Aloha. Sister Budge and I are honored to be here with you today. I bring the greetings of our dear prophet, the other members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. I am sure they would rather be here today, but I am very grateful that they assigned me to come and represent them. I hope you had the opportunity to hear or read President Russell M. Nelson’s remarks to the young adults of the church given last week. He expressed his profound love for you. He also testified of the love that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for you, and of their desire for you to be happy.”
The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” Do you believe it? Do you really believe that our purpose is to have joy? Now I will add one word to this verse, and see if you still believe it. “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy now.” Do you believe that God and Jesus Christ want us to be happy now, in this life? Listen closely to what Moroni taught regarding the time when we will be brought back into the presence of the Lord, “then cometh the time that he that is filthy shall be filthy still; and he that is righteous shall be righteous still; he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still.” In other words, we will not be restored from a state of unhappiness to a state of happiness. This implies that the gospel is designed to make us happy now, and to prepare us for even greater joy in the eternities. Adam declared, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy…” Along with Adam, Jacob and Moroni, President Nelson has taught that it really is possible to have joy in a fallen world. He boldly proclaimed that, “When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation…and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy.”
President Nelson makes it clear that joy has less to do with the circumstances of our lives and more to do with what we choose to be the focus of our lives.
In his first address to the church as a newly called Apostle Elder Gerrit W. Gong declared, “Together, our covenants and our Savior’s Atonement enable and ennoble. Together, they help us hold on and let go. Together they sweeten, bless, sanctify, and redeem.” As I listened to his words, the phrase “hold on and let go” caught my attention. I began to ponder in my mind what we need to hold on to and what we need to let go of to experience the joy God desires for us in this life. So, let’s consider together some of the things I learned as I studied what prophets and apostles have admonished us to hold on to and let go of in order to have joy. First let’s consider four things we have been admonished to let go.
1. Let go of Sin
First, let go of sin. This sounds quite obvious but how many of us are still holding tightly to our favorite sins? God said, “If ye love me keep my commandments.” Like King Lamoni’s father, are we ready to give away all [our] sins to know God and to be filled with great joy?” To give away all of our sins we must give up the idea that following our way is better than following God’s commandments. Wickedness never was happiness. Which sins are you holding on to, or which sins have ahold of you?
When nearing the end of a talk at a YSA stake conference I felt prompted to say something about pornography. I wrestled with this prompting because it was not related to the theme of my talk. But sensing the need to follow the prompting, I made an awkward segue to the subject and finished my remarks by encouraging those struggling with this and other sins to turn to Jesus Christ, and rely on His enabling power to break the chains of the sins that bind them. After the conference a young man came up to me and thanked me. He explained that he had struggled with pornography from a young age and that nothing he had tried seemed to help. He said that he was actually going to enter a resident treatment facility the next day, but that he had had little hope that it would help either. However, he explained, that as he heard me speak, he realized that there was something he had not yet tried. He had never relied on Jesus Christ and His atonement to help him overcome this. He had turned away from Christ in shame, but now he realized that he could turn to Him for help. His hope was restored because he learned that there was a power greater than his own. He had access to the enabling power of Jesus Christ.
Resolve today to turn to Christ. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love you and want you to be happy. Last week President Nelson said, “They will do anything within Their power that does not violate your agency or Their laws to help you…” End quote. Through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement we can become free of the chains of sin both large and small. Let go of the sins which rob you of the joy He and our Heavenly Father desire for you!
2. Let go of Guilt
Second, once repentance has taken place, let go of any remaining guilt. The purpose of physical pain is to alert us to injury or disease. Likewise, the purpose of guilt is to cause spiritual pain or dis-ease which alerts us to the need for repentance. Without guilt we would all be spiritual lepers oblivious to the sting of sin. However, once we have repented of our sins, we need to trust that the Lord has forgiven us and then forgive ourselves. Lingering guilt can turn to shame and rob us of joy. Elder Deiter F. Uchtdorf said, “Sometimes, of all the people in the world, the one who is the hardest to forgive—as well as perhaps the one who is most in need of our forgiveness—is the person looking back at us in the mirror.”
Similarly, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught that when repentance is sincere and (quote) “when honest effort is being made to progress, we are guilty of the greater sin if we keep remembering and recalling and rehashing someone with his or her earlier mistakes—and that someone might be ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves—often much more so than on others!” Unquote.
My dear friends, let us repent of failing to trust in God’s power and willingness to forgive us of our sins. I love Alma’s advice to his son Corianton, “…I desire that ye should let [your sins] trouble you no more, and only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” If you have repented with full purpose of heart and real intent and continue to struggle with guilt, let go so that your guilt will not interfere with your joy.
3. Let go of Grudges
Third, let go of grudges. In other words, forgive everyone. The failure to forgive others will rob us of joy and canker our souls. In Doctrine and Covenants section 64, the Lord said, “…ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” We need to repent of not trusting God to mete out justice better than we can. God has not only commanded us to forgive everyone, but he has commanded us to love everyone. How can we love the neighbor we have not forgiven? In his book Falling to Heaven, James Farrell defines the forgiveness we give one another as “repenting of failing to love”. “Forgiveness”, he says, “is just the word we use to describe this kind of repenting”. I find it so instructive to view forgiveness this way. Repenting of the failure to love removes our perceived need to be the judge and redirects our focus to keeping the second great commandment. Letting go and letting God be the judge allows us the freedom to love others.
When I was serving as a mission president, a man called me to ask permission to baptize his mother in his ward rather than his mother’s ward. I asked “Why?” He responded, “Because I do not like her bishop and I will never forgive him for what he did.” When I heard those words, “never forgive him,” my concern shifted from his mother’s salvation to his, and I told him that. I shared the scripture about forgiveness in the Doctrine and Covenants that I just mentioned and asked him to ponder and pray about his request. He called a few days later and told me that he had been a member most of his life, and had read those scripture passages many times, but that somehow in his circumstance he had felt justified in not forgiving. He had finally realized that the commandment to forgive all men, meant all men and he forgave the bishop and felt the joy of forgiveness.
If there is anyone you have not forgiven, I invite you to let go of your judgment of that person, leave that to God, and allow yourself to love them instead. I testify that you will be much happier when you do.
4. Let go of Your Own Will
Fourth, let go of your will and submit it to God. It can be very difficult to trust God’s plan for us when life is not going as we expected or desired, especially when our expectations and desires are righteous and are founded on true principles or promised blessings. For example, we may desire to be married but haven’t found “the one”, we may desire to have children but cannot, we may desire to be free of sickness and disease but it persists, or we may desire to see a loved one gain a testimony but they have not. The list goes on. In difficult circumstances such as these, we sometimes turn away from God rather than turning toward Him. Instead of trusting Him we may blame him or think He does not care. Paul taught the Hebrews, “For ye have need of patience that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” President Nelson said, “To be sure, there may be times when you feel as though the heavens are closed. But I promise that as you continue to be obedient, expressing gratitude for every blessing the Lord gives you, and as you patiently honor the Lord’s timetable, you will be given the knowledge and understanding you seek. Every blessing the Lord has for you—even miracles—will follow.” End quote.
My friends, His promises are sure. If we truly believe this we can rejoice in our yet-unrealized promised blessings. In the middle of the wilderness, long before reaching the promised land Lehi said, “I have obtained a land of promise, in the which things I do rejoice.” He trusted God so much that he was rejoicing in a blessing he had not yet received. That is a very happy way to live! Do not let go of your righteous desires and God-given expectations. But do let go of your attachment to them as a condition of your happiness. Life is much more joyful when we choose to trust God and His plan for us. Remember you are free to choose. You can choose to trust in God and walk in His light or choose not to trust in God and walk in darkness. Trusting God is a lot more joyful way to live!
Now, let’s shift gears and discuss four things prophets and apostles have admonished us to hold on to that will increase our joy and our power to let go.
1. Hold on to the Holy Ghost
First, hold on to the Holy Ghost. President Nelson pleads with us “…to do the spiritual work required to enjoy the gift of the Holy Ghost and hear the voice of the Spirit more frequently and more clearly.” With Moroni he exhorts us to “ ‘come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift’, beginning with the gift of the Holy Ghost, which gift can and will change your life.” Unquote. The Holy Ghost is our modern-day Liahona. As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost will tell us all things we should do. In other words, he will tell us what to hold on to and what to let go of. President Nelson warns that “…in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.” End quote. It is a matter of survival. We hold fast to the Holy Ghost by honoring our covenants, repenting regularly and often, sincerely seeking guidance through earnest prayer, and then acting on those promptings. If you haven’t been very diligent in these areas of your life, don’t give up! Pray to know what you need to stop doing, or start doing to welcome the Holy Ghost back into your life.
2. Hold on to your Faith
Second, hold on to your faith. When we have questions, we should not assume that means that we are abandoning our faith. Not at all! Questioning and doubting are not the same thing. It is perfectly acceptable to have questions about the Lord’s doctrine, church history, church policies, etc. However, the lens through which we see those questions is the determining factor of whether our faith is strengthened or weakened. Do our questions come from the perspective of doubt, or from a willingness to allow the benefit of the doubt?
Conviction of one truth doesn’t mean that we won’t have questions about other topics, just like having questions about a particular matter doesn’t mean that we lack conviction in what we know to be true! Conviction comes from the witness of the Holy Ghost that the things we do know and understand are true. Nephi acknowledged that he did not know the meaning of all things, but that he knew that God loves his children.
Nephi is a great example of one who was willing to move forward in faith despite having an incomplete understanding of the meaning of all things. Hold on to your faith by seeking answers with a believing heart, in the places of light where the truth can be found, and in qualifying to be taught by the Spirit. Like Nephi, I do not know the meaning of all things. However, my testimony is not simplistic or based on blind belief. My testimony is firmly rooted in the witnesses I have received from the Holy Ghost that God knows me and loves me, that Jesus is the Christ, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that we are led today by apostles and prophets. These simple, yet profound spiritual witnesses, transcend the complexity of the arguments against the truth, and have blessed my life with peace and joy in Christ.
3. Hold on to The Word of God
This brings us to the third thing to hold on to—the word of God. In the secular world, the first source we tend to go to for answers is the internet. But we need to keep in mind that the information we find there is often, in fact, misinformation, and is subject to the interpretations and philosophies of men, or worse - based on an agenda designed to manipulate the truth.
Instead, in seeking greater light we should go to the source of light and truth - the word of God as contained in the holy scriptures, in the words of His living apostles and prophets, and in answers received through personal revelation.
Nephi taught that “whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction. Isn’t that an amazing promise?
I testify that there is power in God’s word. The secular things you learn here at BYU–Hawaii will bless your lives in many ways, but if not understood and applied in the context of eternal truth, they will not be sufficient to bring you the joy God desires for you.
4. Hold on to your Covenants
Fourth, hold on to your covenants. President Nelson admonished us “to keep on the covenant path”. He said, “Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual privilege and blessing available to men, women and children everywhere.” “Our covenants bind us to Him and give us godly power...” End quote. As you partake of the sacrament each week, review the covenants you have made and recommit yourself to keeping those covenants. Making and keeping sacred covenants helps rivet our focus on Jesus Christ and His covenant promises. I testify that as we hold fast to our covenants, we will have the power to live joyfully. However, please remember, the covenant path is not a path of perfection but a path of repentance. God’s expectation of us in mortality was not that we would never sin; if so, there would have been no need for Christ to sacrifice Himself to pay the price for our sins. Heavenly Father’s expectation is that we continuously repent as we progress down the covenant path towards him.
In conclusion, let’s summarize the four things to let go of and the four things to hold on to in order to increase our joy.
Regarding letting go:
First, let go of our sins. Second, let go of our guilt once we have sincerely repented. Third, let go of any grudges and forgive everyone. And fourth, let go of our will, and submit it to God.
Regarding holding on:
First, hold on to the Holy Ghost. Second, hold on to our faith. Third, hold on to the word of God. And fourth, hold on to our covenants.
Neal A. Maxwell said, “With our steady pursuit of joy and with each increasing measure of righteousness, we will experience one more drop of delight—one drop after another—until, in the words of a prophet, our hearts are ‘brim with joy’ (Alma 26:11). At last, the soul’s cup finally runs over!”
I testify that as you steadily progress along the covenant path, holding fast to that which is true and letting go of that which is not, that you will find joy along the way. No, life will not always be easy, and you will have your share of trials, sorrows and afflictions; you will also make your share of mistakes. But I testify that our covenants, together with the atoning power of Jesus Christ will enable and ennoble us to find joy one drop at a time.
My friends, we live in a day filled with the promise of great joy. On the one hand, there has never been a time in the history of the world where we have been more greatly blessed. On the other hand, Satan has never worked so hard to make us miserable like himself. O Be wise; what can I say more? Hold fast to that which is of God, and let go of those things that will interfere with your happiness.
God and Jesus Christ love you. President Nelson loves you and I love you. I pray that you will look to God and discover the joy that He has prepared for you.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.