I once found myself in line at an airport behind a Jewish rabbi. The person in front of him was a man holding a Mexican passport, traveling with his young daughter. And in front of him was an American wearing a jersey and a hat representing his favorite sports teams. I started wondering, With which one of these three individuals did I have the most in common? I first thought maybe the American. We probably had very similar experiences growing up, and we both probably spend too much time wondering about our favorite teams. Then I considered the second man in line. Because of my love for Mexico, it’s not a reach to think we might love the same food and the same mariachi bands. But more than that, I felt a connection to him as I watched him interact with his daughter and thought about being a father to my six daughters. Lastly, I thought about the rabbi. Most people seeing us in line may not have thought we had much in common. But he and I shared a common bond in our desire to dedicate our lives to the service of God, to learn and teach His word, and to strive to be obedient to His commandments.
Still thinking about my question as I boarded the plane, I pulled out a piece of paper and began writing. I started with the simple words “I am …” Then I wrote everything that came to my mind. I am a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, a husband. I wrote down characteristics, relationships, Church callings, and work assignments. I included preferences like “I’m a fan of Motown music and raclette cheese.” Before I finished, I had written nearly 300 ways of answering the question “Who am I?” Then I placed my answers in order as to which ones are most significant in determining the focus and priorities in my life. For example, while I am both a grandfather and a frustrated golfer, the fact that I placed being a grandfather toward the top of my list and my enthusiasm for golf closer to the bottom reminds me where I need to spend my time and energy and what to choose if those roles ever come into conflict.
Sometime later, I came to better understand why this experience had been so meaningful to me when I read that President Henry B. Eyring had said, “How you answer the question of who you are will determine almost everything.” 1
More recently I was pondering this question and thinking about our students. I pulled out another piece of paper and began writing—starting this time with the simple words “Our students are …”
I believe our students are who prophets have said they are. They are beloved children of heavenly parents, who chose to follow the Father’s plan and overcame the adversary by their faith in the Lamb of God and the power of their testimony. 2 The Lord reserved them, as President Russell M. Nelson said, to come to earth “at this precise time, the most crucial time in the history of the world.” 3 He chose them to “help prepare the people of this world for the … millennial reign [of the Savior].” 4 “[They] are the hope of Israel, ‘children of the promised day’ [”Hope of Israel, Hymns, no. 259].”! 5
They are “hungry for things of the Spirit; … eager to learn the gospel, and they want it straight, undiluted. … They are not now doubters but inquirers, seekers after truth. …
[They] crave … faith … [and] want to be themselves able to call it forth to work.” 6
It’s also true that some have forgotten their identity as children of God or have become too focused on temporary or less important secondary traits. Satan is the great identity thief. His deceptions have caused some to become confused or distracted by a turbulent and changing world that derides faith and virtue and where information is omnipresent and wisdom is rare—the prophesied day when people would be “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” 7 a world that calls “evil good, and good evil,” 8 where many “walk in the light of [their own] fire and in the sparks which [they] have kindled” 9 while rejecting the Light of the World.” 10
However, we know one other thing about our youth and young adults. The Savior said:
“Ye are the children of the prophets; and ye are of the house of Israel; … in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.
“The Father having raised me up unto you first, and sent me to bless you in turning away every one of you from his iniquities; and this because ye are the children of the covenant.” 11
The Lord has promised He will reach out to them not to save them in their sins but to save them from their sins. 12 That is why it is imperative that we help our students come to know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and have a correct understanding of the Father’s eternal plan and the Savior’s true doctrine. They need to know who they are and what the Lord would have them do 13 —and how to do it.
I believe that helping our students know these things largely depends on us knowing who we are as people who teach, serve, and give support in seminaries and institutes. This thought led me to making a third and final list. I took out another piece of paper and wrote page after page of characteristics and attributes that I appreciate and admire in all of you. As I wrote, I found myself returning to one critical idea. I believe that the most important answer to the question of who we are is that we are asked to be representatives of Jesus Christ. 14
The focus of our efforts is to help youth and young adults come to know Jesus Christ and rely on Him and His atoning sacrifice. We look to Him as our exemplar and rely on His grace to do His will. Despite personal challenges and setbacks, we live with hope and optimism. Because we constantly repent, we have tasted of His love and mercy, and we extend that mercy to others as we teach from changed and grateful hearts. We speak often of Him, testify of Him, rejoice in His goodness and greatness, and help others to know “to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” 15 We strive each day to be His representatives.
As a young missionary I learned the importance of this idea as my companion and I were knocking on doors. At one house I began, “Hello, we are representatives of Jesus Christ.” Before I could go on, the man interrupted me by saying, “No, you’re not. You don’t even know what that means.” He explained that a representative is someone who stands in the place of another, who says and does what that person would say and do if he were there himself. He concluded by saying, “If you are His representatives, then you are about to tell me what He would say to me if He were personally here.” I listened carefully and then agreed with this man that his understanding of a representative was accurate. I then thanked him and asked if, given this understanding, I could begin again. I then said, “Good morning. This is Elder Aranda, and I’m Elder Webb. We are representatives of Jesus Christ, and we have come to share with you a message from Him.”
We have each been given a sacred trust. When we pray or close our teaching and testimonies in His name, we are claiming that what has been said represents His mind and will. To be true to that trust, we must have a deep love for and understanding of His gospel and be willing to pay the price to truly know the scriptures and the doctrine they teach. Because we understand that the word of God has a “more powerful effect” than anything else 16 and that it really does have the answers to life’s questions, the scriptures are the primary source of our experiences with our students. As we continue to innovate our teaching methods to connect with more students, we must never innovate away from being deeply rooted in the scriptures.
It’s equally important to rivet our minds and hearts on the Lord’s chosen servants—particularly the current members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—never apologizing for their teachings, explaining them away, or contradicting them with our own “philosophy, no matter what its source or how pleasing or rational it seems … to be.” 17 In a world with so many enticing voices and social agendas, it is an incredible blessing to know the mind of God through His living prophet. As we align our teaching, our allegiances, and our priorities with the Lord and His prophet, we will be on a sure foundation, and like branches of the true vine, we will have power to bring forth much fruit. 18
Sometimes, teaching truth and showing love may seem to be in conflict. That’s because there are counterfeits to both, which can confuse us. You may feel you’re on the front lines trying to help answer difficult and complex questions and that if you speak the truth, someone might be hurt or offended. To respond in a loving and helpful way, we must exercise our faith in Jesus Christ that He directs His Church through those He has ordained to lead it. We must pray for help and encourage our students to turn to Heavenly Father with their questions and doubts. Jesus Christ is the light to those who sit in confusion and darkness. He is the perfect example of teaching obedience with clarity, yet He is the balm of Gilead to those who are suffering from the consequences of their own mistakes. He is the perfect example of what we are striving to become as teachers who teach the truth in love.
One reason it is so important that we reflect the Savior’s love 19 is the opposition our students face. A recent longitudinal study of Latter-day Saint youth showed that those who are struggling to hold onto faith and stay active in the Church are generally faced with one or more of three specific challenges:
They feel judged due to changes in their circumstances, such as the divorce of their parents or a family member leaving the Church.
They feel guilt and despair because of mistakes they have made.
Or they do not believe they have had spiritual experiences. 20
As we strive to love as the Savior loves, we will be able to help our students navigate each of these situations.
How would you help a young person who is feeling judged? 21 It might start by understanding that major changes in relationships and circumstances can cause an identity crisis, making our students question who they are and how they fit in. In these moments, you can help them remember their unchanging relationship with their Father in Heaven. I know a young woman who based her self-worth on her circumstances and what others thought of her. She felt lost not knowing who she was. She began to pray for help. One day, she had a clear impression that if she wanted to know who she was, she would first need to know Heavenly Father and the Savior. This thought started her on a quest. She began studying the scriptures, praying, and serving, with the focus on coming to know God. Over the course of time, the Lord began to reveal Himself to her. She felt His love, comfort, and understanding. As she came to know Heavenly Father, she came to know herself and to understand her relationship with Him. She learned of her divine identity and worth as a child of God. This understanding has filled her with light and joy.
You can help your students who face challenges by helping them know they are loved by Heavenly Father. You can show your love for them with your time, your empathy, and your willingness to listen. You might ask Heavenly Father to help you see them as individuals and to recognize their unique challenges, opportunities, and needs. When they have questions or struggle with their testimonies, you can help them feel safe and know they can turn to you and to the Lord.
How do we help those who struggle with guilt and despair because of their mistakes? Like the Savior, we don’t give up on them. We honor their struggle to keep trying to do what is right in a difficult world. We teach them that worthiness is not flawlessness. 22 We help them stay on the covenant path by testifying of the joy of repentance, helping them to know it is central to Heavenly Father’s plan. We help them know that He still loves them and stands ready to help them.
I love the lesson taught in Moses 4, which we all studied just last week. After Adam and Eve transgressed, their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. Their first attempt to cover their nakedness was to sew fig leaves. When they heard the voice of the Lord in the garden, they decided to “hide themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees (Moses 4:14).” It’s interesting to note who it was that told them to hide from God. Now, I don’t want to make light of this, but how is that going to work? Can you imagine our Father in Heaven making His way through countless creations, finding this solar system, this planet, and that garden, and not being able to locate Adam and Eve among the trees? At that point the Lord asked them a question: “Where goest thou?” (Moses 4:15). Or from the Old Testament, “Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9). Do you think it’s possible He really didn’t know? So then what’s He asking? Maybe it was something like, Now that you’ve transgressed, where will you go? Will you hide from me, or will you come to me and let me cover you? The word atonement in its original Hebrew is kippur, which means “to cover.” 23 Our Father in Heaven has a much better way than fig leaves and trees to cover our sins. But the adversary whispers lies to make us want to hide from God. He strives to convince us that God does not love us and that He will not forgive us because we should have known better or because our sins are too serious.
I once invited a young woman to go to the temple with a youth group. Her response was that she was not worthy to go into the temple. I told her we were just walking around the grounds and that I would love to have her come with us. Her response was, “Not yet. I don’t want God to notice me right now.” When we make mistakes, we often don’t want to pray, read the scriptures, or go to church. Maybe we’re hoping not to be noticed by God.
Please help your students know that when they make mistakes, they can find forgiveness and peace by going to the loving and open arms of a merciful Heavenly Father, who has prepared a way to cover us. He has prepared a way for our redemption.
How do you help a student who feels she has not had spiritual experiences? Sometimes our youth hear stories that seem miraculous and fail to realize that the Holy Ghost also speaks to them in a variety of simple ways, like when they have an inspired question or when they think to mark the scriptures. Let’s help them learn how the Lord communicates with them individually and not suggest that the way the Lord speaks to us is the only way He can speak to them. Let’s be careful not to tell our students when they’re feeling the Holy Ghost. Just because we may be feeling the Spirit as the teacher doesn’t necessarily mean that every student is feeling the same thing at the same moment. It’s also good to understand that those who experience anxiety and depression may feel it’s hard to have these experiences. But the Lord is not limited by mental illness. He knows and understands them and can find ways to communicate His love and guidance. There are very few things we can do that will help them more than to learn to receive and act on personal revelation.
I recently heard a story about a young man attending a prestigious university in the eastern United States. He was enrolled in a very difficult logics class. Because he wanted to do well, he decided to hire a tutor. He was able to hire a person who had been an assistant to the professor and had even taught that very class at the same university. The tutor was very helpful, but the young man was still nervous about the final exam. The professor told the students the test would be extremely difficult so he would allow them to bring one piece of paper and place on it whatever they thought they might need. The students began writing as small as possible, using magnifying glasses to write down and read what they might need for the final. The day of the final arrived, and the young man entered the classroom. At his side was his tutor. The professor asked what they were doing, and the young man pulled out a blank piece of paper and placed it on the floor. The tutor then stood on the piece of paper. The young man explained, “You said I could place whatever I wanted on this piece of paper. Well, I want my tutor.” The young man was allowed to take the test with his tutor next to him, whispering answers in his ear.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ who have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost, why would we go through any test in life without the help that is available to us? Thank you for striving to be worthy of the Holy Ghost in all aspects of your lives and to seek His influence in all that you do.
My prayer is that our youth and young adults will come to know our Father in Heaven and that by knowing who He is, they will understand who they truly are. Because of His power to forgive, they can be clean. Because of His power to heal, they can become whole. And because of His power to refine, they can become like Him. As representatives of Jesus Christ—who teach His doctrine and share His love—you will be able to help them recognize their eternal identity. That does not mean you will always be perfect. You don’t have to be. As you strive to teach the restored gospel—centered on Jesus Christ, focused on your students, and rooted in the word of God—the Holy Ghost will give it life and relevance, and witness of its truthfulness. I testify that you, your families, and your students are children of the promise, the hope of Israel, and beloved of God. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.