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Mortality is a Master Class

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Learning the Hard Way

I’m grateful for the spirit I feel today and for the prayer, scripture, and musical number.

I often find that I learn lessons the hard way. At the age of 14, I was given the chore of cleaning my room. As I did so, I stumbled upon my trusty bow, a gift from when I was around 8 or 9. Instead of finishing my room, I became consumed with a hunt for an arrow to match my bow. I failed to locate one at first, but I’m no quitter. Instead, I found a broken curtain rod. While much larger than an arrow, it was similar enough in shape to do the job. Without a second thought, I pulled back my makeshift arrow, and let it fly.

The unfortunate target happened to be the door that separated our living room from the garage. Much to my surprise, the rod punctured the door, leaving half inside the house and the other half in the garage. No cover-up was possible at that point, so I promptly confessed to my dad. He was surprisingly calm and only asked, “So . . . what did you think would happen?” That question was just enough for the tiny part of my brain in charge of “common sense” to wake up a little. The lesson “think before you act” was forever etched into my mind that day.

I'm sure many of us have similar stories of youthful mistakes or misadventures. Life on Earth, it seems, is tailor-made for us to gain wisdom through experience. But what kind of experiences are we meant to have, and what kind of wisdom are we meant to gain?

Choose the Things of Greatest Import

In his address titled "Think Celestial," President Russell M. Nelson proclaimed, "Mortality is a master class in learning to choose the things of greatest eternal import." [1]

And what is most important to learn? A clear answer was provided by our Savior in Matthew 22:37–39:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The two great commandments, to love God and love our neighbor, are the most crucial lessons to learn during our time on Earth.

The First Great Commandment

The first great commandment to love God with our heart, soul, and mind means to place God at the forefront of our lives. Doing this gives context to all other commandments. While we may love our neighbor, pay tithes, or observe the Sabbath, without the first commandment, we must ask ourselves why we choose to do these things in the first place.

Love for God can be the unwavering light guiding our moral compass, the cornerstone of our faith, and the source of profound meaning and purpose. Without this love, our obedience to commandments may lack depth and begin to feel arbitrary or meaningless. President Ezra Taft Benson shows us the outcome of placing our love for God at the top of our priority list:

When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims on our affections, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities. [2]

As children of God, we are recipients of His perfect love, but our Heavenly Father despises darkness and cherishes light, abhors evil, and embraces goodness. Placing God first in our lives helps us take His commandments seriously and encourages us to reject darkness while pursuing all that is “virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy.” [3]

Furthermore, in John 21:17, Jesus taught Peter the connection between the first and second great commandments:

He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

A love of God will result in increased observation of the second great commandment to “feed His sheep” or, in other words, to love and serve our spiritual brothers and sisters.

The Second Great Commandment

The second great commandment calls for empathy, kindness, and genuine care for one another. Elder Dale G. Renlund's general conference address in October of 2015, gave me some insight on how this is done. He said, “To effectively serve others, we must see them through a parent’s eyes, through Heavenly Father’s eyes.” [4]

Considering the second great commandment, we lean primarily on the example of our Savior. I love how Elder Richard G. Scott taught us this. He said:

We best serve our Father in Heaven by righteously influencing others and serving them. The greatest example who ever walked the earth is our Savior, Jesus Christ. His mortal ministry was filled with teaching, serving, and loving others. He sat down with individuals who were judged to be unworthy of His companionship. He loved each of them. He discerned their needs and taught them His gospel. He invites us to follow His perfect example. [5]

This quote emphasizes the supreme example set by Jesus Christ, whose life was an embodiment of selfless service and love. Christ's ministry was a testament to His compassion and ability to reach out to those who were often considered unworthy by society. He discerns the needs of individuals and teaches them the gospel with love and understanding. He teaches us in the same way.

Ways to Learn

In the master class of mortality, there are three main ways that we learn: personal experience, ancient and modern scripture, and the examples of others.

Learning through Life Experiences

First, we can learn through personal experience. Lehi, speaking to his son Jacob, explains in 2 Nephi chapter 2 that if Adam and Eve had not partaken of the forbidden fruit, they would have remained in a state of innocence, without joy because they had not experienced misery, and unable to do good because they had not known sin. However, all of these events occurred as part of God's wise plan, and Adam's fall was designed to enable humanity to exist and experience joy. [6]

Life itself is a remarkable classroom. Each day brings new opportunities to learn, grow, and develop a deeper understanding of God's plan. Life experiences are the crucible through which individuals are refined, just as gold is purified through intense heat and pressure.

We must embrace adversity as an opportunity for growth and learning. Trials, challenges, and hardships are not obstacles but stepping stones toward spiritual maturity.

Learning through the Scriptures, Ancient and Modern

Second, we can learn through the scriptures. Through sincere study and prayer, we can receive personal revelation and guidance from the Holy Ghost as we delve into the scriptures both ancient and modern. Drawing parallels between the scriptures and our individual experiences is a valuable practice that allows us to uncover gospel truths and receive divine guidance. As Nephi testified, “I did liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning.” [7]

Invaluable written accounts of our perfect example, Jesus Christ, are found in the Book of Mormon and the Holy Bible. These records provide us with the opportunity to closely observe how He interacted with people in need. They reveal His treatment of His apostles, family, friends, and even those who inflicted harm upon Him.

Drawing Lessons from the Examples of Others

Third, we can learn through the example of others. Christ's example is always the ideal, the pinnacle, the most perfect example. We see glimpses of His perfect pattern in the people around us. We who aren’t perfect can still demonstrate Christlike attributes. Consider those in your life who might show us how to better love and serve others. Maybe it’s a leader, a parent or family member, a professor, or a friend. I have a few examples from my own life to share.

I learned a lot about Christlike love from my brother Nate. He certainly had his share of difficult life challenges. Regardless of what he was going through, he would make time for those who seemed sad or lonely. He would sit with them, and talk with them. He had a talent for making people laugh. Just to give you an idea, this is my favorite picture of Nate—playing dolls with my daughter Jane.

Our family was forever changed when he passed away eight years ago. I’ve included a few quotes from his Facebook memorial page, to provide a glimpse of what it was like to know him:

  • “Nate was best friends with kids wherever he went, especially the awkward and shy. He always befriended the friendless.”
  • “Nate was so kind and always made me feel welcome. He had the best hugs and I always got one every time I saw him—no matter what!”

My brother taught a master class on how to show love for others, especially the seemingly unlovable.

I regularly learn about Christlike love through the example of BYU-Idaho students. Recently, I saw a woman with her infant outside of a store, holding a sign and seeking financial assistance. Most of us were simply passing by. Then I noticed a BYU-Idaho student sitting beside her in the grass. The two of them were talking and smiling. It was clear that they were having a good conversation. You might call it small or simple. However, to me, it was a striking example of Christlike love. This wonderful student taught me to consider small ways of showing kindness. This student showed me how simple things like a smile, a kind word, or spending time with others can make a real difference.

During my senior year of high school, I moved from Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Prior Lake, Minnesota, which was a challenging transition. I found myself in a situation akin to a teenage drama, complete with bullies and a loss of confidence. My faith in the Church was wavering, and doubts about my ability to serve a mission were growing. I'm grateful that a missionary in my local ward mentioned how amazing the teachers were at Ricks College and how fun it was to associate with students who shared similar values. That information alone prompted me to apply.

On the first day at Ricks College, I met Triston Morgan and Nick Graham. Unaware of my recent high school struggles, lack of self-confidence, and wavering testimony, they extended a simple, Christlike gesture. They included me and became my friends.

We were rough around the edges to be sure. To an outsider, our dorm might not have seemed like the best place to gain a testimony. However, I observed their scripture study and regular church attendance. We had discussions about the gospel. Seeing their plans for a mission inspired me to deepen my own testimony and commitment. Within a few months of arriving in Rexburg, I found myself in my dorm room, on my knees, praying to know if the Book of Mormon was true. One year later, I was serving a mission in Ecuador. Their kindness, love, friendship, and positive example played a crucial role in my life, and for that, I'm so grateful.


That leads me to my next point—gratitude. As we learn the two great commandments through life experiences, the scriptures, and the example of others, I believe they are best learned and practiced with a spirit of gratitude in our hearts.

President Thomas S. Monson wisely noted, "Ours is the responsibility to show our gratitude by the actions of our lives." [8] When we feel gratitude, it is natural for our actions to be elevated.

Folks who practice gratitude tend to experience greater psychological well-being or a more positive outlook on life. This positive outlook can help us feel more inclined to extend our positivity to others through acts of love and service. Loving and serving our neighbor, in turn, enhances our sense of well-being, completing and perpetuating a virtuous cycle, shown here.

While gratitude transforms and elevates our attitude, notice how I used the phrase “practice gratitude.” We could say “exercise gratitude” as well. Gratitude involves work and it’s a deliberate choice. We choose to focus on our blessings with a full heart. Doctrine and Covenants 78:19 reads: “He who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious.” We all struggle sometimes with gratitude, but I can testify that the times when I’ve felt the most grateful have been the most glorious.

Gratitude can also instill a sense of indebtedness. When we recognize the kindness and favors extended to us, we are motivated to pay it forward and help others. Dr. Michael McCullough, while interviewed about his article "Is Gratitude a Moral Affect?" said, "When [we] recognize what [we] have and what [we've] been given, [we] want to give.” He went on to say that, “[This cycle of giving] doesn’t end with giving to one person but emanates like ripples, getting bigger and bigger.” [9]

Pride, however, tends to fight against gratitude. As President Ezra Taft Benson aptly described, “Pride is essentially competitive. We pit our will against God's. When we direct our pride toward God, it is in the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done.’” [10]

In this “master class” of life, pride impedes our ability to follow the commandments and serve others. Gratitude, on the other hand, stands in opposition to pride. It encourages us to acknowledge the support and contributions of others, fosters humility, and reduces self-centeredness.

The Bus Ride Home

Before sharing this final story, it's important to mention that this took place in Ecuador, in the 1990s. I want to emphasize that everything turned out okay.

My mission companion and I found ourselves in the countryside, about 5 or 10 miles outside of town, as the sun began to sink toward the horizon. Facing a long walk back, we decided to hitchhike from a busy road. Within minutes, a bus pulled over, and the driver called for us to hop on.

I was unsure about the offer, seeing the bus was full of passengers. So full that some were clinging to the outside of the bus. Instead of squeezing inside, we made a quick decision to climb onto the roof, where bundles of produce and luggage were secured to a metal rack. Within moments I found myself on top of a bus speeding down a winding Ecuadorian highway. Leaning back against a bunch of plantains, I gripped the metal bars, questioning my life choices at that moment.

However, my initial regret dissipated as the once hot and humid air became a cool, refreshing wind. I began to marvel at the lush, rolling hills from the elevated vantage point and unobstructed view. The bus made a turn near the crest of a hill, revealing an even more breathtaking scene. The sun's golden glow bathed the landscape, casting light over the town and the distant ocean coast. The sun and clouds near the horizon painted an unforgettable sunset. At that moment, my heart swelled with gratitude, offering a brief but powerful glimpse of Heavenly Father's love for me and all His children.

I've reflected on this moment many times and feel it lines up with my message today.

  • First, despite my weakness, I was striving to love God and place His will at the top of my priorities.
  • Second, I was dedicating my time to the service of others.
  • And third, during this unexpected moment, my heart was full of gratitude.

When these three things came together, I felt the Spirit in a powerful way that has stuck with me and sustained me for many years since.

The Holy Ghost

Even as we have life experiences, observe the examples of others, or read the scriptures, the ultimate source of guidance through it all is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is there to impart knowledge, bear testimony, offer solace, and kindle inspiration within us. We must strive to be worthy to receive the Spirit and make conscientious efforts to cultivate an environment that enables us to be edified by the Spirit's influence.


Like my father when I put that curtain rod through the door, I know that our Heavenly Father will show us perfect patience and love as we move through our mortal life. Sometimes we falter, but when we do, try and remember that this is a part of the plan of salvation. I invite you to work to correct your mistake the best you can, learn from it, and move forward with faith.

To reiterate our beloved prophet, Russell M. Nelson, “Mortality is a master class in learning to choose the things of greatest eternal import.”[11] We are here primarily to learn how to love God and love our neighbor. Remember that we can learn from our experience, the examples of others, and the holy scriptures.

May we all embrace a Christlike shift away from self-centeredness and align ourselves with the timeless wisdom of our Heavenly Father, leading to a more meaningful and joyful path in life. And may we do so in greater and more abundant gratitude. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Think Celestial!” Liahona, Nov. 2023.

[2] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Great Commandment—Love the Lord,” Ensign, May 1988.

[3] Articles of Faith 1:13.

[4] Dale G. Renlund, “Through God’s Eyes,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2015.

[5] Richard G. Scott, “‘I Have Given You an Example,’” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014.

[6] See 2 Nephi 2:22–25.

[7] 1 Nephi 19:23.

[8] Thomas S. Monson, “Gifts,” Ensign, May 1993.

[9] Michael E. McCullough, quoted in Tiffany Musick, “What Good is Gratitude? The Role of Thanksgiving in Personal Development,” Point Loma Nazarene University,

[10] Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989.

[11] Nelson, “Think Celestial!”