciples of Christ had made an effort to cast out the demons to no avail. They brought the father and his boy to Jesus who promptly cast the evil out. Later, the Savior took advantage of a learning opportunity with his disciples who were confused as to why their efforts to cast out the evil had not been successful. Jesus taught them that, "this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."6
So it is when we have difficult problems within ourselves to fix, and often, like resistive devils, it will take extra effort, extra faith, and extra prayer before we cast our weaknesses out of our lives. We cannot hope that some outside source will sprinkle pixie dust on us and the problem will magically go away. We must choose to be committed to change! No one can or will do that for us.
An additional key to change is to be able to understand the real power within us to improve. Elder Tad R. Callister discussed a time when he and other General Authorities were gathered for training just before a General Conference. One of the Seventy asked the following question. "How can we best help those who struggle with pornography addictions?" Elder Russell M. Nelson was asked to reply. He arose and stated, "Teach them their identity and purpose."
Truly understanding and feeling our eternal identity and purpose is not only essential in dealing with addiction problems, it is fundamental in facing any problem associated with the natural man.
A word of warning: it is vital that we learn directly from God himself about our identity and purpose. It is dangerous to passively turn that to society or to the adversary to tell us who we are and what our purpose in life ought to be. Those sources will give us a distorted view that will suggest that pursuit of pleasure is more important than development of character. Instead, we must hear it from the mouth of our Creator or we risk chasing illusions and shadows.
We learn about our identity and purpose through prayer, through our patriarchal blessings, in the scriptures, in the temple, from priesthood blessings given to us for various reasons, and from experiences in our lives that we see have been minutely choreographed by our Father in Heaven and could have happened no other way.
When I think of myself primarily as a natural man and as an afterthought that I have a little bit of a divine identity tucked away somewhere, I do not seem to succeed with change. But, when I know and feel the reality that I am a son of God who has a bit of natural man to continue to work on, I feel empowered. I recognize that, as a child of God, in a very real way, I have superhero powers!
Another aspect of change that plagues most of us has to do with our struggle to feel motivated to act. Motivation is an elusive and often misunderstood concept. When we face a change that may be difficult in our lives, we can find ourselves emotionally feeling overwhelmed and unmotivated. It is much like sitting on the lawn watching the grass grow, holding a lightning rod up in the air, and hoping to have a bolt of motivation strike us so that we will mow. We cannot approach change hoping that motivation will come from the outside. Motivation originates in our heart, and that will be magnified by a responsive Father in Heaven.
For most of us, we assume that we must first feel motivated, and then we will begin to act. Ironically, it really works the other way around. Most of the time, we begin to act and then the motivation follows.
We are told that "pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked." But, I don't think that there were angelic choruses of children the moment they awoke around 5:00 a.m. and hid behind a sage brush for a somewhat private moment, ate what was likely a boring and bland breakfast, and then started the long 15-20 mile trek of the day. A walk which may have included blistering heat, or frigid cold, or heaven forbid-Rexburg-like wind.
No, I think these sturdy Saints began each day walking with stiff backs, and wondering if this trek would ever end, and if they really had what it took to complete it. But each day as time and distance passed, I believe thoughts of hope and accomplishment began to fill their souls. Motivation likely began to swell within them after they had been walking for a time.
Perhaps then, pioneer children began to sing as they walked and walked and walked.
So, keep in mind that the emotion of motivation will usually follow our willingness to act.
In addition, overcoming the natural man will require us to discipline ourselves. It will demand changes in what we do and might include getting up earlier and going to bed earlier. It will require that we put important things first and set aside distracting and childish activities. Simply put, we must be willing to do important things even when we don't feel like it. But, once we get going, the motivation to succeed begins to fill in the gaps.
Another helpful concept regarding change includes keeping a proper balance and perspective.
The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith vital counsel when He said, "Do not run faster or labor more than you have strength...but be diligent unto the end."7 We can't run the marathon of change like it is a hundred yard dash. A steady pace of putting one foot in front of the other and then diligently repeating the process over and over again is the key.
I love the teachings of Book of Mormon prophets that taught simply but ever so profoundly about change. They counseled us to be "steadfast and immovable."8
Steadfast-Steady. I am not very good at "be ye therefore perfect."9 But I can be steady in trying to do what is right.
Immoveable-Making a serious effort to not lose ground. If we get God's help and steadily act in meaningful ways, we will have the capacity to lean into the winds of adversity and old habits and hold our ground during those stretches when our souls feel empty.
Never forget that steadiness and determination are what transform good or average people into great people.
Though there are many examples I could share, there are two men here at BYU-Idaho who have modeled these qualities for me for decades. Brother Kevin Miyasaki, who serves as our Vice President of Student Life and who is working feverishly to recover from a serious health condition, has been the very prototype of steadiness throughout his life. I have watched him as a next-door neighbor, a friend, and as an associate in Church leadership, and he illustrates how a good man can become great. He fights his currently restrictive body with an unrestricted heart and boundless commitment and is an example to each of us that know and love him beyond words.
Likewise, another dear friend, Steve Zollinger, has been the epitome of consistency for decades now. He is another good man who has become great. Meaning this in a very positive way, if Kevin and Steve can do it, then you and I can do it.
Steadiness and determination have been the genesis of more great students than has IQ. These powerful qualities have been central to more outstanding men and women in the Church and in society than any other quality I can think of. Being steadfast and immoveable is an important part of rooting out the natural man.
Now, keep in mind that the toughest part of change often begins a short time after we have begun our efforts to improve and then we hit the wall in our marathon. We feel like there is nothing left in our tank. But that is the moment we must decide to keep going anyway! Within short order, our sails will fill again with a burst of motivational wind that will take us further on the path to change.
An additional aspect of lasting change is how swiftly we choose to act. Keep in mind that procrastination is a fundamental quality of the natural man.
Mormon was given a compliment by Ammaron when he stated that the young boy was "quick to observe."10
Being "quick to observe," at least in part, suggests an immediate response to do what we ought to do, when we ought to do it. The Holy Ghost, and our own spirit within us, will send signals that we need to respond to rapidly. We risk becoming "past feeling"11 if over time we hesitate in responding to the heavenly nudges that come. Setting aside for a few minutes our instinct to do something often results in it never getting done. We can become deaf to these signals in much the same way we become deaf to an alarm in the early morning.
One of the very hallmarks of the success of our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has been his willingness to act promptly.
In contrast, I have noticed that procrastination has more to do with struggles or even failure in school or life, than does a lack of intelligence. Quick action, channeled in the right direction, has more to do with success than talent. When we feel like giving into the natural man, we must quickly resolve to act positively anyway.
The manner in which we handle negative emotions or thoughts can also slow down our change process. In our climb to become better, it is not unusual for us to relapse and to slip down into a deep crevasse of discouragement. We feel ashamed of ourselves for our seeming failures. Discouragement and shame are like quick setting concrete and result in us feeling stuck and unable to change.
We must recognize that there is a world of difference between shame and godly sorrow. Shame is a dark, unrelenting, and unmotivating emotion that implies that "I am bad-I am a failure-I can never change." As a counselor, I assure you that the emotions of discouragement and shame can be at least as debilitating as sin or self-destructive behaviors. Sometimes the first battle we must win is over the Goliath of discouragement and shame.
When Adam and Eve magnified their calling as they freely and lovingly chose the forbidden fruit so that God's plan of happiness could unfold for each of us, the first thing Satan did was to punch them in the gut with shame, pointing out their nakedness, their humanness, their failure to be perfect. By the way, the adversary uses that very approach on you and me each time we sin or fall short.
But, note in the scriptures and in the holy temple how God responded to Adam and Eve. He did not shame them. He taught them to have Godly sorrow and to have hope.
Godly sorrow is when we fully and willingly take responsibility for what we have done, and resolve to keep trying to improve. Godly sorrow includes remembering our true identity and purpose and knowing that as His literal children, we have, with His help, the capacity to change. Likewise, we will know that because of the Atonement of the Savior, there is hope. Our Redeemer has promised that no sin or weakness can hold us eternally hostage.
If you are feeling godly sorrow, you are under God's influence. If you are allowing yourself to feel shame, you are at risk to be under the influence of the adversary. Tell him to "get thee behind me,"12 and to take shame with him.
Lastly, understand that the power to change grows over time. When I was a young man, the first Apollo rockets were being sent to the moon. I recall NASA reporting that of the total energy expended to get a rocket to the moon and back (an estimated 500,000 miles), it took something like 90 plus percent of that energy to merely get the rocket off the launch pad and up a few hundred miles into an orbit around the earth.
That same principle may apply when we try to change. We will feel the resistive effects of gravity and will need to grit our teeth a bit and continue to push ourselves in the liftoff stage, and patiently hang in there until we get into orbit and the habits are more firmly established.
I painfully remember the year 2000 when I weighed well over a hundred pounds heavier than I do today. During the first days and weeks of my effort to reclaim my health, every step on the treadmill felt as though I was trudging up the steepest part of Everest with very little oxygen. But, over time I made it into orbit and the habits were firmly in place. There was a more steady flow of motivation, and I finally began to see the pounds drop and my health improve. My "confidence waxed strong."13
Last of all, I desire to share a bit about my father, a wonderful man who struggled for over 40 years with a wide range of serious addictive and destructive behaviors.
My father had limited involvement with the church during my youth, and as in some LDS homes, my dear mother had shouldered those responsibilities for our family. Unfortunately, my older brother and I had followed Dad's example and had enrolled in several prodigal son courses and were getting straight A's.
But there were events as I approached age 19, including the clarion call from President Spencer W. Kimball, and the example of some dear friends, that reached deeply into my heart, and I regrouped and sought a call to serve a mission.
No one in my family had served a mission, and I not only wondered if I could do it, I also wondered if my father would support me. I informed my parents of my desire to serve and to my utter surprise Father was delighted.
Without thinking, I innocently invited them to go with me into the temple when I would receive my endowment. As soon as that slipped from my mouth, I wondered how I could have said something so insensitive. I knew Dad would want to be there, but would be unable to manage it. His addictions had kept him from attending the temple sealing of each of my sisters, and from taking part in most of the priesthood ordinances that were done in our family.
I eventually received my call to serve in the California Sacramento Mission. Then, on the week I was to speak in sacrament meeting and to attend the temple for the first time before entering the mission home, my mother knocked on my bedroom door on a Sunday evening and asked that I join her and Dad in the front room.
I walked into the room and then it occurred to me what was about to happen. I wanted to jump in and tell Dad that he was a wonderful father and that I loved him. I knew he supported me as best as he could. I did not want him to be ashamed that he would not be with me in the temple.
Thankfully, before I could speak Dad announced that they had something to tell me. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a little square piece of paper. He informed me that they had just come from the office of our stake president where they had been issued their temple recommends.
Words cannot describe the overwhelming feelings of love and gratitude that came into my heart. It was like a hundred Christmas mornings wrapped up into that one moment! Now, as a side note, my parents had both received their endowments shortly before I was born, but Father had relapsed rather quickly back into his addictions and into shame, and had seemingly given up ever trying to return.
But before me was the marvel of a changed man. God can do miracles beyond our comprehension including the creation of life and universes that cannot be numbered. But there may be no miracle that can compare to that of the changed nature of one of His stray children.
Father stood at my side as my escort when we attended the temple that week. I did not know at that moment, but I think the temple went through him that day more than he went through it.
By the time I returned home two years later, Father was a special man. He had remained faithful and had already begun serving in what turned out to be nearly a decade as a high priests group leader in his ward and as an ordinance worker in the Idaho Falls Temple.
Sadly, when I was only 29 my mother passed away. Less than two years later Father was diagnosed with an advanced cancer and died when I was 32. But, to illustrate all of what I have spoken about in regard to change I desire to share a sacred event that occurred mere days before my father passed away.
While confined to a hospital bed in a nursing facility and knowing that his time on earth was short, Father announced that he wanted a family meeting and desired to hear each of his children's testimony before he left us.
We gathered at the appointed day and time in what felt like our own families version of Adam-ondi-ahman. Father, who presided with great majesty as he lay on his bed, asked one of us to pray. He taught us briefly then called upon us one at a time to bear our testimonies. At the conclusion of each testimony, he offered his love and heartfelt pride.
Then, the definitive evidence of whom he had become unfolded before us. We as a family, especially my older siblings who lived closer to Dad, had tried hard to sweetly care for his needs during those difficult days. We wanted him to feel our love, to feel safe, and to know we were there for him. It was our turn to give back to a man that had given so much to us.
As Dad lay in his bed with little of life left in him, he said, "Now, if any of you would like a father's blessing before I pass, I would love to give it." We gasped as we witnessed such Christlike love that was being offered to us at the very time that we felt it should be reversed.
One by one, each of us knelt at his bedside. Though unable to sit up, Father placed one of his large hands on our heads and with the power of God and the refined and beautiful love of a father-a changed and sanctified man, he blessed us.
Only a handful of days later our roles were reversed, and I had the sacred privilege of laying my hands upon his head and extending a release from this mortal life.
One of the priceless gifts our father had given us was proof that all of us can change. He had done it with God's help, and that was essential for us to understand. In his own way, Dad had implemented each of the principles of change I have discussed today.
Now, beloved students of this university, I plead with you to know who you are, and what your real purpose is. I pray that you will fervently seek the help of God to change. Stop trying to do it by yourself! Don't wait to feel motivated. Get moving! There is hope. There is no need to inject yourselves with shame or discouragement. Go at a reasonable pace, seeking to be steady and determined. And above all, never give up.
I challenge you to consult with our Father in Heaven tonight, and to begin work on something that has held you back for too long. You can do this.
I testify that there is a loving Father in Heaven who will help us. Change may not happen overnight, but I testify that it can happen.
1. Mosiah 3:19 2. 2 Nephi 4: 17 3. 2 Corinthians 12:7 4. John 14:6 5. Helaman 12:7 6. Matthew 17:21 7. Doctrine & Covenants 10:4 8. Mosiah 5:15 9. Matthew 5:48 10. Mormon 1:2 11. 1 Nephi 17:45 12. Luke 4:8 13. Doctrine & Covenants 121:45