Following the Right Path at the Right Time
Commencement Address Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
June 6, 2009
Roger G. Christensen
Assistant to the Commissioner of the Church Educational System & Secretary to the Board of Trustees for all CES universities
Brothers and sisters, Aloha! I am honored to be invited to speak at this year's commencement. It is always a privilege for me to be a part of the BYU-Hawaii ohana.
My remarks this morning will be directed towards the graduates, but some of the concepts I will share may be applicable for all of us to one degree or another. Hopefully you will be able to glean those things that may be relevant to you. As I considered what I could share with you on this occasion, I thought of the words to the hymn, "I'll Go Where You Want Me to Go" (Hymns, no. 270). As I sing that hymn and ponder the words, I have asked myself "Am I committed to that concept in practice as well as in principle?" I would ask each of you to consider the same question. As you move forward with your lives, all of you will be "anxiously engaged" (D&C 58:27) and "be about [your] Father's business" (Luke 2:49). While you go about "doing good" (Acts 10:38), you also need to make sure you are going in the right direction.
Several years ago, our family had a learning experience that illustrated acutely the importance of going in the right direction. We had planned on having a family reunion with all of my family: parents, siblings, our spouses, and all of our children. We had prearranged for everyone to meet at a designated location.
There was one place along the way where making the right exit off the freeway was vitally important. In Southern Utah there are parts of the state with beautiful, wide-open spaces, so wide open that in this particular case, the turnoff we needed to make was the only exit off the freeway for over 100 miles. At the critical moment, both my wife and I were temporarily distracted (we were singing songs and trying to keep our children entertained as we drove along) and we missed the road I was supposed to turn on and we did not even know it. I kept driving, looking for the road I was supposed to be on anticipating that the exit would soon appear. After a while, it became evident that somehow we had missed the crucial turn off, but there was no way to turn around and head the other way.
We drove and drove until we came to a place we could finally get off the freeway, 100 miles farther west than where we wanted to be. We turned around and drove nearly 100 more miles back going the other way until we at last found the road that would take us to the place where we could be with our family. Unfortunately, it was four hours later than what we had planned. In addition to our own frustration by not being at the right place at the right time, we not only inconvenienced others but also missed out on some activities and events that we otherwise could have enjoyed.
As you look forward into your future and think about your pathway through life, it is important to understand that the Lord has a plan for you and He will take you where He wants you to be; your responsibility is to try to understand that plan and then pursue the path that leads to it. Be cautious of distractions that will divert your attention and keep you from being on the right path.
While moving along the path, another important concept is to understand the right timing. A familiar verse in the D&C states, "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great" (D&C 64:33). The preceding verse provides important added insight: "But all things must come to pass in their time" (D&C 64:32; emphasis added). In a talk given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks a number of years ago, he noted, "In our service . . . we should remember that when is just as important as who, what, where, and how." He further stated, "In the all important decisions in our lives, what is most important is to do the right thing. Second, and only slightly behind the first, is to do the right thing at the right time." He continued, "People who do the right thing at the wrong time can be frustrated and ineffective. They can even be confused about whether they made the right choice when what was wrong was not their choice but their timing" ("Timing," BYU Devotional, January 29, 2002, 2).
As you seek direction from the Lord along your life's path, whether it is related to career, family, relationships with others, or fulfilling a calling, always ask your Heavenly Father in prayer, "What would thou have me do?" Then with faith, respond as the Savior did: "Not my will, but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). And as Elder Neal A. Maxwell counseled, "Not only, "˜Thy will be done,' but patiently also, "˜Thy timing be done'" ("Plow in Hope," Ensign, May 2001, 59).
Elder Scott has given some wise counsel related to prayer and also understanding answers to prayers (see "Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer," Ensign, May 2007, 8-11). You have probably had some experience with all three types of responses that he mentions. First, he noted that some impressions will be strong and specific. We know how to respond to those: "I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7). The second type of answer comes in the form of general feelings of comfort and assurance that you are on the right track or that what you are asking is correct. The way to respond to that is also very clear as given in the commandments: "Ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with" (D&C 46:32). Receiving confirmation from the Spirit that what you are asking is approved in the sight of God is a tremendous blessing. Always return and give thanks. The third situation, however, is perhaps the most challenging. There are times when you may feel no specific direction or answer to your prayers. Should the lack of a direct answer paralyze you from going forward? This topic is one where further conversation and exploration would be beneficial, but for the sake of time let me just suggest the credo that President Hinckley was known for: "Go forward with faith." If you are trying to do what is right, the Lord will not allow you to go too far astray until He nudges you back onto the right path. In fact, in seeking the correct path we would all be wise to learn from and apply this sage counsel from President Marion G. Romney, who said, "[The Lord] can only guide our footsteps when we move our feet" ("Principles of Temporal Salvation," Ensign, April 1981, 3).
The Prophet Joseph taught, "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, selected by Joseph Fielding Smith , 255-56). In order to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father, you must be on the right path.
As you leave this great institution, regardless of the path you may take in pursuit of your life's goals, each of you must learn to "trust in the Lord with all [your] heart; and lean not unto [your] own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5). As you do, the Lord will lead you by the hand (see D&C 112:10).
Remember to trust in the Lord's plan and have trust in His timing. Also, always live so you can stay on the straight and narrow path and not just on the path, but safely in the middle of the path. The way to stay safely in the middle is to listen to the words of the prophets, remember them, and then follow them. They will lead you home, back to the presence of God, whose sons and daughters you are. To this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.