How Firm a Foundation

CES Devotional for Young Adults • November 2, 2014 • Ogden Tabernacle, Ogden, Utah


It is a thrill for Sister Hallstrom and me to be with you this evening. As we look into the faces of those whom we can see tonight, we envision young adults around the world, both single and married, participating in this broadcast. We have the opportunity to extensively travel throughout the Church. We have met many of you and many like you. We have met young adults who are converted and those who are working to become more converted. We have met young adults who are lost and those who have been found—or, more accurately, have found themselves. We have met those who are not of our faith, those who have recently been baptized, and those who are from multigenerational Church-member families. We testify that all are God’s children and have a full opportunity to gain every blessing of eternity.

On behalf of the leadership of the Church, I can enthusiastically say, “We love you!” Closely observing the prophets and apostles and knowing them as I do, I can say with confidence that they profoundly care about the young adults of the Church. You are the present and the future. We need you!

This meeting is originating from the Ogden Tabernacle, a beautifully renovated edifice adjacent to the majestic Ogden Utah Temple. That temple and this tabernacle were rededicated by President Thomas S. Monson just six weeks ago. The temple is one of 143 currently operating in the Church and spread throughout the earth. As an indication of how old I am, or more positively stated, how the Lord is hastening His work, when I was born there were just eight temples.

Using the temple as a metaphor, tonight I will speak about foundations. With the design and construction of every temple, significant work is expended on what cannot easily be seen when the project is finished—the foundation. For example, an artist’s rendering shows the Philadelphia Pennsylvania Temple, which is currently under construction. When completed, this extraordinary edifice will be 82 feet tall at its roofline and rise 195 feet to the top of the angel Moroni. As you can see, it will be magnificent! However, as imposing and stately as this structure will be, it will still be subject to destructive winds and invasive groundwater. These harsh conditions, if left unchecked, could significantly damage and even destroy this noble edifice.

Knowing these forces would relentlessly attack the temple, the engineers designed and the contractor excavated a hole 32 feet deep under the entire footprint of the structure. The hole was dug into native Pennsylvania granite to provide an immovable foundation upon which to build. The concrete footings and foundations were then tied to the granite bedrock with rock anchors to resist even torrential wind and powerful groundwater. The anchors were drilled 50 to 175 feet into the granite and tensioned at 250,000 pounds per square inch. The anchors are spaced 15 feet apart in both directions.

I give such detailed information to teach this point: Unlike building a structure (which by any definition is temporary), in building our everlasting (and hopefully, eternal) lives, we sometimes pay woefully little attention to the engineering and construction of our foundations. Consequently, we are left highly exposed and are easily buffeted by dangerous forces.

We live in a world that can be confusing—if allowed, it can cause us to forget who we really are. President Thomas S. Monson stated:

“Mortality is a period of testing, a time to prove ourselves worthy to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. In order for us to be tested, we must face challenges and difficulties. These can break us, and the surface of our souls may crack and crumble—that is, if our foundations of faith, our testimonies of truth are not deeply embedded within us.

“We can rely on the faith and testimony of others only so long. Eventually we must have our own strong and deeply placed foundation, or we will be unable to withstand the storms of life, which will come.”1

Jesus Christ described it this way, speaking of a person who hears and follows Him:

“He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.

“But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great” (Luke 6:48–49).

Jesus Christ is the rock upon which we must build our foundation. The Lord referred to Himself as the “stone of Israel” and emphatically stated, “He that buildeth upon this rock shall never fall” (D&C 50:44).

“Ascribe ye greatness unto our God,” said Moses. “He is the Rock, his work is perfect” (Deuteronomy 32:3–4). David stated, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, … my shield, … my high tower” (2 Samuel 22:2–3). The Lord said to Enoch, “I am Messiah, the King of Zion, the Rock of Heaven” (Moses 7:53). Nephi praised the Lord as “the rock of my salvation” and “the rock of my righteousness” (2 Nephi 4:30, 35). Isaiah called the Lord “a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation” (Isaiah 28:16). Paul spoke of apostles and prophets as the foundation of the Church, with “Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).2

This is not new doctrine. In one form or another, all of us understand it. We have been taught it by parents, in Primary, in our Young Women and Aaronic Priesthood classes and quorums, in seminary, in institute, by full-time missionaries, by friends, by local Church leaders, by the scriptures, and by living prophets and apostles. Then, why is it so difficult for many of us to live it?

Well, simply stated, it needs to get from our minds to our hearts and to our souls. It needs to be more than what we sometimes think or even what we sometimes feel—it must become who we are. Our connection with God, our Father, and His eternal plan, and with Jesus Christ, His Son and our Rock, needs to be so firmly established that it truly becomes the cornerstone of our foundation. Our identity then becomes first that of an eternal being—a son or daughter of God—and of a grateful receiver of the blessings of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. Other righteous identities can then be securely built upon that foundation because we will know which are eternal and which are temporary and how to prioritize them. And other identities and their accompanying practices (some highly valued by the world) we will even choose to discard.

I love the cherished anthem “How Firm a Foundation.” My favorite rendition is (not surprisingly) by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Sitting right in front of the choir during general conference and hearing and feeling the power of the organ and the voices and the music and the lyrics make me want to stand and join them. Knowing I would be escorted out of the Conference Center, I refrain. Listen to this beloved hymn, sung just four weeks ago in the Sunday morning session of general conference. Relish the words; especially listen to those of the last verse. It is really verse seven, but it was sung as the fourth verse.

Recently, I was in a meeting in the Salt Lake Temple with the members of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and all other General Authorities assigned to Church headquarters. We sang the standard three verses of this beautiful hymn, concluding after verse three as we often do in sacrament services or other meetings. But on this occasion President Monson said, “Let’s sing the seventh verse.” With all these great General Authorities, including the living prophets and apostles, we sang:

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose

I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!3

Does this describe who you are? Does it at least describe who you are working to become? The effort of building and maintaining a spiritual foundation is not easy. The construction process is a significant undertaking, and maintenance is a lifetime effort.

For you who are really trying, we sincerely commend you, and we want to know what you are doing. Please use social media to share what you are doing by using #cesdevo and completing the statement “I am building my spiritual foundation by …” The responses will vary as much as individual circumstances do, and that is just fine. Again, the sentence to be completed is “I am building my spiritual foundation by …” We will be grateful to hear from you and to be taught by you about what is happening in your lives.

If you have never had the foundation we speak of, or through neglect have let it crack or crumble, it is not too late to put on a hard hat and go to work. All the tools you need are available to you. These are the same tools used to maintain an established foundation. You know what they are. They include consistent, quality prayer; daily gospel study through the scriptures; actively participating in the meetings of the Church, especially by partaking of the sacrament with real intent; continual selfless service; and diligent covenant keeping.

Another essential tool is the counsel of living prophets. There are 15 men on earth who are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. They hold the keys of the priesthood of God. We are taught by them often. We raise our hands to sustain them several times a year. We pray for them every day. However, the extraordinary blessing of accessibility to their message can lead to a lack of appreciation for its importance.

President Henry B. Eyring warned: “Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they consider it either faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.”

President Eyring continued: “Another fallacy is to believe that the choice to accept or not accept the counsel of prophets is no more than deciding whether to accept good advice and gain its benefits or to stay where we are. But the choice not to take prophetic counsel changes the very ground upon which we stand. It becomes more dangerous.”4

To build and maintain a foundation, remember three principles: vision, commitment, and self-discipline. Vision is the ability to see. In a gospel context, we sometimes call this “eternal perspective.” As Jacob described, it is seeing “things as they really are, and … things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).

Commitment is the willingness to make a promise. We often call these “covenants.” Formally, we make covenants with God through priesthood ordinances. Remember, “in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest” (D&C 84:20). In addition to God, we should be willing to make commitments to ourselves, to spouses (or to become a spouse), to friends, and to those with whom we serve.

Self-discipline can be defined as the ability to live consistently with the vision we have and with the commitments we have made. Developing self-discipline is essential to progress because it seamlessly connects learning and doing. Ultimately, the strength of our spiritual foundation is shown by how we live our lives, especially in times of disappointment and challenge.

Many years ago President Gordon B. Hinckley told the story of Caroline Hemenway, who was born on January 2, 1873, in Salt Lake City, the second of 11 children:

“At the age of twenty-two Caroline married George Harman. They had seven children, one of whom died in infancy. Then, at the age of thirty-nine, her husband passed away and she was left a widow.

“Her sister, Grace, had married her husband’s brother, David. In 1919, during the terrible influenza epidemic, David was seriously stricken, and then his wife, Grace, became ill. Caroline cared for them and their children as well as her own. In the midst of these afflictions, Grace gave birth to a son, and then she died within a few hours. Caroline took the tiny infant to her own home and there nurtured it and saved the child’s life. Three weeks later her own daughter, Annie, passed away.

“By now Caroline had lost two of her own children, her husband, and her sister. The strain was too much. She collapsed. She came out of that collapse with a serious case of diabetes. But she did not slow down. She continued to care for her sister’s baby; and her brother-in-law, the child’s father, came each day to see the little boy. David Harman and Caroline were later married, and there were now thirteen children in their home.

“Then five years later David suffered a catastrophe that tried to the very depths those who agonized with him. On one occasion he used a strong disinfectant in preparing seed for planting. This got on his body, and the effects were disastrous. The skin and flesh sloughed off his bones. His tongue and teeth dropped out. The caustic solution literally ate him alive.

“Caroline nursed him in this terrible illness, and when he died she was left with five of her own and eight of her sister’s children, and a farm of 280 acres where she and the children plowed, sowed, irrigated, and harvested to bring in enough to provide for their needs. At this time she also was Relief Society president, a position she held for eighteen years.

“While caring for her large family and in extending the hand of charity to others, she would bake eight loaves of bread a day and wash forty loads of clothes a week. She canned fruits and vegetables by the ton, and cared for a thousand laying hens to provide a little cash. Self-reliance was her standard. Idleness she regarded as sin. She cared for her own and reached out to others in a spirit of kindness that would permit no one of whom she was aware to go hungry, unclothed, or cold.

“She later married Eugene Robison, who, not long afterward, suffered a stroke. For five years until his death she nursed him and cared for him in all his needs.

“Finally, exhausted, her body racked by the effects of diabetes, she passed away at the age of sixty-seven. The habits of industry and hard work which she instilled in her children rewarded their efforts through the years. Her sister’s tiny baby, whom she nurtured from the hour of his birth, together with his brothers and sisters, all acting out of a sense of love and gratitude, [gave Brigham Young University] a substantial bequest to make possible [a] beautiful building which [carries her name].”5

Possessing a firm foundation is the ultimate protection from the buffetings of the world. We should earnestly seek what the Lamanites who were taught by Ammon and his brethren obtained when it was said of them that they “were converted unto the Lord, [and] never did fall away” (Alma 23:6).

Mary Ann Pratt married Parley P. Pratt in 1837. Upon moving to Missouri, along with the other Saints, they endured horrific persecutions. When Parley was taken, along with the Prophet Joseph, by a mob in Far West, Missouri, and imprisoned, Mary Ann was confined to bed, gravely ill, while caring for two small children.

Later, Mary Ann visited her husband in the jail and stayed with him for a time. She wrote, “I shared his dungeon, which was a damp, dark, filthy place, without ventilation, merely having a small grating on one side. In this we were obliged to sleep.”

After Parley’s release from jail, Mary Ann and her husband served missions to New York and England and were among those who made “the final weary gathering to Utah,” as she described it. Parley ultimately died a martyr’s death while serving another mission.

Despite this tumultuous life, Mary Ann Pratt stayed true. She powerfully stated, “I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … being convinced of the truthfulness of its doctrines by the first sermon I heard; and I said in my heart, if there are only three who hold firm to the faith, I will be one of that number; and through all the persecution I have had to endure I have ever felt the same; my heart has never swerved from that resolve.”6

The subject we are discussing tonight is very personal. We can be taught by others. We can observe others. We can learn from the mistakes and the successes of others. But no one can do it for us. No one can build us our spiritual foundation. In this matter we are our own contractor.

As Helaman powerfully taught, “And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Helaman 5:12).

One of the great foundation-building experiences in my life occurred over 36 years ago. After completing our university studies, Diane and I moved to Honolulu (where I was born and raised) to begin the next season of our lives. It turned out to be a long season—27 years. Only a call from a prophet caused us to leave Hawaii.

The Hawaii Temple, now known as the Laie Hawaii Temple because there are two temples in Hawaii, was first dedicated by President Heber J. Grant on (appropriately) Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1919. It was the first temple built outside of Utah, except for Kirtland and Nauvoo. For nearly six decades it served the Saints in Hawaii and, for much of that time, those throughout the Pacific and Asia. In the mid-1970s there was a need for the temple to be closed, enlarged, and renovated. Consequently, the temple needed to be rededicated, which occurred on June 13, 1978.

Presiding at the rededication was the President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball. With him were his first and second counselors, N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney. Also attending were Ezra Taft Benson, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and others of the Twelve and the Seventy. It is not something you would see in the larger Church of today, having that many of the senior Brethren together for an event away from Church headquarters. But that was our blessing in 1978.

I was a young priesthood leader at the time and was asked by the temple rededication coordinating committee to be responsible for the local security and transportation arrangements for President Kimball and his party. I do not want to overstate my responsibilities; they were simply supportive and behind the scenes. However, what my assignment did allow was proximity to President Kimball. For a weeklong period that included three days of temple rededication sessions, a solemn assembly, and a large regional conference, I observed the President of the Church close-up. I watched him teach, testify, and prophesy with authority and with power. I saw his tireless effort to minister to “the one,” asking to meet privately with individuals he noticed in meetings or along the way. I witnessed him continually used as “an instrument in the hands of God” (Alma 17:9). I was profoundly impressed!

At the week’s conclusion, we were at the airport for the departure of President Kimball and his associates. Again, emphasizing my limited and supportive role, I share the following: President Kimball came to me to thank me for my meager efforts. He was not very tall, physically, and I am a large man. He grabbed me by my jacket lapels and sharply yanked me down to be at his height. Then he kissed me on the cheek and thanked me. After walking away a few steps, President Kimball returned. He grasped me in the same way and pulled me down again. This time he kissed me on the other cheek and told me he loved me. Then he departed.

The year before, a biography of Spencer W. Kimball had been published, written by his son and his grandson. At that time I obtained and read it, finding it interesting. However, after this very personal experience with Spencer Woolley Kimball, I went home from the airport and pulled that thick volume from our library shelf, feeling an intense desire to read it again. Over the next several days, every waking hour I was not otherwise obligated, I was reading and reflecting. You see, I was now reading about someone whom I deeply loved. I was now reading about someone whom I knew loved me. I was now reading about someone for whom I would do anything because I knew whatever he asked would be for my own best good.

Through the exhilaration of that experience, I had another experience. This one is too personal to share, but through it I felt deeply ashamed. I comprehended that I did not have that same love and respect for those who matter the most, the members of the Godhead, and specifically for Jesus the Christ, the Savior and the Redeemer. This motivated me to study His “biography” and through prayer and fasting and pondering to know that I was now reading about someone whom I deeply loved. I was now reading about someone whom I knew loved me. I was now reading about someone for whom I would do anything because I knew whatever He asked would be for my own best good.

My dear young friends, I testify that this knowledge has made all the difference in my life and in our family. I hasten to add, it has not magically made us without blemish and it has not necessarily made life easy. That would be contrary to God’s plan. But what it has provided is a foundational hope—”a perfect brightness of hope” (2 Nephi 31:20). There has never been a thought of giving up, quitting, or retreating. I wish the same for you.

Even as magnificent as you are, within a congregation of this size, there is much joy and much pain. Individually, you may deeply feel the weight of life’s heavy burdens. Perhaps matters in your family are not as you would wish. Maybe you are struggling with your faith. Possibly you are dealing with something in your past—either something you have done or something that has unfairly been done to you. Some of you may have physical or mental or emotional challenges that seem too much to endure. Whatever your circumstance, having a firm foundation will lessen your load. With the message of the oft-sung hymn “I Am a Child of God”7 in your heart and soul and not simply on your lips, and with a continual reliance on the Atonement of the Savior, Jesus Christ, there can be peace and comfort even in the most difficult of times.

Today can be a pivotal, even an historic day in our life. It can be the day we make the decision and take the disciplined efforts to build or to reinforce our foundation. For some of us, it may be by giving up some addictive habit or repugnant practice that is offending God. For others, it may be by reprioritizing our life and making our love for God supreme. It is worth any price. Indeed, it is the essence of our life’s work.

As personally and individually as is possible to a very large audience, I proclaim my witness of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of the Church and the rock of our lives. I testify of His holy name. I witness of His authority and of His mission and, most importantly, of His Atonement, which makes it possible for each of us, no matter our past or our present circumstance, to come unto Him (see Moroni 10:32), in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


  1. Thomas S. Monson, “How Firm a Foundation,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2006, 62.

  2. Scripture list adapted from Robert J. Matthews, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, Jan. 1984, 52.

  3. “How Firm a Foundation,” Hymns, no. 85.

  4. Henry B. Eyring, “Finding Safety in Counsel,” Ensign, May 1997, 25.

  5. Gordon B. Hinckley, “Five Million Members—a Milestone and Not a Summit,” Ensign, May 1982, 45–46.

  6. The story of Mary Ann Pratt was taken from Sheri Dew, Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes (2013), 94–95; see also Edward W. Tullidge, The Women of Mormondom (1877), 406–7.

  7. “I Am a Child of God,” Hymns, no. 301.