A Divine Power Within

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

October 17, 2002 
Gary Frederick
Professor of Chemistry

Aloha. I appreciate President Shumway inviting me to speak today. You never know what a scientist is going to say sometimes. He promised me that there would be beakers and that kind of thing here. I do not see any. I am a little disappointed.

I know God is here today. I can feel His presence.

It is such a delight to be here with you. And like my wife mentioned to you, I am living a dream life. And then I am living in Hawaii, probably the best place to live in the world and working for a Gospel-oriented institution, BYU-Hawaii, working with wonderful, wonderful colleagues. I especially love, like my wife said, interacting with you young people. I am trying to help some of you to learn some organic chemistry. I simply love being around young people. Like she said, you keep me young. I feel like I am one of you. Really. I do feel like I am 25 years old. There are very few things that I did when I was 25 years old that I cannot still do today. I am 25. Most of all, I am learning just tons from all of you: my colleagues, the administration and you students. It is just such a learning experience for me here at BYU-Hawaii.

I am going to talk about something today that I feel is very important. It has become very important to me. And I hope as I talk today that you can get an inkling of what it is all about. Perhaps it can become important to you.

I appreciated my son's prayer because I think it was appropriate for what I am going to be trying to do today. I think what we talk about today could affect your life now in this earthly life and into the eternities

I want to go to a scripture to get started with my message. I am going to go to 2 Nephi 10:23, "Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life."

In my life, particularly my life as a member of the Church, I have always been amazed at how many people, even young people like you, often seem to be unhappy. So I often quote this scripture, hoping to encourage people to smile more and to be happier.

One day about three years ago when I was on one of my long bike rides getting a little exercise, trying to stay 25, I gained a flash of insight about the second part of this scripture.

As I ride on my bike on these long bike rides, I generally listen to cassette tapes, cassette tapes
which are about personal development, professional development, sometimes General Conference talks, sometimes even listening to music. I sometimes listen to old time radio programs.
This particular day I was listening to professional development tapes. And this one particular
tape I was listening to, I had listened to many, many, many times before.

But this one time I was listening to it, the flash of insight came to me, came into my mind.
So clear. In fact it was so clear I had to stop the bike. I had to get off and just stand there and think about it.

I said, "That's it. That's it. I get it! I get it!"

My life has not been the same since. And I am going to share this insight with you today.
Maybe your life will not be the same either, after today.

I want to go back to 2 Nephi 10:23 one more time:
"Therefore, cheer up your hearts." And then what does it say? "Remember that ye are free to act for yourselves, to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life."

The second part of the verse, now after that flash of insight riding my bike, has much, much more meaning to me. What it says to me is: "I am free to act, or free to choose, for myself."

Here is the new insight I received that day along Kam Highway -

One of the most important things that I can choose, perhaps the most important thing I can choose is what I think about.

I have been given the ability to choose what I think about.

And I have the responsibility to choose what I think about.

This ability and responsibility to choose what I think about are gifts from our Heavenly Father.

Choosing what we think about is a major part of an agency.

Choosing what we think about is a Divine Power we all have Within.

I and you, both of us, can choose what we think about. This capability, the ability to choose what we think about, has tremendous potential, leading to so much good in our individual lives, yours and mine, and the lives of others we interact with.

Let me just stop for a second, and ask you a question. Are you able, are you actually able, to think about what you are thinking about? Can you do it right now? Can you consciously change what you are thinking about? Can you do it? This is not necessarily easy. Particularly, if you are not used to doing it.

I might just point out that we do not have a good understanding of how we think. Oh, we have some knowledge, but we really do not understand how our minds work or how we actually think.

Scientifically, for example, we don't understand consciousness. We do know that as we think, chemical changes occur. Being a chemist, I know this. As a matter-of-fact, very complicated chemical reactions are responsible for things like memory. Complicated chemistry is associated with thinking. And what we think about and how we think affects us in so many ways.
Biologically it affects us. Psychologically it affects us. Socially it affects us. And spiritually it affects us among the most important things, perhaps.

I will just give you an example. There are estimates that 60 to 70% of those who go to a physician, a doctor, have thought-induced illnesses. 60 to 70% estimate that illnesses are thought-induced! In the reverse mode, studies suggest that aging can be slowed by what one thinks about overtime. Thus, because I think of myself as being young, I will stay younger in mind, and in body, at least more so than if I were constantly thinking about getting old.

My wife sometimes talks about the possibility down the road of moving to a retirement community. Ah! No, no, no, no, no! Because I know if I move to a retirement community I will think about being old. I do not want to do that.

Thinking and the ability to choose what we think about are gifts from our Heavenly Father. Humans are the only living creatures that God created that can think as we do.

Another scripture: Proverbs 23:7, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he . . ." Now I could also say: "for as (she) thinketh in (her) heart, so is (she) . . . "

I am what I am because of the dominating thoughts which I permit in my mind. Let me repeat: I am what I am because of the dominating thoughts which I permit in my mind. I am what I am because of what I choose to think about. Let me repeat: I am what I am because of what I choose to think about.

I want to give you a few specific examples, specific examples in my life, and perhaps the lives of others as time permits, to illustrate how choosing our thoughts affects us. I have about six hours worth here, maybe eight hours, but we won't go that long.

Let's start with you. When was the last time that you were angry? When you were angry, think about it, did you consciously choose to become angry? Or did it just happen with no thought? Often we blame our tempers or getting angry on bad temper genes. You know, my great-grandfather had a temper, as did my grandfather. And my Dad really had a bad temper, so what do you expect? Bad tempers just run in the family. Or sometimes we say that people make us angry.

No one or nothing can make you angry! Not genes, not people. You either allow your emotions to rule your thinking, without much thought. Or, you chose to get angry. Again, no one or nothing makes you angry!

Let me tell you about a situation in which I was very good, or semi-good, at choosing NOT to become angry. Oh year or so ago, I can't remember the exact date any more or time, when I was Associate Dean of the Science and Math Division, I came out into the main office. Just as I came out into the main office, two faculty members came to the office and started, probably justifiable so, (I do not remember the exact conversation) started talking to me about the things I was doing wrong and some decisions I had made that were incorrect. And when they first started talking to me, I was furious inside. As they continued talking, I am saying (or thinking) to myself, "Now I am witnessing that I am starting to get angry."

Are you able to witness your own thinking? It is an interesting exercise. I project myself outside of myself as though I am looking at myself and think, "You know, you are getting angry." And I am saying to myself, "Wait, maybe they have something that is legit. I mean, pay attention here." And so I am trying to change my mental process. They're talking to me and I am listening at the same time. This is an interesting exercise in itself. But they're talking and I am trying to reason through what they are telling me. I believe some of the things they are telling me are actually correct. I may have disagreed with some. I do not remember the actual conversation. But I remember in my mental exercise changing from being angry to changing to choosing, choosing not to be angry.

Those two faculty members talked to me for about ten minutes or so. And I would respond with something like, "I think you might be right. I hear you." Comment like that. Honest and sincere comments. And finally they left the office. They said they appreciated my time and left. Those two colleagues today are still good friends. I love them. I have often wondered since - if I would have become angry, if I had chosen to become angry, what would the relationship be between me and those two colleagues?

When you get angry, can you choose to become not angry? What would Christ have you do in a situation? I am not saying that you should never get angry. But when you consciously decide to become angry, I would guess that maybe a decision should probably be made only for very good reasons. Because what would Christ have us do? I suspect we should not become angry very often, probably, if we are doing His will.

I am not saying I have mastered this divine gift of choosing what I think about. In fact, I feel like I am just starting down the road. But I do feel am getting better at it. I feel I am making small steps toward becoming more like Christ. I am progressing! I am doing better at serving and showing love and respect to those I interact with, even when I don't agree with them, and most of the time without getting angry.

Let me give you another example where you can choose what your thoughts are. How many of you ever have fears? Any of you ever have fears? How would you like to be up here instead of me? Would you have any fear coming up here? I used to be petrified of getting up in front of a group like this and talking. I don't have much fear any more as long as I have what I feel is a message that is worthwhile.

I remember a few years ago, well, it has been quite a few years ago now, about 1979, I think. When I lived in Baltimore, Maryland, I got a call from a producer of a television show to appear on a one hour talk show that was broadcast live in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area. The one co-host of that television show was Opray Winfrey. You may have heard of her. This was before she was famous. She was well known in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area. So when I got the call to be on her live talk show that was broadcast live through the whole Baltimore-Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, and people would call in and ask questions, oh, I was so scared. I could just see myself babbling on, making a complete fool of myself. I can remember going to the studio.

Before the show I had never met Sister Winfrey. She is Sister Winfrey. Anyway, I had never met her. I am in the make-up room and they are taking about 45-minutes to put makeup on me so that I look good on television. They take me out to the studio about two or three minutes before the program begins. They have a couch out there in the middle of these lights, a make-believe living room. A minute before the show starts, she is still not there. A minute before she rushes out, sits down, all prim and proper. She shook my hand right before she sat down.

It was the most terrible experience I have ever had. I was so scared that they would ask me something I could not answer. Or I would blubber. As a matter-of-fact I called Oprah, in one part of the discussion, Richard. Her co-host was Richard Shear, I forget his last name, but his first name was Richard. He was sitting next to Oprah and I called her Richard. It was just a disaster. I still have the audio tape of that program. I have always been afraid to listen to it. My goal is to get back on Oprah's show. Serious. This is a serious goal. I want to get back on Oprah's show and talk about a book about this subject, someday that I would hope to write down the road. Maybe I will even include her in it. That's a sure bet to get on the show.

You students particularly have problems sometimes being afraid, maybe fearing that you will not pass a class, like organic chemistry. I will tell you a little secret that occurred when I was in undergraduate school back in Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania.

Lebanon Valley is a small liberal art school, highly rated, on the East Coast. The chemistry department there is outstanding. I came from a high school thinking I was a hot shot. Then I get into Lebanon Valley and all of a sudden, I am average. I thought I was still a hot shot starting out. I can remember taking my general chemistry class, taking the first exam and flunking it. (Oh, I should not have told them that, President.) But I did. I flunked my first general chemistry exam. I can remember the department chair calling me in and saying to me. "What's going on?"I said, "Well, I did not study very much." He said, "I suggest you study a little more." I made up my mind that I was not going to be afraid of failing. I chose to not think of failing. It was not an option. And I did fine in the class.

Later on I had a calculus class. Same thing. I flunked the first two exams. I should not tell you that. But failing or dropping a class was not an option. I can remember spending hours and hours studying calculus, spending all weekend studying calculus. I passed the class. I just refused to fear or accept failure.

I can remember in high school, my dating years. Do any of you guys ever have a fear of asking a girl out? I can remember this one very lovely lady, a girl in high school. And I wanted to have a date with her. I decided that I am going to ask her. So I asked her. Would she go out on a date with me? She said, "No thanks." I never had a date with her.

One day traveling on a Greyhound bus I met this lovely, young lady. All I knew about her was where she was going to school, her first name, and where she got off the bus. I said to my roommate as she got off the bus, "I want to have a date with that gal." So I went back to my college. I was a member of a fraternity at the time. I told my fraternity brothers about the situation. My one fraternity brother knew a friend who was going to the same school who was dating a girl from the same school. I asked him to find out from his friend who this girl was. I got her name and address and I asked her out for a date. And we have been married, how many years?

Don't let fear stop you.

Let me talk about one other fear and then we will move onto another, perhaps.

When I was in high school, I used to ride the bus to school every day. As a matter-of-fact, I was one of the first people on the bus. We traveled all around the countryside. I was on the bus about an hour every day going to school. Down the road from me, a mile or so, was this Hispanic gal. Her name was Anna May Johnson. And she was really a gal who was disheveled and she did not appear to be very sanitary sometimes, and the kids all made fun of her and her sister. It used to bother me that they would make fun of her and not try to uplift her. But I was always afraid of doing anything because I was afraid they would make fun of me. I never did anything for Anna May Johnson. It has bothered me for years, simply because I was afraid of the criticism of those around me.

What would Christ have us do with our thoughts? If our thoughts are that we are fearing to do something because of the criticism we might get from our friends, what should we really do? What should we choose our thoughts to be? Can you change your thoughts in those cases and do what Christ would have you do?

Are you good at forgiving people? If someone does something wrong to you, are you good at forgiving them? Can you choose in your mind to forgive someone for doing something that you did not care for?

I have a good friend here in Laie. And he was such an example to me. I have not gotten permission to use his name, so I won't tell who he is. One day his wife was killed on Kam Highway because a young kid just ran into her, and just messed her up and she died on the spot. My friend that very day went to that young man, who just ran into his wife and killed her, and told him that he forgave him. That is so huge. Just so huge. He understood what the gospel is all about. He understood what the gospel is all about.

I have tons of other examples, but I got to go.

What thoughts are you choosing to dominate your thoughts? What are you choosing to think about?

What a Divine Power you have Within yourself. If you learn to choose what you are thinking about, the potential for doing good this life and the next is so huge for you!

Choices you make in your thinking will affect who and what you are now and in the future.
Everyone is what he or she is because of the dominating thoughts which he or she permits to occupy his or her mind.

I keep that little phrase in the little black book I carry around with me and I read it all the time.

Where do your dominating thoughts come from?

Do the things that come to your mind and that are sealed there, do they come from the scriptures? Do they come from Church magazines? Church materials? Good books? What kind of magazines do you read? What books do you read? Do you read books that have trash? But you say there are some good things in those trashy books. Trash cans have pieces of bread. But do you go through the trash cans looking for the bread? You do not need the reputation!

What about a personal mission statement? Do you have one? What about movies? What about TV shows? What about music? What kind of music are you listening to? Do those affect your thoughts? What about the influence of your friends?

D.C. 58:28, " . . . the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men (or women) do good they shall in nowise lose their reward" And I might add: "in this earth or the world to come."

The Power to Choose what we think about is a Divine Power Within that each one of us has.

To learn to use this power takes tons of effort and practice. Becoming good at it is not automatic. It doesn't just happen!

If you have a sound foundation in choosing what you think about, you can choose what you think about in very difficult situations and circumstances.

Many of you may have read a book called Man's Search for Meaning. It's a book about a person in the concentration camps in Germany. It was written by Victor Frankl. In Man's Search for Meaning, he talks about this very issue of being able to choose what you think about in extreme situations. If you have never read that book, it's a must read.

You are what you are because of the dominating thoughts which you permit to occupy your mind. Use this Divine Power Within and choose what you think about wisely.

These thoughts I leave with you . . .

and the challenge to incorporate them in your life . . .

in the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen.