I’ve spent almost 20 years teaching, talking with and learning from the young people of the Church. And besides being with my family, there is probably no other place I would rather be. You are an amazing, fun, and incredible group of people to be with every day. And I admire your goodness, your faith as you keep battling in this sometimes frustrating and difficult world, and your desire to do what the Lord wants you to do. You want to receive revelation. You want to have good relationships with family, friends, and others. You want to find just the right person, and have families of your own. And if for some reason you are struggling with any of these desires, you are striving very hard to get to the point that you want those things. I also know that you are in that wonderful season of life where many important decisions must be made. You have a lot of questions – which is a good thing - about school, jobs, money, life, and especially about love, relationships, marriage, and family. You wonder about your worth, your contribution, your place in the world. And you have struggles and issues just like everyone else. These are some of the things I’ve heard:
I have dated a lot here at college, but every time it gets serious, I freak out and run. I just can’t get myself to commit to anyone. And I can’t tell if it is the Spirit or if it is just me getting scared.
I’ve tried praying for answers and nothing seems to come. Or I get what I think is revelation and then things don’t turn out anything like I thought they would. How can I have confidence that when I need to make really important decisions, like who to marry, that I’m going to be able to get the revelation I need?
I am so afraid of marriage. I see them falling apart all around me. Everyone says they are hard. Why would you want to go into something that has a 50% failure rate?
Is my past going to prevent me from finding someone? Will someone be able to see the good in me and give me a chance with all of my weaknesses?
My parents’ marriage failed, I thought everything was so good with them, but then one day they just quit, gave up on it. If they can’t make it, how can I?
I’m not very good at communication with others, especially the opposite sex. I always seem to misunderstand what they mean, read into something that isn’t there, or mess things up in a relationship because we weren’t ever on the same page.
I can’t ever seem to measure up in God’s eyes. I know God loves His children. It just seems He loves everyone but me.
I haven’t had a pornography problem since before my mission. But for some reason I’ve fallen back into it. Will I ever be able to overcome it?
My dad cheated on my mom, how do I know that the same wouldn’t happen to me?
My mom left the church. It has destroyed our family, how do I guarantee that my spouse won’t do the same?
I have been feeling like I should go on a mission for a while. But my parents, especially my dad, don’t feel like I should go if I am dating and have a potential to marry now. How do I know this is revelation? And how could it be revelation if it is going against what my parents think?
I came up here to college, and had a great plan: date around my freshman and sophomore year, meet a handsome young man, date him for a year, get engaged and married, finish up school within a year and the rest will be great.
I came up here to college and had a great plan: go on a mission, come home date around my freshman and sophomore year, meet a beautiful young women, date her for a year, get engaged and married, finish up school within a year and the rest will be great. The problem?
I haven’t even been on a date in a year.
I have been through 3 horrible breakups. I thought they would work. I felt like I got a yes, but they got a no
I am graduating this fall and I have zero prospects. I am scared.
I have been rejected over and over. I am so tired of this game.
Is it wrong to have someone’s physical appearance be important to me in a relationship? Is it wrong if I date someone and the relationship progresses, and they seem to have everything, but I break up because there’s just no “spark”?
I have been hurt, taken advantage of, and abused. How can I really ever trust someone again? The thought of intimacy scares me to death.
I am not sure if I want to be a stay-at-home mom. I have all of these things I want to do with my life. Could God’s plan for a woman ever be something besides staying at home with her children?
So, how do you begin to address these real concerns? How can you answer all of these valid questions? And where do you find the true answers to these questions? Well, it honestly will depend on where you look.
The Horizontal vs. the Vertical
Do you remember in Lehi's magnificent dream, there stood a tree in the middle of a field bearing brilliant white fruit. This tree, Nephi later taught, represented Jesus Christ and the fruit was a manifestation of His love. There was also a path, with a handrail of iron running alongside it, providing a way to this glorious tree. And Lehi could see multitudes of people trying to make their way to it. However, we know this place wasn't free of obstacles or distractions. There was a great building in the distance full of finely dressed people who were loudly mocking those who were trying to reach the tree. A filthy river divided the path from the building, strange roads leading into darkness awaited in the distance, and a mist of darkness hung thick and heavy over the path. It is no wonder, then, that although many wanted to, very few actually reached the tree. Instead, many were drawn to the building, some drowning in the river or wandering down a strange road. One group actually got on the path, but didn’t grab hold of the rod of iron and soon lost their way in the darkness. But then we learn of two groups who got on the path, held to the rod, and made their way through all of the obstacles and distractions to the tree. When the first group eats the fruit of the tree, they immediately did something interesting: “they did cast their eyes about . . .” (1 Nephi 8:25). Here they had made it to the tree, were standing at the feet of the Savior, and they looked around! Lehi even explains it seemed "as if they were ashamed." And so, they soon left the tree and "fell away into forbidden paths and were lost" (v. 28). Another group pressed forward on the path through the same circumstances and when they finally got to the tree, also did something interesting: “they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree” and did not leave. There are so many lessons to take from these ten short verses in the first book of Nephi, but one question must be asked: What made these two groups different from the rest of the people who never made it to the tree? In the end, it is the same thing that made these two groups different from each other. It was where they were looking. And where they were looking determined everything. The fate of these two groups was not determined by being a member of the Church or not. Both groups who made it to the tree were more than likely followers of Jesus Christ, for they were both on the path holding fast to the word of God and then both partook of His gifts of grace and mercy and love. But one group chose to look horizontally in their experience and one chose to look vertically. One group chose to "cast their eyes about" for support, guidance, and approval and one chose to keep their focus on the tree.
When the children of Israel were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, at one point in their journey they crossed through the land of the Canaan. And those Canaanites, needless to say, were not very happy they were there. And so they attacked the Israelites and even took some of them prisoner. After pleading for divine help, the Lord empowered the children of Israel to not only conquer the Canaanites, but utterly destroy them and their cities. However, within a short time after that battle, the Israelites were discouraged, tired, and hungry again. They started complaining against Moses that he never should have “brought [them] out of Egypt to die in the wilderness,” for there was no bread or water, and they were tired of the manna the Lord provided for them every day. And so, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Once Israel realized what they had done, they cried unto Moses, “We have sinned . . . pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” And Moses did. But instead of taking away the serpents, the Lord told Moses: make a serpent and put it up on a pole, and if the people will look up at it, they will live. And sure enough, "many did look and live." Here the Israelites had all these poisonous snakes slithering at their feet, biting at their ankles, striking at their children, killing them, and God was asking them to take their attention off of all of that . . . and look up. And He is asking the same of you. Because you are in the same situation. The building isn’t over in the distance anymore. President Packer taught you are now, “in effect, “living inside of it.” That not only means the path you must travel on to receive the rewards of eternity goes through “exceeding mists of darkness,” but that the mocking and the pride and wisdom of the world is all around you, and right over your shoulder, and even in your hand. Your worries and your wounds and the ever pressing fears of the world are at your feet. And the strange roads are more accessible and easier to get lost on than ever before. And so the choice of where to look – of where you are going to turn for support, joy, guidance, worth, faith, approval, peace – all of that – is that much harder. But where you look determines everything. Where you look will determine whether those questions and concerns we talked about earlier become completely overwhelming or something you can, with divine help, make it through. Where you look determines how much influence this imposing, confusing world and its abundance of opinions and shame and fear has on you. You have to choose between the horizontal and the vertical in your lives.
Nephi added an incredible insight to his father's dream when he shared what he experienced as he, himself, pressed forward to the tree. He said that as those in the building were "point[ing] the finger of scorn at me and those that were partaking of the fruit also . . . we heeded them not." For those, he explained, who heed those voices fall away (1 Nephi 8:33-34). When our “vertical” connection is strong – meaning we know who God is, what really determines our worth to Him, and what His expectations really are of us – the horizontal will begin to not matter as much. I repeat: the more we know our Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, the more we turn to Them in our need, and the more we trust in Their power, grace, mercy and plan for us the less the horizontal around us will affect us. Indeed, our horizontal circumstances will have far less influence on our happiness, peace, faith, love, worth, purpose, obedience, and any other aspect of our lives. And that is because we are connected to Him.