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God . . . Shall Consecrate Thine Afflictions for Thy Gain

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"God . . . Shall Consecrate Thine Afflictions for Thy Gain"
Elder David A. Bednar
December 16, 2020
My beloved brothers and sisters, I rejoice with you on this special day. Congratulations on your graduation from Brigham Young University–Idaho. Today is a day I hope you always will remember with fondness—and with appreciation for the family members, friends, and countless other people who helped you to accomplish this important goal in your life.

Susan and I reflect often on the years we spent at BYU–Idaho and the remarkable people with whom we served and from whom we learned so much. Even though we moved from Rexburg to Salt Lake 16 years ago, the enduring impact of our experiences at BYU–Idaho influences us in positive and remarkable ways every single day. We love you, and we love Brigham Young University–Idaho.

Over the course of my life, I have participated in commencement ceremonies as a student, as a parent, as a professor, as a university president, as a member of the Church Board of Education, as a friend, and as a spectator. I frankly cannot recall precisely how many commencements I have attended, but it is indeed a very large number. And I readily admit that I genuinely enjoy commencement day on a university campus.

My experience in commencement ceremonies has taught me a valuable lesson: graduates and their families care little about and rarely remember anything a commencement speaker says. I certainly believe that truth applies today.

My graduation gift to you is a shorter-than-you-expect commencement message. I pray for the companionship, help, and edifying power of the Holy Ghost for all of us as I share my thoughts with you.

The Nauvoo Exodus

The epic evacuation of Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846 is best understood by comparing it to a three-act play.

Act One, the winter exodus, was President Brigham Young’s well-known Camp of Israel trek across Iowa involving approximately 3,000 Saints.

Act Two, the spring exodus, included three large waves of refugees departing Nauvoo and involved more than 10,000 Saints—triple the number in the winter departure.

Act Three, the fall exodus, included about 700 Saints who were forced from Nauvoo at gunpoint.

I now want to highlight several important aspects of Act One, the winter exodus, that I believe specifically are applicable to you and to your lives.

The Camp of Israel trek was as heroic as it was historic, punctuated by sacrifice, sorrows, deaths, harsh travel conditions, devout prayers and hymns, good humor, and optimism. It was the first company of people who left Nauvoo together and pioneered several stretches of the route and various travel methods.

The Latter-day Saint migration over time came to be known for its preparedness, orderliness, discipline, safety, and effective organization, but these characteristics certainly were not evident initially. The diaries written in those cold wagons during February and March paint a picture of confusion, disorder, and severe hardship.

The weather that winter and spring of 1846 was cold and wet, the trail muddy and difficult. Yet week after week the Saints traveled across southern Iowa toward the Missouri River, stopping periodically in temporary camps to rest and form new groups. At Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah, Iowa, they established large farms where wheat and other grains could be grown to assist the migration. Throughout the spring of 1846, thousands of refugees trudged across the windswept Iowa prairies, preparing the way for those yet to come—erecting cabins, building bridges, planting and fencing crops. 

In southern Iowa and eastern Nebraska between 1846 and 1853 the pioneers built at least fifty-five temporary and widely separated communities, farmed as much as 15,000 acres of land, and established three ferries to cross rivers. These numerous communities were established primarily to accommodate the thousands of Latter-day Saint migrants while they were waiting to cross the Missouri River or resting and preparing financially and physically to continue westward to Utah.

Now at this point in my message you may be asking yourself this question, “Brother Bednar, what does any of this Church history about the exodus from Nauvoo have to do with my graduation from Brigham Young University–Idaho?” The answer to that question is quite straightforward.

Wells and Fires

Those faithful pioneers erected cabins in which they did not sleep, built bridges they may have used only one time, and planted crops they did not harvest and eat. All of their work was intended to bless those who would yet travel the difficult trail to the west. Their deprivation was a source of abundance for many other devoted Latter-day Saints. Their hardship helped to lighten the burden for fellow disciples they likely would never meet.

All of us are blessed to drink from wells that we did not dig. And we are warmed by fires that we did not start.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted to a degree your experience as a student at Brigham Young University–Idaho. Some of the things you hoped to do, you were unable to do. Some of the things you have done were accomplished in ways you did not anticipate. Many things that seemed so certain became quite uncertain.

I invite you to consider how the challenges you have faced during your time on campus will improve the experience for countless students who will be blessed to study at BYU–Idaho in the future. Truly you are pioneers in the era of COVID-19, just as those early pioneers blazed the trail to the Great Salt Lake Valley almost 175 years ago. You are helping to dig wells from which you will not drink. And you are lighting fires from which you will not draw warmth.

As Ricks College was transitioning to BYU–Idaho twenty years ago, we introduced into the curriculum the first requirements for all students to take online classes. Can you imagine that idea was considered revolutionary such a short time ago? And those initial online learning experiences were quite good, but certainly not as effective as the experiences available today with virtual learning.

Those pioneering students in 2000 erected cabins in which they did not sleep, built bridges they did not cross, and planted crops they did not harvest and eat. You are blessed by the work and sacrifices of the students who walked, studied, laughed, prayed, and cried on the Rexburg campus two decades ago.

We drink from wells that we did not dig. And we are warmed by fires that we did not start.

You are fulfilling that same purpose for the new students who will study at BYU–Idaho decades from now. The lessons you and we learn because of the constraints and limitations imposed by the COVID-19 virus will live on long after the pandemic has been eradicated.  

And as hard as it may be for you to imagine today, you will be better, stronger, and more capable because of the constraints, the limitations, and the deprivations you have experienced.

“For Brigham Young and his associates, the 1846 exodus from Nauvoo, far from being a disaster imposed by enemies, was foretold and foreordained—a key to understanding LDS history and a necessary prelude for greater things to come. From a later perspective, scholars of the [Latter-day Saint] experience have come to see the exodus and colonization of the Great Basin as the single most important influence in molding the Latter-day Saints into a distinctive people.” [1]

We drink from wells that we did not dig. And we are warmed by fires that we did not start. You will observe and be blessed by this recurring pattern throughout your entire mortal existence. I pray you may learn that the things you do not have will bless you as much if not more than any of the things you do have.

Consecrated for Thy Gain

Jacob, the fifth son of Lehi and Sariah, was born in the wilderness after his family left Jerusalem. He grew up in the middle of the strife and conflict caused by two of his older and rebellious brothers, Laman and Lemuel. His father, Lehi, acknowledged the challenging circumstances of Jacob’s youth.

“And now, Jacob, I speak unto you: Thou art my firstborn in the days of my tribulation in the wilderness. And behold, in thy childhood thou hast suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.” [2]

But Lehi also reminded his son about a marvelous blessing.

“Nevertheless, Jacob, my firstborn in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” [3]

But how can affliction be consecrated for our benefit? How can something good arise from something that seems to be bad?

Limitations and constraints caused by a multitude of different circumstances can become remarkable blessings if we have spiritual eyes to see and discerning ears to hear. For example, the inability to gather in our Church buildings for our regular Sunday meetings may emphasize, as perhaps nothing else could, the importance and urgency of gospel learning becoming home centered and Church supported. And with the authorization of our bishop, the opportunity to administer the sacrament in our homes may engender an even greater reverence for this holy ordinance.

The temporary closing of temples may help us to remember always and appreciate more fully the covenants we have accepted and the ordinances we have received.

The removal of full-time missionaries from a country ultimately may cause members to understand and fulfill more completely their central role in the work of proclaiming the gospel. And missionaries around the world who cannot leave their apartments because of the pandemic are discovering inspired and innovative ways to employ more effectively social media tools to find and teach individuals and families interested in learning about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Several years ago, I spent a Sunday afternoon with Elder Robert D. Hales in his home as he was recovering from a serious illness. We discussed our families, our quorum responsibilities, and important experiences.

I asked Elder Hales, “You have been a successful husband, father, athlete, pilot, business executive, and Church leader. What lessons have you learned as you have grown older and been constrained by decreased physical capacity?”

Elder Hales paused for a moment and responded, “When you cannot do what you have always done, then you only do what matters most.”

I was struck by the simplicity and comprehensiveness of his answer. My beloved apostolic associate shared with me a lesson of a lifetime—a lesson learned through the crucible of physical suffering and spiritual searching.

The limitations that are the natural consequence of advancing age can in fact become remarkable sources of spiritual learning and insight. Physical restrictions can expand vision. Limited stamina can clarify priorities. Inability to do many things can direct focus to a few things of greatest importance.

While confined as a prisoner in Liberty Jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked in pleading prayer, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

“How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

“Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?” [4]

And the answer came.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;

“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” [5]

Truly, constraint can become a remarkable blessing if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Promise and Testimony

Well, I promised a shorter-than-you-expected commencement message, and I meant what I said! I pray that you will have success and happiness in your life as you now go forth and continue to learn and serve.

Please always remember your divine identity as a beloved child of a loving Heavenly Father. Valiantly and joyfully press forward along the covenant path “with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” [6] And strive to ever more consistently let what God wants for you take priority over what you want for you. Seek to recognize and understand His will and timing in your life. As you do so, you will be directed, protected, and blessed spiritually and temporally in ways that you today cannot possibly imagine.

Being with you on this special occasion has been a privilege for me. As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I testify that He is our Savior and our Redeemer. Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of the Eternal Father, and I witness that He lives. He is real, He is resurrected, and He lives. May you follow Him, come unto Him, hear and learn from Him, and always remember Him. I joyfully declare this witness and express these hopes for you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

[1] Reed C. Durham Jr., "Westward Migration, Planning and Prophecy," in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed.,  Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols. [1992], 4:1563.

[2] 2 Nephi 2:1.

[3] 2 Nephi 2:2.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants 121:1–3.

[5] Doctrine and Covenants 121:7–8.

[6] 2 Nephi 31:20.