Dear brothers and sisters, those of you who are here in the Tabernacle on Temple Square and those of you gathered from all around the world, Sister Rasband and I are honored to be here with you. I look back on the life-changing influence my seminary and institute teachers had on me. To this day I can see my teachers’ imprint on how I study the scriptures and, in particular, how much I love the Book of Mormon.
I also valued the social experience of being in a safe place with my friends who enjoyed being together in a gospel setting. We hung out at the seminary building in high school and at the institute in college. I particularly looked forward to taking Melanie Twitchell to the institute dances. Melanie is now my beautiful, wonderful wife.
As seminary and institute teachers, you work long hours bringing souls to Jesus Christ. You pray for your students; you study that you might answer their questions; you prepare yourself spiritually to teach by the Spirit; you lift and engage and illuminate the truths of the gospel.
When the Lord looks for those who can help a student who struggles, a youth who is on the edge, one of His precious children who is declining in testimony and understanding, He has prepared you to step forward in teamwork with parents and Church leaders. You stand before your students and reaffirm the truth that Jesus Christ lives, that our Father in Heaven loves each one of us, and that we have a place in His eternal plan. And best of all, you actually believe it.
You are, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland so often has said, “a teacher come from God.”1
“How many … are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in [you], therefore have [you] not great reason to rejoice?
“Yea, [you] have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God.”2
Yet at times the weight of lifting, teaching, and encouraging youth is almost more than you can bear. The Lord knows this work of bringing souls unto Him can be hard. I learned that as a mission president in New York City when this scripture in Alma resonated with my soul: “Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren … and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success.”3
The adversary is not content with what he has carved out of the kingdom of God on earth so far. He wants more. He is aggressive and ruthless. He is targeting those in your care; we are seeing in some their “hearts failing them for fear.”4
Some students get derailed, but with the Spirit of the Lord, you can help put them back on track. Remember the words of Paul: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”5
Because the cause of Christ beckons with the everlasting promise: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”6
The Lord has said: “Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you; and ye shall bear record of me, even Jesus Christ, that I am the Son of the living God, that I was, that I am, and that I am to come.”7
We cannot have “good cheer”8 and be mired in fear. The two—cheer and fear—are mutually exclusive. And if we follow the Lord’s command—if we have good cheer—we will be poised to bear record of Him, the Savior of the world. We will know Him for who He is and recognize the singular role He has in lifting us beyond and above the vagaries of the world.
To be of good cheer is to trust Him when things don’t work as we planned. It means to soldier on when difficult tasks and twists in life take us in unexpected directions, when tragedy and hardship shatter our dreams. But the Lord reminds us, “In this world your joy is not full, but in me your joy is full.”9
You can tell in your classes which students have embraced “good cheer.” They still have challenges and problems, but they face them with faith and trust in God. They sit down in class, anxious to answer questions, hopeful to know the truths being taught, and confident in who they are. For them, “I am a child of God”10 is both knowledge and security, not just a long-held memory of singing in Primary. They come seeking spiritual experiences, insight, and context that will help them sort through their questions. They want their hope reinforced as they navigate a quarrelsome world, and amidst their many pressures, the light in their eyes overpowers the weariness of day-to-day life.
In my days in seminary and institute—it seems long ago, I might add—students came to class believing, or so it seemed to me. They were not rocked by what they found on the internet, because there was no internet. They were not carrying around in their backpacks concerns that the world threw at them about religion, revelation, prophets, or belief in God.
And what about the ones on the back row doing faceplants in their books? Or the girl who just recently whacked off all her hair and won’t look you in the eye? The two who used to walk into class chatting away and now barely speak to each other? What about the star student who seems to have lost interest in gospel discussion and is missing now more than attending? What about the blank looks of some, their gazes empty, and their efforts as well? Some students come to class, sit, and then slip out the door, taking nothing with them—not even the Spirit. Stress, fear, temptation, crisis, and disappointment have taken over their precious lives.
Do you ever ask yourself, “What is going on here?” I do!
Fear and despair: that’s what is going on. Fear of not being accepted by friends. Fear of academic performance, pressures, and problems at home they can’t solve. Fear that they can trust no one and no one trusts them. Fear of being alone, and fear of being in groups. Fear that they are a burden to others. Fear of organized religion or any religion. Fear that there is no solution or relief to their pain. Fear prompts discouragement and despair, anxiety and depression; fear fuels frustrations that have no good conclusion. Fear believes that no one will understand and, worse yet, that no one even asks, “What’s the matter?”
Fear in its many forms is manifest unfortunately in the cruelest of conclusions—suicide.
When Utah’s governor set up a task force last year to tackle the surge in teen suicides, he asked President Russell M. Nelson to appoint a Church leader to that service. President Nelson assigned me the daunting responsibility. I have learned no one is immune. Teen suicide is a crisis reaching all around the world. Statistics show that suicide is now among the three leading causes of death among youth ages 15 to 24. And this: “Suicide attempts are 20 times more frequent than completed suicides.”11 Those, my dear brothers and sisters, are cruel statistics.
We must all face this issue. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we must commit to do everything we can to reshape the thinking that suicide is an answer, a response even worth considering. We must talk to teens about suicide and love them out of considering it as a solution to their pain. President Thomas S. Monson’s life embodied the phrase “to the rescue.” We need to take that as our charge.
That is what the Savior did for all of us. He came to our rescue with the Atonement, and He continues to express such profound love by healing us, encouraging us, and bringing us peace if we will but turn to Him.
We can express love if that is what youth need, find them a friend, listen to them, and seek them out with a kind word or gesture. We may need to work with their parents and bishops to get counseling services for struggles, depression, or another mental illness. We can make a difference in their lives. Particularly vulnerable for suicide are those youth and young single adults who struggle with gender issues. They need to be encircled in the arms of their Savior and know they are loved. So often the Lord calls on us; He expects us to be His welcoming, loving arms. We need to encourage their friends to do the same.
Suicide is so connected to the pain of unanswered questions, sorrows, griefs, what-ifs, and what-nows. These losses of life are tragedies of such proportion that we as a people must reach out in new and more effective ways to counsel, show care and concern, and stay close to and support our youth. Try just saying the name “Jesus Christ” in a perilous setting with one who has lost hope. Just calling upon Him by name, with reverence, can make a difference in a difficult moment.
Some communities are facing what they call “clusters” of suicides, where one teen takes such severe action and others see it as an option and follow.
Let me share with you the story of a young British teenager that was broadcast on BBC News in April 2018. The story was about a 16-year-old, Hati Sparey-South, who “had already tried to kill herself. And she would have tried again and maybe succeeded if it hadn’t been for a teacher who noticed how unhappy she looked.” Three of her friends had already taken their own lives. She had been suffering pronounced depression for two years.
Hati said, “I was mostly super sad. And I couldn’t sleep.” The darkness continued. Her parents had separated, and her mother had been in and out of the hospital with a series of health problems. With all the attention on her mother, no one was noticing the darkening in Hati’s eyes. No one was asking, “How are you coping? How are you feeling?”
She walked into class one day wearing a dreadful T-shirt, and she had just had all of her hair cut off. Her teacher asked, “Hey, are you all right? How’s it going?”
Hati responded with, “OK.” But she didn’t stop there. Someone had noticed her. “I feel really bad actually,” she said. “I feel really sad. And I keep crying.”
Then Hati cried and cried, and her makeup ran down her face. But it didn’t matter now because someone had reached out to her.
This teacher asked a simple question she asked a lot of kids. But in sending a signal that she cared, Hati grasped the lifeline. And Hati got help.
Later she explained, “It seems such a small thing but it’s unbelievably powerful when you say to a kid, ‘How are you?’ when they come into the classroom, and you know, even if they’re like, ‘Fine,’ they will have heard you.”12
My dear brother Jeffrey R. Holland has said, “Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it. Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter.”13
There is no template for those who are at risk. These youth play the trombone, sing in the choir, play on soccer teams, or bag groceries after school. They come to church, some of them—they are the friends of those who come to your classes, though some have long since set aside religion for themselves. But there are common threads: disappointment, a botched quiz, a breakup, a string of bullying, academic stress, and what we might call adolescent misery.
The Church has taken seriously teen suicide, creating a website with information, online videos, helps for those who feel alone, help lines, and a list of warning signs that, like with Hati, are a call for help.
Please become acquainted with these resources, and you will further fulfill your calling as “a teacher come from God.”14
How can we communicate to one who is suffering that the Lord knows how you feel? He has taken your very personal challenges and mistakes upon Him. He has shouldered them for you so that you would have One who will minister with full understanding of where it hurts and why.
A greater understanding of Jesus Christ will help those who are spiraling down. His love for them and the profound and exalted place He has prepared for them in the eternities is a message of hope. He loves them. They need to know that. The scripture states, “I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you.”15 His promise to be there is not idle talk reserved for those who are squeaky clean or who hold a seat on the seminary council. He will stand by each of our youth—each one of us, for that matter—in our darkest hour. That is the power of the Atonement, and we need to teach it with such force that it reaches those who are suffering.
Help students identify a “protection scripture,” one they can call to mind when they are in a perilous situation or need the strength to step away. “Be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you”16 is a good one.
Life has always been filled with challenges. No one is immune. Not you, not me, and not them. Some youth suffer because they think they are the only ones with troubles. Everyone else seems to have it all together. They have bought into the idea that if you study the scriptures, keep the commandments, and pray daily, the heartaches, turmoil, lack of popularity, and accidents will pass you by. It just doesn’t happen that way. Trials come to all of us.
Problems, challenges, trials, tribulations, hardships, miseries—call them what you will—are part of this mortal experience to make us strong and build us up. The blessing is that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can still “be of good cheer.”17
Do not let the academic rigor of gospel instruction get in front of the power of the Spirit to touch and encourage your students. Prepare them to receive inspiration and act upon it. Prepare them to receive personal revelation as President Nelson has emphasized.18
When they do, they will experience the miracle of the Lord’s direction and guidance, a very real form of His love.
Why would I choose to talk about suicide and its companions—fear, loneliness, despair, anxiety, and pain—in a reverent setting such as this? Because you, dear brothers and sisters, are in the corps of “first responders,” and if not, I invite you to be. Suicide and its dark companions are real. They are increasing among our youth in a scourge that lures even the very elect who are young and filled with promise into believing life has no purpose for them. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Life is fragile. We do not know when something is going to happen to someone that takes us by complete surprise. We feel unprepared and at a loss for what to do. But if they have come from a home of family prayer, scripture study, and family home evening, then the tools for “holding on” are more strongly in place. Please do not make the mistake, however, that one of our youth may not be at risk even when all of these are in place. One young man responded to a family home evening activity that asked each member to write down one thing that was important to them. The 14-year-old, seemingly on the top of his world, wrote this: “To know there is someone there for me.”
I have a close friend who did not attend seminary until his senior year in high school. He was not attending church; he hadn’t been since he was 13. Being a singer, he decided to try out for the seminary choir, and he even made it. (Everybody makes the seminary choir!) He does not remember any of the lessons in class. However, every time they sang, the Spirit filled the room, and he knew this was different from the school chorus he sang with across the street. He felt something he had never felt before. He felt the Spirit. Coming from a broken home with no gospel instruction, he was unfamiliar with the Spirit. He came to cherish it and rely on it. He is solid in the gospel of Jesus Christ because “there was someone there for him.” And now, years later, he still talks frequently with his seminary teacher, who was a “teacher come from God.”19
For those you teach who do not have a support network, that strength at home, your teachings become crucial to their well-being. They may be the ones who privately ask a question just to engage in further gospel discussion because it is the only time they have that spiritual connection in their day. Treasure, please, those opportunities, and make time for them.
Consider when Jesus fed the five thousand with the few fishes and loaves of bread of a young lad’s lunch and then went up to the mountain alone to pray. His disciples embarked across the sea of Galilee, and as the night progressed, Jesus went unto them walking on the water. Seeing Him, they “cried out for fear,”22 and He responded, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.”23
When Peter bravely bounded over the side of the boat that night at the Lord’s beckoning call and began walking on the water, he was filled with good cheer until he looked down and saw the swirling, tempestuous sea. Then he cried out for fear.
Jesus reached out to him not with derision but with compassion. Moroni describes our own faltering with this: “May Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, … and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever.”24
He was talking to us because all of us, brothers and sisters, are out on the water.
In another setting from the New Testament, a group was gathered around a man “sick of the palsy, lying on a bed.”25 The Lord Jesus looked upon the stricken man and felt the faith of those around him and said, “Be of good cheer.”26
In this last dispensation Jesus Christ spoke through Joseph Smith to His servants who had gone out on missions and faced danger and calamities, saying, “Be of good cheer, little children; for I am in your midst.”27
Joseph Smith saw in vision the Apostles on their mission in England “standing together in a circle much fatigued, with their clothes tattered and feet swollen, with their eyes cast downward, and Jesus standing in their midst, and they did not behold Him. The Savior looked upon them and wept.”28
Can you see the pattern? Christ’s enabling power is manifest in the simplicity that He is there for us—always. Come what may, He will be with us, He will comfort us, and He will heal us if we come to Him and draw upon His power to save us. Most often He heals the wounded heart. How does it happen, we ask? By the power of the Atonement exercised in our lives today, not at the end before the final judgment, but every day as we seek to be like Him, to love what He loves, to follow His chosen prophets.
When I study the Atonement, I try to imagine the wretched state of the things around the Savior as He knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane. And He prayed, “saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”29 He said of His own suffering, “How sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.”30 Our youth need to understand that profound statement.
“And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.”31
In His need, taking the weight of all our sins upon Him, our very bad days, our weaknesses and disappointments, an angel appeared to comfort Him. In your extremities, brothers and sisters, the Lord has provided “angels round about you, to bear you up.”32 Dear teachers, you may be that angel.
The Savior had earlier at the Last Supper given clarity to His mission and promised peace, saying, “In the world ye shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”33 So sure was He of what lay ahead, so sure was He of His part in executing the great plan of salvation, that He encouraged his disciples, “Be of good cheer.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed: “The unimaginable agony of Gethsemane was about to descend upon Jesus; Judas’ betrayal was imminent. Then would come Jesus’ arrest and arraignment; the scattering of the Twelve like sheep; the awful scourging of the Savior; the unjust trial; the mob’s shrill cry for Barabbas instead of Jesus; and then the awful crucifixion on Calvary. What was there to be cheerful about? Just what Jesus said: He had overcome the world! The Atonement was about to be a reality. The resurrection of all mankind was assured. Death was to be done away with—Satan had failed to stop the Atonement.”34
We can teach the truth stated by President Russell M. Nelson: “Without our Redeemer’s infinite Atonement, not one of us would have hope of ever returning to our Heavenly Father. Without His Resurrection, death would be the end. Our Savior’s Atonement made eternal life a possibility and immortality a reality for all.”35
Ponder how you can get into the hearts of your students the Savior’s strength, His love for us all and respect for the Father’s divine design. Pray to help them know the Atonement of Jesus Christ is for them and what that means in their very complex lives.
Encourage service in the kingdom of God that brings with it the Spirit of God.
Having served and led in the Temple Department of the Church for some years, I delight in attending the temple and seeing lines of youth—young men and women—going into the temple to do baptisms for the dead. As you emphasize the power of the temple in your teaching, you are reinforcing this great opportunity that they must come to know Jesus Christ, to know He is the source of their “good cheer.”
I appreciate the growing number of our newly endowed young adults serving as temple workers. All dressed in white, in a serene and peaceful setting, they stand on holy ground bearing record of Him, that He was, that He is, and that He is to come.36 Our service to the Lord in the temple is indeed a singular way to feel the Savior near.
Encourage your students to always hold a current temple recommend—limited-use or regular, depending on their age and circumstance—and then to share their feelings about being in the temple, the revelation and inspiration that comes as they reach beyond this life “for the things of a better,”37 serving those who cannot do the ordinances for themselves.
Dear President Nelson has said, “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.”38
When I was ordained an Apostle, dear President Monson stated I was to be a special witness of the name of Jesus Christ in all the world. I did not take that charge lightly. I pored over the scriptures, identifying the Lord by His names and titles. All of these that I am going to share with you are from scripture verses that remind us of our hope that is in Him. He is the:
Hope of Israel.39
Bright and Morning Star.40
Prince of Peace.43
Light of the World.45
High Priest of good things to come.46
Mighty to save.47
One who has all power.48
Christ’s influence, imprint, and reach are all encompassing. He is there when we falter and strive to move forward. And if we slip, His “light which shineth in darkness”49—another of His names—is brighter than ever. He loves us in our brightest and our darkest hours.
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not guesswork. His path is well marked by His footsteps. As we follow Him, we come to love what He loves. As we renew our covenants with Him each week partaking of the holy sacrament, we grow in understanding of Him as the Redeemer of the World,50 the Spirit of Truth,51 the Word.52
Teach the power of the sacrament to your students, especially those wavering and those taking for granted this precious ordinance. Let the blessing of the sacrament, to “always have His Spirit to be with [us],”53 be something you talk about so that drawing upon the healing power of Jesus Christ, through His Atonement, is real.
In addition, the Savior referred to Himself throughout statements that revealed both His divine nature and His eternal roles like these:
“Be still and know that I am God.”54
“I am able to make you holy.”55
“I do [the Father’s] will.”56
“I, the Lord … delight to honor those who serve me.”57
“My grace is sufficient for you.”58
“You shall have peace in me.”59
“Fear not … for you are mine.”60
Dear friends, brothers and sisters, that is the Savior I know, that I love and revere with all my heart. From the depths of my soul I bear testimony of Him and of His goodness and mercy. He has promised, “For you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me.”61
In reality, brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ is always the answer. In understanding His mission and His gospel, our love for Him and our belief in and reliance on Him give us strength.
Helaman describes it well: “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.”62
I leave my blessing that you will feel the love of the Lord in your life and you will help your students feel the same. I bless you to be hopeful and to be “of good cheer” that the Spirit of the Lord may abide with you, inspire you, and lift you. I bless you to listen to your students, to sense what they do not say as well as what they express, and to have the inspiration to know what the Lord would have you do. I bless your families, your wives and your husbands. May you all know of the respect, reliance, and love my fellow brethren and I have for you and the important work that you do to bring souls to Jesus Christ. And may you feel the Lord standing by you as you bear record of Him, the Savior of the world. Jesus Christ is always the answer.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
© 2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. Version: 11/18. Translation of “Jesus Christ Is the Answer.” Language. PD60007796 000