On Questions Students Frequently Ask


Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii

January 6, 2000
President Eric B. Shumway
President of Brigham Young University–Hawaii

Aloha and Happy New Year!

I thought this morning I would follow a different format from my usual one. Recently I made a list of questions students have frequently asked me over the years. Some of these questions are professional and academic in nature, some religious, some very personal. I have selected a few to answer today in this setting. They are a random mixture but, I hope, relevant to your lives or at least satisfying to your curiosity. Of course each answer is short and underdeveloped.

I will begin with a very personal question, just asked last week..

Question #1:"How did you and Sister Shumway meet? Did you pray to know she was the right
person for you?"

Answer:Carolyn (Merrill) Shumway was my pen pal between age 16 and 18. My sister Marlene met her working in Yellowstone Park the summer of 1956 and persuaded her to write to me, her 16 year old brother. I wrote back and that was the beginning of a two-year correspondence. I never saw her picture, or heard her voice during that time, but we became close and intimate friends through letters without the anxieties or distractions of a physical presence. I went to BYU in the fall of 1957. She was still a senior at East High School in Salt Lake City.

But we were not anxious to meet. I was afraid if she saw what I looked like it would ruin everything. She was afraid that if I saw her I would not want to continue writing. So we happily corresponded through most of my freshman year. In the spring of 1958, at my sister's insistence, Carolyn dropped by with her mother to meet me in my apartment in Provo. It was a very cordial meeting, but our first date a few weeks later was a clincher. I was absolutely, rapturously in love. But that love did not fully flower until after my mission to Tonga and after her mission to the Southern States. Seven years after our first letter we got married.

Did I ever pray to know if she was the right person? No. (I hope that does not ruin any testimonies) I only prayed to be worthy of her. It was so unequivocally obvious that she was the one for me, I did not need any other special feeling to confirm the fact. I do remember, however, that while I was waiting for her to finish her mission I did allow myself the intellectual freedom to imagine being married to someone else. The moment of that thought was instantly accompanied by such a darkness and depressive feeling I knew immediately that to marry anyone else would violate some grand universal design the Lord had in mind for me and her. The courtship was conducted under the guidance of gospel principles and the marriage performed in the Salt Lake Temple in 1963. I am sure prayer is important in the process of selecting a mate. It was just that in my case the answer came before I even asked.

Question #2:"President, you seem like such an upbeat, friendly, even tempered guy. Do you ever
just lose it? Your temper I mean?"

Answer:I really lost my temper only once in my life, but the lessons I learned from that experience cured me forever. I was 15 years old. While I was talking to some friends in front of our house, my little brother Nick, mischievously trying to get my attention, hit me with a rock which made a slight cut in my head. When he saw the blood he ran and locked himself in an old 1929 Chevrolet sedan, and proceeded to taunt me through the glass. My mind clouded with anger and with one punch I shattered the glass to get at my little brother. In the process, however, I gashed my forearm severely, the sight of which would cause some people to faint. The inside flesh sort of just boiled out of the deep wound and all the major blood vessels in my arm spurted blood.

I had a good 30 minutes in the car to the hospital, two hours on the operating table, three months of rehabilitation, and a big scar, to think about my behavior. I learned then what I have reaffirmed nearly every week of my life since then, that anger is almost always destructive, even the little bursts of irritation and annoyance that many of us get used to as just part of our daily interaction with people, and especially that anger which has decayed into a smoldering, cankering resentment and dislike. I have heard it said that there is such a thing as righteous anger or righteous indignation. Frankly, I have never seen it. All anger is tainted. Anger and pride are twin brothers. You say and do things in anger that do great damage to your life and the lives of others. A thousand apologies, as important and as wonderful as they might be, can seldom fully bind up a wounded heart which has been abused through anger.

In China last October I spoke at a university on the many different ways to increase one's English proficiency. One student asked the question, "Wouldn't we be able to speak better English if we were not so nice to each other in class - that is, if we argued and quarreled more? Wouldn't that stimulate our use of the language and be a positive thing?" My response was that anger seldom sharpens the intellect. It may sharpen the tongue, but it clouds judgment. It reduces normal discourse to sloganizing and shouting matches. It feeds the negative passions of the heart instead of inspiring the thoughtful processes of the mind. Worse, it cannibalizes any sense of fairness and balanced judgment. It presses for victory over one's opponent rather than to establish truth. It is little wonder that Christ said, He who is angry with his brother is in danger both of the judgment and Hell fire. (Matt 5:22)

Question #3:"President, do you feel responsible for putting some students in a spiritual degrading position of hypocrisy? Isn't forcing LDS students to attend Church as a requirement for staying in school parallel to Satan's plan of forcing salvation upon the children of men?"

Answer: I see nothing degrading in the requirement that LDS students be active in the Church as part of the code of honor, and a condition of their attending a Church sponsored, Church tithing- subsidized, Church regulated, and Church protected university.

Sabbath day observance and Church attendance are probably the most practical ways of determining Church activity, and certainly one of those spiritual opportunities which is also social, intellectual, and educational. Required chapel attendance is standard fare at many Church related institutions.

No, I see no parallel between Satan's plan to force adherence and the attendance requirement at BYU-Hawaii. If Satan were in charge, according to his plan, he would force you to apply to BYU-Hawaii, make you pay your money, and drag you kicking and screaming to the campus. Once he had you here, he would say, "don't worry, be happy, everybody's going to graduate." Guilt would be banned and so would merit, not one student would leave the school, not one would drop out, not one would be lost whether he liked it or not. That's how Satan would do it. Those who serve Satan often know him least. He never delivers on his promises for happiness or joy or freedom. Those who exercise their free agency and choose Satan's way are least free of all. In fact, they're in bondage. Chains, not freedom and fresh air, are in store for those who serve Satan, even at the very moment they are claiming their right to choose their own path.

Question #4:"President, did you ever get a Dear John letter or feel alone and forsaken, discouraged, beaten, or heartbroken? If so, how did you rise above it all?"

Answer: Yes, yes, yes, and yes. What you do to rise above it all is:

a) You work, you do your duty, you get up, wash up, buck up, and go to class, and go to work. Remember your misery is your own choice.
b) You talk to and get help from a counselor or bishop. If your heart break is a result of sin, then confess, repent, and sin no more.
c) You pray, you cry unto the Lord out of your wilderness, you pray for strength to climb out of the pit of self pity you have allowed yourself to fall into.
d) You do something good for someone. Here is an almost infallible formula/recipe for rising above loneliness and heartbreak. If you are depressed, send two thank you notes a day to people who mean much to you or who need a lift. If you are really depressed send five love bullets. If you cheer someone else up you will cheer yourself up as well.
e) Get perspective. Look at the situation as the Lord would. See the bright side.

Years ago I met a student whose girl friend had just called it all off, rejected his proposal, and rebuffed his tearful pleas. He poured out his broken heart to me saying his life was ending. Nothing but pain and outer darkness remained. He could hardly breathe for his grief. I listened to about all I could take then said finally, "My friend, you are a lucky man. You haven't been dumped by this girl, you have just been rescued from her. Obviously this girl is not for you. Give her a break, give her space, give yourself space. The Lord has saved you both from your own short sightedness.

Besides, disappointment in love just adds to your life experiences that will give you wisdom. Think of it this way, tests of faith and stamina are best conducted within the pulsating fibers of a broken heart. (Now that's an aphorism for you) Further, you now are free, free from false hopes, free from the dreams and passionate illusions that will never materialize. You must take her no as it is, as a never never never, not as maybe or try again in a few weeks. Count your blessings, marry your studies and other wonderful activities on this campus, put a smile on your face." Well, the student laughed and I think healed immediately

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not being flippant about the agonies of unrequited love. They can be very intense and very real, but I am simply saying no heartbreak is worth the pit we often throw ourselves into, giving Satan a chance to torment his victims to death or into emotional paralysis.

Question #5:"How can I ever forgive my roommate? She always wore my clothes, borrowed my jewelry, used my phone card, took my car. Last week she took my boyfriend. Took him all the way to the temple where they were married. Her present happiness was supposed to have been mine. How can I ever forgive her?"

Answer: You can and you must. The scriptures teach us that if we don't forgive others we are guilty of a greater transgression. Remember our own forgiveness of sins is linked to our willingness and ability to forgive others. It's Heavenly Father's equation for us. Our peace of mind depends on it, our emotional health depends upon it, our salvation depends upon it. So much of human misery is caused by the ongoing instant replays in our mind of injustices inflicted against us. It's as if we savor our wounds and love to tell our sad stories. Especially if the person who inflicted the wound has not yet been "arraigned in court," as it were, punished, humiliated, or somehow called into account, or who seems unrepentant.

I know of people who keep their own prayer roll with names of people they pray for every day. I know some whose lives would be sweetened immensely by making a list of people who have hurt them, then systematically reconcile and forgive each one. One way is in prayer where, on your knees, you mentally bring the offending person forward and put him or her between you and the Lord. And in the presence of the Lord, you declare your forgiveness. And in the same breath you pray for that person and then you ask forgiveness of your own trespasses. Some of the most remarkable healings in the Church and the world have occurred that way. Some of the greatest suffering has continued unabated because the person or persons could not do that.

Twenty years ago, in a terrible car accident, Brother Herb Gellert lost three precious people in his life - his wife, his daughter, and his wife's dear mother. At fault was the driver of the other vehicle, a young man, not a member of the Church, who had been drinking alcohol to celebrate the birth of his first baby. Herb was faced with a choice of acting out the immediate natural feelings of vindictive rage, or he could offer some kind of forgiveness. He chose the latter and in the process short-circuited the languishing misery of his own broken heart. In fact, he ended up in the home of the guilty driver, embracing him and giving him a priesthood blessing to help him overcome his own suffering and guilt for what he had done. Herb was in our home last week to give me his own write up of that experience, a testimony of the miracle of forgiveness.

Question #6:"In your mind, President, what are the elements of leadership students should

Answer: The elements of such leadership are: competence, courage, compassion, fairness, patience, integrity, and sound judgment - that is right thinking, as Elder Ballard told us last June. Courage without competence can lead to instant disaster. Competence without compassion will lead to tyranny and oppression. Christ is the perfect leader. A close and careful study of his life will reveal those qualities you should emulate.

Question #7: "How can I fully support a local leader that I can't respect fully because he or she is not polished, articulate, educated, or even prepared for the calling he or she has?"

Answer: The great, heaven-inspired feature and genius of Church government is that the Church's vast leadership organization across the world is made up of volunteers, who are not formally trained, who serve without pay, who are motivated and energized by individual testimonies, who are rotated regularly out of various leadership positions - who can be a bishop or relief society president this year, a Sunday School teacher the next, and a scout leader the next, and a nursery leader the next - who also consecrate ten percent of their income to the organization and are united under the same priesthood authority.

And who are all under doctrinal obligation to support each other in leadership capacities and avoid speaking evil of the "Lord's anointed." It's a system where we learn by doing. We are trained by experience and the Holy Ghost. We train each other. Each person serving has equal claim on the gifts of the Spirit, where we are patient with each other and pray for each other. Every ceremony or religious function - particularly the ceremony of the temple - unites us as one before God, equal in His sight. It is a system where he who would be greatest is the servant of all. It is our privilege to follow, encourage, support our leaders whose experience or native abilities may be less than our own. Many times their leadership is the most inspired.

Question #8: "President, what do you see as the deadliest pitfalls or the most powerful enemies of LDS young people in today's society?"

Answer: Years ago as a boy I was both frightened and intrigued by the movie, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the vision of those ghastly figures riding in the storm, their appearance announcing the impending doom of the nations just before World War II. One rider was the figure of war, another famine, another pestilence, and the last death riding, riding, in the fire storm of exploding bombs and poisonous gas. Those four figures and what they still represent, as hideous as they are, are not as potent nor as lethal to the human soul as the figures of four other horsemen of a deadlier apocalypse.

Unlike the ghastly figures of the first apocalypse, these figures ride today in pomp and beauty and performed ease. They are "loveable figures" but so deadly to the soul. The name of the first rider is "Greed, and Easy Access to Wealth." The second, "Freedom without Responsibility," the third, "Excessive Entertainment and Leisure," and the fourth, "easy and loveless sex." These are the horsemen who ride through and tear apart individuals and families, who inflict spiritual death right at the moment when the soul is rejoicing in its wonderful but illusionary happiness.

Your and my life must be a living consecration to the gospel to avoid these four enemies of the soul and of the family and of the nation. Honest work, using our wealth and freedom to do good, filling our time with projects and plans to help people - especially our children and the rising generation, and to serve and build Zion, and finally a total commitment to a life of chastity and fidelity. These are the things that will resist and overcome the insidious horsemen of the post modern spiritual apocalypse.

Question #9:"As President, of course, it is your job to talk up BYU-Hawaii around, to be sort of the executive cheer leader for this place. Just how deep and how justified are your feelings for this place?"

Answer: If I have ever given a spirited or enthusiastic presentation about BYU-Hawaii in any setting, either here or in the South Pacific, Asia, or the mainland, I have not yet been able to utter language as powerfully as I feel about BYU-Hawaii, or about you who are here, and what I am sure the Lord has in store for you and for this place. I know without any doubt or equivocation that BYU-Hawaii was founded because of direct revelation to a Prophet at a time the Church was preparing for the internationalization of its organizations throughout the world. This campus was shaped and nurtured through times of great difficulty. It went through several refiner's fires. But it has been guided by the prophetic statements of President David O. McKay and others and by devoted, competent faculty and administrators who believe in the prophecies and have worked diligently to fulfill them.

It is true that the purposes and value to the kingdom of this place have been called in to question and discussion from time to time. But each time BYU-Hawaii has been given a new affirmation and has been recognized as one of the valuable educational treasures in Zion and the world.I have learned that BYU Provo went through many periods of struggle and doubt and financial hardship, but it has survived in the same way. Some of you have heard me repeat a story of Zina Young Williams in 1885 who appealed to President John Taylor for help when it looked like the Brigham Young Academy, later to be Brigham Young University, was on the verge of financial collapse.

President Taylor listened sympathetically to Sister Williams and then reassured. He said that her father, Brigham Young, had appeared to him in the night and promised him that all would be well, "that Christ himself was directing, and had a care over the school." A few years later President Karl Maesen, the president of the academy, saw a vision of the present day Brigham Young University in which he said, "I have seen temple hill filled with buildings - great temples of learning." (1913, 1935)

When I became the President here in 1994, Elder Neal A. Maxwell reminded me that when he first became Commissioner of Education for the Church, one of the senior brethren approached him before a board meeting and said, "I am going to propose today that we close down the Church College of Hawaii, will you support me." Elder Maxwell pleaded with this member of the First Presidency not to make such a proposal but to give him a chance to get at the heart of the issues and to rescue this campus from the hardships it had fallen into. The end result of that effort and the efforts of people in this room was the renaming of this campus Brigham Young University-Hawaii and bringing it in to the main stream of Church education, this wonderful campus.

There may be challenges that we have not yet envisioned because of the global, political, and economic environment in which we live. But BYU-Hawaii is an integral part of the Latter day Zion and the unfolding of the restoration in the entire world. You and I are part of this celestial enterprise and will be held accountable to the Lord for our stewardship here, the way we support it, the way we prepare, the way we train, learn, teach, plan, and serve one another. I believe that every prophecy uttered about this place will come to pass and/or is now coming to pass including the one uttered by Marion G. Romney when he said, "I prophecy in the name of Israel's God that from this campus there will be prophets, seers, and revelators."

Question #10:"President, you keep a journal. Besides just following the counsel of President
Kimball, what value has your journal keeping been to you?"

Answer: My journal is a record of my best thoughts over the last 25 years. It is a chronicle of my spiritual and my family life. It is the only thing that truly validates the quality of my existence in years past, the details of which I have totally forgotten. Having a record like this is a way of remembering the blessings of a loving Heavenly Father. It is a source to learn from our past. If doing Genealogy and temple work is a gift to our ancestors, the turning the of hearts of the children to the fathers in searching out our ancestors, then a journal is a way of turning our hearts to our children and our children's children, indeed to all of our descendants yet unborn. It is our gift to them.

Reading what I wrote 20 or 25 years ago helps me see patterns in our life as a family, the growing pains, all of the blessings as well as the misfires. I can see how certain issues and struggles have resulted in blessings that were totally unforseen at the time. A journal is a celebration of the fullness of life. Our brain's memory capacity is woefully tiny and aging makes it worse. Thus, a journal can be a living chronicle and a personal scripture.

Question #11:What spiritual experiences stand out in your life that have made a difference or
affected you profoundly?

Answer:There are many such extraordinary experiences. However, I'm not sure I can measure the subtle but continuing flow of grace and power from daily prayers, scripture study, and regular attendance at Church meetings and the temple, where revelation and understanding can distill quietly, almost imperceptibly, as the dews from heaven, into one's life. But there have been powerful events, instant healings, calming of natural elements, the manifestation of the gift of tongues, and spiritual encounters in the temple.

As a young missionary in Tonga, in the aftermath of a devastating hurricane, I stood in a tiny, wobbly wooden framed home of a Tongan branch president, surrounded by the shattered remains of much newer and stronger homes, and heard him describe in tears how at the height of the 150 mile an hour storm, when his house was on the verge of collapse, he placed his hand on one of the ceiling beams and commanded by virtue of his priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ that the house remain standing solidly and intact during the storm. And miraculously it was so.

I'm thinking of a special prayer with Sister Shumway not long after we came to Hawaii. I knelt in frustration and deep resentment against a ward leader who had heaped insult and abuse on my wife. It was totally out of line, uncalled for, and I was determined he was going to pay for it. But in the prayer I experienced a total change of heart, not unlike what happened to the people of King Benjamin at the conclusion of his address. There was no more disposition or desire to do evil. Resentment and frustration were washed out of my system and replaced by a warm affection for and understanding of the offending leader, which led finally to a close friendship.

In the summer of 1970, our car broke down in the 110 degree heat of the Nevada desert, in the middle of the day when there was little traffic on the highway. Stranded with a wife and three small children and not knowing what possibly could be wrong with the engine, or how to fix it, I said to Carolyn, "I don't know what to do."

"We can pray," came the voice of our four-year old Angela, "and ask Heavenly Father to send someone."

"Would you pray for us, Angela," I asked. "Sure," she said.

So Angela knelt in the back seat and said, "Heavenly Father, here we are in the desert and Daddy doesn't know what to do. Please send someone."

As I sat there after the prayer, pondering the words of our little daughter, Angela said again, "Well Daddy, don't just sit there, get out and wave at somebody."

So I did. It seemed a long time in the heat before any car appeared. The first car sped by, the second sped by but screeched to a stop, backed up and an African American fellow jumped out.

"What's the matter," he asked.

"I don't know."

"Well, you're in luck. I'm the best mechanic in the State of Nevada."

Well, I don't know about that, Brothers and Sisters, but in five minutes he had the car running. He slammed the hood, waved, and sped off. As I drove our car back on to the highway, Angela said, "That's the man Heavenly Father sent."

Not too long ago, at the height or the depth of some personal anxiety relative to my assignment here and the future of this campus, anxiety that was affecting my health and compromising my effectiveness, I woke up one morning with a voice in my head, or words, that said, "I have a blessing for you, but you have to ask for it." I got right up and called my home teachers who gave me the blessing from the Lord, which spoke peace to my soul and launched a sequence of events that have established stability and credibility in all the areas that had been lacking.

There are a number of other questions that I wanted to answer this morning, but it occurs to me, Brothers and Sisters, that you have a lot of personal questions about yourselves and about your lives that you would like answers to. I'm here as a living witness, to bear testimony to all of you that you are loved intimately and infinitely by your Heavenly Father and His son Jesus Christ who paid for all of your and my sins. His arms of mercy are open to you and to me. There is nothing you or I have done that there should be a wall between us and our loving Heavenly Father who is anxious, yearning for you to call upon him in the name of His son and He will visit you in your wilderness. He will sustain you in your trials. He will validate you when others don't or won't. He will dry your tears. He will lift you so you can see beyond the mountains ahead of you and you will know that your struggles here are consecrated to your good and your development.

I bear witness, Brothers and Sisters, that you and I belong to the greatest enterprise in the history of the world, the only true and living Church on the face of the earth, Zion which is now unfolding partly through this campus to the four corners of the world. I pray with all of my heart that the vision of President David O. McKay who knew beyond a doubt that the Lord wanted a university in this place and saw you. I hope that that vision, and that testimony, and the courage that he had, will inform and inspire everything you do and think and are. That is my testimony and my prayer and I offer it in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.