Learning the True Principles of Life

Brother Paul Roberts

Education & Human Development Associate Dean
Devotional given at BYUI on 9 Feb 2021

It is said the eyes are the window to the soul. You can learn a lot about a person when you look in their eyes. As a social worker I had many opportunities to look into the eyes of my clients and hear their stories. Many of my clients’ stories were sad or tragic. Their troubles were the kind that were heavy and disturbing to my soul. I’ve also looked into the eyes of friends and family who carried burdens that were hard to bear and had challenges that didn’t seem to have clear answers. And, I’ve looked into the eyes of my students who, in addition to their own life challenges, like those of my family, friends, and clients, had the burden of performing well on assignments and tests. In short, I’ve looked into the eyes of people with life problems. I say “problems” because I’ve never met anyone with just one problem.

 

I wish it were possible for us to sit down one-on-one and talk about you and hear your story—about the triumphs and challenges of your life. Because that’s not possible, I’ll have to imagine that discussion.

 

I imagine your eyes are smiling a bit as we talk and you share your story. I also imagine that woven into your funny stories about life adventures and grand plans for the future, you would share problems or trials that involve pain, loss, anxiety, disappointment, and physical and emotional wounds. Those experiences with problems are what we all have in common.

 

Why is that? Why do we all have problems? Aren’t we supposed to have joy? Isn’t that the purpose of our existence? After all, “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” [1] Don’t problems get in the way of joy?

 

As a young man I received some wise counsel from my stake patriarch, Keith Ricks, about problems. That counsel has echoed in my mind frequently over the years. It is a truth that is found in scripture,  [2] but he said it in a way that made simple sense directly to me.

 

He said, “The Lord cannot teach you the true principles of life unless you are permitted to solve problems.” It almost sounds like it is a privilege to have problems because of what we can learn from them. Can that be right? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said it this way: “Life has always been a little messy.” [3] I love that statement. It seems to describe my life, my garage, and possibly your bedroom. He goes on to say, “But there is always a way through. . . . Every now and again a pandemic will come along. With God’s help we’ll handle it, we’ll be better for it and we’ll be eternally blessed for the lessons we learn from it.” [4]

 

Life is hard. We will all have problems, big problems, but there are true principles of life to be learned through having problems, enduring problems, and overcoming problems. Today I would like to review just a handful of them that have been powerful principles in my life.

True Principle of Life 1: Remember Hope in Christ

 

When discussing this topic with my wife, Kelly, she gave this advice: “When we are surrounded by hard things, look to the plan. Have hope in Christ.” Perhaps hope in Christ is one of the true principles of life that can only be learned through solving problems.

 

When we experience problems, Satan says we can’t be better, and that we should give up. Not only is he the father of lies, he also nurtures anger, discouragement, despair, and fear. [5] If you are feeling any of these emotions, he is the author.

 

Christ, on the other hand, has a message of hope that is summarized in one of my favorite scriptures: “For verily I say unto you, I will that ye should overcome the world; wherefore I will have compassion upon you.” [6] Christ overcame the world. [7] He was obedient and free of sin. He expects us to do the same, and His compassion and His grace make this possible. This is where hope comes in. When we fail—which we all do—and we come to Christ in sincerity, He says, “I’ve taken care of that. Try again without the burden of guilt and sin. Give me your anger, your despair and your pain and try again with a happy, hopeful heart.” So, we try again, and we fail. If we come to Him again, He says the same thing: “I’ve got this; try again with hope.” The process continues until we are able to overcome the world as He did. I am so grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and for His grace, His patience, and His love for me. To nurture your hope in Christ, I invite each of you to review and remember the compassion that Christ has for you while dealing with each problem you have in life. Write down your thoughts and share them with someone.

True Principle of Life 2: Remember Who You Are

There is power in knowing who you are. I know you’ve heard this over and over, but it’s true, and it makes all the difference when you understand that you are a child of God. [8] You are a spiritual being with infinite worth and infinite potential. [9] Ancient prophets such as Moses and Abraham knew this and recorded their discovery of this truth in scripture. We all learn this for ourselves in those quiet moments when the Spirit testifies of this truth to our souls. Life problems test us and help remind us of who we are. Solving those problems helps us become who we are intended to become.

 

My son Thomas is currently serving a mission. Several months ago, his mission president asked him the question “What does Christ think of you?” The answer to this question helps us understand our value because of who we really are. I asked this same question on the devotional discussion board. Here are a few responses.

Tilly Morrison said, “He thinks that I am important. I matter to Him.” Noemi Birkenfelde said, “He thought it is worth dying for me.” Verona Johnson said, “I feel the Spirit impress upon me that I am loved by God. These impressions are so profound and full of love that they make me weep.”

 

These are very insightful responses that strengthen my faith and my understanding of who I am. I invite each of you listening today to write down your answer to the same question: What does Christ think of you?

 

Here are some things to think about as you ponder this question. In spite of our problems and sometimes gross errors and sins, Christ says things like, "Notwithstanding [your] sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards [you].” [10] Have you felt compassion? Have you felt a desire to alleviate the pain and distress of others? This is what Christ feels for you.

 

He also says this about each of us. “Yet I will own them, and they shall be mine in that day when I shall come to make up my jewels." [11] I can’t help but think that we are very valuable to our Savior. Isaiah described it this way: “And as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.” [12]

 

Christ also says He “[delights] to bless [us]," [13] and that He delights to honor those who serve Him. [14] You are not a burden to Christ. You are His jewels, He rejoices over you, He delights to honor and bless you. You are His.

True Principle of Life 3: Don’t Do It Alone

As a new missionary I was discouraged and felt alone. It was at this low point that I received an unexpected letter from my father that I have kept for 34 years. He said, “There is always someone around who will be quicker at learning the language or memorizing faster. However, you learned long ago the race usually isn’t won by the fleet a foot or fastest, but by him who consistently maintains his own pace. You will do well; don’t despair.” It was my father’s unsolicited encouragement that gave me the confidence to continue working on my problems during that difficult time, and in reality, many times since then.  

Sometimes we mistakenly believe that taking responsibility for our own problems means we fix them without the help of others. Other times we mistakenly believe that we are the only ones with a particular problem and that we need to deal it alone. There is nothing in the plan of salvation that says we need to go it alone. The truth is we never need to be alone in solving our problems. Think about it. Christ atoned for us. The Holy Ghost is our constant companion. We are born into families, and part of the great plan of salvation is to marry an eternal companion. We have Church leaders who are called of God to watch over us and strengthen us. We make a covenant to bear one another’s burdens at baptism. We have other sacred relationships in friends, ward members, teachers, and other professionals that seek our welfare and are there to help. If you are ever feeling alone, it’s time to let others help. If you ever believe you must solve a problem before asking for help from others, it’s time to include others.

 

Several years ago, a student disclosed a problem to me that they felt should be addressed with their bishop. However, they said that they needed to get the problem resolved first before they met with him. This noble student was trying to take responsibility for their problem (which is admirable), but they got it backwards. Seeking help before the problem is fixed is much more noble and effective than hoping we can fix it on our own and not sharing our burden. I encourage you to test this principle by picking a problem you have and asking for help in solving it. See what happens.

True Principle of Life 4: Serve Others

My first social work job was as a child protection investigator. It was a job that definitely stretched me in many ways. As a result, I felt stress, anxiety, and sometimes despair. During that challenging time a colleague asked if I was serving in a Church calling. At the time I was serving in a bishopric. My colleague reported they didn’t accept a calling because they felt their child protection job was too stressful. As I thought about their logic, it made sense, but the Lord’s ways are not always understood by us. [15] I’m not so sure the people I served in my calling benefited from my service, but I know for sure that I did. Now I can see that I felt peace and happiness when I served. It soothed my soul that was disturbed by my difficult employment. Serving others enlarged my heart, made a bigger place for the Holy Spirit to dwell, and I had inspired direction in my life.

 

Elder Richard G. Scott summarizes such experiences this way: "When we are acting as instruments in behalf of others, we are more easily inspired than when we think only of ourselves. In the process of helping others, the Lord can piggyback directions for our own benefit." [16] I testify that this is true. I have learned it for myself through dealing with my own problems.

 

Several years ago my home teaching companion, Richard Lindstrom, had significant health issues. I would try to be sensitive to his situation by scheduling our visits on his good days. On one occasion, I asked him if he felt well enough to go home teaching. His response is instructive. He said something like, “To be honest, Paul, I feel like garbage, but I can feel like garbage staying home or I can feel like garbage home teaching, so, let’s go home teaching.” That’s powerful! You don’t have to be free of problems and feel good to do good. Sister Erin Bennion in last week’s devotional emphasized this true principle of life by pointing out that helping others has a positive impact on our own stress and happiness. She called it “the best self-help.”

 

In her later years, my mother’s favorite song, or really I should say “theme song,” was “Have I Done Any Good?” The first few phrases of the first verse go like this. “Have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? Have I cheered up the sad and made someone feel glad? If not, I have failed indeed.” [17]

 

Brothers and sisters, sometimes those who carry burdens or have problems can see other’s burdens and problems better and can have a powerful lifting effect on them. Those with problems then become ministers and instruments in the hand of the Lord. Serving others in the midst of our own problems and insecurities is a path to peace and inspiration.

 

Following the advice in this simple song is a measure of how well we understand this true principle of life. I invite you to sing it to yourself today. It’s hymn 223 in our hymn book. Think about what good you can do today, then do it and see what happens.

True Principle of Life 5: Holding Hands

When each of my children turned eight, I took them on a backpacking trip. I’ll have to say they were great adventures that were full of triumphs and tragedies. Some of the triumphs include fording a stream with a backpack, climbing higher on the mountain than their brother, starting a fire, and just making it home alive. Some of the tragedies include skinned knees, muddy feet, overloaded backpacks, and unexpected snowstorms. As part of this tradition we documented the adventure with a picture wearing our backpacks in the front of our home. When my son James turned eight, he was very excited for the adventure. During the photo op in the front of our home he reached out and held my hand. To be honest, it melted my heart a bit. I thought that was sweet of him to do during the picture. However, during the entire hike that day and throughout the trip he frequently would hold my hand. Later that summer, I took James with his older brothers backpacking. To my surprise he continued to frequently hold my hand while hiking. At first his brothers didn’t say anything. Then, they teased him about holding my hand, but James ignored them. Finally, one of his brothers asked him why he held my hand during the hike. I will always remember his profound eight-year-old response. Without hesitation and unapologetically James said, “Because it makes me go faster.” He was right. It did make him go faster. As we hiked, I could support him, guide him, pull him along a bit and even steady him if he was a little off balance. Brothers and sisters, we can hold the hand of the Lord when solving our problems and in fact we should. This is what that looks like. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” [18] Christ also commands us to “look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.” [19]

 

As a retired couple, my parents served a mission. One of the places they served was in Amman, Jordan. The departing missionary couple took my parents on a tour of the city, showing them all the places they would need to go and how to get there in what my mother perceived as chaotic traffic. She was scared just riding in the car with the other couple and the thought of her doing it without their assistance was completely overwhelming to her. In the midst of her despair, she heard these words in her mind, “You can do it if you try.” This comforting guidance from the Holy Ghost gave her the courage to try. Not only did she serve a successful mission, but those inspired words “you can do it if you try” were reflected in the counsel she gave her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren until her passing just a few years ago. I can promise you that if you hold the hand of the Lord when dealing with problems, He will guide you, give you courage to try, and bring peace to your soul.

 

In preparing for this devotional message, I realized there are many more true principles of life that can be learned through the privilege of solving problems than what I have addressed today. So, now it’s your turn. It’s your turn to imagine we are face-to-face and that my eyes are smiling a bit as I give you this sincere heartfelt invitation. I invite you to add to your list of “true principles of life” by taking the time to ponder, search the scriptures, seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and write down your insights. Based on my own experience, I can promise you that if you address your problems with the intent to learn the true principles of life, those principles will become clear to you. Through solving problems you will then reach your full potential, and you will have joy. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Notes: 

 

[1] 2 Nephi 2:25.

[2] See 2 Nephi 2:2, 11; John 16:33.

[3] Jeffrey R. Holland, in “Reinstituting Institute and Seminary,” Newsroom, Aug. 23, 2020;

newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/reinstituting-institute-and-seminary.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Moses 1:19–20; John 8:44.

[6] Doctrine and Covenants 64:2. 

[7] See John 16:33.

[8] See Moses 1:4, 13.

[9] See Abraham 3.

[10] Doctrine and Covenants 101:9.

[11] Doctrine and Covenants 101:3.

[12] Isaiah 62:5.

[13] Doctrine and Covenants 41:1.

[14] See Doctrine and Covenants 76:5.

[15] Isaiah 55:8–9.

[16] Richard G. Scott, “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Ensign, May 2012;  churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2012/04/how-to-obtain-revelation-and-inspiration-for-your-personal-life?lang=eng .

[17] “Have I Done Any Good?,” Hymns, no. 223.

[18] Proverbs 3:5–6.

[19] Doctrine and Covenants 6:36.

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This Speech has been Translated by
Katherin Sandoval & Natalia del
Villar