Turn Your Face and Feet to the Light


Dr. Hannonen

Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

January 22, 2008
Helena Hannonen
BYU-Hawaii School of Business

My dear brothers and sisters, aloha.

Have you ever been in total darkness? Perhaps you have experienced the blackouts of war, sudden loss of light in a storm, or just have run out of flashlight power in a forest, mountain trail, or at sea when there were no moon and stars to guide you. How did you find your way out? Did you have to stop till daybreak, or did you slow down and move carefully towards an unseen light?

Maybe you have had these experiences. If not, imagine that as darkness becomes more intense after several hours, you finally see light in a distance. First you feel relief and want to run towards the light as fast as you can, but something stops you. A question: Does the light belong to a friend or a foe? A friend means safety, but enemy light could make your condition worse, even mean destruction.

Each day we face this situation in one form or another. Our life and survival are dependent on being able to find our way out of darkness and to benefit from light. We live in the world of light and darkness, and find it a familiar metaphor in scriptures, talks, and daily conversations. The relationship of light and darkness is an important concept and captures our attention in the first page of the Bible.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)

As divine sons and daughters of God upon this earth, we face each morning darkness and void. We determine how we create our day and give it form. We make decisions, which separate the day into thoughts, words and actions of light or darkness. Each morning brings new challenges and opportunities. We create the day first spiritually, and then live it temporally. In the evening, we make an accounting and know if the day was good. It is our responsibility to say to ourselves: "Let there be light!" and fill the day with light-producing activities such as prayer, scripture study, keeping the commandments, work, wholesome recreation, and service.

The Savior was clear about our role when he stated: "Ye are the light of the world."(Matthew 5:14) He then admonished us: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (16)

We are not just ordinary light bearers. Our mission is great. In the vision and mission of BYU-Hawaii, leadership takes a central role. Much has been said about leadership expectations placed on the students, staff, and faculty of this university and our influence throughout the world. Each of us is a leader and must hold our light high so that others can see it. Today, sin and darkness cast their shadows over every aspect of human life in every corner of the world; we need more light and stronger light bearers.

Less has been said about being a follower. Followers also have an important role, which we learn from the hymn # 335, entitled Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy. Followers keep the lower lights burning along the shore. They send a gleam across the wave in order to save those who are lost and longing for light in darkness. We, as followers, need to increase our light. Someone is always looking for the light we send out. Thus, as followers, we take direction from a leader, but even as followers, we need to be aware who is coming behind us, and where we are guiding them.

Effective followership is nothing more than leadership turned upside down. Leadership and followership are intertwined. Leadership is the power to influence others to follow. Followership is a choice to actively pursue the path outlined by leaders. Leaders do not exist without followers; and followers need leaders. You have probably found yourselves in companies, or teams, where all seek to take the lead and end up in a power struggle without any positive accomplishments, or maybe you have been in organizations, or groups, where all want to follow and avoid leadership roles with similar results.

Good leadership improves followers, and skillful followers enhance leaders. To be a good leader, one must also build the skills of an effective follower. During my career, I have often heard leaders be blamed for failures, when, in fact, these shortcomings should have been attributed to the failures of followers. The responsibility for performance and success of any team, family, department or organization rests on the shoulders of followers in that unit, too.

We learn to follow as children. We imitate those around us, especially our parents. I would like to share some lessons I learned in my youth about following leaders. I shall tell stories, but in them is embedded my deep testimony of Jesus Christ and His teachings. The Lord made it clear that all things were created and made to testify of Him (Moses 6:63). Therefore, everything about my stories and metaphors refers to Jesus Christ and has a personal lesson, which the Holy Ghost can reveal to you, if you so desire.

Let me take you to my native Finland, known for her countless blue lakes and white snow; a beautiful land of light in the summer and darkness in the winter. With endless white summer nights and long dark winter days, coming home for supper, when the sun went down, was not a particularly useful rule for my mother to give us children. If we had followed that advice, we would have stayed home all day in the winter and outside all night during the summer. My mother was a chemist and her explanations had a scientific foundation. She taught us how to read different shades of light and darkness to tell time. She explained how to observe nature to know what time dinner was ready, or when we had to return home to sleep. Before we were given watches, we could tell time based on the sights and sounds of nature surrounding us.

We also learned to work while the days were light and get ready for the long period of darkness that always followed the pleasant summer days. Our storage of food and supplies, a safe home, and fun memories, gave us faith and peace. We knew that it didn't matter if the sun was behind clouds, because eventually, there would be a break. Moments of glorious sunlight made the darkness of winter bearable and kept hope alive that spring would surely come, followed by another summer with its long days of light.

Today Finns have a saying: "There is no cold weather, just poor clothing." However, when I was born, Finland was still paying war reparations to Russia and was rebuilding the country after three devastating wars. I can't remember lacking anything as a child, but there were times when I was cold, even though I had the very best and the prettiest clothing available. My mother will turn 86 years in two days, but when she was younger, she walked fast, held her head high, and scanned the sky above the treetops. She was always aware of her surroundings. She recently told me that she was looking for possible air attacks and other dangers. Fear of war was ever present in the minds of her generation, but she never showed that fear to me.

I only remember the beauty of the Northern Lights above trees, the sound of cold, crunchy snow under my feet, and joyful laughter as we watched nature's display of colors and movement. Running to imitate the dancing Northern Lights on the black sky soon left my body warm and my heart filled with delight. I learned to take "heart photographs" - to capture images and memories so vividly in my mind that when the dark days of life came with trials and disappointments later on, I could just close my eyes for a second and happiness filled my heart instantaneously.

Standing and waiting for a bus was a different story. If there were any signs that I was cold, Mother's instructions were short: "Turn Your Face and Feet to the Light."I obeyed and tried to find the sun. In the process, I turned my back to the bitter north wind to feel the sun's warm rays. Soon this behavior became automatic. I just watched adults who stood towards the light, moved to keep the circulation going, and I was never cold again.

When I was 10 years old, two American missionaries came to my home and taught us the gospel of Jesus Christ. As good Lutherans, we knew God's creations and our dependence on Him. I now realize that what we had seemed like the wintry days of rare sunlight after I heard the glorious account about Joseph Smith and the First Vision. My brother was 12 years old at the time. We concluded that if a young farm boy in America could kneel and ask God, so could we. We knew that we lacked wisdom, especially about the plan of salvation. We missed our father, who had died saving another man's life, and were awestruck by the concept that we could be with him again. The message Elders Call and Hassell shared with us changed our life from good to great and brought an endless summer day into our home.

I read the Book of Mormon and prayed to know if what the missionaries said was true. It was a simple child's prayer, but it felt like someone turned the lights on in my heart. I knew that I had a Heavenly Father, who heard my prayers and loved me.

A different type of reverence encircled us with the challenge to be baptized. The words: "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life (John 8:12), had a familiar sound.

So did the words of Nephi:
And he saith unto the children of men; Follow thou me. Wherefore, my...brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father saith: Repent ye, repent, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son. And also the voice of the Son came unto me, saying: He that is baptized in my name, to him will the Father give the Holy Ghost, like unto me: wherefore, follow me and do the things ye have seen me do. (2 Nephi 31:10-12)

My mother, brother and I turned our face and feet to the Light of the World, even Jesus Christ, entered into the waters of baptism, made a covenant with Him, and followed the path the Savior marked for all. If you are wandering in darkness or dim light, and if you lack wisdom, no matter what your age is, I invite you to listen to the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to read the Book of Mormon. I know that God will answer your sincere prayers and will bring light and joy to your life.

My first calling in church was to be the accompanist in our branch. I did not play the piano, nor had a piano at home. Within months, my mother purchased one. I began taking piano lessons and started to play in church. It was pure agony and embarrassment to follow the music director. My first goal was to get the first and the last note right. I practiced during the week at home and had joint practices with the director, who was as inexperienced as I was. However, there was a reverence towards the callings we held. We knew our duty and did our best.

I remained the accompanist till I went to college, but directors changed. I recall a dark cloud of impatience coming over me at times. A chorister had a small hand, I a powerful piano. I could have taken over easily, and everyone would have followed me, but I had to humble myself and keep practicing behind the scenes with music directors. When a hymn started, all eyes were on the director, and we followed her lead.

As followers, we are often critical and impatient with our leaders when we think we know more, are more accomplished than others, or feel inferior ourselves. It is true that in order to grow, we must take risks and learn new skills, but we must observe ourselves, what we say, and how we behave. Do we hinder or help leaders succeed? Are we good examples to those who take their lead from our words and actions?

If you lift up your hand and point to another person, one finger is pointed at him or her, but three fingers point towards you. The minute we point at a leader with the finger of criticism, we only need to take a look at our hand; three fingers are pointing towards us, and our shortcomings as followers. Faultfinding is on the dark side, and one can feel the spirit and light leave a conversation. On the other hand, when we complement and catch a leader doing something right, we may sometimes identify things we said, or did, to make a contribution to that success.

Leadership is not just talk. Leadership is about getting results. Followers must be results oriented, too, and take initiative. Doctrine and Covenants, section 58: 27-29 guide us to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness. "Furthermore, there is a warning: "But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned."

I lived most of my adult life in the San Francisco Bay area. The Oakland Temple is located high on a hill across the Bay from San Francisco. Even when fog rolls in, one can see the glow of the temple on the hill at night. I often heard the following story while living in that area. When there was an energy shortage in the mid 1970's in the United States, a request came from the government that all businesses and establishments turn off lights at night to conserve energy. The lights of Oakland Temple were turned off. After the first night of darkness, telephone calls started to come from the Armed Forces, all surrounding airports, port authorities and cities. All related the same problem. When ships and planes came in, they all used the temple lights to mark their position in order to land safely or to guide ships to the harbor. A petition was made: Could the temple lights be turned back on? A special permission was obtained, and the temple lights provided the steady light needed to guide all safely to their final destination around the Bay Area.

We live in the world filled with bright, colorful lights of every kind, enticing us to spend more than we can afford, enter dark places to be entertained, or just stare at the bright screen of a computer or TV in a dark room. These types of lights confuse the purpose of our mission on earth. They fog our senses and mind, and leave us cold. We must turn our face and feet towards the holy house of the Lord and prepare to enter in. As followers, having only secular knowledge is not sufficient to return to our heavenly home. We must obtain further light and knowledge in the Lord's university, even His holy temple. We must go there often to receive light, inspiration and strength to perform all our work and to overcome temptations and trials.

Once my mother taught me how to turn my face and feet to the light, she also pointed the way to the temple. I learned the powerful lesson of an example. She never had to say a word about the importance of temple work. I just watched her face and feet. She went to the temple and was sealed to my father. She walked miles from work, often in rain or snow, and placed the money in her temple fund. A few coins added up and paid for a temple trip every year and purchased documents needed to get names ready to take to the Swiss temple.

During her summer vacation, mother traveled to the temple in Switzerland, a three-day bus trip one way. After by brother and I started our lives away from home, she would work overtime as needed and then take time off to go to the temple. For years she packed her suitcase, got on a bus, then a train, and slept in a hotel to catch a morning flight from Finland to Switzerland. Once there, she took another train and a bus to the temple, where she worked a week before returning home. Imagine her joy when she could get to the temple in Sweden in less than a day. Finally, in October 2006, a temple was dedicated in Finland, only a three-hour drive from my hometown.

I remember mother describing the feeling in the temple after her first trip. Her face was shining, and she said she would like to create the feeling of temple in our home. We refined our manners and lowered our tone of voice to "temple voice." Everything in our home was orderly and beautiful. We always came home to a peaceful setting where the spirit of the Lord could be felt. As followers of Jesus Christ, we should model our behavior according to the things we learn in the temple. Our homes and our places of employment and study should reflect the light we obtain from the House of the Lord.

As we study the great leaders in the scriptures, we learn that they felt inadequate to the tasks before them. They'd much rather accept the role of a follower than a leader. Men like Lehi, Nephi, Paul, Ammon, Alma, Moses, Brother of Jared, and Enoch, and women like Ruth, Esther, and Sariah were foremost followers. God works though those who are humble and meek. He prefers broken hearts over possessions and strong wills. Alma nor Ammon gloried in themselves, but acknowledged that "as to my strength I am nothing."(Alma 29:9).

Even our Master, Jesus Christ, who is the perfect leader and the perfect follower stated: The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do."(John 5:19) The Savior followed obediently His Father's will. Likewise, we must follow Him and be filled with His light. We must turn our back to the things of the world and our face to the Savior. Our feet must find a way along His footsteps. Once we learn to follow, we need to lead and invite others to come unto Christ. We can be examples and show the way.

Elder David S. Baxter said: "Discipleship does not guarantee freedom from the storms of life. Even as we are wending our way carefully and faithfully along the strait and narrow path, we encounter obstacles and challenges. There are days, perhaps even months and years, when life is just hard. What to do when adversity strikes? There is only one thing to do. Stand steady and see it through. Stay steadfast, constant, and true. The real tragedy in the whirlwinds of life comes only when we allow them to blow us off our true course." (David S. Baxter, "Faith, Service, Constancy," Ensign, Nov. 2006, 14)

We will meet darkness during our journey through life, but we can have light. Sometimes it seems like quick Northern Lights in a dark sky. Other times it is like an endless summer day. One thing is constant: Light and truth forsake the evil one (D&C 93:37). They drive away darkness and bring us closer to God.

It is my prayer that as we become leaders, we will also become true followers. May we always:

1. Seek light and truth
2. Honor our parents
3. Follow our leaders
4. Do our duty
5. Pray to God
6. Go to the House of the Lord, and
7. Turn out face and feet to the Light of the World.

May we be followers of our Master first and then leaders in all that we say and do. I want to close with the words of C.S. Lewis: "I believe in Jesus Christ (original quote Christianity) as I believe that the Sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." (C. S. Lewis)

I bear my witness that the Lord is our light, our Redeemer, and our Savior and King.

In the holy name of Jesus Christ, amen.